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Social Development

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.”

Responding to the June 2017 Speech from the Throne

Today in the Legislature I rose to speak to the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne. As I noted in my brief media statement following the Throne Speech, the about-face taken by the B.C. Liberal government is astonishing.

For the first time, we now have all-party agreement on major issues like banning big money, investing significantly in child care and raising social assistance rates. All three parties now support holding a referendum on proportional representation that will give British Columbians a legislature that reflects our province’s diversity.

The B.C. Liberals have been in power for sixteen years and until now actively opposed many of these policies. I am pleased to hear of their willingness to work across party lines. After all, what could be more stable than all three parties working together to advance major policies that will benefit British Columbians.

However, the Throne Speech vote is a confidence vote that is a matter of trust. We cannot have confidence in a government that for sixteen years has argued against these policies, and in the last few days has suddenly recognized that they are in the best interests of British Columbians. We will look to the Liberals to demonstrate a genuine willingness to follow through on these commitments regardless of where they sit in the legislature.

Leaders from all three parties have recognized that the results of this election present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on both sides of the house to deliver on the change British Columbians voted for.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my response to the Speech from the Throne.


Text of my Response


A. Weaver: Mr. Speaker, please let me be the first to congratulate the members for Surrey–White Rock and Kamloops–North Thompson for their maiden speeches in this new parliament.

I rise to speak in response to the throne speech. Now, in the 2017 election, the B.C. Greens ran on a new vision for British Columbia that we will put at the very centre of all our decision-making in the months and years ahead. There are three central tenets that underpin our vision that we explained and took to British Columbians in the 2017 election.

First, the B.C. Greens believe that it is the moral responsibility of government to promote the health and well-being of British Columbians. Everything else that government does should serve this purpose.

Second, we believe that equity should be a fundamental value of government and that government should operate in the best interests of not only the present generation but, also, future generations to come. We, too, should leave a better world to the next generation, as our parents did for us. Frankly, this looked like we were heading to be the first generation in British Columbia where we would hand off to the next generation an environment and social systems and an economy that were not the same as we inherited from our parents. It was trending downwards. It is the future of our children and our grandchildren, not only our own well-being, that is at stake in the decisions that we make today in this Legislature.

The third central tenet is that the government should act as stewards of our public resources to ensure they benefit all British Columbians, both today and into the future. Our natural resources cannot continue to be harvested in a Loraxian fashion for the short-term gain and benefits of a privileged few.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: I was asked by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast to provide an explanation of “Loraxian.” Well, I asked people to go and read the Dr. Seuss book called The Lorax. The Lorax quite beautifully illustrated what happens when you when you think not as to the consequences of your decisions today, where you focus only on short-term gain and the benefits of a few.

You know, our core central tenets may seem obvious. But they’ve been fundamentally lacking in our province in my view, in our view, far too long. The B.C. Greens offered a vision to restore these core values to government and to improve the lives of all British Columbians. Our vision included this.

Our vision was a vision to seize the opportunities in the emerging economy by supporting dynamic business development in a changing economy, to invest in early childhood education, not simply daycare, to give our children the strongest possible start, to invest in public education.

Over $4 billion was found in our budget, a fully costed budget, to invest in public education and lifelong learning, to ensure people had the knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful in the economies of today and tomorrow.

We had a vision to tackle climate change head on while positioning B.C. at the forefront of economic opportunities in the transition to a low-carbon economy. We had a vision to ensure that all British Columbians have their basic needs met by piloting basic income and increasing welfare rates, so that they never fall so far down that they cannot get back up again, that those less fortunate than many here are not stuck in a poverty trap that they can never escape from.

Our vision was to ensure that everyone has access to the means that support a healthy life. Our vision was based on the conviction that government should make decisions based on principles and evidence, not political calculation and political opportunism. Our vision was based on the conviction that government should put people’s interests first, ahead of special interests and corporate or union donors.

Our vision was based on the conviction that B.C.’s economy comprises and should benefit every British Columbian, not just the wealthy few. Our vision was based on the conviction that prudent fiscal management is essential. We cannot burden future generations with poor planning and short-term decision-making today. Our vision was based on the conviction that planning and government decision-making should extend beyond the next election cycle and that we need to consider the long-term effects of our decisions and actions.

As the B.C. Liberals have said many times, governing is about priorities. In considering the throne speech, we should do so in the context of how it lives up to our priorities and the values that we as B.C. Greens ran on. We ran our election campaign on many of the policies that the B.C. Liberals have just embraced in the throne speech.

Before this election, I spent four years in the Legislature pushing for action on these issues, as did other MLAs, advocacy organizations, experts and concerned citizens; pushing for issues like removing the influence of big money from our politics; pushing for issues like addressing our unacceptable rates of poverty in this province, raising social assistance rates and implementing a poverty reduction strategy.

We were pushing for action on investing in childhood education to address the childhood care crisis affecting families across British Columbia and to provide children with a strong basis for lifelong learning to enable them to succeed in the challenging economy of the 21st century.

We were pushing for discussions on issues to take meaningful action on climate change, to ensure that the world we leave for our children is no worse than the world our parents left for us.

The B.C. Liberals’ astonishing about-face in this throne speech raises the question: after 16 years of operating on one set of values, how can British Columbians trust that they — that is, the B.C. Liberals — truly believe in this new set of values?

How many of the members opposite, for the first time, when they heard the throne speech, said: “We stand for this now?” How many of the members knocked on the doorsteps in the last election, campaigning for child care, campaigning for increased education funding, campaigning for a poverty reduction plan, campaigning for basic income? I suspect none — certainly not in my riding and certainly not in the many ridings in British Columbia that I went to on behalf of the B.C. Green candidates running there.

I come back to this. How can we trust that this change, this change in principles and values so fundamental — not just “add a little of this, add a little of that” — a fundamental and structural change in values…? How can we believe — how can we trust — that this change was based on principle and integrity as opposed to pure cynical political calculation and the desire to continue to stay in power?

British Columbians have been calling on this government for years to ban big money. I’ve forgotten how many times the Leader of the Official Opposition has brought in legislation. Six it is. To that we could add a couple times that Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington did as well. I would have done it too, had it not been done so many times before. Each and every time, this fell on deaf ears. Each and every time, nobody listened.

The B.C. Liberal response was: “We’re going to report out more often. We’re going to rub in the fact that we’re accepting corporate and union donations — outrageous donations — from companies that we have to make key strategic decisions on, on behalf of British Columbians, and we’re just going to just tell you about it a little more often.” Shocking.

British Columbians have been calling on banning big money for such a long time, yet the government has refused — until today. Now the B.C. Liberals have committed to banning big money, today, and yet continue to rake in millions from corporate donations. Witness: within three days of the election, the B.C. Liberals raised $1 million dollars from their corporate backers. Shame.

A government that is principled, a government that leads through conviction, is one that practises the behaviour that they expect others to model. I challenge the B.C. Liberals today to stop accepting corporate donations, as the B.C. Greens did in September of 2016. If they were truly committed to banning big money, they could follow our lead — the lead that we put to British Columbians in September of 2016, when the B.C. Green Party stopped accepting union and corporate donations.

Let’s go to bridge tolls. This one is remarkable. To this day, the B.C. Greens stand against removing the bridge tolls, but we recognize that as a budgetary measure, we would support the budget brought in by the new minority NDP government.

But let’s come back to the cynicism and political calculation. During the election, the Minister of Finance told British Columbians this: “The decision to forego all toll revenues in the way the NDP announced…will guarantee a credit downgrade. This decision in and of itself is sufficient to lead to a credit downgrade.”

So now, a mere six, seven weeks post this statement, we no longer have to worry about a credit downgrade. Is this about political conviction, or is it about political calculation?

That was April 10 that that statement was made. Now we’re talking about unexpected surpluses, and nobody is concerned about the credit rating anymore. Well, I am, and the B.C. Greens are, which is why we do not support removing tolls on the bridges that exist and have not supported, all along, in a consistent matter, because we believe it is good fiscal policy.

What are the revenue implications of toll bridges? They’re not a one-year budget consideration. It’s not something that you can change without long-term consequences. What justifies this change? We don’t know.

What about the sources of new money? Thirty of the 48 throne speech initiatives outlined in the government news release were nowhere to be found in the Liberal election platform. Now, I recognize, and I have respect for, the fact that the throne speech was offered with humility. They recognized that British Columbians had sent a message that the direction the province was going in had to change. But the government now has said that it can finally make these 30 of the 48 throne speech initiatives that weren’t there, because they have suddenly found new money.

Well, I’m not sure where the new money was found, because we haven’t had the fiscal year update yet, and that’s not going to be announced till either later this week or next year. I’m wondering where this money is coming from. Just two months ago, the Minister of Finance cautioned against many of the promises that the B.C. Greens and the B.C. NDP made. He said this: “The suggestion that these promises can be accommodated within a balanced budget, absent massive tax increases, is simply absurd.” Who do we believe now? Now they can be. They now suddenly can be found in the budget, at the 11th hour.

At the 11th hour of a government on its way out, they promised to implement many of those exact same promises that were too costly to do, yet they haven’t been clear on where the money will come from. The generally accepted accounting practices used by the government dictate that any unspent surplus from a previous fiscal year is allocated to paying down the budget — full stop. Has the government suddenly changed that policy to a policy that we haven’t discussed? That’s what the government is supposed to do: pay down the debt with any surplus that exists from the previous budget. We aren’t even through the first quarter of the fiscal year. So I’d be surprised if the government had reliable updated financials from this year yet.

This statement that suddenly there’s more money, frankly, is akin to promises that we’ve seen, historically, of 100,000 jobs, a $1 trillion increase in GDP, a $100 billion prosperity fund, debt-free B.C., thriving schools and hospitals — the famous unicorns in everyone’s backyard — as a consequence of an LNG industry that doesn’t exist. There was the elimination of GST, PST, and on and on. Within the fiscal framework of the budget they tabled in February of this year, there was no room for long-term planning to ensure that there is stable funding for these new promises — no room whatsoever.

How can British Columbians trust that this government has intention to follow through with these new promises, when they are premised on a surprise surplus? Is this just more politicking with the provincial budget, now that it has become politically expedient to invest in government services? I ask these questions because they get to the heart of the question of trust. Is this truly a genuine principled about-face? Or is this simply more of the same politics that British Columbians voted to change?

The initiatives that were announced in this throne speech should not be treated as throwaways, as treats to buy votes in an election year, in an attempt to retain a grip on power or as a surprise bonus when there’s an unexpected surplus. These policies need to flow from a principled vision for British Columbia and a plan on how to get there — principles and plans that the B.C. Greens offered in the last election campaign. The government arrives at this astonishing change; perhaps they did arrive at this genuinely. Who knows?

Either way, we cannot have confidence in a government that for 16 years has argued against precisely these same policies and that only in the last few days has suddenly recognized that these policies — put forward by the B.C. NDP for, say, 12 of the 16 years and by the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Greens for the last four years — are now suddenly in the best interest of British Columbians, without a clear demonstration that the change is driven by principles and not simply political expediency. Principles are demonstrated through action, and we simply haven’t seen the actions from this government to justify our confidence in it.

To see the faces on the members opposite as the throne speech was read out was truly a remarkable event. You know, I only had three words for the member from Chilliwack afterwards, after the throne speech was read, and it was these. “Well, well, well,” I said to the member from Chilliwack, who clearly was aghast, with his mouth near his chest, as he listened to the words during the speech from the throne. My colleagues here remember one too many well, well, wells over the years.

With all of that said, we have an incredible opportunity here. I do believe it’s actually an exciting opportunity. Never before have we had such potential for each and every MLA in this Legislature to represent their constituents before their party. That’s exciting. That’s exciting because we have a chance to put people ahead of party politics, backroom politics, and I hope that we can do that.

The Liberals, the B.C. Liberals, over the course of a 40-minute throne speech, did a 180. Actually they did a 720. They did a 320 and a 320, and it was dizzy on a significant number of their policies and priorities. I think that’s great. I think it’s great that they now believe that they should be able to work when those policies, those similar policies, are brought forward under an NDP minority government. They’ll work towards ensuring that they’re implemented in a manner that we can all support, and that is an exciting, exciting opportunity.

You know, I can just imagine. Today at first reading, we didn’t vote for two bills, because we have not tested the confidence of this Legislature. The first bill was a rather expensive bill for the B.C. Greens to not vote for, to grant us party status, but it was the principled thing to do. But more importantly, the second bill, on banning big money — I have had a chance to look at it briefly, because we were just given a copy — has elements that I think would be wonderful amendments to a bill or some of the bills that have been brought in historically by the B.C. NDP. There’s ground for a stable government moving forward, where we actually take the best ideas from both sides of this House.

Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals have had 16 years of not listening to any of the amendments or ideas being put forward in the committee stage from bills, and now we have an opportunity to actually make that work. That is very exciting.

The B.C. Greens will work with every member of this House in good faith in the pursuit of good public policy. That is our goal. That is what we’ll focus on. The opportunity, as I said, that we have to improve the health and well-being of British Columbians is now bigger than ever, and we must proceed with respect for the electorate. I emphasize: we must proceed with respect for the electorate to make this government work and not play cynical political tricks in the desperate attempt, the desperate quest, to retain power. This is not about power. This is about respect for the electorate.

“The results that British Columbians delivered in the May election require cooperation,” the throne speech read. “Your government is committed to working with all parties in the Legislature,” the throne speech said — as are we. “British Columbians,” the throne speech said, “want a stable government, and in sending us this result, they expect us to listen and find a way to work together. They expect us to collaborate, while respecting the dignity, rules and traditions that govern our constitutional monarchy, our democracy and this Legislature.” I could not have said it better.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

That is precisely what British Columbians want, which is precisely why we need to get on with the business of governing this province, dealing with the issues that need to be dealt with and moving towards having a confidence vote in the present government as soon as possible.

You know, hon. Speaker, the throne speech also said: “With that in mind, instead of focusing on areas of disagreement, we should reflect on who it is that we are and what we share in common.”

Again, I agree entirely, and I’m excited and thrilled by the prospects of actually having everyone in this House work towards good public policy in the province of British Columbia, one that reflects the diversity of views, one that’s not artificially constrained between this dichotomy that has been artificially created between rural and urban areas.

It’s offensive to British Columbians to continue to hear this urban versus rural divide. It is only a divide because the B.C. Liberals have made it a divide. When you say, year after year, to rural British Columbians that they are somehow different from urban British Columbians, you create a divide. That’s irresponsible governance. It’s not putting the interests of British Columbians first. There’s nothing different between a person living in Kelowna, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Victoria or Cranbrook. They’re all British Columbians, and they all want the same thing — a quality education, quality health care, a strong and vibrant economy and to protect our environment.

The fact that this government, for 16 years, has been driving a wedge between rural and urban folk, frankly, is all the more reason why they need to be put in a time-out so that we can re-establish the trust between rural and urban British Columbia.

We’re starting this term with an unprecedented on-record level of agreement to cooperate and collaborate to resolve the most difficult challenges facing our province — a stable foundation from which to govern. We have all-party agreement on some of our core philosophies and key issues that were outlined in the throne speech.

If the B.C. Liberals are serious about these promises, if this is more than a political gambit, then this House can pass more legislation than ever before on the issues that matter to people, not vested union or corporate interests but people in British Columbia — issues like political and democratic reform, lobbying reform, childcare and early childhood education, solutions to the housing crisis.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we actually debated solutions to the housing crisis? I don’t know how many times the member for Vancouver–Point Grey brought forward solutions to the housing crisis that simply fell on deaf ears as it continued to get away from us.

When we get big money out of politics in B.C., the interests of people will return to the forefront, and we can restore people’s faith in government and show them that government is working for people because, ultimately, there’s a lack of trust in British Columbia that needs to be regained. We can and already are fundamentally changing how politics works in B.C. This is an incredible opportunity.

I will not be supporting the throne speech. I will be voting against the throne speech. But more importantly, I encourage members on both sides to move towards a confidence motion in this Legislature today so that we can actually get on with the business of governing.


Video of my Response


 

Probing the ability of British Columbians to trust the current BC Government

Today in the legislature I was up during question period. I took the opportunity to ask the government how they could be trusted in light of the fact that they did an about face in the throne speech. During the election campaign, the BC Liberals claimed that our platform was unaffordable. Yet now, the throne speech reads just like our platform!

Below I reproduce the text and video of my question period exchange.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: February’s business-as-usual budget contained little, if anything, for childcare, education, affordability, those in need of social assistance or the fentanyl crisis. During the election campaign, the Minister of Finance told the Vancouver Sun: “We have resisted consistently the temptation to go out and make all these pledges and promises.” He  argued that they would be unaffordable.

The Minister of Finance further argued this. He said: “The decision to forgo all toll revenues, in the way the NDP announced, will guarantee a credit downgrade.” Now we’re told that there’s $1 billion to spend on early childhood education. There’s money to increase social assistance rates, to invest in parks and to address the fentanyl crisis, and so on and so on. This can only be described as a rather dramatic change of heart.

My question to the Minister of Finance is this: how do you explain to British Columbians that you suddenly found over a billion dollars in the last couple of weeks to fund programs and initiatives that have been dismissed and starved of resources for years, and that this has only happened in the last couple of weeks?


Answer


Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the leader of the Third Party. Oops, can’t say that, can I? He voted against that, didn’t he?

Actually, I do appreciate the question, because the answer is pretty straightforward. The economy that was already leading the country, the economy that was already producing more jobs than anywhere else — in British Columbia — the economy that was already, in February, providing more opportunities to more families than anywhere else in Canada has actually gotten better.

I know the hon. member has made the decision to link hands with the official opposition, a party that in past opportunities, used to play a little trick called injecting fiscal optimism into their budgets. We didn’t do that. We didn’t have to do that, because the economy in British Columbia continues to lead Canada.


Supplementary Question


Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

A. Weaver: Yes, I understand why the economy is booming in British Columbia now. It’s in anticipation of the great stuff that will be coming forward in the next few weeks. Investment is coming to B.C. like never before.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, the Chair will hear the question.

A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.

Investors are lining up a mile deep to invest in B.C. in anticipation of a kinder, gentler province that will soon be put forward.

Last week, the Vancouver Sun noted that the Premier offered no apologies for dramatically flip-flopping on so many positions from the election. She said she hopes the NDP and the Green MLAs — oops, that’s the third-party MLAs — would feel embarrassed to vote against their own ideas, now embraced by the B.C. Liberals.

My question to the Deputy Premier is this. How can British Columbians trust a government that just wants to embarrass the opposition and holds one set of priorities during the election campaign and another set of priorities immediately following the campaign? And what guarantee do we have that if the B.C. Liberals gain the confidence of this House, those priorities won’t flip-flop and change yet again?


Answer


Hon. M. de Jong: I should provide the hon. member with the technical answer to the question he asked about the dramatic improvement in both economic performance and in the revenues that flow from that. It relates to the reliance that we place on the independent Economic Forecast Council, which for both ’16-’17 and ’17-’18 have adjusted their estimates and their forecasts by over an entire percentage point for the growth in our economy. That is dramatic. It is certainly providing government with more revenues, and the member will see the specifics of that in the days ahead when the results for ’16-’17 are presented.

British Columbia is performing at a remarkable level right now. I know there are members sitting opposite who are salivating at the prospect and — who knows? — may get that opportunity. Were they to get the keys to this car, let there be no doubt that the tank is full, the engine is running on all cylinders and British Columbians are enjoying the benefits of the strongest economy in Canada.

My initial reaction to the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne

Today in the legislature the Lieutenant Governor read the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne. Below I reproduce the media statement that I released following the speech:


Initial Response


Victoria B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, responded to today’s Speech from the Throne.

The astonishing about-face taken by the B.C. Liberal government in this throne speech demonstrates the difference that the B.C. Greens made in the election and that we continue to make everyday with the minority government.

We committed to addressing the most pressing issues facing British Columbians. For the first time, we now have all-party agreement on major issues like banning big money, investing significantly in child care and raising social assistance rates. All three parties now support holding a referendum on proportional representation that will give British Columbians a legislature that reflects our province’s diversity.

The B.C. Liberals have been in power for sixteen years and until now actively opposed many of these policies. I am heartened to see them adopt so many B.C. Green policies that will address these issues in today’s throne speech. I am also pleased to hear of their willingness to work across party lines. After all, what could be more stable than all three parties working together to advance major policies that will benefit British Columbians.

The confidence vote is a matter of trust. We cannot have confidence in a government that for sixteen years has argued against these policies, and in the last few days has suddenly recognized that they are in the best interests of British Columbians. We will look to the Liberals to demonstrate a genuine willingness to follow through on these commitments regardless of where they sit in the legislature.

Leaders from all three parties have recognized that the results of this election present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on both sides of the house to deliver on the change British Columbians voted for.

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