Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


February 27, 2018

Shane on the 2018 Budget

Hon. S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to join the debate on Budget 2018. When I was thinking about the comments I would make and what I would have to say about the budget, I was reflecting back on something that, as electeds, we've all heard at different times from people in the public who are skeptical about politics and all of that — the people who say: "You know, the politicians are all the same, and the parties are all the same." You hear that. And what I would say is that this budget clearly demonstrates that we're not all the same.

This budget is a great example of a government that has identified and taken a path that is so clearly and distinctly different than what went on for the previous 16 years of the B.C. Liberal government. It was a period of time, a period of 16 years, when the government, I believe, had a very narrow focus on how it paid attention and who it paid attention to. It was a period of time where we saw the previous government neglect, ignore — choose your word of choice — those people who needed help around affordability and who were looking for services to be restored, enhanced and reinvigorated, who were looking for opportunities for themselves and their families.

This budget, Budget 2018, I believe, has taken us a long way down the road to begin to accomplish that. Clearly, nothing changes overnight, and 16 years don't change in eight months, but we have seen significant progress. We saw it in the budget update that occurred last fall, and we've seen it in an even more substantive and significant and broader way in Budget 2018, which was introduced into this House last week. We have a budget that is balanced. Its projections are of a $219 million surplus in '18-19, $281 million in '19-20 and $284 million in '20-21.

I would note that with those surpluses, you also have a forecast allowance which, again, provides room. It's part of the contingencies of budget that are included in budgets: a contingency allowance of $350 million in 2018-19, $500 million in 2019-20 and $600 million in 2020-21. It also includes contingencies of $550 million in 2018-19, $750 million in 2019-20 and $750 million in '20-21. So there is room there as well.

The budget, as I said, is balanced. The budget continues to project economic growth — nation-leading levels of economic growth. It delivers on social services in a way that we have not seen in a couple of decades, including putting in front of British Columbians the first new significant social program, child care, that we have seen in this province — and, largely, across the country — in a very long time. And it addresses affordability issues for British Columbians, making people's lives more affordable — something that we have heard consistently, something that we campaigned on and something that we know is critical for hard-working families in British Columbia who are working to make ends meet.

Post-budget, we've all heard comments. We all hear comments. I have been very pleased with the comments that I've heard from people in my constituency of Vancouver-Hastings and people I've had the opportunity to talk to in other communities — comments about the changes that were made; about the initiatives related to housing; about the initiatives related to child care; about the initiatives related to deductibility on PharmaCare; excitement for those people who have been paying medical services premiums at a personal level, who are excited that they're now going to be able to use that money to, in fact, invest in other essentials that their families need.

In all these cases, we've heard from people who are anxious about new initiatives that they want to see move forward in British Columbia. Also people who are confident in the efforts that have been made by the Finance Minister, the Premier and this government in advancing this particular budget and people who are confident that they're beginning to see the path forward to the kind of British Columbia that they're looking for in the future — a British Columbia that does put affordability first, that does put everyday families first, that does address the challenges of some of our most vulnerable citizens, that does look at how we build a network, a framework in this province that is supportive of people moving forward.

Hon. Speaker, it's been quite a ride for the last number of months as government. You'll know that we started last fall. At that time, I was pleased that in October, we were able to give a $100 increase to temporary assistance and disability benefits, to increase the earning exemptions at that time, in October, for people who were receiving income assistance and disability benefits, and then in January to put a transportation supplement in place that supports 100,000 people who are living on persons with disabilities.

Those investments are about $250 million or $260 million of annual investment in order to be able to achieve those particular improvements. They are improvements that have been needed. They are improvements, particularly around the increase in rates, that we have not seen in this province for well over a decade. Rates had been frozen by the previous government, and this is a step forward.

I would acknowledge it is simply a step and that there's much more work to be done. I look forward, moving forward over this year, to be putting in place a poverty reduction strategy that will lay out the path forward over the coming years for us to be able to, hopefully, significantly reduce poverty in British Columbia.

The other pieces of this budget, as we move to this year, include continued and ongoing support for those initiatives that were first introduced and put in place in October.

We've had the opportunity to add some FTE's, some staff in my ministry, which will help improve service quality — 30 new FTEs to advance and improve service quality.

We are able, through the negotiation with the federal government around the labour market development agreement, to get additional resources into British Columbia for employment programs and to expand and broaden those programs in terms of who will be eligible to participate in those programs; and for service providers who deliver those initiatives through Work B.C. on our behalf to be more innovative and be more flexible in how they deliver those programs; and to be a very important and complementary tool to the poverty reduction initiative, moving forward, as we look to create greater employment opportunities for people who either are underemployed today and looking to improve their employment situation, or who are struggling to find employment.

I think particularly of persons with disabilities who I know, from my conversations day in and day out — meeting with persons with disabilities — who almost without exception say to me: "I want a job. I want an opportunity to work. I want to improve my life, and I want the opportunity to do that with employment. I've got something to contribute, I've got value, and I want to put that forward." We're going to support and assist those efforts to improve those opportunities.

The other piece that we'll be talking more about in the next couple of months is the basic income initiative. That will look very clearly at modelling a basic income and what that looks like in British Columbia. People will know that this is a model going back to the '70s in Dauphin, Manitoba, with Mincome, when this was first explored in this country in any meaningful and substantive way.

We've now looked across the globe at examples of basic income initiatives. Members of this House may know that Ontario is right now in the first year of a three-year initiative on basic income that will be a pilot engaging a number of people in Ontario and looking at the basic income model.

We're looking forward to being able to get information from their work and to doing something that is a different initiative here. But it's an initiative that really will allow us to look very closely through the basic income lens and how that might reflect and affect income support programs and how we move forward and what income security looks like.

I would note that we're hearing from people who both want to talk about basic income as a vehicle around poverty reduction and also talk about it as a vehicle for a changing economy around automation, around robotics and around what that means.

I think that, you know, we went through an industrial revolution, and we've talked about that. We know there's great change happening now. It will be a challenge for us in British Columbia and for governments across the globe to determine how they deal with the future of automation, of robotics, and what that does to employment. New jobs will be created. Old jobs will be lost. But there is a transition there that's going to prove difficult, I believe, for a significant number of people, and we need to determine how we address that.

I read a report out of the United States where they anticipate, in the next decade or so — maybe a little bit more than that — that 40 percent of the jobs that exist in the United States today won't exist. They will have been replaced by automation, by robotics in some fashion. They do say there will be other opportunities, but they will be different. I still think we're uncertain. The basic income will provide us with some information and some insights on how we may need to move forward and look at those issues as we do.

I talked a little bit about some of the things that we've done as first steps relating to poverty reduction. I'll talk about how this budget has afforded us support there, too. We'll know that we have put in place a forum that's providing me with advice. We are a little more than two-thirds of the way through 28 consultations around the province, being facilitated on our behalf by the Social Planning and Research Council, and we're well into the work on what the plan looks like and what legislation looks like moving forward here.

As we look at what's happened in this year, and we look at what's happened moving forward, there have been some critical and important steps around the work that my ministry is doing. We know that a poverty reduction strategy is not the purview of this ministry alone. This ministry is providing some leadership on the file, but it is a cross-government initiative, and we have seen some steps there.

We know that homelessness is a critical issue. We're very excited about the opportunity to put in the 2,000 modular units and, very importantly, the operating dollars that go with those units to allow us to optimize the effectiveness of those units. We've seen now, across the province, those units being scooped up by local governments which are looking for that support to assist them in dealing with the homelessness issues.

As I said, the operating dollars are really the critical component to the success, I believe, of the modular housing strategy. They're dollars that allow us to provide wraparound services for people who have complex issues. They're dollars that allow us to support people who have mental health and addiction challenges. They're dollars that we can certainly use — that local governments and others can use — to provide great supports for that. So I'm very excited about that opportunity, as we see governments across the province picking those units up, finding sites and moving forward with the modular unit initiatives.

The other piece that's a very important piece is the minimum wage increase. We have about 680,000 people living in poverty in British Columbia today. Over 40 percent of those people have a paycheque or a couple of paycheques coming into the house. They're struggling. They're struggling to make ends meet while they go to work every day. Part of that is directly linked to minimum wage. So the efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, in fact, will be a significant step in helping to deal with the struggles of the working poor. That's an important piece for us to pay attention to.

When it comes to this budget directly, we have made some remarkable steps. There are the two cornerstones of this budget that I want to talk a little bit about. From travelling the province, talking to people about poverty reduction, the number one issue that comes up in those meetings is housing. It's affordable housing. It's a place to live and having a safe, secure place to live.

The other issues that come up are mental health and addictions — this government invested $322 million in mental health and addiction supports last fall — and child care. Young families are looking for child care support as they are staggered by the cost of child care today — either the cost that they struggle to pay or the availability of that child care, moving forward.

I want to talk about the importance of those two issues. In housing, we will invest, through this initiative, over $7 billion over the next ten years — building almost 34,000 units of housing across the province, including mixed-income social housing, student housing and housing for the homeless, among others.

We will increase the benefits in the rental assistance program, adding up to $800 a year of additional support for people who need some help to pay the rent. We will see seniors who are under the SAFER program have their supports increased by an average of about $930 a year, supporting some 35,000 households to be more affordable.

And $141 million is earmarked to build 1,500 units for women and children who are fleeing abusive relationships. This is a critical piece for families which are trying to escape those situations — to have safe, secure housing and, then, for us to be able to work with and support them as they get back on their feet and build lives, moving forward.

An innovative approach that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has moved forward, a new housing hub office for B.C. Housing, will be a tool we will use as a vehicle, through B.C. Housing, an organization that has a depth and wealth of expertise and experience in housing development in this province, which is exceptional. We will now be asking them to use that innovation in an even broader and more substantive way — to work with the private sector and others to begin to find the innovative ways to build the housing partnership that we need moving forward.

All of these are steps in the fulfilment of the ten-year commitment that we've made to provide 114,000 units of housing in this province, moving forward.

The other component of this that is critical — it is really the first new social program we have seen in this province in a very, very long time — is child care. We initiated, in this budget, the start of the first universal child care plan that, certainly, this province has ever seen.

Key investments have been made, including, starting in September, up to $1,250 a month per child of a benefit to child care, which will provide supports for 86,000 families by the year 2021; a fee reduction program for up to $350 a month that will go directly to licensed care providers for child care spaces — this is estimated to support, again, 50,000 families; and the creation of more than 22,000 new licensed child care spaces throughout the province, including support to help facilitate unlicensed family care providers to become licensed, moving forward.

We know, too, that if we're going to have success in child care and move that forward, we need to make sure we have the early childhood educators in place to be able to do that work. We're working with our partners to develop a workforce development strategy that includes innovative approaches to how we train those ECE staff and how to grow the programs in our colleges and universities to move that forward.

These are just first steps. I would encourage people who are paying attention to these issues to really get into the information to read more clearly what exactly is being proposed here and see how it might affect you or your family.

Those are the cornerstone pieces, but there is more to this budget than that. I just want to talk through a little bit of what that looks like.

The elimination of MSP premiums by January 1 of 2020. This means that a family that is paying their MSP will save upwards of $1,800 a year. A single person, $900 a year. These are tangible affordability initiatives that put real dollars in the pockets of people who are challenged to make ends meet.

PharmaCare. So $105 million to expand fair PharmaCare programs and expand coverage for 240,000 families. This is for families that have incomes under $45,000 a year. They will be the major beneficiaries. Deductions will entirely eliminate these costs for our most-modest-income families in the $15,000 to $30,000 range. They won't pay anymore. That's a huge issue.

When you talk about affordability, there are things that we choose to buy that are discretionary, but health care is not discretionary. For those families and those people who are struggling…. You don't have any choice. When you need those medications, you need to pay. We're saying: "For those people who are most challenged to pay, we're going to help you. We're either going to reduce those costs for you or, in many cases, we are going to eliminate those costs entirely." That's about getting at critical goods and services.

Legal aid. So $26 million over three years to expand legal aid, including Indigenous and family law services.

Increased financial support for former youth in care.

A piece that's very important is around our Indigenous people, as we talk about UNDRIP and reconciliation. We've invested over $200 million in this plan to support reconciliation and Indigenous people, including funding to expand culturally based child care; $158 million to partner on Indigenous housing, including building up to 1,750 new units of supportive housing; $16 million for the First Nations Health Authority to support mental health and wellness in Indigenous communities — a critical investment; $6 million over three years for friendship centres — 25 friendship centres around this province that provide essential services in communities like Prince George, where the friendship centre is the most significant social service organization and agency in that city.

In 25 communities, they provide services. They provide services to the 80 percent of Indigenous people who live off reserve in our urban centres, and in most cases, those centres don't close their doors to non-Indigenous people in those communities. They welcome them in, and they provide services there as well. We're going to support those friendship centres in the work that they do.

This is maybe the most critical investment of all around UNDRIP and around reconciliation — $50 million for languages. I was sad to hear a member on the other side be dismissive of that in his comments the other day. I think that's unfortunate. But if we believe in reconciliation; if we believe that we need to build a new relationship with First Nations; if we believe that we need to provide, through partnership, support for our Indigenous people to be able to meet their full potential and embrace their culture, language is such a critical piece of that. Culture fails and culture disappears without language. That's my belief, so we need to provide those supports. This becomes a critical piece. It's one of the pieces of the budget. There are a lot of exciting things in this budget, but this is one of the pieces that is most exciting to me. It's this $50 million for languages that will enhance, I guess, at least 30 key language groups in this province today.

These are just some of the aspects of the budget. I think what we hear and what I've heard from people is an excitement that all of these initiatives are there as we move forward, and on how the government has responded to what people are saying.

I heard the new Leader of the Official Opposition, through one of those debates that went on during the leadership debate, talking about how out of touch his party was with British Columbians — how out of touch. It's probably, maybe, the most thoughtful thing I've ever heard out of the Leader of the Official Opposition. What we have is a situation where it is time to be in touch with the people of British Columbia. That was our commitment — around affordability, around the services and around an economy that's built on family-supporting jobs.

That work is moving forward. We're seeing these investments. We're also seeing, as we move forward, significant investments in capital initiatives. We're going to see investments that will create upwards of 50,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction. Those are important jobs. We all know that governments have to work to build this province, replacing the Pattullo Bridge, replacing Handsworth Secondary School in North Vancouver, partnering with our post-secondary institutions to deliver 5,000 units of student housing.

All of these are first steps. I know that there'll be more to come, and you'll be hearing more in the coming months around infrastructure projects and infrastructure initiatives that move forward, as we spend the dollars to build British Columbia moving forward.

We know as we do that, we have an opportunity here to create real opportunities for young people who are looking at careers and at futures. It's great that we've got an investment in skills training to help support that. It's an investment, again, with our First Nations partners in creating opportunities for young people in their villages to learn trades, to get to work and to find opportunities to build their futures and build their careers.

There's a lot in this budget. As I said at the beginning, some people often would say: "Political parties are all the same. You all act the same." Well, you can look at this budget, and you can look at the investments and the priorities of this government. You can look back at any of the last number of budgets of the previous government. What you will see very clearly is that there are real differences in political parties: a political party that spent 16 years narrowly looking after a small group of people in British Columbia and a political party that in its first eight months has delivered on promises around affordability, services and building a new economy.

I'm very proud of this budget, I'm proud of the work this government's done, and I'm proud of the years and years of building that is still to come with this government in place.

events
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