Excerpt from the Official Report of


February 14, 2018

Shane on the 2018 Throne Speech

Hon. S. Simpson: It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to join in the debate on throne speech 2018. It’s particularly an exciting time to do this, as it will be the first full session we have here with a full budget as the new government.

I want to start, though, by acknowledging again the people of Vancouver-Hastings, my constituency, and to thank them again for the opportunity to return to this place for a fourth time. It’s always a privilege. I know, as members on both sides who have been here a while know, that when you get right down to it, all politics is local. It really is about representing your constituents and the community that sends you here to act on their behalf.

All of the other things we do — whether it’s in ministerial ways, in critic ways, other things around this House — are all critical and important for the government and for the work of this place. But at the end of the day, it really is the people who sent you here that you should pay, first and foremost, attention to.

I want to again thank my family. Cate, my partner through all these years who has put up with the challenges of being here. Again, every member knows, certainly, about the challenges that spouses face when we’re here. We spend a lot of time away from home, and when we are home, we’re sometimes distracted by the nature of the work that fills up our days. I know, certainly in the case of Cate, and I’m sure it’s true for many spouses, if not most, that they ground you and remind you where you come from. Whether you might be an MLA or not is pretty secondary to the many other important things in life.

I want to thank my staff in my constituency: Anne Vavrik, Sherrill Gullickson and Theresa Ho. Particularly in the last number of months since we were sworn in as government in July, the task has become an even bigger one for them. Being here as a minister, I’m just not in my constituency as much as I might have been in the past. They’ve taken on a greater burden for that, moving forward, and they do a great job.

I know that for any member, if you have confidence in your staff in your constituency, it makes life a whole lot easier when you know that things are taken care of in your constituency office back at home and that you can feel confident about that. Constituency assistants play such an integral role in making that happen.

In my ministerial office, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of staff here. Leah and Jayne and Brenda and Val and Casey certainly make my life a whole lot easier and certainly make it come together every day. I appreciate that.

The ministry. I’ve learned a lot in the short period of time as I’ve gone through the kind of learning curve of the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. I’ve learned from a great team of people who work there every day and who are committed.

I particularly want to note my deputy, Sheila Taylor, who’s retiring. Sheila will be leaving at the end of this month. I know that without her good guidance, thoughtfulness and help, the last six months would have been a much, much bigger challenge than they were.

Sheila always is a pretty quiet sort, compared to some people, but she always had that look that I learned about a few months in. I would get that look from her, quietly, when we were talking and I was spouting off about this idea or that idea. I would stop and say: “And what do you think about that?” She would always say: “Well, that’s a great idea, Minister, but I was thinking about this.” Almost always, the advice was good.

I owe her a great debt for having got through the last six or seven months with this ministry — to understand it and grasp it and to make sure that I didn’t step in any pratfalls that were too large along the way — because of her support and the support of others in the ministry. I certainly wish her well moving forward.

In the last election and the campaign, we talked about three things. We talked about making life more affordable for British Columbians. We talked about improving and restoring services that are essential to British Columbians, and we talked about a sustainable economy that would have family-supporting jobs. That was the message throughout the campaign leading up to the election, and that is the message that we have continued to espouse since the election.

We have stayed consistent with that. We have moved forward on those initiatives, and we have taken actions in the early months of this term of government. You will see more, in substantive ways, next week when the budget is introduced. We talked about things that were important to us and then we acted on them quickly.

In my file, I was very pleased that the second thing that we did as a government…. The first thing we did was to supply supports to many of the people and the folks who were challenged in communities by wildfires. That was the first action of the government when it came to power. The next action was to increase social assistance rates, disability rates and earning exemptions and to initiate, very quickly after that, a transportation supplement for persons with disabilities.

It was a good first step. It was only a first step in the process to fulfil my mandate, which is around poverty reduction, but it was an initial step to do that. I think that as much as anything, it was about putting a few more dollars in people’s pockets. But it also was about delivering a pretty clear message about what the priorities of the new government are.

We also moved forward with the 50 percent MSP cut — again, an affordability issue that was put in place. We moved forward on looking to help people create opportunities to make their own lives better. That was the elimination of tuition around adult basic education and early English language learning — a critical piece in terms of creating opportunities for people to be able to make their own lives better by improving their skill set or by picking up essential and critical language skills to be able to go out and get into the workforce and build lives for themselves and their families.

When we eliminated that tuition, we were very interested to see what the response to that would be. It has been about a 50 percent increase in enrolment of people, who are looking forward to grab that opportunity and be able to build the skills they need in order to fulfil their dreams and dreams for their families.

We eliminated bridge tolls. That was a big campaign issue. It was an issue that, obviously, was a significant cost. It isn’t a matter there of saying that we don’t all have to pay for essential transportation needs. It was about the unfairness of having tolls on these two bridges and having nobody else paying at all. So we eliminated that.

Now we’ll work closely with the Mayors Council in Metro Vancouver and with the work that they’re doing. We’ll look to find the solutions, moving forward, to ensure that we can provide the resources necessary to build out the transportation and the road systems that are necessary to move commerce and move people in Metro Vancouver — and, of course, the investments that we know will need to be made across the province around those same issues of transportation and moving people and commerce.

This spring we’re moving forward on a couple of critical areas. We have set priorities for this budget. The Premier has been absolutely clear about those priorities. There are two essential ones. It is housing, and it is child care. Those are the pieces that you’ll see moving forward in the budget next week.

We made a commitment about a universal affordable child care program, and you’re going to see what that looks like both in terms of the long-term plan and in terms of the first fundamental and significant steps to put that plan in place.

With housing, you’re going to see the path forward on the housing strategy that focuses on both affordability and on dealing with rampant speculation that has caused such challenges around affordability and, certainly, around home ownership. And not just in Metro Vancouver. It has created affordability problems across the province. Housing affordability is an issue everywhere.

I’ll speak a little bit more about the work I’m doing around poverty reduction. We’re going into 28 communities around the province. I’ll be in Prince George on Saturday. We’re travelling. We’ve done 17 communities so far in this tour. Housing and housing affordability has been the number one issue, whether we were in Smithers, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Surrey or Richmond. It didn’t matter where we went. People talked about affordability, and mostly, they talked about affordability around rental.

There are places where housing prices for ownership have moved around, but it is the challenge for people who have modest incomes, people who are struggling, to find the housing that meets their needs and their family’s needs at a price that they can afford. I think that we will see a focus on that next week in the budget, on the housing piece of the budget, that begins to lay out our plan for getting at that issue of housing.

The other piece that has been done and completed in this period leading up to the session was to address our commitment on the minimum wage. You’ll know that we committed to a $15 minimum wage over this term and put in place a Fair Wages Commission with representation from business and labour as well as an independent chair.

That panel went out, and they talked to people across the province. They talked to business owners. They talked to workers. They talked to local leaders. They talked to people in communities. They were able to come back with what is the first of a number of pieces of their recommendations. But the first one on this question of $15…. They were able to come back with a unanimous recommendation of the panel on the path to get there, how we get to $15 an hour in an orderly way and in increments that will allow everybody that needs to be part of this, including business, to manage those increments moving forward.

At the end of the day, it will put significant dollars into people’s pockets, and that’s money that they will spend in their local communities — on local businesses, on food, on clothing and on services for their families. Those dollars will be reinvested, and we will have dealt with a challenge that people have.

That’s an important challenge because, as we know, we face significant issues with the working poor here in British Columbia. There are hundreds of thousands of people who fall into that category of the working poor, and they need support to be able to make ends meet. It seems to me that if you go to work every day, and you work hard, your paycheque should at least be able to provide you with a modest standard of living for yourself and your family as you go about your everyday life.

Child care. Our commitment to child care, both in terms of increasing spaces — in terms of the infrastructure for a provincial program that is universal — and ensuring affordability for all people who need child care, but particularly for people with modest incomes, is the area of my concern, based on my file. It’s something that I’m excited about. I’ll be excited to see the release of that information in the context of the budget that will come next week.

All of this — and there was a reference to it in the throne speech — is work that links very much to the work that I have been given by the Premier. I know that when the Premier talked to me about taking on this file, we talked about the name of the ministry. The name was Social Development and Social Innovation. It was a fine name. There was no problem with that name. But we made the decision to change the name to Social Development and Poverty Reduction because, as the Premier said, that is to be a priority for us: to begin to reduce poverty in this province.

To put that in some context, at the last count, we have about 678,000 people who live in poverty in British Columbia, based on the market basket measure. That’s around 15 percent of our population that is living poor. Almost one in five are children, and we know that poor kids are in poor families. We know that over 40 percent of the people who are living in poverty have a paycheque coming into the house. They’re not on assistance or disability benefits. They have a paycheque, but that paycheque doesn’t make ends meet, and they struggle there.

We also know that if you have a disability, or if you’re an Indigenous person, you are twice as likely to be poor than if you’re not. So as we’ve approached this, and as we’ve moved forward to take on this challenge and looked at how we would deal with it, I took a number of steps. I sat down with a number of experts and sought their advice, and then I put together an advisory forum to give me advice.

I made a point of ensuring that on this forum — and it’s a significant forum; it’s 27 people — we would have a significant number of people who are living poor today. There are, on that panel, about seven or eight people who are living poor today. We have those people with lived experience directly providing advice to me and to the ministry as we develop this plan.

We also have significant Indigenous participation. We have five Indigenous representatives on the panel. We have people from the business community, labour, academia, stakeholders and the health community — a whole array of people who bring different skills to give me advice both on legislation and on the plan which will be introduced later this year.

As we do this work, moving forward, we also decided that we didn’t want this to be a Vancouver-centric approach, one that would be very easily captured by Vancouver. We asked the Social Planning and Research Council. We worked with them to set up this series of facilitated consultations across the province, consultations that…. Myself and the parliamentary secretary, the member for Vancouver-Kensington, between us have worked as hard as we can to make sure that one of us is in attendance at all of these sessions if we can do that. We’ve been pretty successful at it to this point.

These sessions are now being held across the province. I think we’ve completed 17 of the 28. They will all be completed, and the consultations will be completed, by the end of March — a positive thing. We’ve had good turnouts in places like Prince Rupert and Port Alberni, where 180 or so people showed up and spent a few hours with us.

The neat thing about it is that we have, again, focused our attention on ensuring that we have people who have lived experience with poverty, and we’re probably averaging about almost 60 percent of the people in attendance at these sessions are people with lived experience. That’s a positive. We’re learning a lot about the key issues that we see from poverty.

We know affordability is a critical issue, both in terms of peoples’ incomes, to be able to afford life, and the costs of critical and essential goods and services. The trick will be to deal with matching those up in ways that give people greater support.

We know that people are looking for opportunities moving forward to change their lives. When I talk to persons with disabilities, I think the first thing I hear from people with disabilities, almost without exception, is: “I want a job.”

We have a great group. I want to acknowledge the previous government which created the presidents group, which is a group of CEOs who are working hard and continue to work very hard to try to open doors in the business community for greater acceptance of persons with disabilities and to help with those fits. It’s a great program, and I’m enjoying very much working with the leadership and the folks in the presidents group who do that work.

We’re also getting support from other areas of business and talking to other business groups and others about creating those opportunities for employment and expanding those opportunities for employment across the board, particularly for persons with disabilities, who have a lot to contribute, who want to contribute, who want to improve their quality of life, who want to engage and who see and hope for that opportunity. If we can make the fit work, I think we can make this work well.

I talked to a couple of different business owners in different places in the province and at different times. Both of them own businesses that were kind of in the 50-to-100-employee range, mid-sized businesses. They both told me the same thing in separate conversations.

They both said: “I’m a pretty responsible guy. My community is important to me, and I decided I would create an opportunity to hire somebody with a disability because I thought that was the right thing for me to do, and it was a bit of challenge making the fit work to be able to accommodate the disability. But once we got that piece sorted out and we got that done, I got this great employee. I got an employee who is smart, who is motivated, who wants to succeed, who is grateful and thankful for an opportunity and who works incredibly hard.”

They said: “It’s no longer about meeting a social responsibility. I just got a great asset for my company that really adds to the value of my company.” These are the kinds of people and these are the business leaders that we’re looking to get out to talk to their colleagues, counterparts and peers about that reality.

As we hear across the province about the shortage of workers in many sectors, we have tens of thousands of persons with disabilities who can take on many, many of those jobs and go to work and support our economy, support themselves and support the businesses that will employ them. We just simply have to make that connection for people. As we do that work, I’m confident that we’re going to be successful in putting many more folks to work in that community.

As we’ve worked through the consultation process, we also are looking very much on the poverty-reduction side. We are looking at a second track.

We all were out with Paul Lacerte on the Moose Hide Campaign today, but I remember when Paul was in his previous work, heading up the friendship centres in British Columbia, and Paul coming and talking to me about an urban Aboriginal strategy. We know that about 80 percent of Indigenous people, of First Nations people, live off reserve, mostly in our urban communities. It was about: “How do we support them?” The challenges many of those folks are facing, for a variety of reasons, are significant, and they’re complex.

We’re working with the friendship centres, with the leadership council, with the health council and others to build a strategy that’s made to meet those needs.

We’ve got the friendship centres out working with us and the Métis Nation also out working with us on this work, to develop a strategy that focuses that community as well — very excited about that. As I said, this work will proceed over the coming months and will culminate in legislation, in my hope, and a plan this fall.

The other things that we’re working on around this are to deal with issues related to looking at questions around basic income and, of course, around homelessness and the issues of homelessness — a struggle that we’ve seen many people try to address. It’s a struggle that just seems to get more challenging every day and more challenging in community after community every day. Again, it’s nothing that is exclusive to larger urban centres. It seems to be a challenge in every community in our province, which we need to focus on and address.

You’ll see more work related to that coming in the future months, with myself and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing working together around a strategy to deal with those questions and to move forward to begin to take on the challenge of homelessness.

All of these issues are issues that require resources. We’ve talked a lot about resources, and you’re going to see how we deal with some of those issues in the budget as well, as we move forward. In order to get those things done, we have challenges that we face that are difficult, and the government is dealing with those difficult challenges in ways that will, hopefully, get them under control.

The one that is in the forefront right now and we have laid out the plan for, of course, is ICBC. We were told before the election that there would be an $11 million deficit. That, of course, turned into about $1.3 billion.

We now were told about reports that…. I haven’t read it yet, but I see the Vancouver Sun or the Globe and Mail, one of them, found a copy of the 2014 report and released an unredacted copy of the report. I look forward to reading that. I haven’t read that. I believe that’s the report that a previous Finance Minister decided to tear seven pages out of, which said: “This requires immediate action, and here’s what you need to do.”

We’ll see, but that’s the challenge we have. We did have a government that told us one thing, yet the facts turned out to be something terribly different. That’s just a simple reality, and it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, but it is the reality. That’s one of a number of examples of the challenges that we face.

We’ve seen these challenges time and again. We have a government that will address those challenges, will take on the tough issues and that won’t be burying reports from the public so that they don’t know the real situation but will put it out in front of people and make the tough decisions, as we’ve made, moving forward on the ICBC file.

It’s an exciting time. When I talk to people around the province, and it’s great to have the opportunity to do that, I hear a lot of excitement for where we’re going as a government. Mostly, the excitement that I hear is excitement about a government that is prepared to engage the people of British Columbia in a conversation about what they envision to be the future — that is prepared to talk to British Columbians about issues and about how they feel about those issues and about what solutions they believe are necessary.

They’re not looking to say: “You have to do everything that I suggest or not that.” Instead, what they’re saying is: “Talk to me, and talk to me in a sincere conversation. Have a sincere conversation with me. Be honest with me. Be frank with me. Tell me about the challenges, and together we will work through those challenges.” That’s what the people of British Columbia are looking for, and I think that’s exactly where we’re going.

We’re going to have great opportunities to do that. We’re going to see a debate that’s going to lead up to, this fall, the question of proportional representation. That’s going to be a pretty exciting debate, I think. That’s going to be a debate about how power rests in this place. It’s going to be a debate about how we move forward on those issues. It will be vigorous on both sides.

I am confident that the people of British Columbia will make the decision to try something new, to go to proportional representation. I hope that they do. I support that initiative, and I hope that we get there. But it will be a decision for British Columbians to make, as it appropriately should be.

As we move forward, heading through the throne speech into this 2018 spring session, I’m excited. I’m excited about the opportunities. I’m excited about the energy of the government. I’m excited about the future that we’re going to lay out, the vision that we have for the path forward for the province around affordability, around essential services, around an economy that works for everyone, with jobs that can support families.

That’s the plan. That’s where we’re going to go moving forward. I believe that British Columbians will be excited about it. I believe that British Columbians will embrace the vision that we lay out. I think that it’s going to be a good year for British Columbians and a good year for this Legislature and a good year for the province overall.

With that, I’ll take my seat.

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