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Poverty and Homelessness

My Budget Debate Response to the BC Budget Update 2017

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.


Text of 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.

Interjections.

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.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: The former Minister of Education claims that that was in his budget — that $681 million.

Interjection.

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.

Interjections.

A. Weaver: They’re high-fiving across the floor. Isn’t this a wonderful Legislature that we have here today?

Interjection.

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.


Video of Speech


 

Budget Update 2017 demonstrates value of minority governments

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.


Media 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.”

-30-

Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

Issue-specific quotations

Minority Government

“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.

Affordability and housing

“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.”

Education and child care funding

“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.”

Carbon tax and climate change initiatives

“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.”

Opioid and mental health crises

“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.”

Basic Income Part IV: Recommendations & a Commitment to British Columbians

Introduction

Over the fall, we have explored the concept of basic income in a series of posts on my website, asking for your feedback on each post. The responses I have received, through comments on the website and my Facebook page, as well as in calls and emails to my office, have shown me that there is significant interest in the idea. The reaction has included high levels of support and enthusiasm, as well as a number of concerns and questions.

Your comments and our research have informed our proposal for moving forward with exploring how basic income could contribute to building a better future in BC. In this final post I will summarize what our series has explored so far, and why we should consider basic income as a tool to help us rectify some of the problems that we face today in BC, and those that we may face tomorrow.

The status quo in BC

After a general introduction to the concept of basic income, our second post in the series discussed what poverty looks like in BC, the social assistance programs available and how they can fail to help those most in need. It also explored how basic income could help to alleviate poverty in our province. We know that BC has higher rates of poverty and child poverty than the national average: poverty stands at 11-16% and child poverty is even higher, at 16-20%, depending on the measure used. We also know that poverty is not spread evenly across population groups and regions in BC. Amongst lone parent families, for example, 50% of children live in poverty; aboriginal people, immigrants, and people with disabilities are also more vulnerable. Some regions are disproportionately affected: on the Central Coast, for example, the child poverty rate is above 50%.

After looking at poverty and social assistance in BC, we focussed on the trends we are seeing in the world of work: the rise in precarious employment and the trend towards increasing automation of jobs. Our third post outlined the shift we are experiencing as a population away from long-term, full-time work with benefits, toward short-term, part-time, and contract-based work. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said recently that Canadians must get used to “job churn”, and this is a national trend that BC has not escaped: 75% of jobs created in the last year have been part-time. This situation has left many with significant financial insecurity,  juggling part-time jobs, struggling to make ends meet, and worrying about an uncertain future.

We also examined the increasing automation of jobs. Many studies predict that automation will eliminate a huge number of jobs across a range of sectors: one study, for example, predicts 47% of jobs are at high risk of computerization over the next 20 years. Jobs in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and office and administrative support are widely cited as the most susceptible (see here and here, for example). The impact on BC of job losses in these sectors would be very significant: the transportation and warehousing sector employs 140,000 people, while manufacturing employs 168,000, down 12,000 from a year ago. Already BC is one of the most unequal provinces in Canada, a problem that automation would exacerbate as it replaces mostly moderate-paying jobs and concentrates the benefits in the hands of a few beneficiaries.

Automation is an issue that those in the technology industry are taking very seriously: Amazon’s chairman, Jeff Bezos, has said “It’s probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it’s going to have on society over the next twenty years.” Yet despite widespread acknowledgement that automation poses a serious threat to our workforce and could have widespread social implications, it does not seem that our government is considering the seriousness of the issue. As politicians we have an obligation to take the threat of automation seriously and prepare for the possibility of a future in which the world of work as we know it is fundamentally altered. We cannot be left playing catch-up, merely reacting to the moves of industry and the development of technology, and rushing to create policies to mitigate the adverse consequences after they have already taken hold.

Recommendations

Already, the economy in BC is not working for many. Despite our wealth as a province, and the many resources on which we can draw, many people in our province face substantial financial insecurity. While we have seen economic growth and the Province projects a budget surplus of $2.24 billion, we have poverty levels that have remained unchanged for years, welfare rates that haven’t increased since 2007 and that leave recipients well below the poverty line, cities that are increasingly unaffordable, and unprecedented rates of food bank use. This is a reality that we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to change.

Moreover, simply raising the minimum wage is not an adequate answer, given the changing conditions in the world of work. A higher minimum wage alone fails to provide financial security to those affected by the rise in precarious employment, as you only benefit to the extent that you maintain stable employment with sufficient hours, something that is becoming unattainable for more and more people. Furthermore, it does not respond to the threat of automation. You need to have a job in order to benefit from a higher minimum wage, so it does not help people made redundant due to automation. Combined with the increasing ability of companies to automate, a higher minimum wage alone also runs the risk of accelerating the drive toward automation, by making humans relatively more expensive than their robotic counterparts.

Basic income could be an effective tool to tackle the persistent, intergenerational poverty we see in BC, and the shortcomings of our current social assistance programs. It could also help those who are suffering from the rise in precarious employment by providing some measure of financial security, and preventing those on the edge from slipping into poverty due to inadequate hours or job transitions. It could also provide a means to make up for the structural unemployment and inequality created by automation, and keep the economy going by providing people with purchasing power. Moreover, basic income has more visionary potential: it could provide people a stable base on which they can take entrepreneurial risks, pursue further education or retraining, or spend more time doing work that is essential to our society but is not financially rewarding, such as taking care of family members in need. It could therefore improve our wellbeing as individuals, and our resilience as a society.

To achieve these goals, a basic income would need to be high enough to raise individuals and families across the Province above the poverty line. To be affordable, it would likely need to be conditional on income (i.e. not a universal basic income to all individuals regardless of income, but rather a targeted payment to those who fall below a determined threshold). It would also need to take into account the differences in the cost of living across BC,  to ensure that people are not consigned to poverty in our cities.

Basic income holds exciting prospects for improving the lives of many in our Province and securing us against an uncertain future. However, it is important to recognize some of the uncertainties inherent in the idea and respond to the concerns raised by a number of people who have commented on previous posts.

The most common question is whether basic income would provide a disincentive for people to work. Would basic income encourage people to leave the workforce, or discourage them from joining in the first place? Or, on the other hand, would it provide a safety net, and a level of autonomy necessary to encourage entrepreneurship, retraining, and the pursuit of educational goals? What would be the overall balance in a community? Would there be an effect on young people specifically? The question of how basic income would affect people’s choices about working is difficult to answer in the abstract, and we have limited real-world experience from which to draw. The Dauphin, Manitoba pilot found that the negative effect on people’s willingness to work was negligible for the general population, but more pronounced for mothers with young children, as well as school aged teenagers from low income families, who completed high school instead of leaving to join the workforce.  The question of cost has been the second-most discussed issue. What would be the net cost of basic income? Would basic income create an inflationary effect? How would the social benefits translate into cost savings? Which social programs could be streamlined or eliminated, and which supports would need to be maintained, perhaps in an altered form?

Pilot Projects

The need to answer these questions, and others, leads me to conclude that pilot projects are a necessary step in considering implementing basic income in BC. A policy change of this magnitude has significant associated opportunities and risks, many of which cannot be quantified in the absence of real world results. Pilot projects would allow us to test how such a policy could be rolled out effectively, calculate the net costs, and measure the outcomes on families, individuals, and communities in BC.

A number of other jurisdictions are undertaking pilot projects. Finland and the Netherlands are both staging pilots in 2017, while the charity GiveDirectly is staging a pilot in Kenya. In Canada, Ontario is currently undertaking community consultations to inform their roll out of pilot projects in 2017: they are designing their pilots to determine whether basic income would be more effective than their current social programs in lifting people out of poverty and improving health, housing and employment outcomes. Quebec has also shown considerable interest in basic income. And earlier this month, MLAs in PEI voted unanimously to approve a motion calling for developing a basic income pilot project in partnership with the Federal Government. There is no reason why BC should be left behind in the move to test this idea.

To be effective in tracking the effects of basic income on some of the most pressing problems facing BC, including poverty, inequality, and economic change, the places selected for pilots should be particularly affected by these issues. Places such as Port Alberni and Prince Rupert provide examples of potentially appropriate sites for a pilot. One pilot site should be a relatively small town, to enable saturation in order to measure the effects on the community as a whole, as well as on individuals and families within that community. The project would likely need to be at least five years long, in order to enable us to measure the poverty, health, education and employment outcomes, and to calculate the net cost of such a program, taking into account the social benefits that accrue over time. We would seek the partnership of the Federal Government in testing basic income, as PEI has decided to do. We would also need to create residency requirements to avoid a large influx of people into the pilot site.

Beyond these fundamentals, a committee that is independent of the governing party should be established to undertake further analysis of basic income, to hold community and stakeholder consultations, and to advise on the details of how pilot projects should be designed and implemented. There are a number of specific issues that need to be investigated, such as: parameters for tax rates on earned income above the basic income threshold; interactions with other social programs and supports; how to mitigate risks to vulnerable groups; and how to incentivize the pursuit of education as well as paid and unpaid contributions to society.

Conclusion

We must address the unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality in our province, mitigate the adverse consequences of the rise in precarious work, and prepare for a future that may bring fundamental economic change through technological advance. To address these challenges we must create forward-thinking policies, informed by a commitment to a more equitable future and strong evidence on how to get there.

Basic income could be one such policy. It could help us alleviate poverty, foster healthier families and communities, encourage entrepreneurs and volunteers, enable education and retraining, and allow British Columbians dignity and autonomy while they navigate a changing world of work. With the right tools and foresight, and guided by evidence all the way, we can support a 21st century economy that is resilient, and craft a future that works better for everyone.

As premier in a BC Green government, I commit to introducing pilot projects that explore the costs and benefits of basic income.

I continue to welcome your comments, particularly if you haven’t yet had a chance to share your thoughts on basic income and the role it could play in BC.

Touring Vancouver’s downtown east side to learn more about the ongoing opioid overdose crisis

Today I visited Vancouver’s downtown east side to learn more about the overdose crisis plaguing British Columbia.

Earlier in the day, shocking statistics were released by the B.C. Coroners’ Service. Over the period January 1 to November 30 2016, there have been 755 overdose deaths in British Columbia with 128 of those fatalities occurring in November. Year-to-date statistics reveal a 70% increase from last year.

Those following my blog will know that we have written previously on this subject. On December 2 we outlined some of the steps that individuals could take if they encounter someone experiencing an opioid overdose. On December 15, we provided a more comprehensive analysis of the problem, and pointed out the need for a comprehensive, proactive approach to dealing with it.

During our tour today, Jonina Campbell, the BC Green candidate for New Westminster in the upcoming provincial election, and I were profoundly moved by what we experienced and the stories we heard. As Jonina noted in the statement we released after our tour (reproduced below), we witnessed “a grassroots effort of downtown eastside community members who have come together, because it is their friends and family who are suffering and dying.”

Thank you to Sarah Blyth, who is working with the Overdose Prevention Society, for taking the time to tour us around the downtown east side and educating us on the overdose crisis.

Later in the day I appeared on CBC’s On the Coast (starting at the 52:48 mark) in an attempt to convey what we learned from our visit.


Media Statement


Media Statement, Dec. 19, 2016
Statements from Andrew Weaver and Jonina Campbell following tour of pop-up safe injection site in downtown east side
For immediate release

VANCOUVER B.C. – B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and New Westminster candidate Jonina Campbell released the following statements after touring a pop-up safe injection site near East Hastings and Columbia streets in Vancouver:

“I have been deeply moved by the dedication and commitment of those working at Vancouver’s pop-up safe injection sites – volunteers who are working with few resources to save lives that would otherwise likely be lost,” Weaver said. “Sarah Blyth, Anne Livingston and others who have acted so selflessly are to be commended for taking action in an incredibly desperate situation.

“Today, the B.C. Coroners Service reported that a staggering 755 people died from illicit drug use from January 1 to November 30 this year. The opioid crisis is out of control. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott needs to immediately declare a national health emergency, which would give chief medical officers the power to deal with this crisis as a health issue. It is also critical that the federal government immediately repeal aspects of the Harper-era Bill C-2 that make it extremely difficult for cities to open safe-injection facilities like Vancouver’s InSite. Community members have been forced to pull together scarce resources to provide life-saving services on their own. It is unconscionable that our communities are barred from responding with the most effective, life-saving measures. The consequences are simple – the more we dither, the more people die.”

“The approach of the past, to treat drug use as a criminal issue, does not work. Drug use is a public health issue. Lack of treatment facilities has been a major contributing factor, while the systematic underfunding of mental health services has had broad reaching consequences. The scale of this tragedy forces us to ask some very difficult questions, including the question of decriminalizing illicit drugs. The Portugal model, where use or possession of illicit drugs was changed from a criminal to administrative offence, has proven to dramatically reduce STIs and drug-related deaths. These deaths can happen to anyone. As a society, we must respond accordingly.”

“I would like to call on all provincial leaders to come together on this issue,” Campbell added. “Andrew is the only party leader to tour a pop-up safe-injection site. While Premier Clark and John Horgan have stated that they will not visit one, I urge them to reconsider. We must put humanity above all else. The fentanyl crisis is a community health issue and therefore, local politicians must learn firsthand about what is occurring and what can be done to stop these tragic deaths.”

“We must not forget our responsibility to support first responders, frontline workers and volunteers, who are trying to cope with insufficient resources and the trauma of being on the ground. This is a grassroots effort of downtown eastside community members who have come together, because it is their friends and family who are suffering and dying. What I witnessed today was a tragedy of epic proportions. Few British Columbians understand the scale of what is happening. We must support those who put themselves in the middle of it, hoping to save one life at a time.”

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Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary, Office of Andrew Weaver, MLA
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

Statement on the need for BC poverty reduction strategy

Media Release: November 16th, 2016
Weaver statement on the need for BC poverty reduction strategy
For Immediate Release

Victoria, B.C. – The combination of a low minimum wage, high cost of living, inadequate social assistance, and lack of well-paying jobs has resulted in widespread poverty across British Columbia – the only province without a poverty reduction strategy.

Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, recently said he didn’t see the need for a poverty reduction strategy.

“It is outrageous. Comments like these show how out of touch the B.C. Liberals are with the issues facing everyday British Columbians,” said Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party. “They are more interested in building an economy that  supports their corporate donors than they are in building one that supports the British Columbians that they were elected to represent.”

“The B.C. Liberals have spent 16 years claiming they need to grow the economy before they can deal with poverty. Our economy has grown, and yet British Columbia continues to have one of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Their trickle-down approach to poverty reduction is not working and they have no plan to fix it,” said Weaver, the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

The BC Liberals’ jobs plan does not come close to addressing poverty in BC. 55,000 jobs have been created since last October, but 75% of these jobs (41,000) are part-time positions.

“The creation of part-time precarious work does not amount to a poverty reduction strategy and it does nothing to help struggling families in B.C.”

Food bank use is at an all-time high in BC: 103,400 people used food banks in March 2016, according to Food Banks Canada’s annual HungerCount report. Children made up almost a third of that number. This makes 2016 the 3rd year in a row that food bank use has increased. Charities are left with the responsibility to fill the gaps left by government inaction: people are relying on charities to meet their essential needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

“I personally know of a growing number of students who use food banks because they can’t afford to live,” said Weaver.

The unprecedented rate of food bank use in BC today speaks to the utter failure of the BC Liberals to promote economic growth in a way that serves British Columbians, and not just corporations. BC has one of the highest levels of poverty in the country, with between 11-16% of adults and 16-20% of children living in poverty, depending on the measure used.

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Media Contact
Mat Wright – Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
1 250 216 3382
mat.wright@leg.bc.ca