Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


October 9, 2014

Debate on the Throne Speech

S. Simpson: I see that we're going to be short here, so I'm just going to get an introduction in before I adjourn this debate, but I did want to make a comment.

The minister previous…. It's clear that this is a minister who has embraced his Premier and probably aspires to her job at some point. He certainly has embraced the notion that there is no need to have any connection between what you say and the facts. It's clearly the case. It's unfortunate, because we could have a debate here that was based on facts and on evidence. That's not going to happen here. We'll just have to live with that. I'll have some more to say about those particulars at another point.

I'm looking for some guidance here as to whether we want a couple of minutes. I've got a couple of minutes. Thank you, Madame Speaker.

To start I'd like to say that it is a pleasure to come and to be able to speak to the throne. I'm in my tenth year now in this place. I'm not sure I ever thought I would be here for ten years, but so be it that I am. I'm proud and I'm privileged to be here and to support and to represent my constituents from Vancouver-Hastings.

Vancouver-Hastings is a constituency that has been my home essentially — Hastings and East Vancouver, the broader area — for pretty much my whole life. So it really is a privilege to be here and have that opportunity to be able to represent those folks. I would note that it's an area that has a lot of unique factors.

Being on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh lands is an important acknowledgment that I want to make, particularly because I have a very large urban aboriginal population, in raw numbers, in my constituency. They provide a very interesting dynamic to support the overall fabric of what is Vancouver-Hastings.

It's a constituency that both has people who are fortunate, middle-class folks, like myself, and a number of people who are quite challenged and vulnerable and need our support and need to have opportunities created for them to move forward and be able to be successful as well.

It's also a very diverse constituency in terms of ethnicity. I think 40 percent of my constituents are Chinese-speaking. They bring a wonderful mix to the community. You just have to walk up Hastings Street or Commercial Drive, and you can see what that means every day.

Again, as I said, I've been here ten years. Over that time I've had a number of staff people working for me, both in my Vancouver office and here in Victoria. As every member would know on both sides of this House, we simply don't succeed without our staff and without the hard work and the effort that they put in.

I especially want to say thanks to Rachel and to Lynn and to Theresa, who work in my Vancouver office and provide remarkable service and make me look good every day in the hard work that they do for the constituents of Vancouver-Hastings; and Susan, who works for me as my LA and keeps my life in order, in large part, here in Victoria, which is not always the easiest thing to do, but she's very good at it; then, of course, the research and communications and other support staff, who all come together to support members on our side and do a remarkable job.

I'm pretty confident that members on the other side would say the same thing about their staff, and that would be accurate as well. I really do want to thank them.

Also, of course, I want to thank my partner, Cate, who has been on this adventure with me for the ten years; and our daughter, Shayla, who is grown now and out enjoying the excitement of her own life. Still, as always with kids, I learn that even though she gets a little older, we all stay very close. I'm looking forward to this weekend coming up, when we'll get to sit down and have a dinner together.

...

S. Simpson: I am pleased to get the opportunity to continue my comments in relation to the throne speech. I had a chance before we broke for lunch to talk a little bit about my constituency and about the great staff I have and the wonderful support that I get from my family in the work that I do here.

Talking, though, about the throne speech, I want to talk a little bit about the speech itself and about some of the key issues that we have in front of us as we move forward over the next period of time.

The throne speech was an interesting document. There's no question about that. I've had the opportunity to sit through a number of throne speeches in the almost ten years that I've been here, and this one was hardly one that I would call defining. It was about 18 minutes long from start to finish, give or take.

It truly made no commitments of any kind in the speech that were substantive in any way, and it seemed to spend a lot of its time backtracking from the Premier's claims, particularly around LNG, that we've started hearing. Those claims now are being diminished as much as possible, it appears, by the government side as we await the legislation that's coming in the next few weeks.

People will recall those claims. The Premier claimed a trillion dollars of activity, a $100 billion prosperity fund that would be used to make us debt-free. That was on the side of the bus. Of course, we have record debt in this province. We're going to eclipse $70 billion here in the not too distant future. How on earth there's any notion of getting to debt-free…. Maybe there'll be an explanation there. Maybe we'll see that in the regime that gets put forward. But not many people are believing that sign pasted on the side of the bus any longer about debt-free.

It also claims at one point — the Premier's claim, I think, when she was up to eight or nine LNG plants.... The numbers seemed to elevate every day. There, of course, would be 100,000 jobs there, and maybe we'd even get rid of the sales tax. I think at one point the Premier claimed LNG would end our need for a sales tax. I haven't heard the Premier recently talking about the end of the sales tax. As a matter of fact, I haven't heard the Premier talking about 100,000 jobs. I hear the Premier talking about the challenges around this more and more.

It was interesting. The Minister of Finance — who pays attention to these things, I'm sure — talked about the Premier's comments when he was questioned about how on earth she could lay all these claims when we're learning, very quickly of course, that none of them are based in fact or substance. I think the Minister of Finance called them aspirational claims — a hope and a prayer, I guess, but not built in any way on any foundation of fact or evidence — and that's troubling.

I understand that the Premier did this in order to win an election. I understand that. But to have continued down this road post–the election and to be suggesting to people that in fact any of this is founded in any kind of evidence or truth is remarkable. It's remarkable.

The reality is this. This would have been the time to say: "This is a tough business, LNG. Prices are dropping. We have lots of competition that's way ahead of us in terms of their development. If we strive and work hard, maybe we're going to get a plant or two. That's a good thing. Maybe we're going to get a plant or two, and we should take advantage of that opportunity. But we also need to do it properly. We need to do it properly."

I did hear the Premier the other day taking her Enbridge conditions and flipping them over and making them now her LNG conditions. We'll talk a little bit about that. But this is a problem. It was a problem with LNG, and it's a problem with how the Premier dealt with that.

One of the real challenging parts of this is that this is a conduct from the Premier that is hardly exclusive to LNG. We had the Premier introduce the jobs plan with quite a bit of fanfare back in 2011, suggesting that we were going to have the greatest jobs plan in the world. We were going to lead the country in private sector job creation. Everything was good.

Those numbers, of course, never got realized. We have struggled ever since then in private sector job creation in this province. We've struggled for a whole bunch of reasons, but it has been a struggle. The Premier said a while back: "Well, you know, these things take time. Wait till 2014. In 2014, we're going to be good to go." Well, we've waited till 2014, and the evidence is in.

The evidence is in from Statistics Canada. The evidence is clear: the second-worst record in private sector job growth in the country since the plan was announced in September 2011. It's not that we aren't the best; it's that we're not even in the game.

The other challenge that Stats Canada tells us, of course, is not only are we having a struggle finding the jobs and getting people the opportunities; we have the third-worst record for wage growth in the country over that period of time as well.

Those people who are earning — in a province that's a pretty expensive place to live, in many parts of this province — are not seeing the growth in their paycheques. They're not seeing their wages grow. As they struggle with increasing prices and increasing costs and increasing demands on their pocketbook, they're seeing no support at the paycheque level in terms of any kind of increases.

What you're doing is squeezing that middle class more and more all the time, but the Premier isn't prepared to acknowledge that. Instead, we get the rhetoric that we've heard.

The Premier talked about and wrung her hands about temporary foreign workers and about doing something about that. Well, the latest I heard was the Premier at the board of trade suggesting the answer to the temporary foreign worker problem is to change the name and call them something else. That's what she had to say at the board of trade: "Change the name."

There was no discussion about how we move to encourage those workers, if they're needed in this province, to come and bring their families and make British Columbia their home. No talk about that at all. That would have been, really, an important thing to do. Instead, it's: "Change the name of the program, and maybe we'll be good to go." We know that for all that talk…. Prepare to sign a deal with China that says we're going to open the door to more temporary foreign workers if that's what it takes to get your buy-in.

Debt management. We talked about debt management a little bit. The government and the Premier claimed throughout the election campaign and post–the election campaign — a big sign on the side of the bus: "Debt-free" — that we were heading for being debt-free. Well, all the evidence says the debt grows and grows and grows.

Lots of that money gets spent on important stuff. There's no question about that. The issue is the claims of the Premier, the claims of the Liberal government, over what's happening. It's say one thing and do another. Now, I will admit the Liberals have been getting away with that for a decade, but we're seeing it probably at a level that we haven't seen before with the current regime.

We really need to start talking about how we address some of these issues around jobs and around economic development. The Leader of the Official Opposition, in his comments to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, talked about economic development, talked about resource development, specifically talked about LNG. He talked about what the aspiration should be.

If we're going to have economic development in this province, we need to measure what constitutes success. The first success has to be good-quality, family-supporting jobs. That's got to be the first objective. We need to see that.

The second objective. We know there is lots of economic growth that isn't jobs-driven. It's growth without jobs. We see a lot of that. If we're going to see that, then we need to see real value back for British Columbians, particularly in the case of resource industries — value that enhances our ability to deliver on health care, to deliver on education, to deliver on programs that will reduce inequality, reduce poverty. That has to be an objective.

We're going to be looking to see whether there's anything in relation to how we ensure those quality jobs and that value when we see legislation here in the next few weeks, as it affects LNG.

The other things that we talked about here. One was First Nations. The Leader of the Official Opposition said we need to build those meaningful partnerships with First Nations. We all know the William decision. We all are beginning to start to understand what that decision means. There'll be lots of work to be done. I suspect there's another court case or two to be had as this sorts itself out. But we all know that has to happen. For that to happen, that means building those partnerships with First Nations.

But the partnerships aren't going to simply be about signing a deal. They're going to be about creating opportunities for training, opportunities for young people in the First Nations community, young aboriginals, to get the skill sets they need to be able to move into jobs in these industries that are on their territories and be able to be successful and bring that wealth back to their communities to help support their communities in the growth and evolution of their communities. That's what First Nations want. Those deals have to be found. They've got to be part of the mix.

We need to be sustainable. There is no question. All resource industries, pretty much doesn't matter what it is…. When you extract or exploit a resource, you are going to have some kind of impact — on water, on habitat, on air, on the environment — and that impact is probably not going to be positive. That's the reality of resource industries.

It's a reality that we need to balance. It's here. It's going to happen. We're going to continue to, basically, be carried by the resource sector in this province for many decades to come, I suspect. We need to do this in a sustainable fashion, in a fashion that really is about best practices.

We're going to have to see what that means when we see legislation here sometime in the coming weeks, where the government is going to, presumably, give us some insight, through the legislation, about how they deal with the environmental questions related to LNG. We know it has to be sincere, and it has to be real. It's not easy. It's a challenge. There are cost implications there. We've already seen the challenges related to that. That's part of the problem with the whole LNG exercise.

I don't know how many people who work around the sector, business people who I've had the opportunity to speak to about LNG and get their advice on where they think this sector is and is going…. To a person, almost, they shake their head at the way the government played its hand at the beginning of this, the way the government essentially said, "We're all in on LNG," from day one. "We are all in. This is the only thing. This is our only economic development strategy, and we're going to ride this horse to the end."

All good, except when you play poker, if you throw your cards face up and the other person has their cards in their hand, you're probably in trouble. That's exactly what the government did here.

That's exactly what the government did with the LNG discussion. We are seeing it now as the government gets jammed heading towards whenever this legislation will appear, sometime this session. We increasingly know that this negotiation has been going on between the government and the potential investment groups. We know that the government is getting hammered at every turn and has very few options because of the way it has positioned British Columbia in this discussion.

It's unfortunate. The Premier says that her government knows how to negotiate. I don't know anybody in negotiations who lays all their cards out on the table before they start the discussion. That's exactly what's happened here with LNG.

We know that there are a number of other issues that revolve around this. They have an effect here, but they have an effect on the broader part of our society. One of the areas that I have some responsibility in, in my critic area now, is around training and skills training.

We have the blueprint. The government produced the blueprint for training. It has finally come around to understanding that the government undermined training in this province back in the early 2000s after coming to power. They essentially gutted ITAC, which was the vehicle at that time, and put in place another model — a model that excluded labour and that largely excluded the educational institutions from the discussion around training. The result of that was a dismal situation, which there is now a scramble to get back and try to correct. The blueprint is the effort to do that.

There are some problems with the blueprint, and I'd just note a couple of them. First of all, there are no new resources. To say that we need to correct this problem — that we need to invest in skills training, that we need to create these opportunities — and then to not put new resources in place is very problematic.

Instead, though, the government says: "Where are we going to find the dollars for this?" They go to Advanced Education, and they essentially say to Advanced Education: "Take 25 percent of what we give you, move it over to skills training over a period of time, and tell us what you're cutting to do that."

We now hear people in those institutions — from the presidents of the institutions to board members to deans to others — who are saying they're worried. They're concerned. They don't exactly know how this is all going to work yet, but they're very concerned that they're going to be cutting programs in an institution that already has many challenges. Every institution, we know, has little extra money. They're not flush. They're in tight, they are challenged, and they're now being told to cut more.

One of the things that we should know is that we need the skills training. We need to train those people who need specific trades and skills training, but we also need people to know how to learn. That's about your curiosity. It's about knowing how to learn, how education and to value education…. Sometimes that falls under liberal arts programs. Those are the programs that will get hurt by this, I suspect. That's what we're going to find, and it's a mistake.

It's a mistake to hurt those programs. When we talk about reducing inequality and talk about poverty, the government talks about the jobs being the solution, instead of poverty reduction.

Well, if you're going to get there, you know that education becomes important. It's a full-blown education. It's not just skills training. That's a very important component, but there's the rest of education. We are going to see over the next couple of years how much damage has been done to those institutions and to the fundamentals of the education system as they're obliged to move those dollars over to skills training.

The other challenge we have is around apprenticeships. The skills training model says that in your foundational classes you get the basics at your desk in class. Then you've got to go out and go to work and be mentored and really get to learn the tools — a very important, very critical piece. What we know about that, of course, is that there just aren't enough spots to do that.

There's a whole array of reasons for that. We get some in industry who say: "Look, we're pretty good. We're a pretty good player. We have apprenticeships and that. But we have people who we compete with who just poach folks out. They don't invest in apprenticeships, and they just poach our people after we train them." That's a problem. We need to address that.

Mostly, we need to figure out how to get more spots. This is where it becomes a problem with the government. In the public service — the Crowns, the municipal sector, the SUCH sector of schools, universities, health care, colleges.... We have just over 300 apprenticeship spots today in that part of the public sector — 330-odd apprenticeships spots, based on May 2014 numbers.

That number is terribly low. In the Crowns, half of those are in B.C. Hydro, and about two-thirds of B.C. Hydro's are all line jobs. Then there are about 30 or 40 apprenticeships for electricians.

We're not seeing those apprenticeships. If the government is serious, we have to ask why there's been no work done at this point — no work done to create a situation where, first of all, we begin to oblige the public service to increase the number of apprenticeships directly.

But why aren't we looking at things like project labour agreements on those billions and billions of dollars that we spend on government construction and capital projects? Why don't we have project labour agreements that say apprenticeships are going to be part of the deal, and you've got to frame apprenticeships into your proposal? Why aren't we doing that?

We're not doing it. As a result, it's a very serious problem for young people, particularly, coming through the system and trying to determine where they're going to find that employment opportunity to complete their apprenticeships.

The other issue is we're seeing cuts in English as a second language. Those cuts are being reduced.... At Vancouver Community College, in Vancouver, 25 percent of their programs are disappearing because they're largely ESL.

Well, we are a country built on immigration. We are a country built on a whole diversity of ethnicities. We have lots of people who are coming here, looking to make this their home, looking to build their lives here, and they have challenges with language.

How on earth we think it makes sense to reduce English-as-a-second-language programming at any time in this province is beyond me if you want those people to be able to accomplish their objectives, to meet their dreams and aspirations and make the contribution they want to make by being able to take the skills and the expertise that they often brought with them to this country and put them to good use. They need that help on language, and they're not getting it here.

Part of the challenge, too, that we see with the question of LNG, has been all the other sectors that have essentially been ignored.

I've had the chance now to meet with a few chambers of commerce in the last little while. I've been travelling a little bit and meeting with chambers and economic development groups, and it's been really positive. I've learned a lot of good things.

But one of the things I've also learned — and this is from people who are pretty sympathetic to the government on most cases — is a frustration that they have. If they're not involved in the LNG business and they have challenges, economic challenges of their own, they're having a very tough time getting the ear of people in government in a way that is helpful to them and in a way that allows them to solve their problems and maybe get a little bit of support or guidance from government in doing that. They're finding that very problematic.

We need to have a more rounded approach to the economy, and that means all sectors, including LNG.

I think I've got a minute left. Just to close, we need to challenge inequality in this province. Challenging inequality means reducing the range between those who have and those who don't. That means strengthening the middle class. We need to do that by strengthening all sectors of the economy and focusing on jobs. We're not seeing that in this throne speech. We have not seen that to this date with this government.

Our hope here is we're going to see that. We're going to start to move in the direction of reducing inequality. We are going to find a way to strengthen this province. That means moving forward, telling people what the truth is, being straight-up with people, not using rhetoric to muddy the waters in terms of how challenging some of these issues are. That seems to be the practice on the government's side these days. It's time to get past that — help British Columbians to achieve their real objectives, be straight with them. That's what we need right now.

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