Today in Committee A (which sits simultaneously with the main Chamber), Education Budget Estimates were being addressed. I took the opportunity to ask the Education Minister about funding for public libraries.
As you will see from the exchange (reproduced in text and video below), the BC Liberals cut the budget for public libraries by 20% in 2009. Since 2010, public libraries have received about $14 million from the province on an annual basis. There has been no cost of living adjustment since that time and increasing costs have been downloaded to local governments.
What’s worse is that historically there was a line item in the Budget that noted funding specifically set aside for public libraries. That line item recently disappeared and now Provincial funding is buried within the general education budget.
I was very pleased with the thoughtful responses I received from the Minister of Education.
A. Weaver: I’m going to switch topics slightly. Oak Bay–Gordon Head is not pressing for the building of new schools. We have thanked the previous government, actually, for the new high school that was built in Oak Bay quite recently.
I’d like to ask a couple of questions on public libraries, if I may. I don’t know whether that requires staff to change. It’ll be a few questions on public libraries. I do apologize for not providing my questions in advance, but it’s been crazy today. I’m actually supposed to be speaking right now in the main House at the same time, but clearly, I’m not. Can I proceed? Thank you.
A number of years ago, back in 2010, public libraries lost about 20 percent of their funds. Public libraries were cut to $14 million provincewide, and it’s remained flat ever since. In previous budgets, there used to be an actual line item that said “Public library funding, $14 million.” Now that line item no longer exists at all.
I’m concerned, in light of the fact that public libraries play such an important role in any democratic institution, that this line item is hidden somewhere, and it may be subject to future cuts. I’m trying to get a sense from the minister whether or not public libraries are protected in this budget update, and I’ll follow up with a couple of questions after that.
Hon. R. Fleming: I thank the member for his question. We haven’t gotten to libraries yet in this set of estimates. He may know that there has been some advocates for library funding for many, many years who have passed resolutions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities and other places specifically asking the library funding to come out of the Ministry of Education.
After I was sworn in, I endeavoured to meet with all of the four major library associations in the province to ask them if that historic position was still, indeed, the case. I’m happy to say they are giving us a chance, as a ministry, to do more with public libraries.
I certainly understand how critically important they are in communities. We’ve heard that loud and clear. I had at least a dozen or a dozen and a half meetings with mayors and councillors at the recent UBCM conference specifically about libraries and how important they are in all communities but rural communities especially.
Their utilization rates are growing all the time. There are a couple of communities — Trail is one that comes to mind — where they’re investing significant capital dollars in state-of-the-art library facilities. So there are good things happening out there.
In specific reference to the member’s question about the cut that the previous government brought in in 2008, when library funding was reduced from $17 million to $14 million, and where it’s at currently. In this budget update, the $14 million is protected. I’ve made that clear to anybody that is working in local government or in the library sector that that is the case.
We’re having some interesting conversations about what a new vision might look like for libraries in B.C. As the member understands, this is the budget update, so it was not a lengthy opportunity to engage in budget-making, but to his question, specifically, the $14 million in funding is protected.
A. Weaver: Thank you, minister. There will be a lot of people very happy to hear that answer on record.
I do recognize, and I have some sympathy, that public libraries are coming out of the Ministry of Education. It’s a difficult jurisdiction for whether it should be advanced ed. You could make the argument that it could be advanced ed, or it could, who knows, span many ministries.
I think the key aspect, though, is the shared importance of protecting these for public good. These are a public resource that is critical to the betterment of society. Many of the municipalities are concerned, as the minister knows, because of the fact that, since the funds have been stalled are at $14 million with no cost of living increase, costs have been downloaded onto municipalities.
The concern is that some of their budgets are going to getting some shocks, pretty soon, when the new public library budget comes in.
My question to the minister. I know this is a budget update. It’s if the minister is thinking — whether it be through his ministry or other ministries — about, perhaps, actually putting the libraries into a base budget somewhere and giving them the opportunity to grow through the provincial funding, whether it be through cost of living or other. Because it’s very difficult to make ends meet with funding that has been frozen for quite a number of years.
Hon. R. Fleming: Thank you to the member for that follow-up question. There has been some contemplation about where libraries might best fit in the structures of government. I think there’s a strong case to be made that the Ministry of Education is the right place for it. We have terrific partnerships all across British Columbia with local libraries. We’ve been asked to look at whether broadband access that we provide to rural and remote schools might be possible for libraries to benefit from. Lots of exciting discussions and literacy programs that happen between our local libraries and school districts.
Having said that, what the issue I think he’s getting at here is, is the frustration from, essentially, the erosion of library funding over the last ten years, nearly, since that cut was introduced to library funding. Then it was frozen against inflation — a bit of a double hit. It has led to a decline in the overall percentage share of provincial contribution to libraries. It’s meant that local governments have faced tax pressure on their ratepayers to make up for that state of affairs.
I heard mayors loud and clear and have been lobbied directly by a lot of city councillors, as well, and regional district directors to look at exactly that. I can say it’s a conversation that’s happening within government. I did not fail to note that the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution as well.
I think I will just conclude by thanking the member for raising it. It’s an important issue, and I think there’s massive potential for libraries to provide additional life-long learning opportunities, connection to employment and just general resilience and wellbeing of individuals and the communities that they serve.
The 89th British Columbia Youth Parliament will hold its parliamentary session in Victoria at the Provincial Legislative Chambers from December 27 to 31, 2017. The Youth Parliament is a province-wide non-partisan organization for young people ages 16 to 21. It teaches citizenship skills through participation in the December parliamentary session and in community service activities throughout the year. Youth Parliament is a one year commitment.
The BC Youth Parliament is non-partisan and applicants need only be interested in learning more about the parliamentary process and in serving their community.
The application is available here, along with an informational brochure and poster.
All applications must be received by October 24, 2017. Selected applicants will be notified in early November.
At every level — undergraduate, master’s, and PhD, B.C. lags behind other provinces in terms of the number of engineers it graduates per capita.
Of the 9 provinces that offer engineering undergraduate degrees, BC ranks a dismal 8th. It ranks 7th in Masters and 6th in PhDs (see graphs below using data from Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow Share: Trends in Engineering Enrolment and Degrees Awarded 2011-2015).
Quebec and Ontario graduated 40% more undergraduate engineers per capita in 2015 than BC. They graduated 280% and 300%, respectively, more Masters Degrees per capita while Nova Scotia graduated 500% more per capita. And Quebec also graduates more than twice the number of PhDs per capita than BC.
In fact, BC is one of the lowest ranked jurisdictions in the world in terms of engineering PhDs awarded per capita. To compound this discrepancy further, BC has the strongest projected employment growth for engineers in Canada.
This is an unacceptable situation for a jurisdiction attempting to position itself as an innovator in the emerging 21st century economy. It’s particularly troubling as universities in BC are chomping at the bit to expand their offerings. For example, an exciting opportunity exists in Squamish to create a innovative centre for clean energy research, training and industry partnership. UNBC is also hoping to establish an engineering program to meet the demand for professional engineers in northern communities.
To pick up on this theme I asked the Minister of Advanced Education how her ministry was going to facilitate the development of these programs and increase the number of engineering graduates in British Columbia, and in particular, UNBC. As you will see from the video and text below, the BC Liberals were quite unruly during question period and had to be reprimanded by the Speaker a number of times.
A. Weaver: At every level — undergraduate, master’s, and PhD, B.C. lags behind other provinces in the number of engineers it graduates per capita. Of the nine provinces that offer engineering undergraduate degrees, B.C. ranks a dismal eighth. It ranks seventh in master’s and sixth in PhDs. Quebec and Ontario graduated 40 percent more undergraduate engineers per capita in 2015 than B.C. They graduated 280 and 300 percent, respectively, more master’s degrees than B.C., while Nova Scotia graduated 500 percent more master’s degrees than B.C. Quebec has more than twice the number of PhD graduates. In fact, B.C. is one of the lowest-ranked jurisdictions in the world in terms of engineering PhDs per capita.
To compound this discrepancy further, B.C. has the strongest projected growth, for engineers in Canada. There are post-secondary institutions eager to fill the need. UNBC has been trying to get an undergraduate engineering program…
Mr. Speaker: Member, your question.
A. Weaver: …for years. The engineering department at UBC wants to build a tech campus in Squamish.
To the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, how is her ministry going to facilitate the development of these programs and increase the number of engineering grads in British Columbia?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Mark: Sorry, what was that?
Hon. M. Mark: Yeah, exactly. It’s not you asking the question. I’m the one answering the question, through the Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Mark: No, it’s okay. I’m used to this. I’m used to this circus on the other side. It has only been a week, but it’s been fun.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Mark: I thank the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for the question.
Hon. M. Mark: Well, of course I do. I like to stand in this House as an advocate for post-secondary education. For the last 16 years…. In the first 21 days on the job, I had a chance to travel the province and hear from students and get to see STEM in action — science, technology, engineering and math.
We’re going to do something about this on this side of the House to send a message to students that we’re on their side, that we’re going to invest in their education. We’re going to invest in the tech sector.
We know that the tech sector is a $26 billion industry. Our friends on the other side of the House remind us that we’re not interested in jobs, but we need to make sure that we’re training people up. We’re going to make sure that those 100,000 people that are contributing to the economy are trained up in engineering. So we’re going to increase co-op placements. We’re going to increase apprenticeship placements. We’re going to make sure that the trade seats are relevant all across the province, not just select regions in the province.
I look forward to working with the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head on increasing the seats in engineering in B.C.
A. Weaver: If ever there was any doubt why this boisterous bunch needed to be put in a time-out, today is the justification for that.
A. Weaver: In mathematics, hon. Speaker, “QED” is often used to demonstrate exactly what I was just saying.
UNBC has proven that if we train people in the north, they stay in the north. In fact, more than half of their 13,000 alumni live in the north, contributing to the society, culture and employment base. Engineering should be offered at UNBC. It would add to those figures.
I recognize that 16 years of rule by the Luddites opposite, who do not understand the importance of the new economy, abandoned rural B.C. and left them on the hook. They abandoned development in rural B.C….
Mr. Speaker: Member, please be seated for a moment.
Members, we are reminded that when someone is speaking, we will listen with good manners.
A. Weaver: My question to the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training is: what is your ministry doing to ensure vibrant educational opportunities are available across all disciplines in our northern communities, in order to allow these communities to take advantage of the emerging opportunities in the 21st century economy that have been left out because of 16 years of incompetent rule by the B.C. Liberals?
Hon. M. Mark: I’m so pleased to hear a question about post-secondary advocacy in this House, because it’s about time that we have a government that’s going to advocate for the students all across British Columbia and make sure that we have those seats available. It is unacceptable that that government brought us to eighth place, in this province….
Hon. M. Mark: Pardon me? It’s exciting in here. I love the excitement. It’s about time that people are standing up for post-secondary education instead of standing in the way.
We’re going to get to increasing those seats across B.C., up in UNBC. We’re going to make sure that we’re investing in jobs in the 21st century. We’re going to make sure that we’re not standing the way by increasing debt and tripling tuition, like what was done under the last government in 16 years.
We are going to stand beside the students in British Columbia, and we made those measures, in the first 60 days of forming government, by reducing student debt, by making sure that we increase seats for students in the trade sector and the engineering sectors. We’re standing beside students in this province, and we’re sending a message that we are going to invest in them, not stand in their way.
Today in the legislature I rose to speak in support of the BC NDP budget that was tabled earlier this week. As we have yet to be given official party status (I understand legislation is forthcoming imminently), I only had 1/2 hour to respond. Once we receive official party status, as a designated speaker I would have had a full two hours.
As you can see from my speech below, I ran out of time. I could have taken up the full two hours as there was so much more I wanted to discuss about this historic budget issued by the NDP minority government.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak to this budget, Budget 2017. Before I start, please let me acknowledge the years of service that the former Premier, Christy Clark, gave to the Legislature. It is not without great personal sacrifice that someone serves as Premier of our province, and for that, I would suggest all British Columbia should be thankful and honoured that she served in such a way.
Now, I recognize that I’m sitting on the other side of this Legislature here, but I wish the Speaker to know that I do remain in opposition, although we have come to an agreement, through the confidence and supply agreement, with the B.C. NDP to support a B.C. NDP–led minority government. Please let me offer some highlights as to how we got there and why I’m speaking in strong support of this particular budget.
In the last election, the B.C. Green Party ran by offering British Columbians a vision on which to build a growing economy in the 21st century. We ran on ensuring that the health and well-being of British Columbians was put first and foremost in decision-making. We ran on building a sustainable economy, and we ran on strengthening trust in the government. In essence, we ran on the slogan of “Change you can count on,” and I would argue it’s turned into change you can count on for a better B.C.
The platform we presented this past spring articulated our philosophy, our vision and the actions that we believed could enrich the lives of all British Columbians. We were enthusiastic about a innovative and sustainable private sector, and we know that the health and well-being of British Columbians is inextricably linked to the economy. We believe that government should ensure that people are not just a factor of production working for the economy, but rather that the economy is working for people. We recognize that life is getting harder for many British Columbians, and we believe there is another way forward — one where people enjoy economic security in the new and emerging gig economy, one where our province’s resources are managed sustainably and one where equity is a fundamental value of government that operates in the best interests of this generation and future generations.
The B.C. Green platform set out a bold plan to achieve this vision. It was grounded in economic security and sustainability in the full and truest sense, we would argue. It provided clear steps, based on evidence, to move us towards greater well-being for all British Columbians.
If we’re going to make B.C. a more prosperous place for all people, not just those who already it is prosperous for but all people, we need to eliminate the fear of income insecurity, which has debilitating impacts on people’s health and well-being. We need to take our role as stewards of the environment seriously. We need to reset the relationship between people and government and communities and government. And we need to embrace the new economy and take measures to ensure that we all share in the benefits and that no one is left behind.
This is what we ran on, but we didn’t form a majority government. The B.C. Liberals ran on a different platform. They did not form a majority government. The B.C. NDP ran on something different. They did not receive a majority government.
All parties presented different ideas that resonated with some people — not all people but some people — and some communities — not all communities but some communities. None of us, clearly, had the right mixture to encapture a majority of British Columbians. That was indicated in the election results.
Instead, we have before us a minority government, one that I truly believe has the potential to be far more than the sum of its parts if parties choose to work together. We have something to offer on behalf of all British Columbians that voted for each of our visions for this province. We have a lot of shared priorities, and as the throne speech that was produced in the summer shows, there’s a lot of commonality in these shared priorities.
As we saw today through the introduction of legislation in a private member’s motion, we see an emergence and an agreement in the general principles of eliminating big money in B.C. politics. I think there are lots of commonalities there that we can build upon.
No one party will have all the solutions, but together we might be able to represent our different constituencies and work toward good public policy if we truly want to put good public policies front and centre in our decision-making instead of partisanship.
I think this budget is actually a great example of starting that in the right direction. It includes initiatives from all three parties. It was built fundamentally on the foundation of the B.C. Liberals February budget, and it retains a number of the very positive aspects of that February budget, such as the $20 million in funding the Liberals had announced in February for 4,100 new childcare spaces. It also includes important NDP priorities, like the $291 million investment to build, and the $170 million additional investment to operate, 2,000 new modular housing units for the homeless. This is a good initiative.
It features, also, some B.C. Green–led initiatives, like the importance of the emerging economy, through the creation of an emerging economy task force and an innovation commission, and to recognition that it’s important to get politics out of minimum-wage price-setting and to create a fair wage commission, much akin to what exists in Australia, to make recommendations to government on the path towards setting minimum wage. So $15 by 2021 was the B.C. NDP platform. The B.C. Green platform was to actually put it to the fair wage commission and, also, to actually move towards the concept of basic income.
What we have in this confidence and supply agreement is a recognition that for the B.C. NDP, $15is an important number. I understand that. We understand that. But why by 2021? Why not perhaps consider other alternatives?
Why would, perhaps, an independent commission not explore options after engagement with stakeholders about, perhaps, a system whereby the minimum wage might actually be different in Metro Vancouver relative to, say, the region of Port Hardy? Just making two states up, but one might be more appropriate in Penticton — to have a minimum wage that’s slightly different from the minimum wage in Burnaby. This is something that we should let a fair wage commission explore, to make recommendations to government, the ultimate decision-maker.
I think this is a bold step forward that only would happen as we brought together and came together to share ideas. Working with the B.C. NDP over the past several months has been a meeting of these ideas, I would argue, and going forward, I hope that the B.C. Liberals also share this importance, too, particularly in light of the fact….
I’ll come to that. I see the member for Prince George–Valemount look at me oddly. I would like to recognize that this did work as well. The Prince George–Valemount member knows full well that I thoroughly respected working with her, and continue to do so, on issues there. I think we have a lot of commonalities here.
But what we have to do…. We have an election coming up — sorry, not an election, a referendum. With respect to my colleagues on this side of the House, that was clearly a slip.
A. Weaver: Well, we do have a by-election coming up. The members opposite got very, very excited, hon. Speaker, over that slip-up.
We have a referendum coming up on the issue of proportional representation. Now, I understand that there’s a diversity in views in this House. There’s a diversity of views in the general public. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to show this province that a minority government can work by building on the good ideas from all political parties in the lead-up to a referendum on proportional representation?
I’d like to look a little bit further at some of the budget highlights, just to bring a focus on some specifics that I would like to applaud and some that I will say we don’t agree with. The budget provisions for education, child care, affordable housing and essential services are long overdue.
Now, I recognize, in speaking with members opposite and in listening to the throne speech, that the B.C. Liberal caucus heard that message loud and clear and came to us in the summer with the revised version of what we had expected to hear in a throne speech. They heard that from the people of British Columbia, particularly the people of the Metro Vancouver region, which is hurting because of the affordability issue. Those on the government side have also heard that and need to pay heed to the concerns of those in Metro Vancouver suffering under the issue of affordability.
I’m also delighted to see the implementation of a pathway towards the elimination of MSP. This has been an initiative we’ve been championing in the B.C. Green caucus — well, the caucus was really small up until now — for the last number of years. The first approach, using the B.C. Liberal budget of February, was to cut them by half this year. Something we can all get behind. It was in the B.C. Liberal budget. The B.C. NDP have agreed to it. We support it.
If we believe that we want to work on our commonalities and build upon that which we agree upon, the disagreements, of which there are some, are considered minor. I’ll continue with this to show how the CAS agreement came to be.
I’ll be straight up honest. After four years in opposition…. It was tough times going there, with the rest of the opposition. After an election campaign that I would describe as quite ugly and personal to me by the government now, I didn’t think it would be very easy for me to see a way that we could come together. I did not see that, but since the face-to-face meetings with the Finance Minister and the Premier, I’ve seen just how much we share in terms of our commonality, our vision and how we want to put good public policy and people first.
I will say that the working relationship that the small B.C. Green caucus has with the existing government has been nothing short of exceptional. For that, we are very, very grateful.
I’d like to go on and talk about a few more budget highlights that I think are important. I am a big fan of living within your means. I applaud the B.C. Liberals’ fiscal prudence in terms of producing balanced budgets. Now, I recognize that there’s some question as to how the budget was balanced in terms of priorities being made — increasing rate hikes versus personal tax rates, for example. But the fiscal prudence that was brought to British Columbia is something that I’m hoping — and we see in this budget — will be preserved under the present government, where a surplus budget to the tune of $246 million is projected for March 31, 2018, with a $300 million contingency built in as well.
The budget also plans to increase wealthy corporations and polluters, while providing more money for homelessness, rental housing and the overdose crisis. Now, I recognize the manifesto from the member for Chilliwack-Kent, the manifesto for the new leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, actually asks about a pathway to eliminate corporate income taxes. Frankly, I think this neo-liberal approach — if tax, then bad — has had its day. We saw that federally, where the federal Liberals won a strong majority, which no one expected, because they recognized that this neo-liberal approach — if corporation, then right; if tax, then wrong — has actually led to an income disparity between those who have and those who haven’t, which is not a healthy situation for any society to be in.
We see in this budget steps taken to start to mitigate that. Moving from 11 to 12 percent in a corporate income tax rate is not something that’s going to create a big upset in corporate Canada. We heard some threats and fearmongering on the opposite side. I know many, many CEOs in many corporations in Canada. To be quite frank, we’re one of the lowest — 11 to 12 percent. They want to pay their share. If they pay their share…. They’re concerned that government uses their money in a manner that’s fiscally prudent. They want to have a stable environment. It’s not healthy for anybody when you have a homeless situation in Vancouver. It’s not helpful for anyone when there’s ongoing tension between Indigenous rights and title, local communities and corporations. Nothing gets done.
It’s critical that you start to value people, build from the bottom up to develop a society that, actually, corporations want to be part of, and we see that emerging in this budget through the creation of things like the innovation commission, the emerging economy task force and so forth.
You know, one of the things in the budget that we are grateful to see is the commitment to develop a pilot project on basic income. This is critical as we move towards the gig economy, where the “One job, one life” idea of yesteryear becomes more and more precarious. People have more and more jobs in their lifetime with gaps in between, and the concept of basic income — one which would eliminate student debt, for example, one which eliminates the need for some programs down the road — is one that was experimented on in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s and one which was shown to eliminate poverty in Dauphin, Manitoba.
So we look to the poverty reduction plan being put forward during the coming months as a means and ways of identifying a pathway to the implementation of a basic income pilot project, and that’s a really exciting opportunity in British Columbia.
To the child care plan. The B.C. NDP campaigned on the $10-a-day child care plan. We campaigned on a zero-dollar-a day child care plan, with a change in the taxation system, together with 25 hours of early childhood education, which we know is the single most important in terms of dollar-per-result investment that you can make in a society for education — in those critical years, where the payback is being shown through research to be profound.
That doesn’t mean that these disagreements between the two platforms are anything other than semantics. Why $10 a day? Well, it was because an advocacy group that spent a lot of time doing a lot of research came up with a plan of $10 a day. But you could make…. The number 10 — there’s nothing wedded to it. Zero a day, $10 a day, $15 a day. Why not means-test it? Would the CEO of a major corporation earning half a million dollars a year really need access to a child care system that’s free? I think their ability to pay should predetermine the amount that they actually get.
In our system, what we had approached is we had ensured that there was going to be no…. Money was not a barrier to access. Right now, if you access child care, you pay up front, and at the end of the year you file your income tax return and you get a child care tax credit. That’s great. But that means that you have to still pay up front, and for those struggling with affordability, that ability to pay up front is a barrier, which is why what we suggested is that you wouldn’t pay up front. It would be zero up front. And at the end of the year, if you so choose to take advantage of this universal daycare program and you earned over $80,000 a year, it would be viewed as a taxable benefit. So if you could pay, you would pay, as opposed to not being able to access the system because of your inability to make your monthly rent.
Now, the economists involved in the development of the $10-a-day child care plan told us our plan was better. So why wouldn’t we actually want to sit and negotiate and talk with stakeholders and, in particular, the civil service, the civil service that this government has promised to reinvigorate, to listen to all of the ideas that are brought to the table to ensure that we build upon our shared values of the importance of universal daycare, universal child care, and that we find the most efficient, effective ways of doing that, where those who advocated on behalf of the $10-a-day program have their voice? But they’re not the only voice at the table. There are other voices as well. And I’m excited that this will move forward.
As we move into these discussions, we know that the B.C. NDP will bring their $10-a-day child care program to the table. We’ll bring our refined zero dollars to the table. And we’ll discuss, hopefully with input from B.C. Liberals as well, as to how we can make this right, because we have the same shared value.
That’s how good public policy is formulated. Good public policy is not taken from third-party advocacy groups and determined to be the policy. It’s by using and engaging and tasking the civil service to reflect upon the complex issues that are involved in the development of good public policy and consulting with stakeholders and using their input to provide evidence and support for their development.
We see, today, a good example in question period, where I pointed out that the minister now walking in was quite firm in electioneering that we would do this right away. But it’s much more complex than that, because there are jurisdictional issues. There are legal issues. There are time frame issues. It’s a lot more difficult to implement good public policy if you’ve promised the world out here. When you get in, it’s pretty important that you get it right.
That’s what we see our role here is, as a minority government. It’s that we have shared values that will ensure that the fundamental principles will be supported, but we’re there as a check, to work together to ensure that other views also get listened to. Frankly, it’s working very well so far.
Here’s an example. One, it’s not “no surprises”, but…. We have in the agreement “no surprises” and best practices. If there was a surprise — it wasn’t really a surprise — it was a pleasant one.
In our election campaign, we campaigned on injecting $4 billion over four years into the public education system to ensure that those children in their early years had accesses to the services that they require in those critical formative years, those years where, over the last 16 years, cuts have been targeted — through the child psychologists, through the speech pathologists, for the in-class help for those children with special or alternate needs. That’s where the cuts have been.
We know that if we invest — what’s important is, I’m reiterating the word “invest” — in the support for our children in these critical years, we save. We get a return. We get a return when they age out and enter society, because we’re not having to pay for the social systems, the social crises, the things that we’re dealing with now because we provided them services when they were young. It’s an investment with a rate of return that is difficult to quantify in me talking right now, but it is one that we know pays off based on cumulative evidence over many, many years.
Why I was pleased was that I saw, in the B.C. NDP platform, they had a little bit… They had quite a lot, actually, for rebuilding schools but very little, apart from adult basic education — something like $30 million for increased funding for the K to 12 system — in the classroom, apart from that which was prescribed by the Supreme Court, which they agreed to implement, as, of course, we did.
To see this injection of new money into the education system precisely in the years when it’s needed is absolutely refreshing, in my view, and long overdue. We’re so grateful to see that there.
Let’s take a look. It was $681 million, actually. In fact, $521 million of that — $521 million — was to provide for improved classroom supports for children, in addition to the capital funding which was there.
A. Weaver: The former Minister of Education claims that that was in his budget — that $681 million.
A. Weaver: If it was in your budget, I would like to give you credit for that, too, and I’d like to give the NDP credit for actually continuing forward with that. Our top priority has always been public education.
A. Weaver: They’re high-fiving across the floor. Isn’t this a wonderful Legislature that we have here today?
A. Weaver: We’re not in a coalition.
Let’s come to the fentanyl crisis. Now, the fentanyl crisis is another example of where we support the funding going in — $322 million dedicated to a comprehensive response, $265 million for the Ministry of Health, $32 million to increase police resources and address pressures at the B.C. Coroners Service and $25 million to establish a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
Some of this, I recognize, was in the existing budget, but not the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions until we had the throne speech in the summer, where things changed with the B.C. Liberals. You know, dealing with the fentanyl crisis and this cost pressure here is something we’d like to see go to zero dollars.
The reason why, over what we’re doing, is that we’re dealing with a crisis management point of view, but we haven’t been thinking over recent years about two aspects of mental health and addictions. One is the issue of prevention, and two, is the issue of recovery. And within our negotiations and discussions, it was so very refreshing to see shared values and shared interest in actually supporting investment in prevention and recovery, with the hope that the investment in harm reduction is not needed down the road.
We’re dealing with harm reduction. I would argue we’re dealing with harm reduction costs today because of cuts to our K-to-12 system yesterday, where children did not have the resources they needed at critical junctures. Cuts to our social services and MCFD, because the children did not have the resources they needed when they were young. Cuts to first responders and others. Cuts to prevention. Cuts to recovery programs.
These cuts have created a crisis on our streets, which we’re now paying for in other means. So my dream would be to see this budget item, this budget item of $322 million through a comprehensive response, go to zero over the course of four years. Because we don’t want to be responding to a crisis. We want to be preventing it in the first place. And we want those in the crisis now to have a pathway to get out of that crisis. And for that, I’m quite pleased with the discussions and the direction that this government is heading.
Housing. Again, another good example: $208 million over four years; 1,700 units of affordable rental housing; 291 over two years…. And over $170 million to operate the 2,000 lodging or housing units.
More importantly — well, maybe not more importantly. Also importantly, is the $7 million for the residential tenancy branch to deal with the backlog of issues that are arising in that office. I don’t know how many constituents have come to my office with complaint after complaint after complaint about issues arising from either access to the residential tenancy branch or unfair decisions in terms of landlords who rent on yearly contracts and have outrageous requirements for taking those forward. This is another good investment that we strongly support.
As I said here, one of our goals, we believe, is coming back to the issue that nobody won a majority government. Therefore, we must we must build upon our shared values to find commonalities to move forward.
I was pleased not to see the $400 per renter investment. And why I’d say that is there’s a shared value here. We share the values with government about the importance of affordability for renting. We would agree on an investment of $200 million, which is about what it would cost to do that. But I would argue, and the B.C. Green caucus would argue, that perhaps that is not the most effective way of dealing with the problem.
The problem is affordability. A $200 million distribution of cash with a bureaucratic overhead to administrate it, I would argue, is not effective. It’s akin to printing money, to the Bank of Canada saying: “We need people to have more money, so let’s print some more money.” The immediate response in economic terms is inflationary pressure, which causes inflation to go up, so you need to print more money. It’s not too dissimilar from what would happen by just giving out money for rent. As landlords suddenly realize that renters have more access to capital to pay the rent….In a zero percent rental rate market, all that happens is rents go up another $400.
So we have to be very, very careful how we incentivize money distribution that way.
I was disappointed to not see the elimination of the encouragement that the B.C. Liberals gave for people to irresponsibly take on more debt than they were actually able to fund, through this outrageous loan program that allowed for a zero percent interest loan to encourage people to burden themselves with more debt than they could afford. But hopefully, down the road this may or may not be removed.
Increasing the individual income tax rate for those earning $150,000, from 16.8 percent 14.7 percent, while bemoaned by those opposite and while certainly not consistent with the manifesto, the 65 items in the manifesto, from the member from Chilliwack Kent for the next Liberal leader, it’s exactly what people want to pay.
I have talked to person after person after person in my riding and across British Columbia. British Columbians don’t mind paying taxes.
The neoliberal view of “no taxes is good” is dated. They want to ensure that government uses their money wisely, which is why I found it very, very, very rich for this government to talk about their economic stewardship.
They’ve been very, very good at branding the B.C. NDP as irresponsible fiscal managers. They’ve been saying the same thing, and people on the street think this. But when you look a little more carefully at their fiscal management, you’ve got to ask a few pointed questions.
Site C dam. Why are you using taxpayer money to subsidize industry? Their view of good economic growth is using taxpayer money to subsidize corporate ventures. How is that free market? That’s picking winners and losers in the market.
Picking winners and losers — they picked the LNG. What a big mistake that was: 100,000 jobs, $1 trillion increase to GDP, $100 billion prosperity fund. That’s the winner they picked, and they went all in to do it. People were encouraged to build hotels in Terrace that are empty. They were encouraged to renovate their homes in Kitimat because of this influx of new employees.
With that, hon. Speaker, I do thank you. The only thing I wish in conclusion is that we had official party status already, because I could have talked for at least another hour and a half on this.
Today in the BC Legislature the government tabled its budget. I will be speaking to the budget later this week during the legislature debates. In the meantime, I issued a statement summarizing our reactions.
I am absolutely thrilled with with the introduction of this budget. It’s a budget that puts people first. And it’s a budget that shows that minority governments can work.
Below is a copy of my statement.
Budget Update 2017 demonstrates value of minority governments, underscores need for long-term economic vision
For immediate release
September 11, 2017
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, responded to the Budget 2017 September Update delivered by Finance Minister Carole James today.
“We are thrilled with the introduction of this budget that puts people first,” Weaver said.
“The budget provisions for education, child care, affordable housing and essential services are long overdue investments in our future. We are also delighted that the pathway has been set to eliminate MSP premiums, a priority that BC Greens have championed for years.
“A strong sustainable economy is essential for the well-being of British Columbians. It is exciting to see that the key budget initiatives aimed at growing and diversifying B.C.’s economy originated in the B.C. Greens’ platform. The ideas of an Innovation Commissioner to champion the B.C. tech sector and the Emerging Economy Task Force to address the changing nature of business were born out of extensive consultations we conducted with businesses and entrepreneurs. The Fair Wages Commission and the basic income pilot project will improve income security for British Columbians while the carbon tax measures will help spur innovation in our economy. I look forward to seeing them implemented so that we can ensure B.C. is a leader in the changing global economy.
“The budget update also underscores the need for a long-term vision for the economic future of this province. While traditional indicators like GDP growth and job creation are encouraging, they do not tell the whole story of the health of our economy. In particular, it is worrisome that B.C.’s economic growth remains so dependent on the housing market, the growth of which has priced many British Columbians out of their own communities. The global economy is rapidly changing, with challenges and opportunities arising from trends like technological automation, climate change and the evolving nature of work. It is crucial that B.C. is prepared to address these issues head-on so that we can ensure British Columbians across the province can continue to enjoy a good quality of life for generations to come.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | email@example.com
“Over the past few months, leaders from all three parties have acknowledged that British Columbians want us to work across party lines. There’s no question that this is a significant departure from the hyper-partisan, divisive B.C. Legislature. However, we can deliver on this promise for British Columbians if we put good public policy ahead of partisan calculation, if we strive for respectful and nuanced political discourse and if we remember the values and goals we share.
“British Columbians across the province continue to feel the squeeze of the affordability crisis. I am glad to hear that they will get some relief in the form of reduced MSP premiums beginning in 2018. However, as I stated during the election, we don’t need a plan to come up with a plan to eliminate this regressive tax. Best practices are already available from other provinces that have rolled premiums into the income tax system in a progressive fashion. I urge government to follow their lead, rather than kicking the can down the road by creating an unnecessary task force.
“I am glad that the government has increased spending to the Residential Tenancy Branch, which has not had the resources to adequately protect the rights of tenants and landlords, especially as the vacancy rate has diminished. I am also pleased that the government is investing in affordable rental stock and modular houses for homeless British Columbians.
“It is encouraging that the Minister acknowledged that we need an integrated approach to housing affordability. The B.C. Green caucus maintains and has communicated to the government through our consultations with the government that there are far more effective policies than a rebate that will provide renters with a mere dollar a day in financial relief. Not only will the rebate be low impact, it will also provide an incentive for landlords to raise already-high rents. This minority government presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate to develop good public policy, rather than simply having one party push through its entire agenda. Moving forward, we will advocate for more impactful policies that will truly address the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians.”
“I am also pleased to see an increase in funding to public education, which was the number one funding commitment made in our platform. Education is the best investment government can make, and I am thrilled that our public schools will receive additional support so they can better do the vital work of preparing the next generation of British Columbians for their future.
“It is also good to see an increase for childcare funding. The cost of childcare is a major financial burden on families. We look forward to working with the government to incorporate our best ideas on how to improve B.C.’s child care. In particular, the B.C. Green caucus’ vision for childcare is one that is means-based and does not require up-front out-of-pocket fees. We will also emphasize investment in Early Childhood Education, which has been shown to significantly improve educational outcomes for children by giving them the best possible head start.”
“B.C. was once a leader in addressing climate change, and the dismantling of B.C.’s leadership on this file by the past Liberal government was unnecessary and alarming. I am glad to see that the new government has taken the first step towards getting us back on track by unfreezing the carbon tax. B.C. has already proven that the carbon tax is not an impediment to economic growth. Further, if the carbon tax is working as it should by providing a disincentive to produce emissions, the tax should eventually disappear as we transition to the low-carbon economy. In the meantime, the wildfires that devastated many parts of our province this summer and the increasing costs of natural disasters in other jurisdictions around the world highlight the need to mitigate the effects of climate change. I look forward to working with the government to come up with strategies to help B.C. businesses and communities adapt.”
“I am glad that this government will make significant investments towards tackling the opioid and mental health crises. The crisis is continuing to grow, imposing a significant strain on government and non-profit services and programs. It is essential that our approach consider all the evidence and take immediate action to address this crisis.”