Hansard — Monday, April 12, 2010 p.m. — Volume 13, Number 7 (HTML) (2024)

2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
HANSARD

The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.

The printed version remains the official version.


official report of

Debates of the Legislative Assembly

(hansard)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Afternoon Sitting

Volume 13, Number 7

CONTENTS

Page

Routine Business

Statements

4105

Condolences for victims of Polish airplane accident

Hon. G. Campbell

Introductions by Members

4105

Tributes

4105

Chester Johnson

Hon. G. Campbell

Statements

4105

Condolences for victims of Polish airplane accident

C. James

Introductions by Members

4105

Tributes

4106

B.C. elementary schools table tennis championships

R. Lee

Statements (Standing Order 25B)

4106

Terry Fox

D. Horne

Vaisakhi parade and celebrations

H. Bains

G.P. Vanier Secondary School improv theatre championship win

D. McRae

National Environmental Education Week

R. Fleming

Telestroke program at Chilliwack General Hospital

J. Les

Turban-tying competition in Surrey

S. Hammell

Tabling Documents

4109

Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on Recommendations for Legislative Change

Oral Questions

4109

Role of T. Richard Turner in B.C. Place roof project

C. James

Hon. G. Campbell

Hon. K. Krueger

S. Chandra Herbert

B. Ralston

N. Macdonald

J. Kwan

B.C. Liberal Party fundraising with independent power producers

J. Horgan

Hon. B. Lekstrom

R. Fleming

Funding for farmworker safety programs

R. Chouhan

Hon. M. Coell

School district funding and staffing levels

R. Austin

Hon. M. MacDiarmid

Status of therapeutics initiative

A. Dix

Hon. K. Falcon

Petitions

4114

M. Sather

N. Macdonald

Orders of the Day

Second Reading of Bills

4114

Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act (continued)

B. Routley

J. McIntyre

D. Routley

D. Horne

D. Thorne

Hon. R. Hawes

N. Simons

Hon. P. Bell

C. Trevena

Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room

Committee of Supply

4149

Estimates: Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (continued)

Hon. S. Thomson

K. Corrigan

L. Popham

B. Simpson

V. Huntington

D. Donaldson

R. Chouhan

J. Brar

H. Bains

M. Sather


[ Page 4105 ]

MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010

The House met at 1:35 p.m.

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

Statements

CONDOLENCES FOR VICTIMS
OF POLISH AIRPLANE ACCIDENT

Hon. G. Campbell: On behalf of all British Columbians, I'd like to express our condolences to the people of Poland for the tragic losses they suffered in this weekend's plane crash in Russia. The terrible crash killed 96, including Poland's President, Lech Kaczynski. Those who perished in the crash included top government aides and lawmakers, military personnel, religious representatives, national historic figures and many more. The plane was travelling to Katyn to make the 70th anniversary of the horrific 1940 massacre of Polish officials during World War II.

British Columbians of Polish descent are in mourning today, and I know that this Legislature would like to send out our prayers and best wishes to all of them. I ask all British Columbians to think of them in their hearts and prayers as well. This is a difficult time for the Polish people, and I'd like them to know that they have the support of British Columbia's Legislature — all of us here — and the people of British Columbia as they work to overcome this incredible tragedy that's taken place at the heart of their nation.

Introductions by Members

Hon. G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, I am also pleased today to stand here and welcome back to the precinct the current CKNW radio host Christy Clark, a former member of this Legislature, a former Minister of Education. She's joining us here in Victoria to help promote Pink Shirt Day, an important day to raise awareness of bullying and to help remove it from our society.

This Pink Shirt Day is on April 14, and I know we'll all be participating. We all have an important part to play to ensure that bullying stops here in our lives, in our institutions and in our communities. I look forward to seeing all of our MLAs in their pink shirts. I thank Ms. Clark for helping raise awareness of this issue, and I ask the House to please make her welcome.

Tributes

CHESTER JOHNSON

Hon. G. Campbell: Finally, it is with sadness and regret that I rise to inform the House of the passing of a great British Columbian. Chester Johnson passed away last month.

Chester was a great builder, a determined visionary and one of the best friends the province of British Columbia could have asked for. He was someone who saw the potential of our province and, most importantly, the potential of the people who live here, and he always helped us reach for that potential.

He led the evolution of Whistler from a small resort town to an internationally renowned tourist destination. He helped us win the right to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He was the chair of B.C. Hydro. He was the chair of the Vancouver Airport Authority, and he was a leader in the forest industry.

Chester always put the public interest ahead of his own personal interests. He's been recognized with some of the highest honours that British Columbia and Canada have to offer: the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and the Queen's 50th anniversary medal.

Chester will be missed by his friends and his family, but his memory will live forever in British Columbia.

Statements

CONDOLENCES FOR VICTIMS
OF POLISH AIRPLANE ACCIDENT

C. James: I'd like to add our condolences to the people of Poland. This truly is a time when you see the strength of our global world and our global communities, when you have seen people from the Polish community and all people of the world come together to pass along our sympathies and our regrets to the people of Poland for this incredible plane crash and incredible tragedy for their country.

This plane, as was said by the Premier, not only had the President of Poland and his wife but also government officials, business leaders, community leaders from Poland, so this truly is a tragedy. I want to pass along, as the people of Poland mourn and as Polish communities across British Columbia mourn, that our thoughts and prayers will be with all of them as the country rebuilds and as they go through this tragedy.

Introductions by Members

L. Reid: We are joined today by some students from Linfield College in Oregon. They are in fact part of a comparative politics class, and they are studying Canada. They see this field trip as an opportunity to see our system in action as well as to have direct interactions with Canadian politicians and citizens in order to better understand Canadian politics, political culture and Canada-U.S. relations.

It was my pleasure to speak with them this morning. They asked fabulous questions. They're joined by their
[ Page 4106 ]
professor, Dawn Nowacki, and I'd ask the House to please make them welcome.

Hon. S. Bond: I'm delighted today to have as a guest in the Legislature someone who has been an absolutely exceptional public servant. He actually has a distinguished career with over 38 years with the provincial government. The majority of that time was spent with the Ministry of Transportation, or Highways, and he has done exemplary work.

[1340]

He has been a regional director in all three Ministry of Transportation regions — so all across the province — and one of his final projects was actually working on the Olympic rings project. He was responsible for the thinking and design in the LED Olympic lights and then turning them very quickly into agitos for the Paralympics, a spectacular accomplishment of which he is very proud.

I know that you would want to help me today in honouring Tracy Cooper. Many of you know him, I know. He's done a great job for all of us in British Columbia. As a side note, I want you to know that on Monday, Tracy has qualified and will be running in the Boston Marathon. So congratulations.

Hon. M. Polak: Joining us in the House today are Louise Smith, Bret Rob, Penny Petersen, Robin McNaughton and Sue Khazaie. I had the pleasure of getting to know each of them along with their colleague Rod Santiago over the lunch hour, learning more about the services provided by Abbotsford Community Services. Would the House please make them welcome.

N. Simons: It's a pleasure today to introduce in the House my constituency assistant from Davis Bay, part of the lower Sunshine Coast. She is a former child protection social worker, and she's been excellent at both those employments. I'd like to ask the House to please welcome her here today — Kim Tournat.

J. Les: I have the very great pleasure to announce the arrival of another granddaughter. Ashlyn Elizabeth Kooyman was born on the 2nd of April, on Good Friday. She clocked in at about eight pounds. She's doing very well. She's the first little girl for my daughter Sharon and her husband, Ron, and of course a little sister for her big brother, Nicholas. I'd like everyone to help me welcome her into the world.

N. Simons: I also want to acknowledge the Minister of Community and Rural Development and the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport, along with the Leader of the Opposition and MLAs from the opposition who were all in attendance in Powell River at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities.

I'd like to also acknowledge Lori Blackman and the city staff of Powell River along with the mayor and council for doing an excellent job. The concert in the evening was wonderful. Don James, Order of Canada recipient, conducted a wonderful choir. Lovely singing, Celtic music. It was enjoyed by everyone, and I'd like to thank the city of Powell River on behalf of the House.

Hon. B. Stewart: It gives me great honour to introduce His Worship Mayor Doug Findlater from the newest municipality in British Columbia, the district of West Kelowna, and his chief administrative officer, Jason Johnson, who are here in the precinct today to do work and meet with other ministers.

S. Cadieux: I have the great pleasure today of introducing my first guest in the House. In the gallery today is one of my best friends and my mother, Patricia Homewood. Please make her welcome.

Tributes

B.C. ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
TABLE TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS

R. Lee: I would like the House to join me to congratulate my daughter, Leanne Lee, for winning the B.C. Elementary Schools Table Tennis Championships.

Statements
(Standing Order 25B)

TERRY FOX

D. Horne: One of the Tri-Cities' and Canada's most well-known citizens is being remembered today. Thirty years ago today, Terry Fox began his remarkable journey, dipping his foot into the Atlantic Ocean and beginning his journey to go across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

[1345]

Terry was determined to raise $1 million, a feat which many at the time saw as overly ambitious. It didn't take long for the nation to get behind this young man and his cause. Terry spent 143 days running a total of 5,300 kilometres, a marathon each and every day. The Marathon of Hope was to raise more than $24 million in just two years. This equalled a dollar for every Canadian at that time. Terry received the Order of Canada in a ceremony in Port Coquitlam, and the province honoured Terry with the highest award, the Order of the Dogwood.

The Terry Fox Foundation is responsible for raising close to $20 million for cancer research each year, totalling more than $500 million worldwide. The recent tribute to Terry Fox at the Paralympic Games provided an opportunity to witness not only his contribution
[ Page 4107 ]
to cancer research in Canada but his stature globally. Thanks to Terry Fox and the money that his dream continues to raise each year, we have made huge steps forward in beating this disease, but there's still much work to be done.

VAISAKHI PARADE AND CELEBRATIONS

H. Bains: I am pleased to stand here today to talk about Ross Street Temple Vaisakhi parade. This Saturday the Sikh community joined together in Vancouver to celebrate Vaisakhi, the birth of Khalsa, and many members of this House also were on hand to participate in this event.

People of all ages, of all backgrounds, came together to celebrate the rich history of the contribution of the Sikh community. There were children playing the dhol. Many community clubs and the Indo-Canadian Vancouver police officers were taking part in the parade. Family and friends were out together, handing out free food and drinks to all, and live performances took place at various stages along the parade route.

The vibrant festival of Vaisakhi is considered to be an extremely important festival in India for a number of reasons. Apart from being important for the farmers as a harvest festival, the festival is of prime importance in Sikhism as a foundation day of Khalsa Panth.

In 1699 something happened in a tiny village called Anand Pur Sahib where the tenth guru of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, decided to end the structure that separated and divided the society for centuries on the basis of caste. He did not only preach those words but put a structure in place for the coming generations to follow. He brought out five Piaras from five different castes, and after serving them amrit, he asked them to serve him the same.

Then after giving them all the same name, Singh, he declared the end of the caste system and started a society that is based on equality where everyone would be valued based on their character rather than what social structure they belonged to.

This year tens of thousands of people came out to celebrate the 311th year of the Khalsa. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the executive members of the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver and hundreds of volunteers for their hard work in organizing yet another very successful community event, which showed the values of these efforts. There's another one coming this Saturday, on April 17, in Surrey, and I invite all of you to come and join us in Surrey for another wonderful event.

G.P. VANIER SECONDARY SCHOOL
IMPROV THEATRE CHAMPIONSHIP WIN

D. McRae: I want to congratulate G.P. Vanier Secondary School's improv team on winning its second national championship in the past two years. The team has been competing for several years now under the brilliant tutelage of teacher Lori Mazey and local theatre guru Robinson Wilson. These two individuals have taken a combination of skills, focus and fun to help make Vanier a theatre powerhouse.

To reach the national championships, Vanier had to compete at the Vancouver Island regional championships against eight other schools, and then after winning there, they travelled to Ottawa in March to compete in the nationals.

At the national tournament 20 teams from 14 regions came together to vie for the title. Vanier was dominant on March 24, winning their semifinals by 60 points. The top five teams from the semis then competed on March 27 in the finals. Vanier ended that night with 1,074 points which assured them first place. Close behind them, with 20 points behind, was Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute.

The Vanier team was made up of captains Anthea Morritt, Paige Fraser, Kristie Gunther; players Alyssa Bell, Connor Lucas, Jasmine Ruff, Andraya Walters, Dylan Sullivan, Dan Comeau, Mallory Gibson, Bri Summers, Chloe Naswell; and team alternates Alex Christensen and Ian McConnell.

I've had the privilege of knowing many members of this team. I know their hard work and passion that they bring to the sport. Not only are these great young men and women, but they are skilled at improv, and they're also great role models in the community.

I've been fortunate to have a long relationship with G.P. Vanier. I went to preschool there. I graduated from the school, and I taught there for 14 years. The school has always had a strong academic and athletic tradition. The impressive trades programs have given countless students both job skills and confidence to enter the workforce, and the school also has a very strong tradition in nurturing the arts.

[1350]

G.P. Vanier's winning the national improv tournament only serves to reinforce the importance that the school and the community place on the arts. I'd like this chamber to congratulate the students, their coaches and parents, the community who came together and helped the school and the performers win this honour.

national ENVIRONMENTAL
EDUCATION WEEK

R. Fleming: National Environmental Education Week takes place this week from April 11 to 17. This year's theme is "Be water and energy wise," which speaks to our need for greater conservation in our lives, in our homes, in our places of work and in our businesses.

This is the largest organized environmental education event in North America. Environmental Education
[ Page 4108 ]
Week increases the educational impact of Earth Day later this month by creating a full week of educational preparation, learning and activities in K-to-12 classrooms and in places like nature centres and zoos, museums and aquariums.

By participating in Environmental Education Week, students in my constituency and elsewhere across this province are being encouraged to make a difference in their schools and communities. World Fisheries Trust, which is a local non-profit education organization in my community, hosted the kickoff event at the Gorge waterway education centre yesterday on Sunday, April 11, from 1 to 3 p.m., to begin National Environmental Education Week in Victoria.

Along with the Galiano Conservancy, the Sierra Club and the compost education centre, this week they will be showcasing hands-on education programs and displays that will be available in a variety of public locations and in our schools. The event is designed to celebrate and build awareness about the many opportunities for our citizens to be part of environmental education and stewardship in the capital region.

With very limited funding, the Gorge waterway education centre has seen over 500 people volunteer their time and come through their doors in less than two years. The centre has delivered over 40 different programs to nearly a thousand students and community members who are now trained, knowledgable and skilled in environmental stewardship. They're aware that we live in a time of climate change and adaptation.

Mr. Speaker, I invite all members of this House to join me in applauding the grass-roots organization, the sponsors and the many volunteers who put the 2010 event together. I also want to take this opportunity in the House today to express my support for the great work that the Gorge waterway education centre has been doing.

TELESTROKE PROGRAM AT
CHILLIWACK GENERAL HOSPITAL

J. Les: Last Friday I had the opportunity to play the role of a stroke victim to help launch the Telestroke initiative at the Chilliwack General Hospital. Although I was fortunately only acting, I was able to put myself into the shoes of someone who had experienced a stroke.

Telestroke allows neurology specialists at a tertiary hospital to examine, diagnose and help treat patients at other hospitals. With Telestroke a patient is able to "see" a specialist within minutes of arriving in emergency. Doctors at Chilliwack General connect by video conference with neurologists working out of Vancouver General Hospital and consult directly in order to make quick decisions for their stroke patients. The faster a stroke is treated, the less brain and neurological damage a patient will sustain.

Telestroke is an excellent technology with incredible outcomes. It brings specialists and doctors hundreds of kilometres apart face to face, and it bridges the gap between patients and the very best specialists available. I know that Chilliwack General is excited to have Telestroke available, and they can now ensure that it is able to offer patients the best care possible while often avoiding the need to transfer patients by ambulance to Vancouver and elsewhere.

As for me, I'm glad I was only acting the part of a stroke patient. But it is reassuring to know that Telestroke is there for our community. In the past I've personally seen how friends and acquaintances have been devastated by the results of a stroke. Telestroke will help to alleviate and avoid those impacts for many patients and their families. For that, many people in Chilliwack will be very grateful.

TURBAN-TYING COMPETITION
IN SURREY

S. Hammell: Hon. Speaker, about 3,000 people from the diverse city of Surrey and the surrounding communities came together to enjoy the eighth annual turban-tying contest or competition. There were six different categories of competitors based on age.

The contestants tying their turbans were judged on the form, the time taken and on not allowing the seven metres of cloth to touch the floor. The form a well-tied turban will take, as I have now learned, is having the cloth's apex right in the centre of the forehead with neat and equally spaced folds. A well-tied turban will not allow one strand of hair from the head to be shown under the turban.

[1355]

The Surrey turban-tying contest is the largest of its kind in North America and was covered by the ethnic and the mainstream provincial media. The event was also attended by celebrities from the sports and entertainment fields, and the odd politician also wandered through. Kuldip Singh with Radio Sher-E-Punjab describes the event as religious, cultural and educational for Sikh and non-Sikh alike.

The idea for the competition grew out of the negative reaction shown by some to people wearing turbans after the terrorist attack in the U.S. on September 11. There was then much confusion between the Sikh and the Taliban, who both wear turbans. Radio Sher-E-Punjab felt a turban-tying contest might draw attention to the ritual of the dastar, and the competition was meant to develop self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence. The competition encourages kids that it's okay to be different.

Hon. Speaker, kudos to Sher-E-Punjab radio station for conceiving the idea and organizing the contest. I invite everyone to the ninth annual next year.
[ Page 4109 ]

Tabling Documents

Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on Recommendations for Legislative Change.

Oral Questions

ROLE OF T. RICHARD TURNER IN
B.C. PLACE ROOF PROJECT

C. James: Every employee and appointee of government has to live up to a code of conduct. The code of conduct says that an employee is in conflict if he or she "benefits from or is reasonably perceived by the public to have benefited from a government transaction over which he or she can influence decisions."

My question is to the Premier. Does he agree with this code of conduct?

Hon. G. Campbell: Yes, hon. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.

C. James: As chair of ICBC, T. Richard Turner is vested with the public trust. He heads up one of the most important Crown corporations in the province. As such, he has a responsibility to live up to the highest standard. Yet Mr. Turner called the Minister of Tourism in connection with a decision about a major government project awarded to a company in which he was a director, a project that involved hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

My question is to the Premier. Does he see anything wrong with that, or is that acceptable conduct from a government appointee?

Hon. K. Krueger: The Leader of the Opposition must be aware that her critic put this matter before the registrar of lobbyists last week, having thoroughly canvassed it with me before that. It is now inappropriate for us to discuss the matter in this chamber.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.

C. James: I don't suppose it would surprise the public to find out that this government doesn't believe it's appropriate to talk about a code of conduct. Ethics are important to the public, and the government should be talking about it.

According to news reports over the weekend, T. Richard Turner said that after the May election he became concerned that the province might be waffling over the retractable roof. He and his fellow directors decided: "I should call the minister responsible. We decided it was my role this time around." Mr. Turner, the chair of ICBC, was handpicked by Paragon to lobby the minister.

Again, my question is to the Premier. Is this the conduct of a chair of a major Crown corporation? Is that conduct acceptable to this Premier and his government?

Hon. K. Krueger: Is there anything ethical about laying a matter, submitting a complaint to the registrar of lobbyists and then wanting to interfere with his work by raising the matter subsequently in this House?

S. Chandra Herbert: Let's look at the facts. The Minister of Tourism confirmed that he got a call on his cell phone from Mr. Turner urging him to ensure that the $563 million project for the retractable roof would go ahead as it was, according to the minister, essential for Mr. Turner's casino company.

[1400]

My question is to the minister. Over a week ago the minister promised this House that he would provide more information on Mr. Turner's role. Will the minister stand up today and tell this House what meetings with government were organized by Mr. Turner, who attended, what was discussed and when did those meetings happen — as the minister promised to share with the House?

Hon. K. Krueger: When the critic for the official opposition submitted his complaint to the registrar of lobbyists, surely he laid out his questions and the things that he believes in that submission.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

S. Chandra Herbert: I guess it should come as no surprise that this government wouldn't understand a question about ethics and a code of conduct and refuses to release information on this deal which they promised to release to this House.

Again, my question to the minister: what's there to hide? Release the dates. Release the meeting information. Release who was there. This is what the minister promised within estimates debate two weeks ago. Why doesn't he do it today?

Hon. K. Krueger: What comes as no surprise is that this opposition cannot follow the rules of the House as they've failed to follow other rules all their lives.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

B. Ralston: The Minister of Tourism made a public commitment here in the Legislature to release the infor-
[ Page 4110 ]
mation that my colleague has set out. These are objective facts about meetings that took place, who arranged them and when they took place. So they're uniquely in the possession of the minister and his ministry. Why will the minister not release those to the public as he promised to do here in the Legislature more than a week ago?

Hon. K. Krueger: The matter was canvassed between the critic and myself the week before last. A commitment was made that PavCo would provide a letter within two weeks. Two weeks is next Wednesday, and he will have his letter.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

B. Ralston: Mr. Turner's office as the chair of a major public Crown corporation carries a great deal of public trust. It's a very important office in the province, and it's important that that office and those duties be discharged with integrity. So my question is to the Premier. If the actions of Mr. Turner don't violate the code of conduct, what would?

Hon. K. Krueger: This matter has been put before the registrar of lobbyists on a complaint by the critic. We will fully cooperate with the registrar of lobbyists, who is now responsible to investigate this matter. The opposition should really know better than to be following this line of questioning, let alone attack an honourable servant of British Columbia in this chamber in their typical cowardly way.

I suggest that the opposition Finance critic should take himself out in the hallway and make those accusations so that Mr. Turner can defend himself appropriately.

N. Macdonald: Well, I think we've all heard some ridiculous defences in this House, but this has got to top the list. The fact of the matter is that this minister knows what has taken place here.

Let's be clear. T. Richard Turner is not only a B.C. Liberal insider and donor, T. Richard Turner not only has a financial interest in the casino that we're talking about, but he is also in this case — and, I think, most importantly for this House — chair of ICBC. There is a code of conduct that he should be living up to. He is not. Does the minister think it is acceptable that that take place?

Hon. K. Krueger: This opposition has told us before that they can come to conclusions about environmental assessments before they're over, court actions before they're over. Now they refer a matter to the registrar of lobbyists and then want to pursue it in this forum.

[1405]

What is going to be required for this opposition to understand how to do its job after all these years?

Interjection.

Mr. Speaker: Member.

The member has a supplemental.

N. Macdonald: A fairly straightforward question. Does the minister feel that the code of conduct was followed?

Hon. K. Krueger: Well, this member, like the one who questioned before him, should take his false and scurrilous and cowardly behaviour out in the hallway. If he wants to level accusations at Mr. Turner or any other civil servant, he should go out there where he's in a forum where they can speak for themselves, because his group, the opposition, have made sure that it's now inappropriate for me to answer questions in this House.

J. Kwan: I have a straight-up question for the Minister of Tourism. Could he please advise this House if Mr. Turner followed the code of conduct set out by this government?

Hon. K. Krueger: This member has been in this House longer than anyone else on those benches, except the member two seats to her right, and she surely knows better than to try and pursue this line of questioning when her colleague has put the matter in a complaint to the registrar of lobbyists.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

J. Kwan: The Premier just confirmed that an employee is in conflict if he or she benefits from or is reasonably perceived by the public to have benefited from a government transaction over which he or she can influence decisions.

My question to the minister is quite simple. It's not about the registrar's office or the lobbyists registration; it's about the government's own set of code of conduct. In the minister's opinion, did Mr. Turner violate the government's own set of code of conduct that's set out by his employees?

Hon. K. Krueger: The opinion that matters now is the opinion of the registrar of lobbyists, to whom the opposition has referred this question.

B.C. LIBERAL PARTY FUNDRAISING WITH
INDEPENDENT POWER PRODUCERS

J. Horgan: Let's just see how elastic our ethics on that side of the House can be. On January 18 of this year, on the eve of the announcement of which companies would be awarded contracts by B.C. Hydro, the Minister of Energy and the Minister for Climate Action held a fundraiser. An invitation was sent from the Independent Power Producers of B.C. to all of its members saying: "This will be an opportunity for IPPBC members to spend time with the ministers."
[ Page 4111 ]

My question is to the Premier. Does he believe it's appropriate on the eve of announcing contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for his ministers to shake down those very companies for donations?

Hon. B. Lekstrom: As I said before, we've canvassed the issue of how contracts are looked at by B.C. Hydro. It's a very rigorous process. They go through it. I have the utmost respect and confidence in the men and women that do that work. There are independent evaluators of these contracts that are looked at. I think they do an incredible job.

I think all British Columbians should be thankful for the work that they do on all of our behalf, and I have the utmost confidence and the utmost trust in the people that look at those contracts before determining whether to award or not award a contract.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

J. Horgan: Well, today we learned that ten of the 14 firms that were awarded energy purchase agreements this year over the past five years had given $385,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party — not an insignificant amount of money.

Again, my question is to the Premier, and it's, again, a very simple one, and it goes to the heart of the ethics of his government. Does he believe it's appropriate for his ministers to shake down procurement possibilities from companies that are bidding on clean calls at B.C. Hydro?

[1410]

Hon. B. Lekstrom: I find it interesting that the member seems to be somewhat opposed to clean, green energy. But if you're alleging something inappropriate, I would encourage you to go outside and make those, because those allegations are not…. What I will follow through with is….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.

Continue, Minister.

Hon. B. Lekstrom: I do find it somewhat hypocritical from his comments when, in fact, one of these companies that made, as the member indicated, significant contributions to the government has made a significant contribution to the NDP on the eve of the last election. So do your homework, Member.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

R. Fleming: We know that this party pocketed a whopping $600,000 in IPP-related donations in 2009, and here, on the eve of an award for multi-billion-dollar contracts, we have the B.C. Liberal Party taking the opportunity to organize yet another fundraising shakedown.

The minister doesn't see a problem in any of this, but I want to ask the minister here today. Will he tell us, on the eve of issuing these electricity contracts, how much did his party shake down from energy companies in January 2010, and will he disclose that in the House here today?

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Just take your seat for a second.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Minister.

Hon. B. Lekstrom: Let me start off again by reiterating that the process that is used to evaluate these contracts is very rigorous. It is reviewed by independent third parties — someone that I think all of us can have a great deal of respect and time for. I have that respect for most British Columbians, to be honest. I think everybody goes out and tries to build a better province. I think all of us in this building are doing that.

But let me go back. It's extremely interesting, and I won't lose the opportunity. I'm going to encourage the member to do his homework here — to go back and check to see the donations that these energy companies gave to the New Democrat Party prior to the last election. Please do that, Member.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

R. Fleming: The minister doesn't get it. People in British Columbia trust B.C. Hydro. They do not trust this government. British Columbians know how this government works. When a donor wants a retractable roof as part of a bid process, he phones a cabinet minister. When a minister wants to raise cash from an industry that's waiting for contracts, when a minister wants to raise money….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Minister.

Members.

R. Fleming: When a minister wants to raise….
[ Page 4112 ]

Mr. Speaker: Just wait. Just take your seat for a second.

Continue, Member.

R. Fleming: When a minister wants to raise cash from an industry that's waiting on contracts, the B.C. Liberal Party targets them for a shakedown.

[1415]

Now, the minister said that he would like to see…. He criticized parties for taking donations. Well, I would like to hear the minister's opinion on this. People are tired of big money running politics. They're tired of it running this government.

Will the minister put on the record today…? Will he support cleaning up his clean power call by banning corporate and union donations to political parties in British Columbia altogether for all time?

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: We're not going to continue, Minister.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Minister.

Hon. B. Lekstrom: First of all, we should clarify that as he indicated in his talk, I didn't criticize fundraising. I think both sides of this House utilize fundraising. That's part of the political process.

What I do want to capture is something we do agree on. People do trust B.C. Hydro. I think it's a great Crown corporation, one our party fully supports, and we also support clean, green energy development.

I'm not quite sure. I think the member's a little bit confused. He gets up and asks a question about fundraising, about how that could actually affect an EPA, when in fact it's B.C. Hydro — and independent people that B.C. Hydro contracts to — that evaluates the energy purchase agreements, looks at them, does their due diligence and then makes a recommendation to move those forward or not.

FUNDING FOR
FARMWORKER SAFETY PROGRAMS

R. Chouhan: While the Minister of Labour claimed that he has taken action on recommendations from the coroner's jury into the tragic deaths of three farmworkers, the minister's words just don't match with his action. This year the B.C. Liberals are cutting programs like the voluntary inspection check program. The inspection rate has been reduced by 60 percent since 2007.

To the Minister of Labour: how can he say that he's taking actions to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future when he's cutting funding to the program which saves workers' lives?

Hon. M. Coell: I'd first like to reiterate my condolences to the families who lost relatives in that tragic accident and also to the people who were hurt.

We take the coroner's report very seriously. We have responded to it, but I would remind the member that in 2007 we had an integrated approach to farmworker safety. We have a testing program that has tested over a thousand vehicles. In 2007, 30 percent of those vehicles failed. In 2008, 11 percent failed. In 2009, 10 percent failed. The latest survey is 4 percent failed. We're working to get compliance with this program, and it's working.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

R. Chouhan: The reality is that the minister's own interagency that was established in 2007 has recommended that these programs must continue to save the lives of farmworkers. They have not done it. In fact, the government is now cutting funding for all of these programs, including the voluntary inspection in the field for these vans.

My question again: if the minister is serious about protecting farmworkers, why is he cutting the funding for these programs which really protect farmworkers' lives?

Hon. M. Coell: I think the member knows that we legislated the use of seatbelts in all of those vehicles. We have checked, as I said, over a thousand of them. We continue to check, with an integrated strategy. We're getting compliance. Compliance is what will save lives in the future.

[1420]

SCHOOL DISTRICT FUNDING AND
STAFFING LEVELS

R. Austin: Last week school districts around B.C. announced cuts to address shortfalls in education funding. Here are a few examples: Vancouver school district, 30 job cuts in instructional support staff and 113 teaching staff; Saanich school district, 23 full-time, including 13 teaching positions; Kamloops, 30 teachers, five principals and 21 support staff; Richmond, over 100 positions.

My question to the minister is this: how do these cuts that directly affect the classroom square with the B.C. Liberals' commitment to protect public education?

Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Let's start with something that we agree on. The member opposite said on March 17 — this is the critic for Education, "We have one of the best public education systems, probably, in the world," and that's….
[ Page 4113 ]

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.

Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Let's talk about one of the districts that the member opposite has mentioned. That's the Vancouver school district, a district that is facing significant enrolment decline, as are many other districts around the province. This is a district that has, actually, 7,000 empty spaces. Like many places around the province, there are classrooms that are 50, 60, 70, 80 percent empty. Imagine a school where eight out of every ten classrooms are empty.

There is no question that this is difficult, and it makes things difficult for districts. It means we have to do things differently.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

R. Austin: It's true. We do agree on that. But here's the difference. On this side we want to protect it. On that side you want to chip away at it.

Here's what the former dean of education at Simon Fraser, Professor Shaker, has to say: "The cutting that's gone on in the past couple of years has been severe, and now they're in a kind of crisis management. I think they're desperate. There's just no place to go. They're cutting to bare bones. What was a school system in British Columbia that the world would come to study is now going on life support."

Again to the minister: are these cuts to teaching staff your idea of protecting education in this province?

Hon. M. MacDiarmid: There is no question that school districts around the province are working hard for the students in this province and that they are challenged. It is largely because of the profound loss of students we've had. By this fall we're expecting thousands and thousands fewer students — probably 60,000 fewer students.

Let's talk about some of the things that have been said by school districts. Today the former NDP Minister of Education, Paul Ramsey, had this to say. This is what he had to say about the claims the Vancouver school board is making: "The shortfall is a fiction on paper. It's not a real deficit. It's a wonderful game that school districts use to jam Ministers of Education."

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat, Minister.

Members.

Continue, Minister.

Hon. M. MacDiarmid: In fact, we've increased education funding this year for the ninth year in a row, and I'd like to point out that the last time the Vancouver school board saw a reduction in their funding was in 1998-99 under the NDP.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

[1425]

STATUS OF THERAPEUTICS INITIATIVE

A. Dix: A question for the Minister of Health. UBC's therapeutics initiative has long put British Columbia on the cutting edge of prescription drug policy. The minister will know that. It's saved lives, and it's saved money. I think the minister may have heard it.

My question is very simple to the minister. This agency, the initiative, has garnered British Columbia an international reputation, and yet the government is getting rid of its role in the drug approval process and threatening its grant. Will the government restore the therapeutics initiative to its appropriate role in the drug approval process, and will it restore its grant this year?

Hon. K. Falcon: Actually, the member would know that in 2007 there was a Pharmaceutical Task Force. The Pharmaceutical Task Force was made up of eminent British Columbians. [Laughter.] Apparently, that's humorous to the members opposite. It looked at how we can ensure we have a rigorous, ongoing drug review process in British Columbia. What was recommended by….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Continue, Minister.

Hon. K. Falcon: What was recommended by the task force was that the review of new drugs should go through a process that is more transparent, more open, that includes patient input, that allows professionals with clinical expertise from around the world to also have an ability to have input into that process. But I'll tell you this. We will continue to have a very rigorous process for drug review in the province of British Columbia.

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

A. Dix: It's the fox in the chicken coop. The minister and the government put the chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry in charge to decide the fate of an agency which tries to constrain the excesses of the pharmaceutical industry. Not surprisingly, they recommended that the therapeutics initiative be eliminated.

This is an agency that saves lives, that garners international respect, and the minister wants to get rid of it.
[ Page 4114 ]
He wants to put British Columbia drug policy back. He wants to damage the long-term prospects for the entire public health system with this ridiculous decision. How can the minister justify putting the public interest so low on his list of priorities?

Hon. K. Falcon: Naturally, the NDP, of course, has already written his narrative. He ignores the fact that the dean of medicine at UBC was part of the committee, that a former Auditor General was part of the committee; ignores completely the recommendations coming out of the Pharmaceutical Task Force; believes, apparently, that there's no possibility whatsoever of improving processes.

The fact of the matter is that the new process will be rigorous, but it will also be transparent and open and will ensure that patients and other professionals have opportunity to have input into the review of drugs. That's exactly what's going to happen in British Columbia.

[End of question period.]

M. Sather: I seek leave to present a petition.

Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

Petitions

M. Sather: I have with me a petition signed by 500 folks in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows calling on the government to scrap the HST.

N. Macdonald: I have a bundle of petitions from Canal Flats against the HST. This should be getting towards the end of them, as we come into a different set of petitions that are going around on the HST.

Orders of the Day

Hon. M. de Jong: I call, in Committee A, Committee of Supply — for the information of members, the ongoing estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture — and, in this chamber, continued second reading debate on Bill 9.

[1430]

Second Reading of Bills

Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate
and Transition Act

(continued)

B. Routley: This HST is going to hurt, not help, British Columbians. More than 80 percent of British Columbians are opposed to this harmful tax. British Columbians are angry and feeling tricked by this government.

Clearly this Liberal government has no mandate to bring in the HST. During the election they said that the HST was not on their radar. That's what they said — not on their radar. And now this government has taken to flying under the radar.

[L. Reid in the chair.]

With an absolutely thundering reversal of their political position, they now intend to shake down all of the B.C. consumers — $1.9 billion of consumer tax just to start with, and then escalating billions after that. B.C. consumers are going to pay and pay and pay some more, year after year, day after day — tax, tax and more harmful tax.

And guess who's going to be benefiting. Guess who will be benefiting. If you would be thinking, "It's the people of British Columbia," you would be dead wrong, hon. Speaker. No, it's the multinational and corporate pals of this government who are going to be winning the HST lottery.

Interjection.

Deputy Speaker: Member.

B. Routley: They'll be receiving over $2 billion in tax cuts — truckloads of cash — all courtesy of the consumers of British Columbia, who will now be required to pay the former corporate tax bill of $1.9 billion. That's just to start with. Yes, that's the plan. As a result of this bill, this Liberal government will give the people of B.C. the tax bill for the corporate share of the provincial tax burden. That's what this bill will allow this government to do.

The tragic reality is that none of this harmful tax will even help to reduce this Liberal government's growing deficit. It won't help to reduce the B.C. debt, which is now headed towards $40 billion, and it will not help to reduce this province's $50 billion in contractual obligations.

This harmful tax. British Columbians will pay even more while the Liberals continue to slash, cut and destroy services to British Columbians. And they wonder why British Columbians are mad.

This harmful tax will be forced on all British Columbians. They're going to be forced to pay a lot more for a lot less service. British Columbians are already facing a multitude of cost increases that are coming at them in all directions. Bank reports show that consumer debt is already at record levels in British Columbia. Yet this government thinks they can just download billions more onto B.C. consumers, who are already stretched to the max. That is why so many British Columbians are frustrated and upset with this government. Consumers are already hurting.

With this HST, it's just more corporate welfare. This bill makes absolutely no sense in terms of helping British Columbians. This Liberal government is absolutely fix-
[ Page 4115 ]
ated on the notion that if they just give enough cash away to all their big multinational and corporate pals, surely they will reinvest here in B.C. and trickle down some things for British Columbians.

[1435]

Why, the Liberals are absolutely sure the big corporations will not use this cash to pay down corporate debt. Oh no. And they won't be hoarding any of the cash. They won't be using it to fatten up shareholder dividends or add to the bottom line. Oh no. Nor will they give big bonuses to their executive pay raises or themselves. Oh no. And they will not be taking any of this money and investing it in the United States or other provinces or overseas.

No, these Liberals believe that the CEOs are going to be sitting around the corporate board table almost right away making strategic plans on all the many wonderful ways that they're going to help to trickle down all this cash to the fine people of British Columbia. That is the fairy tale that they want us to believe in.

Does this government honestly believe they can simply give away buckets of money and somehow it's all going to work out best for the people of B.C.? Is this the best idea that they can come up with, acting in the public interest? It's shameful. It's absolutely awful.

This government apparently chooses to ignore global evidence, particularly that corporate profits and investments are running off to nations with lower costs, lower environmental standards, lower employment and safety standards. Does this Liberal government really think that they can win the race to the bottom? Is it their plan to lower provincial and community standards even further in some kind of rat race to the bottom? Is that where we're headed? And what about the trade imbalance, hon. Speaker?

The problem we have here in British Columbia, which points to this HST harmful tax, trickle-down theory failing on many fronts…. Financial reports continue to show that investment is not connected in any straight line to government tax reductions. In fact, while this government and the federal government were reducing corporate taxes, investment was fleeing North America and British Columbia for greener pastures.

This bill is not connected to investment in any way, shape or form. It's just a pure and simple gift to their corporate pals. That's what this is, and this harmful tax has created winners and losers amongst the B.C. business community.

With this harmful legislation and this bill, this government has not properly accounted for all the jobs that will be lost in restaurants, tourism, real estate, the new home construction and other HST-impacted businesses that will lose jobs as a result of these harmful tax increases. These businesses feel absolutely betrayed and misled by this government. This Liberal bunch during the election told them that the HST was not on their radar; it was not on their election platform. Then this government went back on their word.

This government has never even called for a proper independent study on the impact of the HST on the B.C. economy. They had not done any cost-benefit analysis on the application of the HST before they signed a deal with the federal government, continuing with no consultation, no debate, no transparency with the people of British Columbia.

You know, even the pundits are saying this government "has already poured suffering taxpayers a poison cup of vile swill called the HST, and now comes the foul-tasting chaser: a steaming tankard full of brutal fees and hikes" — everything from camping fees to ferry fares, hydro, Terasen Gas and transit. It's all going to cost taxpayers more, and yet this government's plan is to squeeze taxpayers even more. It's a plan that's failing. It's not going to work, and it's hurting British Columbians.

J. McIntyre: I'm delighted to take my place and have the opportunity to address the House today on Bill 9, although I have to say that not being a former union organizer, I don't think I can do it at quite the same volume, but I'll try. Maybe I'll try.

[1440]

I appreciate that debate today is on Bill 9, which basically repeals an embedded provincial sales tax and provides for transition to a harmonized sales tax, but having listened to members opposite for the last number of days in question period and even in estimates — where some of this subject doesn't even belong — and debate for days now, I've decided that I can no longer sit still and just listen to this rhetoric without trying to put it into some kind of context.

I'd like to focus my remarks today on the role of the NDP in this issue. I really believe it's important for viewers and the public to understand why the NDP is so critical and so intent on dragging out debate on an issue that is absolutely fundamental to economic recovery here in British Columbia. The NDP rhetoric and their actions all point to a single fact — that they're just merely exploiting this opportunity. So when we say "white," they just automatically say "black." We say yes; they automatically say no.

They never give credit where credit is due. I sat here for five years. They can never give credit to any kind of good idea. Also, I sit here and have often wondered when sometimes one by one, every member of the opposition stands up and speaks against a bill, and then they turn around at the vote and all stand up and vote for it. As far as I'm concerned, it's pretty weird in what our Minister of Health likes to call the NDP world.

I have to make an important point here. The Leader of the Opposition, after the last election about a year ago, admitted publicly…. I saw it on television. She admitted that they had made a terrible error in spending the last
[ Page 4116 ]
term only criticizing, just being negative and criticizing everything the government brought forward. I saw her promise to work on behalf of British Columbians and formulate a vision. Give us some alternatives. Give us positive alternatives. Let us see what the other side of the House has as a vision for this.

As I say, it's been almost a year. What have we seen? Absolutely nothing. Nothing. I am completely convinced that NDP really stands for "no discernible policy."

What does the NDP plan for economic recovery? We're in the worst recession since the Great Depression in the late '20s. Dead silence. What is the NDP plan for the forest industry? It's been on its knees. Dead silence. No, wait a minute. I think the best they came up with was ripping up the softwood accord. Can't believe it.

What's the NDP plan for mining? Oh yes, of course, they sent mining out of this province in the '90s — right? We had to work very, very hard to get investment back in this province after the NDP chased mining.

The HST is fundamental. It's a fundamental building block in helping us kick-start economic recovery. It's especially to our resource industries — right? This tax will remove about $140 million in costs for the forestry sector. It will remove about $80 million in costs for the mining and oil and gas sector, about $880 million removed from the construction sector and about $210 million estimated to be removed from the transportation sector.

These are forestry jobs, mining jobs, jobs that are in rural areas of this province. Resource-based communities depend on them. These are the very people that the NDP purport to represent. What are they doing? They're actually standing up here and blocking economic recovery. They are actually working against jobs in the very communities where we need them so badly.

As far as I'm concerned, the NDP absolutely lack credibility. They are standing here and opposing the HST just like…. This is like déjà vu, just like that movie of Bill Murray's, Groundhog Day.

Now they're opposing the HST because they think that on the surface, the public of course will just react. They won't want any more additional taxes. It doesn't matter the merit of the tax; it doesn't matter the necessity. It doesn't matter how important it is or how many of the sectors or resource communities it will help. They revert to their same old patterns and just oppose.

In fact, what's even more shameful is that they go further than just opposing. They engage in some of the fearmongering tactics. We've heard some of them. They're scaring people. They're scaring seniors. They're scaring people on fixed incomes, and that is unconscionable.

I'll give you an example. There's an e-mail going around, sort of a viral e-mail that I'm sure most people in this House and many others have seen. It says that a senior couple on a $40,000 income will be spending an extra $2,100 as a result of HST. The mathematics — just like NDP math — is absolutely ridiculous because they'd need to be spending about $30,000 of their income simply on goods that were PST-exempt before.

[1445]

Well, that's a heck of a lot of movies and haircuts and restaurants. No, it's ridiculous. I mean, the math doesn't even add up, and yet people are being taken advantage of and being frightened.

Let's look at the NDP track record in other areas. Let's take the environment. I've debated about this on a number of occasions. They were anti–carbon tax, as I said. Actually a tax that was revenue-neutral, a tax that was offset by tax cuts to individuals, to small businesses and to corporations. No, they were all against it.

Then, lo and behold, it came back and bit them in the election, when all of a sudden people who had previously supported them admitted out loud that they were being political opportunists and were exploiting carbon tax, when in fact it was a good thing for British Columbia. So there. They got caught on that.

Then cap-and-trade. They sat up in the House and voted against cap-and-trade. What happened? Then we're flip-flopping. In the election, now the NDP is saying — I think their leader was saying: "Oh no, well, some cap-and-trade is okay," or whatever. They have no coherent policy on any of this.

Green energy. I've debated their Energy critic for years now in the House on that. Again, fearmongering and destroying jobs in the rural, resource-based communities and places where First Nations have an interest in economic development. No, they're opposed to that. They're opposed to anything. They're opposed to all renewables. They're opposed to nuclear. Oh, and Site C. No, none of that. They don't want anything. The only thing they've settled for is importing dirty power. That's where they're at on that, so no credibility on that.

What about health? The critic has been saying, "Oh, just throw billions of dollars at health" — right? — without any plan. I sat here in this House, and here's a great example of political opportunism. I felt my heart went out to a number of seniors that were invited to the gallery. They were from a long-term institution in Surrey. I think it was the Zion centre. They were here begging and trying to embarrass the government.

They said that this institution needed $80 million for a revamp, a modernization of one of their wings and that these poor people were going to be thrown out on the streets — scaring seniors. So what happens is the then Minister of Health stands up and has to explain and embarrass the opposition. It was actually a private operator and had nothing to do with the Fraser Health or anything to do with government. They don't even do the facts right. They were talking about throwing $80 million without any plan.

How about advanced education? Let's look at the record on that. Oh great. That was when they froze tu-
[ Page 4117 ]
ition fees. Not only did it harm students; there were no investments in classes, no new instructors and no infrastructure for new classrooms. Then, people are taking six years to get a degree from UVic instead of four because they can't get any of the courses they need to graduate. So that's a good idea.

How about transportation? Their record on that is good: fast ferries. I don't even have to go into that one. That was how good they were. They had a labour agenda that produced ferries that didn't even properly work. They didn't invest in any infrastructure — no highways, bridges or roads. The Leader of the Opposition flip-flopped on the Port Mann bridge. She's going, "Wrong bridge, wrong time," and then — oopsies — some of her members are from that region and — oh — maybe some people in Surrey and the Fraser Valley would like a bridge.

How about finance? They raised taxes. Apparently, they are the party that raises taxes, and I just learned today that they actually were the party that raised the PST from six to seven points. They loved it so much, they thought: "Let's have more of it."

Interjections.

J. McIntyre: Yeah, the capital tax — right? They never met a financial target in eight or nine years. They didn't have any reliance on outside economists to guide them in their budget planning. No, they tinkered and interfered internally, and you know what we got with that. That was the old famous fudge-it budget.

They have been opposed, as we were discussing this morning, to removing provincial barriers to trade across the country. They've been protectionists forever and ever. They have no credible track record on taxation policy.

Then, the best thing is they position themselves as caring for the vulnerable and the poor — right? That's where the home is. Then what do they do? In the '90s they put a casino in at Main and Hastings. That was a good idea too.

They got rid of volunteers. They got rid of all the volunteers who were helping with Meals on Wheels. They kicked parents out of schools. They said: "Oh no, parents can't be volunteering in schools. No, that's exploiting. That's exploiting labour, so let's get rid of all the volunteerism in British Columbia." That was also another fabulous NDP policy. As I say, no credibility and no discernible policy. I have to wonder why any member of the public would put their faith and their trust in NDP facts and also in NDP math.

[1450]

They have an extensive track record of not understanding economic matters or, maybe worse, ignoring the realities and then exploiting public concerns and engaging in fearmongering tactics. That's no record I'd be proud of.

Briefly, HST, harmonized sales tax, tax policies — always technical. It's not easy to explain in some 30-second or 60-second sound bite. Yes, some consumers will pay more for a hodgepodge of goods that were previously PST-exempt. And yes, some industry sectors are being disproportionately affected, like some of the new homebuilders of luxury homes.

We're not trying to pretend that there aren't some negative implications to some in society, but we've been straight-up about it. We've made adjustments where it was important, where we were able to adjust for home heating fuels and we exempted gasoline tax, things like that.

We've been very, as I say, straightforward about some of these adjustments and implications, in fact, where it's been negative to our treasury. We've tried to sort of soften some of the transition time as we move to a different taxation system.

The NDP has been just basically trying to take advantage of this situation, and they've been misrepresenting and exaggerating the impacts. It's really easy to simply say no — right? — to have no alternative but just to say no. I think they've been trying to whip up a frenzy and whip up the public and, as I say, sort of use scare tactics.

Now what we have is what I'll call an unholy alliance of Bill Vander Zalm and the Leader of the Opposition. Well, there we've got an ex-Premier, who was already discredited for financial dealings, and the Leader of the Opposition, who has had no credible plan in almost a decade of opposition. Now she's jumping into bed with a disgraced Premier. All I can wonder is what the pillow talk is like. That's all I can say.

It's basically embarrassing that the NDP won't even say publicly whether or not they would repeal this tax — right? They've been all over the map. I'd like to read into the record here some of what the NDP has been saying out there. I'll start with their Finance critic from Surrey-Whalley. He says, meaning the HST implementation: "It's a bit like having your appendix out. Once it's done, it's done. It's very hard to go back." That was on CKNW on August 4 last summer when it was introduced.

Then the next thing is the leader is not saying that they would keep it. She's now saying that they would serve notice to the federal government. She says:

"We're locked in for five years on this agreement if it passes. At the end of five years you have an opportunity to serve notice, and I've said that's what we'd do if we were elected. We'll serve notice on the federal government, and then you have an opportunity to get rid of it, to renegotiate it, to lower the tax, to look at what works for British Columbia. That's our commitment, to serve that notice."

Well, that's one heck of a commitment. That was on CKNW on March 30 of this year, just recently.

Then we have another member, the member for Juan de Fuca, on CFAX on February 10. Now he's saying that they would get rid of it. "That means that the next government elected in 2013 will have a four-year mandate,
[ Page 4118 ]
and over the course of those four years, the HST will be eliminated in British Columbia. That's what we've said."

How is the public supposed to know? Here we've got three prominent members of a party that are all saying something different.

On a positive note, I'd like to put into the record what others, certainly more credible than the NDP, have to say about the HST. This is not the government speaking. These are third parties who have expertise and experience and who have a global perspective, not just the narrow focus of the opposition.

Let me start with yet another quote from John Winter, who is the president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. This was in response to the recently released Mintz report, which was very favourable about what the harmonized sales tax will do to the British Columbia economy. Mr. Winter says:

"This report is further evidence that the HST is essential for creating jobs and attracting new investment in British Columbia. The HST will further contribute to B.C. being one of the best investment climates in the world and make our businesses more competitive."

He goes on to say:

"There's been much discussion about the increased prices facing consumers with the implementation of HST. Making businesses more competitive and eliminating the layers of imbedded PST on consumer products will mean lower prices on a wide range of goods. We saw this when the Atlantic provinces adopted HST. Savings passed on to consumers means that household incomes will have increased purchasing power, and that, too, will strengthen the B.C. economy."

Let me also quote a great article in the Tyee last summer, 24th of August, by Calyn Shaw. It was actually quite amusing, and I think some of us had to even chuckle that an article like this could be in the Tyee, which is sometimes not so friendly. They're talking about coming to realize that the HST was the right thing to do. He says:

[1455]

"It's hard not to think so, if you take the time to speak with tax policy experts, look at the results of HST in other jurisdictions, most notably Atlantic Canada, and consider that most other provinces are following Ontario's example by moving to HST.

"The opposition can muddy the waters, and consumers can complain that they are getting the short end of the stick, but the truth of the matter is very simple. HST was a good policy move by the B.C. government.

"Is it perfect? Of course not. No government policy decision ever is. Are there going to be losers, especially in the short term? Of course there are; there always are. Is this a policy that makes so much sense for the government that it belongs in the no-brainer category? Absolutely.

"And it isn't just the government that believes so. Professor Kevin Milligan from the department of economics at UBC is an enthusiastic supporter of the new tax policy and gave it high praise when I spoke with him last week. 'HST isn't a left-right issue, and it isn't ideological as far as economists are concerned. It is just good policy,' said Milligan. He went on to point out that 'it isn't pro-business and anti-consumer. It's the necessary modernization of tax policy.'"

Jock Finlayson, who is the executive VP of policy at the B.C. Business Council, last July said:

"In what is arguably the most important provincial tax reform measure in a generation, the B.C. government has announced that it will harmonize the provincial sales tax with the federal goods and service tax, effective July 1, 2010. For anyone keen to see a more productive and globally competitive B.C. economy, this is welcome news."

He goes on to say:

"Replacing the PST with a value-added sales tax tied to the federal GST is the single best thing the province can do to promote investment, exports and productivity; encourage the growth of higher paying jobs; and reduce the administrative and compliance costs for business. The HST system should position British Columbia for a more robust and sustained economic recovery once the current downturn is behind us."

Exactly what we need.

Even Les Leyne in the Victoria Times Colonist at the end of March this year, March 31, says:

"The HST will be simpler to administer. More than 300 provincial Finance Ministry staff will switch to becoming federal employees.

"It will cut business costs and may well spur growth. It will result in a $250 million cash transfer from Ottawa to B.C. by the end of the week, with $769 million more to come July 2 and $580 million a year later. It's in line with economic thinking around the world."

Then finally, the last quote I would just like to read into the record here is Richard Rees, whom I had the pleasure of working with when we were looking to hire the new Auditor General. He's the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C. He says: "We have been calling for harmonization for several years. Given the current economic climate, and Ontario's recent move to harmonization, there is no better time than now to take this important step."

There we have a number and a variety of different experts who bring experience and expert views to this very important move that we're making. This is not just the government trying to say what we think about it. I think it's very important. We've been trying to do a lot of reading and understand and have economists and have expertise and experience guide us in trying to make these decisions as legislators. It's very reassuring to have experts be so unanimous, I think, in their support for this move.

There's also a number of business associations that represent small and mid-size and even some large businesses that have been lining up since we introduced this last summer. Again, some of them have jobs and support businesses that are in rural areas of the province, things like the B.C. Agriculture Council, the Lumber Trade Council, the Forest Products Association. We also have Conference Board of Canada, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Mining Association of B.C., Retail Council of Canada. It just goes on and on. I won't read them all into the record.

I would like to give a quote. This is a gentleman who is not in a major industry association but someone that I actually had the pleasure of meeting socially over the holidays. We got into a conversation. Quite naturally, when he found out I was an MLA, he sort of slipped into
[ Page 4119 ]
a conversation about HST. He was so excited. He couldn't wait to tell me how he has a business in the Fraser Valley and also in Ontario, and in both jurisdictions, starting July 1, his business is going to have the ability to take advantage of the flow-through taxes and all those things that will accrue to small to medium-size business.

I asked him. I phoned him not long ago and asked if he would mind stepping up publicly, helping me in my dealings and the people I talk with. He agreed. Well, he provided me with this, actually, and agreed that I could use it publicly. He said:

[1500]

"As a small to mid-sized business owner and farmer, I believe the move to an HST makes good economic sense and will be good for British Columbians. No one likes taxes, but the HST makes a lot more sense than the PST it replaces. As a business owner with operations in both B.C. and Ontario, I support the HST as being long-term positive for our company and our employees."

That's John Schroeder, who's the president of Valleybrook International Ventures.

There's so much ammunition, and there are so many people who are supporting this. I just think that it's very important to get this on the record and for the public and those at home to understand that this is a very important economic step for British Columbia.

By opposing this Bill 9, the NDP want to maintain an antiquated, cascading and penalizing tax regime that will make job creation that much more difficult. It makes B.C. industries less competitive nationally and internationally and, further, will make B.C. a less attractive target for investment, exactly at the time when we are trying to recover from recession and when we're trying to create jobs.

The quick timing on this move, which admittedly caught many off guard, is precisely because we want to launch simultaneously with Ontario so we don't lag behind and lose share, and this is basically a pre-emptive move.

It's an important aspect — that alone — to catch Ontario this July 1, because look even at what's happening in our own film and new media industries, where Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan are actively trying to recruit and lure businesses away from British Columbia. So we need to be very attractive, not only to get new business but also to keep the businesses that are burgeoning and flourishing here in the province, and HST helps that.

As I said earlier, HST is a complex topic, and there's plenty of information during this debate and on the Ministry of Finance website and other materials for those who would like to dig deeper and learn more about it. It's wrong for government to just be patronizing and say, "You know, this is complicated," pat people on the head and say: "Trust us." That's ridiculous and sort of political suicide.

So I'm encouraging the public and viewers to learn not just how it might affect them personally but what it will be doing for the British Columbia economy. Take the time to understand the importance to British Columbia's competitiveness.

When we have a positive, growing economy, as we just experienced for most of this decade under this government's leadership, we have more money for the social programs that we need and an ability to help the most vulnerable in their time of need. We need to restore a strong economy. We need to restore funds in the provincial coffers. We cannot afford to be left behind. We cannot afford to let the NDP's political opportunism prey on public concern and even their fears. We need facts. We need expert opinion to help guide us.

I think that after the uproar when HST was first announced last summer, once it was time to study the situation and look at the pros and cons, you see that the experts and businesses from all around the province have come to the conclusion that this is a favourable tax policy. I think we even got some favourable editorials in both the Globe and Mail and the Sun last summer after all of this.

I just thought, as I close here, that I'd like to read what Gerry Martin said in the Vancouver Sun last August 13, 2009, under the heading "The HST Will Provide Benefits to B.C. for Years to Come." He comments that their recent report, Investment in British Columbia: Current Realities and The Way Forward, describes:

"B.C.'s below-average productivity performance as well as underlying causes and possible solutions. The most important recommendation is to replace the provincial sales tax with a value-added tax, preferably harmonized with the federal goods and services tax.

"Services and some goods will be subject to more tax, and relative consumer prices will change, although they may not increase significantly on the whole. There are several tools available to offset the impact on consumers. All of those identified by the B.C. Progress Board are incorporated in the proposed HST: less than full input tax credits; special treatment for new housing; some items excluded from the provincial portion of the tax; and enhanced tax credit; and federal transition funding.

"Although the HST has critics, no one is claiming that harmonization is bad for the province as a whole. The diffuse benefits from increased investment, productivity and increased living standards will benefit us all, even those who preferred the PST."

So I believe we have little choice in a global economy but to modernize and keep pace. A value-added tax like the HST does just that. For these reasons, Bill 9 has merit, and I think that in time HST will prove to be a major boon to B.C.'s economy. If only the NDP could stop the gamesmanship, the fearmongering and the foot-dragging simply to score political points. It's a real shame sometimes when crass politics gets in the way of good economics and clouds the facts for the people we are so privileged to serve.

[1505]

D. Routley: Thanks to my colleagues on this side of the House and the, I believe, somewhere around 88 percent of British Columbians who are opposed to the
[ Page 4120 ]
HST for listening in on this debate on Bill 9, intituled Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act.

The previous speaker essentially said, "Ontario made us do it," yet our Finance Minister claims not to have been aware of the fact that Ontario had harmonized its sales tax. They were caught off guard. Well, that either displays an absolute incompetence or a lack of integrity. Pick your poison, Madam Speaker.

Either way, British Columbians have come to hold this government in such disregard that they feel sorry for our democracy in British Columbia for having to experience such a betrayal. Their principles, the principles of British Columbians, have been affronted by the behaviour of this government.

Over the past ten years this Premier has campaigned against harmonizing the provincial sales tax with the GST. I would wager, in this age of expanded gambling in British Columbia, that in fact not a single member on the other side of the House said nary a word about the HST on the doorsteps during their campaigns.

If they were so proud and if they were so convinced of its merit, why weren't they prepared to share it with the people? That is what people have really reacted to. They have responded to this continuing deceit — a government that would mislead them, a government that has misled the province of British Columbia.

It is a double-cross. It continues a solid pattern of B.C. Liberal deceit. Why should British Columbians believe their government? Why should British Columbians? I believe that British Columbians want to believe in government and in democracy, but their cynicism grows with every passing day of this continued Liberal deceit.

Why would we believe them when they promised not to sell B.C. Rail? The Premier promised the province that he wouldn't sell B.C. Rail, and yet they sold B.C. Rail.

Why would the people of British Columbia trust a government that promised not to tear up the contracts of the Hospital Employees Union workers and then did it? Condemned internationally, condemned in the Supreme Court of Canada, it's not believable. This government is not believable, has lost all of its credibility.

They stood in this House and campaigned throughout B.C. before the election, promising the people of B.C. a deficit not exceeding $495 million and delivered five times that. It's clear to every British Columbia that they knew better, that they knew revenues to government were sliding in such a way that that was an unachievable target. But did they share that at the doorstep with the voters of British Columbia? No. They misled the voters of British Columbia. Finally, what has come to be the crystallized symbol of this deceit? The HST.

This province has experienced a very difficult decade. We've seen the decimation of our forest industry. We saw the loss of over 50 sawmills and over 20,000 forestry jobs during a housing boom in the United States. This is a mismanagement of the fundamentals of the B.C. economy.

Real wages in B.C. over the past decade have declined 3.8 percent, while in neighbouring Alberta they have increased by 6.8 percent. Growth in the 1990s was higher than in this Liberal decade of deceit. In fact, what we have seen is the decimation of the fundamentals of the B.C. economy. While housing prices provided, for a time, the impression of increased wealth through increased debt, people now see how the B.C. Liberal mismanagement of the economy has left us individually and collectively without the means to recover.

[1510]

The fundamental industries of this province are decimated — forestry, fisheries, agriculture. They have doubled the provincial debt — that without even considering the off–balance sheet debt of their privatization schemes. They have destroyed the forest industry, fishing and agriculture. Now their only answer, their only vision, is a $1.9 billion transfer of tax from corporations to small businesses and consumers so that they can take a $1.6 billion payoff to do what they promised not to do in the first place — $1.6 billion to cover up at least a fraction of their mismanagement.

Real people have been struggling under failed B.C. Liberal economic policies. We have seen this decimation of the forest industry, a dismantling that led to the loss of over 50 sawmills and over 20,000 jobs before there was any downturn. Those jobs were lost at the height of a North American building boom, and your government, members on the other side….

Those members of the government deregulated recklessly a forest industry and decimated the foundation of the B.C. economy at a time when there was the largest rate of growth in housing in the United States. A province dependent on an industry that supplies that marketplace died. Those jobs won't be coming back. It was a disaster. It was a double-cross of this province. They sold out the province and gave away….

The Auditor General has referred to the giveaway of the forest lands on Vancouver Island as a failure to protect the public interest — and now the ultimate symbol of that deceit: the HST.

There is not a single member on the other side who had the courage or the knowledge, perhaps…. Perhaps their Premier, perhaps their cabinet didn't share it with them, but not one of them went to the doorstep and told the voters that what they planned to do, the best thing for the economy, was to harmonize the provincial sales tax with the GST and transfer $1.9 billion of tax obligation from the biggest corporations in this province down to consumers and small businesses.

We are now to trust their judgment in bringing in this hated sales tax? We are now to trust those who betrayed the voters of B.C. on B.C. Rail, the HEU contracts, the true size of the deficit and the real cost of the Olympics? Two million British Columbians will be paying more. This is a massive double-cross. Just as the province strug-
[ Page 4121 ]
gles to emerge from a recession, the B.C. Liberals decide to burden that recovery with the HST.

What wizards these B.C. Liberals — wizards who continue a bad spell, a spell that has seen this province maintain the tragic notoriety of having the highest child poverty rates in the country, a spell that has seen B.C. sink to the lowest minimum wage in the country, without even considering the $6-an-hour training wage. That spell has seen our largest factor of growth become growth in homelessness.

What a disaster. And now this, the HST, the ultimate hidden tax, hidden from the public during the election, hidden from the builders of B.C., who were double-crossed in writing when the B.C. Liberals told them that the HST was not on their radar — that in writing to the B.C. builders.

Another double-cross. The B.C. restaurant and food association sent out a questionnaire to all parties before the May election. One question was whether they would implement the HST. The NDP replied that they would not. The B.C. Liberals responded with detailed reasoning on why they would not harmonize the HST with the GST.

Let's take a look at what was said to these restaurant owners and their association. During the election they were told that the HST would extend the PST tax base to a broader range of goods and services that are presently exempt from provincial sales tax. This is major concern. Well, I guess not a big enough concern to hold them back from implementing it the day after the election, practically.

[1515]

The B.C. Liberals are also mindful that a harmonized GST would reduce the provincial government's ability to unilaterally adjust sales tax rates. Apparently, before the election they saw that it was beneficial that the province have the autonomy to reward behaviours that it considered to be good for the economy and the environment, such as buying bicycles, buying energy-efficient appliances, but all that is out the window now.

So if this member on the other side had such courage, why during the election didn't he knock on doors and tell the voters of B.C. that that was what he was going to do? Didn't the members on the other side have the courage of their conviction, or were they aware that had they shared that news, those 88 percent of British Columbians who were opposed to this tax would have turfed them from government?

N. Letnick: Because they're being misled.

D. Routley: Yes, the member confirms it was because they were being misled. Absolutely. That is why the voters of B.C. are reacting with such anger.

It is certainly dismaying to see a government behave in this way, to see a government betray the population that it represents. All through its history, right from B.C. Rail, through the HEU contracts, all the way to the HST — a continued track record of betrayal.

If a person were to succumb to this depressing scenario, then certainly the most booming commodity in B.C. would be cynicism. But I'm proud and I'm happy to say that I see British Columbians reacting with outright anger at this, and that reassures me that people still do care about their democracy. People do still expect that these members, these B.C. Liberal members who were elected on a promise not to harmonize the provincial sales tax with the GST, shouldn't do that — shouldn't do what they promised not to do during the election campaign.

Yet what did they do? A flip-flop, a gymnastic miracle. They have decided that they can do whatever they please. It doesn't matter what they've promised the people of B.C. — again. So when we speak to young people who are rather dismayed and cynical about politics, we have to defend our system against this kind of an abuse.

Hon. B. Bennett: Is that like a fudge-it budget?

D. Routley: Then the members talk about a fudge-it budget. I think they're referring to the fact that their Finance Minister promised the province that the deficit would not be greater than $495 million. I think that's what they're referring to.

What they're saying and confirming again is that the people of B.C. were misled, that just as the member says, they were manipulated and misled. They were misled by our Finance Minister, who told this province that the deficit would not be more than $495 million, even during the election campaign. But now we find out that the minister and the Premier knew that revenues were plummeting to such an extent that that was an impossible target.

Did they share that with the voters? The member who's talking on the other side — did he share it on the doorstep with the voters in his constituency? "Well, I know the Finance Minister said it's going to be $495 million, but it's actually going to be about five times that." Did he share that? No. Just like he didn't share the news about the HEU contracts, B.C. Rail or this harmonized sales tax.

This is pathetic. This is very sad. This is very sad for our democracy and our province that a government elected in British Columbia — such a beautiful province; such a strong, wealthy, healthy province — can entertain such deceit. That is unfortunate.

Now, on top of those disastrous facts, British Columbians will see this $1.9 billion transferred from the biggest corporations in our province — particularly those who are exporting our resources in raw form, like raw logs — onto the backs of small business.
[ Page 4122 ]

Interjection.

D. Routley: You're right — onto the backs of farmers and small business people and consumers. This comes on the heels of massive MSP premium increases, soaring ferry fares and huge increases in other fees, such as camping fees and health services.

[1520]

The TD Bank estimated that 21.4 percent of the goods British Columbians buy will be newly subject to the HST and that, on average, consumer prices will rise by 1.5 percent, even if businesses reduce their prices. B.C.'s PST applies to a narrower range of goods and services than the sales taxes of other provinces, so the effect will be even larger here.

Only 11 percent of British Columbians….

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Member, forgive the interruption.

The other members will come to order.

Please proceed.

D. Routley: Only 11 percent of British Columbians support this tax. More than 80 percent are opposed to it, and yet here it comes. It doesn't have to be this way.

Only seven of those members…. If they could develop the courage, if they could connect with the expectations of those they purport to represent…. The HST could be defeated if only seven of them voted against it. I'm sure that with the narrow margins that many of these members were elected by, they must be considering the dubious future they face as politicians if they support this HST, which they campaigned against implementing. This is not acceptable.

British Columbians are reacting across the political spectrum with anger and outrage, and I'm glad they are. If they weren't, it would mean that our democracy truly is in peril, because people would have resigned themselves to the fact that being misled during an election campaign is acceptable. And it is not. Thank goodness it is not, in British Columbia.

What is the raw cost of all this? Well, to use the government's own claims, a $1.9 billion transfer, based on a population of 4.4 million people, results in $432 extra for every man, woman and child. How on earth are we to pay?

We will pay when we pay for…. Well, let's take a look at the list of what we're going to pay for. It's long, so I have to ask the member's and the Speaker's forgiveness for going through such a long list. It includes real estate fees. It includes….

Interjections.

D. Routley: Yeah, okay. Well, they'll be glad that I can't actually find the list right now. Here we are — the HST hit list. Don't fret, Members. I've found it. Don't fret. You'll need to know, as you plan your monthly budget, just like every other British Columbian needs to know what's going to cost them more.

Restaurant meals, cable TV, new homes, non-prescription medication, telephone services, Internet services, propane and natural gas, hockey tickets. Oh, hockey tickets, Members. How could you do it? Some groceries, prepared foods, haircuts, admission fees, membership fees, movies, theatre, bus fares, magazines and newspapers, rent and strata fees, taxi fares.

Airline tickets — that'll affect the members opposite. Golf fees — that will certainly affect a lot of the members on the other side. Music lessons — not so sure. Skiing, spa services, massage therapy, resort packages, parking, coffee shops, fast food, beverages, dry cleaning, car maintenance and repair, vitamins, dietary supplements.

I'm halfway through the list, Madam Speaker. I can't read it all, because I want to finish my speech.

It's amazing that we're going to take $1.9 billion from the biggest corporations and shift it onto the everyday lives of ordinary British Columbians — the very people that this government purports to represent, the very people who were misled when they were told that the government wouldn't do this. They were promised.

Well, you know what? One might arrive at the conclusion that the B.C. Liberals have forgotten for whom they work. That would be assuming that they ever really worked for the people in the public interest of British Columbia. It is clear, though, through their many assaults on the common wealth of this province, that the B.C. Liberals have never really truly worked for the benefit of this province and its people but rather have always danced to the tune of their corporate masters — in fact, that narrow band of corporate interests that have donated and supported the Premier and his party.

[1525]

If your values and your beliefs tell you that it's okay to funnel the wealth of a society up to the already powerful and secure, then fine. Fine. Put that in front of the people. Tell the people of the province what you are going to do, and then do it. Don't mislead them by telling them you will not impose the HST and then do that very thing. If you have the courage of your conviction, if you believe that this was the right thing to do, you should have put it in front of….

Deputy Speaker: Member, through the Chair, please.

D. Routley: Let the voters choose the real agenda. Don't hide your agenda and veil your plans. Don't campaign against the HST and then turn around and impose it only after you're elected. If your values and beliefs are that this great province should work for every one of its citizens, that every one of those people deserves an equal chance, an equal opportunity, then don't imple-
[ Page 4123 ]
ment the HST. Don't impose crippling fee increases on British Columbians. Don't mislead British Columbians about B.C. Rail, about HEU contracts, about the true state of the province's finances.

Don't cut from services that support British Columbians, like education and health care, and then pretend that you haven't done so. Don't give away the wealth of this province through transfers to corporations and onto British Columbians, like the HST, like the forest land giveaways. Don't mislead British Columbians.

The basic role of government is to protect the people and the province. The B.C. Liberal government has displayed its weakness again. It fails to protect the people from want and harm as it transfers the HST to the shoulders of people. It failed to protect the people from want and harm as it decimated our forest industry and stripped supports from children and families, only to see child poverty and homelessness grow.

[C. Trevena in the chair.]

The people are ready and always have been ready to do their part for their province. They stand ready in good faith to invest the effort and sacrifice it takes to build a better B.C. for them and their children. What they need is leadership that lives up to the commitment they make to their province. This side of the House stands ready to join the people of B.C. in building a province that reflects their vision of fairness, empathy, independence and security.

We are all proud of our province. We all know it is essential that we as a people, as embodied in this House, never dishonour the legacy we have inherited by losing sight of our duty to put this province first. The B.C. Liberals, in so many ways, have forgotten this. Perhaps the clearest example of this failure is the HST.

The HST is representative, symbolic, a crystallization of what it means to mislead the voters. It is the symbol of betrayal — the betrayal of B.C. by every B.C. Liberal candidate who knocked on doors and campaigned for election hiding the HST from voters, hiding cuts to education, hiding the true size of the deficit.

Democracy depends on integrity. When we are failed by such a betrayal, democracy has its remedy.

I'd like to take a look now at the other groups who have come out with statements of disbelief over the HST, anger over the HST and the feeling that they have been absolutely betrayed by the people who represent them on that side of the House.

The First Nations. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs opposes the unilateral implementation of the HST. Both the federal and provincial governments failed to consult with First Nations and have refused to meet with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to discuss the impacts of this tax. Chief Keith Matthew, Simpcw First Nation and member of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs HST committee, stated: "They are brushing us off."

That really summarizes the feeling of every British Columbian — that we have been brushed off, that the commitment a government makes to its people in order to represent democratically has been brushed aside by the HST, by the promises made by this government and then broken.

[1530]

It's a long track record of betrayal — B.C. Rail, HEU contracts, education funding, and on and on. They promised to protect education funding and health care funding before the election, and look what we see — school boards in crisis again.

Year after year this government plunges our public services into crisis, and the HST will do nothing to repair that damage. The HST they've advertised as being revenue-neutral will, in fact, cost this province money to implement. Revenue to government will, in fact, decrease, but the burden to ordinary taxpayers and small businesses will increase dramatically.

Why would this government choose to do this? Why would they choose to do it? If they had the courage of conviction, why weren't they prepared to knock on the voters' doors and tell them their plans? That's the least British Columbians should expect.

If it is not a question of integrity, if those members on the other side honestly didn't know, then it's a question of incompetence, because the Finance Minister has told this province that he wasn't aware that Ontario was considering the HST. The Finance Minister of British Columbia wasn't aware that for months and months Ontario had been saying that they were planning to impose the HST.

In fact, the Ontario government had the decency and integrity to consult with the people affected. The Ontario government went around the province and discussed the impacts, and how to mitigate them, on those affected. Still, there's a majority of Ontarians who oppose it, but at least they didn't have to face this betrayal that British Columbians have had to face.

Let's look at the realtors. We're going to see an additional 2 percent tax on new homes up to $525,000, after the rebate, and then an additional 7 percent tax on the value of a new home above $525,000. The HST will also be charged on the real estate agent's commissions, as well as on services like appraisals and maintenance.

The B.C. Real Estate Association has an anti-HST campaign. My partner is about to write her realtor's exam. Her brother is a realtor. Her father is a very well-known realtor. They were shocked. They came to me and asked me for information about how they could respond to this betrayal. Those are people who were formerly B.C. Liberal supporters and feel absolutely betrayed.

When we look at tourism, the HST will increase the average price of tourism-related products and services by almost 5 percent. It will lower tourism industry revenue by $363 million to $545 million per year. The tourism
[ Page 4124 ]
associations of B.C. say that it will cause jobs to be lost — 3,400 to 5,000 direct jobs or 7,000 to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. Does this not matter to the members opposite? What will it take to penetrate that thick skin that appears to have been developed over a sensitivity to what happens to the people they represent?

Democracy is offended by such a betrayal, and democracy has remedies. How many B.C. Liberal members were elected by slim margins? I wonder how many sitting in the House right now were elected by the slimmest of margins. If the B.C. Liberals had been truthful with the voters, what would have been the result?

Here's a warning to the B.C. Liberal members. Here's a warning to those who were narrowly elected: democracy has a remedy for such betrayal. The federal Conservative Party, after implementing the GST against the wishes of Canadians, was banished to the hinterlands of politics for 20 years. That would be a prediction from this side of the House for that side of the House.

[1535]

D. Horne: It's with great pleasure that I stand today in debate and speak in favour of Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. I'd like to start by stepping back for a moment and examining the facts and how those members opposite and myself have reached the positions that we now find ourselves in.

One of the things — with all of the drama, all of the political theatre, all of the comments from those opposite — that seems to be forgotten is that the reason why this bill is structured the way that it is, is that it repeals the PST. We have a great deal of theatre happening on the other side and a great deal of, you know, "This is what should have happened," and all of that. But the fact of the matter is that I first heard about the HST the same way they did. [Laughter.]

They can laugh all they want, but that's the truth. They can basically create all the theatre they want and all the drama. They can basically go on and on and try to create all this thing, but that is the truth. I personally heard about the implementation of the HST the exact same week that they did.

Since then, we've both had equal and ample opportunity to examine it. The one thing you won't find is any of the members opposite standing and saying: "The reason why I don't support the HST is because the PST is so much better than the HST will be." None of them, not a single member opposite, will stand in their place and say that the PST is a good tax. That's because it's not, and that's because it creates level upon level upon level of taxation on the sales of many goods and services.

There are many, many ways of looking at it, but one of them is to take a look at a piece of lumber. People look at the single pickup truck. A logging company, a forestry company, someone involved in the agricultural sector, buys a pickup truck. The average pickup costs about $50,000. Right now that pickup truck has $3,500 worth of PST embedded in the cost. That $3,500 has to be recouped, and that $3,500…. I can tell you.

You know, the members opposite go on about big business. They go on about the fact that this is a tax shift from business to consumers, but I hate to tell them that businesses that don't recoup their costs are called one thing, and that is bankrupt. So consumers are currently paying that $3,500 charged for that pickup truck in PST. Not only are they paying it, but when that company calculates its cost of goods sold, it takes into account that PST, and then — I know the members opposite will be even more shocked by this — not only do they charge that $3,500 back to consumers, but they charge profit on that $3,500 as well.

They actually attach margin to that $3,500, and they say, "Okay, my goods cost X number of dollars, and that includes the PST I'm paying," and they charge profit on it. I know the members opposite would just be absolutely and utterly horrified by such a possibility, but the fact of the matter is that under the HST they will get this tax back. Surprisingly enough, they will no longer have it as a cost of goods sold, and they won't be charging profit on it.

The interesting thing…. The funny part is that some of the members opposite now are basically saying: "What? What's he talking about?" Well, it just shows how they know absolutely, utterly nothing about business. Put it this way. When you decide how you're going to make money as a corporation, you have to take into account your input costs. You have to take into account how much it costs you to do business. Right now it costs a business the PST as well. After the HST is implemented, it will not.

[1540]

I think it's funny because the NDP and their strange bedfellow Mr. Vander Zalm…. I was trying to figure it out, and it's just actually come to me now. I've tried to figure out what the connection is and how Bill Vander Zalm and those opposite have come together. It's because they both live in a fantasy world. Coming from that fantasy world, they go on, and they don't understand the basic economics of input costs and the fact that companies charge margin on it. But they go on, and this baseless fearmongering just continues and continues, and it's shameful. It's downright shameful.

You know, I had a call to my office recently. One of the members opposite recently read through a list of those things that would be taxed. I had an older gentleman, and he called me. He's retired, and he's got a fixed income. He doesn't have a lot of money. He basically said to me: "I can't believe that you're doing this and that you are, basically, putting forward the HST."

I said: "Well, let's go into the details. What have you heard?" He says: "Oh, I have this e-mail, and it shows me how I'm going to spend $2,100 more a year." He says:
[ Page 4125 ]
"Well, there are some items on it. So I won't be quite at $2,100 on it, because there are some things…. I don't golf, for example, so I won't be paying the membership fees."

There are a lot of people who are on a fixed income at $40,000 who pay almost 50 or 30 percent of that, according to that calculation, in golf fees, but we won't get into the mathematics of that.

Basically, you go through item after item after item. The first item on the list is groceries, which is just fundamentally wrong. It's just deceitful and wrong. It's sad that the members opposite and Mr. Vander Zalm have to deceive people in order to get their point across. Actually, Mr. Vander Zalm mentioned that the other day, about this deceit, and that this was the only way it was going to work or something. I wasn't quite certain what he was exactly meaning, but the fact of the matter is that you go through that list….

The member read the list. He says telephone and Internet and cablevision. I hate to tell you this, but telephone right now, all but the basic line charge, is already subject to the PST. Everything but the basic line charge will be no increased cost. Oh, I know you wouldn't want to tell people that.

The second thing — cablevision, for example. They use a number. To create this $2,100, they say cablevision. Well, my cablevision costs $80. I hate to tell you this; you're already paying PST on the majority of that $80 and the same as the phone cost as well. You're already paying PST on a majority of that phone cost.

If you take the personal tax measures and other measures that this government has put into place and you take those into account with the HST, for a family earning $30,000, what will that mean for them with the HST? That's this family earning $30,000.

Let me emphasize this for a second. With the harmonized tax credit that they will receive, they will save $552 a year. Then you go and you take a look at a family earning about $60,000. What will this HST cost them? According to Statistics Canada, on average consumption, it's going to cost that family making $60,000 a year about $134 or about $10 a month. Well, that's a long way from the thousands of dollars that Bill Vander Zalm and the members opposite are scaring people and scaring British Columbians into believing that it's going to be.

The biggest difficulty, one of the things that I find most amusing about this whole conversation, is that it's very easy to scare people when they don't know, when they can't go to the store and see, when they can't see what the truth is, when they're sitting in the dark, and they're not exactly certain what will happen in the future, what is really happening around you.

It's like your big brother who comes in and says there's a boogeyman in the closet, and you sit there and you hide. You hide under your covers, and you say, "Oh my gosh. I'm frightened of that boogeyman. I'm worried about that boogeyman," and your big brother keeps saying: "That boogeyman is coming. He's coming. He's going to come and get you. You better hide from the boogeyman."

[1545]

Well, we all know when the lights go on and you open the closet door, there's no boogeyman there. I want to know what happens on July 1 when British Columbians turn on the light and open the closet door and realize that the boogeyman that this opposition and Bill Vander Zalm told them was there isn't there.

What are they going to say then? What are they going to say to the members opposite? What are they going to say to Bill Vander Zalm, who…? You must question what his motives are, because he's a bright guy, and I know for a fact that he knows there's no boogeyman in the closet.

You know, the difficulty is that when it comes to telling people the way it is, when it comes to economic policy, when it comes to how you deal with these issues and how you can convey them, it's the same thing as the carbon tax. This opposition was so opposed to the carbon tax. They stood up. They jumped up and down. They said this was the worst thing that could happen to British Columbia, and then when reality set in, they realized that their own supporters actually supported the carbon tax as well. It was like: "Oh, we better not say anything about that any more."

The difficulty is that you can have all the theatre you want. You can go on and on and on about how it was put forward, but the fact of the matter is that it all comes down to one simple question. Is this the right thing for British Columbia? Is this the right thing for our economy, and will this make British Columbia stronger in the future? Resoundingly, the answer to that question is yes.

The idea of the harmonized sales tax has actually been around for years. One of the members opposite said earlier: "Did we have a study on this? Why would we do this without any studies?" Well, we have a study. It's called 130 countries around the world. It's called 29 of 30 OECD countries in the world who have moved to this form of taxation. And why do they continue to transition? Why do they move to these types of taxation? Because it's the right thing to do. It allows for competitiveness within businesses.

There have been comments even this morning about competitiveness with Alberta. Alberta doesn't have a sales tax. Well, I hate to tell you. If you're a business in British Columbia and you're competing against a business in Alberta and you're paying the sales tax, and they're not, surprisingly enough — and I know the NDP has trouble with math, and they live in this fantasyland — you're at a competitive disadvantage.

Surprisingly, when you institute an HST so that those input tax credits come back to them, the shocking thing
[ Page 4126 ]
that happens is that the playing field becomes level because now both the company in Alberta and the company in British Columbia no longer have to worry about the tax.

You know, when I ran my company, I can tell you that we bid on projects in Alberta. One of the other things that was complex with that is that we had to register in Alberta. We had to register with their equivalent of WorkSafe in Alberta, and we had many, many hoops to jump through. Not only did we have to jump through all of these hoops in order to compete for business in Alberta, but in the design business which I was in, on each one of our computers we had approximately $10,000 worth of software.

Surprisingly enough, the PST that I had paid as a businessman on that $10,000 worth of software on every single one of my computers…. For those that don't do the math well, that's $70 per computer. The difficulty is that I didn't get that back. So that was a cost of my doing business. That was a cost that me, as a company, that my partners, that we simply had to include in our cost of doing business, and it had to be included and recouped. Obviously, in doing business and in being successful, we made sure that that was the case.

[1550]

We can debate this for long, long periods. The other comment that was made this morning was the Tim Hortons doughnut theory. One of the members opposite said that the Tim Hortons on this side of the British Columbia border was going to be in big trouble compared to the one on the other side of the border in Alberta because, of course, that 14 cents was going to compel all of those people to spend $20 on gas to drive and get a doughnut.

It just shows you how utterly silly from an economic standpoint some of these arguments are. Quite frankly, someone who is going to spend $20 to save 14 cents needs an examination of the way they think financially because, obviously, they're doing something completely wrong.

You know, the restaurant sector has spoken a lot about the HST. They've created some signs, and they've created some things. I find it interesting, having been a businessman, because I think that to spend significant amounts of money convincing people that your product is going to be outside of their purchasing power on a certain date because of a certain policy isn't terribly good business and might be, to a certain extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don't believe for a moment, for most of them, that this will have a significant impact. In fact, I actually spoke to a local restaurant owner in my riding the other day. He's just built a new restaurant, and he spent over a million dollars on leasehold improvements to build out his new restaurant. He's actually in the process, he and his partners, of building several more restaurants. They've been very, very successful, and they're great guys. You know, they do very, very well in the restaurant business.

Through the conversation I said: "Well, how much GST did you get back when you built out your restaurant?" He said: "It was over $50,000." I said: "Well, how much of the PST did you get back? How much of the PST that you spent on your counters, your flooring, your stoves, your fridges, everything else that went into that restaurant, how much of that did you get back? How much of that came back so that you could basically have it in your business to run your business, to make sure that your business was properly capitalized?"

He looked at me, and he said: "Well, of course I got none of it back."

"None," I said. "Well, the restaurant business has been very, very critical of the HST. You know how much of that you would have got back with the HST if you had an HST and we were in an HST world?"

When you build a restaurant starting in July, how much of that are you going to get back? Well, the answer is: all of it. They're going to get all of it back. I know, for the members opposite, that would be horrible — to have tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets so that they can build the restaurant, build more restaurants, build jobs. I know that's difficult, because when you have extra money and you're in the restaurant business and you have the ability to build another restaurant, surprisingly enough that creates jobs.

They would convince you. They would spend considerable time telling you about all the jobs that'll be lost in the restaurant sector. It's funny, I think, that when time proves eternal, these restaurants will be far further ahead than they've ever been now.

It's not just the restaurant sector. You know, take a look at the employers in British Columbia, the major employers — people like the B.C. Agriculture Council, the B.C. Business Council, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, the Canada West Foundation, the Motion Picture Industry Association of B.C. You take a look, association after association, representing many, many workers here in British Columbia, and they're all in favour of the HST. Why is that?

Why is it — if you actually look back and you listen to the Finance Committee and you listen to what's happened over many years — that people would come before the Finance Committee every year and say: "You have to harmonize this tax. You have to make it easier"?

[1555]

I can tell you, as a businessperson for many, many years, that filling out many, many forms that government requires in order to do business — filling out your tax forms, filling out your WorkSafe forms, filling out all of the forms that are required by government in order to comply with their rules and regulations — is a huge task in itself. How much does a company actually get back
[ Page 4127 ]
for filling in all of these forms? The answer is: nothing. They're a cost of doing business.

So when the opportunity comes to streamline things, when the opportunity comes to not duplicate the collection of taxes, when the opportunity comes to make it much, much simpler and have a system that people already understand and is in place and move to it, would we say no? Would we say: "No, that makes no sense. We'd prefer to spend $30 million a year in British Columbia continuing to collect the PST"?

I go back to my original comment, and that is: I challenge the members opposite to actually stand up and talk about the benefits of the PST, talk about how great the PST is, talk about how it's such a better tax, how the PST that we currently have is so much better for business, is so much better for the economy, is so much better for British Columbia in the long run than the HST. I can tell you right now that there won't be a single member opposite that will stand up and make that speech, will stand up and make that argument, because the argument's not there to make.

And that's why their members, when asked…. You know, when my colleague on the Public Accounts Committee, the critic for Finance, says that it's like an appendix — once it's done, it's done — and the Leader of the Opposition says, "We'd serve notice," but it doesn't…. You know, what that actually means is another question.

The reason why they're as vague as they are is because they know that once it's there, it's there. They also know — which is the sad reality of the situation, which is why they won't say anything — that the HST is actually better than the PST. They know that. That's why whenever they all stand up, they always go on about who knew what when, about all of these other theatrics, about basically all and everything about everything.

They will speak to everything but the case in point — that is, the principle of this bill, the principle of eliminating the PST, a tax that is detrimental to business, a tax that costs businesses significant amounts each month and year to manage, a tax that costs businesses considerable amounts to make sure that they're in compliance with, a tax that is quite complex as to how it's dealt with and what it's charged on and how you deal with things.

One of the things that I find funny as well…. I had a meeting. One of the members spoke earlier, and they said: "Have you gone and talked to people about the HST? Have you spoken to them? Have you had a chance to actually go out into your community and talk about the HST?" And I think he was a bit surprised because my answer was: "Yes, of course I have." Yes, because basically what people have been hearing and what people continue to hear from the opposition and from Mr. Vander Zalm and from the media who are propagating Mr. Vander Zalm's and the opposition's story, is simply not true. You know, it's simply not true.

I've pointed out in this House twice now the fact that the Leader of the Opposition talks about it costing a thousand dollars for the average family. For it to cost a thousand dollars would mean that they'd have to spend over $14,000 on goods and services not currently covered by the PST and that, basically, in order for them to do that, they'd have to have a huge, huge disposable income that average British Columbians just don't have.

[1600]

As they continue to be frightened, as British Columbians continue to fear the unknown, the boogeyman in the closet, I ask a very, very simple question. This government was elected on a simple question, and that was: who do you believe is best to manage our economy in these difficult times? I think that if you asked that same question now, with the comments that we hear often from those opposite, the answer is very simple, and it hasn't changed at all. Our government is the best to manage our economy.

Our government has a proven track record of managing this economy. We have the proven track record of making certain that the tax burden that we place on British Columbians has the least impact possible. I'd like to talk about that tax burden for a little bit. I mentioned earlier in my speech the fact that the family that was making $60,000 a year was going to have to pay, according to consumption statistics, about $132 more, so I'm going to just read through some numbers for a second. As I get to that, I just want you to remember that it's going to cost that family $132 more.

Basically, if you had an income in 2001 of $10,000, you paid $168 in income taxes. If you made ten grand, you paid $168 in taxes. Today that person pays nothing. That person pays no taxes in British Columbia. To say that this government cares about big corporations, that this government cares nothing about those that are the hard-working people is just absolutely and utterly wrong. This government has eliminated taxes to more British Columbians in the last while than any period in our recent past.

You take a look. Someone that was earning $20,000 was paying $1,008 in taxes. In 2010 they'll pay $91. That's a savings of $917. A family or an individual earning $40,000 was paying $3,041 in 2001. That person now pays $1,450, or a savings of $1,591.

Let me get to that family who is making $60,000. This is also assuming that that family making $60,000 has a single income, because this is not based upon two individuals making $30,000 each. This is based upon a family making $60,000 with one income earner. That family, as I said, under the HST will pay about $132 more. That family paid income taxes in 2001 of $5,401. In 2010 that family will pay income taxes of $2,969, or as I say, that family will save $2,432 in income taxes.

When we talk about the tax burden, about how we collect the taxes from those citizens of British Columbia,
[ Page 4128 ]
I think that by burdening them with an additional $132 and by saving them $2,432, we've done a very decent job of making sure that their overall burden has gone down substantially.

That's what this government will continue to do because we know that by making sure that the way we collect taxes is the least cumbersome on the economy, the least cumbersome on British Columbians, we will build a strong province, one where future generations can enjoy the same benefits, the same wealth and the same opportunities that we have all enjoyed here.

[1605]

D. Thorne: Before I begin my notes, I would like to assure the last speaker, the member across the way, that it isn't just the people across the way — in other words, the official opposition — that are espousing opinions to which he was referring in his speech. It's people right across the province of British Columbia. In fact, I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure it's the big majority of people across the province of British Columbia.

One of the lessons that I learned very quickly as a politician is to listen to the people that elected me. They know what matters in their own lives, and they know when enough is enough. I believe, as they do, that we've reached the tipping point with this harmonized sales tax, masquerading in this House as the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act.

The people in this province are not stupid. They know this is a tax grab. As the old saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, don't step in what the duck leaves behind.

I'm proud that my constituents and those from other areas of the province, many writing in a second language, trust the system and write to express their unhappiness with this disgusting tax grab. I hope they stay politically active and continue to fight. Together seniors, students, young families, small business owners, comfortably off or struggling, can make this government wake up and pay attention.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. We may not be able to make this government realize the error of its ways, but I have to believe that individual MLAs on the other side of the House are finding it very hard to justify the HST in their own individual ridings. The figure I keep hearing is that this HST has a resounding 2 percent to, at the very most, approximately 10 percent support across the province of British Columbia.

So these individual MLAs in the government, who campaigned along with their party less than a year ago on a platform that promised not to implement the HST, must be doing some pretty fancy footwork as they continue to switch gears in their ridings. How exactly do you support a bill that is the opposite of what you promised in an election campaign? I don't know, but I'm certainly interested in finding out how they're doing that.

My constituents understand breaking a promise. They don't need pontificating politicians and fancy press releases. They just want the truth, and the truth is that this government made a written commitment during the election not to go forward with the HST, and yet here we are today.

My Coquitlam-Maillardville constituency office has received literally dozens of letters on the proposed implementation of the HST. Many of these letters begin with the words: "I've never written to a politician before, but…." Then they go on to outline very real concerns about what this tax will mean in their own lives.

Today I want to share some of the comments that I personally have received in my office. Let's start with the response from the business community. This is from Sandra.

"At a time when taxes should be cut to spur economic growth, I simply cannot believe that this is even being considered. This will have a direct impact on just about everyone's wallet and will also have an effect on the tourism, restaurant and housing industries, to name just a few.

"This tax will hurt all B.C. residents, but most especially single parents, the working poor and those who are trying to start over by starting their own small businesses due to a job loss. I fall into this latter category, and a tax grab is not the way to fund the British Columbia government."

This letter is from Mark.

"I have been very happy with the actions that the federal government has taken to alleviate the impact of the recession, such as the renovation tax credit for homes. But now that we have emerged from the recession, the provincial government is taking action that will hurt businesses like mine.

[1610]

"We should be giving people incentives to spend money to help the economy start running smoothly again, but instead we are giving them reasons not to spend money. I get the idea that the B.C. Liberals think that this is probably their last term."

I'd just like to add that these aren't my words. This is from Mark, one of my constituents.

"So they don't care how they look in bringing in the HST, but they shouldn't bring us down with them." This is from Ken. "If the HST is to make B.C. companies more competitive against more than 130 countries, why don't the Liberals harmonize the tax at, say, 9 percent? Then B.C. companies would be worldbeaters."

From another Ken: "It's not fair to use a new sales tax to pay for tax cuts for selected industries and businesses. The HST will shift hundreds of millions of dollars of costs to restaurant customers, putting the jobs of people in one of B.C.'s largest industries in jeopardy."

This letter is from Ed: "Tourists won't come here anymore, and so many small businesses will fail."

From Carolyn: "Premier Gordon Campbell said about the HST that this is the single.…"

Deputy Speaker: Member. Remember, please — no names.

D. Thorne: I'm sorry, Madam Speaker. I withdraw. I was just reading the letter. I'm sorry. I didn't realize it said that.
[ Page 4129 ]

"The Premier said about the HST that this is the single biggest thing we can do to improve B.C.'s economy. I believe this is completely false, because B.C. has been one of Canada's best survivors of the recession, and Canada has been one of the world's best survivors. So overall, B.C. is doing pretty good in comparison.

"Also the Bank of Canada announced that the recession in our country is essentially over, so there is no need for the HST to 'help' improve the economy. It is doing fine on its own. It has recovered from far worse than this without introducing ridiculous taxes that hurt everyone.

"Finally, could you please explain to me how charging everyone more for everything is going to help anyone? I'm an intelligent person with a business degree, but I can't see how reducing purchasing power will do anything but harm the economy and make a lot of people very upset."

The next letter is from David. David says: "This will harm the restaurant, home renovation and real estate sector."

From Georgina:

"A lot of people in businesses are suffering right now, and I don't see much of an improvement in the next while. I'm sure they are not able to handle more tax. In this time of recession, when all forms of government have their hands out for more money, what are we supposed to do to find more money? Our wages certainly aren't increasing. We are making less and having to pay out more.

"They are trying to make us believe that the tax is a godsend that will improve the economy, create jobs, improve productivity and boost new business investment. Yeah, right. Who is going to want to come here when we slap a 12 percent tax on everything? It is ludicrous, and it is embarrassing."

Now, let's hear from some of our students and young people. From Jenna:

"I'm an arts student attending Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and I rely on the British Columbia student loan program. Now, there have been cutbacks on the current program, and even with a part-time job I'm only just barely about to cover the shortfall. Now I'm told that the cost of supplies will increase by 7 percent. That's a very significant figure.

"Many people believe that we, the younger generation, do not contribute to society or the political system, but that is because of our mistrust in the political system, a system that doesn't work for us. Things like the HST not only hurt us financially, but it hurts our whole trust in the political system."

From Marie: "The HST will cause a lot of hardship for everyone except big corporations. For example, university students who pay hundreds of dollars each semester for textbooks will have to pay 12 percent HST instead of 5 percent GST."

Here is one parent's perspective. From Laurie:

"I am in a position where I can afford the HST, but my children in their 20s cannot. They are beginning their independent lives and looking at paying off student loans and attempting to buy a condo, never mind a house, at this stage. They're paying off car loans, etc. Young people these days seem to be shouldering more debt than their parents ever had to. Adding on HST makes a big impact on their lives.

[1615]

"For example, just take a look at the impact of the HST on the cost of a wedding. This is something that a lot of baby boomer families are planning. Every aspect of a wedding will be affected by the HST because services are involved. This will probably add another thousand dollars to the cost of an average wedding — banquet and beverages, hall, photographer, bride's dress."

This tax grab will be particularly hard on our seniors. Let's hear from some of them. From Dave:

"My wife and I are semi-retired, living in Coquitlam. With the recent downturn in the economy, we're finding it more difficult to make ends meet. Like so many others, we have cut back on our spending and our charitable donations because we have to. We lead a simple life. That is what our financial situation allows.

"At a time when consumer spending is needed to bring the economy out of a recession, a new tax is the last thing we need. I would think a tax reduction would be more appropriate right now. See U.S. President Barack Obama for a leadership example. I have voted Liberal in the past, but if they proceed with this idea, they will not receive another vote from me."

From Winnifred:

"Seniors living in retirement enjoy a lifestyle different from the one they lived while at work. In retirement, to be active often means paying a fee, a membership, an admission, a subscription or for costs of travel, etc. We have calculated that the impact of this will be more costly for seniors than anyone has reported. Consider a retired couple receiving a total retirement income of $41,400 after taxes each year, healthy enough to enjoy some comfort in retirement.

"Look at just a few of the items that will cost more without getting more: cable TV; golf fees; gym memberships; hydro; haircuts; heating fuel; Internet; income tax preparation" — I repeat, Madam Speaker, that these are not my words; this is from Winnifred — "heating fuel; legal fees; hockey, football and baseball game tickets; magazine subscriptions; movie tickets; newspaper subscriptions; curling fees; telephone; live theatre tickets; vacation travel; vitamins; the veterinarian; ferry fees; chiropractic and massage therapists; and a Tim Hortons coffee."

From Dave:

"My wife and I are retired. The pensions we have allow us to just survive, and that is the situation we live with and accept, as this is our lot in life. I wish our pensions would go up as much as, if not more than, the HST. I am still angry that the Premier, since his first election to be Premier, has raised his salary by at least 53 percent, and the rest of the politicians got a 30 percent increase. The 40 years that we worked we never once got a double-digit pay raise. I truly care very much about how all British Columbians live and survive, though not at someone else's expense."

From Carol: "Think about the single mothers and the seniors of this province. It just cost me $30 in parking to take my 88-year-old mother to emergency. For some seniors, this could mean the difference between food or medication. You need a reality check on the average income of the people of British Columbia."

In a letter to the Minister of Finance last July the B.C. Care Providers Association raised concerns about the negative financial impact the HST may have on many seniors care providers in B.C. The letter continues:

"We are concerned that the HST will exacerbate existing inequities in the seniors care system because of the differing rebates that various providers receive. Health authorities will receive an 83 percent rebate; non-profit providers, a 50 percent rebate; and private providers are not eligible for any rebates.

"The impact of the HST will be especially critical for those providers that contract out services, such as housekeeping, laundry, maintenance and care staff. Rather than a GST tax of 5 percent, the provision of these staffing services will now be subject to 12 percent HST. Contracting out of services was one of the major vehicles for providers to reduce costs and manage within funding levels. The net impact on these providers will be wage and benefits costs that will increase by 7 percent."

[1620]

Again and again, my constituents and other British Columbians write about their fears for the future. From
[ Page 4130 ]
Carolyn: "The worst part is that it will be applied to food, and I do not believe that people should be taxed more for the necessities of life. My grocery bill is already huge because I have so many allergies that I have to eat specialty foods, which are more expensive. This will make my grocery bill climb."

From Carol: "These are tough times for many people, and this will make it more difficult."

I'm reading all of these letters — in case people on the other side are getting bored with it — because I believe it's better for me to speak the words of my constituents rather than how I feel about it. I think the people in the opposition…. Sorry — just projecting ahead, Madam Speaker. I think the people on the government side know how I and the opposition feel about the HST. But these are the words of my constituents.

I'm pretty sure that they're getting the same kinds of letters. If they're not…. It's unimaginable to me that they're not getting them, that if we talked to the people running their offices, the people running their offices would say: "No, no, we're not getting letters opposed to the HST."

I've heard members of the government read petitions they've had about the HST from their ridings, so I'm pretty sure they're getting these same letters. They may not have read them.

They have to listen to me today, so that's why I'm reading these letters, because these are the people of British Columbia. This is how they feel. This isn't how I feel. Well, it may well be how I feel. That's not important, Madam Speaker. What's important is that these are the people that vote. These are the people that pay the taxes, and what they think counts.

This is from Carol. Carol says:

"To implement this tax is a disaster for the working-class people of British Columbia. It is already bad enough that the world has messed up so many of our small investments. Now you are implementing a tax that is going to impact our family budgets even more. Parents of children are going to be hit very hard. You want our youth to stay off the streets? This is definitely not going to help. If you really want to educate young people, then let's put a tax on books — really."

From Ellen: "We have the highest rate of child poverty in Canada. That is something to be proud of. Let's now make it even worse."

More on the subject of poverty from Brian:

"I am already sliding down and feeling like the middle class is vanishing. All the taxes taken from us seem to have been channelled into the poor to make everyone a bit poorer, creating a rich and a poor class. This tax grab will further my slide down to become one of the truly poor in the province, and I really don't want to become dependent on the government or, even worse, become a homeless panhandler, something that 20 years ago wasn't even in my wildest dreams and now looks like an ever-increasing possibility in my life."

Words to be remembered. This is just an ordinary guy, Brian, looking at a picture of the future that he never, ever thought he'd have to look at.

From Jenna: "This tax hurts many people, like my disabled mother who cannot qualify for disability because she exhibits too much independence. Now the very little money she does have will be further taxed when she buys the things she needs."

Here are some additional comments from ordinary British Columbians. From David: "Please fight hard." He sent this to me. "Please fight hard against the HST. This tax is unfair to the people of B.C."

From Barb: "This is another ripoff by a government that's done nothing but take and take, not to mention lying to the people of this province. Putting money in our pockets is something this government just doesn't do."

From Don:

"The government must be told in no uncertain terms that they do not have a mandate to harmonize the GST and the PST in this province, and should they continue on this course of action, they will be reduced to insignificant numbers come the next election. Many of us are still angry over the carbon tax, which again is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The Premier can no more have an effect on global warming than he could empty Lafarge Lake" — which is a little lake in my riding — "with a teaspoon."

Actually, it's not in my riding. Oh, this letter might be from the member opposite's riding, in Coquitlam–Burke Mountain. That's where Lafarge Lake is.

Bob says: "One word — no." That's what Bob says.

[1625]

Finally, from Jenna again: "Industries, the planet, students, and people of all sizes and shapes will be hurt by this tax. Please do your part to make B.C. HST-free." I couldn't agree more with that.

Ordinary Canadian consumers and many businesses have been expressing their opposition to this tax since it was first announced. The bottom line for individuals and families is that they will pay more. Costs will go up, but wages will remain the same. It transfers approximately $1.9 billion in taxes paid by big business onto the backs of consumers. B.C. already has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, as one of my letters just said. I suggest we try moving in the opposite direction.

Why don't we look at some of the groups that are opposed to the HST? The Restaurant and Foodservices Association of B.C and Canada calls this "a 7 percent meal tax." They say that it will cost the industry $750 million each year in lost sales, or nearly $50,000 per restaurant in British Columbia. Wow. This translates into jobs as about 7 percent of B.C.'s workforce is in the food service industry. When restaurant meals become more expensive, we'll all be looking for layoffs.

The Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. says: "The HST will cost up to 10,000 tourism-related jobs. It seems like a counterproductive act to invite the world to see our magnificent province during the winter Olympics, then force cuts in tourism jobs. It will also lower tourism industry revenue by up to $545 million per year."

I'll remind Madam Speaker that these are not my words. Those are the words of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., whom I would think would be one
[ Page 4131 ]
of the stakeholders friendly with the government, so surely they know that this is what they're saying — that it will "lower tourism industry revenue by up to $545 million per year and reduce government tax revenues for all three levels of government by up to $157 million." Pretty catastrophic, I would say.

Now we have the B.C. Association of School Business Officials, who initially said: "The HST will cost B.C. schools approximately $40 million per year. That's $24 million in increased operating costs and $14.7 million for capital facility costs."

While I am pleased that schools will now receive a rebate of 87 percent of the provincial portion of the HST, they will still be paying much more at a time when school boards are already struggling with higher MSP premiums and cuts to facility grants, parent advisory councils and school sports.

The B.C. Care Providers Association, who I referred to earlier in my notes, says: "The HST will transfer millions from seniors care back to the Ministry of Finance. An average 100-bed facility would see its costs increase by over $60,000, especially for vital services like employee development, housekeeping, laundry, resident outings, travel, building maintenance, contract services, vocational therapists, refuse removal, pest control, landscape and snow removal." All very, very important things to the B.C. Care Providers Association.

The Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. says that the HST will cost non-profit social service agencies. They want the rebate level increased from 57 percent to at least 75 percent so that this tax will be fiscally neutral for them.

The B.C. Real Estate Association says that it will increase the cost of new homes and professional services such as appraisals, inspections and realtor commissions. Even with rebates, the HST will cost B.C. Housing and the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation — even with rebates — between $1.7 million and $6.6 million per year. Even with rebates — that's important. Very important words there.

The Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C. — many, many groups here with their comments, very important groups; many, many people are members of these groups — says that the HST will increase costs to operate rental buildings by up to 3 percent or $300 per rental every single year.

[1630]

Guess who's going to pay that ultimately — the tenants, of course. We already suffer from a lack of affordable rental housing and have thousands of families on the waiting lists for subsidized housing, which hardly exists.

Municipal governments are opposed, even though they have had a small rebate. But the HST will increase costs for everything, from their perspective, from recreation programs to cemeteries. Richmond, for example, estimates that it will increase the city budget by up to a million dollars a year. As a former city councillor, I know how hard municipalities work to keep the budget in control and avoid unnecessary tax hikes.

According to budget documents, harmonizing the PST and the GST will mean that B.C. consumers will be taxed per year — I'm going to read some of the increases now — at least $55 million more for school supplies, $82 million more for basic telephone and cable service, some portion of $63 million more for magazines and newspapers, at least $8 million more for bicycles, $5 million more for hybrid electric passenger vehicles, $23 million more for energy-efficient appliances and building materials, and at least $11 million more for conventional fuel-efficient vehicles. Some portion of….

Excuse me. I'm getting carried away, Madam Speaker. These figures are so big. I'm not used to such large amounts of money escaping from the pockets of consumers, so I get a little carried away.

They will be paying some portion of $991 million for food because while basic groceries will still be exempt, restaurant meals and prepared foods will not be exempt.

We should also consider what the HST will do to children's sports. Sports associations will be paying an additional 7 percent for field and facility rentals. That cost will be passed on to children and their parents through higher fees. Families will be paying more for safety equipment like helmets. I can safely say that some families with more than one child wanting to participate in a sport will find that the costs and higher fees make it impossible. Do we really want healthier children? It certainly doesn't look that way.

I believe we've reached the tipping point on the HST where there is such vast opposition that this government is going to have to look at a way of back-pedalling and saving face. I for one and I'm sure all the members sitting on this side and, of course, up to 90 percent of the residents of British Columbia…. None of us can wait and see what this government comes up with.

Hon. R. Hawes: Before I start, just a question for the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville. She served on a municipal council. I wonder how many times, when tax increases went through, she listened when people said they didn't want a tax increase. I guarantee you that they did say that. I wonder how many times during an election campaign municipally she went out and said: "Gee, we're going to raise your taxes." Never. So come on. Let's get down to real facts here.

I'm going to start by going back a little bit to 2001. In 2001 when our government was elected, we inherited a structural deficit of $4.7 billion. These members opposite like to say they had a surplus. It was fiction, done with the old accounting standards that really weren't standards at all. We inherited that deficit, and we said in
[ Page 4132 ]
2001 — we passed legislation, in fact, balanced-budget legislation — that we would balance the budget in three years.

At that time the two members of the NDP that sat in this House…. Joy MacPhail and the member for — what is it — Vancouver–Mount Pleasant sat here for the four years. For the entire time they said that it's not possible to balance the budget. Year after year they said that.

In the first month that we took power in 2001, we put through a 25 percent income tax cut. The NDP decried that along with their leader at that time and today's leader, Jim Sinclair — decried that income tax cut saying it was going to destroy the province financially. It was never going to be recovered. We were heading just into doom and gloom, and the sky was going to fall. This went on for some period of time.

[1635]

The media said it was not possible to balance the budget. We did everything that we said we were going to do. We balanced the budget. We put the province back into surplus, and we adopted GAAP — generally accepted accounting principles — so there could never be a fudge-it budget like we saw in 1996.

We did those things against all of the opposition, all of the chattering "never, never, no, no, no" people on the other side. We put through legislation that actually helped rebuild an economy, but they voted against every single tax cut. In fact, they have voted against every tax cut that we've put through over the past nine years. There are over a hundred of them.

Now, let's move forward. I sat on the Finance Committee for several years. The Finance Committee travels the province every year and listens to British Columbians, gathers input on what a budget should look like, what should be in the budget. The Finance Committee then makes recommendations based on what they heard around the province, first to the Legislature but also to the Minister of Finance.

Let me read one of the recommendations from 2008. This was the committee that travelled, looking at the budget for 2009. One of the recommendations said: "The Finance Committee recommends…the provincial government consider…conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the harmonization of the provincial sales tax and the federal goods and services tax." Gee. So the Finance Committee was saying to the Finance Minister: "Take a good look, and see if there's a reason to go to a harmonized tax."

Now, they weren't saying: "Take a good look, and don't do it at all." They were saying, "Take a good look, and if it makes sense, then you should go to it" — obviously, otherwise the recommendation wouldn't be there. Who made that recommendation? Who signed on to that recommendation? Gee, I see it was the member for Surrey-Whalley. The critic on the opposition for Finance was recommending to the Finance Minister that he look at the HST.

Who else? Oh, the member for Skeena, who is repeatedly in this House decrying the HST. The member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca, the critic for Energy, said: "Let's look at the HST and see if it makes sense." And the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville, who just spoke. Unbelievable. She said to the Finance Minister: "Take a look at the HST and see if it makes sense." She didn't say: "See if it makes sense, and if it does, don't do it." She said: "Take a look, and see if it makes sense." Clearly, that means if it makes sense, you would implement it.

Now, what happened with that recommendation? Do you know what happened with it, Madam Speaker? It came to the Legislature in February of 2009, and every single member on that side in the NDP — every NDP — voted in favour of the Finance Minister taking a look at the HST. Every one of them did it. It was unanimously adopted by the Legislature.

The members opposite don't like facts, but the truth is….

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Order, Members. Order. Let the minister speak.

Hon. R. Hawes: Check Hansard. It's on the record. The members opposite don't like to be on the record about anything. They don't like to take a stand on anything, but they did on this issue. They voted to have the Finance Minister conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the HST.

That's February. So now let's figure out: did it happen?

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Minister. Minister, one moment.

Hon. R. Hawes: Well, if anyone thinks that the Finance Minister himself sits down and just does a cost-benefit analysis on something, you'd better bone up on how government works. There is very, very dedicated and very good staff in the Ministry of Finance, and things like a cost-benefit analysis on something like this are conducted by staff. It's not done in a three-day period.

So over a period of time, as has happened, by the way, in previous years…. In previous years the Finance Committee made the same recommendation. The same members voted for it, and year after year, the Finance Ministry has looked at the HST and has determined in previous years that it didn't make sense. That look doesn't happen overnight.

[1640]

Now, we go through an election, and the members opposite make a big deal about, you know, misleading
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— all the stuff that they say. But let's go this way, Madam Speaker. What I want to say is this. I sat on Treasury Board before the election. This never came to Treasury Board. I know it never went to cabinet. I know the Finance Minister says that it wasn't considered before the election. I happen to believe him.

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Minister. Minister, just one moment, please.

Could the members please give the minister of state the opportunity to make his remarks. I know that every member has the opportunity to talk on this debate, and I would like the members to give him the courtesy to make his remarks so we can all hear them.

Hon. R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, I don't mind if they heckle, because it means that (1) they're listening, and (2) the truth hurts them. They don't like the truth. They never have liked the truth.

The opposition likes to go out to the public and say that there was misleading and all the things they say. There's nothing we're going to do to change people's minds on that if that's the way they want to think. I know in my heart of hearts what happened. I know that we did not mislead the province of British Columbia.

But this is politics, and the members opposite are going to go out and they're going to mislead the public wherever they can to score their political points. That's the way it works. I get that, but let's get over whether somebody knew or when you knew.

That's not relevant. What's relevant here is: is the HST good policy? Why can't you talk about whether or not HST is good policy? I think that's what we should be talking about.

I think also you should take some responsibility for having the HST put in place. You are the ones, along with this side of the House, that recommended to the Finance Minister that he look at the HST. Frankly, I want to congratulate you for being astute enough to make that recommendation. It's great policy.

Let's talk about whether it's a good tax. Over the past several years there have been some changes made by the federal government….

Deputy Speaker: Minister, if I might remind you. Through the Chair, please, Minister. Thank you.

Again, I'd like to remind members about the level of the heckling, and from their own seats, please.

Hon. R. Hawes: With regard to the HST and the look that the government's had over several years, there was very little flexibility. There were a number of reasons why it wasn't acceptable in the past, but things have changed.

Now, I just want to quote John Maynard Keynes — maybe the folks opposite have never heard of John Maynard Keynes — a pretty influential economist. In addressing someone who asked him why he appeared to have changed his mind on an issue, he said: "Well, when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

I would put that to them, to the members opposite. When facts change, they seem to be stuck in the same thing, and they're incapable of changing their mind. They're incapable of looking at change. Unfortunately, as the world is changing, the global world is changing, they're stuck in this "Let's build a moat around British Columbia," this defensive policy that nowhere should we recognize, first, world trade, second…. They always use the word "multinational" like it's some terrible thing. It's all a red herring.

The debate here needs to be about: is HST good policy? That's the debate. Will it build a better British Columbia?

You know, over and over the last speaker got up and read a whole bunch of e-mails from her constituents, or who she claims to be her constituents. Many of those are actually form letters that are going out, and I suspect some of them authored by folks that represent the NDP. They go around as viral e-mails that spread, actually, a whole bunch of misleading and untrue information.

Today we've heard — and I assume we're going to hear this all the time we go through this debate from members opposite — $1.9 billion transferred from the biggest corporations. Well, in the 1990s at the start…. In 1991 big corporations were actually big — by the definition of those folks. By the end of the 1990s, corporations had left and gone to Calgary, moved their head offices, and the definition of who was a big company began to slide.

[1645]

Now, I don't know what they call a big corporation. The biggest corporations are getting the benefit. I know that the benefit is actually going to businesses. Big, small — all businesses — are going to get…. Any business for whose product or service there will be HST is going to get their PST back. That's a benefit to those businesses. Those small businesses are getting a benefit.

The member opposite said that we should be listening to the groups that she quoted. Well, I'm going to quote a few groups too. These are groups that represent small business, and they're saying: "We write paycheques for people. We provide jobs for people, and the HST helps us stay in business."

I just think it's a little much for that group over there to disregard the voices of those who write the paycheques and provide the jobs. I know the folks over there would prefer to see every single job in British Columbia provided by the government as a union-type job. But the reality, folks, is that, actually, private enterprise is the job engine for British Columbia, and the beneficiaries
[ Page 4134 ]
of the HST are the workers who work for those small businesses. You can't argue against that. It's a fact, an economic fact.

But yet you stand up, and you talk as though this is a benefit for big corporations. Which are they? What's your definition of a big corporation? Mom and pop that built their business up, and they've got 15 employees? Is that a big corporation? Are you talking about an oil company? What are you talking about here?

Every job, whether it's from a huge company…. If it's from Imperial Oil, that job is valuable to the person who holds the job. If it's a job in Teck Cominco's mine, it's an important job to that family, and if it helps Teck Cominco keep those people employed, it's an important move forward, and I think you shouldn't forget that.

Deputy Speaker: Through the Chair, Minister.

Hon. R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, I want to just talk about, first and foremost, the embedded nature of the existing tax, and some of us on this side get it. We've tried to explain it. I know the previous speaker from our side did speak about the embedded nature and how it compounds. PST compounds.

I don't know. If you take any kind of a good that you purchase that will attract HST — a chair — the manufacturer goes and buys the lumber for the chair, but the mill paid PST on its equipment. The mill paid PST on a whole bunch of the goods that they use. If they are going to….

N. Macdonald: You're the expert. Do they pay it on their equipment?

Hon. R. Hawes: They pay PST on much of the equipment that they use. They also, for example, if they have trucks, pay PST on their trucks. As it moves forward through the system, the goods that are used by that manufacturer can have PST embedded on every single thing that touches that piece of wood that went into that chair.

When it ultimately hits the consumer who's going to pay the HST, it may have had PST on those components compounded many, many times. But when it hits the floor in the retail store, you don't know that that PST is embedded, because it's just part of the business cost that was passed on and passed on and not identified as tax. It's just part of the cost.

So they marked up their cost, and as our member pointed out, actually built profit on it too, so that by the time that it hits the floor, the consumer's actually paying a whole bunch of PST that's embedded. So now with the HST, on some of those goods, they would have continued to pay, but the PST will be rebated. Every step along the way, the PST is going to be claimed back. That should allow costs to decrease.

Now, if you listen to some of the leading financial prognosticators in British Columbia, they will say that prices actually will come down, and I believe they will come down. The leading economists in the country said they'll come down because, unlike what the NDP don't seem to grasp, it's a competitive world.

[1650]

When your competition lowers its price, you do one of two things. You lower your price, or you go out of business. So what will happen is that prices actually are going to come down. Costs are going to come down for many businesses. The impact of the HST is not going to be anywhere near as significant certainly as people that are travelling around with the Vander Zalm–NDP sideshow…. The impacts will not be anything like what they are talking about.

I want to look at mining. That's the portfolio that I now have some responsibility for. Unlike what the members opposite like to say, when they say there were no metal mines opened for the last twelve years…. Actually, that's not true. There is a metal mine that opened actually in the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke's riding. There was a metal mine opened there in 2003. He's perhaps not aware of it because the folks who run that mine perhaps don't speak to him.

I know that the mining industry is not a supporter of the NDP in any way, shape or form. In fact, they recoiled in terror during the 1990s when the NDP were here, in power. They have a fear, a deep-seated terror, of a return ever of the NDP. I can tell you that the financiers around the world who look at financing mining are also afraid of the return of a socialist agenda like the NDP carried.

You can hear it every day here. We can hear it when you talk about big corporations as though they are dirt, amoral and just bodies that should be abhorred by everyone — big business, corporations. Listen to the members get up. They make snide comments about that. They get up one after the other, and they talk about big business as though it's the enemy. Frankly, all business is our friend in British Columbia if it employs British Columbia people, and they do employ British Columbia people.

I wonder if these people, if the members opposite, would want to go to people that work for Imperial Oil or any large corporation and tell them that the company they work for is a big corporation and therefore should be taxed, basically, until their jobs are gone. I don't think they would hear that from the employees.

I think they are very disrespectful of the free enterprise businesses that run our province, especially — oh god — if they're non-union. "Oh my god. We must stamp out those non-union profit-makers." It's just ghastly the comments that come from them. We need to build a stronger economy, and the HST does that.

I want to speak for a minute about the restaurant industry and tourism and housing. The member for
[ Page 4135 ]
Coquitlam-Maillardville made a lot of comments about the restaurant…. The restaurant industry is out there making all these comments. "Thousands of jobs, nobody will eat in the restaurants. Oh my god. Come July 1, no one will even order a pizza. Nobody's going to go to McDonald's and have a $1.50 hamburger because it's going to cost them an extra dime." Let's get real, folks.

The restaurant industry needs to understand that if they're out there telling people that come July 1 no one will be able to afford to eat in their establishments, people might believe them. That's pretty scary. I can tell you, if I was running a restaurant, I would be saying: "I provide value for the money. The tax — don't worry about it. I still provide great value for my meals. Come on down."

But here's the big deal. The big deal is that with the HST, people are going to have jobs that are more secure, and there will be more jobs. People who actually work are the ones who go to restaurants. It just follows, does it not? I think it does.

Tourism. "My god, it's going to dry up. We're going to see no tourists coming here. They're all going to Europe." Oh gosh, though, in Europe I think that their VAT, value-added tax, which is equivalent to ours, is 20 percent in most places in Europe. Golly, they won't go there. I wonder where the tourists are going to go, then.

Let's get real here. The HST is not going to stop tourism at all. Maybe the increasing value of our dollar will have an impact, but I can tell you that the HST will not have the impacts that they're talking about.

[1655]

They're sending a message out, and I don't understand why the tourism associations would want to send out a message to tourists that they're trying to attract, telling them: "You can't afford to come here anymore." It's a disservice to everyone who is really engaged in the tourism industry. The people who represent them should understand that they should stop saying these things. It scares tourists. It is not something that's going to stop tourism.

I was a realtor for some years. I built condos, and I did development work. I know what happens in housing. I have a pretty good idea of it. I spent a decade doing that. I know that even over the past, say, decade, look at what's happened with house prices. There were months when a house in Vancouver would go up $20,000, $30,000, in its asking price, and people were paying it.

Now look at what the HST could add on a higher-value house. It's way less than the increases that you've seen over the past little while. They get absorbed very quickly. If there's an impact in the housing market, it's going to be short-term — very short-term. It will be absorbed, and people will just move on.

When I was a builder, I said to people: "I will absorb the GST." Because I just built it into my price and said: "Buy the house, and it's GST-free." I paid the GST. That sort of thing is going to happen and still happens. So the doom and gloom from the housing industry — not there.

I will also say that, as a realtor, I frequently, as do all realtors…. When you look at the GST on the commission, all realtors are flexible. Now, they don't want me to say that, but every realtor is flexible on commission. That's what they do, and you cut deals all the time with people. "Gee, you don't want to pay, you know, $15,000 commission on that house? Fine. We'll make it $12,000. Whatever." Those kinds of deals are cut every single day.

I can tell you, real estate is highly, highly competitive, and the HST is not going to have an impact on people paying realtors. That's just not going to happen.

So it's time to actually get down to the reality of this. Forget talking about the timing: "Who said what; when did they say…?" Is this a good tax for British Columbia? That's what this debate needs to be about.

I happen to think that on the other side, the NDP are not capable of engaging in an intelligent debate about the merits of the HST. They can read e-mails from people. But I can tell you, and I started off by saying — speaking about when that member opposite, the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville, was on a city council — that I also spent three terms as a mayor.

There were lots of times that we put through tax increases. We didn't go out and actually consult and ask people: "Do you want a tax increase?" I know what the answer would be. We did what we had to do because it was the right thing for the municipality. We believed that.

If there was heat that came from it, as a city council, we had the courage, as did the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville when she put through a tax increase on councils that she sat on…. She had the courage to look people in the eye when they complained about tax increases, and I'm sure they did because they always do. I'm sure she had the courage to look them in the eye and say: "I'm sorry you don't like it, but it's the right thing to do."

Sometimes doing the right thing takes some courage. It takes no courage — in fact, the opposite; I would almost call it cowardice — to just say: "Let's see which way the wind blows. We'll jump on that train, because that's the way people are saying…. You know, we don't care if it's right or wrong."

But you know what? That's what makes people cynical. It's not…. What makes people cynical is when you have politicians that would do anything to buy a vote, and that's what I see going on here on that side, Madam Speaker. They will say anything. They will do anything. There is no morality to it. They will do whatever is necessary.

Deputy Speaker: Minister, would you please be very careful about what you're saying.
[ Page 4136 ]

Hon. R. Hawes: I'm trying to be very careful, Madam Speaker.

I have heard over and over the word "mislead" from the other side, and I can tell you that we did not mislead anyone. The misleading is going on there. If there's morality in that, in making those kind of statements, I can't see it. I guess that's what I'm trying to say. I will be careful, Madam Speaker.

I heard some quotes from the member opposite. Perhaps the members opposite, who like to chirp a lot…. Perhaps they want to just have the courage to go and look some of these people in the eye and tell them they're wrong.

[1700]

I'd like to know if anyone in the NDP wants to stand up and say: "These people are wrong." "We think it's going to be very good for the provincial economy over the long term," says Jock Finlayson of the B.C. Business Council. Does he know what he's talking about?

Interjection.

Hon. R. Hawes: Perhaps he doesn't. Is that what you're saying?

Madam Speaker, are they saying he doesn't know?

"Harmonization of the B.C. sales tax with the federal GST is one of the most important policy directions we can put in place today to position us for a strong recovery at the end of our current economic difficulties," says John Winter, president and CEO of B.C. Chamber of Commerce. I wonder who he represents. Oh, he represents the big corporations, doesn't he? Or maybe, just maybe, he represents moms and pops all over British Columbia.

He's saying what they're saying, and that's that the HST is good for us. But do you have the courage to step out and say to Jock Finlayson or John Winter that they don't know what they're talking about?

Deputy Speaker: Minister, through the Chair.

Hon. R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, I'm guessing not one member opposite has the courage to go out and look at these people like Max Logan, B.C. director, Retail Council: "The time savings of collecting just one tax versus two is really going to make life easier." Or how about: "This initiative is the biggest thing that could be done to boost the B.C. economy," says Craig Williams, vice-president, B.C. division, and Jayson Myers, president and CEO, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

What about: "The implementation of the HST is one of the most important and innovative tax reforms the government could bring forward. The HST will improve B.C.'s tax competitiveness, attract new investment, improve productivity and create jobs. To proceed with implementation, despite some public concern" — and the members opposite, I'll just add that myself — "is the right thing to do for British Columbia," says Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the B.C. Mining Association.

But what do these people know? They just represent thousands and thousands of workers, huge investment in this province. They drive the investment in this province. But maybe we shouldn't listen to these business leaders. Maybe we should listen to Jim Sinclair. He's created a lot of jobs, I'm sure. I'm sure Jim Sinclair has made huge investments through his organization, the B.C. Labour Council. There's been huge financial investment just pouring out of that organization. No, Madam Speaker.

The B.C. Ag Council, B.C. Business Council, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, B.C. Lumber Trade Council, Canada West Foundation, Coast Forest Products Association, Conference Board of Canada, Retail Council of Canada, New Car Dealers Association — golly — B.C. Construction Association. These are all people in favour. B.C. Pulp and Paper Steering Committee, truck loggers….

Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Minister.

Hon. R. Hawes: But why would we listen to them? Why would we listen to the business leaders of British Columbia when we could listen to the NDP, who have never provided a paycheque to anyone?

Deputy Speaker: Minister, thank you very much.

N. Simons: Madam Speaker, it's an honour to stand in this House and represent the constituents of Powell River–Sunshine Coast, who stand solidly behind me and my colleagues when we decry this public policy double-cross of the Liberal government, who announced one thing before the election and changed their mind six weeks after the election.

It's bad public policy. It's terrible public policy. It's hurtful public policy, and it was brought in through deceit by this government. Members like the one who bellowed before are capable of speaking loudly, but they don't have an ounce of realism. They don't reflect the people's concerns of this province, and they think that by being bellicose, they can get away with anything. Well, that's going to stop, Madam Speaker, and they should know it.

They're offering assistance, but their assistance to me is like their assistance to the people of this province. It's nonexistent, it's fake, and it's a double-cross. The people of this province were double-crossed by the government who promised one thing before the election and did an entirely different thing after the election. If that's not an example of a double-cross, I don't know what is.

[1705]
[ Page 4137 ]

[L. Reid in the chair.]

There are approximately 85 percent of the province who agree with me, 85 percent of the province who take insult from the comments of members opposite, 85 percent of the province who have listened to the failed arguments of this government and don't buy for a minute that "Taste this; it's good for you," because that's not true.

As you know, the people of the province are reeling from one example of poor government after another. This was announced six weeks after an election, during which period they had ample opportunity to come clean with the people of this province. But instead they hid their true intentions. They hid their true intentions during the election period. Six weeks after the election, by anybody's standard, even if it were good policy…. That's a bad thing to do, when we live in a democracy and when we have already as much disenfranchisem*nt as we have in this province.

They're doing everything they can to make the people of this province care less and less about government. Well, the sooner they're out of there, the better. The sooner they're out of there, the better for the people of this province.

There are so many arguments that will clearly indicate, as if we really need to make them…. I think the people of British Columbia have heard enough. They've heard enough from this government about their bad policies that are going to punish them for simple purchases that they've been able to make until the implementation of the HST.

They have one report. I used to teach in criminology. I understand the Liberals pretty well. I was a criminologist, and I used to work in prisons.

Deputy Speaker: Member.

N. Simons: Well, I'm speaking about….

Deputy Speaker: Member, is it your intention to impute an improper motive to another hon. member?

N. Simons: I'm not sure, Madam Speaker. If I said anything that would take any offence by any member opposite, I withdraw wholeheartedly, but I don't know what I said.

Deputy Speaker: Thank you.

N. Simons: I'm a criminologist. I've got a master's degree in criminology. I understand the Liberal government. Those two — if you want to put them together, that's the choice you can make on that side of the House. But I'm telling you right now that they don't have to impugn what I do or what members of this side do. They want to claim that they're experts because they were once a realtor. I'm not making a comparison, but I understand.

I taught criminology at the university level, and if I had one paper submitted to me with one single reference to one person, I would fail that person in my class. That's unheard of that a government can come to this House, present a complete change in their public policy after an election and justify it with one reference — eight months after.

I'm speaking as a lecturer in criminology. If someone submitted a term paper to me and claimed that their arguments were justified using one source — to be more clear, if they used one source, if they used five sources — that would be considered academically insufficient to make a proper argument. Yet this government, on the backs of the people, is going to justify their ill-thought-out public policy based on the retroactive comments of one economist. That is a failure for this government. They wouldn't get past first year. My point is made.

Earlier, another member referred to the boogeyman. I'm not sure if they're back or not.

The question before us is debate over a tax policy that was contemplated before the election, according to the member opposite. It was contemplated before the election. It was thought about before the election. It was apparently something that they'd thought about.

[1710]

Ontario implemented the HST a month or two before the election. The federal government was offering incentives for provinces to buy into this system, yet somehow our Minister of Finance must have been relaxing somewhere, unaware of the public policy changes occurring in large provinces in this country.

So conveniently, six weeks after the election was decided, the government decides to bring in not just an unpopular tax, but a tax that is regressive, a regressive tax that will shift the burden from large corporations to the individuals of this province — individuals who, I might say, polling results show to be against this tax by a margin of approximately 85 percent.

Now, it's regressive because it hurts people in the pocketbook. It hurts for the goods and services that they've been purchasing without this tax, and it will hurt them even more after July 1 if this goes through.

I understand how there was some concern when I mentioned criminology, but my reference was, of course, now that I'm thinking about it, obviously about justifying a position. As a sessional instructor, you expect students to be able to justify their positions. I could have been a psychology prof. I could have been anything. I'm talking about the field I was in. Yes, I did work in prisons. There was an education program for prisoners, making sure they were more capable of dealing with the challenges in life after they get released. But I didn't necessarily think of that when I looked at the minister across the way.
[ Page 4138 ]

But what we do have in this province right now is a population that is outraged — outraged at the double-cross that they feel has been implemented by this government. I understand their sensitivity. They're obviously getting the huge amount of e-mail that we're getting as well. I understand their difficulty in justifying an unjustifiable position. I know how it makes a person a little bit cranky, might make them a little bit short-tempered, might make them a little bit sensitive and might make them a bit paranoid.

But the fact of the matter remains that the vast majority of British Columbians, who this party is supposed to represent as government, are angry that their government has turned their back on the people of this province and has decided that somehow imposing higher costs on households and household goods…. Regular, everyday necessities are going to be higher. The list is huge. The list is long. We've heard others mention it.

Of course, members from the government side aren't going to list these, you know. The taxes, the increases are on top of the other costs that have been imposed by this government through their lack of action or for their wilful action. Those, you know — hydro, Terasen rates….

We've got ferry rates that have skyrocketed, impacting my community in a huge way. Many of them probably don't travel on the ferries, but many of my constituents have to do that out of necessity. They visit doctors by taking the ferry. They sometimes shop; they have to take the ferry. They go to work. They take the ferry every day.

The minister may not care about those people in my constituency. He certainly doesn't seem to be concerned about the 85 percent of the population that disagree fundamentally with his party's platform. Not the party's platform. Rather, their party's actions, because their platform didn't mention this. I might have pointed that out already.

Interjection.

N. Simons: Absolutely correct. I am absolutely correct, and the Minister of Labour, or minister of something that he shouldn't be, is agreeing with me. So I'm not alone, and I don't feel any sort of negativity from members from the government side. They know that I'm speaking on behalf of the vast majority of British Columbians when I say that they should change their mind about this tax or, if not, put it before the people of the province if they're that sure about it.

If the minister opposite and the members opposite are that sure that this is the appropriate public policy statement or public policy to take, they should not have fear of bringing that before the people of the province. By the most neutral arbiter, looking at this situation, they will see that a tax imposition of this magnitude so shortly after an election certainly can provide ample ammunition to anybody who would suggest that there was some skulduggery.

[1715]

Interjection.

N. Simons: The minister wants to bring me back to my high school days, and I'm not sure I want to go there. I understand this is not the Senate of Rome, and I understand that he was a young man then. But I'm here now, and I'm representing the people now. I was elected first in 2005. The member might remember that; he might not.

I'm pleased to say that the people of Powell River–Sunshine Coast were satisfied with my efforts to re-elect me again. I think that the minister opposite probably is a little bit sensitive, because if he went before the people of his constituency now, with the information that the people of the province have now, he would find himself out of work.

Perhaps he would go back to being a realtor, but he would find himself punished by his government's policies, as a realtor. So he's sort of caught between a rock and a hard place. That's a fine place for him. I'm not going to have a problem with that. But there is certainly a huge list of individuals and agencies that are very concerned about this.

Let me just talk about the community social services sector, which whether the members opposite…. I give them credit for understanding the importance of community social services, not that that translates into support.

We all know what community social service organizations do for our community — maintain our cohesiveness and ensure that we don't have people left completely without supports, whether it be the record number of homeless people in the province, whether it be the record number of children living in poverty or whether it be the number of children who are left without supports after being abused or neglected.

The social service agencies do provide important service to our communities, and they have been cut. They have had $10 million cut from their community social services budget. On top of that, they've had to pay for the municipal pension plan, and on top of it now, they have to pay for the HST, with a very minimal rebate compared to other agencies.

Just taking the social services sector alone, we know that the burden of the HST will be great. We know that if social services agencies making choices about their budget…. We know that since 2002, when the core review happened, they've been cut to the bone, and now they're being asked to cut even more.

When you do that in social service agencies, what you do is you create the cracks that our system should be designed to eliminate. When you cut back funding for
[ Page 4139 ]
agencies that need to have good communications with each other in communities, what you're cutting out is that ability to communicate. You're cutting out social programs that are impacting children, programs that have been proven over a long period of time to be beneficial for children.

In my constituency we have programs that support young people who may be in trouble with the law, young people who are having trouble finding stable living arrangements, young people who are having difficulty holding down jobs. We have children who have witnessed violence, children who have been victims of sexual abuse. We have programs that promote parenting skills for parents who may have challenges themselves, the whole array of programs for communities, and those communities' programs need to be supported.

When you see a government removing funding from their core services, from their operational funding, from their capital funding and then, on top of it, announce a punitive tax that will add major costs to their operations without any compensation or even acknowledgment of that, I think those agencies are right to be extremely concerned.

I'm concerned because of the tenuous position it puts agencies in, but I'm even more concerned because of the tenuous position it leaves children and vulnerable families in. I notice that on this topic there seems to be rather more agreement than simply that the HST is bad for individuals. It's bad for agencies. It's bad for community social service agencies. They have said so loudly, clearly and succinctly to government, to no avail.

Ultimately, we have to remember that government said one thing before the election and did another thing after. Their concerns and their complaints and their attempts to get the government's ear have failed.

[1720]

It's a sad day in democracy when you see a government so turn its back on the people who have elected them. It's just bad for democracy.

You know, as an opposition member, for the last couple of months…. People say: "How are things going?" I say: "Well, you know, everyone's mad at the government." I can duck, you know. I just get out of the way of the line of fire. Everybody is mad at government.

It's two things. It's not just the double-cross, which in my opinion is enough to be a reason in itself to oppose any government policy, but it's the impact, the impact on families — just regular families.

It's bad enough that government has increased the cost of camping in this province. They've allowed the increase in cost for trailers on ferries. So for people with a tent trailer now on ferries, it's almost too exorbitant for them to consider coming to a coastal community for a holiday. It's certainly much more expensive. And now we're having an additional tax, an additional tax on camping fees.

We saw this government implement pay parking in the parks. We've seen them cut environmental protection. We've seen them now increase camping fees. We've seen policies that make it more difficult for families to go camping, and now we see an HST, an HST that's going to certainly make many families think twice about how they're going to spend their holidays. We would like to encourage people to stay in British Columbia, stay in the province so that we can, you know, support our own economy and experience and explore the wonder of our natural assets.

Policies that infringe on individuals' choices like that…. I find that troubling, very troubling. But camping fees aren't the only thing.

They're dinging us with increases too. Everything from taxi fares, veterinary care, yoga, dance classes, memberships for gyms, ice rentals if your kid's in hockey or figure skating or broomball or ice fishing — oh no, not ice fishing — haircuts, personal care products….

Interjections.

N. Simons: See, I'm just wondering if they're listening, Madam Speaker. I don't know. Now, I don't want to see any of them wandering onto a sheet of ice with a little stick with a hook on the end of it. I know they're in need of finding fans, but they're not going to find it below the surface of an ice rink.

Bicycles, bicycle repairs, wedding planning, catering, funerals — that's almost a life span, and all of those costs are going to be increasing when July 1 comes along. Events, festivals — the choral festivals and writers festivals and folk festivals. Admission to those events are going to up. They're going to have to go up, and you have to pay that price now if the event takes place after July 1. Basic residential telephone service will now have an additional tax. Basic cable TV service, smoke alarms, work safety equipment, energy-saving building materials. Bicycles. Did I mention bicycles?

The items that I'm enumerating….

An Hon. Member: You forgot haircuts.

N. Simons: I did forget a haircut, and I forgot haircuts on my list.

What I see as problematic, and others have pointed this out as well, is that the jurisdiction that the province has had over taxation is going to be eroded. Our ability to shape public policy, as governments do, through taxation policy will be lessened. I think this is really quite an important issue that has in some ways sort of become secondary to the other issues of the double-cross and the cost to individuals, but it's our jurisdiction over our ability to shape taxation policy.

[1725]

So far, I have just pointed out that the people of the province are adamantly opposed to this tax, partly be-
[ Page 4140 ]
cause they feel that they were double-crossed, and secondly, because they see such a large list of items for which they're going to be paying more. They're also concerned about the cost of so many other services — the increase in the medical services premium, and I mentioned ferry fares, B.C. Hydro.

Let's just talk about schools for a moment. You know, as much as we get berated for not listening to individuals that support their side of this, if you will, there are important agencies which are not themselves getting any benefit from being critical.

I always think about the source of supporters. What's your source? So it's not just good enough to have one source. If you have more than one source, and you enumerate them, question their particular perspective…. We've seen a correlation, at least, between government policy and who their supporters are. We see that in private power. We see that in new car dealers. We see it in optometry regulations. I could probably name quite a few others.

The simple fact remains that the people of the province can draw that line. They can see who donates to the Liberal party. They can see what policy the government implements. When you withdraw that line, sometimes it's eye-opening.

So when the government tells us who's supporting their particular perspective, they don't mention individuals like the seniors or the families or the kids or the young people. They mention organizations claiming to represent entire industries, and I think that's unfair, partly because I've spoken to many people who are members of chambers of commerce. I've spoken to many people in other agencies that the members opposite have cited as supporting the HST.

I can say it's certainly not unanimous, because when you have 85 percent of the population disapproving a government policy, you need to know that it's a lot more than those listed by government. Municipalities — they're going to certainly feel the hit, and of course, when municipalities have to pay more, it's the people that are going to be paying more.

I find the government's defensiveness on this and their secretiveness on this entirely troubling. If it was a tactful election scheme, then it's equally troubling, because they would have had an opportunity to put this idea before the people of the province, and they would have had an opportunity — maybe a better opportunity than they have now — to make their point.

They would have been engaged in debates, all-candidates' debates. They would have been going door to door. They would have met people in parking lots. They would have met them in the mall. They would have spoken at schools. They would have addressed community service groups. They could have addressed religious organizations, and they would have been able to put before these people the idea, the government's idea on what their plans were for the province.

But despite the Minister of State for Mining's claims that they were thinking about this, other members said they hadn't heard about it until after the election. So now I'm wondering: did some members of cabinet know? Because the member seems to think that somehow we all said we wanted an HST.

[1730]

I mean, I think he pulled that out of thin air, because I understand that the minister, in defence, said that this was not on his radar. You know, when it comes to public policy, I'm not sure radar is the best way to identify trends.

Let me just, for the minister's information, make a few points here. This is a quote from the Premier of the province on August 7, 2009. I should point out this was shortly after the people of the province woke up to the shock of being told that they were going to be subject to the HST.

"The fact of the matter is it wasn't on our radar. We didn't engage in any discussions." Why would they, if it wasn't on their radar? But he pointed it out. "We didn't engage in any discussions. I wasn't thinking about it until after the election."

"I wasn't thinking about it until after the election." Was it "I didn't think about it" or "I hadn't thought about it, but I wasn't thinking about it until after the election"? In other words, he didn't want to think about it more than just letting it pass through his mind.

The people of the province were not convinced by this. Here's another quote. "After the election, as I mentioned, the Deputy Minister of Finance came and said: 'Look, let's find out what's going on in Ontario and how that's working.'"

They'd heard about it. They definitely heard about it. They knew our most populous province in the country was implementing this massive change in public policy, in taxation. Yet they didn't go any further. They didn't start thinking about it until after the election. I'm glad I'm not the only one that finds the opportunity for satire rich and fertile.

But you know, the people of the province are going to hear more about this. We'll be called fearmongers more. We'll point out the obviously duplicitous nature of this policy. The people of the province are going to have to continue to follow this and continue to engage in public policy, which I think is a good thing. Unfortunately, it's over an issue that causes a lot of anger. It's not the best way, in my opinion, to engage the public. But I'm glad the public is engaged, because through this HST we have a view into the manner in which this government operates.

I hope the people of the province see the HST as the symbol of how this government operates, because it's a clear one. It's straightforward, and it's easily understood. Logic would suggest that government is aware of the mistake it has made — not just the mistake of promising
[ Page 4141 ]
one thing before the election and doing something after contrary to their promises, but also that they didn't do due diligence in examining the impact.

Hon. P. Bell: Madam Speaker, it's a pleasure for me to rise and take my place in what is undoubtedly one of the most important debates that will likely take place in this House in the second decade of the 21st century. Although the HST has become a controversial issue, I do think it is one of the most important things we can do to help support our rural resource-based economies in this province. I'm going to take some time to articulate why I believe that is so important.

The resource economies are what built this province. When you go back over the decades and consider the importance of the forest industry, the mining industry and the energy industries, they are clearly what have provided us with the wealth that has been necessary to build the transportation infrastructure, the hospitals and the education system that we are all so very proud of today.

Yet our export industries have been very challenged, particularly in the last number of years, as a result of global economic trends. So it's important that we position ourselves and our export-based industries in a way that ensures that they are the most competitive export-based industries anywhere in the world.

[1735]

You know, there are about 30 or so forestry-based jurisdictions that all vie for the international marketplace to sell their lumber products. Whether that's somewhere close to us like Washington State or Alberta or somewhere further away like Chile or New Zealand, Norway, the Scandinavian countries or other jurisdictions around the world, 29 of those 30 jurisdictions have something in common.

That is that every single one of them has a value-added tax model that does not ask the communities that import their goods to pay a tax back into that jurisdiction. They all operate under a model where, when they export goods from their jurisdiction, they don't tax those goods as they leave the jurisdiction.

There's one of those 30 or so jurisdictions across the world that don't do that, and that's British Columbia today. In fact, we impose upon our export industries — our energy industry, our forest industry, our mining industries — a tax that is equivalent to about 2 or 3 percent in embedded taxes that flow out into those jurisdictions. For the forest industry, that works out to about $7 per thousand board feet.

Now, in very good economic times that $7 per thousand board feet is probably not all that relevant, not a game changer, not something that would be impactful. But in very challenging economic times like we have just come through, clearly it is a game changer. Clearly, that $7 a thousand board feet on our export lumber will have an impact in terms of companies deciding which mills stay open and which mills close.

It's such a fine margin at those very fine rates of return when you're selling lumber for as little as $135 a thousand board feet, which we're only about 14 months away from now. Just over a year ago that was the price of lumber. Even a year ago it was under $200 a thousand board feet.

That $7 a thousand board feet easily makes the difference between that mill or that operation staying open and that mill closing. We are in a global industry. Certainly anyone that is involved in the forest industry, in the mining industry or in the energy industry understands that we are competing with jurisdictions all over the world.

That $7 a thousand board feet might make the difference between the mill in British Columbia closing versus the mill in Washington State or in Oregon or in Norway or in Chile or in New Zealand or in some other jurisdiction. Surely we have the responsibility to make sure that we have the most competitive forest sector anywhere in the world.

You know, we often talk about being top performers and mills that are very effective operations. Typically, we refer to those as top-quartile performers — mills that are operating in the top 25 percent of operations around the world. I think one of the things we learned from this most recent downturn is that that's not good enough anymore. We can't just be a top-quartile performer because if we are, we're still subjected to the marketplace and the risks associated with the marketplace and mill closures.

That's not something that any of us are proud of or are happy about. In fact, we want the exact opposite. We want to make sure that all of our mill operations have the ability to operate in the absolute worst markets around the world because we are the most efficient and the most competitive anywhere in the world.

This is one key element that helps support that. Let me share with the members opposite some of the thinking around this and some of the cost implications. I come with a logging background. I used to log throughout the 1990s, so I'm pretty familiar with the cost structures that are involved in it.

If you were to go out today and purchase a new logging truck to add to your fleet — something that I'm hopeful we're going to actually see people doing in the coming months and years as we see the industry reinvigorated — the PST on that truck by itself ranges, depending on the type of truck you purchase, between about $14,000 and $17,000.

That's not something that individual can ever recover. The tires on the truck get charged PST, and all of the repairs and other costs to that truck get charged PST. That PST gets embedded in the system. It gets embedded in the cost of the logs that are harvested and brought to the mill. Then when the mill mills those logs into lumber
[ Page 4142 ]
and ships them overseas, clearly that cost gets embedded in that lumber and those logs.

[1740]

That's what is really key here. We need to be cost competitive. We have some of the best mills anywhere in the world. When you look at an operation like Interfor in Chase on Adams Lake, $100 million of investment in that operation has made it a world leader. By removing the PST from the system and moving to a value-added tax, it will make them that much more competitive, and it will make sure that those employees continue to work in the most difficult times.

You know, Madam Speaker, when I look around the room, I think about some of the areas that are represented by some of the members in this room and how forest-dependent these communities are. The member for North Island sits across the way, and I know that she knows the importance of the forest industry in her communities. I know that's a key driver. She often talks to me about what she can do to help support some of the small value-added operations, and I think she does a great job trying to support that and move that forward.

This is one of those elements that makes some of those value-added producers in the member opposite's riding that much more competitive. When they're trying to export a shake or shingle from their marketplace, the cost is reduced on that, and they can then compete with the best anywhere in the world. It means they have a viable operation that can sustain itself through difficult downturns in the marketplace.

You know, if British Columbia was an island and we only served our own needs, it would perhaps be a different market. But if we were to do that today, if we were to only supply the lumber products that we consume here in British Columbia instead of exporting the lumber around the world, 19 out of 20 sawmills that are open today would be closed, and 19 out of 20 jobs that we have in the forest industry today would be gone, because we export 95 percent of the lumber that we produce here in British Columbia.

If we were to rely only on the minerals that we consume here in British Columbia for our own needs, almost all the mines would close. All the coalmines certainly would close, because we export 100 percent of the coal that's produced here in British Columbia. All of the jobs that are associated with that would go.

If we were to only consume the pulp and paper that we need here in British Columbia and if all the other pulp mills were to close, we'd have maybe about half a pulp mill that would remain open instead of the literally thousands and thousands of high-paying, family-supporting jobs. Many of the things that we have done have worked very effectively for the forest industry, but we need to continue to build on that.

I think there are lots of people in the industry who understand this. I have worked hard to meet with the labour movement, and I have to tell you that I think the steelworkers have worked hard to make sure that we have the most competitive industry that we can possibly have.

Frank Everitt, who is a leader of the steelworkers in northern British Columbia, has worked hard to establish new relationships with the businesses to make sure that we are competitive and to make sure that it's not his members that are put out of work when times are difficult.

You look at the U.S. housing market, Madam Speaker. Clearly, that's been a huge challenge for our forest industry. When you go from two million homes per year down to half a million homes per year, you're going to have mill closures.

I understand that you're going to have mill closures. I just don't want those mill closures to be here in British Columbia. If they end up closing in Alberta or in Washington State or in Chile or somewhere else around the world, I understand and accept that. But we have to be competitive, and the HST is about improving competitiveness and making sure that we are not just a top-quartile performer but that we're a top-decile performer.

In my view, the HST is built around the principle of supporting our export industries. Clearly, those large exporting industries that we have here in British Columbia — our forestry, our mining, our energy and actually, interestingly, our film as well…. Those are the four key industries that import significant dollars from other jurisdictions into our province and ensure that we have the level of support that is necessary for all of the services we provide.

What's interesting for me is you don't have to look very far to hear people that typically have varying views on political issues, to find out that there clearly is alignment on the shift to HST on the part of economists.

I had a very interesting debate a number of months ago with an individual, Iglika Ivanova, from the CCPA, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in Prince George. The CCPA, as I'm sure most people will know, does not typically support policy positions of this government. They tend to align themselves more frequently with the opposition than they do with our government.

[1745]

As I did the research to prepare myself for the debate, I found very quickly that the CCPA very much sees a value-added tax or an HST model of tax as the right driver of economic activity and actually believes that is the right model.

Well, we may vary on some issues within the HST, on some of our thinking. That largely revolves around details in terms of thresholds and where cutoffs should come, in terms of exemptions around the HST model. But the key principle of a value-added tax, or HST, is one that the CCPA does support. Clearly, that has been identified on their website as well as in the debate.
[ Page 4143 ]

It was a very interesting debate, because what I found and what we found very quickly was that we were aligned in terms of our views on a value-added tax. It really became a debate around details. I think, actually, that's the level of discussion we should be having. We should all clearly understand that HST value-added tax is the right model for economic stimulus and for ensuring that we have the best possible opportunities for our export-based industries. But at the same time, let's make sure that we work through the details and that the details of the model are correct.

Recently a report by Dr. Mintz, the economist Mintz, clearly says, again, that the HST is the right model of taxation. What's interesting for me is that it really doesn't matter who you go and talk to. Economists around the world acknowledge that when you remove that taxation from your export industries, your export industries have a much better chance of success. Bringing in those dollars from foreign jurisdictions and putting them internally within your economy helps support all the service-related sectors inside the economy as well.

I think we need to make sure that people clearly understand that the HST does help support small, rural, resource-based economies and will help us be that much more competitive.

The opposition often talks about their forestry plan and support for forestry and looking for initiatives, of which we have taken many, and I'm very supportive. We had, I think, 5½ pages in our platform document that spoke specifically to forestry. We're executing on the plan, and it's working well.

The NDP often talk about the need for a forestry plan, and I would suggest to you that in fact if they believe that, they need to come on side with the HST. When I look across the way and think about some of the members opposite….

The member for Skeena. Skeena has had very challenging times in forestry over the last ten or 15 years, going back well into the 1990s, and in fact just recently suffered the loss of the Eurocan linerboard plant and the literally hundreds and hundreds of jobs that were associated with that plant. Yet by having an HST in place, that plant becomes that much more competitive. The opportunity for that plant to survive is much more real with an HST in place.

The member for Skeena I don't think has spoken yet, and I would challenge him to stand up and say: "Yes, HST is the right thing. It is the right thing for forestry-dependent communities." It helps us be that much more competitive. It helps make sure that the almost 500 people who were working at Eurocan have a chance to actually have those high-paying, industrial, family-supporting jobs that we all care about in this province.

I look at the member for Fraser-Nicola, heavily dependent forest-based communities, lots of small communities in that member's riding. When you look up and down the riding and you look at Merritt, it's clearly a centre of forestry. Aspen Planers and Tolko are two key mills in that community that employ hundreds and hundreds of people. But the spinoff jobs that are associated with those mills create far more employment and long-term support for the community of Merritt.

I challenge the member for Fraser-Nicola, when he takes his place in this House, to say to the employees that they matter, that the HST will make us that much more competitive, and that in fact that member will stand up and support the HST because he absolutely knows that the HST will help support those jobs in the community even in the most challenging of times.

[1750]

The member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan. Two key operations are in his riding: Harmac, which is a tremendous success story, something that I think we all have seen as just an incredibly successful operation; and then the Ladysmith mill that is not currently operating.

You know, there was at one point in time at Ladysmith not 200 but close to 200 employees working in that operation. I know he's already taken his place in the House on this debate, but I challenge that member to think about those jobs, those 200 people.

Would that Ladysmith mill be operating today if the HST was in place and Western Forest Products was that much more competitive? You know what? I know that Ladysmith mill is at a decision point, and very, very quickly, I'm hoping we'll have some good news. But would they have opened earlier? Would those guys have gone back to work? Would those ladies have gone back to work if that mill had been operating? Again, I think that is absolutely the case.

Interjection.

Hon. P. Bell: I hear the member from Cowichan Valley chirping away over there. Again, there are a number of operations in that member's riding that could easily reopen under a model that sees the most competitive environment in the world, the most competitive taxation environment in the world, and you do that by supporting the HST. These members opposite can sit over on the other side and chirp away all they want, or they can do the right thing, because what those guys are saying over there…

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.

Hon. P. Bell: …is that they don't care about those jobs. They don't care about those jobs in the riding. The question is: will they stand up and do the right thing? Will they stand up and do the right thing and actually support the HST, which reduces costs on the mill?
[ Page 4144 ]

Now, on this side of the House we believe in free votes. We have seen that time and again. We have seen free votes time and again. In fact, in this session we saw a member opposing an element of a bill that he didn't support.

But you know, my real challenge to the members opposite, those that represent forest-dependent communities — those that we know for a fact have hundreds and hundreds of employees, key union individuals whose jobs depend on the forest industry — is to stand up and do the right thing, because that's really what it comes down to.

The forest industry is what built this province, and it's been very challenging in the last few years in terms of trying to make sure that we have the most competitive industry around the world. Although the members opposite don't like to face the realities of the global downturn and particularly the U.S. housing market, if they would just take the time to look at British Columbia, they would know that we are a top-quartile performer. This new element, this change is a real game changer for our people.

It makes sure that all of our operations have the advantage, the opportunity to export their lumber around the world — to make sure that they can compete with Norway, make sure that they can compete with Chile, make sure that they compete with Argentina, with all of the forest jurisdictions around the world.

You know, Madam Speaker, these people that like to kind of chirp away on the other side all the time are either in denial on this issue or aren't being honest with their constituents. I would challenge them to go and talk to the CCPA because the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives….

Interjections.

Deputy Speaker: Minister, please take your seat.

Members, I need to hear the debate that is underway.

Minister, please continue.

Hon. P. Bell: The members opposite, I know, traditionally have respected the views of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In fact, when they were government…. Some will argue that they weren't in government — in fact, I guess all of them at this point. But some of them, when they were in government, were a constant source of policy advice for the NDP through the 1990s.

I'm not a huge CCPA fan. I'm not someone that relies on them for advice. But I think what is interesting, and what I would suggest to the members opposite if they don't believe me on this issue…. I understand there's political partisanship in here. I understand that they might not necessarily want to follow the advice that I'm giving them. I would suggest they go talk to the CCPA and ask them what this does for the forest industry.

[1755]

I know that the critic has taken some time to look at this, and I know, actually, that he understands and accepts that this is good for the forest industry. His argument is somewhat different in terms of…. He looks at other components of the economy, and I guess I accept that that's the way he wants to look at it.

I know that the critic actually understands that the forest industry is a significant beneficiary from the HST and our ability to compete, but it appears that some of the members from Vancouver Island — not all, but a few of them in particular — are in denial that this is not an element that does support competitiveness.

You know, it's the unfortunate side of the business when you have that reality, when people are in that level of denial, because that really is what has challenged the coastal forest products industry for some time. Although we're trying hard to rebuild that industry and make sure that they are competitive globally, that is what has to happen. If you are a high-cost producer, there is no question that in difficult times your mill is going to close.

I don't want that for anyone in British Columbia. I don't want that for the millworkers. I don't care whether they're in Cowichan or in Prince George. I don't care whether they're in Fort Nelson or Revelstoke. I want all of those people working in those mills. That comes from being competitive, and everyone has to do their part to be competitive. Everyone has to make the decision: what is more important here — a high-paying industrial job or a cheap cup of coffee?

For me the answer is pretty simple. I want to make sure that the people who work in our forest industry, the people who work in our mining industry, the people who work in our energy industry are working in industries that are vibrant, that are successful and that are not just top-quartile performers but top-decile performers.

When there is a difficult time in the marketplace…. All of these industries are cyclical, and we will go back to a point in time — although we seem to be in a recovery mode at this point, and I think that's good news for everyone — when we face a downturn. I want our people to be able to continue to operate through that downturn.

I know that members opposite feel that way as well. I know there isn't a single person in this House that relishes the idea of seeing a forestry worker laid off because of a difficult time in the market. The HST is a game changer for the forest industry.

I used the simple example of a logging truck owner. I was one, so I understand that. I know what those costs are. I can go through the entire gamut of the forest industry and point to the costs that are embedded in the forest industry in terms of the PST versus a value-added-tax system.

If there's one plea, I guess, that I have to the members opposite, it's to really take the time to understand the impact of the HST on our export industries, particu-
[ Page 4145 ]
larly on our forest industry. I do think that they owe it to their constituents. I do think they owe it to make sure that they fully understand the impact and the potential benefits of the HST to make sure that our forest industry workers are actually physically working, that they are as competitive as we can possibly be, that in fact our guys are the guys that are working when a market gets difficult.

Although the member opposite might be okay….

Interjection.

Deputy Speaker: Member, you will direct your comments through the Chair when you are on the floor.

Hon. P. Bell: Madam Speaker, it might be okay from the member opposite's viewpoint to have someone working in Washington State, Oregon, Quebec or Ontario instead of a British Columbia–based forest company investing in working. But it's not okay for me, and I actually don't think it's okay for the member opposite. I think he's just playing partisan politics over this, and I guess that's the role he has to play.

I would challenge each and every one of the members opposite, whether it's the member for Alberni–Pacific Rim, who has three or four different manufacturing facilities in his riding — Western Forest Products, Somass, Catalyst, Coulson — the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan or the member for Nanaimo, with Western Forest Products at Duke Point with just a few jobs there today but the potential for 130 additional jobs in a highly competitive environment.

[1800]

You know, we're competing globally. This isn't just about British Columbia. People who think that British Columbia can work through economic downturns globally don't understand the impacts of the globe and the importance of our export-based industries, the importance of us being able to compete with the best of the best.

When I go over to China to sell lumber, they don't care where they get it from. They want the most competitive product they can get, and we owe it to our industry. We owe it to the employees on the line in Quesnel, on the line in Port Alberni, on the line in Campbell River to make sure that their operations are the most competitive in the world, and we have to do that collaboratively. We have to do that together.

When the member opposite starts chirping away at those comments, clearly he shows that he doesn't understand that we are living in a global climate.

I think that many of the members opposite do understand this, and for those that want to take the time to do the research, as I've said, I would strongly encourage them to go and look at some of the work that's been done on this.

For us to provide the level of services that the public is asking us to provide, we need to have a vibrant economy in this province. We cannot afford to have people unemployed and not working, particularly in our key industries — in forestry, mining, energy, even in film. Those are key industries for us that we need to compete globally in, in order to be successful.

As the members opposite take time over the coming weeks to listen to reasoned arguments on both sides of the House, I would strongly encourage them to take some time, read the Mintz report, understand what it means in terms of being globally competitive.

Take the time to go and talk to some of the leaders in the forest industry, to some of the leaders in the mining industry, and say: "What does this mean to you as an industry? Does it mean you're going to be able to employ more people? Does it mean you're going to stay open when you might have closed otherwise, when you might have had to lay off 200 or 300 people? Does that mean you're going to be able to stay open and survive that next little go-around, that next little challenge in the economy?"

Because it will come. It's our responsibility as legislators, as elected officials, to try and position our industry in a way that ensures that doesn't happen.

W.A.C. Bennett was a tremendous leader. He left us a tremendous legacy behind in this province, and he did it by building a resource sector that was second to none — a resource industry that ensured that we had the fiscal resources that we needed in this province to have a standard of living second to none, to build the quality of life that we see across this province, regardless of where you're from.

Whether you're from Victoria or Fort Nelson, it doesn't matter. Whether you're from Haida Gwaii or down in the Kootenays in Castlegar or Creston, he had the vision, the courage, the guts to make the difficult decisions to make sure this province was the most competitive province anywhere in the world.

The HST is going to do that, and I encourage each and every one of the members opposite to pay attention, get on side and support the HST. It will make us the most competitive jurisdiction in the world.

C. Trevena: I have to say it's very interesting to be standing up after the Minister of Forests and Range has given his comments and finished his comments extolling the benefits of W.A.C. Bennett and what he did for the forest industry. I think what the minister forgot to mention in this — and it's very relevant to the debate about the harmonized sales tax and the replacement of the provincial sales tax — is that W.A.C. Bennett also had a social contract.

When a company had access to our Crown lands and our Crown timber, they also had to create jobs through industry. The minister was talking about all the wonder-
[ Page 4146 ]
ful investments that forest companies could make, that the manufacturing could have in our communities, and talked in one community about how there were two key mills and the thousands of highly paying jobs that there are in the forest sector and in the value-added sector.

Well, he can't speak about that for the north Island, because the two key mills in Campbell River closed. When the TimberWest sawmill closed, it meant, really, the death-knell for the Catalyst pulp mill. So no matter what the HST does, no matter what's going to be happening with the HST, it's not going to be benefiting the forest industry in Campbell River. It's not going to be benefiting the workers of Campbell River.

[1805]

I will come back to some of the discussions about the forest industry later on in my remarks, but I have to say that I am very pleased that the minister didn't cite, in his chain-of-production line, what other members have been citing. The minister talked about the running of logging trucks and when you're having to pay cost upon cost. We get that. On this side of the House we do understand what this involves.

I have talked to friends in the business community who will say they like the HST. They don't like the PST. They think it's going to make things easier. It's going to make life easier for them.

The example I have been hearing in the last two days — and we have only been debating this for two days, surprisingly — is the chain of production, where you've got the guy going into the bush with his chainsaw, and he's going to cut down a few trees. As we see these logs move through the system, eventually they are going to produce chairs here in B.C. I think what is missing in this scenario is the fact that we don't have that chain of production in B.C. anymore.

What we do have is guys going to the bush, and we may have people paying more than they would hope to pay in taxation through provincial sales tax on the various pieces of equipment. The HST may well make a difference for them, but it isn't going to be creating this wonderful chain, where we will end up having our chairs built here in B.C., unless the government is serious about reintroducing the W.A.C. Bennett style of social contract, where people really care about the end results.

There's been discussion here about what we're talking about — the HST; the PST; the bill itself, which is the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act; what it all means; and the idea that we need to have some debate on tax policy. I think that will be very healthy. I think that if we could take away some of the partisan issues here, if we could broaden this into a debate about what we want to see in taxation, that would be very healthy.

I think one of the reasons, definitely, that we on this side of the House have been so strongly opposed to the harmonized sales tax is because there hasn't been that debate. There hasn't been that debate about the HST from day one, from when it was going to be introduced. I think that people's concern…. We keep quoting and will continue to quote the 82 percent who oppose the HST and however many of those are strongly opposed. Eight out of ten people at the moment oppose the introduction of the HST. They oppose it because they do feel they've been deceived.

If there had been a discussion at the election last April, this time last year; if the HST had been on the table; if there had been an open opportunity for people to have a debate, talk about the pros of it, the cons of it, how it's going to affect small business, how it's going to affect value-added, how it's going to affect the industries that we cite — the restaurant industry, the tourism industry, the hairdressers, how it's going to impact those — and likewise how it's going to impact the side that government's talking about, the small businesses that they say are going to be involved…. If they'd had that full debate, I think that people could have accepted it more.

But people felt that they didn't have that opportunity to have the debate. They felt that it was unfair that we had the election and that it was not, as we have heard time and again quoted, on anybody's radar — that it was not there. Yes, it was happening in Ontario, but it was not something that was really going to be happening in B.C.

If there had been forewarning through the election, I don't think we'd be where we are today. I don't think we'd be having the 82 percent opposed. There'd be a lot of people very disgruntled. There's no question. We always have this discussion.

People don't like taxes. People don't like flat taxes. As I go on and talk a bit about taxation policy, I will stand here and say how I don't like flat taxes. Progressive taxation is a good form of taxation. Flat taxes that eventually end up meaning the consumer pays more are not a fair part of taxation.

Again, talking to business colleagues, talking to people that I know who run businesses…. They accept that yes, it may be good for their business, but they also know that they're going to be paying more in the long run. Flat taxes are not the best way, I believe and this side of the House believes, to be funding the economy.

[1810]

But if we'd had more of a discussion back this time last year, April last year, when we were all out on the sidewalks, all knocking on the front doors and saying, "This is where we want to take the province," we'd have had a very different outcome, and I don't think we'd be having this debate.

After the election, six weeks on, we hear that we're going to get the HST. There hasn't been any research. It's not been on anybody's radar that this is what's going to happen. What we end up with is that 82 percent don't like it. Many of those — 87 percent — believe that it's
[ Page 4147 ]
going to cost them money, and 71 percent of people are strongly opposed. That's seven out of ten people who are strongly opposed to this decision.

As I say, if there had been the research, if we'd had the discussion and we'd been given a fully documented argument…. But again, we see research coming in March of this year which undermines people's faith that this is anything more than, really, the opportunity to have a model that will allow $1.6 billion to be transferred from the federal government to the province to help through the deficit which has, as we all know, got a lot higher than anybody predicted it was going to be. So we have the $1.6 billion there.

I think that if people had had more of that debate, they would be happier about it. Likewise, if the government had just said, "We need this money. We need the $1.6 billion. We're going to have this. It has proven to be here, here and here," and brought this well before….

Whether it's the VAT in Europe…. I know it's 17 percent in Britain. It's 20 percent in other parts of Europe. In many other countries it's very high. If they'd brought these arguments in much earlier and had said, "We need this money because we need to fund our provincial services. We need to pay off the deficit. We need to do this…." But to come in and then to say in the budget in the beginning of March that the HST is needed because we need to pay for health care…. I think that was really, for people I've talked to, somehow the icing on the cake.

It's the one that really makes people shudder and say: "This is just too much. Yes, you're going to bring in taxes. Yes, you didn't come out openly and say you're going to bring in the taxes early enough. What do we expect from politicians, yourself included?" But now to be told it's to pay for health care…. People really just say that this is too much. This really is too much.

We've heard through the last couple of days before the break and now again today a lot of different arguments and a lot of different assertions about the harmonized sales tax from both sides of the House. We've had a lot of people reading into the record, from constituents, different…. One e-mail has been discussed and debated. Again, I'm not sure where it's come from. I haven't actually seen this e-mail. It could be one of these urban legend e-mails.

It's on a senior who is going to be paying so much for HST and that we are going to be using this on this side of the House to justify the opposition to HST. Members on that side of the House have given a breakdown of figures of why that has to be an apocryphal e-mail, about how no senior really would have that sort of income to pay that level of HST when they are paying the 7 percent on many more things than they were doing before — on the haircuts, on the cups of coffee, on heating oil, if they're going camping, and so on.

I actually have had e-mails from seniors and would just like to address this issue of the seniors' cost. This is from a senior. He lives in Port McNeil and is concerned about the costs. Because he heard about the HST in the summer, he decided to track how much it would be. His view is that it's an unfair tax. It's what he says in his e-mail to me.

Countering the fact that the amount of the costs wouldn't be too great, he says:

"To get a better idea of what to expect, I tracked what the actual costs may be, calculating the costs of an additional 7 percent on two weeks of purchases this past September and again in November. I've also calculated how much extra I'd have to pay on a six-day holiday in B.C. this past October."

[1815]

These are seniors on a fixed income.

"Our extra costs from September 1 to 14 would have been $31.36. Part of that total is calculated tax on a couple of books, and I understand they may now be exempt. For the first two weeks in November the added costs would have equalled $19.33. Our seven-day holiday additional costs would have been between $90 and $100. I did not calculate the added cost of gasoline."

He should have done.

"Based on these examples, the average additional yearly cost could be as high as $700 for a senior couple, and I believe it costs young families more."

Madam Speaker, $700 for a senior couple may not sound a lot, and it isn't the thousands of dollars that have been quoted in this e-mail that's being going around. We have the list here: November 1, newspapers cost $9.88, and some other things — those are expensive newspapers — building in the GST, the PST and how much, breaking down hotel costs, and so on…. These are seniors. These are seniors who have a fixed income and are concerned that that extra 7 percent is going to really impact them.

The other people I've been hearing from, like others, are people in the business community. As I say, I know some who say that it's going to be fine. But on the north Island I have mentioned that we have the issue of forestry. Following the Minister of Forests and Range's discussion about how good it is, hopefully it will help those small, value-added operators who are trying to make business through their small mills work. But the big guys — it would be nice to have them come back.

The north Island is trying to rebuild, trying to build up new avenues. One area is tourism. There's no doubt that this is not going to be the be-all and end-all, but tourism is important. I was talking to a kayak operator, who is saying:

"Well, this is fine. We've got our various tax credits, but we've got a customer looking at the cost of two kayak operations, both going to the same areas of the north Island, around our beautiful coastline. One is an operation that is run out of the United States, and one is operated out of B.C. The customer isn't going to make that much difference. You're still doing a camping and kayaking trip. They're going to buy the cheap one. That's going to be the American one, and that hurts B.C. businesses."

That's a small operator.

The larger operators. I have a letter here from the Oak Bay Marine Group, which has got two hotels in the
[ Page 4148 ]
north Island, April Point and Painter's Lodge. They are seriously worried about this tax. They say:

"I implore you not to go through with this. Understanding that the funds made through taxes are needed to continue growth, please do so some other way. This year was especially tough on the tour and travel market."

This was the end of last year.

"This market is very competitive and price point–sensitive. Taxing not only British Columbians but travellers from other provinces, the United States and all over the world can only become another reason for lower occupancy in hotels, lower sales in stores, restaurants and so on. The economy needs more time to heal, and people need time to regain the confidence they once had to spend their hard-earned money here."

These are the big operators and the small operators, like others I have talked to — people who run restaurants.

Yes, there are partisan politics. Of course, there are always partisan politics, but a lot of restaurant owners I know in my constituency are not necessarily supporters of my political party. They would tell me they're not supporters of my political party, but they will tell me that in the present climate, the HST is going to hurt them. It's not fearmongering; it's not warning off people.

There's one restaurant that particularly caters to seniors. They're worried about the fact that the seniors will buy their doughnuts in a store rather than come to the coffee shop and sit down with friends to have a coffee and a doughnut. Others are already laying people off because Campbell River and the north Island are hurting. It has not recovered from the recession and from what has been happening to our forest-dependent communities for the last ten years.

We've got businesses that are already worried, and they are not worried about the fearmongering. They're really worried about their survival, and that means their ability to carry on employing people.

Other businesses. As I say, I know that there are some who are in favour. Others are very, very concerned. We have gyms that are worried because it's going to be the increase in fees and whether people can pay the increase in fees — and other professional services.

[1820]

One of the areas we talk about is health care. One of the areas is massage therapy. I know that many, many members got a number of e-mails and letters right at the beginning of the proposed implementation of the harmonized sales tax.

The registered massage therapists, who do sterling work in supporting our health service — at a cost, obviously; it's a private cost — are very worried. They say:

"Our profession did not receive exemption, as other health care providers, because we are only regulated in three provinces. Federal GST requirements state that a sector must be regulated in five provinces and territories in order to be exempt. In fact, while we're currently only one of two health care providers that will be affected by the HST, once the HST comes into effect, the naturopaths will be exempt, as they have recently become regulated in five provinces. So the registered massage therapists will become the only primary health profession in British Columbia required to charge their patients this tax."

I raise this because this is, again, preventative health care. It is very useful. It is all part of the benefits to people in B.C. that are going to cost.

I have a person who runs one of the chains of gyms and who is very worried about HST being applicable to fitness, saying: "Not only do we not get a fitness credit, but those of us who choose a healthy lifestyle will be penalized, because fitness is now taxable provincially."

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

This actually does get me towards more of a discussion about how we should be raising taxes, what we should be raising taxes on, whether it should be these flat taxes and whether we are actually going to have, as other members — the Minister of State for Mining — earlier said…. Are we going to have the opportunity to have a debate on taxation? Is this the place to have the debate on taxation? I believe that it is a debate we should be having across the province, and it should be a debate we're having in this Legislature.

I've heard many members talk about how we have such a low personal income tax rate. "We have such a low tax rate, and isn't this a wonderful thing — that everybody's paying so little tax?"

We have also seen over the last ten years the increasing fees. We've got MSP going up. We've got ferry fares going up. We've got the cost of camping going up. We've got the cost of many health care areas going up that were not there before. So while we may have a low basic tax rate, we are seeing much more in fees, and now we are seeing another level of taxation in the flat tax of the HST. I think there is a huge concern that with this flat tax, it's going to really be having a big impact on many, many consumers.

I would like to continue talking about the ways that we are going to redistribute the wealth of this province through a progressive tax system rather than a flat tax system — through a tax system that doesn't penalize individuals and doesn't start asking people to be paying taxes on magazines; on vitamins; on classes, whether it be yoga or a gym; or on vet care for your dogs; on taxi fares; on all these things.

I think this should be an issue that we should be having a debate upon. I think it's very important that we have a healthy debate on how our tax system should be worked; on whether we should be adding levels of taxation that consumers do pay, that are a flat tax — you don't have the flexibility there; on how it's going to work; on how businesses are going to benefit; and on how businesses are going to pass any savings that they have on to the consumer.

Noting the time, I would like to reserve my position in this debate and adjourn the debate for the evening.

C. Trevena moved adjournment of debate.
[ Page 4149 ]

Motion approved.

Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.

Hon. G. Abbott moved adjournment of the House.

Motion approved.

Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The House adjourned at 6:25 p.m.


PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM

Committee of Supply

ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
AGRICULTURE AND LANDS

(continued)

The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.

The committee met at 2:37 p.m.

On Vote 14: ministry operations, $68,494,000 (continued).

The Chair: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Douglas Fir Room. We're doing the budget estimates on the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. I want to remind everybody in the audience that there's no audio portion to your electronic devices and all the same rules apply here as they do in the main House.

Hon. S. Thomson: Just before we get started with the questions, I'd just like to introduce the staff again who are here.

The Chair: Continue, Minister.

Hon. S. Thomson: With me is Deputy Minister Larry Pedersen; and behind are Harvey Sasaki and Lindsay Kislock, assistant deputy ministers in the ministry; and Denise Bragg, our executive financial officer. I look forward to the questions.

K. Corrigan: I was going to follow up with the line of questions that were being asked a week and a half ago, and that was about the Olympics and a comparison between 2010-2011 expenditures as opposed to 2009-10 on Olympic-related costs.

Maybe just by way of a quick summary…. It's my understanding from reading Hansard that the minister confirmed that about $80,000 had been spent on various initiatives — the Canadian food and wine affair and so on — but that that money was to be recovered from the Growing Forward program.

So there would essentially be no cost associated with that — approximately no cost associated with that — but that the cost items that would be associated with those events would come from the ministry and would be staffing support to engage in these promotional events.

Then I believe the minister also said that the minister had some responsibilities as official host, and I believe that after some discussion, the minister said that the minister attended five events: two sporting events and three medal ceremonies where the minister was the official government representative.

Then, finally, by way of summary, the minister wasn't clear but thought it perhaps would be right that it was Intergovernmental Relations that provided the tickets.

[1440]

If there's no contradiction on that…? I'm just going through Hansard and just confirming some of the things that happened before.

Following from that is my first question. I'm wondering if the minister could let me know what the costs to the ministry were of staff and time and expertise with relation to those various hosting duties of the Olympics.

Hon. S. Thomson: To confirm, for the events that you're referencing — the Canadian food and wine affair and the other initiatives that we did specifically for agriculture — we had two staff that were primarily responsible for ministry involvement in there in terms of organization, along with the committee. That was for about an eight-week period that those staff had a portion of their time dedicated to that initiative.

Travel costs were $2,600 for that time period, for those events — travel costs for the ministry staff. In addition, we had a number of staff that were seconded as part of the overall government staff support for Olympic initiatives.

K. Corrigan: I appreciate that it's tough to get the specific numbers related to that right now. I'm wondering if it would be possible to get a commitment from the minister to provide an estimate of what the actual costs would be, related to those two staff and to the travel costs which have been mentioned as well as to the employees who were seconded, and in addition — maybe following up on that, as well — a confirmation about whether or not this includes either the volunteer leave matching program or the employee loan program. I'd be interested in getting the numbers, as well, for those — in addition, if they're separate numbers.
[ Page 4150 ]

Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, we'll provide that information for you — the more specific information that you've asked for. I think that's the best way to handle it. Rather than give you sort of estimates, we can provide a more detailed response to you directly as a follow-up. I think that's the most appropriate way to do that.

[1445]

K. Corrigan: I'm wondering if I could get a sense of when that could be provided.

Hon. S. Thomson: We can commit to provide that within a week, if that's appropriate.

K. Corrigan: I appreciate that.

I wanted to follow up quickly on another matter. The minister mentioned that the minister attended five events in which the minister was the official government representative or host. I'm wondering if the minister could confirm for me whether or not the minister was, as far as the minister is aware, the only MLA that attended those events. Or does the minister know?

The Chair: I just wanted to remind the member to make the questions relevant to Vote 14 and to bring the point forward.

Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm that on the official hosting responsibilities I had for those events, it was a shared responsibility. I did host it with another member of government at each of the events. As has been canvassed in previous estimates and has been canvassed with the Minister of Economic Development, a full reporting of the business-hosting program is going to be provided, and all of the details with respect to those events will be part of that reporting.

K. Corrigan: I'm absolutely happy to compare it to 2010-2011, but I do appreciate that the minister is being quite forthright with the answers. If I can avoid doing that in every question, I will. I do appreciate the warning that it should be in some way related.

The problem that we've had and we've expressed before about waiting for the full report is that we don't know what is going to be in that report. That's why we're going around to each of the ministries and asking ministers or government members what exactly it is that they're doing.

I'm hopeful that that report will be full — that it will include exactly who went to what events, what the costs were associated with each of the ministries for their Olympic hosting responsibilities, who they hosted and what the plan was, why it was that they hosted those events and what they expected to get from that.

If the minister can give me an assurance right now that all that information is going to be in that report, then I'll not ask any more questions on this matter right now.

Hon. S. Thomson: Hopefully, I can provide the answer but then would move on to another line of questioning that's more specifically related to our estimates for 2011, which is the purpose of this estimates process.

Just to confirm, I'm fully cooperating from our ministry's perspective in terms of providing information and answers to all the questions that are asked by the ministry that's responsible for providing that report. As the minister said, that report will provide a full accounting of the business-hosting program and all costs related to that. So we're providing that information as requested from our ministry, and that will come out in the full report.

K. Corrigan: Well, I appreciate that.

Can the minister then tell me that included in the information that has been reported as requested — that information, for example, of who it is that was hosted and the reason for hosting and what the plan was and what the intention was for having those people hosted and all the costs associated with hosting them…?

[1450]

Is the minister telling me that that information, first of all, was requested in the reporting mechanism that there is for hosting the Olympics and, secondly, whether or not that information was provided by this ministry?

Hon. S. Thomson: Again, as I said, we have been providing all the information requested. The ministry responsible…. Those estimates have been canvassed. The indication has been given that a full reporting will be provided. We are providing the information requested of us.

It's important to recognize that I was there, asked to be a representative for the provincial government, as part of the business-hosting program in my overall responsibilities as part of government. That report that you're referencing will be provided in the fullness of time, and as I said, we are providing the information requested of our ministry to that report. It will be up to the ministers responsible to provide that report.

The Chair: Member, if I could, I believe that the question has been answered, and if you'd like to move on with a new line of questioning.

K. Corrigan: Well, I do have one more question on this, hon. Chair, just for clarification. It's just a final clarification on this area.

The minister said that all the information that had been requested was provided. I asked about some very specific things that…. I was wondering whether they're involved in that, in those questions. My question is:
[ Page 4151 ]
what specific information was requested of the minister to provide for this report?

Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I think I've disclosed all the information that I can at this time. I've indicated that we're fully providing the information — what events I was asked to participate in and attend on behalf of government and the responsibility that I had as part of the business-hosting program, which was to be a government representative at those events. I fully disclosed the ones that I did attend on behalf of government, with the ticketed events.

The costs that I incurred as far as travel and things are concerned, as part of my ministerial responsibilities, are known or will be disclosed. It's all part of the report or all part of the information, so I don't think that I can add anything further at this point to the fact of the full disclosure. As has been canvassed in previous estimates, the report is going to be provided as part of the government response to the business-hosting program and the information that's been requested.

I've been fully forthright in terms of the information that I've provided. I was honoured to be able to represent government at this event. This was an opportunity to showcase British Columbia to the world in terms of business opportunities and things.

As I said last week, as well, or previously, it also was a great opportunity to be able to showcase the agriculture industry and to be able to create awareness and understanding of the agriculture opportunities, business opportunities here in British Columbia with our industry, the opportunity to promote the great B.C. food and wine products that we produce.

[1455]

At every opportunity that I had during that process when the eyes of the world were upon British Columbia, I took that opportunity.

K. Corrigan: Well, I'll give you an example, then, of a specific piece of information. It's not been clear to me whether or not it's going to be included in this report. I think it's important because what the public, I would assume, wants to see and what the taxpayers, I think, are entitled to see at the end of the Olympic process is some understanding of what it is that this ministry was trying to accomplish and what the government was trying to accomplish.

I think agriculture is a very important part of our economy. So if the minister was, in fact, hosting and attending events, then I would wonder whether or not the reporting included information about who, for example, attended a hockey game or an Olympic event at the cost of taxpayers that perhaps the minister was either there with or was aware was given free tickets.

I think that's information that the people of B.C. would want to know. Would that information be included in the report?

Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I have some question about the reference of these questions to the 2011 estimates of the ministry. But again, I'm not the author of the report. This issue has been canvassed extensively with the minister. The information has been given that the full accounting will be provided. As I said, we have provided the information with respect to our ministry, and I expect that the report, as the member opposite has referenced, will be provided by the appropriate minister in due course.

The Chair: Member, you may not like the answer, but it's been answered on a number of occasions, and the questions are now becoming repetitive. I would like you to move on to a new line of questioning, or we'll call the vote.

K. Corrigan: I didn't get an answer to my last question. It's one very specific question, and then I will move on. One question.

I was told about a report that had the required information in it. The question that I very specifically asked was, using this as an example: will that report include the names of the people who were hosted by government — and in this case hosted by this ministry — who, for example, got free tickets and what the reason was that they got free tickets? That's a really specific example.

Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I think I've answered the question fully. Because I'm not the author of the report — we provided the information; I haven't seen the report — I can't answer the specific question that the member opposite is requesting. As I said, we have fully disclosed my involvement in the business-hosting program.

I was asked to be a government representative at a number of ticketed events, as I've fully disclosed. The reports for the business-hosting program will be forthcoming, and since I'm not the author of the report, I think that the line of questioning is — as you mentioned, hon. Chair — becoming repetitive and is not specific to the 2011 estimates.

The Chair: Are there any other questions from members?

L. Popham: The budget for Agriculture has been decreasing for years, and again this year we see an approximately 4 percent decrease in some areas and more in others. When asked about the decrease in the budget, there's a tendency to explain away the cuts as administrative.

One of the items cut in the budget, I believe, is travel. I know that the minister and staff have been attending more meetings by teleconference, and I'm just wondering how much money has been saved in this budget by attending meetings that way.

[1500]
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Hon. S. Thomson: The travel costs for the ministry in the estimates from the previous year to the current year are $991,000 down to $904,000 — a drop of $87,000. It is true that that is administrative savings. What we are doing is taking more advantage of technology for conference calls and video conferencing and those kinds of processes in order to save those administrative costs.

Our experience to date, in the previous year, indicated that that was effective, and we in many instances managed to continue to have very meaningful input into processes and things using that technology and using video conferencing. It's part of, as you know, the fiscal challenge that all ministries are facing. To have some administrative savings on travel, we're going to continue to use that technology. It worked for us in the previous year, and we expect that we will continue to refine it as we move into the next year.

L. Popham: The conversations that I've been having with the agriculture industry are that there's a lack of Agriculture presence. The meetings that happen around B.C. and outside of B.C. to do with agriculture…. There's a formal meeting, and then there are a lot of meetings that happen around that meeting. Does the minister believe that by attending meetings in the new way it's an effective presence for B.C. Agriculture?

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. It's a good question. There is a balance that needs to be achieved in terms of face-to-face participation and participation using the technology of video conferencing and teleconferencing, and we're trying to manage that balance.

I think, and my experience to date has been, that we have fully participated whichever way we do it. We fully participated in the formal agendas. Chairs of those meetings have gone out of their way to make sure that our participation is recognized. Our participation is asked for.

We are not the only province that is participating in that way. A number of the meetings have been full teleconferences — for example, federal, provincial and territorial meetings that ministers had been at by conference call where all ministers are participating by conference call.

We are working the balance. But it's also important…. We've developed very strong relationships with my fellow ministers, particularly in western Canada, and through the FPT process, we've developed the relationships to the point where I can contact them at any time to follow up on items or issues.

It is a balance. We are working to make sure that we can maintain the funding for the core critical program services of the ministry, and this is part of that — finding those administrative savings that help us do that.

[1505]

L. Popham: The conversations I've had are alluding to the fact that there's actually a lack of presence at the national level, and I'm wondering if the minister believes that British Columbia is being represented at the national level. An example of that is the minister playing an in-person role in the national agriculture planning.

Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, I think we have been effective in our representation. We critically assess the agenda before we attend to determine whether there will be critical decisions made at those meetings that may impact our interests here in British Columbia.

We have had, at a number of the meetings, an actual presence through either the deputy or assistant deputy where they are in attendance, and I'm participating by conference call or by phone or by video. But we do look very critically at the agenda to make sure that the expenditure of resources and time to be there is critical for British Columbia. If there are critical decisions that impact our industry, particularly in programs like you talk about with the Growing Forward agreement, then we'll be in attendance.

If you look at our cost-sharing and what we've achieved through the Growing Forward agreement, currently I think we've been very effective in our involvement in that program and our ability to leverage dollars to the benefit of British Columbia through the Growing Forward agreement. We continue to do that. Every agenda is assessed very carefully before a decision is made as to how we participate in those meetings.

L. Popham: It does seem like it's a struggle right now with the budget the way it is and having to weigh out the importance of each agricultural meeting to tell you when you should have a presence there. For me it's a warning that the budget is getting too low, because I think that your presence should be everywhere and that there's a need for British Columbia to be represented.

Does the minister believe that there's enough money in this budget to run the Ministry of Agriculture effectively?

Hon. S. Thomson: As you know, the province is facing a $1.75 billion deficit. This is a constrained budget. All ministries are required to tighten their belt to work within the current fiscal framework that we have within the province.

We've worked very, very hard to ensure that we maintain the critical programs that are so important and — what we've heard from industry — critical to the current agriculture industry. That includes the business risk management programs; the core programs of production insurance, sometimes known as crop insurance; the business risk management programs of AgriStability and AgriInvest.

[1510]
[ Page 4153 ]

We've maintained the critical nature of our lab in Abbotsford to deal with animal and plant health. We've ensured that we've got the resources to continue to fully leverage the participation in the Growing Forward agreement of the federal government. which provides that 40-60 cost share between the provincial and federal government for core programs, both through the business risk management side of things and the non–business risk management programs of environmental farm planning, business planning, innovation, food safety — all of those kinds of programs.

We've been very successful in ensuring that we've maintained the budget and, despite the fiscal challenges, maintained the core budget to be able to ensure that we have that core of critical programs that the industry has told us is essential to maintain.

L. Popham: I appreciate your answer, but the interesting thing about that answer is that I think we're changing the definition of what core services are to meet the dropping budget. Core services used to include things like marketing — the Buy B.C. program — and extension services, which are critical to agriculture in British Columbia.

I'm just wondering: how much lower can the budget decrease before the Ministry of Agriculture becomes ineffective at aiding agriculture in British Columbia?

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. I think it's a very good question. What we've done is work in partnership with the industry to ensure that the critical programs that the industry has told us are very, very important for their continued viability and success are the programs that we've maintained as the priority programs. As I said, we're working within a constrained fiscal environment.

We still continue to provide extension services. They are targeted in specific areas around environment, food safety — areas that are critical right now in terms of meeting consumer demands and the marketplace. We also work very closely in partnership with the industry in terms of assisting them in accessing other resources to do some of the things they need to do within the industry.

We work in those kinds of partnerships, and we've been successful — I think very successful — in ensuring that we can continue to maintain our key partnership with the federal government in the delivery of the Growing Forward programs.

It's a five-year agreement. We're partway through that agreement, and the process is now underway to start to do the strategic review of that current agreement leading to, I hope, a new agreement with the federal government following the current five-year agreement. That's an evolving program that continues to shift in terms of priorities as in partnership with the industry, there's a full consultation process.

Within our current budget, I think we're delivering those programs that are critical to the industry, and we continue to do that in partnership and in regular consultation with the industry leadership.

K. Corrigan: I had a few more questions about the Olympics, but they are different questions. Perhaps we can save a little time on this one, because when I was asking questions about costs for this ministry related to the Olympics, I didn't use the word "Paralympics." Unfortunately, I found in another ministry that if I didn't specify that I was including the Paralympics, I was told that that information was not what I had requested.

[1515]

I guess my next question is: will the minister commit to providing all of the information which has previously been promised, including information about the number of tickets, the employee loan program, the cost of those individuals that were assigned to the Olympics volunteer leave matching program — that information…? Will the minister commit to providing that as well for the Paralympics if there were costs associated?

Hon. S. Thomson: Yes.

K. Corrigan: That has to be the shortest answer ever in this House. I appreciate that.

I also wanted to ask the minister whether it's the minister's understanding that any extra costs that we're discussing — the cost of tickets, the cost of hosting, the cost of employees and so on — are part of the $765 million Olympic budget.

Hon. S. Thomson: What I'd agreed to do was to provide the follow-up, as per the request to provide the ministry-specific information as far as the specific ministry expenditures around the Olympics and Paralympics, and we've agreed to do that within a week.

The follow-up question — that is not the subject of these estimates. That has been canvassed in other estimates, and that will be provided in the report that we have referenced in previous questions on this subject.

The Chair: Member, if I…. The questions have to come back to this vote.

K. Corrigan: Yes.

The Chair: So if I can remind you of that. And you have canvassed the Olympics quite extensively.

K. Corrigan: I have.

The Chair: You may not like all the answers, but you've been receiving answers.
[ Page 4154 ]

K. Corrigan: Thank you, hon. Chair. Well, I will explain why I believe that these questions relate very closely to the vote. This government has said repeatedly that the Olympics are partially successful because of the ability to leverage whatever benefit we got from them, and the government has specifically hired PricewaterhouseCoopers and has engaged OGI, the Olympic Games Impact study, to look at the costs and benefits of the games before, during and after the games.

The point of my questions is to find out on behalf of taxpayers whether or not the money that was spent by this government before, during and after the games is a good use of taxpayers' money. We can't possibly determine whether or not this is an investment which is a good one, or let the taxpayers decide whether it's a good investment of money, unless we know what the costs related to the games were — either in the $765 million or not — before, during and after the games.

The government has made a great point of saying that we are using this event to springboard onto greater things. The only way we can find out whether or not that has, in fact, happened is to look at what the actual costs were. That's why I'm asking these questions.

I think that it does very closely relate to what is going to be happening in the next few years in each of these ministries that are supposed to be attracting business. For example, as the minister has said, he proudly used those events as an opportunity to promote agriculture in British Columbia. I will ask one more question to the minister, just sort of tying it all up.

[1520]

I appreciate the commitments that the minister has made, with the notable exception that the minister apparently is refusing to answer or cannot — refusing to answer, because I asked very specifically about who it was that got Olympic tickets, not necessarily the minister but other people as well.

Actually, I do want to ask one more question about that. I assume that when the minister says that there were five events, the minister is saying that those are the only events that the minister attended with taxpayers' dollars. In other words, there weren't other Olympic tickets that the minister received that weren't part of his official hosting that were still paid for by the taxpayers.

Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I don't think that I've refused to answer any questions. I've fully disclosed. I've advised of the events that I attended, ticketed events that I've attended on behalf of government. That's been fully disclosed as part of the business-hosted program.

We did have a number of events that were specific for the agricultural industry, and we've talked about that previously in the estimates. Initially, the Canadian food and wine affair, the event featuring the First Nations Agricultural Association and the work that's been done in the aboriginal community with development of agriculture; the Savour Canada event, organized by the federal government in partnership along with the federal minister and others there; and the work with the CTV breakfast event focusing on the agricultural industry and being able to feed breakfast and promote the industry to 2,000 people in Robson Square in partnership with the industry and a number of agricultural organizations.

As I've said, we've committed to agree to provide the full numbers as far as the ministry expenditures are concerned, and the other information will come out in the report that we've referenced a number of times already in these estimates.

The Chair: Member, if I can remind you that it appears that the questions are becoming repetitive, and an answer has been given, which you may not agree with. I would suggest that you now move on with a new line of questioning.

K. Corrigan: I did have one more question that's related to this that I haven't had answered yet, just because it's a little hard to tie the minister down. So I will just ask one more to make sure I haven't left anything.

I would like to know that if there are any other costs related to the Olympics, the minister will provide that information to me — if it's something that I haven't thought to ask about yet.

[1525]

Hon. S. Thomson: As I've said, I've committed to have the staff provide the disclosure of the costs that were specific to the ministry. It's a little bit hard to be a mind reader in terms of what you might be thinking about that I might not disclose or something like that in this process. I've agreed to fully disclose it. I'm not aware of anything that won't be covered in the commitment that I've provided.

K. Corrigan: This truly is my final question. I just finally wanted to address…. It's not really a question. I know that the minister said he had not refused to answer a question, and that is technically correct in that the minister answered the question. But the minister didn't provide the information that I had been requesting, which was very simple. Who else got free tickets? Who was being hosted at these events that the minister went to?

It doesn't sound to me like that information is going to be in the report, or there's certainly no confirmation that the information is in the report. So I stand, finally, and do say that I don't know why the taxpayers shouldn't know that information — who was being hosted. It sounds to me like the minister is saying that that information is not going to be provided in the report, and I think the taxpayers should be able to know who got tickets from this government to go to the Olympics.
[ Page 4155 ]

Hon. S. Thomson: I'll stand again and say that we will fully disclose the costs that have been incurred by this ministry in our initiatives with respect to the Olympics and the balance of the information that the member opposite is asking me, specifically. We've referenced the fact that it has been canvassed in previous estimates and that the report on the business hosting program is going to be provided.

L. Popham: I'm going to be changing gears and talking about the agriculture plan that we have for this province and how it fits into this vote.

The ministry's agriculture plan is about five years old now, and I've been going through it strategy by strategy. There are a lot of very good parts of this plan, and I think the focus and vision was on the domestic market and on our local markets here in British Columbia. I think the focus and vision of the ministry has changed over the last little while, and to me it seems like we're not following this plan. It might be time for a review, a new agriculture plan to reflect what the ministry is doing.

Is there enough money in this budget or has any money been put aside in this budget to review and redo the agriculture plan for B.C.?

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the reference to the plan. Just to correct the record, the plan was released in 2008, so the plan is two years old. I appreciate the member opposite's comments around, you know, many very good aspects of the plan in terms of the work that went into the plan in partnership with the industry and the process.

We're continuing to work with that plan. We're continuing to address the recommendations in that plan — but within the context, as was indicated previously, of the fiscal environment and the constrained resources that we have to address some of those.

[1530]

That doesn't mean that we're not continuing to focus on those recommendations. We're continuing to work through them, to address them and move forward on them as resources may and will become available to follow up on those. But we're not specifically at this point considering a process to redo the plan.

From my perspective and my view, the elements of the plan are still valid. We will continue to work with the industry in working through the elements of the plan as resources will allow us.

L. Popham: Thank you for the correction. I understand it was released in 2008, but the birth of the plan was 2005. That's when, I believe, six MLAs formed a committee and went around the province consulting with stakeholders, the public. It was a very extensive process with a lot of cost to it.

From listening to the minister's answer, it seems to me that he believes it is being followed, but I just want confirmation. Is the Ministry of Agriculture following the B.C. agriculture plan right now?

Hon. S. Thomson: The short answer to that question is yes. It still guides the direction and guides the work that our ministry does. As the member opposite indicated in her opening comments on this area of questioning, she also believes that much of the plan is valid and that it's a good plan. It is continuing to guide our work, but as I said, we're continuing to address the recommendations in the context of the fiscal environment that we currently operate in.

We're continuing to work on many of those recommendations. We have addressed and moved forward on a very significant number of them. There are some that remain part of the plan that I, as minister, would still like to continue to follow through on as resources become available.

L. Popham: I understand the budget constraints and having to maybe alter the plan a little bit, but I think this plan is actually different now. I think there's a different tone to what's happening with agriculture in B.C.

I think what I should do, that would help me understand how you're following it, is go through each strategy and ask you how much money is being spent in the budget in this vote per strategy. It's a strategy that this government came up with, so I would assume that that shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

The first strategy is "promotion of B.C. agriculture and food products at the provincial and local levels." The first note is to contribute $1 million per year to promote local agriculture products and develop a B.C. brand. This brings me to the food miles program, which I know was shut down, but it was replacing the Buy B.C. program. So the development of a new B.C. branding program seems odd, and we could actually just fall back onto the one that was already established.

I'm looking at the agency responsible for this, and the Minister of Agriculture and Lands is responsible for this strategy. I'm just wondering what part of the budget is being spent on that strategy.

[1535]

Hon. S. Thomson: The member opposite has raised the question around the provincial branding program and the initiatives around the Buy B.C. program previously. She's also heard my comments publicly, and I know she's probably aware of my comments at producer meetings as I'm out meeting with the farm organizations and groups around the provinces as part of my responsibility as minister.

In terms of the specific reference to this part of the plan, this is one of the ones where the current fiscal resources have resulted in the fact that we don't have the specific dollars that are referenced in the plan to support
[ Page 4156 ]
the provincial branding program. That does not mean, however, that it doesn't remain a priority for me as resources become available. It also does not mean that we are not focusing work in this area.

We continue to work with both the B.C. Agriculture Council and the B.C. Food Processors Association. They hold the sublicence now for the Buy B.C. program. They have requested of us to extend that sublicence agreement, which we're going to do. I think it expires in September. We will work with them to extend the term of the sublicence agreement they have so that they continue to work with it.

We are working with them, with some resources that they have to be able to devote to branding local food promotion. We'll work with them. We've committed to provide staff support and resources to them.

We have other initiatives that we provided. For example, we provided money to support some adjustment within the B.C. hog industry. For example, we have one of the major packers, Johnston Packers, now going out with a specific program with respect to B.C. pork. That's part of the resources that were provided as part of transition adjustment funding to the B.C. Hog Marketing Commission through the Investment Agriculture Foundation.

So we continue to use the resources that we have as effectively as we can in promoting local food production and the Buy British Columbia principle, and we'll continue to do that. It still remains a priority for me, for this overall program, as a future program when resources become available.

L. Popham: It's interesting that you bring up the B.C. Ag Council as sort of housing the Buy B.C. program.

In September the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services…. A report was submitted by the B.C. Ag Council, and they expressed their disappointment that the minister wasn't funding that program. I think the Buy B.C. program was actually terminated before the economic downturn, and I'm wondering if the minister could tell me why it was cut.

Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm, the program was not terminated, as the member opposite references. At that point — and this was in 2001 — the government funding for the program was not continued. It was felt at that time that the program had matured to the point that it could be carried on and sustained by industry, in partnership with primary producers and processors and the retail value chain. That was the decision then.

[1540]

Through the agriculture plan process, we heard the message from the industry that continued investment in that program was important to the industry. It was part of the agriculture plan. As I said in my answer to the previous question, it remains a priority for me to continue to try to find that investment as the resources become available.

Again, I just want to confirm and reiterate that despite the fact that we don't have that specific line item within our ministry in the 2011 estimates, we continue to work in partnership with the industry using resources and every opportunity to help promote local food production and the Buy B.C. principles in cooperation with the Agriculture Council.

I know that their recommendation to the standing committee was to reinstate. They were disappointed that the financing or the investment wasn't there. As I've indicated, it still remains a priority of mine to find the resources and continue to assist the industry to do that. In the meantime we're going to continue to work very closely with them, using resources that they have, using the sublicence agreement that they have, to help to build or re-establish some components of that program.

We also, as I said, continue to work on specific initiatives that assist that overall principle — so things in partnership with organizations like the Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation and other groups; the B.C. Hog Marketing Commission, which I just referenced.

B.C. Tree Fruits, for example, as a marketing agency, has just indicated that they're moving into a Buy B.C. local tree fruit promotion program on their own. We'll continue to help work with them as they can, as part of dealing with some of the challenges facing the tree fruit industry.

So while we don't have that specific line item, we are committed to continue to work with industry in those partnerships that I had talked about.

L. Popham: I guess it's a technicality that the Buy B.C. program wasn't cut, but the funding was cut for it. It's now housed with a group that you…. If you want to use the Buy B.C. logo, you have to license it and pay a membership fee. That's great. Maybe that's the way it should work. I don't know. I personally believe that the government should be funding it.

But a program like that doesn't work unless everybody is using it. If it's just some members signing up and getting licensing, I don't think that's an effective way to use it. I don't think it's fair for the Ministry of Agriculture to be claiming that it's still alive and well. It's not.

I think you can go to almost every part of the agriculture sector, and they will be telling you that it's…. At least, they're telling me that's what they want and that that's going to help the industry. So it has been cut from this ministry. It's alive and well in a closet at the Agriculture Council.

The next part of this strategy was to fund, with $1 million per year, the food miles project. I understand that's cut. I remember the day it was. The reason that this project became part of the strategy was to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food pur-
[ Page 4157 ]
chases. How much money in this budget is being spent to help reduce greenhouse gases and food purchases in B.C.?

[1545]

Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, before I answer the specific question, I just want to comment that the member opposite made the claim, I think, or appeared to indicate that I was indicating that the Buy B.C. program is alive and well. I think it's quite fair to say that, as she indicated, it's struggling. It's not at the level that would be envisioned under the part of the agricultural plan where we talked about funding and a provincial branding initiative. That's why I've said it's still a priority of mine, as the resources become available, to be able to address that part of the agricultural plan.

We're working under a very fiscally constrained environment, but it's still my priority as minister to want to continue to find those resources, and we are continuing to work with the council with the licence that they have. They have come to us and said that they would like to engage. They would like some more staff support to be able to take the existing licence that they've had and use it more effectively than they have in the past. They want to re-engage on that, and they have some resources available that can be put towards that effort, so we're going to continue to work with them.

I know that the program has a user licence fee. I think that is appropriate to a degree if you're moving the program forward, because it's important that people who are participating in those programs also have some investment in the program as well. The user fees were not at an onerous level for participation, but when you're paying user fees you also have to see value in the program and things as well. So we have to work on those areas in the program.

Just with respect to the food miles program, again, that was one that, because of the fiscal constraints, was not specifically funded as we had to adjust to that fiscal reality we're facing. But we do continue to work with the industry on a number of initiatives that help reduce the carbon footprint of the industry.

So we're working through our climate action initiative. Just as a couple of specific examples, we have support that's provided under the Growing Forward, under the beneficial management program, to convert from diesel to electric for farm equipment. We are working on initiatives that are looking at anaerobic digestion on farms to deal with waste and providing alternate energy and reducing the carbon footprint through that means.

So through that initiative and with support from Growing Forward, we're continuing to focus on a number of areas that help reduce the carbon footprint of the industry and reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the industry.

L. Popham: Another action that's listed under strategy 1 is the expansion and delivery of the Eat B.C. program. I'm just wondering if the minister could give us an update on that.

[1550]

Hon. S. Thomson: The Eat B.C. program is a program that's delivered by the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The ministry provided initial funding to get that initiative underway. It started out with a week focused on B.C. food products in the restaurant and food services industry.

I know that initiative has expanded since the initial investment by the ministry. They have got a successful partnership, and they've expanded it to a month-long initiative. I'm not sure of their plans for the coming year, but they have support provided by participants in the program, by sponsors, by other partners that they have.

It's an initiative that is led by the Restaurant and Foodservices Association, and we can get you a briefing on it, if you would like, in terms of their specific plans for 2010. I'm not up to date currently on all their specific initiatives that they have in the planning stages for the coming year.

L. Popham: Yep, that would be fantastic. I'd love to have that briefing note.

So that's the end of the strategies and actions that are under strategy 1. I would still like to know how much money from this budget has been spent on strategy 1 of the agriculture plan.

Hon. S. Thomson: We'll provide you with that specific number. We don't have it at hand here because it involves some breakout of estimate of staff time and support for those areas of activity. There's not a specific line item for that in the '10-11 budget estimates, but we can provide you with a level of ministry investment through doing that calculation, and we'll commit to provide that to you as a follow-up.

L. Popham: Before I move on to strategy 2, I would just like to know if the minister feels that the Ministry of Agriculture has fulfilled its responsibility with strategy 1.

Hon. S. Thomson: Yeah, I think I've been quite clear in the questioning around this item and on the specifics around the Buy B.C. program that it is work in progress, that we're continuing to work with the industry, that it is a priority for me to continue to look for resources that could help move that part of the strategy forward.

I think we are making good progress. I think we're working well with industry on it, but it's also clear that more can be done in that area. We're committed to continue to do that as resources become available and as we
[ Page 4158 ]
continue to address the current fiscal challenges of the province.

L. Popham: I'm going to move to strategy 2, which is to "implement initiatives to strengthen community food systems." The first action is to "support direct farm sales through Farmers Markets Directory — brochure — farmers' markets newsletters and farm-fresh guides in four regions." I'm just wondering if the ministry is committed to this action.

[1555]

Hon. S. Thomson: Thanks for the question. Moving on to the second strategy, we continue to work very closely with the association of farmers' markets. We provided them with initial funding of $20,000 in 2006-2007 — to the association — to help them build capacity. This is work that we're hoping they continue to do to build their self-sustaining capacity.

They've recently been provided a grant through the Investment Agriculture Foundation where they've undertaken a strategic review of the work of the association, and that report has been prepared. I've been advised that they're going to provide that report to us and that we are going to be sitting down and meeting with the leadership and the association of farmers' markets to review that strategic planning report, which they had the funding assistance from the Investment Agriculture Foundation to undertake.

L. Popham: I think one of the items that was listed in the long version of the report was supporting agricultural fairs. I'm just wondering if there is any money in the budget this year to fund the agricultural fairs as they have been over the many years that they've been in existence. They did lose their funding last year, and I'm wondering if the ministry is going to be giving them funding for this year.

Hon. S. Thomson: In Budget '10-11 there is not any specific funding in our budget for fairs and exhibitions. We continue, on the discretionary grants side of things, to be constrained, dealing with the current fiscal challenges. There is not a specific expenditure or grant for fairs and exhibitions in the '10-11 budget. We do, however, continue to provide staff support to the association. We continue to work closely with them.

[1600]

It's also important to note that fairs are an eligible organization or an eligible entity to apply under the gaming grant program, and I know a number of fairs are doing that to seek support for their initiatives around the province, the individual fairs.

Again, this is one that I personally think is…. Fairs and exhibitions do great work around the province. It's a very important connection between the community and the public and the work that agriculture does. Fairs do a lot of great work in the communities, but we are not in a financial position to be able to provide them the annual grant that we have historically in a number of years.

As I said, they've just gone through a strategic review. There is a report coming forward, and I am going to sit down with the leadership of the B.C. association and review that report for them as we look to opportunities going forward.

B. Simpson: First off, just an opening comment. I want to express my appreciation to the minister for recognizing some of the work that my office did on that mobile poultry abattoir. I know the minister was up in the Quesnel area and saw what good work was done up there. I appreciate the recognition for the work our office did to try and facilitate it and make that happen.

Now what I'd like to do is a little bit around specific budget figures. The budget speech indicated that all natural resource ministries were going to have $320 million taken from them and refocused. We are beginning to flesh out some of the implications of that in some of the other ministries. What is the direct implication to Agriculture and Lands? How much of that does Agriculture and Lands have to absorb?

Hon. S. Thomson: In specific response to that, the impact of that decision on the Ministry of Agriculture is $19 million over three years. It is $5 million in '10-11, $7 million in '11-12 and $7 million in '12-13.

B. Simpson: With the $5 million for this year that we'll start with, what is the Agriculture Ministry's way of taking that $5 million back? Will it be in the form of FTE reductions, program reductions? Where is that money coming from?

[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]

Hon. S. Thomson: In terms of the $5 million in '10-11, it is in targeted program reductions. It is $2½ million in business risk management and $2½ million in the Crown contaminated sites remediation program. There are no FTE impacts.

B. Simpson: Are there plans already in place for the successive years?

[1605]

Hon. S. Thomson: The current plans are that the two reductions that I just referenced in the target programs would continue through into the next two budget years to make up the five out of the seven in what will be '11-12 and '12-13. The additional amount primarily will result from the transfer of aquaculture management to the federal government as part of the process that we're
[ Page 4159 ]
currently in the transition of — that regulatory authority that will primarily deal with the additional amounts in the out-years.

B. Simpson: With that in mind, the $5 million relative to what Ministry of Forests and others are having to deal with seems to be a small amount. But the minister had, coming into the budget cycle, a fairly substantive task force report in front of him — the Ranching Task Force — that had large dollars associated with it.

I represent one of the largest areas for ranching, and Kamloops is also in my bailiwick. I'd like to understand what the implications are for the budget constraint on the recommendations of the task force, so I want to walk the minister through the task force recommendations and commitments.

First off, the announced government commitments — this is straight from the task force document on page 14 — indicate that the harmonized sales tax implication for ranchers, as it's understood at the time, would be the same as GST. I just came from a meeting this weekend where my ranching community still doesn't understand what the implications of HST are. They're hoping to attend a federal discussion on that, but those who attended one in Prince George came away scratching their heads, wondering what the implications are for them.

Could the minister explain? Will the HST be applied to farmers and ranchers like the GST rebate? Would it be that simple, that straightforward? That's what the indication was from the task force.

Hon. S. Thomson: The harmonized sales tax is a very significant benefit to the agriculture sector — to the primary agriculture sector and to both the small- and larger-scale food-processing sectors. The estimates are overall a $16 million to $18 million benefit on the primary agriculture side and something equivalent, although the estimates are not firm on that, in terms of the benefit to the food-processing and small-scale processing sector — but to the primary agriculture sector, the ranchers that you've indicated you represent, a very significant benefit.

It's quite simple in terms of the way it works. Ranchers are quite familiar with it. Perhaps there needs to be more direct explanation to those. We've talked to the association and things, and they're putting together information to go out to their members, but it works very similarly.

Previously the industry had a patchwork of PST exemptions on the farm input side — some farm input items exempt, some not — and came with annual requests for additions to the PST exemption list. Sometimes those were dealt with; sometimes they weren't. Under our harmonized approach, all farm input items that the primary producer uses will have HST on them, other than currently zero-rated items that are zero-rated for GST.

You know that there are a number of items that are zero-rated. Bulk feeds and major expenditures that were zero-rated as part of the GST system remain zero-rated under the harmonized system and will not have HST. For the ones that have HST on them, the farmer will be eligible to claim the full input tax credit on the harmonized sales tax cost just as he does currently under the GST input tax credit system, where they can claim the input tax credits. Now they get to claim it on the full range of their farm inputs, and that's a very significant benefit to the industry.

[1610]

B. Simpson: That's the stated promise, but what we're getting in terms of feedback from the community is: where do they go to find that information out? As this government points out, HST is a federal initiative, and when you talk to some of the federal folks, they're still trying to figure it out. Where can we direct farmers and ranchers who have questions?

There are questions about ceiling. There are questions about how much sales they have to generate in order to be eligible. There are all sorts of questions out there. The minister seems to understand what's going on. How can we help ranchers and farmers understand it? What can we point them to that has either a Q and A or a clear explanation of what is going to happen come July 1?

As the minister must know, most of these operations fly by the seat of their pants. If they can afford an accountant, then they get an accountant going. For a lot of them it's the wife or a daughter or somebody that does the books, and this is a major shift for them. Where can they go to get clean, clear explanations of what happens July 1 for them?

Hon. S. Thomson: The information. We are working with associations and farm organizations to get those questions out. We would welcome the contact from those organizations or individuals directly through the ministry offices. We will make sure that they get the answers they require. I expect that over the next time, as the full implementation comes in on harmonized sales tax, that information will be provided to them.

For most producers…. It was quite interesting. I was at the annual meeting of the B.C. Agriculture Council, where they talked about the fact that this was one of the single biggest financial benefits that we could provide through the harmonized sales tax process. The comment was: when before have we had a $16 million to $18 million lift for the agriculture industry?

That's what the harmonized sales tax does for the agriculture industry. It is a direct benefit to them. We do need to make sure that producers understand that and know how to work with the system.

In one sense it's quite simple in terms of their existing system, if they're familiar with that now in terms of
[ Page 4160 ]
claiming the GST input tax credits. They'll be able to claim the input tax credits on the full range of farm inputs that previously weren't exempt from PST. This now means that as new technology comes into the industry, as new investment is made in the industry, they'll be able to get that full input tax credit on those farm inputs without having to come and ask for things to be added to the list as new technology comes in.

Traditionally, there would be many items that the industry has felt should be on the list as exempt for farm inputs, which weren't added to the list. Now those are all there and are all included in the input tax credit process.

B. Simpson: Again, it seems clear that the minister understands it. Let's hope that we can provide that understanding to some of these folks.

What doesn't help, though, is something the Finance Minister indicated, which is that all of the benefits that they're going to accrue from this should be passed on as reduction in pricing. When you've got entities and sectors that are marginal, what they'll be looking at is maybe a little bit of ability to actually stay afloat. I think the Finance Minister needs to be cautioned that HST will be a way for them to reduce their prices to the market when they're already losing money. Let's hope they get that clarification.

Moving on to the task force recommendations, an already announced commitment, according to the task force, was highway and rail corridor fencing — $10 million over the next five years. Will that continue? Does that program continue to exist for the next five years at $10 million?

[1615]

Hon. S. Thomson: I think what's important to recognize here is that we've had a comprehensive report. A wide range of recommendations in that report focused on regulatory changes that will benefit the industry. We're currently working across ministries and across government on a comprehensive response to the report. We will be providing that to the cattlemen in the near future.

All of the recommendations that are in there will be addressed as part of that comprehensive response. In terms of dealing with each individual specific recommendation here, I think what I can say is that there will be a comprehensive response to the full report, and that will be provided to the cattlemen in the near future.

B. Simpson: Well, this is estimates debate. Estimates debate is a public accountability mechanism for us to ask those questions.

I understand that the minister might be looking at this, but what I'm reading are already announced pre–Ranching Task Force announcements by the government. If those commitments are not going to carry forward, then it doesn't give a lot of hope that the rest of the recommendations of the task force are going to carry forward as well.

I would like a more specific answer, and the ministry staff should be able to give the minister the answer as yes or no. Does the $10 million carry forward for the next five years or not? It was announced. It was ironclad. It was announced by the Premier during the election, in fact, before the task force even came into existence.

Let me read the minister, just by way of reminding him why there's a lot of interest around this…. This is straight from the minister's own report, tabled with him. I see that the member that was responsible for this, the parliamentary secretary, is engaging. "The future of the cattle sector in B.C. is uncertain following a six-year period of unprecedented events that have adversely impacted the industry and left it weakened and stretched in its capacity to adapt to changing economic circ*mstances."

This is not new. It's been on the go for six years. It's something that the government has failed to address. If you compound that by mountain pine beetle implications, the market implications, etc….

So let's deal with the things that were already announced. It was preannounced by the Premier, before the task force — $10 million for five years explicitly to address rail fencing and highway fencing. Yes or no — is that continuing?

[1620]

Hon. S. Thomson: It is a cross-ministry response to the report, as I've referenced earlier. The funding for this specific recommendation comes under the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure's estimates, not within the ministry, but my understanding is that the cattlemen are continuing to work with the Ministry of Transportation on that announcement, that the expectation is that the funding will be provided.

You should know, and there is a reference to it in the report, that the cattlemen have asked that that commitment be deferred and moved forward into 2012, because they're currently administering another fencing project. In terms of the capacity to manage that program they've asked that that be moved into 2012 and are continuing to work with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on their request. The overall response to this will be part of the comprehensive response that we provide to the Ranching Task Force, as I indicated earlier.

B. Simpson: What date can we expect a comprehensive response?

Hon. S. Thomson: I don't have a specific date. We're currently working with the Cattlemen's Association. The
[ Page 4161 ]
co-chairs of the Ranching Task Force are looking for an opportunity to bring the task force back together to look through the response and the recommendations. We'll be providing an update at that time. My expectation is that following that, we will be providing a full response to the cattlemen, for sure, and as you know, the cattlemen have their annual meeting in Williams Lake at the end of May.

For sure, within that time frame we need to provide them that comprehensive response. As I said, we're working across a number of ministries and a number of parts of government in order to fully respond. I have asked the task force to meet again to look at the response as it's starting to be developed, and we will be making a full, comprehensive response to it as quickly as we can.

B. Simpson: I have to get permission from the boss here to keep going. So again, you know, I take the minister's words at fair value. There are other ministries involved in this. There's no point in me asking about the range fencing because that's going to get punted to another ministry, etc. But the agriculture umbrella parks the leadership at the minister's desk to make sure that these other ministries actually deliver. Just because the line item exists with Transportation…. The reason for that is crystal-clear, because if Transportation can walk away from it, they will.

We've raised the issue in the House before the minister was elected about dead cows on the B.C. Rail right-of-way. And the Ministry of Transportation — we couldn't get them to move on that issue. So leadership from the Agriculture Minister and the Agriculture Minister's office is critical.

So maybe the minister can then tell me about one that should be in his ministry, and that is the AgriStability program — again, a business risk management program that is being brought over from the federal government. Going back to the budget cuts, is that the program that we'll see the $2.5 million taken from as a result of this year's $5 million? So that's going to take a hit this year because of the $5 million budget cut? Am I to understand that correctly, or was the minister talking about another risk-management program that will take a hit?

[1625]

Hon. S. Thomson: The reference to the AgriStability program is the reference where I indicated that the terms of the targeted program reduction did occur, but we have done estimates and forecasts in terms of the uptake of that program and the demands in that program, and we're confident that we can fully meet our obligations in that program within the budget that we have currently in the '10-11 estimates for that program.

One of the other key things that we've achieved — also, one that the industry was very strongly advocating and working for over a number of years — was to bring the administration of that program to British Columbia, which we've successfully achieved in having direct provincial administration of that program where it was previously administered out of Winnipeg.

In addition to our confidence that we can fully deliver the obligations under that program within the line item in the budget, we are also confident that moving it here is going to improve the timeliness, the response and the producers' experience with that program.

B. Simpson: I get the transfer over and the streamlining, and that is something that the industry asked for. But the industry has also asked, and it's right in the report, for a change to the time period with which they show that they're having difficulty. There's an expectation within the industry that it would actually be changed in a way that would be more uptake because more people would be able to apply.

The minister is saying that based on normative projections, you can absorb the $2.5 million. I think the ranching community throughout the province will tell you that there are a lot more people in a lot more trouble who were hoping that some of the changes that would occur would allow more people to become eligible for funds, and ergo, more money would be required.

How does the minister respond to that? It's actually in the task force report that there was an expectation that some of the criteria would be changed and that it would potentially make more people eligible for support under the risk management program. How does that reconcile with the minister saying that based on uptake, you think you can cut the program $2.5 million?

[1630]

Hon. S. Thomson: Just so that the member opposite fully understands, the Agri-Stability program, the business risk management programs, are federal-provincial programs that are across the country with all provinces as signatories across all sectors. In order to change the parameters of the program it requires a formula with a significant level of other provinces all agreeing to those changes, so we can't make changes to the parameters of the program unilaterally here within British Columbia.

We continue to work. We have a business risk management advisory committee with industry representation from all sectors, including the Cattlemen's Association as part of that advisory committee, who continue to look for adjustments and changes within the program.

We continue to work at the national level in trying to get some of those parameters changed as the program goes forward. We're into a process now of an overall strategic review of the business risk management programs nationally, and there's going to be a consultation process with industry to do that across the country. So under the terms of the existing program and the parameters of the existing program, we're confident that we
[ Page 4162 ]
have the budget capacity to fully meet our obligations under the program.

If program parameters change significantly, then we would need to seek the authority for those changes and for the additional capacity that may be required if the program parameters change significantly.

B. Simpson: Again, because of constraints and other people wanting to get up, I'll move on. But our Agriculture critic and myself will be at the B.C. Cattlemen's Association. I guess we'll look forward to what transpires between now and then, and we'll have a bit more to say about that.

Let me just close off with some questions around the task force report, because unfortunately…. It's not just this government, but all governments have a tendency to go out and study something, get a report and let it collect dust. It drives everybody in these sectors nuts, because they participate in good faith only to have all of the good-faith inputs disappear.

With respect to this, there is a parliamentary secretary for this. My understanding is that the task force hasn't met since November. What's the role and the function of the parliamentary secretary position to ensure that this report actually has legs, actually gets delivered on by government?

Hon. S. Thomson: I look forward to seeing both of you at the cattlemen's annual meeting. I'll be there as well.

We are working, as I said, cross-ministry and across government to develop a comprehensive response to the report. The accountability and the leadership for providing that response rest with me as the minister. The parliamentary secretary has provided the report to me. He continues to take an active role in terms of working with our staff and working with the association.

[1635]

As I indicated, the co-chairs are going to be meeting again shortly to review where we have developed as far as some of the specific recommendations. The parliamentary secretary continues to work with me, to hold my feet to the fire in terms of delivering the comprehensive response, works actively with our staff. But the responsibility for providing that comprehensive response on behalf of government rests with the minister, and as I indicated, we're working on that comprehensive response. I hope to provide it to the industry as soon as possible.

V. Huntington: I have a few specific and fairly short questions with regard to Delta South in particular. I thought I would just go through those and then come back when other issues, such as ALC and aquaculture, are raised.

Firstly, I'd like to go through a short review of the question I asked last fall in estimates, and that related to whether the minister and his department were considering new regulations for greenhouse lights and the shading of greenhouses. He then, at that time, suggested that he would review the issue with his department, and I would like again to raise the matter with the minister.

The lights have a huge social, health and environmental impact on the community. The environmental impacts are far greater than just light pollution, because we live in a migratory bird flyway, so there are impacts on the waterfowl and on the raptors. I wonder if the minister has approached his department and received a thorough briefing on the issue as yet.

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. Following when the issue was raised in estimates last fall, I did review it with staff. I did have staff contact Delta municipality around this issue.

As you know, the industry has a standard dealing with a code of practice and a standard dealing with lights in greenhouses. The local government and municipality advised us that they felt that that standard was acceptable and was being worked with. We did consider the potential of a ministry standard, but given the fact that the local government felt that the industry standard that the industry had developed and works with met their concerns, we did not move forward with the idea of a ministry standard.

We continue to work with the industry, with their standard, and work between local governments and the Greenhouse Growers Association on making sure that those industry standards are complied with. Ultimately, if there are concerns around those, there is a process of complaints or a process that it can go through, through the Farm Industry Review Board.

V. Huntington: I can assure the minister that that response, in terms of the corporation of Delta's attitude or answer, is complete news to the people of Delta.

[1640]

The reason why the complaints have levelled off and disappeared is that they feel there's absolutely no reason to complain because nobody will listen at all. The only standard that I am aware of in terms of the greenhouse lights in Delta is that they are turned off between six and ten or midnight. I can't remember the exact hours, but that's the only standard I know of. They were at one time required to shield the side of the buildings, but even that seems to have gone the way of the blue-footed booby.

So I really feel that the ministry…. It's an issue of cost for the greenhouse growers. That I understand. But when the social implications are so significant, I think the ministry has to look beyond just the Greenhouse Growers Association's attitude towards the cost. There are mechanisms and materials that are being used elsewhere, and they ought to be considered for Delta. I really would like to continue to pursue that with the minister.
[ Page 4163 ]

The standard is not an appropriate one for an urban environment. I don't think it's appropriate for a rural one either. When you see the sky glowing, completely glowing, every night in the winter and there is no darkness in a community, then something's wrong. I think the ministry has to review the issue with the association. I would really like to see a commitment with the minister to start considering the broader social implications of these lights.

A very brief question would be: can the minister tell me whether the farm practices act applies on land outside the ALR?

Hon. S. Thomson: In response to that specific question, the act applies to land within the ALR and land outside the ALR that is zoned for agriculture. So it's not confined strictly to the agricultural land reserve. If it's zoned for agriculture and outside the ALR, the act applies.

I just wanted to follow up again, as well, with the member opposite on the issue she canvassed previously. I think that what we should do is have our staff meet with you and give you a briefing on their discussions and the industry standard and to review it, to provide that level of comfort, because I recognize the concern that you expressed in your answer about the position of the local government. I think you need to have the opportunity to have that full discussion with our staff on that issue, and I'll commit to having the staff do that for you.

V. Huntington: One of the other issues, in speaking with the Delta Farmers Institute and asking whether there were specific questions they would like to have raised during estimates….

[1645]

They said no, not in particular, except that they would like confirmation, which they feel they've already received from the department, that the program money, the grant money, in place to administer programs on the land is still in place. They were told that the money was not going to be reduced and that the programs that are vital to the farming community, certainly within Delta, are still in place.

Hon. S. Thomson: Without knowing the exact specific program that they may be referencing, I can't answer 100 percent for sure. I think that if you want to provide us with the specific program or have the Delta Farmers Institute contact my office around which exact specific program they were referencing, I'd be happy to respond to them.

In general, as I indicated earlier, with the success we've had in continuing to work and preserve the budget for the Growing Forward programs, the kind of programs that the Delta Farmers Institute have been involved in with environmental farm planning, beneficial management practices, waterfowl damage mitigation and compensation…. Those programs continue and are funded under the existing budget.

If those are the ones they're referring to, the answer is yes. If there are other specific programs that they may be concerned about or interested in, they can, at any time, contact our office or through you, and we'll get the specific answer for them.

V. Huntington: One of the other issues that, as you know, is so important to Delta is the order-in-council — 568, I believe it is — that cabinet placed on Delta in 2001. I think it was the very first thing that the newly elected cabinet ever did.

I know that Delta council, or at least the administrative officer, has been speaking with the ministry about when you would consider lifting that order-in-council. It's incredibly time-consuming. It's onerous on the municipality. It wastes time with the discussions that have to go back and forth with the ministry.

I was wondering if the minister would at least look at sections 903 and 917, wherein you can define the areas and circ*mstances in which approval is not required — whether you could look at those areas and move to lift some measure of this order-in-council.

[1650]

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. I think the member opposite is probably aware that the local government has approached us on this issue. We have indicated that we're prepared to have staff discussions with them. The decision to regulate them at the time was done for a reason. We'll need to be very, very careful, in consideration, in terms of removing that current delegated situation.

As you point out, there are areas where we need to work with them. We are talking about how we streamline that process. There are areas where we may be able to define areas that don't apply under the delegated authority. Just to be clear, we have asked staff to work with the local municipality, with the local government, and we're in the process of doing that. I've had discussions with the mayor and the council on this, and it is under review.

V. Huntington: I just want to comment on one other aspect of the service plan that I found quite fascinating. That's the number of what I would have thought of as non-agricultural activities that the department is involved in: the strategic Crown land dispositions, resource management coordination, the brownfield redevelopment.

I know that in years past, brownfield, or the contaminated-sites legislation and authority, was with Environment. I'm wondering if one of the issues surrounding those areas…. It was mentioned that you're
[ Page 4164 ]
"ensuring the environmental standards and sustainability is achieved" and that you wish to "engage in world-leading environmental stewardship."

Who is responsible for that element of environmental stewardship? What regulations are you using, and what are the resources you're devoting to these areas that are generally, in my mind, anyway, non-agricultural in nature? The FTEs and the budget allocations to these areas.

[1655]

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. It's an important question, because it does reference the fact that this is the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. We have a very significant portion of our responsibility and activity related to the land side of the ministry as well. That involves Crown lands and a number of programs within that part of the ministry.

If you will look at the estimate numbers, it's $13.6 million in that area of expenditure under the ministry out of a total budget of $82 million. It is a significant portion of our work. One of the main programs is the Crown contaminated-sites remediation program. I think that's the one you were probably referencing in terms of dealing with the environmental issues and things like that.

We'd like to draw your attention to the fact that we have just released a very comprehensive report on the activities under that program. It's available on our website. You may want to access that report, and that gives you the full scope of the work that's done under that program.

L. Popham: Currently the supply of specialty eggs in B.C. equals 12 percent of the total B.C. egg market. Yet polls indicate that the demand is closer to 30 percent, and consumers, grocers and food retailers have commented that they cannot obtain sufficient and consistent supply of specialty eggs.

Given the domestic and international trends towards specialty cage-free eggs, what has the ministry been doing to support and grow this sector in B.C., making sure our farmers would be ready to go and take advantage of this new demand when the time came?

[D. Horne in the chair.]

Hon. S. Thomson: As you may know, the government undertook a specialty market review in 2005. The government has made a priority around innovative products coming out of that review. Boards were directed by the ministry, through the Farm Industry Review Board, to have programs that focused on the development of that market.

The new-entrant program that the egg board currently has in place is targeted to the specialty market. The board is continuing to provide, through that program, the capacity to address the emerging growth in the specialty egg market.

L. Popham: It seems that there was intent to develop new entrants since 2006. It appears that the egg board was to allow two new entrants per year to keep pace with the demand of the market, but it took until 2010 to grant any new-entrant permits. Can you tell me why?

[1700]

Hon. S. Thomson: As you may be aware, the egg board cancelled a previous new-entrant program because there were fairness problems around access to that program and a number of other issues in that new-entrant program.

They have developed a new program. I think, to be fair, it was slower in terms of implementation than originally anticipated and a little slower than we might have liked. But as you know, they have recently started four new growers under the new-entrant program. There are another four to come very quickly, so that'll be eight within a short period of time. We anticipate that the program will continue to move forward as per those numbers that you originally talked about, the two per year.

We're playing a bit of catch-up in the program, but the egg board is under the direction to make sure that their new-entrant program focuses on that specialty market.

L. Popham: The Egg Marketing Board had a wait-list to award quota for specialty egg producers. Willy Driesen was on this wait-list, and she was in a situation to receive special consideration. She had to pay $250 to get on the list and $100 annually to stay on the list.

Then the wait-list was switched to a lottery system for the quota, and the draw took place behind closed doors. To ensure openness and transparency, lottery draws are typically televised or held in public venues open to anyone who wishes to be present. Can you tell me what processes were put in place to ensure that the lottery remained open, transparent and fair?

Hon. S. Thomson: In this process, under the lottery process, it was conducted by a CGA firm. There was an independent observer in the process as well. That process has now provided a report on the initial process for that first round of the lottery to our Farm Industry Review Board. The Farm Industry Review Board will be reviewing that report.

[1705]

If there are further improvements or adjustments to the lottery process that would be appropriate and required to ensure that level of transparency, then I expect that FIRB, the Farm Industry Review Board, will be making those recommendations. But it was carried out by a CGA firm with an independent observer, and we are receiving a report on that process. The Farm
[ Page 4165 ]
Industry Review Board will be reviewing that and making appropriate recommendations if required.

L. Popham: At this point, are you able to tell me the name of the accounting firm that conducted the draw, how the accounting firm was selected and who was present at the draw?

Hon. S. Thomson: I'm advised that the accounting firm was a firm called Larson and Associates. They were contracted by the egg board to run the lottery function and provide that service. In terms of the specifics of how they were selected, I would have to…. I don't have that information with me. I would need to get that information and provide it back to you. The independent observer that was selected to be part of that process was an individual named Jack Wessel.

L. Popham: I'd like to know the names of the successful applicants who won the lottery, and I'd also like to know why the process was changed to be behind closed doors. There were two farmers who had wanted to be part of that process. Their names were submitted to be part of the lottery. They wanted to witness the lottery take place, the draw take place, and they were denied access. If you could tell me why, that would be great.

Hon. S. Thomson: I don't have the specific names with me. I was just checking with staff, and they could probably provide a couple of them. But I think the better way to do it is to commit to provide you with the names of the successful applicants for the first draw.

In terms of the process, as indicated, it was run by an independent accounting firm. You need to be advised that there were 130 applicants to the program, so I think the decision was around logistics in the managing process, with that many applicants to the program, in terms of conducting a lottery process where they were all in attendance and participating.

[1710]

As I said earlier, we are receiving a report on the process for the first round under the lottery. The Farm Industry Review Board will be reviewing that report. We'll be making appropriate recommendations around ensuring transparency and accountability in the process, but I'm confident that the process was managed independently, with an independent observer.

As I said, we'll be getting a report, and the Farm Industry Review Board, which is responsible for the oversight of the regulated boards, will be reviewing that report and providing appropriate recommendations.

L. Popham: So the lottery drew names of farmers who entered the lottery but perhaps weren't completely ready to set up to become farms that were producing eggs. In fact, one of the winners of the draw still has to purchase agricultural land to set up shop, whereas there were other people in the draw who were ready to go at the drop of a hat, as soon as they got their quota.

I guess the eligibility requirements for the lottery are in question for me. That being said, we're going to be running out of time, so the minister can get back to me on that at a certain point.

There's a backlog of layer quota in the system because it took so long for this to be implemented. I think there's a backlog of about 18,000 hens, and I'm wondering if there's going to be some way of addressing that issue, Minister.

Hon. S. Thomson: Just as a follow-up to the last response. The four successful candidates under the first draw in the lottery — that information is available on the website. The farm names and individuals are posted on the websites, both the Farm Industry Review Board website and the B.C. Egg Marketing Board website, so you can reference those directly.

In terms of the number of eggs that you just referred to, in terms of the 18,000, that's an industry reserve that is held by the board. That reserve is used for a number of things. It's always in a bit of a state of flux, but they use it for certain innovative products that may come along that they need to have some reserve of to focus on a specific innovative market. It's used for some small-lot agriculture permits — that kind of thing. It fluctuates, and potentially, some of that reserve can also be made available for the new entrant program.

As I said, we're moving into the next stage of four more permits in the near future. The egg board will continue to manage that reserve quantity they have for the purposes of those innovative products, those small-lot permits and other things that they may need it for and, ultimately, could put some of that into the new entrant program on the specialty market side of things. But that is the management decision of the board and how they manage that reserve.

D. Donaldson: I have a question for the minister regarding a specific issue, but it has broad application, considering the size of the catchment area the issue pertains to and the role of the Ministry of Agriculture.

[1715]

I have a letter here that the minister received last month. It's from the Northwest Premium Meat Co-op in Smithers in my constituency. It's from the board to the minister, describing a situation where the co-op board is recommending to their members that they're going to be forced to close on May 1, 2010, and that will come up at their AGM on April 28.

To quote the letter: "It is very disappointing that we'll be forced to close due to inadequate stable funding opportunities, when the federal government so recently committed millions of stimulus dollars to our province."
[ Page 4166 ]

They point out that "the establishment of the co-op consumed over seven years of volunteer time, hundreds of thousands of local dollars to build," and it's going to be closed down according to their recommendation. Finally, they're saying: "Our region needs your help to save this provincially inspected facility for our communities."

I was looking at the budget estimates and the vote, Vote 14, that we're considering here, and there's "Strategic industry development" under your authority. It covers industry initiatives, issues affecting the establishment, production, marketing and business management of agriculture and food sectors. This subvote under "Strategic industry development" also covers policy, legislative and regulatory development around agrifood sectors.

So I believe that this co-op falls within those types of topics. They're asking for help, and my question to the minister is: can you describe the kind of help that you can offer as Agriculture Minister to these dedicated producers from as far afield as Haida Gwaii to Vanderhoof to Dease Lake — an incredible size in the province?

Hon. S. Thomson: As the member opposite is aware, the government has had a significant program in place to assist with the establishment of abattoirs and slaughter facilities throughout the program. That is under the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport program, so in terms of that specific program and assistance, that should be canvassed under that ministry.

[1720]

Since inception we've added 75 slaughter plants that have been approved. The number of licensed abattoirs has increased from 28 in 2004 to 84 in 2009. So we've made a significant investment in building the capacity within the industry.

With respect to this specific one, I'm aware of the challenges that are facing that specific co-op. At this point in time under the programs that are available, we have provided the maximum assistance possible consistent with what has been provided to other operations. It is a challenge to look to provide something there that is more than or not consistent with what has been provided to other operations within the program.

I can say that we are aware of the situation, and staff continue to work with the co-op. In the past we have had some considerations around assisting them in some special considerations of finding financing and recognize the importance of this co-op to the area. Staff are continuing to work with them, but we also have to do that within the constraints of our existing programs and consistent approaches that we have with other established facilities.

R. Chouhan: I have some questions about BCVMA. The question that I have is: is there any plan that the ministry has made to replace the BCVMA as it functions now?

[H. Bloy in the chair.]

Hon. S. Thomson: No, the ministry does not have any plans to replace the BCVMA. I don't have the authority to do that.

R. Chouhan: Is the minister aware if there will be any changes in the near future to the BCVMA in any shape or form, structurally or otherwise?

Hon. S. Thomson: I'm going to provide a qualified answer at this point and then seek some direction from the Chair as well.

[1725]

The member opposite knows that we've had a consultation process seeking views from the public, from stakeholders and things, about various matters around the administration of the practice of veterinary medicine in British Columbia.

I'm reminded, though, of the standing orders which say: "Only the administrative action of a department is open to debate. The necessity for legislation and matters involving legislation cannot be discussed in the Committee of Supply." So that's why I've provided the qualified answer that there has been a process to seek input around the matters around the practice of veterinary medicine, and the minister is well aware of that with the consultation process that we had.

The Chair: Member, and noting the comments of the minister.

R. Chouhan: Let's stick with the budgetary questions then. Is there any funding provided by this ministry to BCVMA and how much?

Hon. S. Thomson: There is no funding provided by this ministry.

R. Chouhan: Is there any ongoing process that the ministry has available to itself which provides the ability to get accountability or seek any information as to the functions of BCVMA under this ministry?

Hon. S. Thomson: The association, as a professional association, is required to report to their membership, to provide the annual reports, to hold the annual meeting processes. That's where the accountability is provided. The disciplinary procedures are posted on their website. That's the accountability to their membership. There's not a provision for specific reporting to the minister.

J. Brar: I would like to ask probably a couple of questions around the B.C. Veterinarians Act. I understand, before I say my questions, that we're not here to discuss
[ Page 4167 ]
the act, but I would like to ask a question related to the comment the minister made just a few seconds ago.

My understanding is that the B.C. Veterinarians Act is under review at this point in time and that the minister has initiated the public consultation process, which I appreciate. I just want to know: what steps were taken to ensure that all stakeholders have the information and the ability to provide their meaningful input into the process?

[1730]

Hon. S. Thomson: Before I provide the answer, I'd like to again seek the direction of the Chair, because the points they made earlier around the necessity for legislation or matters involving legislation cannot be addressed in Committee of Supply. This appears to be a question that is addressing either the necessity for legislation or administrative matters around the legislation.

The Chair: Maybe I could ask the minister…. Legislation and the policies around it that come up with the operating procedures of the ministry would be a fair question — but not related to the legislation at all.

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you. With that guidance, and I'll seek the guidance of the Chair if he thinks I'm starting to stray beyond the bounds here….

But just to advise, you asked about the consultation process. It was a web-based consultation process. All members of the association were advised. Stakeholder groups and other interested organizations and parties were advised of the opportunity to provide input through that process. It was announced at the annual meeting of the association. Additionally, related organizations were also advised of the opportunity for input.

Organizations like the B.C. Cattlemen's Association and others were advised of that opportunity. So there was good notification around the consultation process and the opportunity to provide input.

The Chair: Member for Surrey-Fleetwood, if I could remind you to stay away from the legislation and the recommendations of necessity for amendments to it.

J. Brar: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I understand that. That's why I made the comment at the very beginning that I understand that we're not going to discuss the amendments or changes to the B.C. Veterinarians Act here. But I'm talking about basically the budgetary things, which is the process taking place at this point in time — the policy.

Keeping in mind the time — I know that my fellow members plan to ask questions as well — I'd like to make comments and then leave with the last question. Why I'm asking these questions…. The minister probably is aware about that. There's an ongoing conflict between a group of veterinarians called B.C. Vets for Justice and the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association.

That has been there for years. It's ongoing, and I don't think that served the purpose for the people of British Columbia. It's painful; it's ugly. My expectation will be that when we go through this process and look into those things, there must be a conflict resolution process, which at this point in time I think is the gap there, so that these kinds of conflicts do not go on for years.

[1735]

That's one comment I would like to make. The second one is that there is fear from one group of people that this ministry funded, not this year but a couple of years before, the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association in their legal fight. Basically, the taxpayers' money — there's an allegation — was spent against one group over the other one. If that's true, that's not a good example as well. We should address those things in this process so that we are aware, and we can make good changes when the time comes.

With that, I would like to ask the minister…. One of the groups, which is B.C. Vets for Justice, approached me and many other members. They felt a bit left out of this public consultation process. Will the minister or the staff be prepared to meet with them so that they can provide their meaningful input into the process?

Hon. S. Thomson: I'm advised that staff did meet with a key representative of that organization or that group on two occasions. They've also provided input through the web-based approach. So we had the consultation process, all interested parties have had that opportunity to provide their views and input, and all of that is being taken into consideration. So staff did meet twice with what I understand is a key representative for that group.

H. Bains: I have a few questions just along the same line. You would know that if so many people are coming to this House asking those questions, it just shows how serious the issue is out there in the community. If we had time, you would have at least another six or seven members coming here asking the same questions or similar questions on the same issue.

I think the question was asked…. Perhaps I could ask it again because the answer wasn't coming. On the funding side, perhaps the minister could answer this question. Did the ministry pay the BCVMA any money in 2008, 2009 or 2010 to assist them in their legal fight with their own members?

[1740]

Hon. S. Thomson: I'm advised that during the time period that you canvassed, the ministry did not provide any financial assistance for legal costs of the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association.
[ Page 4168 ]

H. Bains: Did the ministry pay any money, for any reason, to the BCVMA for the same period?

Hon. S. Thomson: To the best of my knowledge…. I'm advised that the Ministry of Agriculture did not provide any financial assistance to the Veterinary Medical Association during the time period canvassed — or earlier, I'm advised.

H. Bains: From that answer, I would take it, then, that no money was provided by the ministry, through any means, to the BCVMA during that period. That would be the answer that I would take from the minister's response.

I will move on then. As you can see, these are very sensitive issues. Over a hundred, maybe 150, days have already gone through, as they are before the human rights panel, and then more days are scheduled. Maybe this hearing will make the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of days that members are taking their association through a human rights case. Perhaps it'd be close.

I think this is something that the minister should be concerned about. This is something that we all should be concerned about. There are some serious allegations, and they are always trying to find a way to go around and keep on going after certain members of that association. It's a very serious issue when you see that many days before a human rights panel.

My next question is in anticipation of the act and the legislation change. The minister may or may not be able, or be in a position, to answer this question. There's a serious concern by those members that are involved in the human rights case, and by others, that the BCVMA may use the minister's office or that the minister may, through legislation, try to bring in changes retroactively so that it will affect that particular case that is before the Human Rights Commission.

Can the minister assure those members that any changes you bring in will not affect the case that is before the panel right now?

The Chair: Minister, in your response if you'd consider the legislation that's before…. So your response may be very limited.

[1745]

Hon. S. Thomson: I'm mindful that there is a process underway with the Human Rights Tribunal, and there are review processes, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those or to be involved in those.

I do recognize the overall seriousness of the issue, and it's something that I think we are all aware of. I think the question — and I'm going to seek the direction of the Chair — with respect to legislation is out of scope for these estimates.

M. Sather: I'd like to ask the minister some questions about aquaculture, specifically about sea lice. The minister will know that it's a considerable concern both within the industry and outside the industry about what effect sea lice are having on not only our farmed fish but also our wild salmon.

A concern that has come up was with regard to resistance that sea lice are gaining to the drugs that are used to control them, specifically one called SLICE, and that this resistance is already occurring in eastern Canada and in Norway. The industry is concerned about it.

Alexandra Morton has obtained information on sea lice around the northern Vancouver Island area where she does her work. Information that Marine Harvest has provided shows a clear pattern between application of SLICE in April 2007 and a subsequent drop in sea lice for six months, followed by an increase in sea lice numbers. This is the typical pattern that one would expect with the application of the drug. It knocks the sea lice back for a period of time, and then they recover.

However, the information that's been provided by Grieg Seafood shows a different pattern. Their Esperanza fish farm, for example, shows that although sea lice numbers dropped from 40 sea lice per fish in October 2009 to about eight sea lice per fish after treatment with SLICE that month, that level, at eight, is still almost three times the provincially allowable level for sea lice.

Ms. Morton says, and I think she makes a good point, that this high survival rate of sea lice shows that the sea lice are developing resistance to the drug. She goes on to say that the surviving lice began reproducing right away — that is, right away after the application of the drug — and the numbers had already increased to 13 sea lice per fish by January, again indicating drug resistance.

Dr. Mark Sheppard, who is the veterinarian, aquatic animal health, for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, said that there is no indication of resistance to SLICE in these data. Can the minister explain how it is that his staff feel that this data does not indicate a resistance to SLICE?

[1750]

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. As you know, there's a lot of work being done through our fish health monitoring program and through scientific research into this. There are a number of factors that impact numbers of sea lice, including salinity and a whole number of other factors in terms of the management.

Thank you for referencing the good work of Dr. Mark Sheppard on this. Both provincial scientists through our health program and federal scientists that are undertaking research in this area do not find direct evidence of resistance to SLICE. The situation continues to be monitored.

There's research continuing on it through the fish health programs, but the information that you've put
[ Page 4169 ]
forward around direct resistance is purely speculative at this point. There are a whole number of factors. Resistance may be a part of it, but that work continues to be done by those leading scientists and is part of the fish health monitoring program.

M. Sather: Dr. Sheppard also said that there was a very large and very late run of chum salmon bearing sea lice and that these fish reinfected after the SLICE had worn off. They had reinfected from this run. But according to the manufacturer, SLICE provides "ten weeks' prolonged efficacy against all species and stages of lice."

The sea lice treated in October should have continued to decline to at least the middle of December, but the data show that the numbers of sea lice went up right after the drop in November post-treatment. So the sea lice numbers started going up sharply before the apparent run of chum salmon. That would have been in December.

[1755]

Can the minister comment on that? What evidence can he provide that there was a very large and very late run of chum salmon? Where and when did that happen?

Hon. S. Thomson: This is a very technical argument in terms of how SLICE works. The reinfestation is not an indication of resistance. As I stated earlier, there's no evidence of resistance in all the scientific data and research by the scientists. There are many questions around how the whole SLICE works.

I think what would be best…. I'd be quite prepared to have our scientists sit down directly with the member opposite and go through all the science that's available with the current information around this. The comments that resistance is developing are purely speculative, and all the evidence that we've been provided through our fish health program and the federal scientists is that resistance is not developing to SLICE.

M. Sather: I'll certainly take the minister up on that.

Alexandra Morton has documented instances of large quantities of blood flowing from fish farm underwater discharge pipes — and the minister may have seen the graphic video that she has on that — containing larval lice and eggs coming out of the pipes. What is the government doing to address this issue?

[1800]

Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm that the reference the member opposite is making is not to a fish farm; it is a processing plant. That plant is regulated under the waste discharge permit or under waste discharge regulations under the Ministry of Environment. Following that information being provided to us, the site was investigated and inspected by the ministry and the Ministry of Environment, and all the reports back indicate that the plant is operating in compliance with its waste management permit.

M. Sather: When Alexandra Morton has asked for sea lice data from fish farms, the ministry has instructed her to ask those fish farms for that information, in several locations. So why is the public not privy to sea lice data from private fish farms when the farms are operating in public waters and there are definite risks to wild salmon?

[1805]

Hon. S. Thomson: The ministry publishes annually the fish health reports on an area basis. We have been operating up to this point on the assumption that the individual data was proprietary information of the companies, and so we've been meeting the obligations in terms of public reporting through the fish health reports.

We know that a number of companies — Marine Harvest, for example — do publish individual data on an individual site–basis. That's their decision. But the specific individual data is viewed as proprietary information of the individual companies, and so we have managed the reporting through the annual reports of the fish health reports.

The issue has been raised as part of the ongoing discussion now in terms of transfer of regulatory responsibility to the federal government, and that issue is being reviewed and addressed during those transition discussions with the federal government.

M. Sather: I have one last question. Why did the province not attempt to keep shellfish aquaculture within provincial jurisdiction, and therefore, the monitoring could be done by the province?

Hon. S. Thomson: In response to the question, the decision to transfer the regulatory authority for shellfish as well as finfish as part of the transition as a result of the Hinkson decision was a pragmatic decision. The federal government asserted their authority in terms of management of aquaculture overall. In discussions with the industry and supported by the industry, the decision was made to transfer full regulatory authority to provide an efficient, streamlined, regulatory one-stop process for the aquaculture industry, including finfish and shellfish.

L. Popham: On to the apple growers. I'm just wondering if the minister has submitted an application for AgriRecovery to the federal government on behalf of the apple growers at this point.

Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for that question. The tree fruit industry is one that, as the member opposite knows, is very challenged. I have had discussions with
[ Page 4170 ]
the federal minister in terms of responding to the current issues in the tree fruit industry.

[1810]

There are some questions around the eligibility of the current situation for AgriRecovery, since freeze is covered by production insurance, and this was the genesis of some of the fruit growers' concerns in this area. Technically, it may not qualify for AgriRecovery. But we are in discussions with the federal minister, and I continue to have ongoing discussions with the leadership of the Fruit Growers Association in terms of responding to the current situation. Those discussions are ongoing.

L. Popham: This will be my final question. Can the minister tell me if there are funds allocated in the budget this year for agriculture to cover the costs of the organic extension program that will end on August 15 and if there will be other money put aside to support the organic industry?

Hon. S. Thomson: In response to the specific question, there is not capacity within our budget this year to provide specific support for the organic extension officer. It's not in our current budget.

As we commented earlier, the fiscal challenges that we have within the ministry…. We've needed to focus on the critical services and the core programs, but we do have two full-time staff that are dedicated to supporting the growth of the organic industry and working closely with and supporting the Certified Organic Association of B.C., one on the policy side and one on the production side. We'll continue to work closely with the COABC organic association to assist that industry in continuing to grow.

Vote 14: ministry operations, $68,494,000 — approved.

Vote 15: Agricultural Land Commission, $2,088,000 — approved.

Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the committee rise, report resolutions and completion of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and ask leave to sit again.

Motion approved.

The committee rose at 6:14 p.m.

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