Today in the legislature I rose briefly to respond to the BC Liberal’s pre-election budget. I had originally been scheduled to rise earlier in the week but the cold that I had (which caused me to lose my voice) precluded me from speaking for 30 minutes then. Unfortunately, according to the standing orders, a vote on the budget had to be called this morning. And seeing as some of the speakers took a little longer than we expected, time ran out before a number of us could rise to speak.
Nevertheless I had a little over one minute to outline why I was not supporting the budget. A more thorough response will be given when I speak at second reading of the Budget Implementation Act, the Act that implements the measures contained in this year’s budget.
As one might expect, the budget vote passed 44-31 with the BC NDP and I voting against it.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my response.
I do recognize that according to standing orders, I have very little time. I just rise quickly to state that obviously, I do not support this budget. This budget is filled with political calculations in an election year.
For example, the MSP premium, which is highlighted in this budget, has a big cut. It’s something you still have to apply for. It’s something that won’t be in effect until 2018. It doesn’t actually eliminate MSP. It still retains the burdensome administrative overhead. There are many, many other examples here.
It’s a budget without a vision. It’s a budget from a government that’s lost touch with the people. It’s a budget from a government that didn’t recognize that its windfall came from an out-of-control real estate sector in Vancouver. Instead of using that money to help those who have been affected by it, through affordable housing, it’s putting it to boutique tax credits for their friends and relatives.
With that, I’ll say that this budget is not something I can support. I look forward to standing with my colleagues on this side of the House and voting against it very shortly.
Media Statement September 15, 2016
Andrew Weaver Renews Call to Reform Medical Service Premiums
For Immediate Release
Victoria, B.C. – While a freeze in Medical Service Plan (MSP) premium increases is certainly welcome, the government has lost the opportunity to fully reform this regressive tax says Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head and Leader of the B.C. Green Party.
“British Columbians will see this MSP announcement for what it is, a cynical ploy to gain votes as we head into an election year”, says Andrew Weaver. “We need to eliminate the MSP, not simply tinker around its edges.”
“Over the last three years I have consistently and continually called for the MSP to rolled into the income tax system with premiums calculated on taxable income rather than the current system which is a flat tax no matter what people earn.” says Andrew Weaver. “This would turn a regressive tax into a fair system much like has already been done in Ontario”
In Ontario, if you earn $20,000 or more a year you pay the Ontario Health Premium (OHP). It ranges from $0 if your taxable income is $20,000 or less, and goes up to $900 per year if your taxable income is more than $200,600. Instead of the mail-out system we have in BC, the OHP is deducted from the pay and pensions of those with employment or pension income that meets the minimum threshold.
“Remember – only Ontario’s top earners are paying $900 per year. Right now people in British Columbia are paying $900 a year regardless of whether they earn $42,000 or $4,200,000 a year.”
“As Leader of the BC Green Party I can affirm that a B.C. Green Party government would eliminate the regressive monthly MSP premiums. Instead, a B.C. Green government would introduce a progressive system in which rates are determined by one’s earnings. And a net and substantive administrative savings to taxpayers would arise in rolling MSP premiums into the existing income tax system.” says Andrew Weaver
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Mat Wright – Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
1 250 216 3382
Media Release: March 15, 2016
Andrew Weaver – Protecting disability and education savings plans needs to happen
For Immediate Release
Victoria B.C. – Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, says the changes he proposes in protecting RESPs and RDSPs from creditors are needed in British Columbia.
“I asked the Minister of Justice about this problem in question period two years ago,” says Weaver. “At the time, the Minister said that it was an important issue and that she’d be glad to work with me to move it forward. Yet two years have now passed and still nothing has changed.”
Today Weaver introduced a private member’s bill intituled “Court Order Enforcement Amendment Act”. The bill would add Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs) and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) to the list of plans protected under the act.
Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) are already protected in BC and most other provinces from creditors in the case of personal bankruptcy. Such protection provides a glimmer of hope that individuals undergoing bankruptcy will not be destitute in their old age.
“If a person files for bankruptcy in B.C., their RRSPs are protected from being seized by creditors,” says Weaver. “However, the same protection does not exist for RESPs or for RDSPs. A child should not have their education investment seized due to misfortune that befalls their parents. Alberta has protected RESPs; we should follow suit.”
“I’ve waited for action on this issue for two years. I haven’t seen any meaningful progress from the government on this simple legislative change, so that’s why I’m proposing it today. My hope is that they finally act on it.”
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Mat Wright – Press Secretary Andrew Weaver MLA
1 250 216 3382
Today in the legislature I rose to speak at second reading on Bill 10, Budget Measures Implementation Act 2016. The budget implementation bill is an omnibus bill that proposes to bring into law the various measures outlined in the government’s budget.
In any budget there are always aspects that one can support and other aspects that one cannot support. You’ll see from my speech below that this budget implementation bill is no different.
For example, the budget implementation bill extends the BC Seniors’ Home Renovation Tax Credit to individuals with a disability. This is a welcome change. Extending the Tourism Accommodation Assessment Relief Act applicability to rural areas, something that was supported through a motion from the Union of BC Municipalities, is also an important step forward.
But unfortunately, the government has missed the boat on addressing the affordability crisis in Vancouver. And the Prosperity Fund is nothing more that a political stunt. Below I reproduce the text of my speech; I also link to its video.
You’ll see from the text that the Minister of Advanced Education was heckling me throughout my speech. Honestly, it was rather off putting and I would have expected better. It got so bad that when Leonard Krog, MLA for Naniamo, was speaking after me, I stood on a point of order as I could not even hear what he was saying.
A. Weaver: I was busy booking a flight to Vancouver, expecting a Liberal member opposite to stand up and defend their budget, offer insight as to why this budget implementation act is a good one. Instead, all they resort to is chirping little bits here and little bits there.
I rise to speak to Bill 10, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2016. As you know, this bill essentially lays out the implementation across a diversity of bills — amendments here, amendments there — to implement government priorities as outlined in the budget speech.
There are a number of aspects to this. Number one, of course, is the introduction of the prosperity fund, the so-called $100 billion prosperity fund, a fund that was promised to British Columbians in the last election during a Hail Mary pass of hope that was given by this government to British Columbians in a desperate attempt to try to get elected — 100,000 jobs, $100 billion prosperity fund, debt-free B.C., elimination of PST, thriving schools and thriving hospitals, and on and on. A pot of gold at the end of the LNG rainbow was promised to each and every British Columbian.
In a desperate attempt to try to fulfil this outlandish promise — this promise that anybody in the natural gas industry knew was absurd, this promise that only the Liberals themselves convinced themselves had any dream of reality — when it finally….
A. Weaver: I hear sighing coming across the benches over there. The reality is, if you go back and look at the presentation given by the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines to the clean energy conference in 2012, you would see, in that presentation, natural gas prices projected to increase into the $20 to $30 range in the months and years ahead.
There is not a single person internationally who would ever have thought natural gas prices were going to increase like that, in light of the fact that everybody has discovered horizontal fracking technology, that Russia is so close to China and has reserves almost 20 times those of natural gas, that Iran, which has the largest reserve in the world, would have its….
A. Weaver: The Minister of Advanced Education is truly quite pompous over there. What is so remarkable, is that I know his own colleagues think he’s a pompous person as well. So it would be quite…. It’s very difficult to actually continue with this.
Deputy Speaker: Order, please.
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I’m glad to have some order back in here.
The prosperity fund is, as I pointed out, a desperate attempt to try to look like government is responding to its promise in the provincial election. When you actually look at this $100 million prosperity fund, it really is only $25 million, because 50 percent of that is going to be used to pay down debt. That’s $50 million. Another $25 million is going to be used for government priorities. What are those government priorities? Let me lay them out for you.
We’re going to see, over the course of the next year, a bunch of little tidbits — election tidbits — offered to British Columbians in the same vein as was offered in the last election, promises of this and promises of that. Say whatever it takes to get through lunch. Then say whatever it takes to get to dinner, and say whatever it takes again to get through to the next day.
There is also the Property Transfer Act that’s being modified in the budget implementation act. Government’s response to an affordability crisis in Vancouver, rather than standing back and recognizing that there are three reasons for this affordability crisis, or their speculative housing market: (1) lack of enforcement of the Real Estate Services Act; (2) a preponderance of vacant homes and owners of those vacant homes not being required to pay the true cost, the social cost, of leaving vacant properties…. That is — now, I know the Minister of Advanced Education has a hard time when I start to use economic language — the externalities associated with vacant homes have not been internalized to the people with those vacant homes. Those externalities are a social cost. And the third reason is the existence of loopholes that allow people to avoid paying property transfer tax or register on title where they live.
It was with the latter that I do appreciate the government introducing two aspects of policy. One is with respect to bare trustees now being required to say who they are. The second one, of course, is that on title, you will now have to declare if you are a Canadian citizen or not. The problem with this is that should have been extended to also require you to list if your primary residence is in another province, as other provinces do in British Columbia.
A. Weaver: Sorry — as other provinces do in Canada.
My goodness, I could only imagine having to live in a house with the Minister of Advanced Education. While I am straight, I would have divorced this man within a matter of moments, as he is simply intolerable. His hubris, his pomposity, his arrogance is so intolerable, it makes one want to be ill. But with that, I will move on.
Even the minister’s opposite are laughing, because they all agree with me as well, I know.
The property transfer tax. The government’s response, rather than dealing with the issue, is to incentivize further speculation. How do I say that? Well, one piece of policy that’s introduced is an elimination of property transfer taxes on new homes under $750,000. At first glance, one might think that’s a good thing.
But what is this incentivizing? What it’s incentivizing , but what it’s incentivizing is the purchase of older homes, the ripping down of those older homes and constructing of townhouse developments. Creating more supply may sound like a good thing, but unfortunately, it’s not addressing the critical issue, which is internalizing the social costs of leaving homes vacant.
It simply incentivizes our speculative economy, an economy that this government thinks is actually diversified and stable but, I would argue, is very, very flimsy, because it is being buttressed by an artificial, speculative housing market in greater Vancouver and now coming to the CRD. That is not a healthy situation. We only have to go to Scottsdale or Phoenix, Arizona, to see what happens to an economy that is built on a speculative housing market. It keeps going, and then there’s the big crash. And this government, like it has done with LNG, will blame global market foes that we have no control over. But they do have control. There are things that could be done now.
This government should be putting a price on leaving vacant properties empty. Putting a price on those vacant properties does two things. One, it incentivizes renting of those properties. It makes people want to rent those properties, which puts downward pressure on rental prices. Two, it actually reduces, then, the demand on new homes, because there are more people in rental homes.
Internalizing the externalities — making vacant homes have to pay the social cost. This can be done in a revenue-neutral fashion. The money raised through the tax of vacant homes could be used, for example, to help house the homeless. It could be used, for example, to give rental subsidies. It does not have to be a money grab for government.
Government has a responsibility to use the tools it has to ensure that the market is fair. The housing market in Vancouver is not a free market. It is a market failure. It’s a failure because the social cost is not being paid, and the only way to do that is actually put a price on leaving your homes vacant.
Bare trust is another one that I’ve mentioned over the last couple of years as a loophole that was originally put in place a long time ago — back in the 80s, I believe, even before the so-called dreaded 90s.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: That must have been around the 16th century
A. Weaver: Maybe it was around the 16th century, but I don’t believe anything the Minister of Advanced Education says, because he’s so pompous. Everything he says, you’re supposed to believe. And I believe none of it. He loses credibility when he continues to chirp that way.
The problem with registering properties in bare trusts and then flipping beneficial ownership of a bare trust means that you don’t change title. There is no change of title in the land title office, and that means there is no property transfer tax paid. Government has proposed to study this. But we know what result we’re going find out. We’re going to find that there’re a lot of houses out there that are flipping not on titled but through beneficial ownership.
Now, Ontario understands this. Ontario understands this. They are the other jurisdiction in Canada that has a property transfer tax. But where they apply the property transfer tax is on beneficial ownership change, not on title change. They don’t apply it on title change. They apply it on beneficial ownership change.
If I am foreign company and I’d like to buy a property and speculate it in Vancouver, here’s what I might do. I might purchase the property and put it in a bare trust. Then I might start flipping this bare trust, the ownership or the corporation that owns this bare trust, and sell it. It can be….
A. Weaver: Hon. Speaker, may I ask you to please address the Minister of Advanced Education and ask him that I have a right to speak in the Legislature without having to listen to his pomposity? Frankly, enough is enough.
Deputy Speaker: Order, Minister.
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
I agree with the Minister of Health. They have to listen to him, but I don’t have to listen to him.
Coming back to the bare trust, coming back to the example I was giving, a company can put an individual…. I know there’re a whole bunch of entities can own the bare trust, and they can sell it. They can flip it a multitude of times. They can start to flip it amongst shell companies themselves. But never at any time are we changing title, and no property transfer tax has changed.
And this government has no idea who owns it, because they’re not tracking…. At least they will, coming up. But they were not tracking the bare trustees and those who have beneficial ownership. But rather than spending time tracking it, they should be actually disincentivizing by applying the property transfer tax on transfer of beneficial ownership.
Now, with that said, there are, of course, aspects of this budget implementation act that I do support. I mean, continuing the flow-through mining share credit, the flow-through share agreement, for another year seems reasonable. It has been working quite well to incentivize investment in the mining sector in British Columbia.
The Tourist Accommodation (Assessment Relief) Act changes are responding to a UBCM resolution to extend the assessment relief to rural regions.
The B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit — extending that to individuals with a disability. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that proposal.
And the food donation tax credit — it’s an interesting idea, but I worry. I have spoken to people at Mustard Seed and elsewhere, food bank agencies. There’s a worry here — that has to be, actually, carefully regulated and examined — that this could be misused for dumping of product that has no value and is being used as a loophole to get a tax credit.
For example, let’s suppose I’m a company that has, in reserve, 10,000 barrels of molasses, and I can’t sell it. But now I give it to a food bank at fair market value. The market value is essentially zero because I can’t sell it, but there will be some nominal fee attached to it. This food bank is then ending up with 10,000 barrels of molasses that it has no use for.
What matters with this food donation tax credit is that the devil is in the details — that is, implementation is not being used as a means and a way of avoiding dealing with product that no one wants. How many litres of molasses do we need? And there are other examples that can occur like this.
I understand that it makes sense that, perhaps, the local farmer here in North Saanich has a few extra crates of, say, apples and, you know, he’d like to donate those to the local food bank and get a small tax credit. That seems reasonable. Why not just deal with the problem, however, in the first place?
Why are we actually having to deal with giving away food to food banks? What is wrong with our economy? What is wrong with our social programs? What is wrong with our society when we even have to introduce this tax credit in the first place? That’s the real question.
The question is not the food donation tax credit, which everybody can get behind in some way. The real question is: why is it that we, as our society here in British Columbia, one of the wealthiest places in the world — not just in North America but in the world — has to introduce a food donation tax credit? What next? A used clothes donation tax credit? Shoe donation tax credit? Used sportswear donation tax credit? It’s a slippery slope, and it’s not addressing, again, the fundamental inequities in our province that this budget should be addressing.
What’s not in this bill? A number of things are not in this bill, and I will look forward, in committee stage, to discussing some aspects of this.
I’ve had a number of people contact me, concerned about the increase in property transfer tax for homes valued over $2 million. That may seem like it’s a tax on the wealthy. It may seem at first glance, but let’s suppose you’re living in Vancouver. You grew up in Vancouver, and you’re a family of four.
Mom and Dad get pretty old, and Mom and Dad are so old that they need to leave their house. But Mom and Dad want to give their children their house. There’s concern that in doing so, those children, who could barely be affording to live in Vancouver anyway, would be subject to the increased property transfer tax and then move into a home that they couldn’t afford to buy, but it was a family home.
The problem, of course, here is that $2 million may seem like a lot, but it’s not a lot in Vancouver. So care has to be put in place to ensure that during the transfer of title between family members, this doesn’t occur.
Now, I get that if the house was put in a trust and it was transferred within family members, nobody would pay tax. But most of us don’t buy our houses in trusts. Most of us buy them as individuals, and we leave them to others or we try to give them to our children. There’s a little element there that government needs to some care over.
What is also not in this, in the budget implementation act and the budget in general…. There’s absolutely nothing to do with climate leadership. Now, I say that with some irony. I recognize that the Minister of Health has a Chevy Volt. It’s not a pure electric car, but it is pretty good. He lives in Kamloops — I get it — and he wants to drive to Victoria. I applaud him for a Chevy Volt.
A. Weaver: You have to. Yeah.
The electric car subsidy — that qualifies — is a good thing. I have a Nissan LEAF —100 percent electric. It’s a good thing.
A. Weaver: The Minister of Advanced Education goes off on a tangent again, because he wants to hear his own voice.
Do I pay road tax? Yes, I pay road tax. When I go over the Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver, I pay road tax.
Deputy Speaker: Members, order.
A. Weaver: Apart from the electric vehicle, there is nothing, zero, about climate leadership. Why is that important? Because right now, today, in Vancouver, first ministers are meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss climate leadership.
What do we have here in this House on that day? An introduction of another bill — another bill to give away our resource to the LNG industry, as we are continually desperate to try to find ways and means that they don’t have to account for their greenhouse gases. Or we can change the international rules to pretend that some greenhouse gases are not really greenhouse gases.
That is what this government thinks is climate leadership. The irony is that it’s on the day that we’re supposed to be talking about this in Vancouver.
What’s also not in here, in this budget, is anything of substance in terms of MSP reform. This tinkering around the edges in the budget, not so much in the implementation act….
Where, for example, are steps being taken to fulfil government’s promise that each and every British Columbian would have a GP by the end of 2015? Each and every British Columbian would have access — this is a promise — to a general practitioner by 2015.
Well, I hope you aren’t looking for a GP in this area, because there is not a single GP south of Duncan that is accepting new patients.
While the government is quite desperate to fulfil its promise of wealth and prosperity through an industry that’s not going happen and basically gives away our resource in a desperate attempt to get an agreement, they’re not willing to deal with another promise — the “GP for everyone” promise.
I could go on and on, and I know the Minister of Advanced Education would love me to. But with that, I’ll conclude with one final statement.
When you look at this Budget Measures Implementation Act and you look at the individual boutique exemptions here or the little addition there, what you get is a sense of what this government is doing.
This government has lost its sense of vision. It has lost its sense of vision of what a prosperous British Columbia looks like. They’re fixated on a speculative housing market. They’re fixated on LNG.
They don’t understand what a diversified economy is. It’s not an economy that’s propped up with an artificial, speculative, Scottsdale-style housing market until we can maybe get LNG ten years from now or twenty years from now. That’s not a diversified economy.
They don’t understand what’s going on with the elements of our society that are struggling to make ends meet.
This budget, through its implementation, is something that cannot be supported for what’s not in it, not so much for the boutique tax credits that are in it but for what’s not in it: assistance to those who can barely make ends meet, structural changes to things like the MSP, dealing with the affordability crisis in means and ways that actually ensure that it’s dealt with, instead of incentivizing the problem still further, and dealing with an issue that was simply not addressed in the budget — education.
Who are we as a society if we don’t value the next generation, the generation in our schools and colleges today, as the important asset of our future? LNG is not important in the big picture. Our next generation is important. They are the citizens of tomorrow. They are the ones who will build the economy of tomorrow.
They are the ones who will take care of us when we’re older. They are the ones who will discover the cures for various diseases that you and I will get as we get older.
But there is nothing, nothing at all in this, for education, whether that be K to 12, whether that be early childhood education or whether that be post-secondary education. That is the single biggest disaster of this budget: it does not do anything for the next generation. That is why I cannot support it.
Today in the legislature I rose to speak to the budget. Every MLA is give 30 minutes to respond to budget. My staff and I’d prepared so much material that I barely got through half of what I had planned to address. But there will be more opportunities in the weeks ahead to outline why I will not support this budget.
Below is the text of my speech. I also append a video further down.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak to this debate, particularly after the member for Comox Valley, who classified the world and this House as one of two sides: the world of optimism on that side and arguably, in his mind, the world of pessimism on this.
I’d like to quote Winston Churchill:
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
I am an optimist. I understand what it means to be an optimist, but unfortunately, I don’t think Winston Churchill was thinking of this government when he came up with that quote.
In fact, there is another quote attributed to Winston Churchill more applicable to the statements that emanated from the opposite side, and the quote is this:
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
What you are going to hear from this side of the House is a truthful assessment of the Budget 2016, not one filled with rhetoric, not one filled with promises, not one filled with half truth, but one that looks at it carefully and points out what is good and what is not good without the hyperbolic, hysterical rhetoric, so common, emanating from those on the other side.
I rise in this debate puzzled by the direction this government is heading. Frankly, it has become clear to me that this government is really out of new ideas — completely out of new ideas, lost, lost their way, given that LNG is not playing out the way they thought it would be.
The budget speech we heard on Tuesday was high on self-praise but represents little in terms of fundamental change. We continue to chase markets we are not part of with LNG while bringing forward no clear plan to build on our strengths let alone the challenges we face.
While it was encouraging that this government incorporated some policy changes that British Columbians have been advocating for, for the most part, they represented halfway measures that do little to attack the underlying issues that are presenting challenges for so many British Columbians.
First let me discuss the issue of housing. To make good policy, you need good data. I was encouraged to read the government has adopted additional tools that will allow them to gather much-needed contextual information about the housing market.
The new requirement for property purchasers to identify their nationality is a step forward that I’ve been urging this government to take for two years.
Frankly, I wonder how they’re going to do it without actually bringing the private member’s bill, which is precisely the same as what is being proposed by government. I look forward to debating the private member’s bill that’s before the House as we speak.
I’m glad that government listened on this. Likewise, I was also pleased to see that bare trusts will now face more examination, and the government will have the data it needs to address this. Gathering more information about bare trustees is certainly better than ignoring the problem all together. I’d like to stress this: this loophole still remains open — open to exploitation.
To say that we need to gather information from scratch implies we have an entirely different market to that of Ontario. Ontario’s housing market in Toronto is just as hot as that in Vancouver, with speculation running amok. Yet in Ontario, they have a mechanism to track this and actually generate revenue to limit the amount of speculation occurring.
While that may largely be true, for example, that we need to gather information from scratch for efficiency’s sake, I do think we have a promising opportunity to learn from what has happened in Ontario and to act pre-emptively to close this loophole.
For example, Ontario has a similar property transfer tax system in place, but they have plugged the loophole and they did it very simply. All they did was apply the property transfer tax upon change in beneficial ownership, not just change in title registered at the land title office.
The wealthy offshore buyers can flip houses numerous times by simply registering the first purchase as a bare trust owned by a corporation and flip the corporation shares from owner to owner to owner without ever changing land title and without ever paying a penny of property transfer tax.
I know this is being done because I have spoken to developers. I have spoken to mortgage lenders, and I’ve spoken to those who are involved in the real estate industry.
This change could and should be done in British Columbia to ensure everyone is treated fairly. However enlightening information may be in its own right, it’s meaningless without appropriate action. We need to get moving on these issues, and government doesn’t seem to have a plan, like so many other things.
This also seems to be the case with the government’s change to the property transfer tax. Increasing property transfer tax rates to 3 percent on homes over $2 million is another adjustment that I agree with in principle. But with affordability as the top issue on the minds for so many people across the province, making it more expensive to flip luxury homes is a progressive step. There’s no question it’s a progressive step forward.
Unfortunately, this too could be rendered meaningless if the loopholes in our housing markets are ignored. In fact, it may be that the government loses taxes in the short term as more sellers engage in and exploit those loopholes to avoid the increase in taxes.
Furthermore, with the $750,000 property tax break for new homes, the government is incentivizing housing development while doing nothing to dampen speculation — again, failing to close the loopholes affecting the market right now.
Contrary to the minister’s dismissive comment that this is a Point Grey issue, the housing problem is affecting communities across British Columbia and it is greatly impacting our provincial economy. On my street alone, where I live in Gordon Head, a house sold. The sold sign came on when the house was listed. It was sold to foreign buyers. Two months later, the sold sign came on again, as the house was flipped. It was cash transactions in both cases. This is not a problem exclusive to Metro Vancouver. It’s a problem now emerging in the capital regional district and other markets in British Columbia.
The costs we are shouldering in society are not just economic, they’re social. The passionate, determined, young people we need to support our communities and lead them into the future are being priced out by people who can afford to buy houses and leave them empty.
Ever wonder why there’s a traffic jam on the Second Narrows Bridge in Vancouver going north? It should make no sense, because people on the North Shore work, by and large, in Vancouver. The reason is because nobody who’s working in those homes — the electricians, the plumbers, the trades — are able to live in that region, and so they’re commuting from halfway across Vancouver across bridges. And the government’s response — rather than dealing with the problem, the affordability problem — is to start talking about building bigger roads and bigger bridges. Again, not addressing the problem, it’s avoiding the problem being dealt with and kicking the can down the road further.
The role of government is to take direct action and to direct the actions of citizens. We incentivize what we like, and we discourage that which we don’t. We need to close loopholes and disincentivize the preponderance of empty houses, because as it currently stands, the government is failing to do an adequate job of either. There’s a glaring market failure. The preponderance of vacant homes in Vancouver has a social cost attached to it. That externality needs to be internalized so that vacant owners pay the true cost of that vacant home.
The government’s response, rather than recognizing the market failure and internalizing externalities, incentivizes more development and further speculation. This is a government that is completely out of control and completely at a loss or understanding of fundamental market instruments. That does not deal with the imminent problem. It kicks the can down the road further, so to speak. The imminent crisis needs to be dealt with through the implementation of market instruments available to government. Those instruments alone will correct this market failure.
Frankly, the single most effective policy that government could do would be to implement a price, a levy or a tax on homes that are left vacant. This government is building the economy of Scottsdale in British Columbia as we speak. It’s an artificial economy, fuelled by speculation and requiring continued development and building of houses in order to sustain itself.
Government is misleading British Columbians by suggesting that we have a diversified economy. Our economy right now is being driven by wild speculation and offshore money coming into British Columbia to actually buy these homes, and developers building more — selling, flipping, buying, speculating.
There is only one end solution for that infinite growth in a finite system, and that will be a collapse, a collapse of pretty strong proportions that this government will start — as they have done with LNG — to blame on unforeseen global forces. Well, we can see it happening right now, and there’s nothing unforeseen about it. What is unforeseen is any will or any policy emanating from the government to actually address the key issues of today in British Columbia.
Putting up a levy on vacant homes will encourage more owners to lease their vacant homes, which in turn will put downward pressure on rent costs in Vancouver and elsewhere. The revenue generated from this levy could actually be used to pay the social costs arising from non-affordability within Metro Vancouver and emerging here in the capital regional district: the costs of the homeless, the enhanced judicial system process that is required to deal with the increasing homeless problem in our province. The reduction of services for mental health can be addressed. We can start to actually raise the living allowance, which hasn’t changed in I can’t even remember how many years.
One of the saddest moments in this House since I was elected in 2013 happened about 20 minutes ago when the member for Comox Valley stood and truly believed that somehow $11 a month is actually a great step forward, after seeing no increase in fees for years and years and years.
The people of British Columbia deserve better. They deserve a government that’s honest to them, a government that actually does not try to sell itself as something it’s not, a government that recognizes that there is a social problem out there and that $11 a month is not going to solve it. Frankly, the price of cauliflower has gone up $8, say, in about three months. Basically, what we’re saying is that you can almost meet the increase in your grocery bill, but not quite, with this $11 a month. Shameful, truly shameful that this was lauded as a sign of progress.
In summary, the government’s balanced budget increasingly is relying on revenue from an artificial, overinflated housing market. They are benefiting from the issues that are causing so many affordability concerns amongst British Columbians and taking no real concrete steps to address this. The government needs to address this market failure, and the 2016 budget represents another missed opportunity to do so.
Now to MSP. On MSP, the government has brought forward a small, half-step approach to making this fee a little bit more fair for the people of British Columbia. I commend them for taking that one small half-step. It may not be much, but at least we are moving in the right direction. Making children exempt from paying MSP premiums and increasing the assistance available are both positive changes to a fundamentally unfair system.
Despite the changes to MSP premiums announced on Tuesday, we still have a system that doesn’t work, however, for most British Columbians. To use the Premier’s words, as the opposition did so well earlier today in question period, it’s a system that is “antiquated…old, and the way people pay for it generally doesn’t make a whole ton of sense.” Those are the Premier’s words. I agree. The opposition agrees. But somehow the government doesn’t agree with itself. I’m not sure what’s going on.
Hundreds of thousands of people in this province are currently behind in their MSP payments. That’s a ton of bureaucracy, needlessly employed in enforcing an antiquated, old system. That’s what the Premier said. I agree. Bureaucracy — dare I say that’s red tape?
Shame if it is, because of course we know that the government doesn’t like red tape and in fact has gone so far that we now have red-tape-reduction day, making us truly a laughing stock across Canada. Every, single person that I have actually raised this to and mentioned that red-tape-reduction day is now on the same par as Terry Fox Day, Holocaust Memorial Day, Douglas Day, B.C. Day and Family Day looks at me and says: “What?” They couldn’t believe it. This government believes it, but it says whatever it takes to get through lunchtime.
The reality is, the biggest component of red tape in the entire sector of government is the administration of the MSP premium which the Premier, through her own words, says is antiquated, old and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Okay, let’s remove some red tape. No, they create more red tape, more thresholds, more exemptions, etc. Absolutely unbelievable.
Plus, when we delve into the details of this policy change, what we see is actually a tax hike. The people of British Columbia have spoken loud and clear about how they are having trouble with this tax, yet this government has raised the amount of money they take from it — a new $111 million in taxes, a head tax. That’s what it is — a head tax, which, after the premium assistance is accounted for, makes it an increase of $77 million in revenue. That’s $77 million as a head tax, because that’s what it is — a poll tax or a head tax, nothing else.
Who is paying for this new revenue? Well, a couple that earns a combined $45,000 or more a year will see their Medical Services Plan increased by $240 a year. Whoa, hang on. That’s more, a greater MSP premium. I thought it was going down.
Senior couples with a slightly higher income face the same increase. Yet when I was at the Monterey centre, when this issue was first brought to me almost a year and a half ago, the demographic that brought it to me were the seniors who were struggling on fixed income to actually pay it. Here, the government is listening. It’s listening to its corporate funders. It’s not listening to the people of British Columbia, because the group that can least afford it — those on fixed income — are getting a $240-a-year hit. That’s hardly fair. That’s not fair at all.
A couple with two children will pay $72 more a year. These are significant increases in medical premiums. Let’s be clear that a combined income of $45,000 is not that much in Metro Vancouver or greater Victoria.
A single adult who earns less than $42,000 is eligible for premium assistance, but a couple earning $3,000 more is facing an increase of $240 a year. This is yet another example of how this government does not understand simple fundamental market instruments. You incentivize that which you like. You use your market instruments to put a tax or disincentivize that which you don’t.
This introduction of the MSP program is incentivizing divorce in the province of British Columbia. It’s saying to couples: “You should not be couples, because if you get married” — this is families first — “or you become common law, we’re going to charge you $240 a year more.” Does that make sense? No it doesn’t. But that’s what this government is putting forward.
Let’s look at Ontario as a case example in how we could charge MSP differently. In Ontario, health care premiums are paid through personal income tax systems. Rather than a flat-rate levy, this approach avoids the regressive nature of the monthly premium as rates rise with income to a maximum annual level.
For example, as I’ve outlined for a couple of years now, in Ontario, the current maximum annual rate is set at $900 for taxable incomes of $200,600 and higher, with those individuals earning less than $20,000 paying no premiums at all.
The argument that we need to keep this tax separate from other taxation methods so that British Columbians know that health care is not free is ridiculous. British Columbians know that health care is not free. They know that building bridges and highways is not free. They know that education is not free. To treat them as if they don’t is disrespectful. It is disrespectful of the people of British Columbia.
They know that their taxes go towards the services that government provides. If the government still insists that British Columbians need to understand how much health care is costing our province, then there is a simple solution — a simple line on the income tax return, like that exists for EI and CPP, called health care premium, which is progressively calculated just like EI and CPP are. It would solve the problem. It would deal with the issue that unions have negotiated benefits because it would still pay for it. It would be done in a progressive instead of a regressive system, just like it was done in Ontario.
In fact, this was the method advocated for in the 2002 Senate report that recommended the federal premium to help pay for health care costs — the health care of Canadians. The federal role made a strong case that premiums constituted a visible and equitable means of supported health care spending, so long as they varied in proportion to income. It’s not me making it up. It’s Senate expert panels that are providing information in forming this policy.
Now let’s turn to new services. Another item in this budget that received considerable attention was the boost to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Now, without a doubt, I’m encouraged to see that the government seems to finally be paying attention to our most vulnerable — a topic that the official opposition has brought forward time and time and time again during question period.
It seems like they may have done more harm than good, unfortunately. For nine years, there’s been a freeze on the disability rate at $906 a month. At first glance, a $77 increase for disability assistance looks like a step in the right direction. If we take into consideration the loss of transportation subsidies, which in some cases amounts to $66 a month — the numbers were messed up in question period; I am assuming that tomorrow the minister will correct the numbers that she quoted out in question period — this budget represents an increase of only $11 a month — $11 a month — that the member for Comox Valley was so proud to tout to British Columbians in solving the social woes of those most unfortunate with disability in our society.
That’s hardly a success. In fact, with the increases in transportation in some areas going up — just look at the capital regional district, dramatic increases — this is actually a net loss, or will be a net loss, and government exempts itself from having to deal with the increasing costs of transportation. I am sure this was not their intention, but clearly this is not an outcome that will make life all that much better for the most vulnerable in B.C. In some cases, it will down the road make life a little more difficult.
On a more positive note, the $95 million set aside for wildfire protection, the $10 million for search and rescue plus the $55 million set aside for emergency preparedness and prevention initiatives are welcome news. Indeed, they’re among the only budget items I could find, although not attributed to, but that address one of the biggest threats to our province’s economy — climate change.
Let’s look at climate change. We are paying the cost of climate change in this province already. This past year, we saw record temperatures across our province. We saw drought precipitated by a lack of snow pack, and forest fires raged across our province. The January 2016 globally average temperature shattered the previous record by 0.16 degrees and was more than a full degree Celsius above the 20th-century average.
In B.C., we simply stand by and watch happen and go to Paris and say: “Look, we are leaders.” Others call you leaders; you don’t call yourself leaders. In British Columbia, we are not leaders on the mitigation of climate change. We were leaders, but that is long past.
I brought forward a motion, for example, to discuss a matter of urgent public importance last summer. At issue was whether we as legislators were acting with sufficient urgency and demonstrating the appropriate leadership on preparing for and mitigating the escalating impacts of climate change in our province. Unfortunately, my motion went nowhere.
Directing the actions of society through the fiscal instruments available to government is one of the most powerful tools we have. But here in 2016, we have a budget that barely mentions the biggest problem we face as a global society. We heard from the minister that “Budget 2016 continues to build on B.C.’s leadership in clean technology and climate action. Climate change is a global issue, and the Premier has made it clear that B.C. will remain a climate action leader. And we have been able to move forward with that leadership on climate change while also growing our economy” was another quote.
Yet in the budget itself, there is scant mention of climate change. And the funding put aside doesn’t so much build on B.C.’s leadership in clean tech, as they said, but only supports one policy: the continuation of their existing electric vehicle program. That’s it. No more. Climate leadership, to this government, means continuation of an electric vehicle incentive. Nothing more. Hardly going to help the majority of our society.
Admittedly, I did benefit from that. I did get an electric vehicle. But there are many who this will not benefit. And I wonder how many in government have actually taken this incentive and got an electric vehicle. Probably a small number. Very small number. I’d guess zero.
A. Weaver: It’s not true? So that’s good. I’d like to have a list of all government MLAs who own an electric vehicle come my way, and I’d be happy to praise them publicly. But we’ll see.
The construction of Site C dam has put the final nail in the coffin of the clean-tech sector in British Columbia. Shocking. The Canadian Wind Energy Association has just left B.C., citing the existence of greener pastures elsewhere. Well, let me tell you. There will be greener pastures here in just a little more than a year, when this government is sitting on this side of the bench and the rest of us are sitting on that side of the bench.
A $1 billion investment on Vancouver Island involving a partnership between EDP Renewables…. This isn’t pipedream stuff. This is real investment, not of taxpayer money but of industrial money, on Vancouver Island through partnership between EDP Renewables. First Nations and TimberWest,. It’s gone. They’ve walked from B.C. because of a lack of leadership by this government. Frankly, that’s reckless economics, in my view. It’s reckless mismanagement of our economic system.
British Columbians are fed up with this rhetoric. World leaders of this. World leaders of that. We’ll all be happy and wealthy and wise, blah, blah, blah. That’s what we’re hearing. But enough is enough. This government is out of ideas.
They’ve misled British Columbians about the prospects of LNG. They look out for their vested interests, and they say whatever it takes to get through lunch, whatever it takes to get to dinner, then whatever it takes to get through a day and on and on. They say whatever it is in the desperate hope that British Columbians are not paying attention. But they are.
The carbon tax remains flat, and leadership on climate change mitigation is largely absent. As I’ve heard nothing about this, I look forward to, hopefully, hearing something in the fall, where the government once more kicks another file down the road.
Government has ignored the agriculture sector until just recently, just like they ignored the tech sector until last August, when four civil servants were tasked to come up with a conference. That’s the government’s idea: “Let’s have a conference on agriculture. That’s leadership.” But we do have a leadership opportunity here in B.C. in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.
I was recently up in Prince George and saw firsthand how the tech industry could actually partner with our resource sector to take our strategic advantage and build our economy. Why is this government not investing $6 million to provide broadband redundancy to Prince George to allow Prince George to take advantage of its cooler climate to become a tech hub and bring the resource and tech sectors together, to be the home for data distribution centres like Google wants to be?
Six million dollars would be the biggest economic drive for that region, with the introduction of broadband redundancy, that that region has seen for decades.
Yet this government would rather spend $8 billion on a project for energy that’s not necessary because there’s no LNG and Alberta has said no. That’s their view of economics. What you got? My six million bucks is my view of economic prosperity.
Now let’s talk about the biggest item by far in this budget, an item with an $8.7 billion price tag. That’s kind of there in one line. The Premier recently stated that she wanted to move this project past the point of no return — another irresponsible statement by this Premier. Yet we have no LNG industry, and just today we hear from First Nations in the Peace region that they will soon be in court, as the injunction is coming to play out as B.C. Hydro tries to stop protesters.
I have so much more I could talk about, but I do see we’re on the green light. I could talk about LNG. I would love to talk about the prosperity fund. I have probably another half-hour speech, and I’m looking forward to being able to do that. Probably, I should be making an amendment right now to the budget speech so that I could actually talk about this stuff. But let me just say that what we should be doing in British Columbia is building on our strengths. We should be demonstrating leadership….
Some Hon. Members: More. More.
A. Weaver: If you would like more, members opposite….
Hon. Speaker, with your permission, I’ll speak for another half-hour. Would that be possible? Maybe I’ll give away too many ideas.
Finally, starting to take action, real action on the issues of affordability, directing our economy for the future prosperity rather than political talking points and making B.C. a leader on the issues of our time is what I had hoped this budget might do. Unfortunately, in my view, while there’s a lot of popular language in this, it’s found wanting on many, many points. Probably, the most cynical aspect of this budget is the prosperity fund, the $100 million prosperity fund, which, when you peel it down, is actually only a $25 million fund. And it’s a $25 million fund of taxpayer money.