In Budget 2020 the BC NDP government continues to make incremental investments in our shared priorities like CleanBC, housing, child care, support for post secondary students and a money laundering inquiry.
However, the budget falls short of delivering the coherent, ambitious and modern economic agenda that British Columbia needs. It’s problematic that government is trying to deliver contradictory agendas. On one hand they are advancing initiatives on climate action, while at the same time they are entrenching our reliance on non-renewable resources like LNG.
Unfortunately, by pursuing conflicting agendas like this, the government’s ability to achieve long-term prosperity for our province is seriously limited.
I’m pleased to rise and take my place in the debate on Budget 2020.
There are elements of this budget that I’m proud to stand behind. We’re seeing some positive incremental investments in our shared priorities with government. Some of these elements include increased CleanBC funding, the implementation of revenue-sharing with First Nations and the introduction of the B.C. access grant, which will make post-secondary education more accessible.
I’ll speak to some of these accomplishments in greater detail later in this response.
However, while I fully support much of what is in this budget, I must say that it falls short of what is needed from the government at this point in history. It isn’t enough to just try to make life more affordable. The B.C. Greens have been consistently urging the government to think bigger, to think about how our economy is serving the needs of people and to drive an ambitious, modern, viable economic strategy as we respond fully and completely to the climate emergency.
In this budget, I see a government attempting to deliver on contradictory agendas. For example, they’re increasing investments in CleanBC, yet, at the same time, entrenching our economy’s reliance on non-renewable resources like LNG. By pursuing conflicting agendas like this, the government’s ability to achieve long-term prosperity for our province is seriously limited. While there are important investments in programs and policies that matter to people and that do make life more affordable, there is no coherent economic strategy for our times.
In this budget, CleanBC received over $400 million of new funding on top of the $900 million announced last year. This is a substantial investment that we can all be proud of. The B.C. Green caucus team continues to work closely with the government on CleanBC. This plan provides a long-overdue climate strategy that puts us on the pathway to meeting our 2030 climate goals.
But CleanBC will always be limited in what it can achieve so long as the government is still attempting to expand LNG, the fossil fuel economy of the last century. This budget makes clear that this government is still treating CleanBC solely as an emissions reduction tool, and the economic activity that this government is incentivizing through massive tax breaks to LNG is the single biggest barrier to meeting our climate targets.
This doesn’t make any sense. The economic opportunity for B.C. lies in using CleanBC as an economic driver so that not only do we meet our climate targets through regulation and policy measures like the carbon tax, but we also create huge numbers of local, high-quality jobs in the clean economy. We can do this, but it requires a deliberate, strategic approach to supporting the clean economy and growing innovation. We should be positioning local B.C. companies to develop and deliver the resources and technologies needed in the transition to the clean energy economy.
For example, we’re home to the majority of the minerals needed in solar panels. A thoughtful approach to development, including harnessing technologies that significantly reduce environmental impacts and putting an emphasis on local manufacturing, could see us as a global leader in supplying solar panels both at home and abroad.
Similarly, the government can play a catalyzing role in creating centres of excellence that bring together industry, academia and various levels of government to develop new technologies. We have a willing partner in the federal government, but the province needs to be at the table and putting forward a clear vision.
The fact that the budget makes no significant strategic investments in innovation is a missed opportunity. Instead, the largest portion of new spending in CleanBC is allocated to a program that reduces the carbon tax paid by heavy-emitting industries without any guarantees in their overall emissions reductions.
My riding is the source of a significant amount of economic activity. About a billion dollars each year is generated on the Saanich Peninsula. Businesses there are excelling in manufacturing and innovation in particular. Over the past few years, I’ve been visiting businesses to learn more about them. Business attraction, growth and retention are very important to the sustainability and resilience of our communities in my riding. As such, it’s important to know why the entrepreneurs, innovators and change-makers have chosen to establish and invest in the Saanich Peninsula.
In visiting many of these businesses, I hear consistent themes. What is needed is more affordable housing and transportation options for workers. Many of the people who work on the Saanich Peninsula can’t afford to live on the Saanich Peninsula, and the transportation options to the region are limited. I’m thankful for the investments that have been made by this government and local non-profit rental housing societies to increase accessible and more affordable housing options in my communities, yet we remain challenged by the limitations of transit options.
While I recognize that there is an ongoing comprehensive transportation study for southern Vancouver Island, it is no secret that Highway 17 is a major transportation corridor that could be enhanced to provide a more robust transit service to the Saanich Peninsula. Frankly, it could start with targeted investments at major crossings, like Mount Newton in Central Saanich, where there is no opportunity to get on an express bus that regularly passes through our community.
Another need I hear from the businesses is the need for more skilled trades training. To that end, one very positive aspect of this budget is the introduction of the B.C. access grant. This is a needs-based, upfront grant to students starting post-secondary studies. This investment will help remove barriers in education and training and help young people develop the skills needed to secure high-quality jobs.
It’s not just the manufacturing sector that is in need of workers, though. There is a critical shortage of front-line workers in the retail industry, care aides and many other sectors. There is a significant shortage of affordable rental housing options on the southern Gulf Islands. While limited relief has come to Saltspring, there is still a tremendous need there and on every Gulf Island for housing options so the workers delivering critical services to those communities can live and work in those beautiful communities.
In this budget, the government is continuing to implement affordable early childhood education for young families across British Columbia. However, we share the concerns of advocates that the investment plan is not ambitious enough. We cannot stall investments in this vital area. Young families need to be able to rely on high quality and affordable early childhood education options. By striving to create a universally accessible child care and early childhood education system, we are creating a critically important public good, but it must be done right and done with care. Any limitations we introduce at this point will worsen as the system grows. I believe we must start from the principle that prioritizes spending public money on public goods as much as possible.
We will continue to urge the government to move the Ministry of State for Child Care from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to the Ministry of Education. The early learning years are as or more critical as the later years. The Ministry of Education is best suited to fostering that educational continuum. In addition, early childhood educators are more than just babysitters. They are critical in establishing the excitement and joy of learning in our children. They are as important as our teachers and should be compensated as such. I’m happy that we are taking steps in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
I’ve had many parents and interested stakeholders reach out to me for assistance in developing a discussion locally in my riding about child care and before- and after-school care in the communities in Saanich North and the Islands. I’m grateful that the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula have received funding to assess the needs and gaps in child care and that the minister responsible is open to having this important discussion in our community.
It is important that we look after our children and ensure that the investments we are making in their care are targeted to fill the needs and to close the gaps. This is more than just making life more affordable. While that is important, many parents that I know, not only want space for their child, they also want and need choice. There is nothing more disconcerting than the concerns that a parent has in the back of their mind about the quality of care that their children are receiving when they’re at work. Where there is a lack in supply and options, parents must accept any spot that’s available. That is definitely not the ideal situation.
This budget also delivers funding for a public inquiry into money laundering. Money laundering has had a staggering financial impact and human cost on our province. It has played a role in our opioid crisis, and dirty money flowing into our housing market has worsened the housing crisis, pushing affordable homes further out of reach for British Columbians. That is why we began pushing for the government to launch a public inquiry over a year ago. We pressed this government day in and day out for weeks to move on an inquiry. I welcome the funding to support their commitment to a public inquiry in Budget 2020.
British Columbians deserve a full and complete account of how we got to where we are, how money laundering was allowed to go on for so long and reach the scale that it did. There needs to be accountability for the decisions made by individuals and regulatory agencies that contributed to the scale and severity of the impacts in our communities. A public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. removes the investigation from partisan influence, protects the public interest and will help us restore the public’s trust that has been broken.
Another change that we see in this budget is the decision to remove the PST exemption from sugary drinks, including diet and regular pop. This type of policy can be a part of a shift to emphasizing preventative health measures with the potential for significant health outcomes.
We spend the vast majority of our resources in the Ministry of Health and a substantial portion of the provincial budget in treating people when they are sick. Of course, we need a top-notch health care system to treat people and return them to good health. But what we need far more of is a proactive approach to wellness that helps people lead healthy lives. A key part of keeping people well and supporting them to live healthy lives is ensuring they have access to primary care.
In the majority of my riding and in communities across the province, there continues to be a concern about the lack of access to primary care. I understand the government’s announcement of new agreements and the creation of urgent care facilities. I must raise the concerns I have heard for months now about the impact urgent care facilities are having on the ultimate goal of attaching people to a team of health care professionals who work together to deliver high-quality community care.
The development of a super-clinic model to ease the immediate issues with backlogs for people in getting in front of a health care professional is posing other challenges. What British Columbians want is a health care provider or a team of providers that they can build a relationship with, that know them and that they can build trust in some of the most private, sensitive and vulnerable interactions that we have.
It is worth noting that this is the third full budget introduced in this minority government. Early on, each major piece of legislation, each budget and throne speech was met with a great deal of speculation about whether this government would survive or if we pulled them down.
Many commenters tried to stir up uncertainty claiming that this government was unstable. Now in the third year of this joint endeavour, this sort of commentary and speculation has died down.
I think this is something that we can be proud of. We decided when we signed our agreement to support the government that we shared a responsibility to try to make this work. I don’t think it’s my job to look for opportunities to pull government down and send British Columbians back to the polls.
Instead, I clearly see my job as threefold. First, it’s my utmost responsibility, the reason I was put in this place, with this seat, to represent the needs of my constituents. I’m directly accountable to them for the work that I do here. Second, it’s my job to work with government, through the confidence and supply agreement, on the issues that we have jointly identified as priorities for making B.C. a better place to live. Third, it’s my job as a member of the opposition party to hold this government accountable on areas where we think they’re taking the province in the wrong direction.
We have seen significant disappointments. There are areas where we strongly disagree with the direction this government is choosing to take — the decision to double down on LNG, talked about often, and to construct the Site C dam to power the industry are the most notable.
We’ve also made substantial progress on many shared priorities, including removing the corrupting influence of corporate union donations; tackling money laundering, speculation and fraud in our housing market; being the first jurisdiction to pass the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples; and moving to deliver affordable, quality child care to young families in our province.
It is my responsibility and my privilege to balance the roles that I fill as a local representative, minority partner and opposition member in the day-to-day work in this place. We continue in this chamber because our allegiance is not necessarily to this government but to the issues that we committed to in the CASA, the confidence and supply agreement. This budget, while it falls short on providing the economic vision that is needed for B.C., issues that we’ve continued to raise with the government, it does continue to implement the commitments that we’ve made on many important issues.
On that, I will be supporting Budget 2020.