Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


February 26, 2014

Remarks on the 2014 Provincial Budget

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to get an opportunity to stand and speak to the budget and to provide some comments and observations about Budget 2014.

I had an opportunity to address the throne speech. At that time I took that chance to talk about my constituency a little bit and the folks in my constituency, the challenges they have, the opportunities, and how they view their lives in terms of the decisions that get made in this place.

I do know that for many of them it's truly a working-class community. It's a community that has many people who are vulnerable as well. It's a community that was deeply affected, I believe, and will be deeply affected moving forward by this budget. They're affected in a number of ways, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to address some of that in my comments here.

When we came back to sit for this session it had been about 200 days since the last time the Legislature had sat. I think that the expectations and the hopes of many people were that the government would have spent that 200 days thinking about a vision for the future, thinking about a plan for the future, looking at how we move British Columbia forward.

The first thing we got was a throne speech. It was a throne speech that was disappointing at best, not necessarily for a debate about whether ideas were good or bad in the throne speech, but for the reality that there were few ideas at all.

The throne speech had one notion that was somewhat new about a violence-free B.C. — another B.C. Liberal slogan. But of course, we realize now that there are no resources to support that. There's no money to support a violence-free B.C.

We know, as we've heard in question period in the last couple of days, how the missing-women task force and all of the work that Wally Oppal did in fact has largely gone for naught in terms of actually meeting those recommendations and moving them forward. Part of that, of course, is because it doesn't have leadership in that task force.

The decision…. Justice Point has gone back to the courts and stepped aside. From the person who was going to be the champion and drive that, he stepped aside. The government has been absent in terms of appointing a replacement for Steven Point so that somebody could champion this cause and move it forward. As a result of that, we really don't see any effort there.

The throne speech was disappointing. So then we thought: "Well, maybe when we see the budget, we'll see something in the budget that will tell us that in fact there is a plan here." Unfortunately, we've seen a budget that probably could be identified and noted by two things. One is that it's going to cost taxpayers a whole lot more, and it's going to deliver a whole lot less in terms of services.

That's probably the thing that will impact my constituents and the people in my community who are hard-working and the people who are struggling to make ends meet — the fact that they now are going to be giving more and more money and getting less and less services for that money to government. That's pretty problematic.

When we look at that, I guess we need to say: "So what are we looking at here, and what is the circumstance that we have?" Well, the first thing that we see, of course, is that we've seen a whole lot of costs going up for folks.

The government talks about no new taxes. We've heard that time and time again. In fact, we heard the Premier, on February 21 on CHBC News, say: "We said we weren't going to increase taxes. We didn't increase taxes." Of course, we know that's not true.

Now, we might have thought that the Premier had a moment there and misspoke, but she then came back the next day, on the 22nd of February — just to be sure that we weren't in error here — and said: "We did not do it by raising taxes, borrowing or stealing." She said that in the Okanagan on February 22.

I'm assuming that she meant what she said because she said it twice. It wasn't an error the first time, presumably.

What's the reality about costs? The reality is the government is taking 4.4 billion additional dollars out of the pockets of British Columbians over the next three years — $4.4 billion.

They're doing this in a combination of ways. It includes almost $2 billion in hydro rate hikes, about $650 million in Medical Services Plan rate hikes, $145 million from ICBC, $162 million from ferry fares, another $181 million out of the pockets of students in tuition. Then on top of that…. Those are fees.

I'm assuming the Premier didn't want to relate those fees to a tax increase, but be assured that the $3.2 billion or so that that all adds up to is still money out of the pockets of taxpayers. You may call it a fee and not a tax, but when they take that money out of their pocket and give it to the government, they don't much care what you called it. They still lost it out of their pocket.

Then we add to that, of course, $1.2 billion over the next three years in real taxes and tax increases. Those are the increases.

So we have this problem, of course, because we have the Premier saying one thing that just is not factually accurate. The reality is $4.4 billion over the next three years in taxes and fees coming out of the pockets of British Columbians.

With that kind of money coming out of the pockets of British Columbians, how do you address that? Where's that money going? What's it providing?

There has been a discussion in this province for a long period of time about the need for skills training. There's the talk about LNG and where LNG will take us over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. But we know that to get there, as well as with other development, we have a serious skills training shortage. So it's pretty inexplicable that advanced education gets their budget cut, and skills training flatlines in the budget.

Now, I will tell you that I expect we'll see something over the next period of time where there'll be a few million dollars thrown at skills training in some way, shape or form, but the bottom line is it's not getting the job done. We know that in talking to the business community, their biggest concern in this province right now — and those companies that are looking to move forward and develop LNG or develop other significant projects — is the issue of skilled workers.

Can we find those workers? Sure, we can find them. Can we find them in British Columbia? Can we find British Columbians? That's a whole other matter, and that's the problem we have. We're not seeing any effort here outside of rhetoric, and the rhetoric is pretty strong, to invest in actually improving that situation. It's not a cost; it's an investment. There is a significant difference between a cost and an investment. Skills training would be an investment, but we're not seeing that.

We also know that we continue to have challenges around the cost of living in British Columbia, challenges around housing costs, broadly around cost-of-living issues. We have dramatic levels of poverty, the highest levels of poverty, the highest levels of child poverty in the country. Those folks are struggling more than ever. I've got a lot of those people in my constituency, and I'm sure that others have them too. They're struggling more than ever.

We're not seeing a response to that in this budget. What does the government say the response is? We've heard this time and again. The response is jobs. That's a fine response — the response is jobs. But the reality is this when it comes to jobs: we have a jobs plan that has failed dismally. The budget acknowledges that unemployment is going up in this province.

We know that we have the worst job growth in the private sector. From September 2011, when the Premier came to office, to January 2014 we have had the worst job growth in Canada in the private sector. That's the reality. We lost 8,500 private sector jobs in January alone. That's the reality. We've lost over 21,000 full-time jobs since the last time this Legislature sat, back in July.

The result of that, in many ways, is reflected in other ways. It's reflected in terms of confidence. I heard the Minister for Small Business talk about business confidence, but the problem here is the confidence for people who live here and are looking for jobs. We've had nine consecutive quarters in this province where we've had an out-migration of people.

More people left British Columbia than have come to British Columbia over the last 27 months. The result of that is that over 13,000 more people left than came over the last two years. Why is that? It's because we have the highest unemployment rates in western Canada. We have the lowest employment rates west of the Maritimes and the lowest GDP growth among western provinces.

The economy has stalled. All the rhetoric and the jobs that might have been created for advertising agencies, when millions and millions of dollars were spent on advertising about the jobs plan, didn't create jobs for the people who need them. That's the problem that we have at this time.

We face a real challenge here around the fact that costs are going up — $4.4 billion in additional costs, money out of the pockets of British Columbians — no meaningful investment in skills training that will help people get work, no investment in addressing poverty. In fact, the jobs plan has stalled, and we're falling behind. Those are supposed to be the core things that we deal with in this budget, and none of those things are being dealt with.

The claim, of course, is that LNG at some point down the road will solve all of our problems. We've met with people in the industry. Obviously, the government is very actively engaged with the industry over the future. But we know a number of things. First of all, we are falling behind on the timeline to get those projects in. This is an incredibly competitive global industry, which is going to be a challenge. We are going to build a couple of projects. I believe we will do that. It is not going to be eight or nine or ten or whatever the last claim of the Premier was.

We'll get a couple of them built, but they won't be a panacea. They won't create the level of jobs…. They're not going to create 100,000 jobs, they're not going to make us debt-free, and they're not going to end our need for a sales tax — all claims of the Premier. None of those will be dealt with.

I look forward to continuing my comments tomorrow. I know that we're getting late here, so I'll reserve my right to continue my comments and move adjournment of the debate.

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