Yesterday in the BC Legislature I rose to speak to the budget. In my rather length speech, I outline what my caucus colleagues and I support in the budget and what we think could have been done better. In particular, we are thrilled with the government’s bold action in the area of childcare and early childhood education. However, we felt government’s tepid response to the housing crisis could have been stronger.
Overall I rate this budget as a B+ to an A–. You’ll see in the speech that I offer letter grades to various components of the budget (you can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher). The childcare plan gets an A+; the housing plan a C; the climate change mitigation plan a B.
Below I reproduced the text and video or my speech.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak to Budget 2018. It’s refreshing to see a budget that puts focus back on people, and for that, I and my caucus colleagues are very, very welcome. The government has provided an excellent range of tools in the budget, but what matters are the details.
While we have yet to have had time to explore in further detail what the actual implementation is that we’ll be discussing when we debate Bill 2, a budget implementation act, at this stage, I’ll say that we’re quite reassured that clearly, front and centre in government’s mind is an approach towards starting to think, which has been missing for some time, about intergenerational equity, about doing today what’s good not only for this generation but also for the generation afterwards.
British Columbia has lost ground on earnings since 1976, four decades ago, on average by about $8,000 to $10,000, while, at the same time, the costs of housing and living costs have skyrocketed.
This budget focuses on two critical areas, one being child care — substantive investments in child care — and the other being in housing. I’ll come to both of those separately, discuss in detail what we like and don’t like with respect to the housing initiative, talk about our confidence and supply agreement and, as well, talk in detail about what we do and do not like.
Well, actually, frankly, there’s not much we don’t like about the direction that the child care policy is moving forward. And we’ll be quite clear in our support of that.
One of the things I’d like to see at the get-go, as we move towards actually embracing the idea of intergenerational equity here in this Legislature, is that future budgets should start to report age trends in terms of government spending and revenue for those over 65 and those under 45 and those in between.
Why this is important is when we start to look at it in this particular budget, we see that, for example, medicare gets a substantial increase, a dramatic increase, to the tune of $832 million. That’s 3.2 times the investment, the new investment, in child care spending.
The 2018 budget once again grows by spending faster for seniors than for the youngest British Columbians. If you actually do an analysis and do a cost analysis, on average, every senior gains $421 in new spending in this budget, while each person under the age of 45 gets a mere $261.
Now, I’m not saying we’re going to criticize the overall budget. But what I will say is that we need to start reporting out the data as per the age groups. Because as our demographic, as our baby boomers, age, there’s a concern that we’ll continue to throw more money after health — more money after more money onto the health care system — while neglecting some of the issues, profound issues, facing the next generation.
We need to start thinking about that generation a little bit more. I’ll come could that when I discuss the climate plan, or lack thereof, as detailed in this budget.
In B.C., there has been a growing inequity between those who have and those who don’t have. Those who don’t have, have compounding problems with costs that have been rising for them — fixed costs like MSP, fixed costs like ICBC rates, if they’re required to drive, and so forth.
Let me start by saying with respect to MSP we’re delighted to see that government has taken steps in that direction to eliminate MSP in the coming years. We do have some concerns — shared clearly, as we’ve heard earlier, with the official opposition — that the plan to actually eliminate MSP precludes the actual submission of the final report of the committee that was struck and designed to advise government as to the plans it should do to reduce, eliminate MSP. It seems on the one hand, you have a committee, and on the other hand, you’ve already prescribed an outcome.
With that said, we understand the rationale that government is taking for what members opposite have called a “jobs tax.” It’s not a jobs tax.
Right now in British Columbia, most major employers have negotiated benefits with their employees. Those benefits have negotiated contracts. Those contracts very often, more own than not, include a negotiated benefit where the employer pays the MSP premium.
That benefit, when it was negotiated, and I say that as someone who’s acted as the chief negotiator for a University of Victoria faculty two times in negotiating…. That benefit is that is negotiated is costed against a settlement. It’s a cost that would otherwise have been spent with workers in that organization on other issues. So the approach that the government is suggesting, while clearly going to meet some confusion and resistance, is one that is done in other provinces.
There’s a recognition that as we move from a system where employers had to negotiate this benefit with employees to one where employers are likely going to pay about the same amount, in many cases, as they are already doing, perhaps some a little more than others…. But now, instead of negotiating it in future cost settlements, it’s part of the costs of doing business.
Now, we recognize and understand the concern that this came out of nowhere. The B.C. Greens, in the last election, campaigned, of course, on eliminating MSP through mirroring the progressive health care premium that we see in Ontario, which is one that actually has the person paying that. That would also have been able to have been a negotiated benefit. Again, I won’t have time to go into the details of why we favour that approach, as one that retained revenue, but it did so in a progressive fashion.
Please let me start by highlighting some numbers on what clearly is the defining issue in British Columbia as we speak. The issue of affordability in terms of finding a place to live, either through ownership or through renting.
Since July of 2017, at which point the B.C. NDP formed government, we’ve had some increases. We’ve had, from July to January, a 4 percent increase in the costs of condos in the capital regional district. We have had in the Lower Mainland, from July 2017 to January 2018, a 10.1 percent increase in the average cost of condos to an average of $665,400 now. In Victoria, it’s $450,600 on average. While we have been waiting for government to deliver and offer a plan on housing, the prices have gone up in the CRD by 4 percent and by 10.1 percent in the Lower Mainland.
In question period today, I was somewhat troubled by the answer I got when I posed the question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs on Housing and asked what she meant in her plan when they talked about the issue of stabilizing our housing market. Does stabilizing mean we’re going to stop at present values? Does it mean we’re going to slow the development of the increase? Does it mean reverting back a little bit?
Frankly, I don’t know many people who could afford the average condominium price of $650,000, when the average salary is substantially below $100,000 for a family, in the order of…. I don’t remember the exact number, but I will say this. The housing component of the budget, while recognizing…. At least, finally, we have a government realizing there’s a problem. It’s not the bold action that we were looking for but rather a timid approach towards dealing with a problem that, frankly, I don’t think will be dealt with through the actions that are put forward.
You know, I obviously welcome many of the steps that are in this. But when you have revenue projections in the budget for this year and future years that require substantial amounts on the revenue side to come in from the property transfer tax and the speculators tax, you start to recognize that, in fact, this is not dealing with the problem. The whole purpose of a speculators tax is to reduce speculation, to set us on the path towards a very little amount of revenue coming in from that because speculators are no longer in our market to the extent that they are now. But government has budgeted that way. They’ve budgeted $200 million remaining flat in that regard, and that, to me, is worrying.
If I stand back and look at the housing aspect in this budget, what I see is government viewing this as a cash cow to create revenue for which they can deliver on their affordable housing supply-side plan. That is, we’re going to continue to allow speculation, foreign speculation, money coming in from everywhere in our housing market, we’ll tax it a bit more, and we’ll use that as a source of revenue to build affordable housing. It doesn’t deal with the problem. The problem gets bigger and bigger, and we’re trying to actually put a band-aid by creating supply that will not address the fundamental problem.
You know, right now in British Columbia…. Real estate, leasing, and renting. Those three things — real estate, leasing and renting — account for 18 percent of our GDP; 18 percent of our gross domestic product comes from real estate, leasing and renting. Government has clearly recognized the substantial component of our economy associated with such sector, and rather than recognizing that this is unhealthy, it’s viewing it as a source of income to build for the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the specifics in the policy. In terms of stabilizing the market, one of the things government is proposing to do is to tax speculators who are driving up housing costs. The annual charge will be half a percent in 2018 — which is clearly a barrier to nobody, a half a percent speculation tax in 2018 — moving to 2 percent in 2019.
The first question I have is this: why would you do half a percent in 2018? Why would you start so low? Why wouldn’t you increase that? If you wanted to have a transitional one, why not 1 percent in 2018, 2 percent in 2019? We’re not sure where that number comes from.
We recognize that there are upfront exemptions for long-term rental properties and so forth and for most principal residences, but I’d like to outline a number of problems that I see with this speculators tax approach.
We all know — everybody in British Columbia will know — friends and family who live in the Prairies in the summer. That is where they grew up. That’s where their home is, but they recognize, for financial reasons, for other reasons — they may be elderly and it may be unsafe to walk around in the cold — that they want to live in a warmer part of Canada during the winter months. So they might have a condo in downtown Victoria, in Parksville, in Nanaimo, on the Sunshine Coast or in Kelowna — an apartment that they spend four months a year in, a primary place to live.
These people now will be subject — if things go ahead as I read it — to a speculators tax. They are not speculating; they are living there for four months. They’re contributing to our economy by buying food, by buying electricity, by spending their money in our stores, by buying music, by buying records…. I buy records. Others might buy records too. Those are the vinyl ones. Yes, I do. Sadly, I sold my records, and then I buy them all back. But that’s another story that we won’t go in today. That’s a problem.
There are also British Columbians who may, for example, have a condo on Mount Washington; they might have a condo on Big White; they might have a condo in Apex or some other ski resort — Silver Star. These are not speculation. In many cases, these condos are given to friends and family if they’re not being used. I have troubles and concerns that this will be treated.
This budget is missing what the real problem is. The real problem — we all know what it is — is government is afraid to take it head-on. The real problem is offshore money flowing into our market here purely in terms of speculation, purely in terms of an investment to use our housing stock, our land as a commodity that can be traded or bought and sold — much like potash or gold or wheat or natural gas or oil.
Housing is a place for people to live, a place for people to rent to others, to vacation to. It is not something that we should view solely as a speculative place to dump and — heaven forbid — launder, in some cases, as we know, offshore capital.
We know that jurisdictions like New Zealand and Australia have stepped in and dealt with it. We know it was successful in Australia. We know Prince Edward Island stepped in and dealt with this years ago. We know that jurisdictions all across Europe have stepped in to deal with this — some in much stronger measures than others, like in Denmark. You must live in Denmark for five years before you can own property.
The reason why is quite simple. When you are a stable democracy, particularly in one the most beautiful parts of the world, your land, your capital is viewed as a safe haven to park money.
There are 4.6 million people here in British Columbia and 7.6 billion people in the world. There are an awful lot of millionaires in the world looking to park their money in safe havens. They can stick it into offshore bank accounts in The Bahamas, or they can stick it into real estate here in British Columbia.
As we’ve seen highlighted in many of the stories, whether it be through Kathy Tomlinson’s good work in the Globe and Mail or Sam Cooper’s good work in the Postmedia, there are an awful lot of shenanigans going on in terms of money transfer into our market here. That’s what we should have dealt with. That’s why we put forward our bold plan for housing action, not the #timid plan that we see here before us today.
That’s not to say that there aren’t good first steps here. There are.
A. Weaver: I say “hashtag” for all those people at home riveted to this who are live-tweeting our budget response here today.
You know, again I come back to that. I worry that government is treating the speculators tax as a form of revenue as opposed to actually dealing with the problem. Why is it we’re afraid? I know after we introduced our #boldaction plan on housing, the public support was overwhelming. I have never seen public support at that scale like I saw for that issue.
Recall about three years ago when I stood here calling for the elimination of MSP, and we initiated a campaign for public support, and all of us in this House were inundated with emails about people who felt it was a regressive one-size-fits-all tax. All three parties campaigned on eliminating it.
The response to the foreign or offshore capital ban — that response pales in comparison to the response that we saw with respect to the call for a foreign buyers. When I say foreign buyers, it’s people who do not pay income tax here in Canada. And again, government’s collecting the data to know who they are, because government is now going to have the speculation tax based on where you pay your income tax.
If you’re going to have the speculation tax into where you’re going to pay your income tax, you’re putting in place the structure to actually collect the data to know where people pay their tax. It’s very simple there at that stage to say: “If you pay your tax and you are not paying your tax in Canada, or you’re not a Canadian resident who happens to be posted in some other jurisdiction but you are actually Canadian, you should be able to own property here.”
But we don’t think it’s right for somebody sitting in an office tower in Luxembourg to recognize that they have a windfall of $1 billion that they need to actually park somewhere. “So let’s park it in land in British Columbia.” That’s fundamentally wrong, because it ends up increasing the costs for all British Columbians. That Luxembourg office tower, when it invests, is not paying the social costs associated with affordability. They’re not paying the food costs associated with affordability.
I had a delegation from northern B.C. come and see me when I was at UBCM profoundly troubled by what was going on there with thousands of hectares being bought up by foreign corporations and converted to produce hay — not for British Columbians or Canadians, but to freeze-dry or vacuum pack that hay and ship it abroad.
What is the social cost of doing that? The price of hay goes up in the area because much of it’s being shipped. That’s No. 1, and No. 2, access to land goes down and prices go up. So we end up paying the consequences of not dealing with the foreign capital flowing in. Frankly, I think government has failed on that aspect of dealing with the housing issue.
The government response is to say: “Let’s increase the foreign buyers’ tax.” Ok, another policy instrument that you have. But again, in what can only be described as one of the greatest examples of whack a mole, the government proposes to move it from not only the Vancouver region but into CRD, Nanaimo and the Central Okanagan.
Well I can tell you as a matter of certainty what’s going to happen here on Vancouver Island. It’s going to have zero effect — zero effect — on the input of foreign capital, but I will say that Cowichan Valley regional district, in between Nanaimo and Victoria, is going to see a massive spike in property. Parksville-Qualicum, Courtenay-Comox, Campbell River, just watch what’s going to happen up there on top of what already exists in these communities in terms of housing. You look at the Okanagan. Well, good luck Kamloops. Watch what’s going to happen there.
You know, you can’t play whack a mole on an issue like this. There needs to be a policy solution that is broadly applied across British Columbia. We increase the buyers’ tax from 15 to 20 percent. Again, what’s the signal it’s sending? It’s saying we’re going to generate more revenue from those who are buying. The interpretation I have on that is that government is seeking a source of money to build the affordable housing that they plan to build, but not actually taking steps to deal with the problem.
It’s a little bit like a child story that I read, and I still read today to schools when I go in. It’s a story about a king who likes cheese. The king likes cheese so much that his castle gets infested with mice. The book’s called The King, the Mice and the Cheese.
The king doesn’t like these mice, so what he does is he calls in his wise folk and tells them: “what are we going to do?” And they say: “Well, we have the solution, the only solution. Bring in cats to get rid of the mice.”
So the king does that, and his castle gets infested with cats. So, what do you do? Wise folk come in and advise him to bring in dogs, which get rid of the cats, but you’re left with a dog problem. So they bring in lions to get rid of the dogs, and you’re left with a lion problem.
They bring in elephants to get rid of the lions, and now you have an elephant problem. How are you going to get rid of the elephants? You bring mice back in to get rid of the elephants. Now you’re back where you started.
When I do this with kids in class, the metaphor I usually attach it to is climate change. But this metaphor actually applies directly to housing — the housing plan here.
I ask the kids in the class: what do you think the wise folk are going to do now that they’re back where they started? Invariably, and in unison, the children will say: “Stop eating the cheese.” But that’s not what the wise folk do in this story. They decide that they have to share the cheese with the mice. The analogy with climate change is direct. The adults can’t give up what they’re doing. The kids say: “Stop using oil.”
Now, in the case of housing, it’s exactly the same thing. We know what the problem is. The problem is the eating of the cheese. The problem is offshore capital. Rather than dealing with the problem, we skirt around it with all sorts of this and that and others, Whac-a-mole here and policy over there and second-guess over here, and we’re not actually dealing with the problem.
Again, I look forward to exploring some of this in Bill 2, when we debate that at some point in the future.
Another component of their plan, another component that is odd, is increasing property purchase tax on the value of homes over $3 million. That’s less odd than actually increasing school tax on houses over $3 million. Now, I get that this acts as a little bit of a barrier to sales of homes above that, and it puts a little clamp on. It’s not a bad step for tax fairness from the property transfer tax point of view. It’s kind of scary, when we’re one of the very, very few jurisdictions that have property transfer tax, that we are relying so heavily on revenue for that to meet our general revenue targets. It’s a little scary that we are hoping that this windfall continues. But the real problem is the school tax.
The reason why that concerns me is that there are many people, who for no reason other than the fact that they live in a house that they live that’s gone up in value, will now be required to pay a substantive increase — or 3 percent, or an increase in school tax. It’s small, actually. I forget the number, but it’s an increase in taxes which they otherwise would not have to pay if their home wasn’t valued so much.
I know we can talk, if it’s seniors who are living in the home, that seniors can defer their property taxes until such time as the house is sold. But I can tell you of personal stories that I know of individuals whose parents died. Those individuals whose parents died were living in the home. It’s the only asset they have. They’ve grown up in the home. They might have special needs. They might need a little different support. They’re barely struggling to make ends meet, but they have a home to live in.
Now, for many cases, you might argue: well, they should sell the home and find another. That’s not always possible for people. So here I worry that by broad scale taxing — again, on everyone, for school taxes — we’re not actually dealing with the problem. We know what the problem is. If you want to reduce the cost of the homes, deal with where the money is coming from, and that’s from offshore.
You know, I do like the fact that there is some legislation being brought forward —from a tax fairness perspective, it’s quite good — to allow cities to regulate Airbnbs and the likes of that. But again, it’s not dealing with the problem. The problem is the growing amount of our supply that’s used in a fashion to actually have short-term vacation rentals.
Again, we could empower much more interesting ways of doing this, by requiring a business licence, slightly different zoning restrictions and so forth. I would have hoped that we’d have more discussions on that.
To the issue of cracking down on fraud and closing loopholes. My expectations were extremely high here in this area, and I was profoundly disappointed in the lack of action that I saw in terms of the actual closing of loopholes.
The government’s response is: “We’re going to collect data.” Now okay, I recognize that collecting data is always a good thing. But the reality is we know that there are loopholes. We know, right now, that there are people who are actually going into partnerships and avoiding foreign buyer’s tax by having one of those partners a Canadian and the other one a partner who’s not a Canadian. We know that’s ongoing.
In fact, if you want to know how to do it, all you’ve got to do is read the Chinese-language signs on bus stops in Burnaby or Richmond. They’ll tell you how to do it.
We know that these are being abused. These are existing loopholes that are there. We don’t need to study them more. We need to close them.
The bare trust loophole that the now Attorney General, when in critic, was pointing out time and time again needs to be closed…. The government response: collect the data, study it, maybe something in the future. A crisis requires bold action. A crisis does not require standing back, reflecting upon it and then maybe making a decision down the road.
If we look at…. You know, some of the registry issues are good. The requirements to have accurate data. Again, the presales offshore. We’re requiring developers to collect information on presales.
That’s not dealing with the problem. The problem is we know that condos are being presold in offshore markets at below the amount they are being sold for here for here in British Columbia. So rather than collect more data, we should be closing those loopholes. I’m saddened that the government did not take the bold action that would have led to us doing that.
I worry in terms of auditing and enforcement powers, although there’s discussion here, that in fact the budget does not have the staff required not only in enforcement and compliance in the housing issue but also in all other sectors, whether it be environment, FLNRO and others. We see an increase in civil servants, but the discussion of that increase is not containing language about the need for more in compliance and enforcement staff in these areas.
In terms of the ALR, the agricultural land reserve, I’m dismayed that government has not taken steps to limit foreign speculation in the ALR. It’s out of control now. Again, the foreign buyers tax. You put it in, in Vancouver. In Vancouver, we know that the foreign buyers tax put a temporary damper on single-family homes, but people just parked their capital in agricultural land in Delta. They parked their capital in the Interior. They parked their capital in condos in Kelowna. They parked it in condos in Victoria. We should have been closing the agricultural land reserve loopholes in this budget. And, really, delay is not an excuse.
Again, it’s refreshing to see that there was some language about working with the federal government to protect tax evasion and put in place permanent provincial-federal government action to combat money laundering, tax evasion and avoidance.
These are obviously good first steps in addressing tax fraud and money laundering — to ensure that governments have the necessary information to enforce real estate taxation — but they’re not adequate on their own. We were looking for far more substantive action. Where are the people? Where is the budget announcement that there will be an increased number of people enforcing these rules here in British Columbia? Where’s the funding in that regard?
We find that starting in 2019 — why not 2018, in July? — the province will collect social insurance numbers as part of the homeowner grant application process. We know that there is some fraud going on in homeowner grant applications, and it’s good to see that there’s enforcement there. However, again, this is but a small — but, important — step in terms of dealing with the overall plan.
The government continues to focus on — much like the former government did — the issue of supply. Somehow, if we build more, we’ll solve the problem.
Again, I can tell you that every time I drive to Vancouver along Cambie Street, into town, I can see that there’s a lot of construction — large land assemblies going on. If you go to Burnaby, metro town, there’s lots of highrises going on, lots of them being built — lots of vacancies in them — and what’s happening here is you’re displacing low-income renters or the duplexes on Cambie street with high-end condos and townhouses. This is not dealing with the issue. Again, if we dealt with the offshore capital coming in, we’d temper that.
You know, it’s not only happening there. You can see the land assemblies in downtown Kelowna. They’re happening all over downtown Kelowna. You see the land assemblies happening in Victoria. These are land assemblies that are happening to change what’s typically lower-end rental housing with upper-end condos.
It’s not against condos, but we need to have a plan, a bold plan, to actually deal with our housing crisis, rather than a whack-a-mole plan and put band-aids on little areas of it, which is not actually getting us to where we need to go. There are some other good things. Of course I was pleased to see that partnerships are being built on the area of affordability. The housing hub is an interesting idea, particularly in light of the fact that it’s being funded by the elimination of the B.C. home partnership, which clearly was an utterly outrageous plan brought in by the B.C. Liberals to incentivize those who can barely qualify for a mortgage to take on more risk than they should otherwise take on. What sort of economic principles were they building their policy on? The economics of causing bankruptcy is basically the plan. I guess they were concerned about not enough people having foreclosures, which is why the government wanted to incentivize foreclosures.
The fact that the government introduced those when the last government was here was frankly a reckless approach to incentivize purchases with people who couldn’t otherwise. I’m pleased to that the government’s eliminated that. It’s creating something called the housing hub. It’s an interesting idea — an organization that will partner with NGOs and others to actually look about ways of funding and moving forward with affordable housing. That’s a good idea that we could support.
It’s also interesting to see that the municipal and regional district revenues are going to be able to be expanded to actually be used for affordable housing. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes, but there’ll also be some concern that municipalities will take that as somehow being downloading of federal jurisdiction or provincial jurisdiction onto municipalities.
I was looking for other things that we didn’t see in the housing aspect of the budget. We didn’t see a tax on flipping. We know — everybody here will know somebody or some other people who what they do is they go into a home, they’re there for six months and one day they move to the next house. They’re there for six months and one day, they move to the next house. They’re there for six months and one day….
There should be…. There are means and ways that we can actually step in to ensure that houses are treated as places to live, not ways of avoiding capital gains tax, which is basically what’s happening there. We also noticed that there was no ability for local governments to tax empty homes. Jurisdictions across British Columbia have said they want the ability to tax vacant homes if they so choose. Our, what I like to call #boldactionplanonhousing — as opposed to #timidstepplan that we see before us — was actually to empower municipalities without bringing the House back to enable them to introduce vacancy tax or frankly foreign buyers tax if you didn’t have a foreign buyers ban in place. But again, we didn’t see that there.
If we look then in general, I like to give letter grades. You can take the academic out of the university. You can’t take it out…. It’s like the speaker. You can take the teacher out of the classroom. You can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.
The letter grade on this housing plan — C. Not a very bold housing plan.
A. Weaver: The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast has requested a meeting in office hours. We will do that after. The member for Chilliwack has suggested grade inflation is occurring here in British Columbia. So that’s a good sign. If I have both extremes, it must be like me must actually be a fair grade that’s being offered here, too.
I want to move to child care, because while I’ll give a C to the housing plan, I’ll give a high A+ to the child care plan. It is an exceptional plan. We would have…
Interjection: Thanks for your compliment.
A. Weaver: Thank you. You know, the building of the child care and early childhood education system presents us with an unparrelled opportunity to provide the next generation of British Columbians the best possible outcomes for success to set B.C. on the path forward.
We’ve heard a lot about, “you didn’t say $10-a-day”, but as we’ve said all along — and if you actually look at the policy embedded in the $10-a-day plan, you’ll see it coming forward right now.
What matters in British Columbia is good public policy, and we see that brought forward in this very innovative approach to child care — a historic investment in child care.
Mind you, had we had a B.C. Green majority government in this Legislature, there would have been an even more historic investment as we had campaigned on over $4 billion over four years through sources of revenue that we had identified as to where we would collect it. Four billion over four years and $4 billion in education over four years — because if you want to make it a priority, you can make it a priority. It’s clearly a priority to this government. There’s no question.
We know that the first years of life are a phase of prolific neural development. MRI studies indicate 80 percent of all neural connections are formed by age three. It’s also a time when children’s brain development is highly influenced by their environment. For infants and toddlers, research quite clearly suggests they’re capable of complex thought, and their development at this stage can impact the course of their life.
We know that there is broad consensus that children who have access to high-quality, affordable child care enter adulthood healthier, better educated and are less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.
These outcomes contribute to long-term health, happiness and higher earnings, as well as higher tax revenues for government and reduced government spending. That’s why in our campaign we recognized that the single most important investment you can make in any society is in early childhood education, child care and the K-to-12 education system. Because if a child gets off on the right start, you don’t need to provide the social services — the housing issues, the fentanyl crisis services — down the road. You save money by investing up front.
While this is a good step in that regard, we look forward to seeing how this actually plays out as we move forward. Without any doubt, this is critical, this child care plan. In our confidence and supply agreement, we argued that what’s important to both parties in terms of shared values was an investment in child care and early childhood education — to improve quality, expand spaces, increase affordability and ensure child care is accessible for all families — with a focus on early childhood education.
One of the things that’s clearly missing in this is a recognition that one of the barriers to effective child care and early childhood education is access to people who are actually going to work as early childhood educators and child care providers.
The reason why it’s missing is…. We talk about investment here in the budget in terms of training new people. That’s great. But if you’re going to offer these trained new people minimum wage, which is not much different in many cases…. It’s hard for these people to want to aspire to go into the career of early childhood education or child care if they could earn a better wage being a waitress, working on a construction site, building a house.
We want to ensure that when we have professions in our society that are so critical — teachers, early childhood educators — we attract the best and brightest into that field by valuing it as a society and ensuring we pay them what we as a society believe they deserve. We saw that missing in the budget. We didn’t see a focus on how we’re going to actually raise the wages of people to encourage people into this area.
In the budget we see language about increasing more spaces. That’s good. Increasing more educational opportunities. That’s good. But we did not see substantive discourse on how we’re going to increase the wages there. That’s what we look forward to. That’s still an A+. It’s not there, member for New Westminster, and if it were there I would be delighted to see it. But we don’t see there any statement about how we’re going to actually increase the wages of these people.
You can say: “Okay, we’re going to give families some more by allowing them access.” But again, it’s about the wages of the people there in order to get the people to actually be early childhood educators.
The focus here has largely been on child care, too. There’s some language on early childhood education, which is important, but we need to recognize that not every family chooses to put their children in child care. There are some families who make the decision that the husband or wife — or husband or husband, or wife or wife, one of the partners — will stay home with the child and the other partner may go to work.
Now in my colleague’s case….
My colleague for Saanich North and the Islands stayed at home with his children. Society doesn’t value that.
One of the things we campaigned for in our platform was recognizing that child care is a choice. For many families, the choice is they’d like to have high-quality, licensed services where they could have child care occurring and education occurring through child care. For others, their choice is to stay home.
We believe that fairness would require both to be treated equally. Fairness would be that you actually…. When we campaigned, it was to create a benefit for those people who chose to stay home so as not to incentivize for third-party child care, but also to recognize that, for some, staying at home is an option. That, we would have liked to have seen in this budget, and I see some of the members opposite are in agreement there.
A. Weaver: Some of them. At least one of the members, but I suspect…. Two of the members opposite, and there are only…. I can’t say which, and there are only….
A. Weaver: I can’t say. Not all members opposite are there. So 33 percent of the members opposite.
Three years from now, some single parents currently paying $1,250 a month for infant and toddler care will pay no fee at all if their income is below $45,000 a year. That’s great. That actually gives those parents who so choose to put their children in child care to actually have the ability to do so. It doesn’t deal with those parents who choose not to, and therefore it is incentivizing more people to choose to put their children in child care.
We all know the single best care a person can get is with their family, and many, many parents choose to actually, one person, stay at home. Many cases. Some people choose to have a nanny to come and live in their house with them. Again, that would not be accounted for here, because in that case, there’s an option that people have that would not be rewarded here too.
Maybe it’s a grandparent who comes to live. Many, many Eastern European — my family — South Asian communities, Asian communities, part of the family structure is that, as the children age and have their own children, the grandparents play a key role in that tight family unit of looking after their grandchildren. That’s how my children were raised. I suspect that’s how members opposite…. I look to the member for Delta North, that’s how he was raised, and maybe his children. The grandparents looked after our children. The grandparents stepped in. It’s a very common cultural value. We’re not actually rewarding that here.
We recognize that there are some home-based licensed child care, but not everyone wants to take in other kids as well. The grandparents might want to come and look after the kids. Frankly, we think that they should be rewarded. They should be rewarded because they are providing a key service, generating some income perhaps. But in this system, the service is much more expensive if it’s done elsewhere, and that’s what we’re incentivizing.
With that said, there’s no question we support this plan. We think it’s A+. But there are things, I think, that have not been thought.
Third one on that, and my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands might address it, is Indigenous communities, where in fact the model of child care might be somewhat different from the model that’s being thought about here. We have to be very careful that we don’t try to impose a one-size-fits-all option in terms of….
A. Weaver: Well, exactly. I have a lot of time for the heckling or comment from the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast because he comes from this issue, and he’s providing validation in many areas here. It’s not heckling. It’s….
A. Weaver: Okay. The member is suggesting it’s included. We’re having a discussion here.
It’s not clear to me. I didn’t see it. During office hours, I look forward to having the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast also bring forward the issue of how it’s included.
The creation of 22,000 spaces is clearly good. It’s putting us on track to where we need to be. You know, 237 million over three years to do so, that’s a non-trivial investment coupled with a substantial capital investment, as well.
Coming to the issue of quality. Child care workers generally, as I mentioned, don’t earn pay equity wage levels. It’s a reality. We in society seem to think that if you are driving a truck, you should be paid more than if you’re caring after our youngest infants and toddlers. That is a messed-up society, in my view. It’s not that way if you go to progressive nations in Europe.
Progressive nations in Europe do not share that view. They recognize that child care education is a critical aspect of a thriving, successful society, and I don’t see the measures here that I would like to have seen.
We need budgets to anticipate that child care workers should be better compensated. The budget proposes new investments in post-secondary training for child care providers, but it is very short on details about plans to raise wages for early childhood educators to be on par, for example, with school teachers. Why do we think it’s okay for children in the ages of three to four to be paid, in many cases, a fraction of what teachers of children at the age of five would be paid? It seems to us that we have some priorities here.
Well, you know, if we move then, again, with that lesser grade of A+ for the child care, to the issue of climate — another issue that is quite important to me — I’ll give a solid B on the issue of climate. There’s many As in other areas that I won’t have time to address.
A. Weaver: I will give the government As on the way they’re actually applying the increased funding for renters into the Wrap and Safer programs. Without a doubt, that’s not an A. That’s an A+. There’s recognition that we have federal programs coming in on stream in 2021 that would mirror beautifully with the existing RAP and SAFER programs. It targets people when they need it and who needs it — seniors and SAFER and people with lower income requiring rental subsidies in the RAP. So without a doubt, there’s an A+ there. I’ll give some more A+s to the members in government as we go forward.
The solid B in climate. I appreciate that government is reiterating its commitment to take steps to meet our climate targets. I very much appreciate that. I very much appreciate that government has sent a signal to the market that the price of carbon, the levy that’s attached to it, will increase by $5 per year to meet the federal target a year before the federal target comes into place. That shows leadership, and that shows certainty. It gives business leadership, and it gives business certainty.
I appreciate that the government is also taking steps to ensure that those people who cannot afford to pay this will have means and ways to deal with it through rebates, much like we have right now with the carbon levy rebate. I appreciate that government recognizes that some industries — like Rio Tinto Alcan, for example — have already made major investments in terms of greenhouse gas reductions. It’s kind of difficult for them to make further investments, in light of the fact they’ve just spent billions to do that, and there’s going to be language in there, steps to ensure that there’s no penalty for people who’ve been early adopters or people who will be put at a competitive disadvantage if they aggressively move forward.
I was saddened to see that we had no mention of bringing back in the cap-and-trade legislation that the B.C. Liberals repealed when it created its greenhouse gas increase act back in the day. The cap-and-trade enabling legislation was a critical component of Gordon Campbell’s climate plan, at the time, in 2008. It is what the NDP campaigned for back in the day, when they finally came up with a climate plan after the tax attacks campaign.
The cap-and-trade enabling legislation could work in concert with the carbon tax to actually capture heavy industries, to pull them out of the carbon tax, include them in the cap and then allow British Columbia to join Washington, Ontario, Quebec, the eastern U.S. — many, many states and jurisdictions that have such a plan to allow for the most efficient reductions in greenhouse gases to occur. I would like to have seen that.
Again, the problem with climate mitigation plans is it’s not too dissimilar to the same problem that Indigenous people have been dealing with for years. Words, aspirational goals and targets are so easy to offer. What matters is real action. We have words in the budget, but where are the actions? There’s a general worry that the government’s present reconstitution of climate leadership team will give it an excuse to delay action when we know the civil service has spent years, since 2008, developing the instruments, the pathways, the regulations that we could implement.
Why did we not see in the budget a recognition that British Columbia should have a zero-emission vehicle policy like Quebec has? British Columbia should have zero-emission vehicle policy. Why didn’t we see in the budget a statement along the lines of, “British Columbia will change a small regulation” — it could be done through order-in-council — “that will actually allow people to charge for electricity if they’re charging their charging stations”?
Companies like ChargePoint, which install electric charging vehicles, or Sun Country — they’re not actually allowed to charge for the electricity. So what we have is we have to wait for the goodwill of schools, the goodwill of hospitals, the goodwill of municipalities or homeowners, like me, to actually provide free electricity to somebody if they want to charge up their car.
Unless you’re B.C. Hydro. B.C. Hydro has — get this; I’m not kidding — 29 fast, high-voltage DC charging stations in the province. For a province that claims to be wanting to see leadership in this area, that’s pretty woeful. That’s more than pretty woeful. It’s quite pathetic, really. You can’t drive from Victoria to Kamloops because there are no high-voltage DC stations. And the ones that are there are down so often.
The stories I get from across British Columbia — station in Kamloops down, Duncan goes down…. Duncan goes down for months because they’re repaving the parking lot. Well, people who drive from Victoria to Courtenay need a fill-up in Duncan and Nanaimo, and they’re both out at one point.
This is a joke in terms of what we’re saying here. We want to be leaders, but we’re not willing to invest in infrastructure. But it doesn’t even require public investment. It requires allowing industry to put the charging stations in and actually, for example, charge 35 cents a kilowatt hour, like B.C. Hydro has been allowed to charge because of the application before the BCUC which permitted it to charge 35 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity.
You or I, Hon. Speaker, couldn’t do that, unless we registered as a utility. Well, there’s no way in a million years I’m going to go and register as a utility. New Westminster — the member for New Westminster is here —has a registered utility. They can actually charge for power in New Westminster with their charging station. Nelson, I believe, is another one.
A. Weaver: Yeah. I’m hoping. It’s not in the budget. But I would have liked to have seen more signalling either in the throne speech or budget, because the budget sends a direction. The direction…. Child care: A+. Housing: sorry, C. Climate: B. And then there’s a bunch of good things in the budget.
I know some of the stakeholders out here in the community are quite excited by what they’ve seen. But I like to quote Sierra Club, because to me, the Sierra Club reaction is quite critical in light of the fact that the Environment Minister — who I have enormous respect for, who I think is doing an incredible job — was former executive director of Sierra Club. This is what they said.
“There’s no question affordability is a huge issue for far too many working families. But longer-term affordability issues are being neglected as a result,” said Sierra Club B.C. communications director Tim Pearson. “Budget 2018 attempts to address intensified climate impacts, which will continue to get more and more expensive, but does not allocate nearly enough resources to this growing challenge.” It’s not just Sierra Club saying that. We had last week the Auditor General in British Columbia saying the same thing.
To the issue of transportation, transportation: A–. The step forward in terms of the infrastructure and moving toward the direction of the mayor’s plan — I’m very pleased to see that we’re seeing a start down in that area.
Something that I would have liked to have seen, something I think is critical, is we should see, sooner than later, investment in light rapid transit, light rail from Abbotsford and the valley directly into Metro Vancouver. We know that one of the biggest problems in terms of congestion in Metro Vancouver is investment. We need investment.
We have B.C. Transit, and we have TransLink. But heaven forbid you cross the boundary and take public across the TransLink and into B.C. Transit zone — B.C. Transit being ni the Fraser Valley, TransLink being down in the Metro Vancouver region.
Light rapid rail — why are we not talking about that in Victoria? Why are we not talking about actually getting people from A to B efficiently getting people out of the cars. If you start to increase….
Part of the problem, again, we have with some of the perspective of the climate strategy is that there is going to be substantive revenue coming to government through rising carbon levy. And ideally, some of that money would be invested in public transportation so that you generate a source of income to provide people alternatives to actually get out of the cars with the goal that you actually reduce income coming to you through increasing carbon tax and increase income coming to you through people paying to go on public transport.
This is the kind of direction we’d like to see. And hopefully, you know, again…. There’s lots of good stuff in this budget, lots of good stuff for seniors — and ferries. Finally, we have a government that recognizes that ferries are pretty important in British Columbia. I’m sure my friend from Powell River would agree with that.
One of the things that we would have liked to have seen is a discussion — I recognize why it doesn’t happen — of bringing B.C. Ferries back into the Ministry of Transportation. We know that there’s a debt that would be incurred, and it would potentially have issues on credit ratings and all of that. But again, it didn’t stop government from removing tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges which, frankly, brought $4.7 billion of debt — which isn’t too much below the B.C. Hydro debt. So it’s a question of priorities.
Again, lots of roads being built. That’s what governments do these days. They build roads. They build bridges. I’m sure the communities that are affected will be quite excited about that.
On the topic of building, one of the things that I also think I should have mentioned and am delighted to see — a subset of the housing strategy, A+ for this — is allowing universities and colleges across British Columbia to actually build student residences. This is critical.
We know that students in Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Nelson, Cranbrook, Prince George, Powell River — pick your community — are living in basement suites. They’re living in apartments in the community. But their institutions that they’re attending want to build housing on campus to bring those students onto the campuses.
The students want to be there, and that would free up rental space in the broader market, reducing pressure on rents. But universities and colleges are not permitted to borrow money to actually make the buildings. So this is one of the most important steps that could have been made in terms of an investment, in terms of dealing with supply. It’s student supply on campuses. For that, it’s actually 100 percent. There’s no A+ there. You got a full home run on that piece of policy from our perspective. So thank you.
Well, thank you on behalf of the University of Victoria and Camosun College, both of whom I’ve met with on this very issue, both of which are in my riding and both of which are just dying to move forward with this plan. And it’s the same thing with every one of you in this House, I’m sure, as well.
Another A+…. Sorry: A, because it’s almost there. It was already announced. It’s good to see measures in there, the steps to make access to PharmaCare a little more affordable. That’s great public policy, coming back to health care again. The health care investments are good. We love to see…. We’re very supportive of the focus on seniors and team-based care. This is the way health care has to move forward.
Again, the worry coming back to what I said up front: if you look at the spending in this new budget, the new spending on the average senior, the average senior gets $421, and the average person under the age of 45 gets $261. I recognize that you can’t fix the health care system all at once, and this emphasis on team-based care and focus on seniors is a very fine way of moving forward, nudging the system in a new direction, hopefully cleaning up some of the mess behind.
Let me tell you, I’m but one MLA, but I’m sure everyone here has heard from constituent after constituent with their horror stories about access to health care, not in terms of the quality of the doctors, nurses and providers, but in terms of the bureaucratic nightmare that exists in some of our health care systems here in British Columbia.
I’m concerned, as we move forward, about access to doctors and nurse practitioners and the ability for us to fund and retain people. I don’t think that as a society we recognize that many of the new doctors and nurse practitioners coming out are looking for a different style. They don’t want to be small business owners. They want to be salaried. They want to be able to be salaried, and they don’t want to spend one of their five days a week filling out papers and doing administration.
So again, the focus on team-based care is a good direction in that regard. I hope we complement that with increased access to actual primary care.
I had one constituent who got his degree in another country. This constituent is now a doctor practising in hospitals, in emergency rooms, in another country.
This gentleman wants to come back to his family here in British Columbia. He wants to be able to practise here in British Columbia, and he can’t. The only reason why he can’t is because he has to go through an entire new education and training program.
One of the best ways we can actually get to bring increased capacity in doctors and medical practitioners here is to actually allow those who’ve been qualified in jurisdictions across the world — in very fine institutions — to be able to practise here.
I don’t know how many stories you all have, but recent immigrants that I know who come to my riding…. They were practicing medical practitioners in their country, and here they’re working in a restaurant.
They get in through our points program, speaking multiple languages, but they’re working in a restaurant, not because they want to, not because that’s…. I’m not criticizing that, because I have family who owned restaurants, as the member for Delta North did. In fact, ironically, it was the same restaurant — just in a different generation. But it’s to point out that we could actually alleviate some of the pressures if we started to think about how we could better use the Canadians and British Columbians who’ve been trained abroad who want to return and give them ability to do so.
The total of $548 million over three years provided in the budget to improve services for seniors is fantastic. A+ on that, no question, particularly in the investment in home and community care, which we know is a much more cost-effective way of dealing with that. Same with the $150 million investment in team-based approaches. We’d like to see where that direction is going.
Education. Another very solid high rating in education — a solid A. A first-class rating there in terms of providing the resources needed to deliver public education.
Again, I’m a little concerned that the focus here is about building schools and walls and retrofitting. Success in education does not depend on the colour of paint or the type of wallpaper. Success is ensuring that teachers have the resources they need in the classroom to deliver the curriculum in the best ability they have, and that children have the resources and access to the services they need when they need it.
A story I told in response to the throne speech…. Why is it that we as a society think it’s okay for teachers to use their salary to buy the textbooks and the resources that are used in the classroom? They shouldn’t have to do that. It’s not all about paying for playgrounds. It’s also about ensuring that, in the classroom, teachers have access to the resources they need to ensure that they can deliver the curriculum, and that students also have their access as well.
Opioid overdose emergency — another aspect of the budget. Without any doubt, both the previous government and this government are committed to dealing with the opioid crisis in a manner that deals with it from a harm prevention perspective. I would’ve argued that the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP both get a solid A. They both recognize that this is a crisis.
The problem I have with both is that the largely central focus on harm reduction doesn’t, in the longer term, talk about a pathway to a recovery and about a pathway to prevention.
Had we, perhaps — I mean, I’m speculating — as a society recognized 15 years ago that investment in children in our classrooms — giving them the support they needed, at the time they needed it, when they needed it, they would give the social services the resources they needed to deliver the services they needed — we may not be experiencing the harm reduction plans funding we’re doing today. Because children, we know, are influenced by the services they get when they’re young. They wouldn’t be the same children who today are struggling with mental health and addiction issues, on the street, homelessness, etc.
Investments early on, as many European nations do, lead to a form of prevention that, down the road, actually saves society. Again, that’s not to criticize the good steps being taken here in terms of overdose prevention.
Some of this is not unrelated. We see one of the issues raised by the Globe and Mail, Kathy Tomlinson, is the link between the drug crisis and the housing crisis. Many of these issues are not totally separate from each other. We know that a lot of the money laundered through the drug industry is actually being laundered through our real estate issue, and it’s good to see that the Attorney General is taking some steps there.
Good to see continued movement towards investing in higher education, skills training and the workforce. In particular, we’re very excited with the agreement with young adults whereby $30 million over three years will be put to increased support for young adults aging out of care — a particularly vulnerable group in our society — where the care is used to offset living costs while they attend school. Again, an absolutely fundamental investment.
In our platform, we proposed applying a basic income pilot project to youth aging out of care. In essence, this is a very similar approach, but rather than calling it a basic income pilot project, what you’re doing is you’re actually assisting youth out of care. I hope government collects the longitudinal data that is required to ensure that we can assess the effectiveness of the investment.
There are investments in wildfire resiliency, investments in new agrifood sector. Again, really strong, solid investments that we support, many of these. I could go on, a litany of As in this area, but there are a lot of these smaller investments that we think are wonderful — in terms of the $29 million over three years for the Ministry of Agriculture to expand the sector by supporting a variety of initiatives that are part of the Grow B.C., Feed B.C. and Buy B.C. network.
Again, maintaining transportation networks, $36 million there. Increased funding for arts — the arts community has been dying for this — $15 million. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but $15 million will certainly have an impact, and having an additional $3 million for Creative B.C. to promote and strengthen motion picture, music, publishing and digital media centres. All of these: solid A+. If there was more money, give more money, but we recognize that decisions ultimately have to be made on any particular issue.
A. Weaver: Forty-five more minutes? The member opposite told me I have a full 45 minutes to continue.
A. Weaver: I see the member from Kamloops South has now come in, joining the member for Kamloops–North Thompson here. South, north — same thing, Kamloops. The Loopsians. The Loopsians are here.
The problem again, coming to the agrifood sector, is we don’t want to forget that while we promote the agrifood sector, there are also things that I would’ve liked to have seen, cautionary tales being told, in the budget and throne speech.
We have had a very profound release of Atlantic salmon south of the border in Washington. Washington has now have taken steps to remove all Atlantic salmon fish farms from their coastal waters. We don’t see a discussion in the budget about any potential costs or benefits associated with doing what we need to do in British Columbia, which is take strong steps to no longer renew the permits for the fish farms in the wild migratory path of our sockeye salmon here in British Columbia.
That will be a small loss of revenue on one side, but it will be a particular gain in revenue in other areas, particularly if we can reinvigorate our wild salmon stocks — our chinooks, our chums, our sockeyes, etc. — through conservation initiatives and investments in science, as well as restoration of the creeks and seaside where these fish spawn.
To the issue of Indigenous people, this is incredibly refreshing, and my colleague for Saanich North and the Islands will speak more to this. The investment of $50 million into revitalization of Indigenous languages is one of the most important investments the province can make, because we know that language is part of culture. When you invest in language, you’re investing in culture. To me, that will be received very, very well.
One of the things I was quite excited about throughout this budget, throughout the discussion, is the recognition that we must implement and agree to the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and implement the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In doing so, you can’t just throw it all in the ministry of Indigenous affairs or the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. You have to recognize that there are certain issues in government that transcend all ministries, and this is one of those ministries. It’s very good to see that we have investments in education, in community and outreach, in language revitalization, in housing — a multi-pronged approach to investment in First Nations and Indigenous people in this province, who I think will be — obviously, I can’t speak for them — pleased to see a full recognition in this budget, both in terms of the importance of UNDRIP as well as the investment in their communities.
Again, coming to the full-time equivalents for the B.C. public service. Year after year, we’ve seen cuts to the civil service to a point now that we end up with compliance and enforcement divisions, no matter which ministry, cut to bare bones. We start to see environmental issues that we spend a lot of time talking about, a lot of money cleaning up, a lot of problems dealing with, that, in the first place, may not have ever got to where they were if we’d had proper compliance and enforcement — whether it be wildlife issues, mining issues, forestry issues and so forth.
We know in the budget there’s a projected increase in full-time FTEs in the public service from 28,900 in 2017-18 to 29,400 in 2018-19. That’s a 500 full-time-equivalent increase in people in this province. But when we read the details and we learn more about where it is, it’s increasing staffing requirements that are there to implement government’s child care and housing initiatives — of course, we understand that; as well as front-line service positions, including sheriffs, court service staff — clearly, there’s been a problem there; to deliver social assistance services — again, long overdue; and conservation officers — also critical.
What I didn’t see and language I would have liked to have seen was in climate compliance and enforcement as well, where we have the regulators going out to ensure that our rules are actually being followed. Our mining rules. There are good companies. There are companies that are a little loose with the rules. We end up having situations that if they get out of control, they can taint and brand an entire industry, when in fact it’s not the entire industry. If we had been forthcoming in our compliance and enforcement, we might have actually never got to the situation we are in.
We also clearly have issues with respect to staff increases required for cannabis legalization. That presumably will be a self-funding increase through income coming from taxation of the cannabis when it comes to play, whenever that will be.
WorkSafe matters, wildlife recovery efforts, land use planning and environmental management. I would have loved to have seen the words “compliance and enforcement” in there, and I’ll be seeking to explore that in further detail as we discuss the various bills that arise from this budget in the months ahead.
To schools and to post-secondary institutions. The fact that there’s a substantive investment in schools is good. The fact that there’s a substantive investment in post-secondary education and capital spending is good. We’ve got buildings that…. We’ve got the sustainable energy and environmental engineering building at SFU. That’s great — 515 students will benefit from that. We’ve got a new industrial training and tech centre at Thompson Rivers — fantastic.
You know, what struck me about this budget is that when you look at where the investments are, I could not tell you if they were in a Liberal riding or an NDP riding or a Green riding because they were in all ridings. It was truly an investment that spanned all parts of British Columbia.
We have construction of a new heavy-duty mechanics building at College of New Caledonia in Prince George — clearly, not an NDP stronghold right now. The two members here are, for now…. It’s going to be Green in the future. I get that. But for now, it’s not.
A. Weaver: Yeah, if people would actually show up to vote.
We have renovation and renewal of the trades facilities at Selkirk College in Nelson. This, too, is important as we’ve got to recognize here that in fact not everybody needs to go to university. In fact, it’s not healthy for a society if people all go to university. We need to support our trades, our skilled labour — labour that’s going to be required as we transition to a low-carbon economy. The number of jobs that we’ll see in this transitional economy will be profound.
Obviously, I’m excited, from a purely selfish perspective, to see that there’s a new health sciences centre at Camosun College that will house 18 science programs, such as community mental health, athletic and exercise therapy, nursing and university transfer health programs. This has been long overdue.
But it’s not only Victoria. It’s also at Vancouver Island University. There’s a new health and science centre there. We’ve got capital infrastructure projects in Campbell River; in Dawson Creek; in Okanagan College, Vernon campus; and on and on and on. Again, in Okanagan, it’s the trades facility there that’s going to get an injection of funds. At Northern Lights College, a college I’ve been to and visited, the trades campus replacement will occur.
Again, these are not NDP ridings. I commend the NDP on this for recognizing that it’s important to represent all British Columbians, not just those people who happen to elect you. That, to be honest, is quite refreshing.
Coming to the health care facilities, we also see, over the coming three years, $3.1 billion of capital spending that will be put forward in terms of health care — new hospitals, revising hospitals and so forth. All of these, of course, we support.
We’re a little concerned about what this will do to the debt. We’ll have to follow that carefully. However, the investments in these areas have been long overdue. Some of these investments, clearly, will have come in from previous governments’ commitments to investments in other projects, which may or may not have been deemed as important as these projects here. Almost certainly, we would agree with the present approach as opposed to the former approach.
To the issue of ICBC. This is where there’s a bit of an uncertainty. We see that ICBC is in financial troubles. We could point fingers and blame. It’s pretty clear that the present government cannot be blamed. It’s pretty clear where blame goes in this. But I don’t want to get mired down in that.
What I want to talk about is ICBC annual net loss — results which are included in the province’s fiscal plan and their reported results. The reason why this is important is there’s uncertainty embedded in this.
The causes of the losses — like rising injury claims; rising number of crashes; rising costs of minor injuries; emergence of older, large complex claims; basic rates not covering growing costs; lower investment returns; and capital reserve deterioration — are sort of known. But there are a bunch of problems here in terms of knowing to what extent the measures being put forward by government to reform pain and suffering claims, to increase accident benefits, to make sure that more minor claims are reviewed through a civil resolution tribunal, to reduce crashes through steps to be taken on piloting technology to curb distracted driving and so forth….
What is not known is whether or not the steps that are being taken will actually deal with the debt that’s being incurred. So the uncertainty in the budget moving forward is to determine how effective these are.
Finally, in terms of miscellaneous items, we’re very pleased. All of these get high marks from us. That is why, overall, we gave this budget a B+ to an A– — which we can talk about in office hours afterwards, member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast.
It’s that we have a lot of these smaller issues here. They may seem small from an overall financial investment, but they’re critical to the stakeholders and the groups that are being funded.
So, $51 million over three years to improve access to justice. That’s critical — particularly the $26 million being put to the Legal Services Society for the expansion of legal aid services. Those who can afford to hire lawyers are able to do so; those who can’t, deserve access to the judicial system. And we’re pleased to see that.
We’re pleased, particularly, to see that $11 million of that is going to support the expansion of Parents Legal Centre, which is consistent with the recommendations of Grand Chief Ed John and his report on Indigenous child welfare.
And $15 million of that, of course, is going to be added to increase the number of court sheriffs and increase staffing for court services branch. Again, nobody wants to read another story about somebody committing a crime and getting off solely because there was no sheriff there to escort that person from where they are to be in the court at the time.
It’s good to see $10 million going to the Ministry of Attorney General initiatives that are related to family dispute resolutions and so forth — particularly in the fact that it’s increasing digital access to these judicial services in remote and rural communities.
Again $51 million doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s critical in that area.
Another area that we completely support and are delighted to see is $18 million over three years, an additional $8 million per year in 2020 to 2021 in the area of women and children affected by violence — another critical aspect of our society that will benefit greatly from an investment of funds now. This funding will provide support for domestic violence units. It will be used to meet demand for programs and services such as counseling, outreach and crisis support for women and children who experience domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes.
In terms of social services, we see $6 million being applied over a period of three years to the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction to increase staffing, reduce contact centre wait times and help provide reliable and responsive service.
We also see $6 million — again, critical, very supportive of this — over three years to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to increase funding for Aboriginal friendship centres, which play integral roles in terms of ensuring communities are able to have places where they can go and meet and discuss issues of effect to them.
Small increase — $9 million for conservation service officers.
Not one of these many, many, really good things that we apply…. One of them that we think is a little bit on the weak side: $5 million to maintain 1,900 campsites. We can do better than that in the province of British Columbia, and I hope we can do better than that as we move forward. Five million bucks for 1,900 campsites.
You know, we want people to experience the beauty of our outdoors, because you don’t protect and retain that which you don’t experience. We would have hoped to have seen more in that, and hopefully, in years ahead, we’ll see some more. I’m getting assurances, nods from government members, from the one MLA, all-seeing and all-knowing MLA. It’s the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast.
The Victoria Regional Transit Commission, of which, of course, I live in the broader area, the Saanich component of that, will be pleased to know that there’s an increase in the motor fuel tax rate from 3½ cents a litre to 5½ cents a litre to clear fast line and clear diesel in the CRD, to assist in transportation plans as we move forward.
To conclude, I have spoken a lot, and I recognize some members have been here….
A. Weaver: Oh, I’ve got lots more to say, a lot on this issue. Overall, one of the key things that we’re supportive of and one of the reasons why we’re quite pleased to support the budget is that it begins to start to get us on the path of ensuring that intergenerational equity is a guiding principle in our governance. It doesn’t go all the way. We still fund health care for seniors at a much greater rate than we do fund, for example, issues like child care, which affect younger families. We expect the younger families, working families, to pay, through their taxation, for their health care, which is being applied, typically, at the latter part of your life.
One of the things I do hope government does is…. If you actually look at the Canada health transfer and look at what British Columbia gets, we know we’re hundreds of millions of dollars in a shortfall directly because the Canada health transfer…. And if government is interested, I’ve done the calculation. Canada health transfer is based on your population. It’s not based on your weight, age — weighted population.
British Columbia is a destination where people retire. Other jurisdictions like Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere are places that typically have a younger demographic. People work in these other areas, retire here. They pay taxes in other areas. They retire here.
We also know that health care costs increase dramatically as you age. If you age-weight the population in British Columbia, we’re owed several hundred million dollars than what other provinces are getting. I hope that there’s a continuation of lobbying in this regard.
I do know the former minister, hon. Terry Lake, did bring this up with Ottawa. I think we could be a little firmer on that, because frankly, it’s not acceptable the way that people pay taxes elsewhere and we pay their health insurance here.
The key issues that affect intergenerational equity are housing, child care, climate change, environmental management and something that I’ll come to in a second that I believe was missing.
Housing — good first steps. Finally, we have a recognition that this is a critical issue. Not sure that the outcomes that are being sought are going to be met by the plans put in place. It appears to be, in summary, to me, that government is viewing the housing crisis as a way to tax and create revenue to provide affordable housing in another sector, rather than dealing with the problem, which is offshore capital.
Child care. We have an excellent first step, which, to be blunt, mirrors the community plan, sometimes known as the $10-a-day plan, in terms of the priorities. But it ensures that people who need child care get child care when they need child care.
Some of the things that aren’t embedded in that, we think, is some of the recognition that not everyone wants to put their child in care.
Climate change. I have great confidence and faith in the Minister of Environment, but I hope that we actually start to develop the plan as we move forward and start to implement policy measures. I look forward to working with him.
Dealing with this is not a big stick. It’s not a big, huge challenge. It’s an opportunity — an incredible opportunity, which I’ll come to in a second.
The budget takes us some of the way to these issues, very far towards dealing with these issues in the case of child care. But ultimately, it’s not fundamentally rooted in the principle and isn’t bold enough to achieve lasting change for future generations. What I would argue is lacking in this budget is a step-back vision of the direction this province needs to have.
The budget focuses largely on fixing many of the problems that have been created over the last 16 years, as we went down one path. Now, I and my colleagues recognize that there needs to be some checks and balances to fix a lot of this stuff. But there isn’t a longer-term vision. Again, we didn’t want a vision of hope grounded in a fallacy of LNG. A vision of hope grounded in what we are good at. The previous government rattled on incessantly about 100,000 jobs, $100 billion prosperity fund, $100 trillion increase in GDP, elimination of PST, thriving schools and hospitals. Those unicorns in all our backyards, literally each and every one of us would be happy and having Maseratis . We’re all happy, but not because of LNG.
The government, in sending that signal, that was their vision. It was a vision that was desperate. It was a Hail Mary pass in an election campaign that nobody thought they would win. They caught the touchdown. They tried to deliver the impossible. The result is colossal failure. The result is 4½ years of sitting there in a time-out.The member for Prince George–Valemount is laughing. I’d just like to point to the issue that the former Minister of Natural Gas told me….
A. Weaver: Wow, we’ve switched speakers twice since I’ve been talking here. The member from Prince George–Valemount was laughing, but I’d like to remind members in this House of the sage words of the former Minister of Natural Gas and Housing. The Minister of Natural Gas and Housing told me I knew not from which I was talking and that he was much smarter than everyone else in this House because he knew what Crown corporations were. He was looking forward to coming to dinner where I would have to eat my words because he knew what was going to happen. Well that was in 2015. Here we are in 2018 and the only words I’ve eaten…. Well, I haven’t eaten any words.
But the fact that this former minister has the gall and the audacity to come to this House and still talk about natural gas is mind-boggling. Honestly, if there was justice in this society, the member for Langley East would resign. He would resign because he failed. He failed — a very, very serious failure because he sent this province in a direction that misled Terrace, Kitimat, created people in northern British Columbia who invested in creation of hotels. People who invested in hotels in Terrace that are empty. People who’ve been told this, that and the other that we’re all going to get LNG are empty. Those people in education systems across British Columbia who were told that they better start preparing for the LNG economy and train all those people to deliver LNG were failed.
This is a colossal failure of public policy in British Columbia, which is the reason why this government needs to sit in time-out for a full 4½ years, as they rediscover who they are and what they stand for because LNG did not happen, will not happen. Frankly, I was the only person in this Legislature since 2012 pointing out the fiscal folly of sending a signal to market that was so irresponsible that it actually lost opportunities in British Columbia that we could now be leaders in.
We recognize in the throne speech that we’ve discussed earlier, there’s an investment in the economy of tomorrow. But I would’ve liked to see a vision of that economy. The vision of the economy that recognizes that British Columbia needs to build on our strategic….
A. Weaver: To the member opposite, do I talk to the tech sector? I have talked to more CEOs in the tech sector, Member, than probably most of your caucus have done collectively over the past four years. But that’s okay.
Deputy Speaker: Members, members. Member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head has the floor. Please continue.
A. Weaver: It’s wonderful that the Liberals got all feisty here. It’s about time. The member opposite who’s talking about, “have you talked to the tech sector today?” If this government, actually when they’re talking about what’s going on in the Legislature had one-half ounce of credibility and actually spoke truth in terms of what they’re saying, instead of talking about a jobs tax, rhetoric about a jobs tax.
Instead of claiming that somehow a dinner on Bowen Island led to a $800 million loss of shareholder’s values when they’re looking at the wrong stock. They’re looking at KMI on the New York Stock Exchange, which is Kinder Morgan International, whereas KML which is the Trans Mountain Stock in Canada actually did the opposite.
This is the kind of rhetoric we have here in the province of British Columbia. This is why we have the tension that exists in our society because the B.C. Liberals care not for the people of British Columbia. They care about their own political aspirations and their desire and quest to get into power no matter what. They’ll say anything. They’ll sell anything to anybody, and truth be gotten out the window because all they care about is power. It’s quite shameful that this is the way they are.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members will come to order.
A. Weaver: Again, I have sat in this question period for nearly two weeks, or more than two weeks. I have yet to hear a question — apart from today, credit to the few questions at the end of the day — substantive questions, on housing from the members opposite — nothing. Questions on child care and mental health — nothing. We get questions…. It’s all about the gotcha politics. All about the gotcha politics, because what matters is the quest for power.
What matters, in the words of the Leader of the Official Opposition is that he get under the skin of the government and that he drive a wedge between the B.C. Greens and the B.C. NDP. That’s what he thinks his job is. No, his job, and this opposition’s job, is to serve the people of British Columbia and ensure that their interests are actually represented — not their petty power quests but the people of British Columbia. Bring the issues forward like the member from Cariboo did: a critical issue about….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
Member, please pause.
Members. We all know that moderation and temperance are the hallmarks of parliamentary debate. Let’s keep it going.
Thank you, Member. Please proceed.
A. Weaver: Thank you. My only wish is that Hansard is able to record the banter coming from opposite, because it would be quite delightful.
A. Weaver: My comments will be in Hansard. There’s no doubt about that.
Coming back to the end, the vision I would like to see is a vision that actually defined where we should head, based on the strengths of British Columbia. What we have in British Columbia that no one else in the world has: we are the most beautiful province to live in, in Canada, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places in the world to live in. We know that that’s a strategic strength.
We have one of the top education systems in the world, from K all the way through advanced and post-secondary education — and up, soon, in terms of ECE and child care, as well, with this new investment. That is a strategic strength, and if you don’t believe me, you just have to go to the international PISA assessments, where B.C. ranks No. 1, or a number in the top ten, in all issues — top of Canada. We know that we have that as a strategic strength.
We know that we have a strategic strength in terms of the access to unbounded energy, renewable energy; unbounded fibre, in terms of wood; and unbounded access to water. These are strategic strengths of our geographic location. So rather than trying to chase the weaknesses of others, we need to recognize these strengths. And there are sub-strengths in regions that I’ll come to.
What does that mean? What that means is that rather than thinking that somehow we will compete in a global market by racing to the bottom, by throwing out any internalization of any externalities, by doing things in the cheapest possible way, by cutting social programs, that’s not how we’re going to compete. We know we’ll never compete with Indonesia. We’ll never compete with a jurisdiction in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of digging dirt out of the ground. The reason why we won’t compete is because we do have environmental and social values here in British Columbia that we believe are important to internalize, that are less important in other jurisdictions.
That’s the way for us to compete. Rather than chase to the bottom, which the B.C. Liberals tried to do with their reckless approach to LNG, we need to be smarter. We need to bring our tech sector together with our resource sector, to actually ensure that when we extract our resources, we do so in a smarter, more efficient way. Efficiency is where we’re going to get it — efficiency and cleaner ways.
That’s why companies like MineSense, B.C.-based companies, need our support as they bring new technologies right to the rock face, which can allow us to actually compete in the extraction of resources, as well as the selling of secondary resources. This is why we should be looking at a place like Terrace.
Terrace in British Columbia. What is the strategic strength of Terrace? It’s on a rail line between Prince Rupert — the gateway to Asia, with an amazing deep-water port there — and Chicago, the gateway to eastern U.S. We seem to think that what terrace should be is a service centre for a non-existent LNG port in Kitimat. But no, what Terrace can recognize as a strategic strength is that we should be getting the companies like BMW, which set up shop in Washington, to build their factories in Terrace, where they have access to the rest of the world, where they have access to a stable, skilled workforce that they can attract and retain because of the quality of environment that we can offer and the quality of life we can offer.
We can offer them access to boundless clean energy, which will allow them to brand themselves as a company of the 21st century — a clean company — which so many are doing.
But that was not the thinking of the B.C. Liberals. A $10 million investment would have allowed broadband redundancy into the city of Prince George to allow companies like Google to come up there and not be beholden to a single carrier that owns all broadband access into that region. Government abdicated its responsibility for 16 years to actually bring broadband into communities across British Columbia — because government in the past seemed to think it is solely in the hands of the multinationals to bring in broadband.
Government had no problem building roads and highways, thinking that we need to get people from A to B, but couldn’t think beyond this early 20th-century thinking — didn’t think about information highways, bringing broadband to rural communities across British Columbia. That is why I’m excited to see that here in the budget.
Because government does have a role there in the information highway. When you do that, you start to make our resource sector brought together with a tech sector. We start to be competitive if we send a signal to market that this is the direction we want our society to go.
We want our society to go down to a sustainable, resilient, 21st century economy — not the way that the B.C. Liberals want, not to chase back to the 20th century, not to go back to becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water.
If I hear one more time from the B.C. Liberals that somehow they are stewards of rural B.C., I think I’m going to stand up and scream. The reality is northern B.C. is hurting right now because of the reckless fiscal policy of the B.C. Liberals for the last 16 years. If you go to northern B.C…. Go to Fort Nelson. You’ll find that the dry-gas fields are dried up at there. What was their plan? Nothing.
We have timber lot licences owned by the multinationals that are not being accessed. We can’t even have the city of Fort Nelson heating its own town through a biomass facility — that’s there — because of regulation put in place by this government.
We are in the situation we are in because of their policies. Finally, after 16 years, we have a government working together, in a minority situation, with people who want to actually make the economy start to thrive in the north, make the economy want to thrive in the industry, recognizing that value-added is the way forward, recognizing that we have successes like Structurlam in Penticton. We have successes in the agrifood industry. We have successes across British Columbia.
This former government was so unconcerned with that. They threw them under the bus as all they talked about was LNG. Jobs, jobs, jobs. LNG. Like cheerleaders. If I had given them pompoms, they would be shaking the pompoms with: “LNG. LNG. Rah-rah.”
And nothing. Sixteen years of this. Thank goodness we have a budget, finally, that puts people first, that recognizes that prosperity is local, that recognizes that British Columbians can be innovators. British Columbians are innovators. This budget will actually lead to a better B.C. — across British Columbia. We each can assure you that that is change that you can count on.
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