Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


February 27, 2014

Budget Debate (continued)

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have an opportunity to continue with debate on the budget. I'm happy to be back.

Just to recap my comments a little bit. I was speaking about the 2014 budget — or the budget that I like to say costs more and delivers less. You'll recall that we talked about the costs. We know that the Premier said, when referencing the budget: "We did not do it by raising taxes, borrowing or stealing." That's what she said in the Okanagan on February 22.

Yet what do we know? Just to remind people: hydro rate hikes, almost $2 billion over the next three years; MSP hikes, $649 million over the next three years; ICBC, $145 million; ferry hikes, $162 million; tuition, $181 million over three years.

Then, of course, we did have some tax increases that total about $1.2 billion over the next three years, and that doesn't include the new mining taxes that were talked about today. As a total, that's $4.4 billion more that this government will take out of the pockets of taxpayers over the next three years to pay for mismanagement and inept financial controls.

We also know, of course, that there was no money to deal with the critical issues that would build an economy like skills training. Flatline skills training — in fact, cut the budget for advanced education.

We know the claims around the jobs plan. This was the claim that the government has been advertising and promoting for a long period of time. But what do we know about the jobs plan?

...

Of course, we know that we have the worst record on job growth in all of Canada from September 2011 to January 2014. That would be the time the Premier has been in office. We have had the worst record on private sector job growth in the country. We lost 8,500 private sector jobs in the month of January. We have lost over 21,000 jobs since the last time the Legislature sat in July. So that's the job rate.

That, of course, compounds things like child poverty. This is the government that says a job is the best poverty reduction plan. But when you're losing tens of thousands of jobs, it's pretty hard to make the case that you have much of a plan.

So that's where we sit today. But what we know, of course, is that that isn't the only area where there are significant challenges around this government's financial and economic performance.

A large part of what has driven this government has been capital projects. We all know capital projects are important. We all know that things have to be built. We know that every government of every political stripe invests in capital projects. Every government of every stripe invests in developing capital projects.

Here in this province there's no doubt about that, because what do we have here? We have a government that has record debt. We're going to hit $70 billion by 2016 by the government's own account. Are we building important things? That's good. The question, though, comes when you start to spend and mismanage the projects that you're building.

That's the problem we have with this government. It has grossly mismanaged those capital projects. Let me give you a bit of an example.

The northwest transmission line, an important project. Well, that project was set to cost $746 million. That, in fact, was $342 million or 85 percent higher than the cost estimate of $404 million that was put out in 2011. The South Fraser Perimeter Road had a price tag of $800 million in 2006. It ended up costing $1.26 billion — $464 million over budget.

The Port Mann project was $1.5 billion when the report was released in 2006. It cost $3.3 billion — $1.8 billion over, more than a 100 percent cost overrun on the Port Mann. The convention centre. In December of 2003 it was projected to cost $495 million. The final cost: $836 million, a cost overrun of $341 million. B.C. Place — originally $365 million, in 2009. All of a sudden it's $514 million, a $149 million cost overrun or 41 percent.

Significant project after significant project — dramatic cost overruns. So $3.1 billion. These five projects were determined to cost…. In total they cost $6.6 billion to build. However, that's $3.1 billion more than the original projected costs on those projects. What does that mean? Well, what it means is that the carrying costs on $3.1 billion, based on the government's own budget and projected carrying cost for debt, would be about $122 million a year, which comes out of operating, to carry the costs to finance that cost overrun of $3.1 billion.

What would $122 million have done for British Columbians? It would have paid for over 1,200 new nurses. It would have paid for 1,600 teachers. Or it would have opened 10,000 skills-training spots to provide those skilled workers that everybody knows we need and we're not getting because this government has flatlined the budget for skills training. Or it would have put almost 2,000 new care aides in place.

That's what $122 million a year would have done. It could have accomplished any one of those or some combination of them. Those would have been important services for British Columbians. None of those services are going to be provided.

If that $3.1 billion was there and the decision of government was that we're going to invest that in other capital projects, you could have built Surrey LRT, a light rail line. You could have put some of the UBC options in place for the UBC SkyTrain line. Those options would have been there. You could have invested in St. Paul's Hospital and improved St. Paul's. You could have invested in other projects.

That's what the $3.1 billion that this government wasted through mismanagement would have paid for. That's not going to happen because this government just frittered it away.

We have a situation where the government has put in place a budget…. And what have they told us? The claim they have is around this budget being balanced. Let's talk about that balance. Let's talk about that balanced budget.

It's balanced on the backs of taxpayers. Now, if the government would have been honest with people and said, "We're going to whack you all with additional fees and taxes to balance this budget," that would have been one thing. But the government refuses to be forthright and tell people the truth. The truth really is that that's what has occurred. What do we know?

Let's take the biggest fallacy, which is B.C. Hydro. We know the accounting tricks — or, as the member from Cowichan would have said, the jiggery-pokery of what goes on there. We know that Hydro has about $4.8 billion stashed away in debt in at least 18 deferral accounts. That debt is stashed away.

Instead, you get this government that's going to tell us that they are taking $1.2 billion or so in dividends out of Hydro over the next three years to balance this budget. That's what they're doing it with. Well, taking a dividend from a Crown corporation that actually is making money is one thing. Taking a dividend from Crown corporations that are losing money is something entirely different.

As the Auditor General said in his report, "the appearance of profitability where none actually exists." That was what the Auditor General said about the situation at B.C. Hydro, his criticism of these deferral accounts and the shell game being played with finances at B.C. Hydro.

You have this government that in fact is in a place where they're claiming balanced budgets by taking money from Crowns and from other sources to pay for that. This is the government that said they would not increase MSP premiums over the increase in spending on health care. Well, health care spending is going up about 2.4 percent. Premiums are going up 4 percent. That additional money is going exactly to this place.

If the government had kept its promise here, we would have MSP increases that were significantly less than they are. But that's not the case, because the government says one thing and does another. It's the only thing we can count on the government to do: say one thing and do another. That's the one thing we can count on with B.C. Liberals.

We have a situation where for 200 days we didn't sit. We expected the government to come back with a thoughtful plan, some kind of vision for the future. They come back with nothing. In fact, they come back with a plan that is shortsighted and in fact ends up costing British Columbians more out of their pockets, delivers less in terms of essential services and also delivers less in terms of meeting the kinds of needs we need to build this economy — skills training, other kinds of R and D and those kinds of things. None of that's here. So we have that problem.

We're doing nothing around poverty. We continue a decade of having the worst record on poverty in this country, and the government continues to turn a blind eye to it. When they do get forced to talk about it, they talk about jobs when we know jobs are disappearing by the tens of thousands today in this province. We have heard nothing from this government in the last while that says how they'd turn that situation around.

Matter of fact, it's interesting. We don't hear much about the jobs plan anymore. That seems to have gone by the wayside. The only thing we do hear about is LNG, and of course, we all know that we're hearing the concerns from industry about the time it's taking, about how whether in fact this is evolving, about the challenges.

Industry is telling us, as I know they're telling the government, that there are problems around the timeline. We know that we have a Premier who said we're going to create eight, nine, ten…. I don't know what the last number was, in terms of numbers of these.

We have an industry that says maybe we get a couple of these plants built. We all hope we get a couple of these plants built. That's one thing. That would be a good thing, but it is not the panacea that this government has tried to make it — the panacea, this government has said, to solve all problems. Most companies are now saying we'll be lucky to see something by 2019, 2020. That's what British Gas says to us, BG. That's the reality.

...

S. Simpson: Well, here's the thing. I will tell this minister here…. I will guarantee you, Minister, this plant…. There won't be a plant on the ground before we go back to the polls in 2017.

...

S. Simpson: Well, the minister prattles on — empty talk from the minister.

We have this facade around this panacea of LNG. Good initiative. We want to see some progress, but there's a facade that it's all things to all people, and it simply isn't.

We have a government that couldn't manage its way out of a paper bag. Billions and billions of dollars wasted on capital projects. Billions of dollars wasted.

This is the government that wastes billions of dollars and then isn't honest enough to tell the truth about things like B.C. Hydro. They won't tell the truth.

...

S. Simpson: Oh, it's the government, not the minister. It's the government that won't tell us, around Hydro, about why they think it's okay to take $1 billion plus of dividend from a company that isn't making any money in order to cover off their own mismanagement on the budget.

I see that my time is just about up.

It's a budget that's built on frail thought. It's a budget that's built without vision. It's a budget that reflects the Liberals — not much substance, a lot of rhetoric and not much truth in terms of the assertions that are made by the government as a whole.

That's a problem. That's what's wrong with this budget. That's what's wrong with this government. That's why we have to vote no to this budget.

events
Saturday, November 16, 2019 - 12:00pm - 4:30pm