In my 2023 Response to the Speech from the Throne I cover a variety of topics including Indigenous relations, housing, healthcare, climate action, biodiversity and ecosystem health.
This is by no means a fulsome response to all the topics covered in the Throne Speech but I will highlight other aspects I did not get to in my response in future speeches and videos.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide my response to the Speech from the Throne. It always reminds me, when we get into this part of the debate in the spring session, that as you’re listening to the government side of the House it sounds a lot like Tegan and Sara’s song that they made for The Lego Movie: that everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of the team.
Then, when you listen to the other side of the House, they provide, I think, some of the balance that needs to be brought to the reality that’s facing British Columbians.
A. Olsen: Well, it’s not awful, but there are things that need to be done. There’s absolutely no question about that.
I just want to start here. There’s a line in this speech that really caught my attention, and I think that it’s important that I just get it out of the way now. It is: “Your government’s vision for B.C. moving forward is one that recognizes inherent rights as our greatest act of reconciliation and respect.” While in the face of it, I think that it’s a line that would be easily acceptable — you just move right past it — the reality of “inherent” and the definition of “inherent” is that it is existing in something as permanent, essential or a characteristic attribute.
I don’t view this as being the greatest act of reconciliation. I view the recognition of inherent rights as something that is not a great act of reconciliation. It’d be something that we should just easily accept. I just wanted to point this out because I think that this often highlights the gap that we need to close in our society when it comes and that has been closing in our society.
In fact, in reading Jody Wilson-Raybould’s new book, True Reconciliation, over the last few weeks, I agree with her on the fact that we have made great progress on Indigenous rights in this province and that actually this work is moving exponentially here in British Columbia. This is a point of everything being closer to awesome than closer to awful, as the minister had suggested.
I just wanted to acknowledge that I think that when we want to use language to add colour and add definition to the work that’s happening, I think we need to be careful. This is something that…. Unfortunately, for decades in this province, the inherent rights of Indigenous people have been neglected. They’ve been overlooked. They’ve been ignored. We indeed should view this as something that is the most basic thing that we’re doing in this province: recognizing the inherent rights of the Indigenous nations here.
I’m disappointed that this speech did not mention the fundamental: what is the next step in the work that we’re doing on reconciliation? That is a new fiscal relationship with Indigenous people. The work that happened with the declaration on the rights of Indigenous people was critical in laying the groundwork for the legislative aspect of the relationship, but definitely the next step of this is going to be a new, a renewed, a reinvigorated fiscal relationship with Indigenous people.
We indeed can’t move forward on the promises and the commitments that have been made with the Indigenous nations across the province if we don’t have an established, a new fiscal relationship. I’m not talking about a new welfare state, a new shinier version of what’s already been in place, funding for Indigenous, First Nations communities based entirely on just resource extraction agreements, benefits agreements, as have been the foundation of the financing of First Nations in the past.
What I’m talking about is, I think, what the former Premier talked about when he openly acknowledged rights, title and sovereignty. That is that Indigenous nations…. Indeed the Canadian court system has identified the fact that, at the very least, there’s a shared sovereignty in this country and in this province. Therefore, Indigenous nations should be able to benefit from the wealth of their territories, certainly.
These are not traps of colonial documents that are written to the advantage of the Crown governments. This is access to revenues that don’t have the strings attached, like we’ve seen in these benefits agreements, but that are elected and hereditary. And the leaderships in our communities are able to begin managing the wealth of their territory rather than poverty like we’ve seen.
As we celebrated yesterday the first move to bring in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation here as a stat holiday in British Columbia, we see great progress that’s happened over the last decade in this province, and that definitely needs to be celebrated. I look forward to the next stage of that work, that is going to be reorganizing the fiscal relationship between Indigenous nations and the Crown governments.
When I look at this speech, the first thing that I notice is that— and, you know, I’ve been around politics for a while, and you’re around poles and polling — it’s hard not to miss the definite keywords that are used in here to ensure that this speech polls well. To ensure that it captures the attention, the buzzwords that capture the attention, of British Columbians. Use of the word stronger repeated through. We know that these words are meant to catch the attention…. This is, if nothing else, a communications exercise.
The throne speech identifies, it communicates to the province of British Columbia, to all of the residents, to all our constituents, the priorities of the provincial government. Certainly, this speech, like many throne speeches, but this speech…. I think it’s important to just identify that this was virtually littered with a lot of buzz words that I think…. When we ask the government exactly what they mean with this, I think they’d be troubled to be able to define exactly what it is, but the words are good. The words are strong. The rhetoric is good.
Now, I think what it is that we’re going to be looking to as the budget comes…. Really, this is the first step of a spring legislative session where the next step is going to be our budget. We’re going to see exactly the definition around how the government is going to make investments in middle-class housing. What does that mean? For example, exactly what is the definition of that? We shall see, I guess, in the upcoming budget.
When we talk about housing and the fact that the government has committed to a refreshed housing strategy, I think it is important to acknowledge that, even though this provincial government that came into power in 2017 has had a focus on affordability throughout a kind of…. A common theme line through the work that the government has packaged for British Columbians has been affordability. When it comes to addressing affordability in housing and addressing homelessness, it has been incredibly challenging for this government to be able to actually deliver on the message that they have been telling.
A $7 billion investment to build 114,000 units of housing was the commitment. Build them within ten years. That was a pledge that was renewed in the 2020 election. Currently, I think we’re seeing that about 15,000 units have been built, another 11,000 under construction, a total of 36,000 units of housing built or under construction. A far, far cry from the 114,000 units that had been promised to British Columbians.
I think there is, sort of, an assumption here that a unit of housing is a unit of housing. What do I mean by that? Well, you know, there is a building…. Just putting out and just saying we’re going to put 114,000 units of housing into a market really doesn’t provide any context about what those units are. Are they affordable units? Are they the most expensive housing in the province?
I think what we’ve seen is that often announcements of new rental housing coming into the market are being built, being celebrated, ribbons being cut. And yet, when you take a look at what the cost of that housing is, it’s unattainable for generations that are living in our society. People working in our communities cannot live in the communities that they’re working. They have to travel great distances, commute great distances, in order to be able to get to their job.
The number one thing that I’ve heard from many of my constituents is that even though the government has claimed to be building affordable housing, the fact of the matter is that the housing that is coming online is far from affordable in most cases. That’s the reason why we have focused on, I and my colleague have focused on…. The public money that’s being invested into housing in our province needs to be focused on non-market solutions.
The players in the housing market have a profit motivation, so they’re going to want to be able to make sure that they can profit from the work that they’re doing. The provincial government is in the unique position to be able to remove that motivation from the equation and ensure that the most deeply affordable units of housing, homes for British Columbians, that are built are ones where they can ensure that affordability. In fact, it’s only the provincial government that can assure, in partnership with municipalities, that housing is below market.
We see in many of the housing needs assessments in communities here in the capital regional district, in communities across the province, that the greatest need is actually in below-market housing. And yet — thousands of units being built, and none of them are actually below-market housing. The older housing stock that is being preyed upon by investors and being preyed upon by REIT, the real estate investment trust, that I know that this provincial government has now turned its eye on, those units are being threatened, either by renoviction or demoviction, and replaced with housing units that are not affordable.
So the worry that I have is that we’re going to continue to see deeply affordable housing units be turned over, rents increased. I really look forward to the rental protection fund that’s coming forward. It couldn’t come fast enough. There are deeply affordable units of rental housing in my riding right now that are threatened. This rental protection fund cannot come quickly enough to purchase those buildings, and the legislation cannot come quickly enough in order to ensure that people who are able to afford rent now are not put in a position a couple of months down the road where they cannot afford their living expenses and they cannot afford the cost of their housing.
I’ll just repeat this. I’ve said it in question period. I’ve said it a number of times. We need to make sure that when this provincial government is investing public money, there’s a public good coming out of that, and the most important public good that we should be getting out of the investments that we’re making are units of housing that are affordable and attainable and not just have, kind of, a nice shiny wrapper around them saying that they’re affordable and attainable housing but they actually are affordable.
Moving on to health care. I think that it’s important to just begin by saying that over the last number of weeks, number of months, I’ve met with and had many conversations with health care workers about their jobs, about the work that they’re doing in our communities. And I think it’s really important to just start by saying I raise my hands to all of those that I’ve met with, all of those that I’ve talked to, and thank them for the great care that they’re giving British Columbians.
Unfortunately, many of the stories that they have been telling me, many of the stories that my constituents who have been patients in the health care system have been telling me, is that the health care system is failing them. I’ve heard clearly from those front-line workers that they’re not feeling supported by health authorities, that they feel threatened to speak about the dangerous working conditions and patient care that they are experiencing.
Conversely, I’ve heard the ministry and the minister directly contradict the information that I’ve heard with my own ears. So this is very, very challenging for me to be able to reconcile. We know that the stress that is being felt by front-line health care workers is real. I think that what we need is that we need a reset. The rhetoric on this has ramped up to the point where I don’t think we’re even having the same conversation anymore, frankly.
I know that examples have been brought to my attention where nurses are put in an extremely dangerous situation, where health facilities are so far understaffed that nurses are doing work that they shouldn’t be doing, that there’s no security in the buildings. These are all examples that have been brought to me in my constituency office, and certainly they need to be reconciled and they need to be reconciled very, very quickly.
I think that it’s also important to acknowledge that I can’t remember the last time that the minister has mentioned the urgent and primary care centres. It has been a long time since that project that was going to be the solution for the primary health care challenges that we’re facing — nearly a million British Columbians without access to a family practice doctor. Really, I think that the failure of that system was predicted. Now we need to move our primary health care system toward the very successful model that has grown organically in my community. One example of that is Shoreline Medical.
I really hope that rather than ignoring the fact that this has been a successful project in our community and rather than feeling like it wasn’t an idea of government, so it’s not going to be a part of the solution, we really see these clinics that have shown success to be part of the solution. I really hope to see the ministry step up and say: “How is it that we can support and stabilize and ensure, in the short term, that these models that have grown out of the community, that are organic, can be successful and can be supported?”
As we know, while the government has taken time to get a new remuneration model for family doctors, many doctors have retired out of frustration and exhaustion, stranding many more British Columbians — I think, frankly, unnecessarily — without a doctor. In that vacuum, there has been a corporate delivery model that has begun to evolve. We see that with Telus LifePlus and with Harrison Healthcare. We’ve been raising these issues.
I just want, I think, to really say, at this point, that we’re thankful for the fact that the Medical Services Commission has sought injunctions against these businesses and that this is going to be cleared up. Because the reality of the privatization of health care services in our community continues to draw what are already short staffed scenarios in our in our hospitals and in our health care facilities — drawing people out of those systems and having them work elsewhere and having them work in a profit model that, frankly, is not accessible or equitable or universal for British Columbians. Just as the health care system that we have been promised for generations and for decades in in our in our province….
In the Speech from the Throne, this government pledged to act with great urgency on climate change and acknowledge that B.C. is yet some way away from meeting its greenhouse gas emissions target. We saw that last fall. The proposed solution is to introduce legislation to improve access to electric vehicle charging stations in condo buildings. I think that it’s really important to acknowledge that this is not going to be enough in order for us to meet those climate targets in 2025 and 2030. It’s pretty clear to me that this government hasn’t figured out how it’s going to cut greenhouse gas emissions fast enough in order to meet those targets.
What is further challenging this situation in a very large way is that we have poised, in the north, an LNG industry that wants and is interested in massive expansion. Over the last number of years — since 2018 or 2019, when CleanBC came out — this B.C. NDP government has really hung its hat on CleanBC. We know that only the first half of LNG Canada is accounted for in CleanBC. We’ve heard words such as “award-winning” be attributed to CleanBC. It’s the most progressive and the best climate action plan in North America — in the continent. It’s a continent-leading climate action plan. Yet only the first half of LNG Canada is included in that plan.
We are already not meeting our climate targets. By not setting the tone early on, five years ago, six years ago, by not clearly articulating that we are not going to be able to do both things — meet our climate targets and have the massive expansion of this nascent LNG industry — this provincial government has got itself into the situation that we find ourselves in today: pipelines being dragged across the province, expansion in the fracking fields and expansion in the gas liquefaction projects on the coast. The fossil fuel industry in British Columbia is poised to absolutely blow up our emissions targets, and this NDP government has basically sat back and watched while….
We have an example just published yesterday, the Alberta United Conservative Party and their publicly funded pro–fossil fuel war room greenwashing fracked gas, selling it as low-carbon gas. What is that? It’s still gas. It still burns and emits. It still is methane emitting and blowing up whatever targets that we are, frankly, I think, pretending like we’re going to meet in this province. If we think that we can continue to allow this industry to grow, not take a strong stand against, as the Premier did as when he was trying to, I think, hold back the tidal wave of supporters for his only competitor in that leadership race….
He said: “There’s going to be no new fossil fuel infrastructure built.” Ever since then, those comments have been backtracked. The Premier was asked in question period last fall. He wouldn’t take a strong stand. And now we have a situation where we’ve got Woodfibre, we’ve got Tilbury, we’ve got Ksi Lisims, we’ve got phase 2 of LNG Canada, we’ve got Cedar LNG all poised on our coast, ready to go, ready to make investments if at all possible. And we have the province to the east of us also pushing and encouraging and wanting that to grow.
We cannot meet our climate targets in this province and have an LNG industry grow, and it’s time, I think, that there’s some honesty in that conversation about exactly what we are going to do about this situation that we face in our province right now: a promise to meet CleanBC, a promise to uphold this so-called award-winning plan, the promise to meet our climate emissions targets. I think that this is going to be something in the next 12 months, definitely before the next election, that this provincial government is going to have to reconcile.
When it comes to the work that the Premier has outlined for the Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, the biodiversity and ecosystem health, I don’t think that I can sit next to my colleague from Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and not mention the work that he’s done on salmon, the work that we did on salmon back in the early days just after I got elected, the work that we’ve done on the forest industry over the last number of years and the reality that we have to find and develop a new relationship with nature in our province.
We have a forestry industry that’s collapsing due to a lack of fibre and as a result of unsustainable harvesting over decades. This government’s response is the grand total of about two lines, one referencing forestry and the other referencing old-growth strategic review. We have, in this province, clearcut our way into this problem, and we must change the policy that requires the chief forester’s decision-making to not unduly impact timber harvest.
We must change the factors the chief foresters need to consider by clearly adding biodiversity and ecosystem health into their decision-making matrix. This was an opportunity that the former Forest Minister was given when the Forest Statutes Act was opened the last time. In the fall of 2021, we were told that it was not necessary.
We were also told in the election of 2020 that this government was going to implement all of the old-growth strategic review recommendations.
I believe it’s recommendation 2, that is made by the government’s own panelists, that states that we need to be protecting for biodiversity and ecosystem health, and we need to be doing it in legislation, not in flashy communications documents that have no impact on the decisions that are being made by the statutory decision-makers in this government.
I’m happy that the Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship has been mandated to protect 30 percent of land and water by 2030. That is an excellent first step, and I look forward to understanding what that means and what that looks like. We desperately need a coastal protection act, and we desperately need a plan to address invasive species.
I have one example in my riding that I want to highlight here. It’s the Mayne Island fallow deer issue. We have fallow deer on Sidney Island. This has been an issue that has been plaguing Mayne Island and the southern Gulf Islands for decades, when the Ministry of Agriculture approved a deer farm. Then, when that farm decided that it was going to be done, they just released the deer. Now we have these deer that are absolutely devastating all other species, destroying places where birds nest, destroying native plant species, destroying ecosystems where native deer species once thrived.
What we need from this provincial government is not to have this pushed off to local governments. Wildlife is clearly the responsibility of the provincial government. If we are going to be serious about biodiversity and ecosystem health, we have to take a strong stand and make the investments that are needed in order to deal with invasive species when we know that, first of all, we are part of the problem by creating it. We know that other species are being, basically, eaten out of home, and they have no home, because they just don’t exist.
I’ll just finally say this. I think that it’s unfortunate that there is no real, strong mention of the conservation financing piece that is in the Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship. I’d like to see a timeline on when that conservation financing piece is going to come forward.
I’ll also say that I think that we have been moving from innovation to conservation, and now we need to really start to look at what a restoration economy looks like in British Columbia. There are really exciting opportunities to be rebuilding not tree farms, but vibrant, biodiverse forests in this province once again. There is clearly, I think, looking forward, a future in this province for a restoration economy, for marine stewardship, for the…. We see many of the First Nations stewardship programs, land stewardship. I think that the conversation needs to move from just conservation to restoration.
I surely hope that the minister of land and water embraces that opportunity, embraces the opportunities that might be coming from the federal government, and that the Premier and the Minister of Finance embrace the opportunity to take the funds that have been available to us, add and invest provincial money into that and really start to transition the jobs of previous generations into the jobs of future generations.
For that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity, for this brief time, to speak to the throne speech. I had much more to say, but I’ll leave it at that. I’ll leave it to my colleague. So HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Thank you very much.