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.
Today in the legislature I rose during Question Period to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing about the government’s budgetary measures targetted at the demand side of our housing crisis. For months, we were told to wait for the comprehensive housing plan that the NDP promised was forthcoming. Now we have it.
As I expand upon in much greater detail in my response to the government’s 2018 budget, I am disappointed that the government’s plan did not take the comprehensive steps necessary to curb the inflow of offshore money from distorting our housing sector. Their timid response to our call for bold action is simply not enough.
I am even more disappointed with the “response” I got from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to my very simple questions.
Below I reproduce the video and text of our exchange.
A. Weaver: For months, we were told to wait for the comprehensive housing plan that the NDP promised was going to be forthcoming. Now we have it. While it’s encouraging that finally, we have a government that was willing to acknowledge that there’s a problem, I’m not entirely clear what outcomes this government is trying achieve with their plan.
In her housing plan, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing says this. She wants to “stabilize” the market. My question to the minister is this. What does she mean by stabilizing, and what does stabilization actually look like?
Hon. S. Robinson: I want to first of all thank the member, the Leader of the Third Party, for the question, because it’s a pleasure for me to stand up in this House and talk about, finally, how British Columbians have a government that’s paying attention to this housing crisis. For far too long, people have been neglected in this province. I’m very proud to represent this government on the housing file.
I think it’s really important to recognize that people need to be able to find housing that is appropriate for their families. We have so many families that are living in basement suites — three children and parents living in substandard housing. That’s unacceptable, and those people need to be able to find the housing that they need.
We also have seniors who are really struggling every month to make their ends meet. We have seniors who are choosing to not pay for medications because they can’t afford their rent.
And that, with this effort, with the efforts of this 30-point plan, will be making a difference for seniors, will be making a difference for women fleeing violence, will be making a difference for people who are Indigenous, will be making a difference for families throughout this province.
A. Weaver: Well, I must admit, that’s a fascinating definition of stabilization, if you ask me.
The budget spoke of stabilizing demand and bringing down the cost curve of housing costs. Let’s be clear what stabilizing the market actually looks like. Between 2015 and now, just three years, the average price of a home in greater Vancouver increased by 60 percent to $1.6 million. The average price of a condo increased 70 percent to $665,000. It’s a similar story throughout British Columbia.
Stabilizing the housing market at present levels leaves home prices distantly out of reach for the vast majority of British Columbians, especially families with young children. The government’s own revenue projections back this up. They reveal that government doesn’t believe
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percent to $665,000. It’s a similar story throughout British Columbia.
Stabilizing the housing market at present levels leaves home prices distantly out of reach for the vast majority of British Columbians, especially families with young children. The government’s own revenue projections back this up. They reveal that government doesn’t believe their measures are actually going to have a real impact on housing prices. The government has projected property transfer tax revenues to go up and the speculation tax to come in at $200 million, both next year and the year after.
My question, again, is this: how does the minister square this circle? How can government project increased revenues from the housing market while promising to decrease demand and reduce housing costs?
Hon. S. Robinson: Let’s be really clear. We have just announced the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C.’s history. We have brought in more than a dozen measures to address speculation in our market. That’s a significant amount.
We have been saying all along that the one-offs that the old government did were not how you address a significant problem like this. Thirty different actions are going to be taken by this government. Thirty different pieces where we’re going to be working with local governments, with First Nations, with all kinds of partners who are very excited to work with a government committed to housing. That’s how we’re going to be addressing the housing crisis that we have here in this province.
In the lead up to the budget which is to be delivered at 2PM today, my BC Green Caucus colleagues and I continued to pressure government during Question Period to crack down on speculation and dubious transactions in our out of control housing market. Sadly, the BC Liberals have been utterly ineffective in Question Period by not using their time to raise key issues like this one facing British Columbians. We only get one question a day to probe what is going on and being done.
Today it was Sonia Furstenau’s turn. Tomorrow it will be my turn.
Sonia picked up on the very serious allegations identified in Kathy Tomlinson’s excellent story in the Globe and Mail this past weekend. In particular, she quizzed Minister Eby as to “how deep does this rot go?”. She further ask the Minister why he claimed it could take up to four years to fix the mess that has been created.
Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange. The Minister’s responses were very thoughtful and quite damaging to the BC Liberal’s under whose watch things got out of control. The exchange is very much worth viewing and reading.
S. Furstenau: While this may seem to be, to some, less urgent than a dinner on Bowen Island, this last weekend we saw stunning revelations in the Globe and Mail about money laundering in B.C. and its connections to drug trafficking and real estate in Metro Vancouver. The investigation revealed that drug traffickers have laundered tens of millions of dollars through Vancouver real estate, and this is only a fraction of the problem. To say this is astonishing is an understatement.
This mess got out of control under the B.C. Liberals, but this government has now been in power for over six months and has yet to take bold action. Government has more information about what’s truly going on in B.C. than even the best reporters, with access to intelligence and data inaccessible to anyone else. And yet, we are relying on the media to reveal these shocking practices.
My question is to the Attorney General. One of the key journalists on this issue, Sam Cooper of Postmedia, says that the rot goes even deeper than we now know. The minister has the information. Exactly how deep does this rot go? Don’t British Columbians deserve to know the full extent of this problem?
Hon. D. Eby: I certainly thank the member for the question on this very important issue.
I think it’s important to recognize how we got here. In 2009, there was an integrated casino investigation team, police officers that were dedicated to investigating what happened in casinos.
They produced a report for the then minister responsible for gaming, the member for Langley East, that said…. This is a summary that was in the Sun. Sam Cooper wrote this: “The 2009 threat report said that known gangsters were gambling in B.C. casinos, and Asian organized crime groups, Italian crime groups and Hell’s Angels operate illegal casinos in B.C. Some of these underground operations are linked to crimes including prostitution, extortion, loansharking and kidnapping, the report said.” The main issue concerning unlicensed gambling “is the protection of the public.”
So the minister got that report, and in April 2009, he took decisive action. He defunded the integrated casino investigation team. So fast forward….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Eby: I know he’s upset about the news, but he did this. He did this.
Fast forward seven years. The then Finance Minister, the member for Abbotsford West, got a memo on his desk, March 2016: “There has been a significant increase in the use of illegal gaming houses in the province and the legitimization of proceeds of crime through B.C.’s gaming facilities.” The decisive action taken by that minister, hon. Speaker? I wish I could tell you what it was because I have no idea what he did. It appears he did nothing. So, on receiving a briefing that this type of activity was taking place….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Eby: I realize it’s not as important as a dinner on Bowen Island, but it is important.
On being briefed as the new minister, I brought in a person of remarkable reputation — Peter German, a former deputy in the RCMP, the author of Canada’s anti-money laundering law textbook — to get to the bottom of this and make recommendations for reform, which include other areas of our economy like real estate.
I’m so glad the member asked the question. I hope she asks another.
S. Furstenau: Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear all the minister’s response. However, I would like to ask a further question.
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister speaking to some of the systemic inaction that we’ve seen on this file. The investigation over the weekend made the scope and the urgency of this problem crystal clear. People are profiting off the deaths of fellow British Columbians, and this illicit money is being parked in our real estate, contributing to our housing crisis.
My concern is that the Attorney General, in response to this in an article, said it could take up to four years to take action. Journalists who have been reporting on the scandal for years say there’s no need for the delay. The case, as the minister points out, was proven long ago.
We have a commitment to take action on money laundering in our housing crisis. The minister has said this a priority, but we can’t afford four more years. We need immediate bold steps to fix this mess. My question is for the Attorney General: how does taking four years make this a priority?
Hon. D. Eby: I thank the member for her question. The new allegations in the Globe and Mail raised two separate pieces that require a response.
One is they’re very specific allegations involving individuals, and addresses raising questions about the conduct of professionals who are regulated in the province by independent bodies. So, in terms of those individual allegations that were in the Globe and Mail story, we are currently preparing correspondence with professional regulators and making sure that police, Revenue Canada, FINTRAC and FICOM have the information they need about those specific allegations and that they are aware of them and are pursuing them.
The second is that these are…. Although it’s the same genus, essentially — it’s money laundering — it’s a different species. These are new allegations, as far as I’m aware, around builders, liens and loans being used in this way, registered at the land title registry, which raises systemic issues that we need to address.
It does take time, and one of the things that we have to do is build up the capacity that was so degraded under the previous government to detect, prosecute and ensure the province is actually able to stop this activity. We have to rebuild that. Peter German is helping us do that in a way that’s thoughtful and, most importantly, that is effective.
Today in the Legislature I rose to speak to the first BC NDP Speech from the Throne. As I noted in my brief media statement following the Throne Speech, I am encouraged to see our shared values represented in the speech.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my nearly two hour long response.
A. Weaver: Please let me start by saying congratulating the new Leader of the Official Opposition, who just spoke to the throne speech a few minutes ago. I recognize that it’s a lot of work going through a leadership campaign, particularly one that was, frankly, quite interesting and quite well contested. So congratulations to the leader. I look forward to months and years of working collectively, particularly on this day, Valentine’s Day.
I’d like to start my response to the Speech from the Throne also thanking my family, my constituents and, particularly, the hard-working staff who I am blessed to be able to work with on a day-to-day basis.
Like the Leader of the Official Opposition, I wish to congratulate now publicly whoever wins the by-election today in Kelowna West, an interesting riding made up of both West Kelowna and Westbank Nation and large parts of downtown Kelowna.
You know, I spent ten days in Kelowna this last little while knocking on doors and getting to know the Kelowna residents and the issues there. One of my first tasks was to actually go to Ben Stewart’s office and say to him: “Good luck, Ben. We’re going to make you work for this one.” So I’m excited to see what actually happens today. We know that the turnout is low. For whatever happens, I’m sure everyone on both sides of this House will welcome the new MLA with open arms and look forward to working with him or her as well in the days ahead.
I found this throne speech to be quite refreshing. I used the words “cautiously optimistic” to describe my initial response to this. There’s a number of areas covered in the throne speech — many, many areas — some of which are gone into in detail, some of which are in less such detail.
There’s no question, in my view, that people are, front and centre, the focus of this throne speech. I did particularly applaud the throne speech commemorating the good work of David Barrett, who, frankly, is one of my heroes, a man who stood for principle when he ran for politics, a man who made decisions based on evidence. Sometimes they weren’t popular decisions. But the test of time is such that meant much of his legacy still remains with us today, whether it be the agricultural land reserve, whether it be quite a number of our environmental programs and positions here in British Columbia or whether it be our public auto insurance, which, admittedly, is under some financial stress as we speak.
The throne speech outlines a number of areas in terms of affordability and housing; child care; economic opportunity; services for people, including health care; education; public safety; infrastructure; mental health; and, of course, a section towards the end on climate change.
Now, hon. Speaker, as you will know, the results of the last election were such that there was no clear majority of MLAs in this House. As such, the B.C. Green caucus went into negotiations with both the Liberals and the NDP to see if we could come to an agreement that would allow for confidence in supply to be given in throne speech and budget measures while retaining our autonomy in terms of a minority, as opposed to a coalition, government.
The key issue that our agreement ultimately came down upon was the issue of climate change, an issue where we felt that ultimately, the previous government was not really willing to take the steps necessary to deliver on the promises made, both at the time and previously, by the government led by Gordon Campbell — a government that, as you know, hon. Speaker, I supported and worked with to try to develop policy measures that were systematically dismantled year after year once leadership changed at that level.
I didn’t think it’d be easy. The last election campaign was not an easy one to be a B.C. Green. It was very personal, a lot of very partisan attacks. I honestly didn’t think it would be possible that the B.C. Greens would be able to set up a confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. NDP. There it is, in all honesty. It was a personal campaign.
But ultimately, in sitting at that table in those days in the lead-up to our final decision, it became apparent to me and to my colleague Sonia, who was at the table, that both the Premier and the now Finance Minister were people that we felt we could relate to, people who we believed ultimately wanted to put the best interests of British Colombians front and centre in decision-making — not the backroom crowd but British Columbians.
Again, people watching the media in the lead-up to the actual agreement would notice that there was some public tension between the Leader of the Official Opposition and myself in terms of some disagreements that typically got amplified far beyond what they actually were. But in those discussions, it became very clear to me that the Premier cared. He was a person who cared about the best wishes of not just his constituents but all British Colombians. And ultimately it was clear to me that we were going to go into an agreement with the B.C. NDP. I haven’t regretted it that since that day. The proof has been in what has been delivered in our discussions, our deliberations and where we have come to today.
Now, I recognize there’s a lack of substance in some of these issues brought forward in the throne speech, and I’m the first one to call out the fact that there’s a lot of rhetoric and, at times, little substance in some key areas. But my experience, our experience, over these last six or seven months has been one of collaboration, of actually being listened to, of actually trying to do what’s right as opposed to what’s populist.
You know, we see it now in what’s going on in British Columbia, where a government essentially says, “You know what? We recognize that the product that is in a pipe, diluted bitumen….” There had never been an environmental assessment process when that product switched from synthetic crude, which used to be shipped, and where diluted bitumen started getting packed in with that. There was never any assessment, and even in the NEB process, there were clear recommendations that came out and conditions that had to be met — a number of which are British Columbia conditions.
So when the government says that it’s going to do what it must do, which is look out for the interests of British Colombians by trying to develop an understanding of the science of diluted bitumen, if spilled over our streams and lakes as this product comes across this province — simply doing what’s right — we get a knee-jerk response, not only a petty response, from Alberta. But it saddens me most the way that the B.C. Liberals are playing politics over this.
The Leader of the Official Opposition just said that British Columbia will be an embarrassing jurisdiction. British Columbia will never be an embarrassing jurisdiction. He argued that if we don’t cave in to the demands of Alberta, we will become an embarrassing jurisdiction. What sort of jurisdiction is embarrassing, when we are the most beautiful place in the world to live, where we have some of the best and brightest minds in the world come here because of the quality of life we can offer?
Our education system worldwide is second to none. Industry is thriving, and we’re a destination of choice for people all over the world. I’m not embarrassed about that. I’ll never be embarrassed about that. Frankly, I’m proud to say that we support the decision of the Environment Minister and the Premier in terms of doing what’s right, in terms of listening to the Royal Society of Canada expert panel report, the National Academy of Sciences in the United States expert panel report. The former says we don’t know what’s going to happen with a spill of diluted bitumen; the latter says we simply can’t clean it up.
The Premier wants to simply explore the science behind that to ensure that we are protected here in British Columbia, that our natural beauty and the risk that we’re taking is actually mitigated, that someone’s willing to clean up. The response we get is that this is petty, and British Columbia will be an embarrassing jurisdiction if we don’t cave. Shame on the Leader of the Official Opposition for that.
To actually have the audacity to claim that somehow Alberta is right to take it out on the B.C. wine industry just is mind-boggling. We should be united together in this Legislature — united together, standing up for the B.C. wine industry, telling all of Canada that it is not okay to put the rights of a multinational based in Texas and its shareholders against small business owners in the Okanagan. Putting small business owners, putting family business, protecting the rights of British Columbians — that’s what we were elected to do. We’re not elected to ensure profits are maximized in a multinational. We’re elected to ensure that externalities are internalized and that if there’s going to be a spill, there’s money there available to clean up that spill. But nobody talks about that.
Then just yesterday we heard Mr. Trudeau say that in fact it was a horse trade. All of this was really just a horse trade, because we wanted Notley to bring in her climate plan, and the only way we’d get her to do that was if we gave her something. But we’re not going to give her the Energy East, because the mayor of Montreal was quite upset, and there are an awful lot of Liberal seats in Quebec that we might lose, and who cares about B.C. anyway? Who cares about B.C.? There’s only a few Liberal seats, and we might gain as many in Alberta and Saskatchewan as we lose in B.C.
This is the way the decision was made. It was not made because of what’s in the best interests of Canada or British Columbians.
Again, I was the only MLA in this Legislature who participated in that NEB process. I participated in two different ways. I was qualified twice: first as an expert, with background in ocean physics, and second as an MLA representing an affected area. In both those cases, we examined these documents very, very carefully.
Now, while I know members opposite and the government was very, very free and easy with approving, did they actually know that the entire oil spill response in that process was predicated on the existence of calm conditions, with no waves, winds blowing offshore, if any, and 20 hours of sunlight? Now, there is not a latitude south of Tuktoyaktuk that has 20 hours of sunlight on any day of the year. So you would think, as a participant asking for a more realistic scenario, that I’d get a response. But no, the response I get is: “The NEB has enough information on which to make a decision.”
I could outline a litany of these. The model that was used for the ocean circulation in the region — do you know how that’s validated? How do you think a model was validated? Now, these are complex numerical models that have thousands of lines of code, that are essentially discretizing very complex physics. The way it was validated, was a guy fell off a B.C. ferry who drifted. The model said: kind of drifted the right way. You can’t make this stuff up.
The boundary conditions for the model were validated using tides. Well, you don’t need a complex model, looking at the mixing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Georgia Strait, talk about tides. Tides we’ve known about for decades. The model was incorrect. It was not the appropriate tool to be used.
It was not only me who said it. It was David Farmer — Royal Society of London, distinguished scholar, who was also at the Institute of Ocean Sciences. He said the same thing, as did others who participated.
I applaud government, and I’m glad that they’re actually standing up. I’m glad that today, just moments ago, the government announced it would take steps to promote B.C. wines. My very first response was to go out and buy three bottles of B.C. wine: one from Thornhill Creek, ironically and quite appropriately Canada’s first carbon-neutral winery; one somewhat humorously from Dirty Laundry, based in Summerland — you know, joking NDP Alberta and NDP B.C., I thought it was appropriate; and the third one from Mission Hill, of course symbolic of the race that was there.
That was my response. What was the B.C. Liberal response? It was blaming government. It wasn’t standing up for industry. And what’s worse…. In those ten days I spent in Kelowna, I consulted wine industry expert after wine industry expert after restaurateur.
Let me tell you: the wine industry in B.C. is very, very upset at the B.C. Liberals right now. I’ll tell you why.
Let me tell you, the wine industry in B.C. is very, very upset at the B.C. Liberals right now, and I’ll tell you why. Because despite my protestations sitting opposite, pointing out that I did not believe that those specialty wine licences would stand up to a NAFTA challenge, and despite my saying, “Don’t do this. I’m not sure you’ve got the appropriate legal advice,” government went ahead and created six new specialty wine store licences for grocery stores to sell wines in B.C.
We’re not talking about the 50 or 60 — I forget the number — that were grandfathered in prior to these trade agreements, that are owned by the wine institute. These are six new ones that the government decided to create. Well, we now have a WTO trade complaint launched by Australia against British Columbia wines because of these six. We have a NAFTA challenge launched by the U.S. over these six licences.
That’s the B.C. Liberal response. They have the gall and the audacity to say that we’re not protecting B.C. wine — as the government announces measures today to actually promote B.C. wine — yet their direct policy measurements have led to WTO and NAFTA challenges directly against B.C. on the international scene.
You know, you should take a look at your own house before you start throwing stones at other people’s houses, to be honest. And that’s what is so refreshing about this throne speech. I truly believe it steps back and makes us reflect upon what’s important in British Columbia.
I’m going to go through the throne speech and give credit to now members of the opposition for some of the ideas in it that clearly were put forward by them and that have been adopted by the B.C. NDP.
For example, when we talk about the actions of affordability. In the throne speech, the B.C. NDP outline the number of actions that have happened, one of which was to cut MSP premiums in half.
Now, we recognize the B.C. Liberals had already promised that. They’d already promised to do that. Again, this is an issue that we felt we could have done much more aggressively, and we campaigned on eliminating them through bringing it into a progressive health care premium much akin to what’s done in Ontario, but we recognize that this has been done. We applaud this, and we congratulate the B.C. Liberals on making sure this happened.
Another thing that happened in there is they talk about affordability measures with respect to the removal of tolls. Now I recognize that the B.C. NDP campaigned on this. I recognize the B.C. Liberals were a little more subtle in their campaigning, and, rather than eliminating the tolls, they were going to put a cap on, which, frankly, was a little more clever because it would not have allowed for the transfer of debt onto provincial debt to be taxpayer-supported.
But in the throne speech that happened this summer, the Liberals were also going to eliminate the tolls. So we really were standing alone in saying we don’t support it. We continue not to support it, but that’s the nature of a democracy. We don’t believe that’s correct, but we understand that it’s moving forward, and the B.C. NDP — and, frankly, the B.C. Liberals — will have to explain that to the voters.
We’ve told you why we don’t like it. We don’t like it because we think it’s fiscally irresponsible policy. It’s a form of vote-buying, in our view, and it actually transfers onto provincial debt — taxpayer-supported debt — $4.7 billion. It puts us in a position where we can’t deal with some of the things that we might otherwise do, like stop Site C, which honestly is something that I still don’t understand to this day, based on the fiscal outlook of what that’s going to cost.
Also, in the case of the Golden Ears and Mann bridges, outlined as a success to date, we know that that was not done in consultation with local mayors who opposed it. The concern over this is there is a discussion right now happening in Metro Vancouver on mobility pricing. Whether that comes to fruition or not is not the issue. The issue is, once you pull away tolls, it’s very difficult to put them on. And there are unforeseen consequences, like people who wanted to pay those tolls because they wanted to have access in a more timely fashion to the Vancouver region.
Another action on affordability that was highlighted: cutting student loan interest by 2.5 percent so that graduates can get out of debt more quickly on their path to a chosen career. Obviously, we wholeheartedly support that. Again, this is something that the B.C. Liberals had promised to do.
I’m pleased that we have an example where the B.C. NDP have adopted something the B.C. Liberals have done that we agreed to as well. Let’s focus on our successes. We have all agreement in the House that this is a good thing to do. That’s what we’re elected to do — to put forward good public policy.
We hear about making adult education and language learning tuition-free, so that tens of thousands of British Columbians can prepare for a degree and upgrade their skills, work. Great public policy, something we supported — glad to see that that’s a success — and something that we started to see emerge in the Liberals’ throne speech in the summer as well.
On the topics of affordability in the throne speech, the government points to its attempt to keep hydro rates affordable. They’ve asked B.C.’s commission to freeze hydro rates for the next year.
Now, I appreciate the softening in that language, because obviously, you cannot have your cake and eat it too in this area, in light of the fact that you cannot campaign on freezing B.C. Hydro rates and also campaign on the autonomy of the BCUC, because they’re mutually inconsistent. Either you agree to the autonomy of the BCUC and make a suggestion that you’d like to see it frozen, or you freeze it through order-in-council, which, historically, had been done by the B.C. Liberals.
The reality is I’m not sure BCUC will approve that. Frankly, B.C. Hydro looks pretty foolish, after having a 4 percent increase approved by the BCUC as part of a long-term plan. They look pretty foolish going to the BCUC now and saying: “We don’t really want an increase.” If I were on the BCUC, I’d be asking: “So what’s changed with your accounting?” Frankly, it does not instill confidence in B.C. Hydro if they can actually suddenly justify, through different accounting, the lack of an increase.
You know, if BCUC rejects a freeze, so be it. I think the electorate are the ones who the government have to be accountable to. We did not campaign on freezing B.C. Hydro rates, nor did the B.C. Liberals, because frankly, I don’t think it’s fiscally responsible. And honestly, it doesn’t actually deal with the issue of affordability.
Let’s take a look at a simply example that would. Right now we have tier 1 and tier 2 rates. Now, if there were six people living in a small house, they are almost certainly going to be having six showers. They’re going to have six bedrooms that are heated. They might have an electric car that they share. But their fixed tier 1 rate is the same as somebody in a 10,000-foot mansion with one person.
The electricity usage is not normalized by the number of people it’s being applied to. It’s basically tier 1 based on your actual meter. That’s not right. That doesn’t actually address the issue. The issue would be addressed with by dealing with the rates — the rate of that tier 1, tier 2 — and focusing on providing assistance, like as has been done in other provinces, particularly in cold provinces where heating bills can be outrageous in the winter.
I’m getting a $750 electricity bill. It’s kind of high for two months, but there are four people in my house. I don’t know how somebody on a low income could afford 750 bucks, particularly if they live in Dawson Creek, particularly if they’re heating their homes with electricity instead of gas. How could they afford this?
These are the measures and means and ways we deal with the affordability issue, by targeting those who need the leg up, rather than blanket hydro rate freezes for one and all.
A. Weaver: Well, again — I’m not — I’ve never been opposed to…. Natural gas right now is a premium for heating. It’s actually quite cheap. It’s $2 and change at Chetwynd, I understand — $2.50 or something like that. Really, really cheap. You’re basically losing money taking it out of the ground in northern B.C. But the way you make money…. The reason why Fort Nelson has dried up is because there are dry gas fields, obviously. But we’ve got the liquids in the Montney, which we can actually sell.
On this topic that was so astutely brought up by my friend from Peace River South, I met in Kelowna West a fellow in a coffee shop who had just left Fort Nelson. He’d sold his natural gas company. The reason why he left is he felt the long-term economics of natural gas is not good in light of the fact that there is a global oversupply.
What’s his focus? Where has he moved into? He’s moved into the petrochemical and value-added industry in the carbon sector. There is a future. We are going to need plastics. We can actually extract hydrogen from the methane. We can actually create hydrogen, which a storage fuel. There is a lot of innovation potential that can and will happen in our natural gas sector, but it means we have to think differently from what we are doing.
In the throne speech, another success that was mentioned was ICBC. Or rather, the throne speech states: “Years of apparent neglect and inaction have led to big problems at B.C.’s public auto insurer. This government has rejected the double-digit increase in rates for drivers and has taken decisive action to keep rates down.” That’s a success outlined in response to the escalating financial crisis in ICBC.
Again, we were somewhat critical of government when, after the initial report was made public, things were taken off the table prior to standing back and reflecting upon that which was actually contained and what the solutions were, but we do support a number of the measures. We do believe that the red-light cameras being enabled is a good thing. They were just turned off. We do believe that we need to take a close look at some of the soft-tissue claims. We also like the focus where we’re focusing on the patient and the care rather than on the actual litigative aspects of ICBC.
There’s an awful lot that needs to be done. In other jurisdictions that have public insurance, there’s a form of no-fault. I know that trial lawyers will be very upset about this, but it’s a discussion we need to have, about keeping prices down. Other provinces that don’t have public insurance have a form of private insurance. With private insurance, you start to get rules and regulations as to why someone would actually offer you insurance, for example. They put limits on claims or they will limit the amount that they’ll pay off in claims. Again, we believe that that’s a discussion we should have.
Obviously, our preference is to fix ICBC. As I said at the very beginning, it is a legacy — frankly, a good legacy — of Dave Barrett, who was mentioned in the beginning of the throne speech as a leader in British Columbia. We continue to look forward to see how the Attorney General, who I see has joined us here…. I do apologize, hon. Speaker; I’m not supposed to mention about the presence or absence of any member in the House. We do look forward to seeing the measures that he will continue to outline as we move forward with respect to revitalizing ICBC.
To the issue of housing. We know that the issue of affordability is fundamentally coupled with the issue of housing availability and affordability. It’s not only reducing tolls. It’s not only eliminating MSP or reducing them. It’s actually being able to find a place to live and a house to live in that you can afford. Now, the B.C. NDP, during the last election campaign, campaigned vigorously on the fact that they would take be taking steps to deal with both supply and demand. I tend to agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition that the 114,000-new-unit number is wishful. I’m not so sure I understand where that number comes from, and I do resonate with the analysis that was presented.
On the other hand, I do recall — and I commend it, and continue to — the good work of the now Attorney General who was raising so many issues with respect to the demand side. We see, mentioned in the throne speech: “Government’s first step must be to address demand and stabilize B.C.’s out-of-control real estate and rental market.”
I’m very pleased to see those words there. We know that this is not a supply problem. It is a demand problem. We know that there are 7½ billion people in the world. We know that around the world there are tumultuous times. We know that real estate is a safe haven, particularly when it’s British Columbia real estate. A lot of capital is coming into B.C. That capital is being parked here as an investment, as a bank account to ensure that money is protected because of our stable democracy, our quality of life, our attractiveness and the fact that real estate, particularly in some regions, was affordable.
Hon. Speaker, I will be designate on this particular speech.
The issue of affordability is not only a Metro Vancouver issue nowadays. Perceived value is not there, to the extent that it was, in Vancouver. But perceived value is there in Victoria, in Kelowna, in Nanaimo, in Parksville and many other places in British Columbia where we’re now seeing prices dramatically increased as people leave Vancouver and say: “I’ll sell my $300,000 bungalow, which I bought 15 years ago, for millions. Then I’ll come and drop a million bucks in Victoria — what’s that? — and I’ll pocket $2 million and do very well, as a retirement fund.”
The problem here is that the disparity between income and rent, as well as housing, has grown so much that we have a crisis. Crises require dramatic steps. Tinkering around the edges will not deal with the problem.
My own property assessment value, its paper increase, went up 25 percent in one year. All that tells me is we need a 25 percent correction in the market where I live, because that’s a completely artificial gain. It doesn’t reflect the value of my home. It reflects speculation in my part of the riding of Oak Bay–Gordon Head, which has seen out-of-control real estate prices.
We called for bold steps, mirroring what was done in New Zealand, mirroring what was done in Australia. Bold steps to say we have a crisis now, and when you have a crisis, you need to deal with this in a very, very firm way. We called for a ban on offshore capital being allowed to buy property and land in British Columbia.
The stories we got — whether it be the thousands of hectares in northern B.C. that were bought up by offshore corporations to grow hay that is bubble wrapped and shipped abroad, creating an externality of rising hay prices in the region and lack of availability. This isn’t right. We’ve heard stories about one constituent who came into my office — well two of them, actually — how they had two friends, or friends of friends, come here on a tourist visa, and each of these business people bought five houses and then got on a plane and went home, and those five houses lie vacant.
We’ve got story after story after story flooding our in-box. And let me tell you, I have never seen so much for support for an issue as I have seen for support to take immediate steps to clamp down on the ability of offshore capital to come into British Columbia to purchase our real estate.
A number of years ago — I think it’s three years ago now — after senior homes and the issue of MSP premiums and the affordability issue that was raised, I raise it in this House. We started a campaign, a petition campaign. We started a public relations campaign to gauge public support. I think it was overwhelming that people felt it was a regressive tax, and they wanted to see it dealt with in a progressive fashion. We received thousands and thousands of emails. Our petition had tens of thousands of names on it. But that pales in comparison as to the support for taking steps now.
The most outspoken, the most passionate people speaking out are actually first-generation immigrants to British Columbia. People who came to British Columbia, with their families in many cases, for a better life. They came to this country because of what we could offer in terms of opportunities — for jobs, for places to live and for the beautiful environment.
Now they see that their children are no longer afforded the same opportunities that they were. These are the people speaking out. These are the people who are begging government to take steps. So while I asked it again today in question period, I got the same answer that we must wait for the budget.
Let me tell government that there is pent-up anxiety here on this issue, and we hope that government delivers on its promises. We certainly hope that government delivers on its promises.
We were somewhat disappointed with the response that is being done with respect to Airbnb. We recognize that it was a good first step from a taxation point of view. But Airbnb got the best advertising they could possibly have wanted here in British Columbia.
Unless you couple that with an aggressive ability to allow municipalities to actually limit, to have business licences or to tax though vacancy rates across the province, this will do little other than incentivize a particular company, a winner. The government has in essence chosen a winner. What about vrbo, vacation rentals by owner, another organization? What about the people who list on Craigslist? It’s a dangerous precedent to set when you are picking winners and losers, particularly when we’re in a close to 0 percent vacancy rate.
The throne speech says that government will introduce legislation to crack down on tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in B.C.’s real estate market. We are very excited about that. We welcome that, and again we look forward to the details that will be outlined, hopefully, in the budget coming up next week.
Again in the throne speech, the budget talks about, “the government will begin to make the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C. history, including social housing, student housing, seniors housing, Indigenous housing and affordable rentals for middle-income families,” and so on, so forth.
We welcome investment in affordable housing, and we look forward to seeing what the specifics are in this regard. We were very concerned about some of the language emanating out with respect to how the rental agreements will be changed, because we must protect renters and the rights of renters. But we also must protect the rights of landlords, particularly those people who didn’t have any pension — those people who put real estate as the source of their pension. If we start to clamp down on their ability to make ends meet, we don’t actually deal with the problem of affordability. We create an additional problem.
The throne speech talks about enabling local governments to plan for affordable rental housing by zoning areas of their communities for that. Again, we’re excited to see that this is coming through. It’s been asked for by both UBCM as well as the city of Vancouver. One of the things we campaigned on, which we’re pleased to see in there, is that the government plans, through the throne speech, to work with local governments to help plan for and build housing near transit corridors. It makes sense. It reduces congestion, and it maximally utilizes space.
We’re interested to learn more — details were scant — about what the government’s thoughts are on this new housing hub that’s being proposed as a division of B.C. Housing. We are unsure of what this goal is, but it seems essential that a new supply would meet the needs of the communities that are seeking new supply. We assume the housing hub will actually work to ensure government investment matches community needs in some way or another. Again, looking forward to the details coming up with that.
Coming to where we’re a little concerned, and what we’re again looking for information for, is the issue of security and safety for renters. Where it says: “government will introduce stronger protections for renters and owners of manufactured homes, and protections for renters facing eviction due to renovation or demolition.” Now again, clearly, there are some very high-profile cases where seniors or others are being evicted for so-called renovictions for a simple paint and shuffle so that rents can be jacked up.
Clearly, we share the concern of government in that regard. However, again, one has to be very careful in introducing legislation that one doesn’t hurt the good landlords and, actually, doesn’t stop them from being able to continue to rent. As we know, if you start to put more and more regulations on housing rentals, we may start to drive that stock out of the rental market — unless it’s done carefully.
There comes a point when someone says: “It’s just not worth the hassle. I’ll hold this, but I’m not going to rent it, because if I rent it, my rent is so controlled that it’s going to cost me $10K when the tenant moves out, and now I can’t reap that.” One has to be very, very, very careful with this.
At the same time, we do have forms of renovictions going on now. We have demovictions going on now in the heart of Burnaby, near the Kingsgate Mall, where low-lying three-story apartment buildings are being condemned left, right and centre. It’s going on now as we speak — right now — in downtown Kelowna as land assemblies are being made in downtown Kelowna. Along Cambie Street in Vancouver, it’s one big land assembly.
This sounds like, “Okay, we’re going to end up building rental accommodation or condos or whatever,” but when you displace these people and you just hold these properties for land assembly, you are creating affordability issues.
The city of Burnaby is in crisis from a rental perspective. High-end condos are replacing low-lying affordable rental units with no plan in place to actually deal with the displaced people. This is a crisis.
Sure, it brings in lots of money through development fees, etc., and through taxes to municipal coffers, but it creates a social problem that we have to get a handle on. So we’re looking forward to seeing what, as the government talks about introducing the housing measures, how it’s going to deal with issues like this — with issues like presales of condominiums and others offshore.
One of the things that we’re delighted to see in this throne speech is a very positive step forward. It’s a positive step forward that we tried to pressure, as did the now government of the former government, to take steps to remedy.
That is the inability, at present, of colleges and universities across British Columbia to build student housing on their campuses without incurring public debt. There are so many potential…. There are people waiting across British Columbia, whether it be Camosun College in my riding, University of Victoria in my riding, UBC, Simon Fraser, Kwantlen College…. Capilano has no housing. The ability for these institutions to build housing on campus will take students out of the market in larger communities onto campuses, thereby easing pressure, as well, in the larger communities.
We have a captive audience on campuses. We know that if there are creative means of allowing these institutions access to capital, that capital has a clientele that will service it in perpetuity. Those are the students in the institution, and they can do so in a very effective means. So we are pleased to see this.
The government also talks, in the throne speech, about making the largest investment in retrofits and renovation of social housing in B.C. in more than 20 years. Talking about…. These upgrades will reserve much-needed housing stock, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce home heating bills.
Now again, cautiously optimistic. But I get a little worried about the amount of money being spent and where that money is going to be coming from. This is why we’re quite excited, as the throne speech mentions the emerging economy task force and the innovation commission, that there is a very real move to invigorate the B.C. economy in areas where we’re leaders not only today but also tomorrow.
But with that, we also recognize that retrofitting creates cottage industries of renewable energy companies, building designers and so forth. We know the previous Premier, prior to the last government, recognized that too through the programs that he and his government introduced that actually spurred growth in a diverse array of the building sector — the clean, green building growth.
It’s a matter of saving money. If you can actually spend 15 percent to build a little bit more, to build a building right now, you’ll amortize that in a few years based on today’s technology. It’s about giving people the ability to do that, and we look forward to seeing how that’s going to come down in weeks ahead.
To the issue of child care. Much has been made about the lack of the word “$10-a-day” in the throne speech. To be honest, that’s a slogan. The actual $10-a day plan was a community plan. That’s what it used to be called. Didn’t have as catchy a slogan. We recognize that child care is an important component both of our platform, the NDP platform and also the Liberal throne speech. That we need investments in this. But the investments must come strategically, not through a slogan but ensuring that we have quality access not only to child care but early childhood education and educators for our next generation, the future of our society.
We see a lot in the throne speech about child care. We’re a little troubled by the lack of discussion in there about early childhood education. Child care is not about building spaces. Child care is also about ensuring that we treat the profession of early childhood educators and child care providers as a valued, high-paying profession in our society.
One of the barriers to actual access to child care is the barrier of actual trade ECEs, because as a society, we seem to think it’s okay to pay slightly above minimum wage to people who are looking after our next generation in the most critical years of their development. We really need to give our head a shake, as a society, if we think and expect a child care provider to earn $15 an hour, and we’re going to get people, the best and brightest, in this profession.
They’ve got to make ends meet. They have to afford bus fare. They have to afford to eat, and it’s tough. So we’re hoping we see not only the creation of spaces but incentive programs that will actually supplement the wages of our early childhood…. Such programs did exist in B.C., and they probably still exist in some, but not to the scale that they’re needed.
We have to recognize that we need to ensure that ECEs, child care providers, are viewed, like teachers, as the most important profession in our society. What sort of society are we if we don’t view as our number one priority the education of our next generation, who are the next generation that will take care of us as we age, the next generation that will discover the cure for cancer, the next generation that will find the innovation to ensure that B.C.’s economy is competitive internationally. That is why in the last election we campaigned on investing more than $4 billion over four years into both public education as well as early childhood education and child care.
You know, we have a present system in child care whereby access is a problem. Let’s suppose I’m a low-income person and I want to get access to a child care space. I have to pay up front, and at the end of the year when I file my tax return, I get my child care tax credit back. I don’t need the money then. I needed it to pay my fees up front.
That is why one of the innovative ways that we put in our platform was actually to change the child care tax credit into a child care taxable benefit. That is, money up front isn’t a barrier, but if you earn below a certain amount and you access that child care, it’s viewed as a taxable benefit. Let those who pay and those who want to pay and have the ability to pay, pay.
As Karen Isaac, executive director of B.C. Aboriginal Child Care Society, said:
“Given the long history of Aboriginal children being forcibly removed from their families and communities to residential schools and current high numbers of Aboriginal children being taken into government care, it is no wonder that some poverty-stricken families may be ambivalent about government child care programs and see it as another type of policing over children and their families.”
We must be particularly careful as to how we implement and roll out our child care strategies in Indigenous communities in British Columbia. Our view of what appropriate child care is — when I say “our,” the majority of members in this House — is not the same view as many, many Indigenous communities across British Columbia.
Indigenous communities have a rich history…. Frankly, rich is the wrong word. They have a sordid history of having their children taken from their families, of being forced to have their children taken to schools that they did not intend to go to. So we look forward to seeing how this will play out in the days and weeks ahead.
We’re also keen to see that government is looking to create more child care spaces. But there was some worry, again, in the language of the throne speech where we talk about a main focus on changing unlicensed to licensed providers. That’s important. We want our children to be looked after — licensed providers. But that’s not the only thing we need to focus on.
Obviously, this so-called Baby Mac law will be critical in terms of dealing with issues that led to the tragic death of baby Mac in 2017. However, we must remember that it’s not only about creation of space, and it doesn’t just mean converting unlicensed to licensed. It also means attracting new people into the profession by paying them well, by ensuring that societies value this through education and by working with employers to help facilitate employers actually building child care and early childhood education programs in their corporations and places.
There was a lack of focus of early childhood education in the throne speech. To us, our view is that child care is not only about babysitting; it’s about education. When a child is growing from those early years through to puberty and adulthood, they are very much influenced by the surroundings about them. We hope, as we discuss the child care plan moving forward, that we recognize and reflect upon not only the rights of Aboriginal people but also the importance of education in child care.
I’m very pleased that in the throne speech we hear a focus on poverty reduction. The B.C. Liberals have acknowledged that they’ve stopped listening to British Columbians about the importance of poverty reduction; about the importance of the growing disparity between those who have and those who don’t; and about, from a purely fiscal point of view, the fact that it costs society when this disparity grows in terms of the services that have to be provided.
You eliminate poverty, you eliminate the needs for a lot of social services designed to actually deal with poverty. This is why a housing-first strategy is the preferred approach by so many poverty advocates and why it has been so successful in jurisdictions in the United States where it’s been implemented.
You promote a housing-first strategy…. You cannot deal with issues of mental health and substance abuse unless you get someone in a home, a safe, stable place to be. Once they’re there, these other issues can be dealt with.
In doing so, you save from the judicial system, you save in the hospital system, the medical system, you save in the health care system, you save in the welfare system. You give people housing first. We hope that we a move towards that as this government continues to deliver on its throne speech.
We’re thrilled with the discussion of the B.C. Human Rights Commission and the fact that it’ll be rejuvenated. We’re delighted with the report that was recently released by the Fair Wages Commission, alluded to in the throne speech. Again, $15 was a slogan. How do we get there is what matters, and what do we do beyond that?
We strongly support the recommendations of the Fair Wages Commission to become an established entity in perpetuity in this jurisdiction in order to take politics out of this decision-making and setting minimum wage.
We also look forward to seeing what some of these labour code changes are going to look like. We have little detail, again, and much rhetoric in the throne speech. Good words — I’m not criticizing the words. But some of the details we await to see and look forward to exploring those with our colleagues on both sides of this House.
Now, coming to the economy. I am absolutely delighted and our caucus is delighted with the focus in this throne speech on what B.C. can be leaders at or are leaders at.
I take the example of the forest industry. This is one of our strategic strengths. We have, in British Columbia, three things that no one else in the world can compete with us with. Number one, we are the most beautiful place in the world to live. I get nods over there from the members opposite. Number two, we have one of the best education systems in the world. I got nods there from the former Minister of Education. International assessments year after year have B.C. at the top.
I also have nods over here from another minister. There’s a collegiality here. It’s Valentine’s Day. We’ve all got to get on.
It’s a strategic strength. We know that we can offer employers some of the most highly skilled and educated workers in the world. And, because of our environment, we can attract and retain them here because it’s the most beautiful place to live.
But we also have access to boundless forests, wood, energy in renewable forms and water. These are our strategic strengths that it’s recognized within this throne speech that we can build on as we move towards a sustainable, diverse economy of the 21st century.
We can actually race to the bottom and try to play that game, but we will lose that game. If I dig dirt out of the ground in B.C., there’s a cost that we internalize here. We value our social programs. We value the importance of a minimum wage. We value our environment. It costs a little more to dig the dirt out of the ground here compared to, say, some place like Indonesia, where the same environmental and social costs are not internalized as part of the cost of doing business.
We can compete by trying to do a race for the bottom and forget our values. This is what we’ve been doing with LNG — I’ll come back to that in a second — or we can recognize that the way we compete, the way we grow our GDP, is through more efficient means of doing it, by bringing our technology sector together with our resource sector.
We rely on Finnish technology in our forest sector because Finland recognized that bringing its forestry sector together with its technology sector would lead to innovation, in terms of more efficient extraction, as well as the ability to sell the knowledge and the technology associated with that efficiency.
We have, in British Columbia, some world-leading companies. One of my favourites is MineSense. MineSense is a B.C.-based company that is, at the rock face, able to determine whether or not its efficient to ship rock and crush it or lay it aside. This is a means and ways of extracting mining in much more efficient ways, more clean ways, more green ways that allows us to compete not only in the pure mineral extraction but through the technology that we’ve done.
This throne speech recognizes that our strengths are not in racing to the bottom, but in the fact that we are smarter, and we can attract and retain the best and the brightest.
Let me give you another example: Structurlam. Structurlam is an incredible Penticton-based value-added forest company that makes CrossLam and glulam, replacements for steel and concrete. An 18-storey student residence at UBC is being built from 100 percent wood, CrossLam and glulam products.
Portland has a facility being built there from B.C. products — CrossLam and glulam. Alberta. Across B.C. The Harbour Air terminal. These are beautiful value-added products that actually employ hundreds of people and use B.C. wood, family-based wood. They have a partnership with the Kalesnikoff family out in Nelson to provide some of their lumber.
This is where we succeed. Why do we need to ship a raw log to Korea or to China? China and Korea don’t need raw logs. They need lumber. They need value-added products, and if we bring technology together with our resource sector, we can do so more efficiently because the shipping is minimal in terms of the overall cost.
It’s the same, coming back to the pipeline. Why are we shipping diluted bitumen? Why are we even talking about shipping diluted bitumen to Asian markets? Frankly, I don’t even know that there’s an economic case for Kinder Morgan as it stands, because the largest supplier was going to be California, which now is going to get access to its upgraded products from the Keystone XL that’s just been approved.
Nevertheless, why would we ship those jobs offshore? This isn’t good for the Canadian economy. This isn’t good for jobs. Those jobs get shipped offshore, and what’s worse, we are now building a construction facility in Vancouver airport to import jet fuel. So rather than making the jet fuel here in British Columbia or in Alberta, we ship those jobs off and reimport. That’s the race to the bottom that I think we need to move away from.
And coming to LNG, we’ve had four years of this race to the bottom. This race to the bottom where we’ve tried so desperately to land the impossible that we literally gave away the farm. We’re not going to earn any royalties of any value or substance from natural gas for many, many years because of the deep-well credits where there was at least…. It’s more now, but there was $3.2 billion of unclaimed tax credits against future royalties because of the deep-well credits, which were designed back in the day when it was kind of costly to get deep vertical drills going. Since then, everyone’s got horizontal drilling, costs have come down and, what’s worse, is the previous government then jacked up the credits to shallow wells as well. So we’re not going to earn any money on royalties.
Where will we earn this LNG money, which, fortunately, we’re not focusing on in this throne speech? Well, we’d earn it in the LNG income tax. Oh, no. Capital costs are coming in there. The income tax is cut. We offer below-market electricity, ratepayer-funded Site C to deliver electricity into LNG. You know, literally, we give away the farm.
Landed costs of LNG in Asia years from now…. It was four bucks and change a few months back. I don’t know what it is exactly. It’s gone up a bit — probably six bucks and change. It costs us four bucks to get it out of the ground here in B.C. We can sell it for $2.50 at Chetwynd. It costs us about 11 bucks landed to actually sell it in China. How is it going to happen? How is it going to happen? What business case is it that a company is going to make a major investment here in British Columbia to lose money in every Btu of natural gas they produce?
Louisiana already has the infrastructure on the coast down there, and they already are taking up any supply gaps that existed. The Isthmus of Panama was recently widened. Russia has 20 times the total reserves of all of Canada, and it’s conventional gas, not shale gas, and they’ve signed contracts in and around Asia.
China is now a seller of contracts because they’re oversupplied. We’ve got Australia not bringing onshore stuff that was almost ready to go because there’s no demand, and we think that this is going to be the direction for prosperity in British Columbia. What makes me sad are the false promises that were made by this B.C. Liberal government before us to the people of British Columbia. False hope, undelivered hope. And now the continued pressure to try to deliver the impossible, while recognizing that so many other opportunities are there and we’re missing out on them.
I’d like to take us back to March 3 of 2015. March 3 of 2015 was when I sat across, again, saying — I’ve been saying this since 2012 — “LNG is not going to happen because the market is not there for it.”
On March 3, 2015, 2015, the then Minister of Natural Gas said: “You didn’t do your research. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I know the status of discussions. I know when the final investment decisions are coming. I know the way the companies are planning on making those. I will enjoy the meal to watch the member opposite eat his words in the next year or two.” This was 2015. “I will enjoy watching him eat his words as final investment decisions come that are coming down the pike and he sees the construction of LNG.”
A couple of months later he says: “I want to be invited to the dinner when he has to eat those words. It will happen in the not too distant future, I believe.”
It’s 2018, three years now, and still nothing. The fact that the members opposite think that they have any credibility on any aspect of the economy is mind-boggling, especially since…. What Finance Minister errs to the tune of $2.8 billion in a financial outlook? That’s reckless indifference to the actual economy, as opposed to fine stewardship of the economy. We know where that money came from: an out-of-control real estate sector and the construction industry that’s supporting it. But that’s not a healthy economy. That leads to a boom-and-bust economy, which is why it’s so critical that we diversify.
We look at the place of Terrace, British Columbia, for example. Rather than saying we’re going to try to squeeze LNG, like everyone else is doing, we could be asking: “What is it that you have in Terrace that no one else in the world can compete with?” Let me tell you what they have. They have the first three things we talked about: beautiful place, quality of education and access to resources. But they’re also on a railway line between Prince Rupert and Chicago — the gateway to Asia and the gateway to the eastern U.S.
Why is it we always focus on the raw and not the upgrade or manufacture? Terrace has an amazing opportunity, as a jurisdiction, to try to attract manufacturing there. Why did BMW go to Washington? Why did BMW build a factory in Washington to construct carbon fibre components for their i3 electric vehicles? Because they had access to clean, renewable energy, a stable workforce that they could attract and retain. Where was B.C. in these discussions? Chasing the natural gas unicorn or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that kept moving. That should have been in Terrace.
Prince George. Let’s look at Prince George. What’s its strategic strength? It’s cold in Prince George right now, and they’ve got a ton of snow. I don’t know whether the member for Cariboo North was able to make it here today. But I know that the member…. We had some difficulty in a committee meeting, because he was snowed in up in the region. But that’s a strategic strength, because that means it’s cold. Why is it that data distribution centres are being built in the U.S.? They should be built in Prince George, because we know the single biggest cost to data distribution is cooling. It’s cooling, and when it’s a cooler place, it costs less. What’s the barrier? Not the speed of light, on which information is transferred. The barrier is lack of access to broadband redundancy.
In British Columbia, historically we’ve thought it’s industry’s role to build fibre and broadband capacity into communities. Now, it’s great that industry has made these investments. But it’s very difficult for a company, a strategic global company, to want to move into a community where its only access to broadband is owned through another company. That’s uncertainty. There’s a role for government, and we’re delighted to see this in the throne speech.
There’s a role for government to create highways — not only bridges and roads that we drive trucks and cars on but also highways for information that everyone has access to, and we’re delighted to see some of that appear in the throne speech.
One of the things that the throne speech mentioned with respect to the forest industry — again, very supportive of the issue with respect to upgrading and value added…. This is one of our key areas. I was troubled by some of the statements there about getting the most value out of affected timber, in cooperation with communities, industry and First Nations.
One has to be very, very careful about how you define value. Is it short-term or long-term? The quickest way to desertify, to make into a desert, large parts of the Cariboo region is to cut down all those burnt trees, which are important for rejuvenation of the next generation of forests.
Again, I would urge government to ensure that they consult not only with communities, industry and First Nations but with scientific experts who have an understanding about forest rejuvenation, particularly academics who have done studies on this and can show you examples of where, if you cut down all the burnt trees, all you leave behind is a forest because the nutrients that were there to actually create the next generation of growth are gone. I hope government’s careful with this as it moves forward.
I’m really excited, in the throne speech, not only about the mention of the innovation commissioner and the emerging economy task force, both of which we campaigned on, but about the opportunity this brings.
I’ve met with Alan Winter twice now, the innovation commissioner, and I can say that British Columbia is so absolutely lucky to have a man of his calibre, of his strengths, of his connections, to be our champion for the innovation sector in British Columbia. I look forward to him taking the programs that exist in Ottawa and matching them with B.C. programs to ensure efficiency and delivery of support to our innovation sector.
He’s concerned about the fact that what happens in British Columbia is companies grow and then move to the States. He’s concerned about creating the environment that will allow companies to grow and remain here in British Columbia.
We have examples of where we’ve tried this. We have a very troubling example right now playing out in B.C. with Bardel Entertainment, one of British Columbia’s top digital media companies, one of the world’s top — a company that set up an office in Kelowna, because of regional and distance tax credits, to try to bring the tech industry out of Vancouver into other parts of British Columbia. When all of a sudden, $5 million was pulled retroactively in the flick of a finger in an amendment that we didn’t debate.
When I tried to raise some issues here, I was told we have to pass it now because the Lieutenant-Governor is coming tomorrow. Five million dollars it cost that industry.
So I hope that we actually start to reflect upon the importance of this sector and the diversity of the sector across British Columbia, so that we nurture and then grow our innovation here in B.C. and don’t ship and export the talent elsewhere as well as the jobs elsewhere.
I’m delighted…. Again, this was a B.C. Liberal commitment in the election campaign, supported and adopted by both the B.C. NDP and by us. The creation of engineering programs across British Columbia.
We know that if you don’t train in an area, you often get sucked into the big metro areas of Vancouver and Victoria. The expansion of the engineering program in Prince George was a great thing for the diversity of our economy across this province. We’re thrilled to see that a total of 2,900 new tech-related spaces at colleges will be created as part of the throne speech over the years to come.
To the issue of reconciliation, the throne speech talks about this government beginning — across ministry framework — to meet our commitments to the United Nations declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples, the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Tsilhqot’in decision.
Obviously, we support this, and we support the government as we move to reconciliation in partnership with First Nations. But let me tell you, there is suspicion, because Indigenous communities — First Nations across our province — are sick and tired of words. I resonate with that. As a climate scientist who spent 25 years in the area, I am sick and tired of hearing governments promise, “We’ll reduce emissions by some amount sometime in the future,” and then not delivering or taking the steps to do it.
What matters to Indigenous communities is not the words. It’s the action. So let’s start to show real action sooner than later as we move towards, truly, truth and reconciliation in this province.
You know, the throne speech also talks about services to people under the areas of health care, education and so forth. Again, we’re excited about the focus in this throne speech away from corporate donors and large entities but towards people and small business. The focus on bringing together family doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses in a community-based approach is one that we think not only the medical community, but certainly our caucuses across this party, can come to agreement on.
I look at the Oceanside Health Centre in Parksville-Qualicum as a success story. The only problem with Oceanside Health Centre is not the way it’s set up, but the growing demand so that its wait times have increased and increased, because it’s a retirement community in there. But it shows a model of the future. But it requires us to think innovatively about how we have billing in the medical profession.
Doctors — there are shortages, no doubt.
But many of today’s doctors do not want to follow the path, particularly in light of the growing bureaucracy that exists in the health care system of having to run their own small business if they’re a family practitioner.
You know, any doctor who owns a family practice will spend, they’ll tell you, at least one day of the five in a week doing administration. Doctors want to be doctors. Young doctors today value the importance of quality in life, as the whole millennial generation do. So thinking about innovative ways of delivering health care through salaried positions, through allowing nurse practitioners to actually bill through the creation of teams, is something that we strongly support — and, in fact, campaigned on — and look forward to seeing the details of as this is fleshed out in the months and years ahead.
In terms of education, again, we see the commitment to fully fund class size and composition requirements: “more than 3,500 new teachers, librarians and counsellors are in B.C. schools, helping students learn in smaller classes with more individual attention.” We see this statement in the throne speech.
It’s quite unfortunate the way this has rolled out, as we know that we shouldn’t have actually ever been in this place to begin with, frankly. If we had not taken steps to take our teachers representatives to court multiple times, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, we wouldn’t be in a situation where suddenly we have to hire thousands of teachers in the space of a few months, creating chaos, frankly, in many, many school districts — and within the child care and early childhood education system, where schools are scrambling for spaces and trying to actually meet the legally required commitments.
You know, the throne speech talks about building schools. It talks about removing portables. It talks about seismic upgrades. That’s fine. But let me tell you, what matters in education is not the colour of the wallpaper or the size of the ceilings. What matters is the quality of the teacher and the resources that teacher has in the classroom, as well as the ability for a child to have access to the services they need when they need it.
What we need in British Columbia is enhanced resources in the classroom. Why is it that teachers across British Columbia…? Hon. Speaker, as a former teacher, this must resonate with you too. Why is it that teachers have to spend their own money to provide the actual tools that their children have to use in the classroom? We don’t ever account for that.
Hon. J. Sims: I want to know the answer to that.
A. Weaver: One of the…. I forget which riding you’re….
Hon. J. Sims: Surrey-Panorama.
A. Weaver: Thank you. The member for Surrey-Panorama…. There are all these ridings in Surrey, and they’re all close to each other. They keep changing, because the population’s growing so fast, and I forget who represents which riding.
The member — the minister — pointed out that she wants to know the answer to that. Why is it as a society we don’t recognize what northern European nations recognize, that the single most important profession in our society is education? It’s teachers, early childhood educators, child care providers. These are the people who train the next generation of citizenship. These are the people who create the innovators of tomorrow through providing them skills to actually learn and constructively think.
We seem to think, somehow, that’s it’s okay to pick on our teachers, and that culture needs to change. I’m hoping, with this new government and the direction we’re seeing, that we’ll actually do that. Not only building schools — that’s nice — but actually giving teachers the support they need in the classroom.
Frankly, one of the biggest costs to the education system, and one of the biggest costs to the society, is the fact that something towards 50 percent of teachers don’t continue on after five years, because they’re thrown into situations without the support they need, without the resources they need, to deliver the curriculum that B.C. has, and it’s just unwieldy.
So we have survival of the fittest. We’ll, some of that’s okay, but think of the investment that we have done as a society into training those teachers to get them to the position that they’re delivering in the classroom.
Look at any school district, at the number of people who are on long-term disability because of the unwieldy conditions that they have to work in — the lack of support they’re given. These are costs to society. These are costs that we pay for. If we think of prevention, creating the environment that allows teachers to thrive, we actually save money in the long term.
I’m excited about where we’re heading with teaching. I hope to continue to push the government to ensure that it’s not only about seismic upgrades, but it’s also about giving teachers the resources they need in the classroom to deliver the curriculum.
We’ve done remarkably well in the international PISA assessments, but we also have one of the highest rates of independent schools. Victoria used to have the highest rate of independent schools in the province. We’ve got to value our public education, because that’s our future. Let’s hope we continue down that area.
The throne speech talks about public safety. It talks about important areas in mental health. It talks about a lot of issues in that regard. Again, my concern with the mental health focus in the throne speech is not the importance of harm prevention, but the importance of where we need to invest is not only in stopping people from dying but also to ensure that they’re not there in the first place and that there’s a pathway to recovery at the end.
Anyone who has spoken to firefighters or first responders anywhere in British Columbia will know that it’s not an uncommon story for a first responder to resuscitate the same person multiple times in a day, whether that person be in an emergency room, be a firefighter or a paramedic. That’s a cost.
Providing more access to naloxone…. Sure, it will stop people from dying, but it actually doesn’t deal with the problem. Why is it that people are there in the first place? To what extent are we dealing with the social problems in this province as a direct consequence of our K-to-12 system not having the access and resources that teachers needed in the early, formative years of children to actually ensure that society didn’t have people aging out into these situations? To what extent would we have been avoiding this had we actually given the children the resources they need at the first onsets of diagnosis?
Good luck in British Columbia trying to get a child psychologist in a school district for your child. Those who have will go private, but those who are less fortunate have to wait and wait and wait. In many cases, early intervention would have led to savings in terms of outcomes down the road.
What about recovery? Housing first. It’s good to see the move towards talking about enhanced recovery facilities and also prevention. But it really needs to be our focus, and we continue to hope that government will move down in that regard.
To conclude, I’d like to deal with the issue of climate. In 2012, after being asked four times and finally agreeing to run as an MLA with the B.C. Green Party…. And let me tell you — and to my colleague Robert Stupka, who is running in Kelowna West— it is not the easiest pathway to the B.C. Legislature to run with the B.C. Green Party, particularly when no one had been elected before. You’ve got to work hard.
But when I ran in 2012, I ran because I had spent years in universities teaching. I spent years talking about climate. People and students would ask me: “What can I do?” I’d say: “There are three things you can do. Number one is: you can use your wallet. Each and every one of us has a wallet, and we send a signal to the market by the way we spend. If we buy more efficient products, more locally produced products, that’s the direction the market will head.
We only have to look at the organic food sections in grocery stores. That was a direct response to societal demand. When I was a kid, you would have gone bankrupt if you had an organic food department in your grocery store, because no one would’ve wanted to pay it. Now people are willing to pay a little bit more such that we’re at a stage where the price difference is negligible between organic or non-organic. That’s the power of the pocketbook.
There’s also the power of voting. We live in a democracy, and we have a system in place where we need to put this issue, if it’s important to you, front and centre in decision-making.
That is why, when I talk to students, I also put up the chart showing youth turnout in elections. Historically, in B.C., it was 30 to 40 percent of youth voting and 70 to 80 percent of seniors over the age of 65. Cynically, you can see why people campaign on reducing hip and knee replacement lineups, because you know you’re catering to an audience that will vote, and you can make a very real effect on their lives such that, three years later, you can point to what you’ve done and say: “Look. I listened to you. I reduced those lineups. Vote me back in.” And you know 70 to 80 percent of seniors will vote.
If you’re someone with a vision, like the former Premier of this province, Gordon Campbell, and you bring in place policy measures that you will never reap the benefits of yourself…. We know that socioeconomic inertia is such that the warming we have in store over the next couple of decades is a direct consequence of past decisions, and the decisions we make today will not actually affect those who make the decisions, but it’ll affect the next generation and after. When leaders like Gordon Campbell stand up and make that a priority, they need to be supported, and you need to vote people in who have that vision.
Invariably, these students…. Or in public lectures, people would say: “Oh, these politicians. They’re all the same. All they want to do is line their pockets. They’re in it for power. They’re all corrupt.” Then you can say, and I did: “Well, if you don’t like it, run yourself, because this is the system we’ve got.” It’s a lot better than anarchy, frankly, although some Libertarian candidates may disagree. It’s a lot better than anarchy, and I’d say: “If you don’t like it, run yourself. Find someone to run.”
You can only do that for a few years before you really take a look in the mirror and say: “Really? Am I offering this advice? I’m no different from anyone else. Do as I say and not as I do.” In running with the B.C. Greens — if anyone is interested, you can see it; we had a documentary filmmaker there to follow the campaign — I didn’t think I was going to win. But for me it was a matter of principle, because I could not look my students or, frankly, my family in the face and continue to say one thing and then do another.
When it came to see this throne speech, when it came to our discussions after the last election, you can rest assured that the reason why I was thrilled to actually agree to a confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. NDP, the reason why I am thrilled to see this in the throne speech, is that British Columbia is now repositioning itself to take advantage of not only the challenge but the opportunities that arise from this challenge as we move towards the 21st-century new economy, in terms of diversifying it and moving to the clean, low-carbon economy. But I’m the first to say — and my Indigenous friends have many centuries of this; I have a few decades — that I’m fed up with words. What I want to see is action.
I look forward to working with this government in the months and years ahead as we develop a pathway that actually recognizes that dealing with climate change is the greatest economic opportunity British Columbia has ever had. Because of our strategic strengths, with the most beautiful place in the world to live, one of the best education systems in the world and the ability to access boundless energy, timber, fibre and water, we can position ourselves to move ahead. So bring that in together with the innovation commission and the emerging economy task force. This is a really exciting time for British Columbia.
Now, we can be very cynical here — I get that there are political games, and people want to get in power — or we can recognize this is what it is. It’s a minority government where, I would say, every member in this place ran because they wanted to make British Columbia a better place for all British Columbians. We can actually do that.
My commitment, my caucus’s commitment to both sides of this House, is that we genuinely want to advance good public policy. We want to work with opposition and advance good amendments. We want to be given the courtesy of actually being able to have the time to reflect upon these amendments rather than having them spring upon us on the floor and then sending out tweets and press releases saying: “B.C. Greens Side With MLA.” That’s politics.
People in British Columbia are sick of that. They want us to work together. Whatever happens tonight in Kelowna, I look forward to working with the winner in Kelowna, whether that winner is Ben Stewart, Shelley Cook or Robert Stupka, or — wouldn’t it be interesting? —whether that self-described pit bull is the B.C. Conservative Party candidate in that riding. We’d like to work with all of them, and this place would be much the better for it if we do.
With that, hon. Speaker, I’m delighted to stand in support of the throne speech. I look forward to fulfilling the goals met in the throne speech, and I look forward to seeing, over the weeks ahead, the details emerge as we debate a budget and then the bills that accompany it.
On February 10, the BC Green caucus called on the BC Government to take steps to promote the BC wine industry in light of Alberta’s recent petty announcement that it was initiating a boycott.
We are delighted that the BC Government today announced a number of measures to support and promote the BC Wine Industry.
Below is the media release we issued in response to this announcement.
B.C. Green Caucus welcomes provincial measures to support B.C. wines
For immediate release
February 14, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, welcomed the government’s measures to support the B.C. wine industry. Weaver previously called for a number of the same measures on February 10.
“I am glad that our government is standing up for this signature B.C. industry,” said Weaver.
“We called for a number of these measures last week because our wine industry represents the exact type of business we should be championing in this province. B.C.’s wineries are innovative, homegrown businesses that generate significant economic activity for communities across the province. After seeing the previous government relentlessly chase economically unviable sunset industries like LNG, it is frankly refreshing to see our government focus on sustainable local businesses.”
“I had the opportunity to meet with a number of Okanagan wineries over the past couple weeks. We have heard many exciting ideas about how we can better support them. Smaller wineries in particular benefit from a focus on tourism that brings people to B.C. We will continue to push for measures that will help B.C. wineries of all sizes thrive.”
Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for Agriculture, added, “I am delighted that Minister Popham is stepping up to support B.C wine. B.C.’s wine industry generates $2 billion worth of economic activity and they’re growing: between 2003 and 2016, the number of B.C. wineries increased from 81 to to 273. We are only seeing the beginning of the success for this incredible industry.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
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