Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


February 18, 2014

Response to the Throne Speech

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to stand and take my place in the throne speech debate. I guess this would be about the ninth time or so we've done this, at least.

As with a number of other members, I want to take a moment at the beginning to say a few thank-yous — first and foremost, to my family, Cate and Shayla, my wife and daughter, who have been remarkable supports for all of this time and who continue to support me and the work that I do here. It's very much appreciated when your loved ones support you so strongly. I certainly feel very grateful to have that support.

As other members have said, the other people who provide a lot of support for us here are our staff in different places. For me, back in Vancouver-Hastings, to Rachel and Lynn and Theresa, who do work for me in the constituency, and to Susan here in the Legislative Assembly and, of course, the research and communications staff. I owe them all a great debt. They perform a lot of the duties that I get the credit for, but they do the work. I'm very appreciative of that.

Of course, to the people of Vancouver-Hastings, who have returned me to this place for the third time. It's a great privilege and honour to be back in the Legislature and to be back representing the people of Vancouver-Hastings. I feel very honoured. It's the community where I grew up and where I've lived most of my life. It's a real privilege to represent the community where you grew up and to represent the people who have been an important part of my life for the last 50-odd-plus years.

The thing, though, I guess, is that the people of Vancouver-Hastings still face the same challenges, and those challenges continue. They face challenges around trying to find the income and the income security that they need for the people who are in tough straits, for the folks who are facing poverty. We have a significant number of people who are facing poverty, people who are facing unbelievable challenges around the costs of housing and the ability to find affordable housing.

It still continues to be one of the most compelling things that I see in my office in Vancouver-Hastings — the number of people coming in, young families, families who have an income, maybe a modest but a working income, who say to me that they can't find appropriate housing for their families, for them and their kids. When they do find something that's appropriate, they can't afford it simply because of the cost pressures of Vancouver — of the Lower Mainland, largely, but certainly of Vancouver — and the frustration that they don't see how they get out of that box that they're in.

For many of them, it means choosing to look to live elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, hoping that there's something more affordable. For some, it's just a reality of an everyday struggle that they face with no solution in the foreseeable future, and that's a pretty tragic situation.

Those are all challenges that we face here and that we need to work around. Of course, and the comments have been made, we came back here on the 11th of February, after being away for 200 days — 200 days without sitting in the Legislature. That's a stunning amount of time. It's an amount of time that…. It's just not right that the people's House isn't sitting and that we're not engaging in debate, we're not engaging in those discussions.

And we're going to see…. The Opposition House Leader has submitted a couple of private members' bills, as we know — one that would make the fall sitting a constitutional sitting. What that means is that we would be obliged to sit in the fall, and that would be a good thing, because there is certainly no shortage of challenges and issues in British Columbia for the Legislature to be discussing.

The other would be to, in fact, make the standing committees, committees that would be active. There is no shortage, again, of committees that do nothing. I sit on the Crown Corporations Committee, a committee that has never met, I don't think, in the nine years that I've been here. I don't think the committee has ever had a meeting. There is no shortage of committees that would fall into that category of either having never met or met very seldom.

There's lots of work to be done. When we look at the Crown Corporations Committee, we look at the debates going on around things like the Lottery Corporation today. We look at the challenges with B.C. Hydro, the debates over the years around ICBC, the ferry corporation. There is no shortage of Crowns that have challenges.

I'm sure if the legislative committee on Crowns was meeting and dealing with that, talking to those officials from those corporations and engaging the public who have legitimate interests in this, talking to the people on the coast who have interest in the ferry system, it would be a positive thing — and then coming back to this Legislature with some reports and some observations to help inform this Legislature about how to deal with some of those challenges. That would be a positive thing, but it's not something that's happening here, and unfortunately, it's not something that will happen, I assume.

It's time for us to look at those kinds of changes, though, when I look at how the legislative process works here. I know the Government House Leader has mused about how much legislation we'll see. I've heard that maybe we'll see 25, 30 bills, something like that, over this spring session. That's quite a bit of legislation.

There's an opportunity here. In a number of other jurisdictions — the federal House of Commons and a number of other legislatures — operate a little differently. They engage the public, and they look at ways to engage the public in the discussion about new laws. There is no reason why we couldn't embrace that approach here, why we couldn't decide that legislation that comes before us….

Some pieces require to be dealt with in a more immediate fashion. That makes sense, and we should deal with those. But with many pieces of legislation, there is time. What if we were to take that legislation and say, "We're going to do second reading here in the spring, but then we're going to give that legislation to a committee of the House and say to them, 'Go away at the end of May and come back sometime at the end of September,'" when we sit in October again.

In that time, in those months, talk to people, talk to the experts, invite some people to come and engage. Talk to people in different parts of the province. See whether there are suggestions that might be made that would improve that legislation. We all know, those who have been on committees that have sat, that committees tend to be more collegial than this House can be at times, and maybe there, there is room to have a conversation that isn't in the heat of question period and that would improve things.

Then have that committee come back and report back to the House in the fall on whether there are suggestions around ways to improve the legislation, and then we can finalize the debate in the fall. There would be nothing wrong with doing that, and we would get better laws. The other thing we would get…

We know, when you look across the province and the country, the frustration and the cynicism there is around elected officials. When you look at the polling, it tells you that local elected representatives probably are viewed in the best light by the citizens. As you get farther away from people, the more skeptical they get about politicians. Part of the reason that's true, I think, with local councils and that, is because people can engage them. They don't get to engage us. If we use the committee structure where they got to engage us on things that are important to them, we may do better. We may create a different commentary.

We also may find ways to improve legislation that's before the House. It doesn't matter the political party. When bills are introduced by one side or the other, there is always, with more discussion and more engagement, the opportunity to make it better. That opportunity is there, but we would need to take that, we would need the commitments to the spring and fall session, and we would need to change the way we structure our committees and the way we produce and move legislation forward. But that's not what we're talking about doing h. That's not the reforms that are being talked about.

Hon. Speaker, the message I get in terms of where things are now is that there's a concern about what really is the direction of the government. You know, we've had eight-odd months or nine months — whatever it is — since May and the May election, and there was not a sense that there was a clear direction there.

I'll talk about LNG. That's been sort of the overwhelming commentary from the government — LNG. The overwhelming rhetoric has been LNG. But once you step back from that, it's very hard to see where that vision is moving forward other than that.

I think there was a lot of hope that this throne speech was going to provide that, that the government had quite a period of time since the election — cabinet, executive council have had quite a period of time — to think this through and develop that agenda, and that we were going to see that agenda in the throne speech. The throne speech is largely a rehash of things that we have heard before. Other than a committee on violence that is another committee and not action — and we can debate that — what we see is pretty much a total rehash of things we've heard about before.

That's disappointing, because it doesn't show vision. It doesn't show how we move forward. In addition to that, you say: "Okay. Well, if you don't have a vision, then how well are you managing things?" And that's a problem too, because the rhetoric we see is much greater than the substance. We can go back and look over much of the spending of this government and the mismanagement of that spending — the northwest transmission line, $332 million over budget; the convention centre, $341 million over budget; the B.C. Place roof, over $400 million over the initial budget; the Port Mann highway, over a billion-and-a-half-dollar cost overrun on that highway. The South Fraser Perimeter Road, almost $500 million over budget; $6 million to Basi-Virk to end the trial — something that nobody in this province could support. Boss Power — government, again, bad law and $30 million to pay out a court settlement.

BCeSIS, the student information and data management system — it cost $100 million. It doesn't work. It's going to cost another $84 million to hopefully get a system that will work.

Then B.C. Hydro of course, where you have almost $5 billion in debt, much of it hidden in deferral accounts — accounts that were never intended for that purpose but have been used to hide that debt, leading the Auditor General to conclude the appearance of profitability where none actually exists. That's what the Auditor General had to say about B.C. Hydro.

That's a problem just there, on the spending. We'll talk a little bit about why that's a problem in terms of the budget that we're going to see here in a couple of hours.

It's not just the overspending, but it's the overpromising too. Leading up to the election, we saw the government spend millions of dollars talking about a jobs plan. But the reality is that the jobs plan hasn't produced the jobs. That's the reality.

We have the worst job-growth record in Canada in the private sector. From September of 2011 through to January of 2014 B.C. has had the worst record of job growth in the private sector in the country. We have lost over 21,000 full-time jobs since the last time this Legislature sat, and we know that in the industry that used to be the industry that drove this province, forestry, since 2001 we've lost about 25,000 jobs. That's a combination of changes in the industry — a whole lot of things.

The problem with this is that the government has made outlandish claims around jobs, outlandish claims around LNG, outlandish claims in a number of areas — none where the substance backs up the rhetoric. That's a problem, because that leads to the cynicism of British Columbians, and it's growing. That cynicism is growing.

An example of that. The government continues to talk about being debt-free. We have the Premier talking about…. I'm not sure whether…. The Premier, I think, has got as high as 12 LNG plants in one speech — but I think we're at six or seven now — and talking about being debt-free.

Well, the reality of the debt is this: it is rising faster under this Premier than under any other Premier in the history of the province. We will have over $70 billion of debt by 2016, and since the last time this Legislature sat, this government has added $2½ billion dollars to our debt load — since the last time we sat in this place. That doesn't sound like debt reduction and debt management to me.

Part of the problem with this is that we have a government that has talked about one thing since the election, and that's LNG. Let's be clear: LNG is an opportunity for British Columbia. It is an opportunity to develop this industry, to create some jobs, to produce some revenues — all a good thing. But you need to be honest with people about what we're talking about. You talk to people in the industry, and they will tell you that maybe there are three serious proposals on the table, and one or two of them will be developed. There's nothing wrong with that.

There's nothing wrong with one or two solid developments of LNG. That would be a good thing, but it's not the panacea for the economy. It doesn't deal with the whole range of other areas where we need to be investing and building a diverse economy. The problem with the Premier and the cabinet and this government's approach is it's all or nothing on this one area, LNG. That isn't going to work for this economy.

It's time for the government to be forthright with people and say: "We're going to do our best to develop LNG. We're going to develop it in a way that gets us some jobs and some economy." And we'll see what that economy looks like when we see the tax regime, which we'll see, I guess, in the fall. Maybe we'll get a hint today in the budget, but we'll see it in the fall and see what revenue stream actually comes back.

It's not going to create 100,000 jobs. It's not going to pay off the debt. It's not going to end our need for a sales tax, which is one of the Premier's claims. That's not coming. Let's say we have a good opportunity here, but we need to have a diverse economy, and we need to work that economy. That's not what we're getting here.

Part of the problem, of course, is that this is a government that it is all rhetoric and little substance. It has got much worse, in terms of how that happens, in recent months and years. Let's just take a couple of examples.

Earlier today we heard from the Minister of Transportation in response to questions about ferries and the Discovery route and, in fact, what the economic impacts on tourism are. We've heard from many in that industry and in those communities who are incredibly concerned about that. But when you ask the question of the Minister of Transportation, "Did you do any economic analysis before you adopted this position?" the minister is silent. He goes back to his notes and reads his notes. But the notes say nothing about an economic analysis.

My experience over nine years here is that when you get silence like that from a minister about whether they looked at economic impact, about whether they discussed those things, that silence usually means the work wasn't done. That's a pretty safe bet.

We see, and we're going to see here, some legislation or whatever, based on an area where I have some critic responsibility, around liquor. There are a whole lot of the recommendations that I think we're going to see in the 73 that are there that are common sense. They're positive. They're going to improve the situation.

There are other ones that…. I see nothing in that report that suggests there has been any economic impact analysis. Take for example the move to put liquor in grocery stores. But when you talk to people in the private liquor store business who have developed a pretty thriving industry, they weren't consulted on this in any meaningful way. They say that the economic impacts on them will be significant.

We know now that at least two, and I suspect more, financial institutions have essentially frozen any future lending to them until they find out what the law really says because the economic metrics of this industry are about to change depending on what the legislation or what we hear sometime this session.

In terms of growth for those small businesses, they're having a challenge getting the loans for that growth because there is some uncertainty in the financial sector as to what that's going to look like. They're doing their due diligence and protecting their interests until they actually know what the playing field looks like.

That's not good for those businesses. That's not good for those industries. But part of the problem here, of course, is there was no analysis done of that. There's nothing in that report that suggests anything but: "You know, 800 people responded to my blog and said it would be a good idea, so hey, let's do it." That's not the way you make that business work.

We know the key pieces. The Premier has really overswung on LNG. There is no doubt about that. That's a problem. She has really overswung. We know that we now have moved from what used to be a seller's market to a buyer's market in LNG globally, and we'll see how that challenges the ability to get a deal that makes sense for British Columbia. We're all hopeful it will, because it will create some jobs and some economic opportunity. But it's not the panacea, not by a long shot.

[Madame Speaker in the chair.]

We know that this government continues to do nothing about child poverty, nothing about poverty in general. We continue with the highest poverty rates and child poverty rates in this country.

We know that the jobs plan has been a total and complete failure. It is the ultimate of rhetoric over substance since the time it was put in place. We've been losing tens of thousands of private sector jobs. They're out the door. You know, 25,000 jobs lost in the forestry sector; 21,000 jobs lost in the private sector since we last sat. We're losing jobs.

Part of that, of course, is realized by what people are saying with their feet. B.C. has had a net out-migration of people to other provinces for nine quarters in a row. For the last nine quarters, more people have left British Columbia than have come. That's the lack of confidence that we see.

It really is a challenge, what we see. So what do we need to do here? It truly is time for this government to engage people, to turn the high rhetoric and the hyperbole down, to engage people in a real discussion about the issues that are in front of us. They need to do that.

Unlike, you know, they misrepresented…. The election was one misrepresentation after another by the Liberal Party. They misrepresented us from one election to the other. That's fair enough. It was enough to get the Liberals elected.

Now that you've got that done, maybe you should try being straight with people. A little honesty would be a remarkable thing.

...

S. Simpson: Hon. Speaker, in closing, it's time for substance over rhetoric. It's time for honesty over misleading of British Columbians, and it's time for a little clarity.

This is a government with no substance, all rhetoric, and it has misled British Columbians for a dozen years and continues to do it today worse than ever. It's a shameful speech. It's a sad day for British Columbia, and we will move on.

 

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