2009 Legislative Session: First Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Volume 1, Number 8
Orders of the Day
Throne Speech Debate (continued)
Hon. B. Stewart
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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2009
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call throne speech debate.
Throne Speech Debate
G. Coons: I, firstly, want to offer my sincere congratulations to you, hon. Speaker, on your election as Speaker — you occupy a position that's historic, honourable and crucial for the civil conduct in here — and, also, to the members for Richmond East and North Island for their appointments. I know you will do, and you have done, a great job.
I want to offer my congratulations to the government on their re-election. I want to offer sincere congratulations to my colleagues on this side of the House for their re-election. But my greatest thanks are to the voters from the constituency of North Coast, to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude for their astounding level of support in the last election. Of course, it wouldn't be possible without a large cast of those who worked on the campaign and supported me throughout.
Special acknowledgment must go to my spouse, Lois Elliott, who worked tirelessly and was there day and night ensuring that I was at the right place at the right time; my daughters, Breton and Hannah, who came home to Prince Rupert to help work on the campaign. My daughter Breton next week starts a full-time French immersion position at Arbutus Middle School. I'm looking forward to that, and I'm sure she is. Hannah, my other daughter, is in her last year in commerce at UNBC in Prince George. I'm sure proud of my kids, hon. Speaker.
I want to thank the many people who helped out on the election campaign, and obviously, not all who I can mention: my campaign manager Don Fordyce, Fred Beale, Erica Ralston, Pauline Woodrow, Gina Clarke, Dave Smith, Gloria Rendell, Ann Strutt, Kathy Bedard, Joanne Larson — all from Prince Rupert — Suzanne O'Neil, Joan Sawicki, Irene Buchanan, Brian Landy from the central Coast; from Haida Gwaii, Ken Ray, Joni Fraser, Duncan and Jenny White.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
And thanks to the thousands of people that threw their support behind me, especially support from the first nations communities, those from the Tsimshian, Haida, the Kitasoo, the Nuxalk, the Heiltsuk, the Oweekeno. I hope I can do them well.
I recall, hon. Speaker, Members, that four years ago Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo in her throne speech noted there were 854 people who have enjoyed election to this House in the rich tradition and history of the province. The latest count would probably be just over 880, a remarkably small number of people who have enjoyed the honour and privilege to speak in the Legislature and represent British Columbians. We should be honoured to have that privilege with us today.
Now, if we go back to a few months ago, May 12. Those on the other side called it election day, but I've heard from a lot of my constituents that it was deception day. It was not an election. We look at the broken promises we've seen from this government over the last eight or nine years.
Many, many broken promises, some of which are: deliver high-quality public health care services to meet all patients where they live and when they need it, 5,000 long-term care beds, better home support and home care, improved services for women and children, stop the expansion of gambling, make children the number one priority and devote adequate resources. "Education is our top priority, because it's key to any healthy, prosperous society." Another promise: "We won't sell B.C. Rail." We've seen what's happened with that — the raid on the Legislature and what's going on with missing e-mails. Totally outrageous.
"We won't rip up contracts." An open and accountable government. This is a quote: "My government is also committed to giving local governments more autonomy." We've seen what's happened under this government with local autonomy.
"We will restore consumers' rights to hydro rates that are independently set by the B.C. Utilities Commission and not artificially inflated by government interference." What have we seen in this throne speech? The interference in this commission that looks after the public interest.
The Premier's pre-election statement, "I can tell you this. The deficit for 2009-10 will be $495 million maximum," turns out to be a fallacy, make-believe.
Another quote: "It will be necessary to run a temporary deficit for the next two years only, and by the third year we'll once again be back enjoying balanced budgets." Broken promises. You know, deceit. A decade of broken promises. A decade of deceit.
As we've heard in the last…. The Premier mentioned "brutally deceiving" as the speed and force came upon them in their unknowing budget synopsis. These broken promises were equally brutally deceiving to British Columbians with their speed and force. A former Premier out there, Vander Zalm, quoted this: "People have put labels on this: arrogant, deceitful lies. This type of thing does not go away."
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Also, the ex-Premier says he is skeptical about the contention that a decision to bring in an HST was only made after last May's election. He said that from his experience as Premier, it takes a long time to negotiate such a deal with the federal government and that it must have been in the works well before the election. He quotes: "We have a government that's desperate for money and an economy that, contrary to what they are telling us, has not been well managed at all." A decade of deceit. A decade of broken promises.
Now, Madam Speaker, I need to look at some local issues before I get into this throne speech. Obviously, health care and education were promised to be exempt from the cutbacks from this government, and we're seeing the realm of what's happening in these areas.
The highway of tears. Recently in the news in the last week or so — up to 50 missing women on the highway of tears; 40 years, no suspects, no arrests. Both levels of government must get involved to find out what happened and bring closure to the hundreds of family members.
We need more resources to put in. We need to fund the recommendations for the symposium that happened a couple years ago. We need to implement a reward system, and we need an inquiry into the missing and murdered young women.
Paramedics. I've talked to many paramedics throughout the riding that I represent on the north coast and central coast and Haida Gwaii. Five months they've been on strike. It's a crisis situation, and in Vernon we have the Premier flipping a loonie at the paramedics and saying: "Don't spend it in one place." How arrogant of this Premier.
The current issues that we need to straighten out are the paramedic shortages, the working conditions, recruitment and retainment, compensation parity. In northern B.C. they're hit particularly hard. As we look at their staffing, they're unable to attract new employees — looking at the high cost of the training — and the $2-an-hour pager pay is not competitive compensation.
We need action and a commitment from this government before any lives are lost. We need a fair, negotiated settlement for our paramedics.
I have to talk about fishing. We've seen what happened on the east coast. A key component of the B.C. economy, especially in my riding and up and down the coast, is the fishing industry. Despite the current salmon crisis, fisheries are not even on the radar of this government.
Their mishandling and disinterest in protecting our wild stocks over the past eight years is criminal. So far the only thing this government has said over the salmon disaster is that it's a federal issue. Can you imagine a maritime Premier responding with such disinterest?
Let's not forget the Premier, who once said his fourth great goal was to lead the world to the best fisheries management, bar none. Now what does he have to say, or the Minister of the Environment? They're sitting on their hands and showing how out of touch they are with people who are concerned with the fate of our wild salmon and our aquatic species.
I need to mention homelessness, poverty and the unemployment spreading at exponential rates throughout my riding. Child poverty. Once again, we've been number one for five straight years. There's a huge, growing gap between the rich and the poor in our province, and this throne speech has nothing to alleviate the facts that the north coast has the highest rate of social safety net dependence in British Columbia and that the Cariboo has the second highest in the province.
What's missing? No mention of a poverty reduction strategy. No focus on improving vital social services when they're most needed by the most vulnerable. We've seen the start of the slash-and-cut model of this government — cuts already to vital services such as legal aid, libraries, literacy programs, student aid, housing, seniors services, mental health and addiction services and huge cuts to education. We're witnessing them this week. Along with the harmful sales tax, the most disadvantaged will feel the Premier's wrath.
The Port of Prince Rupert. On this side we've been pushing that the priority be the Port of Prince Rupert. The vice-president and chief economist for Export Development Canada, in his keynote speech at the Canadian Port Authorities conference in Prince Rupert last week, said we should be in heavy investment mode for export infrastructure and for Canada's ports because the opportunity is so significant.
We've been given a window of opportunity to invest, and we can't get caught by what's to come. He said part of that investment should be done in Prince Rupert, and I look forward to the commitment from the throne speech that this "government will redouble its efforts to open up the…northern corridor with its massive potential." We'll find out today whether that commitment is there.
The energy corridor. I picture the energy corridor as just an outlet to open up the tar sands. The energy corridor basically means pipelines and tankers, and it means feeding the tar sands. A month or so ago, a couple of my colleagues and I took a trip along the tanker route from Kitimat to Hartley Bay and saw the diverse, unique trip where these supertankers will have to go.
I've been to meetings with Fort Chipewyan first nations' Lionel Lapine, who talks about the toxic tailing ponds that can be seen from outer space. Now the first nations of Fort Chipewyan, downstream, are developing rare forms of cancer. We don't want to see this develop, and we need to restrict tar sands development. This government's energy corridor is just opening up to colossal destruction, as far as the environment.
Hon. Speaker, I have to talk about ferries. There's going to be a review underway for B.C. Ferries, and there's
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concern about the high compensation levels and administration costs. The comptroller general's review. Now, the Auditor General did a great review in 2006: A New Direction for British Columbia's Coastal Ferry System. The review has already been done. The Auditor General, the independent Auditor General of British Columbia, recommended three things.
Establish criteria on how well the Coastal Ferry Act is meeting its objectives at least once every four years. There are no criteria set for B.C. Ferries, and this government now realizes it after six years of dismal failure of the Coastal Ferry Act.
A second recommendation: that the Minister of Transportation do a comprehensive summary report on B.C. Ferries in its annual service plan. The Auditor General realized that we needed transparency for the public and for MLAs. There needs to be accountability in this Legislature, and the Auditor General has already said that.
The third recommendation was to develop performance measures related to quality of service. There are no performance measures out there for B.C. Ferries. No wonder it has fallen into such chaos. No wonder fares are rising and ridership is going down, and it's hitting vital tourism and businesses in ferry-dependent communities.
Now, other concerns that the Auditor General had were with the B.C. Ferry Authority and the board of directors. They are answerable to no one, to no owner or shareholder. There's no accountability. The Auditor General has already stated that in his 2006 report. Maybe the Minister of Transportation and the government should read that and develop criteria for the Coastal Ferry Act to ensure that it meets the public interest.
The Auditor General is concerned with the monopoly position of B.C. Ferries and the commissioner, and the commissioner is paid for by B.C. Ferries. He was concerned that there could be an issue with regulator capture, where the regulator, who is supposed to look after the public interest, identifies with the company versus being objective. So the Auditor General had concern with the commissioner, who is supposed to look after the public interest. On the website it says "public interest."
I have talked to the commissioner, and he has said that he does not look after the public interest. His number one priority is the financial sustainability of the corporation. That's why we're having a review, apparently, but I suggest that the government, as I said, look at the Auditor General's report and at least look at the recommendations.
Again, freedom of information. The Auditor General had concern that B.C. Ferries is exempt from freedom of information. The alternate service providers or getting competition…. "Privatization is impossible," he said. So again, when we look at the governance of B.C. Ferries and how it has been directed, the Auditor General basically said that it's a hybrid model yet to prove itself. So I look forward to the review done, and hopefully, the recommendations and concerns of the Auditor General will be looked at.
Now, we look at the compensation level at B.C. Ferries. We brought up the board of directors, who…. It was shocking to the members on the other side a year ago that they raised their compensation levels by 40 to 60 percent. Then we find out that we have a million-dollar man at the helm of B.C. Ferries. Shocking.
Again, they report to no shareholders, you know, so you can't compare his compensation with the private sector. The CEO makes $500,000 plus two bonuses: a 55 percent bonus for an annual incentive plan and a 55 percent long-term incentive bonus. So on top of his $500,000 salary, he has a 110 percent bonus.
This past year he only got 47 percent and 42 percent of his bonuses. He missed out on about $100,000. We don't have access to why he didn't get it. I'm just wondering if the management at B.C. Ferries got their bonuses when the ferry sank and we lost two lives. But we don't have access to that.
The only reason we have access to the salaries right now is because the Canadian Securities Association demanded last December that they have to post it. We haven't known the salaries of B.C. Ferries, because they're exempt from freedom of information — no transparency, no accountability. That's why we tried to put in a fair ferries act in 2008 — the ferries act that we put on the floor to increase the accountability, to require that the public interest was taken into account. We were going to roll back, in this act, the salaries of the directors.
Now the government's doing a review because they have concern about compensation levels. We didn't even know about the management and how outrageous their salaries were. We wanted to bring B.C. Ferries under the authority of the freedom of information and require it to report annually to the Legislature — basically the same recommendations as the Auditor General.
Obviously, in a riding such as mine there are major concerns with first nations. Just recently, to sum it up, I would say the first nations…. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs last week put out a press release saying: "Clearly the Premier and his government have not acted honourably through the course of the so-called new relationship." They demand substance, not platitudes.
At the All Chiefs Assembly, which I had the privilege of attending for the last day on Friday…. I was there with the Bella Bella band and then the Heiltsuk because of their Gladstone court case. For over 13 years they've been trying to have the governments act honourably on their right to commercial fishing as first nations, and it's still being tossed aside.
What the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs last week said: "We call on the province of B.C. to immediately change
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its deplorable conduct and fully implement on an honourable basis our…title and rights."
Obviously, nothing has changed since the B.C. Liberals and Gordon Campbell put forth his 2002 racist and divisive referendum on treaty rights.
Deputy Speaker: Member, you do know you refer to members by constituency name only.
G. Coons: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
If we look at the throne speech, you know, the throne speech says we have been hit by seismic economic shifts that were unpredictable and brutally deceiving in their speed and force. A brutally deceiving seismic shift of $1.9 billion per year from businesses to families makes this Premier's HST tax grab the biggest in B.C. history.
We saw that tax cuts back in 2001 cost taxpayers $1.5 billion, with 8,000 people receiving 14 percent of the benefits. The Premier's MSP premiums increase of 50 percent hit B.C. families with $450 million.
It's difficult to find anything that comes close to the $1.9 billion per year HST tax grab that we're going to see today. If we take the population of British Columbia and divide it out into the tax grab, it means close to $428 per person, $1,800 for a family of four. High-income families will be paying less HST. Middle-income families are getting the hit. It's a regressive tax grab initiated by this Premier.
The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce also had a concern with this, and I'll get into that if I have time.
What we see the HST doing is hurting the average British Columbian at a time in our history when the most vulnerable are already facing significant challenges. PST exemptions were there for a wide range of goods that meet the public interest — books, magazines, clothing, smoke alarms, health-related items. Gone are the exemptions on hydro, heating, fuel, natural gas, telephone, internet, cable.
Entertainment has increased, whether it is coffee shops, membership fees, moorage, RV parks, golf fees, restaurant meals, museums, fishing charters, whale watching, hockey tickets.
The government wants us to become healthier, but gone are the exemptions on bicycles, health clubs, health equipment, dietary supplements. Gone is the exemption on school supplies, and gone are emission control devices for diesel vehicles and anti-idling devices.
They want us to play a part in global warming, but gone are the exemptions on fuel-saving devices on tractor trailers, electric motorcycles, home insulation, energy-efficient windows and so on and so on. Those with pets get hit, and when you die, there's a 7 percent tax on your funeral.
Now, there's a tax bulletin that was put out that is very misleading, a lot of misinformation and some deception. It was a tax bulletin put out last July by Blake, Cassels and Graydon. They talk about a made-in-B.C. component of HST, and this is a quote from their tax bulletin: "As in Ontario, B.C. has negotiated a number of unique 'made-in-B.C.' components to address issues raised by consumers, municipalities, charities, qualifying non-profit organizations, low-income families and the housing industry."
There is no consultation. There is no input from anybody in this province. This government is railroading through this as part of their decade of deceit. Where would Blake, Cassels and Graydon law firm get this information? Well, two MLAs — the member for Parksville-Qualicum and the member for Vernon-Monashee — talk about a made-in-B.C. solution. There is no made-in-B.C. solution. This was made in the Premier's office. No consultation. No input. A huge hit on those that can least afford it.
The city of Prince Rupert is against the harmonization tax. They're bringing forth a motion to the UBCM with their concerns on the hit to the most vulnerable. The B.C. chamber has put out information to their members that there are some sectors that are going to be negatively impacted, and chambers need to look at their members.
The Kelowna chamber did, and their brief to the Minister of Finance on August 5 says that despite the benefits, the chamber expressed strong dissatisfaction to the HST. The feedback from their members was predominantly negative. Respondents expressed concern regarding the negative impact. Respondents urged the provincial government not to implement the tax harmonization, and the predominant response to this question urged the Kelowna chamber to oppose the tax harmonization.
We look at a couple of the members — the members for Kelowna–Lake Country and Kelowna-Mission…. The Kelowna-Mission member said that business people he has talked to "have been generally supportive of the HST." Perhaps he should read the brief to the minister and represent his members as well as the other members from Kelowna. Perhaps they should do their homework and talk to their chamber members and read the brief that went out to the Minister of Finance.
When we look at the chambers and the Premier and the Finance Minister, they base their information on the C.D. Howe report. First, going through the C.D. Howe report, I noticed a term that I had to keep coming back to, and that was that the difference is "statistically insignificant." That basically means that there's an equal chance that the implementation of the HST could have prices go up or go down. Nothing is proven. So from this flawed report, we are being pushed this HST.
This report was lessons on the Atlantic provinces. We need to recognize that in the Atlantic provinces, when they implemented their HST, their taxes went down 4 percent, and the restaurant industry was not impacted by the HST to the degree that is happening here.
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Also, when we look at the C.D. Howe report, it says:
"…the possibility that reform was regressive and that it raised average prices for low-income households. From the C.D. Howe report, Michael Smart says: 'I conclude that the HST reform had a mild, regressive impact in the Atlantic provinces. It hit shelter, clothing and footwear for those that can least afford it.' And that's when it was a mild, regressive effect, even though those in the Atlantic provinces had their taxes reduced by up to 4 percent, and a key component of the report: '…in the absence of detailed information on the pattern of effective taxes in the RST, the retail sales tax, of the provinces today, we cannot determine whether further harmonization would also be regressive.'"
It's a nothing report that we're basing our push towards HST on. It's just ludicrous. The Progress Board of British Columbia said that the HST would be mildly regressive. Lower-income British Columbians could see declines in real income as prices rise. Basically, it's a tax grab. In this decade of deceit it's just ludicrous that we're pushing this forward.
If we look at what happened with the forestry industry in the throne speech — basically, forestry gets a zilch. Nothing new. Just all re-announcements. Not even the same focus on the culture of wood that we saw in the last throne speech. You know, nothing. Nothing addressed the CDT money that has to come to forest workers. And the broken promises and the deceit that happened as far as promising workers work and initiatives to push forward as they've lost their jobs in the forest industry.
No mention of the pension plan that was announced in October 2008 and then re-announced in the last throne speech. Legislation was supposed to come forward and be developed in 2009. Nothing.
Once again, nothing on worker safety. Nothing on forestry workers. Federal dollars have run out, and the province has done virtually nothing — virtually nothing — to help the forest industry and the hard-working forest workers in our province, the tens of thousands that were laid off under this government's decade of deceit.
We go into issues. The throne speech. We talked about the B.C. Utilities Commission. Now we have specific direction: interference into the public interest of British Columbians.
Now, as a friend of mine — and I quoted this one other time — a senior, reminded me a couple weeks ago of an appropriate Franklin D. Roosevelt quote. He said: "Governments can err. Presidents make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the coldblooded and the sins of the warmhearted on different scales. Better the occasional faults of government that lives in the spirit of charity than the consistent omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."
I believe British Columbians recognize the difference between those members on that side of the room and the members on this side of the room. We will continue to look after the struggles and the initiatives and the dreams of British Columbians, and we will look after the many, versus looking after the few. That is a commitment from this side of the House that we will hold this government accountable, and we will be forming the next government in the next four years.
Hon. B. Stewart: Madam Speaker, it's an honour to be here today, and thank you very much. Today is the first time for my opportunity to rise in the House and speak about the Speech from the Throne.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor has once again delivered an excellent speech with much-needed vision for our future generations during these tough economic times. While the speech is noteworthy for its honest acknowledgment that B.C. has been hard hit by the economic crisis, it highlights the government's unwavering commitment to strengthen the economy, create jobs and provide all British Columbians with a good standard of living.
The consistency with which this government has delivered on its promises over the last eight years is shown through in this throne speech — fiscally conservative, making the right decisions in terms of providing change when needed, bringing in the HST. The speech urges us not to give up on the future. Despite today's challenges, there is still room for optimism. In less than six months our province will be welcoming the world as we host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
The Olympics have already created many jobs and opportunities. A lot of effort has already gone into building venues for the games, improving our transportation infrastructure and, as well, bringing in many much-needed facilities on time and on budget.
Soon people from all over British Columbia will be dedicating their time to help set the stage for world-class games that will last in many people's hearts and minds for the years to come. I am just as ready and excited as the people in my constituency, Westside-Kelowna, to welcome the world.
I had an opportunity recently to open up the new Spirit Square in the new district of West Kelowna, and I have to say that there were a lot of proud individuals to finally call this area, that was once rural, a community. It's a big part of the Okanagan.
I want to just describe, for members in the House here, a little bit about the riding that I represent. First off, I think most people would recognize the fact that it's the home of the Ogopogo, and I think that that's often forgotten —N'ha-a-itk, as the Westbank First Nation people would call the lake monster that they often referred to in the early days.
The city of Kelowna as well forms part of the riding, as well as the Westside unincorporated area where we recently had the tragedy of three significant firestorms this year — all at the same time, all human-caused and preventable. These human-caused fires not only
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impacted the lives of many people, but 10,000 people were evacuated in a very short order.
As a member of the government and a representative in the Legislature, I think we have to be proud of the fact that the people that were the volunteers and the workers that came to work during the fires — and how quickly they came together — can't often expect or prepare for the magnitude of what an evacuation in the matter of a few hours actually brings with it.
Some of the people that came together that were leading this…. I have to give special credit to the emergency social service people on the ground, being there firsthand and watching thousands of these people stream into the Mount Boucherie complex, headed by Beryl Itani, the ESS director in the Central Okanagan. Jason Johnson, the CAO of district of West Kelowna had first-hand experience at having to lead this battle. Brent Watson, the emergency program coordinator in Vernon, was working on the North Okanagan fire, up at Terrace Mountain. Jason Brolund, the deputy emergency program coordinator, and Rene Blanleil, our fire chief in Kelowna, was the emergency program coordinator of CORD.
These people helped lead an army of people to a satisfactory conclusion. We were fortunate in a matter of several days to be able to stop the fire on the Westside from…. And mitigating the damage to only a few structures…. But most importantly, we were able to preserve a very important economic asset in the community, the Gorman brothers sawmill, which really was an accomplishment for our firefighting teams.
I think that to see a fire that started literally at 2:30 in the afternoon and by 5:30 had already jumped across the highway and surrounded the mill…. We'd evacuated about 6,000 people by that point. Those statistics speak for themselves. It's amazing that we don't have loss of life from a situation like that.
Earlier in February this year I was in Australia, and I was in an area in the Yarra Valley and was caught in a similar firestorm that resulted in a much different outcome. Hundreds of people were killed staying in their homes, not being able to flee the fires. Of course, the firefighting efforts there are quite different — fighting grass fires and the type of fuel load that they have.
I can tell you that experiencing it firsthand and having to leave an area without anything but the shirt and clothes on your back is something that won't be soon forgotten. The other things come a lot easier when you have to replace your clothes, passports, airline tickets — when you're only a traveller, let alone a lifelong history of photographs and all your family belongings.
It's great to see that we had a great outcome in West Kelowna, in the three fires that were there. And the leadership by the council was outstanding — the people that I had a chance to meet with in the fire control centre. I don't think anybody can quite appreciate what it's like to go into an empty high school where there are hundreds of these people coordinating everything from weather to where the fire is going in a particular direction, to making certain the bills get paid and making certain that the firefighters get fed and are housed.
So that's one side of it. Of course, there are all the other people that are up in the planes and helicopters working to try to contain things. So I think the House owes them their debt of gratitude for what they're doing still today.
On the economic front, I know that members opposite may find it difficult to believe that the HST may be a positive in terms of what it's providing, but having come from a business that has a value-added manufactured component, I can tell you, speaking firsthand from the days of the regressive former federal manufacturers sales tax that was embedded in the cost of every single product that we used to produce, to the GST….
I don't think that I was one that was openly welcoming GST, but having gone through it and the simplification of the process and understanding how simple it is from a small business perspective…. You have to imagine that in those days I was doing the books, supervising the winemaker and running a farm. The reality was that I wasn't that sophisticated. I didn't have an accountant and all those things. Frankly, I figured it out, and I still paid the PST at the same time and dealt with the farm goods list.
So I'm looking forward to it. I know the people in my region that are in value-added agriculture and tourism. Believe it or not, this year the Okanagan is still benefiting in our region from increased tourism, even with all of the negative things that are going on. I think that, as much as many people have talked about the negative things that are happening, the reality is that there are positive things. People that are thinking positively about what's going on out there in their businesses, etc., are being rewarded by that.
We have a wonderful neighbour, Anthony von Mandl, who owns a facility that is second to none in the world. I have seen them at Mission Hill Estate winery.
An aerospace industry in our riding run by Barry Lapointe that was built from just a guy that loved to fly planes…. Now he's got, like, 350 employees and literally state-of-the-art…. Does work all around the world. Think about the embedded PST in every plane.
I've been out there, and Barry has shown me the technical diagrams and engineering that go into mapping out every single component and structure in an airframe. It's unbelievable, the amount of expertise. It's a great relationship that he has with BCIT, having an on-site training facility there.
In agriculture we've got some of, really, Canada's finest, right in the Okanagan. Some of them that are in my riding are John and Maria Byland. I think that most people, if they don't know of them, know their plants
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because they're sold around the country, in North America. Although they're facing tougher times with the U.S. market, they have been significantly rewarded by their consistency in what they do.
I guess the other people that I'm hearing good things about and that are enthusiastic about the HST are people like the Gormans, who have a mill where they sell value-added timber all across the world. They've opened up new markets.
Originally, they sold about 80 percent of their product into the U.S., prior to this economic downturn. They've found new markets. They've still got their 325 people working. They're working flat out, and the bottom line is that they've opened up new markets in places like Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan. I said: "Well, what about China?" They said: "Well, the market's too big." These other markets they're well established in.
The reality is that there is economic opportunity out there. We need to take an approach that is proactive to being marketers of some great wood products outside of British Columbia, and we're going to do that in this next four years.
What I see in the Okanagan and in my riding is the fact that people are pulling together to create jobs, to strengthen our economy. We've seen, with the recent housing upturn, the fact that there still seems to be an interest in people wanting to relocate to the Okanagan.
Part of the reason that they're relocating there has been that this government has added significant improvements, regional additions. A much-needed replacement for the floating bridge in Lake Okanagan was completed a little over a year ago and today is providing excellent traffic flow. The new widening of Highway 97 to six lanes all the way through to Highway 33.
A hospital that's a regional hospital providing unbelievable care. Having worked in the hospital foundation for a number of years, when we built the Southern Interior Cancer Centre, I can tell you that this hospital has gone from one strength to the next, offering cardiac care in the next 12 months, and soon will have some of the most important improvements in health care providing in the province. I'm looking forward to that, joining up with the other improvements in different hospitals such as Surrey, Abbotsford and other solutions like Fort St. John, which is getting a new regional hospital.
The other thing this government has done is it has dealt with some of the ongoing social housing issues. We're fortunate that there is a very willing council in the city of Kelowna, led by Mayor Sharon Shepherd, to deal with issues of mental illness and homelessness. The reality is that we have several projects — one complete, one under construction, another one proposed and a third one that is awaiting funding in the Central Okanagan. We're looking at the improvements that that will bring stability into those people's lives.
I got into this role of thinking about being in politics because of a friend who is often well known in the House here. It's former Premier Bill Bennett, who was a mentor in terms of what he provided to the province and what he gave back to the province.
My father and my granddad were great mentors in terms of bringing me up, in terms of making certain that you always contributed where you could, worked hard. I just felt that I'd reached a point in my career where it would be suitable to contribute back. I have a lot of experience in volunteer work, although this is the first time I've been elected, and I'm pleased to be here.
I'm really here to continue the sound financial decisions that this province has been making over the last eight years. Balanced budgets, reinvigorating the economy through sustainable actions and leaving behind a legacy for future generations are what my goals are to be here.
I have to just thank some of the people that got me here. It wouldn't have been possible without Linda Edser, my campaign manager; Jan Smyth; John Byland; Colin Cruickshank; and Joe Maciel. Today my office staff, Cheryl Doll and Kathleen Mansfield, are fielding all of these tough questions that are raised in this House every day, while I maintain the role of being Minister of Citizens' Services, Responsible for Multiculturalism and the Public Affairs Bureau.
The throne speech has emphasized this government's dedication to improve and further develop a new relationship with first nations. One of the important ways we are doing this is by supporting first nations in their efforts to close the gap that exists between aboriginal people and the rest of the province when it comes to broadband connectivity.
I know that this is a discussion that has gone on for a long time in this House. People sometimes don't really understand what it takes. I have to say that a partnership between Telus and the Ministry of Citizens' Services that helped undertake getting a point of presence into most communities in the province has been completed.
As such, I'm happy to announce that 123 of 203 first nations today have broadband connectivity. NetWork B.C., which is a responsibility of Citizens' Services, will continue to work with first nations to connect them and help provide a better outcome in terms of health care, business and economic opportunities.
I had a fortunate experience to be in Kamloops at the start of August. I was there over the long weekend. The native dancers and the groups that they brought in from all over North America had an all-night powwow and a dancing competition. I can tell you that being in our trailer up there in the hills, etc., it certainly added a different element to it in terms of our experience and seeing how they came together, working to retain their culture.
More importantly, a week later I visited with the All Nations Trust Co., led by Ruth Williams, who are just
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in the process of signing an additional agreement with a service provider to help bring on more and more of those first nation communities.
The key today is not just broadband connectivity. We need to have the ability of having the industrial-grade connectivity there to provide service for health services through nurse practitioners in some of those very remote communities. One of our essential goals in the delivery of the services that we provide in Citizens' Services is to make certain we improve that.
Today 92 percent of the citizens in British Columbia have Internet access. We foresee in the next short order that with the money that this government is committing to further resources for NetWork B.C., we should be able to bring that up to just under 98 percent of the entire province connected. I think that's an outstanding achievement.
These improvements are not always easy. These are for communities that are under a hundred people in size. I have to tell you that a community is defined as a community that has a health care, a school or a library. Of course, we're working very hard on getting that to 100 percent, although in some cases…. Having recently been in the northeast of the province to see firsthand what some of these challenges are, I think that we're going to have to find different alternatives through satellite in some of these communities, where it just doesn't make sense to be able to do this.
I can also tell you, from that recent trip where I looked at the service that we're providing throughout our Service B.C. offices, that the government greatly values its employees. I come from a company that had a very strong employee culture, and I can tell you that the dedication and the hard work that the public service is doing here in British Columbia are second to none. In fact, our latest employee engagement survey shows that over the last couple of years employees are increasingly satisfied and proud of their work here in the government of British Columbia.
The B.C. public service has twice been named one of B.C.'s top 50 employers. We're recognized around the country as having one of the top public services. We take pride in trying to make certain that our staff are able to engage and talk to their management team and to make certain that they have a way of connecting with us. I've seen firsthand and encouraged staff to get onto the government's employee engagement website called SPARC, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. It's resulted in great interaction since just December of last year.
While we recognize this as a challenging time for government, we are working hard to make certain that the B.C. public service remains one of the best places in this province to work and have worked hard to keep up with layoffs and keep workforce reductions to a minimum. It is our goal to protect jobs in order to maintain the delivery of services which contribute to a good quality of life for all British Columbians.
On multiculturalism — another file that I've been given the opportunity, with my hon. colleague here Dave Hayer — we have an opportunity to improve and build on something that is extremely important. Having come from a family that immigrated to the Okanagan at the turn of the century, I can tell you firsthand that the Okanagan was built with many people that came and worked hard and succeeded and today are very successful business people in that community. They continue to provide throughout the province of British Columbia.
Every year we welcome new British Columbians from all over the world to our province to work and live, and this makes B.C. one of the most multicultural provinces in Canada. Twenty-eight percent of the population of British Columbia is from regions outside of Canada. As Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, I am proud of this government's efforts aimed at addressing racism and discrimination in British Columbia and building communities that embrace multicultural diversity.
Immigration and cultural diversity play major roles in the economic and social development of our province. It is critical that communities around the province are prepared to welcome and help new immigrants integrate. We do that through Welcome B.C.
We have a great staff at the multicultural and inclusive communities office, working with the Advanced Education Ministry in distributing and helping these people get established in British Columbia. We're working hard to make certain that the delivery of services comes in the languages that they are familiar with to help get them integrated into the community.
We encourage B.C. communities to support and promote multiculturalism and address racism. New cross-government funding has gone towards building a provincewide culture of inclusion that accepts and embraces differences. The Embrace B.C. program, which was recently announced by the member for Surrey-Tynehead this summer, is just one example of how this government will support diverse groups and sectors in promoting multiculturalism and eliminating racism to create welcoming and inclusive communities.
I believe this government will find ways to help British Columbia prosper and provide a safe and healthy lifestyle for themselves and their families. I will make it one of my highest priorities as Minister of Citizens' Services to listen to the citizens of British Columbia, because their ideas will help shape our decisions during the current global economic crisis and beyond. We must work together to find solutions to problems during these challenging times.
It's interesting that the member for North Coast was supporting IPP projects yesterday. I thought it was interesting that they're starting to see the benefits of some
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of the projects that this government has initiated, and I look forward to their continued support.
I am proud to be part of this government, and it is my wish to do my part to continue to make British Columbia the best place on earth to work and live.
S. Simpson: It's great to have the opportunity to respond to the throne speech and to have this chance to speak a little bit about the comments made last week by the Lieutenant-Governor on behalf of the government about the direction and where the government's going.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
I guess the first thing, though, that I want to say is that I certainly want to thank the people of Vancouver-Hastings for returning me as their representative. It's a great privilege and an honour to represent the people of Vancouver-Hastings. It's a community where, largely, I grew up, and it's always great to have the opportunity to represent the place where you grew up and where you've spent most of your life.
It's a community that obviously has a number of challenges. It's one of the poorest constituencies in the province in terms of income. It's very diverse. About 40 percent of the constituency is Chinese-speaking as their first language, and it has the largest urban aboriginal population in terms of straight numbers of any constituency in British Columbia. So it is a unique constituency. It's a constituency that has those challenges.
It also, of course, has interesting aspects. The working port. Much of the working port is in my constituency, in the Port of Vancouver, which creates both opportunities and sometimes challenges as well. It's a great place to represent, and I'm very privileged and humbled by the opportunity to be here again on behalf of the people of Vancouver-Hastings.
As with all the members elected here, I certainly want to thank the people who helped in my election. I had a lot of great people who came together to help put me here, and as most all the members in this place would agree, I'm sure, for what we do or don't do, it's other people who play the biggest role in getting us here and many times, in terms of our staff, also play a role in keeping us here.
I do want to thank Cheryl and Dan and John and Wendy, who played key roles as manager and financial agent, strategist and my campaign chair. Also, Brenda and Rachel are my constituency assistants — Brenda Tombs and Rachel Garrick, who work in my office and do a remarkable job. Really, without them, I certainly couldn't do the job that I do and couldn't do the work that I do. I'm very indebted to them for everything that they do.
Of course, again, as the members who have been here for a while and as the new members, I'm sure, are learning quickly, there are challenges for family that come with doing this job, in terms of being away from home, in terms of the demands on your time, in terms of how they end up having extra challenges sometimes and burdens put on them because of what we do in this place.
So to Cate and Shayla…. I'm very indebted that they are patient with me to be here and do this job. I love them dearly, and I thank them for their patience and for the little slap they give me every once in a while when they think I need it. That's always good, too.
Talking about the election, I think that in the election on May 12, we learned some things. People said: "Oh, it was an incumbents' election in large part." Most of the incumbents were returned. It was the new seats that brought new members, and a couple of small changes outside of that — but largely an incumbents' election.
People talked about the turnout. I think that's an issue that we need to concern ourselves with here. We had a turnout that was at record lows, and we need to ask ourselves, as elected representatives here, why that occurred and why, in many constituencies, we just didn't get the turnout that should happen.
The places where the turnout was significant were some of the contested seats like in Delta South. It was a fairly high profile race there, and the turnout was a little more significant. But in many of our seats, I think, we find that the turnout is down over the last election.
There are people, pundits and others, who talked about that, and they said that people weren't inspired by either one of the parties. I suspect there's something to be said for that and that that's part of the reason people didn't turn out. We've heard from the electorate in many ways, and they've given us, I think, some better insights over the last while as to what occurred.
I think, and this is something that we all need to be quite concerned about, that what we mostly learned from the election, from that turnout, from the comments from many voters and the comments that we've continued to hear from people on talk shows and in our offices — I'm sure I've heard them, and I would hazard to guess that every other member has heard them — is a growing level of cynicism, a growing level of cynicism about politics and, more importantly, about politicians. That level of cynicism has been driven and reinforced, unfortunately, by the way that the government has conducted itself.
If we look back, we can look at any number of issues that reinforce that. Before the election we had a Premier, a Finance Minister and a government that told us a number of things. First of all, everybody agrees that we have this global economic situation that we're facing, but the B.C. government…. This Premier says: "I'm a great economic manager, so we're only going to have a $495 million deficit, much lower than anybody else."
I think Alberta was projecting at that time about $2.5 billion; the federal government number was huge. But
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the Premier, reinforced and supported by the Finance Minister, goes on to say that it's a $495 million deficit, maximum — no more; that's it.
Now, the government will say, and I've heard the Minister of Finance say on a number of occasions, "Well, that was the best information that we had from the 12 advisers" that we continue to hear about. But that's information that he got heading into a February budget. Now, there was an awful lot of time and an awful lot that occurred between the time that budget got put on the table and the time we actually got to the election.
What we've never heard this minister say is…. What advice did he get? What advice came from the ministry during that period of time around the changing circumstances? Why did the minister and the Premier, or any other minister on that side, not see fit to be forthright with the people of British Columbia about the changing circumstances that we faced in this province in economic terms?
That's why I don't think…. We had nobody talking — certainly, people who are not necessarily friends of this side of the House — who believed that $495 million number, whether we had the Helmut Pastricks or the Jock Finlaysons or others saying: "This number is not real."
We're talking billions, not hundreds of millions, of dollars in terms of a deficit, and what the government is telling us is either a fabrication or it shows a serious lack of insight into fiscal management, or a combination of the two. It could be a combination of the two.
But the government continued to maintain that position. Then right after the election — in a nanosecond after the election in political terms — the government says: "Oops, excuse us. In fact, we're talking billions, not hundreds of millions." And for all the hand-wringing that the Premier does, whether it's on Bill Good or wherever it is, the reality is that the number went up four, five, six times — who knows? We'll know in a few hours here when the budget is brought down.
That reinforces the cynicism that British Columbians have, because they saw in this a government that told them one thing about their abilities and about the circumstances of our province and then flipped in such a significant way only a few weeks later after the election was secured. There is no shortage of British Columbians — a majority of British Columbians, I am sure — who feel that they were duped by that.
But you know, that could be a matter of fiscal management. So I think some people would say: "Well, maybe they really didn't know what they were doing."
However, when you look at other areas, you see something different. You see a government that's flipped in a dramatic way. Before heading into the February budget, hon. Speaker, we had a government, we had a Finance Minister, we had a Premier that were embracing the notion of stimulus — the approach that pretty much every other government is taking.
What they said is that the way out of this financial and fiscal challenge is stimulus and that we are going to put dollars on the table, largely for capital, which makes sense because you don't want to sustain ongoing operating challenges if necessary, but we're going to have a stimulus package. That's what we're going to do to deal with this, because what the Premier, what the Finance Minister were telling us is that it's important to protect jobs. It's important to protect economic activity, so we're going to build some things.
Then, because the government has so badly mismanaged the economic situation in terms of its ability to deal with the realities of what this deficit were…. From $495 million before the election, not a penny more, and $495 million during the election — we had the Premier, days before election day, spouting the same number — to all of a sudden this multi-billion-dollar situation….
So we now have a government that's spinning in a degree of sort of financial chaos, desperately trying to push that number down at any cost for a short-term resolve to get that number down. By doing that, they are compromising what most economic thinkers will tell you is needed now, which is a level of stimulus. That's what we were told by this government before the election, by this government in February when they introduced the February budget. We now have a total reversal, it looks like, on our hands in terms of what we're going to see this afternoon. We're going to see cuts. We've seen cuts, and we've seen cuts in silly, silly places — absurd cuts.
Let me give you an example of that, hon. Speaker. We saw the elimination of the leaky-condo program. Now this is an absurd cut. You have a program that puts about 2,500 to 3,000 people to work a year fixing leaky condos, that provides loans — not grants — to people who lack the ability to borrow so that they can get their homes repaired. You protect their asset; you put people to work. It's a loan program that cost the government about $8 million a year in lost interest, because it was an interest-free program. Most of this was paid for previously by the $750 a unit that was put on new construction.
So you have this program. The government kills the program. The last time I heard, I know that the Condominium Home Owners Association had identified about 35 buildings that are sitting in the queue right now that should be getting repaired but won't qualify for this. It's up in the air as to what happens to those people who live in those buildings. Some will be able to borrow. They'll have the ability. Many won't. So we don't know what happens to those buildings. They eliminate this program.
Now, what would be better for a stimulus plan than, in fact, to have said: "That's the kind of stimulus project that we're going to do. We're going to continue that
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leaky-condo program, we're going to continue to repair people's homes, we're going to continue to put construction workers to work in a market where new construction isn't happening, and we're going to do this through loans to make this work"?
If the government had said, "Um, because of the fiscal situation, the financial situation, we're not sure we can continue to have this be an interest-free plan. Maybe we're going to have to talk about the interest rate that people pay on these loans," that might have been a reasonable discussion to have. But to just eliminate the program, a program that's successful, makes no sense at all.
That's the kind of chaotic reaction that we got from this government to this deficit situation that they created — not in terms of creating the global problem but in terms of making claims about the state of the deficit prior to the election, continuing to hang onto those claims right up to election day and then flipping shortly afterwards to a much, much larger number that has put the credibility of this government, this Premier, this Finance Minister in serious question. So they're now desperate to deal with that number.
Well, that makes no sense. The leaky-condo program is just one of those programs that raises questions about this total 180-degree flip by the government in terms of whether stimulus is the answer or other things are the answer. That creates cynicism.
Now, the most cynical of all things in terms of the eyes of the public, of course, is what the government did with the HST. This is a government that told us continually…. Ministers and the Premier told us continually — the past Minister of Small Business, who was visiting with us the other day — that it's absolutely not going to happen. Past Finance Minister Carole Taylor said: "Not on my watch. Absolutely not going to happen, this harmonization." They were opposed to it.
Now, of course, during the election the Restaurant Association asks the questions of the parties. All the parties — the two major parties, certainly — say: "We're not going to do it." A nanosecond after the election is over the government, in fact, is doing it. The reality is that nobody, excepting the people sitting on that side, seriously believes that this government put this deal together in a matter of a couple of weeks with the federal government — a deal that is as complex as this. Particularly when one of the biggest….
The government has two arguments for doing this. The first one is $1.6 billion, and they're cash hungry, for obvious reasons, after they've dug themselves this hole over the financial situation of the province. They're cash desperate. Some $1.6 billion is waved in front of them, so they jump at that. I understand that.
The other part of this, of course, is that they say Ontario is doing this, so we need to follow Ontario. However, Ontario talked and said they were going to do this in January. They introduced it in a budget in March. This Finance Minister wants us to believe that he didn't have any discussions about this issue from the time in January that the indications came out of Ontario that it would in fact be proceeding in Ontario.
That causes levels of cynicism in the electorate, because it's not believable. The people of British Columbia don't believe it. They think they were misled. They believe they were misled, and they believe they were misled by a government that didn't want to talk about that issue during the election, that knew full well what their intentions were if they were re-elected but that didn't want to talk about it because they would have lost the election.
We've heard all this talk on the other side about leadership, and we've heard this talk about tough decision-making — all this talk. Well, if it was sincere talk, if it was serious talk, then this government would have had the courage of its convictions to have put the issue of the HST on the table during the election, made it an election issue and fought the election partially on that issue. That would have been the leadership and the courage of conviction that — after the fact, after flip-flopping on the issue — this government now calls leadership.
There is no leadership in what this government did. There's no leadership at all. What we had was a misrepresentation of intention, and we now have the situation that we face today, where the cynicism of the public is through the roof.
I saw this Finance Minister and that, and I understand they were able to truck out, after a couple of weeks of scrambling or whatever, a long list of senior corporate leaders to say the HST is a good thing.
For those companies that those people represent and that they work for and that they collect their very significant salaries from, it is a pretty good deal. It's a good enough deal that it takes $1.9 billion of the corporate tax load and shifts it onto consumers, onto small business people, onto seniors and onto communities. It shifts it onto non-profit organizations. It shifts it onto people in housing. It shifts it onto workers. So there's no surprise that those folks think the $1.9 billion moving over is a pretty good deal.
What we didn't see this minister or this Premier able to do was to walk out a group of people who work for a wage, of seniors, of others like that, and sit them down at a table to say how the HST was such a good thing for them.
We know, and we've heard a lot over the last few days, about the Restaurant Association and that industry and the impacts on that industry and how negative that will be.
In my critic area, Housing and Social Development, we have another key area on that, and that's housing. What we've seen with housing…. I had a discussion the other day with the Urban Development Institute. The Urban Development Institute is an organization that represents the interests of large developers — large residential developers, largely.
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They say their members, their supporters, about 250,000 people, work or are linked or connected to that industry, and they're very, very concerned about this.
What they said to me, and they're crunching the numbers now…. They said: "Here's an example of the problem. Abbotsford. On a $600,000 home in Abbotsford that is new construction and a $600,000 home, pretty much the same home but a resale, the difference there — for somebody who takes out a mortgage and buys one of those homes — in the cost of those homes is in excess of $60,000 by the time you pay that mortgage out, because of the HST." That's what Maureen Enser and the Urban Development Institute tell me.
They have a list. They've gone to every community in this province and looked at the numbers, and they can identify those numbers. They call it over $60,000, the difference you'll pay on a conventional mortgage because of the cost of the HST. This is at a time when — what? — last week, earlier this week it's announced that we've seen the collapse of new residential construction in the Lower Mainland.
Lots of people doing repairs, lots of people doing renovations. That's where the construction is. But new construction is down 60 percent. So people aren't building new, as it is, because of the state of the economy. We hope that will turn around. But how on earth anybody could believe that doing what this government has done with the cost of housing, particularly new construction, is in some way going to be beneficial to keep most of those 250,000 people who work in this industry working is beyond me.
Apartment owners. The apartment owners association has written — I know they've written the minister — and said they get their usual, their traditional — what? — 3 percent a year, whatever their allowable rent increase is. Well, they want another 3 percent or 4 percent to cover their costs because of the HST and what those costs will do in relation to the HST. So there's another cost.
We saw a piece in the newspaper yesterday or the day before from the Condominium Home Owners Association talking about the increased costs related to condominiums. Of course, the strata fee itself doesn't go up, but what they've identified is the whole range of services, particularly in larger condominiums — a hundred units or more — that will increase the costs by a gain in the 4 to 5 percent range for people living in those stratas.
So in situation after situation, we see the costs for consumers going up. We know small businesses that are labour-intensive are concerned because they're not going to see a benefit out of this necessarily. There's all the talk about prices coming down and that, but that's theory. We'll have to see whether it happens, but I wouldn't hold my breath to see those prices come down. So we'll have to see how that works.
You know, one of the members down the way talks about the Maritimes. Well, the Maritimes is a place where they dropped the rates on the taxes.
So we have this situation where we're going to again stifle economic opportunity, certainly in the short- to midterm, with this tax. There's no question about that, no question about that at all, and at the worst possible time to do it, when the economy is in the situation it's in.
We have here a situation where we have growing cynicism, and the cynicism is faced on the inability, for very good reasons, for the public to believe the utterances of this government. The sad thing you're going to see, and it will be well placed, is that we're going to see a budget in a couple of hours here, and my guess is that whatever those numbers are, people are not going to be confident that they can believe those numbers either.
You have a government with a serious credibility problem, and they created this through their own conduct during the election — the Liberal Party — by not being forthright with the people of British Columbia about the state of affairs and about where they were going. You know, I can think back — it's another example of that — to last year, the year we've just finished out, and I don't know how many times sitting in this House we heard the Finance Minister or other ministers pulling out their briefing books and spouting off about how great the economy was in British Columbia, about how well we were doing in comparison to everybody else, about how fine things were.
Of course, what we know is that when we actually saw the balance of accounts at the end of the year that the Auditor General had dealt with, we were ninth in economic activity in the country, second-to-last among provinces —not first, not second, not third as the government would have liked us to believe, but ninth — and that our economy was unravelling last year.
Of course, it only really came to light when an independent authority took their pencil to it, did the analysis, and then put it on the table at the end of the year. That increases the cynicism as well. I would note that that number, of course, came out after the election as well, to show that the economy, in fact, was in dismal shape last year, held up somewhat by what happened to be the one sector, which was the housing sector, which at that time was doing pretty well. It held up pretty well, certainly, in the populated areas.
I mean, the rest of the province has been in disarray for years in terms of the beetle and other issues related to the forest community. What we really saw was this false economy that was keeping the illusion alive, but when the numbers were actually crunched by independent authority, we found out that we were not in near the condition that this Finance Minister and this Premier would have led us all to believe. But those numbers didn't come out until after the election.
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So the cynicism runs high, and it runs high for very good reasons. The higher the cynicism goes, the lower the credibility of this government falls because of lack of believability of this government on pretty much any issue.
I want to talk a little bit about my critic area and a couple of parts of my critic area. The first is housing.
I've talked about the leaky-condo situation and the Homeowner Protection Office and what was going on there, an important piece of work that was going on there that has now been set aside by this government in what is a nonsensical way that makes no sense.
We also know that the government has done nothing around poverty reduction — a critical issue in this province. Many other provinces are taking it on. This province is silent on it. With the highest levels of child poverty in the country for six years running, that's unacceptable. Nothing being done for families and housing. These are issues that need to be addressed.
Finally, we're waiting to see this budget this afternoon, but the issue that is on the table today and will be on the table for the foreseeable future, I believe, is the integrity of the government, the believability of this government and whether the government has been forthright with the people of British Columbia.
All indications to date, over the last number of months, particularly in this year, is that it's very suspect as to whether the government could meet any of those standards around integrity, around forthrightness or, in fact, around fiscal ability and management — the government that says they know how to manage.
At every turn, we see a government that's stumbling, making silly decisions and chaotic decisions and putting the lie to the question about whether management, in fact, is there.
I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to this. I look forward to hearing from other members, and I do look forward to seeing the budget here in a couple of hours.
P. Pimm: First of all, I'd like to say, Madam Speaker, that I'm very humbled to be standing here before you in this House. As a young man growing up I had no idea or dream that I'd ever be standing in this wonderful building, this wonderful setting, representing the fine folks of Peace River North.
I want to introduce my wife, Jody, and my mother, Josephine, who are in the gallery with us again today. Mom and Jody flew down from Fort St. John to be here for the throne speech, and I'm very happy to have them here for my first speech in the House. Without the support of your family, this job would be absolutely impossible to take on. That being said, I want to thank my wife, Jody, for all the support that she's given me to this point, and I want to apologize to her upfront for all she's going to have to put up with during my years as an MLA.
I want to acknowledge and thank my mother, for without her and how she persevered while I was growing up as a teenager, it wouldn't have been possible for me to be here. I also want to acknowledge my children, Jennifer, Kristi, Matthew and Shane, who have all been very supportive throughout this process. I want to thank my group of supporters that worked with me throughout the entire election process.
I want to thank Patty Murray and John Locher, who were the first to try to persuade me to run for this office, and Shirley Viens and John Bacso who persevered until I agreed to put my name forward. I also want to thank John Bacso for being my financial agent and his wife, Diane, who worked so hard to keep my financial information accounted for properly. I want to thank my constituent assistants, Gayle Clark and Jennifer Wilkinson, who look after the majority of the day-to-day issues that keep my office functioning properly.
I also want to thank my LA, Katy Fairley, who keeps me organized and teaches me the ropes here in Victoria. I want to thank Tim Morrison, my communications officer, and Marc Chawrun, my research officer, and all of the rest of the staff in Victoria that make my life a whole lot easier. I'd love to mention by name all of my supporters, but I don't want to miss any names, so I just want to say thank you to all of them. I definitely want to say a great big thank-you to all of my B.C. Liberal supporters that elected me to this office.
Now, besides my wife and mother, most of you don't have any idea who I am or what my background is, so I'm going to take a stab at rectifying that so we can get this relationship off on the right foot.
I spent my early years as a youngster growing up in my hometown of Fort St. John, where I was born and raised. I did as most youths do in our area. I played minor hockey, minor baseball and golf at a relatively high level that allowed me to be part of many teams that represented our community and province over the years.
As in the case of most youths and adults in our great region, everyone tends to work extremely hard and to play at least that hard or harder. This being the case, I certainly did not see politics in the future for Pat Pimm. I eventually survived my childhood and, like most in our region, went to work in the oil and gas fields and married at the young age of 21 years. I had two beautiful daughters, Jennifer and Christie, who are now 27 and 25 years of age.
I've always been involved in my community — spent four years as president of my Lake Point Golf and Country Club, three years as junior chairman prior to that, two years coaching minor hockey, nine years as coach and director of girls minor baseball, minors fastball, as the kids were growing up. In 1993 I was elected to Fort St. John city council, which I served on for twelve years.
During that same period of time I was also busy getting myself elected to the board of directors for British
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Columbia Golf Association. I sat as a director for ten years, from 1993 to 2003, where I represented zone 8 north, which is the entire area of the province north and east of the Rocky Mountains. During this period of time as director of BCGA, I was fortunate enough to secure the hosting of the 2003 B.C. amateur golf championship in Fort St. John and the 2003 B.C. junior championship in Dawson Creek. As you can see, it didn't leave much time to keep my golf game in much shape.
In 2001, I met my beautiful bride-to-be, Jody; and her two children, Matthew, 23, and and Shane, 21. We were eventually married in 2005. So 2005 was a great year for me, not only to get married; I also purchased my partner's shares in my company. Obviously, with all my new commitments, I didn't have much time left in my busy schedule, so I made the decision to step down from local politics and to not run in the 2005 election.
After four years of being away from politics, our area MLA, the Hon. Richard Neufeld, accepted an appointment to the Canadian Senate. This came as a surprise to me and many more, as we thought Mr. Neufeld would represent our interests in Victoria forever. When I stepped down from city council, I'd left the door open for a possible return to politics at some point in my future. Although you never know if your timing is going to be right or wrong, my wife and I and family decided that we would take a chance and throw my hat in the ring for the nomination of the B.C. Liberals and eventually the election.
It's an extremely large decision that I did not take lightly. It's not easy for a businessman to pursue political dreams without a lot of preparation, and this decision had not really been part of my thoughts at all. It wasn't until several of my constituents got in touch with me and explained their reasons for wanting me to represent their interests at the provincial level that I finalized my decision to run in the election.
I have always been willing to tackle the tough issues that face politicians, and I've never had a problem making the right decisions, even though they weren't popular ones at the time. I knew that we were going to be faced with some tough economic times, and I had several close friends ask why I would want to be part of the government in these kinds of times. My answer was to those people: "You need to have strong people making decisions during tough times so that you're able to make the easy and popular decisions when the economy gets itself back on its feet." The most important thing we must keep in mind — we must focus on keeping our economy as strong as we can during these poor economic times.
The economy is what drives this great province and this great country. Without a strong economy, we don't have jobs, we don't have revenues to support core services such as health care and education, and I know that we're going to have to make some tough decisions that are not going to be popular. However, if they're the right decisions to put you in the strongest position to come out of the recession the quickest, then that's where I believe we have to be.
When I got involved as MLA for Peace River North, I knew that I was following in the footsteps of a great man that I'm very proud to know. I knew that I'd have an extremely large job to try and fill his shoes. Senator Neufeld is a friend of mine and somebody that I respect immensely. I feel very blessed that I'm able to draw from his abundant knowledge as time moves us forward.
Mr. Neufeld represented our area for 18 years as MLA, and I for one believe that his achievement deserves some sort of medal. I take off my hat to anyone that shows that kind of dedication to serve the good portion of their life representing their constituents. I can only hope that I'll do a good enough job to earn a similar respect that my predecessor earned for himself.
The biggest reason that I let my name stand to represent my constituents was that I felt I was the right person with the right background to make the right decisions for the people of Peace River North. I have a clear understanding that not all the decisions that are going to be made are going to be popular.
I don't have a problem with that, as long as I know that the decisions are fundamentally the right ones to make. I want to be that person that can work with our area councils to bring their issues to the larger picture, to work on their behalf to see their communities thrive and prosper.
We're very fortunate in Peace River North in the fact that we have a good, strong industry in the oil and gas sector. We're very proud of the fact that our industry provides so much to the well-being of this great province.
We also have a great farming industry and forestry that is still alive and surviving through these tough economic times. We're very fortunate in our area to have enough diversity that allows our area to continue to move forward during these tough times.
We all know that we need the price of natural gas and oil to rebound so that we can get the confidence back into the industry, so that the oil and gas companies will continue their ongoing exploration, not only for themselves but also for the future of the region and the province of British Columbia.
We're extremely proud of the two largest natural gas plays in the province. Both the Horn River and the Montney developments are going to be very instrumental to the future of our area and to the province. These two developments have taken the reserves of natural gas for our area from less than 15 years to over a hundred years for the future of British Columbia.
These great plays don't come without some costs and issues that come along with them. You must have strong communities with good infrastructures to accommodate the growth that is going to come along with the expansion
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of the industry. Our communities must be attractive enough to attract employees to the area who will stay and be part of those futures.
At the present time the oil and gas industry is required to import a large portion of their employee base from other areas because they just do not have the amenities in our communities to attract employees to move to the region and stay.
One of the things I'm going to be working on over the next four years is a constituent-building program for the North Peace. I want to expand my area association to include all the areas of my region and to reach out to the industries and associations to become part of my team. I think this is going to be very important for the future of my area. I want my constituents to feel like they're going to be part of the solution for the future.
I'm going to be spending a fair amount of time developing this trust for the future of the North Peace. I want my constituents to know that I am available, that I am going to work hard on their behalf.
We all know that we can't achieve every result that you want, but we also know that when you work as a united group, you'll have much more success than if you're butting heads every inch of the way.
We know that one of the largest complaints in our area is that we have a lot of out-of-province licence plates that appear to be working in our area, while many of our own locals are sitting at home. I want to work with the ministry and the industry to help continue to keep our local residents with as many employment opportunities as possible while keeping our industry competitive.
I believe that we should be encouraging these out-of-province companies to locate to our area, to use as many locals as possible and to encourage their employees to move to the province and get them onto the provincial tax roll. I believe that the province could definitely benefit from this strategy.
One of the major concerns I hear from my agriculture industry is that they're very, very concerned they may be put in a position that they could lose a grain elevator that's absolutely imperative to the future of their industry.
This issue is that there's currently a grain elevator in Fort St. John. It's a relatively new version, built in the mid-1980s. It's a concrete grain elevator. It's in relatively good condition. It's been shut down by the current owner for about a year and a half now, and they're not going to reopen that facility as they're moving to larger terminals on the Alberta side of the Peace.
The elevator owner currently has a lease that will soon end, and they'll be asked to restore the land to its original state, which means they'll have to destroy the elevator and remove it from the property. This would be an absolute shame, as the only other elevator in our area was built in 1960 and is nearing the end of its life.
If the newer elevator is destroyed and the older elevator ends up being shut down, our farming community would then have to haul their grain to either the South Peace or to the larger terminals in the Alberta area. Neither one of these solutions make any sense, nor are they acceptable. The agriculture industry — it's hard enough in this day and age. It's absolutely unacceptable to put this additional burden on their farming community.
So I'm happy that the throne speech identifies that the agriculture industry needs to be maintained. I'm certainly going to make every effort to work with our agriculture industry in our area to make that happen.
It's very refreshing to see the province's first wind farm now operational in the South Peace. I believe that we must continue to move forward with support of our wind energy projects, as the throne speech indicates. I believe that we must make the necessary moves to provide the ability to get the wind energy to market. I also think that we must work on bringing the stability that will allow the investors to have the confidence to invest in this area.
Our region has world-class winds. What that means is that the winds are not so strong as to present problems to construction, but they're strong enough and consistent enough to sustain a good supply of energy for the future.
In order to bring the investors to our province, they must know that we're going to stand with them so they know that when they invest in the industry, they're going to have an opportunity to see a return in the future.
We certainly all know that the issues surrounding first nations are an ongoing work in progress. My opponents brought up their opposition to the reconciliation act on several occasions throughout the election period. I have many feelings around first nations issues as well, but I must tell you that I don't think anything positive can come from industry and/or the province having to go to court every time an issue arises from first nations.
The province and the industry have spent millions of dollars in the courts over the years. At the end of the day, most of the federal courts have awarded in favour of first nations. So I think it would be very silly to continue down that avenue, as it's not positive for anybody. I believe we must settle with first nations so that we can bring consistency and confidence to the industry, so that we can move forward in a progressive manner.
I think we've already moved forward in a positive way in our area with the development of EBA agreements that are in the process of being developed — and some that have already been developed. I believe that as the MLA for the North Peace, I must work hard to help achieve certainty for the first nations and for all of our communities in our area.
The other major issue that my constituents are very concerned about in my region is the Site C hydro project that the province and B.C. Hydro are looking at for future energy solutions for the province of British Columbia. This project has been on the books for at least 30 years, and I think it's great that there's a process
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underway to resolve this, one way or the other. I believe that the consultation process is a good process. I know that a lot of my constituents think this is a done deal, but I've continually told my constituents that the process is going to establish all the pros and cons of the project.
I definitely believe that the province of British Columbia should be energy self-sufficient so that we can keep the cost of our energy at a reasonable level. I don't think that we should be forced to purchase dirty, coal-powered energy from Alberta or to run the Burrard plant when our peak demands cannot be met.
I'm certainly not in favour of nuclear energy at this point in my life. I believe that we must look at all our clean energy sources, such as wind, run-of-the-river projects, bioenergy and hydroelectric projects. In fact, I believe that the province of British Columbia should be very seriously considering not only being energy self-sufficient, but we should also pursue the possibility of being an energy supplier to the rest of the world, if the opportunity presents itself. I think that there is a marketplace available for British Columbia that could be every bit as lucrative to the province as the oil and gas industry is.
As far as Site C is concerned for my area, I've been a resident of Fort St. John all my life, and I certainly know the beauty and the environmental issues that are associated with a project of this magnitude in our area. That's why I told my constituents that I'll be looking forward to seeing the results of the consultation process so that I can have an opportunity to evaluate the project for myself, based on facts, research and input from stakeholders.
If I feel that the research and consultation supports Site C, then that's where I'll support. I'll be supporting Site C. But if the report and recommendations come back in the negative, then that's where I'll be found. One thing that I'll guarantee my constituents is that if the government moves forward with Site C, I'll be fighting very diligently for benefits for the residents of our region and for the communities within our region that are going to be affected by Site C.
I know that there are some concerns around the newly announced HST. If I did not believe, in my own mind, that this was going to be an extremely valuable move to help strengthen our economy, I wouldn't vote for it. That, however, is not the case, and I can honestly say that I don't see the negative that people are talking about.
I know that nearly all the businesses in British Columbia are coming out in support of HST, with a few exceptions. The restaurant industry is one that is in opposition, but they also suggested that they'd be devastated when the no-smoking law was initiated. I think that they've been at least as strong since that occurred.
I believe that this will be similar, and if more people are working, more people will be dining out. I know that when our Finance Minister is going to be working, he's going to continue to work with folks that have come out in opposition to try to show them the benefits and to try to come up with solutions to satisfy their issues.
If you understand the input tax credit system like I do as a small business man, I truly don't know how any business could not support this type of tax. A provincial tax was an antiquated tax that was far overdue to be revamped.
I know that as a business owner, I'll feel pretty good when I drive off the dealer's lot with a new vehicle. I previously paid 7 percent PST. Now that it's all in HST, that money will come back to me as an input credit. It will be extremely great for heavy contractors that would have paid PST for the trucks and heavy equipment. They'll now get that PST back as an input credit. I believe, in my heart, that this is one of the things that will go a long way to levelling the playing field for our area contractors.
The main thing that you must remember in all this is that when industry is strong and competitive and willing to invest in their future, it means that there are going to be jobs. If we can do anything to help the struggling forest sector and put people back to work, it will be in their best interest. It will be a whole lot easier to pay a little bit of HST on your services when you're working rather than when you're not.
I haven't heard many people talk about the $230 that each person under the threshold of $25,000 will automatically be rebated to offset HST costs. That will be $460 per household for most low-income senior couples. It will mean that the low-income single mother with a family of three will receive $230 for herself and for each one of her children. It could be as much as an additional $920 to offset her HST costs. These are just a couple of the benefits that will put cash directly back into the hands of those who need it the most.
I must say that I'm very happy to see that the list of supporters is growing daily, and the latest list looks a little bit like this: the Business Council of B.C., the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C., Retail Council of Canada, B.C. Technology Industries Association, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Mining Association of B.C., Council of Forest Industries, B.C. Trucking Association, B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association.
Coast Forest Products Association, New Car Dealers Association of B.C., B.C. Construction Association, B.C. pulp and paper steering committee, Truck Loggers Association, Motion Picture Industry Association of B.C., Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, Railway Association of Canada, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., even the New Media B.C. Surely they can't all be wrong.
In closing, I must say that I am happy at the direction this throne speech has taken us. I think it has laid out what the future looks like. I know that doesn't sound
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overly positive to some folks, but for the majority, I think it is positive relative to the tough times that we've been facing and are going to continue to face in the next months ahead of us.
I know that there is going to be some belt-tightening to do, and I'd say to anyone that wants to listen that these aren't the worst times we've ever faced. I know that I survived the bust in the early 1980s, when people were losing their homes nearly daily. I saw my mortgage at the time go from 11 percent…. When I renewed the mortgage, it had gone to 21 percent. My mortgage more than doubled as a result. Now, that's the kind of thing that can bankrupt people and businesses alike.
We haven't seen that this time, and I don't think we will. I think we're very fortunate to live in this beautiful province, and I know that if we manage this right, make the tough decisions, we'll be in a position to come out stronger on the other side.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Juan de Fuca.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to stand in this place and once again represent the people of Juan de Fuca. I know, hon. Speaker, you almost said "Malahat–Juan de Fuca", and that's because that was the name of my former constituency. For those new members, mostly on the government side, Malahat–Juan de Fuca was, until redistribution, the most impressive constituency in British Columbia. Now of course, regrettably, it's been cut in half, and it's just the "John" de Fucans in Juan de Fuca that I represent today.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
It is always a pleasure to rise in this place and discuss the aims and objectives of government, but this is a particularly interesting time, as many have said. Certainly, the Chinese proverb says that that's a curse, and I think that for the Executive Council of cabinet and others on the government side it certainly would be a curse. But it was a curse brought upon themselves by a lack of forthrightness leading up to the last provincial budgets and then through the provincial election.
Before I get into the substance of that, as we have very little time left, I thought that I would dispense with some of the pro forma activities and actions and words that usually accompany an inaugural response to the throne by thanking my family and my friends and those who supported me during the May election. They're numerous. As all members know, without family, without friends, without political partisan supporters and also those who come to your banner because of the words and the principles that you put forward, we wouldn't be in this place, and in fact, it would be meaningless.
It's always a joy to listen to new members — to the member for Peace River North, who just spoke, with his mom and his spouse in the chamber. I'm certain that the member sought election and came to this place with the same goals and aspirations that I and my colleagues did — that being to represent vigorously and with all of our might the people that live in our communities.
I respect and value the work of every member in this place, and it is unfortunate that the first few days of this session have been marred by acrimony almost unheard of in British Columbia, which is unique in and of itself. This is a place of acrimony. We have a long history and tradition of vigorous partisan discussions and squabbles, but…
J. Horgan: …I'm fairly confident — and my friend from Nechako Lakes would certainly support this — that when we are gathered in groups of one or two or when we are speaking off-line, there's not that much, usually, that separates this side of the House from that side of the House.
Regrettably, hon. Speaker, as you know, we are in an extraordinary time, and that divide has never been greater. I have been in and around this place for a long, long time. I have been sitting in this place for four and a half years, and I have not known a time more adversarial than the one we're going into. And yet there's never been a time requiring more cooperation, consensus-building and decision-making that meets the interests of a broader public, not just the stakeholders that support the B.C. Liberal Party or the stakeholders that support New Democrats.
I have much to say about the throne speech, particularly with respect to the elements of energy policy that were made up on the fly, it appears to me, shortly after the election.
J. Horgan moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. B. Penner moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:54 a.m.
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