Response to Budget 2019
I was elected to represent Saanich North and the Islands in the British Columbia Legislative Assembly because people in my riding lost confidence in government.
I promised them that I would be passionate, bold and courageous in my work to rebuild that trust.
Budget 2019 is not a perfect budget. It’s not an awful budget. It’s a good budget, and it’s a smart budget.
It begins to make the investments in people and in environment that signal that this government is interested in rebuilding trust in this democratic institution.
I am honoured today to stand and take my place in this debate for Budget 2019.
I would like to start by thanking the staff members who support the work that I do in this place, that support the constituents of Saanich North and the Islands. I’d like to thank my constituency staff: Ryan Clayton, Jojo Beatty and Laura Parker, who work long hours to support our constituency. As well, our staff in our legislative office here: Evan Pivnick; Sarah Miller; Claire Hume; Stephanie Sidden; Judy Rendek; Aldous Sperl; and our latest addition, Megan McKinley. I’d just like to take a moment to thank them.
My campaign began in the summer of 2016. It was a long campaign. There were hundreds, probably thousands, of interactions with my constituents. The message I heard was overwhelming: people had lost confidence in their government. It did not matter if we were on the top of the mountain or on the sea’s shore — the message was the same. Confidence in government was shaken. Scandal after scandal was brushed aside. Internal reviews found nothing, and people were told not to worry. But there was a growing anxiety. Confidence in government was bruised.
Housing was out of reach for many of my constituents. The industry was in full meltdown. It was left unregulated, and people were displaced from their homes and their communities.
There was a growing sadness in British Columbia, and people blamed their government. Unchecked political contributions fuelled decision-making. Trust in government was in tatters.
I’m standing in this chamber today because I promised to address these issues. On each and every doorstep, I promised to be bold and courageous. I promised to take action where the previous government refused to act. I was given that chance. On election night, 60 percent of British Columbians voted for something other than the former government.
People were tired of the growing gap between the wealthiest few and everybody else. They were crippled with student debt. Shut out of the housing market. Having difficulty raising their family and caring for their children. Struggling with mental health and addictions. Overwhelmed by MSP tax increases and underwhelmed by government action on the climate crisis. Those doorstep conversations remain with me today.
I stand here with the honour to respond to Budget 2019, this government’s second full budget and the culmination of their third budget process, and I stand here with pride. I’m proud that I and my B.C. Green colleagues are successfully navigating territory that very few — maybe no other MLAs in this province and country — have ever navigated. As a caucus with only three members, our impact on British Columbia’s political landscape has been substantive and positive.
A positive impact
Do we get everything that we want? No. But that would not be right for us — to get everything that we want. We have proven to have an impact, a positive impact, on our priorities over the past 20 months. That is the way life is. It’s shades of grey. It’s not the black-and-white polarized construct that this chamber’s two sides create. Real life is complex. It’s messy. It requires a willingness to negotiate, compromise, bend and not break.
As I and my colleagues learn and grow in our experience, as we test the buttons, knobs and levers in this place, we grow in our effectiveness. It’s with a sense of accomplishment that I reflect on the past few months. I’ve spent very little time celebrating our achievements. This place is always moving, flexing and pulsing. Time in here moves very quickly.
There’s been a good start on a number of policy initiatives that were part of our 2017 Green platform. We banned big money, passed new environmental assessment and provincial reliance legislation and reformed lobbying and the Agricultural Land Commission Act, just to highlight a few.
Budget 2019 is a good budget. It’s not a perfect budget. Nor is it an awful budget. It’s a good budget, and it’s a smart budget. It continues the work of restoring trust, restoring confidence in government. It again features many initiatives that were in our platform. CleanBC represents meaningful action on climate change. But it also has investments in education, mental health, PharmaCare and child care.
As I reflect on this work of our small but mighty team, on the list of our accomplishments, there are a number of firsts. Top on that list is the confidence and supply agreement. We’ve always had the challenge of partnering with government while maintaining a separate and distinct identity. On that front, we’ve had mixed results. But it’s really uncharted territory. This document and the relationship it helps regulate is unique. It’s unique here, and it’s unique elsewhere in this country. It provides an excellent reference point for our evaluation.
As I opened this speech, confidence and trust in government was and is very low. Transparency and accountability are words in this place not action. So despite the ups and downs of the confidence and supply agreement, we have built a relationship with government on common ground to deliver a policy agenda that puts people back at the centre of their democracy. We have a long way to go. But we have made a start. With Budget 2019, that work continues.
Meaningful climate action has never been more important than it is right now. With the CleanBC plan and the $900 million investment in this budget, it’s a great step forward to putting British Columbia back on track.
It’s not good enough. We need to push further, faster. But every journey begins with a single step, and CleanBC is that first step to putting British Columbia on the pathway towards a cutting-edge, low-carbon economy.
I pause here to acknowledge a warrior in our office, not the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head, although his advocacy and expertise in this area are critical. I’m talking about Claire Hume. She’s going to be very reluctant to hear her name mentioned in this place, but it’s an honour to work alongside her. Her passion and love for this work and these efforts does not go unnoticed.
I raise my hands to you, my friend. This is the least effort that I could do to ease the burden of your heavy lifting on this file.
Meeting our emissions targets are just one part of addressing climate action. We must balance our thinking. We cannot address climate change through cutting our emissions alone. We must stop the liquidation of our forests, ecosystems and critical habitat.
Rationalize it however you will, the decisions to continue our ravenous destruction of the landscape has only one disastrous end. This has become my mantra. We must protect habitat as our first course of action. That needs to be followed by habitat restoration. Finally, we must organize government to minimize the fragmentation that exists today.
Every single expert stakeholder that has come through my office has confirmed these three priority initiatives. Yet government remains stubbornly defensive of its current organizational structure. This structure is all that is left from the former government, organized to deliver the decisions and policies of a bygone era. It is insanity to do the same thing and expect different results.
Over the next 2½ years, I hope government will take the opportunity that it has to create a new organizational structure with new policy and processes to achieve new results. They are greatly needed.
In this, I must express my disappointment that I see no substantive investment in wild salmon.
This is an issue I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on through 2019 with the Premier’s Wild Salmon Advisory Council. It is my hope that government steps forward soon with their commitment to this work.
As was outlined in our options paper, our budget submission and in my countless utterances, our priority is habitat. Our focus is protection, restoration and a government that is organized so it puts salmon policy at the centre of our decision-making in this House. I stand by my previous statement. Good salmon policy is good environmental, good social and good economic policy.
A central focus of our campaign platform…. Frankly, as a parent of young children, my focus is on education in our house and in many households in British Columbia. It’s also a central focus of our agreement with government. Recognizing lifelong learning and making post-secondary education more affordable and accessible is important if we are going to continue to lead the country and, indeed, the world.
Budget 2019 takes tremendous steps in that direction. I applaud the $550 million investment in public education and the $31 million investment in independent schools. I must say both systems are important for students in British Columbia, and it is important that the government has a voice at both of those tables. I celebrate the investment this government has made in helping post-secondary students in this budget, helping them out from under the crushing debt by eliminating the interest on the provincial student loans.
On the Saanich Peninsula, like many communities across the province, we have a growing youth mental health crisis. There’s not enough resources to help our youth who need a hand up. I’m thankful to the Ministry of Children and Families, who invested in our youth clinic in Sidney last year. I’m thankful for the work of Ryan Painter, who brought this issue to light during the most recent school trustee elections in school district 61. I’m thankful for the $70 million investment in Budget 2019. These are all important steps forward.
Indigenous gaming revenue
Indigenous leaders have long been asking for access to gaming revenues, and $3 billion over 25 years is a remarkable advancement in the government-to-government relations in British Columbia. I’m thankful that this government is willing to work with Indigenous communities and leaders and to step out of the box to make substantive investments like this one.
It’s more than just handing over money to Indigenous communities. These funds are an asset. They are a stable source of predictable revenue that communities can borrow against and invest on. This would be the first time that communities, Indigenous communities, in our province have access to this kind of economic power. It’s an incredible acknowledgement that we need to be doing things differently in British Columbia, and this is a courageous initiative. HÍSW̱ḴE.
High-speed internet connectivity is a challenge in many rural communities. The beautiful Gulf Island communities that I represent have substantive challenges with connectivity. We saw the very real impact of a lack of connectivity in the winter storm in December. We now, from that experience, have a better understanding of the threats that our rural communities face because they lack the connectivity of urban communities.
The $50 million investment in high-speed internet connectivity is just a start. I know that Gulf Islanders will be eager to have part of that investment, and it will improve our communities. I’ve had many meetings with the Minister of Citizens’ Services on this issue, describing the challenges facing the southern Gulf Island communities and the lack of connectivity. I’ll continue to strongly advocate that we have a part in this investment.
But I fear that the investments that have been made on innovation are not enough. They don’t go far enough. We are facing disruptive technologies and innovations with the sole purpose of turning status quo markets upside down. When I think about the impact that automation is having on our workforce — small, medium and large businesses — I can’t help but fear that we are being left behind.
When I hear the government talking about minimum wage, instead of a deep investigation into a guaranteed annual income, I can’t help but fear that we are trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century solutions.
It’s time for government, labour, business and politicians to wake up to this new reality that we face together. The playing field has shifted, and we are no longer in the game. In fact, I fear that we are being gamed. We must stop tricking ourselves with the old arguments that have any value and embrace the reality that we need to change or we will be changed.
I stand here today because people in my riding lost confidence in government. I promised them that I would be passionate, bold and courageous in my work to rebuild that trust. It’s not a perfect budget. It’s not an awful budget. It’s a good budget, and it’s a smart budget. It begins to make the investments in people and in environment that signal that this government is interested in rebuilding trust in this democratic institution.
I will continue to be both an active, productive partner in this work as well as a critic. I will continue to push forward on innovation, habitat protection, restoration and less bureaucratic fragmentation. I will continue to demand deeper, more thorough action on the allegations of corruption and bad behaviour. We can go further, faster. I will continue to advocate with a loud and respectful voice for the interests of Saanich North and the Islands.
I thank all of my constituents for this opportunity to represent them in this chamber.