$89 billion budget piles on debt while BC NDP fails to demonstrate strategic thinking

Feb 29, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Response to the Speech from the Throne, Video

The BC NDP have tabled an $89 billion dollar budget. The largest in British Columbia history.

With it comes a $7.5 billion dollar deficit. The largest in British Columbia history.

They have double the provincial debt since taking office.

While I believe this would be defensible if British Columbians were seeing the benefit of the spending directly. The constituents I am meeting are still struggling to get the services they need.

One of the most troubling aspects of this, an issue I detail at great length in this 12,000 word speech is the lack of coordinated and strategic thinking shown by the BC NDP. The fact they continue to perpetuate budgets build on an infinite growth model we know is not possible to sustain.

They have in many ways become the party they criticized for so long in opposition and have governed by announcement with seemingly no plan to solve the layered and interconnected, structural political, social, and economic challenges we face in the 21st century.

As I point out here, it was all predicted and ignored.


A. Olsen: I will be our designated speaker.

As we stand on the cusp of an election, we, the members here, and British Columbians more broadly, ask ourselves a question: whether the B.C. NDP government is delivering on what they’ve promised. The election is a question for citizens of a jurisdiction to answer about who is best suited to lead them into the future. Who has the clearest grasp on the reality we face? Who has the plan to address it? I think we should be asking: who is in it for the people in place, and who is in it for themselves?

What I’ve seen from this political system is, frankly, a whole lot of selfishness, behaviour that serves the political mafiosos but does little to address the systemic dysfunction created by the dominant political, economic, social theories and ideologies.

This place has been infected with a neo-liberal disease, has embraced a philosophy of toxic individualism, festering for the past few hundred years, that has us ravenously consuming the finite resources of our planet and has us careening toward a turbulent and tumultuous future.

When I examine the throne speech and the budget that followed only a few days later, I look for what my colleague from Cowichan Valley talked about in her response: a through line. More deeply, I look for signs that our government has a grasp of the interconnectedness of all things.

[5:45 p.m.]

In W̱SÁNEĆ, our world view is relational with the animate and inanimate of our territory. It grounds us, and, importantly, it threads together all things with a coherence that is nowhere to be found in the guiding visionary document of this B.C. NDP government and the economic plan described in their budget.

This B.C. NDP government doesn’t offer a well-being budget that one would expect from a true social democratic political organization that they purport to be — the narrative of their rhetoric. Rather, they’ve become some orange-shaded Thatcherites. They have abandoned the impoverished and destitute, promoted a green-washed, fossil-fueled drenched propaganda while inequality grows on their watch. They protect the extreme profits of a few individuals and multinational corporations. These aren’t your Tommy Douglas New Democrats.

In 1972, a handful of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced a report called The Limits to Growth. It’s an important work. They produced a world model of population, consumption of natural resources and pollution. The authors wrote:

“The intent of the project is to examine the complex of problems troubling people of all nations: poverty in the midst of plenty, degradation of the environment, loss of faith in institutions, uncontrolled urban spread, insecurity of employment, alienation of youth, rejection of traditional values and inflation and other monetary economic disruptions.

“These seemingly divergent parts of the ‘world problematique,’ as the Club of Rome calls it, have three characteristics in common. They occur in some degree in all societies. They contain technical, social, economic, and political elements. And, most important of all, they interact.

“It is the predicament of humanity that people can perceive the problematique, yet, despite our considerable knowledge and skills, we do not understand the origins, significance, and interrelationships of its many components and thus are unable to devise effective responses. This failure occurs in large part because we continue to examine single items in the problematique without understanding that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, that change in one element means change in the others.”

This was written in 1972. The world model outlined in the report paints a dire picture for the next 100 years of humanity. To be clear, it’s not necessarily dire for the planetary system, because it persists. However, the model paints a dire picture for the human systems, the ones that we govern.

The report’s conclusions are as follows.

“1. If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

“2. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that basic material needs for each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize their individual human potential.

“3. If the world’s people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.”

When I look at these recommendations, written more than 50 years ago, and put them in the context that we are halfway through the timeline the researchers offered, modelled by their model, I come back to the job that we have at hand here in British Columbia.

[5:50 p.m.]

How is the vision of this B.C. NDP government, as expressed in their throne speech, how is their economic, social and environmental plan accommodating the stark reality that we face?

As my colleague noted in her response, it’s not possible to identify a through line, the thread that ties these documents together. There is no real tie that binds the different ministries within government together.

The B.C. NDP government is governing by announcement. They pass off spending money as solving problems or at least advancing solutions. Really, there is no correlation between spending money and addressing the system’s multi-dimensional challenges we face as a subnational jurisdiction and how we are contributing to the federal and global response to collapsing ecosystems, collapsing populations, collapsing social safety nets, collapsing industrial complexes, exhausted natural resource stores and collapsing economic and financial systems.

There is no indication in this throne speech or budget that this B.C. NDP government has any strategic approach or that they consider the systems and how they are interrelated and interact with each other. It’s just a series of taxes generating revenue and a series of expenses amounting to an $89 billion budget.

The authors of The Limits to Growth predict the dramatic increase in population and industrial growth that we saw over the last 50 years and a startling population and de-industrialization collapse that is likely to follow. We haven’t got there yet. Indeed, we’re standing on the edge of stark demographic challenges facing European and Asian countries today and economies that, as we de-industrialized in North America, we’ve come to rely on heavily.

We can continue to stumble around the darkness, or we can remove the blindfold to see the reality that exists, one that requires a significant amount of planning and strategizing to ensure we navigate it in a way that does the least amount of damage to our province.

That is the opposite of what we are doing, though. We’re pretending like everything is okay, borrowing against a future and using extreme short-term thinking.

It would have been fine in Dave Barrett’s day, because the predictions that are hitting with remarkable accuracy from the report called The Limits to Growth were still five to ten decades in the future. We may have five decades left in that model; we don’t likely have ten. The reality that we as community leaders face is that we are managing the worst five decades, not the best. Yet we are operating as if we haven’t been warned. It is irresponsible in the extreme.

We are now 40 years removed from Ronald Reagan, yet the so-called social democrats here in this province are delivering an infinite-growth ideology and bragging about it in their responses in question period and media interviews like it doesn’t matter. They’re pretending like the scariest parts of the prediction are not markers that can be easily identified in our 21st-century society and economy.

Poverty in the midst of plenty — check. Increasing child poverty in our wealthy society. We’ve got that here in B.C.

Degradation of the environment — check. Drought, clear cuts, wildfires abound.

Loss of faith in institutions — check. Growing frustration that the basic needs are not being met while inequality grows unabated.

Uncontrolled urban spread — check. Even though the Housing Minister will argue that the zoning changes recently made partly addressed this issue, we still are building our communities on watersheds.

Insecurity of employment — check. People are working multiple part-time jobs. Seniors are unable to retire because they can’t afford to do that in this province.

Alienation of youth — check. Entire generations feeling abandoned by their elders. Unstable housing. Climate anxiety. Skyrocketing depression.

Rejection of traditional values — check. Government demonizing local democracy and shutting down debate.

[5:55 p.m.]

Inflation and other monetary and economic disruptions — check, check, check.

This brings me to the 2024 throne speech and budget. I must start by raising my hands to the Speaker of this House and the work of our Clerk’s office. They recognize that in this place, symbolism and protocol matter. The mace, the Black Rod, the black robes, Her Honour delivering the Speech from the Throne are all inherited from the colonial powers.

This House is not the only place that symbolism and protocol matters. When I look to my W̱SÁNEĆ culture, my relatives here in the lək̓ʷəŋən territory, symbolism and protocol matter. They provide the structure of our governance, society and economy. They provide the guides that allow us to determine whether we have done our work in a good way.

Mr. Speaker has begun to change the symbolism and protocol of this House in a respectful way. Having our session open with a song and prayer from my lək̓ʷəŋən relatives, having Her Honour be brought in here by our singers and dancers in Coast Salish regalia is a welcome change, and the symbolism is not lost on me.

At a time when government’s’ own hubris or, perhaps a little more generously, their oversight, opened the door for unfortunate politics that amounted to race-baiting — I’m referencing the proposed Land Act amendments — I must also thank the Premier for ensuring this government’s strong commitment to reconciliation featured at the very beginning of that throne speech: “Meaningful reconciliation, where we work together to preserve Indigenous languages and acknowledge the true history of these lands. Words and symbols like this are undoubtedly important. That’s why your government remains committed to implementing the Declaration on the Rights Indigenous Peoples Act, which was endorsed unanimously by this Legislature.”

As I look to my colleagues in this House, no matter our differences of opinion on the matters and issues that we have to tackle together, I will always be an ally to those who are advancing reconciliation in a meaningful and good way. Bring me in. Include me. This should never be a partisan issue. It is too impactful on our province.

That is why I believe we need government to make the best use of the tools we have — the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, for example — to keep us together, to maintain our unanimity, at least in our commitment to walking this journey of reconciliation together in a good way.

When looking at the budget, next year treaty First Nations will have the power to take care of their own taxation in their communities. There’s also legislation coming to create First Nations equity financing. This will assist First Nations who are looking to have an equity stake in projects in their territory.

There will be provincial loan guarantees, the ability for revenues from the project to be allocated to a special fund. The province will secure up to $1 billion in loans.

For those First Nations that are looking for this relationship with industry in the province, this is an important program. For too long, First Nations have watched as industry and the province have harvested their territories, denuding their landscapes with little or no benefits to their communities.

As my Chief, Don Tom, stated, First Nations want to manage wealth, not poverty, and this is one mechanism. It works particularly well for First Nations neighbouring major projects. It works well for industry because they can have a partner who can come to the table with financial resources where, previously, First Nations had no such mechanism. And it works well for the province, looking to expedite approvals for major projects. Even where I may disagree with the project personally, this is an important tool for First Nations who have every right to have a different opinion.

However, this mechanism is limited. When considering how it might apply in a highly urban environment like Metro Vancouver or the capital region, our territories have already been heavily developed. There are no tools or fiscal mechanisms for First Nations in those geographic regions to generate revenue from their territories.

[6:00 p.m.]

Also, why is it that First Nations can only generate revenue from their territory in the context of resource development projects? When will this government recognize that own-source revenues that allow First Nations communities to improve their communities, to lift their members out of poverty, is just the basic expectation of every other governing body in our country? First Nations remain cap in hand, waiting for the provincial or federal government to step up with program moneys.

As I sat listening to Her Honour reading the throne speech, I felt bad that she was left with basically a vacuous document that either failed to describe the vision of this government or, worse, described it perfectly. Right at the moment that the B.C. NDP needed to connect with British Columbians, they showed just how out of touch they can be.

The rosy picture that they painted is not the reality facing many British Columbians who are losing pace through growing inequality. In the throne speech, government writes: “While your government focused on keeping people healthy and the economy moving, British Columbians were busy working together to rebuild our province stronger than ever.”

And in the budget, we see the fragility. They write:

“While B.C.’s economy has been resilient, the province’s economic outlook is subject to uncertainties about inflation, interest rates, the global economy and geopolitical and climate-related disruptions.”

They note a few upside risks and many downside risks, including:

“Persistent high inflation leading to higher interest rates over a longer period of time, weighing on consumer spending and business investment. Higher mortgage costs and rent, reducing affordability and disposable income. Aging demographics and housing affordability weighing on the supply of labour. Severe climate-related events disrupting the lives and livelihoods of British Columbians, destroying productive capital and impacting economic activity. Volatility of immigration levels impacting the supply of labour and consumer spending, potentially exacerbating fluctuations in economic activity.

“Weaker-than-expected global economic activity and broader economic challenges in Europe and Asia. Lower prices for B.C.’s major commodity exports, such as lumber, pulp, natural gas and coal. Geopolitical conflicts weighing on trade as well as leading to higher commodity prices and inflation. Higher volatility in international foreign exchange, stock and bond markets. And timing of operations and exports related to the LNG Canada project, similar to the risks that exist for other major projects.”

Those are the downsides. And as our provincial budget balloons to $89 billion, with revenues of only $81.5 billion and a $7.5 billion deficit and debt-servicing this year of a cool $4.1 billion, this list of downside risks should not be underestimated.

We should not have any illusion of the perilous perch we sit on. If one or multiple of these downside risks come to fruition, our budget outlook is in deep trouble.

It should also be noted that the $4.1 billion that we’re going to be spending on debt-servicing is more than we’re spending on social welfare programs, and it’s the same as we’re spending on child welfare in this province, just to service the debt.

When I heard Her Honour read, “Proving once again that here in B.C., our greatest natural resource is the people of this province,” I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for British Columbians. The way our government has treated natural resources — clearcutted, gillnetted and fracked our landscapes — perhaps government should describe our people a little differently.

When considering how this connects to the budget, there is no well-being analysis in this budget, no detail on how this spending is focused on improving the outcomes for people or planet. As I said in my opening, the B.C. NDP have provided no detail on their overarching framework for prioritizing investment or the outcomes that we can expect to see change as a result.

I celebrate with the government that in the narrowest of terms, “in December, women’s employment increased more than in any other province.” We added 43,900 jobs last year, 49,500 net new full-time jobs, losing 5,600 part-time jobs, showing employment growth among women, gaining 56.6 percent of the full-time jobs.

[6:05 p.m.]

There is a “however” here. How is it that under this B.C. NDP’s so-called social democratic government, women have only been able to achieve pay transparency and that that same B.C. NDP government argued vociferously against pay equity? It makes no sense to me that as we celebrate job gains for women, women are still being paid less than their male counterparts for doing similar work. How is that happening?
Twenty years ago, the B.C. NDP were arguing something completely different. They come to the table with pay transparency when they should have come to the table with pay equity.

Additionally, we should be concerned that job creation in our province was unbalanced: 26,100 public sector jobs, 24,000 self-employment jobs were added, while the private sector declined by 6,300 jobs.

The throne speech notes: “After decades where our housing market was allowed to serve the interests of investors and speculators, even those who earn a decent middle-class income are finding it hard to afford a home.” The recent changes in zoning and transit-oriented development offered no protection for renters, no affordable housing stock, and provided no new requirements for the development of affordable housing.

I have heard deep concern from my constituents about the negative impact that inflation has had on the cost of their food and other daily necessities, and this B.C. NDP government has done little to address this issue. Nothing to limit the profits of predatory grocery pirates. Nothing to systemically address inequality. Increasingly abandoned community while blaming, undermining and diminishing local government and grassroots democracy.

Nobody is going to complain about the rebates and other miniscule measures in Budget ’24. And according to Angus Reid, only 14 percent of British Columbians think the B.C. NDP is actually doing a good job on tackling affordability. Not going to complain with what was offered. However, what was offered was far from what was needed.

Offering people $600 through one-off increases to the B.C. family benefit, B.C. electricity affordability credit, the climate action tax credit, does nothing to address the structural inequities that exist and have been allowed to persist under this B.C. NDP government. It’s a far cry from the promise of the support of a true social democratic government.

There was a promise in the throne speech. Government will “have your back so that you are not facing these new challenges alone. Leaving people to fend for themselves does not work.” Yet supports for people with disabilities leave them $10,000 below the poverty line and desperately running crowdsourcing campaigns for their basic needs. Teachers are left alone in overcrowded classrooms with no support. Nurses are left alone with two to three times the number of patients that is safe. Sick people are left languishing in community and emergency rooms or on waiting lists until it’s too late.

Families are left with no resources and little information on how to help their loved ones struggling with addictions. Renters are either forced to stay in their current home or face incredible rent hikes because the NDP has failed to implement vacancy control. Seniors are left to fend for themselves because their SAFER payments only cover a portion of their rent, leaving them unable to house and feed themselves. Local government fiscal framework is outdated, and they are competing with each other for provincial grants to upgrade aging infrastructure.

There are a lot of people fending for themselves because their B.C. NDP government has abandoned them. In Budget 2024, there’s no increase in supports for people living with a disability and no change to the financial support package.

In education, we hear the B.C. NDP state Budget 2024 is investing $968 million in funding over three years, including for teachers and support staff in the classrooms.

[6:10 p.m.]

The funding includes $651 million for public school enrolment growth, $62 million for independent school education costs and $255 million, over three years, to increase funding for the classroom enhancement fund. They will say the fund supports the hiring of additional teachers, including special education teachers; teacher-psychologists; and counsellors.

However, what is the response from the teachers? Well, as they correctly point out, the investment, on a per-child basis, is basically keeping equal with the insufficient funding from last year. So it’s not a real increase. The parents in my riding, who’ve been advised to get a designation for their child, so that their child will finally get the help that they need to support their learning, only to have the school redeploy those extra resources to other children with behavioural challenges, are out of luck, I guess.

Budget 2024 offers renters an annual income-tested tax cap of up to $400 a year. It’s a long way from the needs of renters. The most expensive province to rent in, with the highest chance of no-fault evictions: that’s under a B.C. NDP government. The highest cost of rent, with the highest chance of no-cost evictions: that’s the record of the B.C. NDP government. Again, I wonder out loud why it is that this government has done so little for the 1.5 million British Columbians who rent.

The throne speech states: “Young families want to know that living in a decent home is within reach and that child care is available and affordable. Seniors want to know that after a lifetime of hard work, they will be cared for and will be able to help their kids and grandkids.” However, the reality is that the cost of living is outpacing salaries, and seniors are pushing off retirement because they can’t afford to stop working.

In the last election, the B.C. NDP promised to exceed their target of 22,000 new child care spaces by 2022-23 — last year. Two budgets later, they’re still 8,000 spaces short. The B.C. NDP promised to boost $10-a-day child care funding by an extra $250 million a year, starting in 2020, to grow the system out. Yet they haven’t met that funding promise once. The majority of funding now comes from the federal government and is set to expire in 2026.

The rhetoric the Minister of Finance offered, in her responses to questions this week, is nowhere near the experience my constituents have in accessing the promised universal $10-a-day child care spots. The B.C. NDP, in fact, has created a layered, complex system for providers to navigate and have made big announcements with no follow-through.

As much as the B.C. NDP wants to run from this reality, they need to turn and face it. The parents in our community, who were promised universal health care, need them to deliver on that promise. The Premier can threaten that the opposition would do worse, as the defence of his government’s inability to deliver. But at some point, he needs to stop the pretending and start being accountable. Again, spending money on child care, apparently, does not equal child care delivered.

Hear this nostalgic rhetoric from the throne speech, “If you worked hard, got an education and played by the rules, you could make a good middle-class living and be able to afford a decent home.” It’s followed by this acknowledgment: “Housing costs went up, and in recent years, the combination of inflation, interest rate hikes and a lack of supply has only made the situation harder for people looking to buy or rent a home.”

We’ve been building homes, but not for people. For investments. Thousands of units of luxury housing have been built and marketed as an investment vehicle in this province. It must be noted that there isn’t an intergenerational element in this budget. With respect to housing, the throne speech has a lot to say. The B.C. NDP highlights expedited housing permit approvals, fixing zoning rules, establishing municipal targets, building near transit and protecting affordable rentals, with expert advice that suggests their changes will create hundreds of thousands of new housing units.

[6:15 p.m.]

There is no doubt that we need more housing supply, but we have specific needs. Instead of strategically delivering that and letting the private sector provide the market housing, the B.C. NDP has been overtaken by a trickle-down housing economics that is uncharacteristic of social democrats.

Their approach would have left those who have offered a compassionate advocacy planning perspective, like renowned American planner Paul Davidoff, shaking their heads.

Whoever is advising on the changes made by this government instead chose a rather heartless neo-liberal market approach. They have left people who cannot afford to be in the housing market competing for units way above their financial means, deferred inclusionary zoning to an afterthought — potentially coming this spring session — ignored impoverished people and communities, abandoned social planning and instead adopted a non-planning philosophy.

Rather than embracing community involvement and grassroots democracy, this B.C. NDP government demonized it.

Whoever is advising this government on housing is cold. None of these zoning changes will necessarily bring affordability for middle-class homes. The minister argued that requiring affordability would limit growth. The minister’s own study showed that.

Speeding up housing approvals may very well have happened, but there are no requirements for developers to build when they get the permit, so they can sit until the market conditions favour their profit.

The new targeted municipal approach is likely the best approach because it allows for the province and local governments to work together to strategically plan and deliver the actual housing that the housing needs assessments identify, rather than the blanket, non-planning approach the B.C. NDP adopted.

[The Speaker in the chair.]

As Brad West suggests, in order to have transit-oriented development work, you need transit. The province has been tepid on their support for transit. More on this a little later.

Protecting affordable rentals from becoming luxury condos is critical. Yet when we demanded the B.C. NDP limit the access to the supply from predatory REITs, they voted our amendment down.

None of the supply that the B.C. NDP created last fall is imminent. So 2025 at the earliest. None of the supply created by the B.C. NDP is for the people that Thomas Davidoff calls affordability challenged.
You can almost hear that strain of economic theory blaming the affordability-challenged people for their affordability challenges. Like they just haven’t pulled their socks up quite high enough yet.

We know from the statistics that the most affordability-challenged people are those in the core housing need and the extreme core housing need, people spending more than 30 percent to 50 percent of their annual income on housing. In addition to the growing unhoused population, these are the most desperate housing needs that require the most immediate provincial intervention.

But this is an election year, and our former social democratic party has been hijacked by the narratives of the profit-driven, private sector housing development industry.

Continuing here on the housing theme, Madam Chair, with respect to BC Builds, the Premier’s flagship housing program, we’ve waited more than a year for a throne speech.

It notes the government’s plans to “leverage government-owned, public and underutilized land, grant money and low-cost financing to bring down construction costs and make more middle-class housing projects viable.” Continuing with the quote: “These homes will also be built faster, with more efficient provincial and local government approvals.” The government wants us to “think of homes connected to schools or on top of community centres and libraries” and “homes on underused land next to hospitals or empty parking lots transformed into homes for working and middle-class families.”

When I heard the BC Builds announcement, I could not help but think of the April 2018 announcement that the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville, launched. BC Builds is not a new program. It has much of the same rhetoric that the former program, HousingHub, had.

In fact, on the HousingHub website, it says the program is “established to seek innovative partnerships with local housing organizations, community land trusts, Indigenous groups, faith-based groups, charities, the development community, financial institutions and other industries to create affordable rental housing and home ownership options for middle-income British Columbians.” That was written in 2018.

Continuing, “The core goal of the HousingHub is to increase the supply of affordable housing for middle-income earners. This is achieved by identifying and advancing innovative approaches to building affordable homes via new construction or redevelopment of existing sites.”

[2:55 p.m.]

Continuing. “In April 2021, the Province announced that the HousingHub now has access to a dedicated $2 billion in financing to put towards construction of thousands of new homes for middle-income families. This additional financing enables B.C. Housing to work with developers and community groups to take on even more projects, resulting in additional new affordable rental homes being developed and more home ownership options for middle-income households.”

There are a couple of key differences between B.C. Builds and the HousingHub. The HousingHub was targeted at actual middle-income British Columbians. Those earning a median income, which is $55,000 in this province, could actually qualify for the HousingHub, because it was targeted for households earning between $50,000 and $100,000.

B.C. Builds instead targets the 75th percentile. Not middle income, but the bracket above middle-income British Columbians. So the not-so-middle income British Columbians, households earning between $85,000 and $191,000. The Minister of Housing was very reluctant to actually address my question head on. He decided to take a walk through the garden path on other Green Party policies.

But this amounts to true middle-income British Columbians subsidizing upper-income British Columbians. That’s the result of the changes in the HousingHub, which has now been rebranded and recycled as B.C. Builds.

It was pointed out to me on social media that this is household income, not individual income. This is somehow supposed to make me feel better about this program. The stark reality is that this B.C. NDP government is saying to single British Columbians: “You should shack up or be left behind,” because the median income, as I mentioned already in this province, is $55,000. So middle-income British Columbians don’t qualify for this government’s housing program targeted to so-called middle-income British Columbians.

Another key difference between the HousingHub and B.C. Builds is that Justin Trudeau dropped in just before the budget to give another $2 billion to the program, and the B.C. NDP added about $900 million in Budget 2024 to the original $2 billion. B.C. Builds is running with about $5 billion. This is a much improved financial situation for this new version of the old program, because the old program only had $2 billion worth of investment.

But how many housing units were actually produced by the old HousingHub? Well, 3,823 housing units are available for British Columbians today. There are another 2,331 in approval stage. So 6,154 homes provided in five years by this program. It is just a shadow of what the government, in their announcement rhetoric, was hoping to achieve back in 2018. Yet somehow they felt that it was a good idea to just repackage this program, float it out as the new flagship housing program that we’ve all been waiting 18 months for, and British Columbians wouldn’t notice.

CMHC has said we need 600,000 new housing units in order to get back to early 2000s affordability, if you’re just going to use that basic economic theory. But if we look at the B.C. Housing project on Drake Road on Salt Spring, for example, that project has languished since it was announced in January 2022. We still don’t have the supported housing project that was promised two years ago.

Additionally, when I think of housing above libraries, I am reminded about how the B.C. NDP has consistently failed to deliver proper funding for libraries in this province. I remember back…. Actually, starting much further back, I was a former trustee on the Greater Victoria Public Library board back when I was a councillor in the district of Central Saanich, starting in 2008.

[3:00 p.m.]

At that time, we were asking the former B.C. Liberal government if they would invest more per capita in libraries. They were reluctant. Even as the government changed from the big bad B.C. Liberals to now the B.C. NDP, the same philosophy has been adopted by the current B.C. NDP government, no more interested in providing stable, reliable annual increases to funding to libraries.

A one-time shot last spring — I recognize that — supported those libraries. One time was not an increase in the actual overall funding. It was just a single one-time hit for libraries.

Now, I remember back when I was an MLA, I remember back to 2019 at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, a campaign by local government officials to get more funding for libraries. I remember meeting with Central Saanich councillor Zeb King and the former Minister of Education, supporting the councillor’s advocacy for more sustainable library funding.

His advocacy, the advocacy of library trustees across the province, was ignored by the B.C. NDP government. No interest — no interest — in keeping the funding of libraries sustainable. So in order to build housing above libraries, we need libraries and a government that does more than just one-time funding, pretending like they’ve solved a systemic problem, because they’ve not.

Now, let’s turn our attention to how this B.C. NDP government has increased residential pressures on municipal services in supporting local government to upgrade and build a new infrastructure. In the throne speech they note last year’s last-minute “billion dollar” growing communities fund. We have a multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficit in British Columbia.

Any one of my colleagues who spent any time in local government knows that this has been one of the primary challenges faced by our local government colleagues, when they faced the former B.C. Liberal government and now the current B.C. NDP government. They just basically get a government staring blankly back at them, as they have been in this project of seeking a new fiscal relationship with the province.

The reality, of course, is that the province likes cutting those ribbons too much, so having a tight control over that fiscal relationship allows for the victory laps to be run around this building, rather than just freeing the funds up that are necessary in order for communities to be able to do the important work that they need to do in order to support the massive densification that this government pushed through last fall.

Local governments are being forced to compete with each other for limited conditional and other grant programs from the federal and provincial governments. Now, there’s no doubt that the people of Salt Spring Island are grateful for the investment in water infrastructure on St. Mary Lake, $10 million in Budget 2024. But communities need a reliable, consistent fiscal framework that does not require them to outlast, outwit and outplay their neighbours in order to get needed infrastructure built or upgraded in their communities.

The idea that the growing communities fund is good enough is actually offensive to local governments. No doubt our communities were grateful for the funds, and they expressed that gratitude to the government. No doubt the provincial government proved they were able to deliver a mostly equitable funding mechanism in very quick turnaround, as they did with the budgeting process last spring.

I say “mostly equitable” because, of course, anybody that represents communities that have electoral areas in regional districts…. I have Salt Spring, the southern Gulf Islands, and their colleague — that’s Gary Holman, Paul Brent — Juan de Fuca…. If other MLAs have electoral areas in their regional districts, then they know that it really was not equitable for people living in rural communities in electoral areas, because that money was not given equitably.

A British Columbian is not a British Columbian. If you live in a municipality, you get one amount of funding. If you live in an electoral area, you get a different amount of funding, a much lower amount. The electoral area directors were left to compete with their municipal partners, who outvote them on the regional districts mostly.

[3:05 p.m.]

Specifically, in the capital regional district, that example is the case. They get outvoted.

I’ve talked to electoral area directors from the Okanagan. I’ve talked to electoral area directors from other parts of Vancouver Island. They expressed the same level of dismay about the inequity that was treated them with the growing communities fund.

Then, in the throne speech, the B.C. NDP government uses three new hockey rinks in Langley as the example of infrastructure that they’re investing in. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like hockey. There have been articles written about the type of hockey team that I support. There is no doubt that I’ve worked in hockey. I understand the value of sport and recreation in our communities.

I’m obviously tempering anybody who’s on social media and wants to say, “Well, the member doesn’t like hockey.” That’s not the case. But to use hockey rinks as an example of infrastructure that’s being built by funds supported by this government is problematic. Why? Because there is infrastructure that is being neglected by these funding programs that is desperately needed in communities.

In light of the fact that the B.C. NDP just unilaterally upzoned neighbourhoods across the province, increasing demand on water, sewer and road infrastructure, offering a one-shot, billion-dollar program when a ten-year, $10 billion program would still be insufficient is absurdity.

When it comes to the health care crisis, because all of these are tied together, we again encounter a minister whose definition of success is spending more money rather than getting better results. The Health Minister’s budget has increased from about $18 billion when he took office in 2017 to $36 billion this year.

And what are his results? What are the results? A steady flow of people in my constituency office with tragic stories of how they’ve been let down by the health care system. So many constituents without a family doctor or access to a walk-in clinic, without a diagnosis until it’s far too late. Advanced disease because of the state of disrepair our health care system is in.

On the Saanich Peninsula, our emergency room remains closed in the evenings indefinitely. It started out just last summer that they’re just going to have the summer. They’re seeking staff, and yet Island Health continues to struggle, the system poorly staffed, and our emergency room is closed now in the evenings indefinitely.

There are tragic stories that have affected families from across my riding. Opting for MAiD, medical assistance in dying, when community health should have been there to support them at earlier stages in their disease. Primary care centres seem to be no further advanced than when the Minister of Health proposed them six years ago. Urgent and primary care centres turning primary care over to health authorities seems to have been abandoned.

Creeping for-profit health care under this so-called social democratic government is an absolute head-scratcher. If the minister wants to bring in a multi-tier health care system led by Telus, then he shouldn’t hide it. Bring it to the floor. Let’s debate it. But don’t sneak it in. And then please don’t pretend it’s not happening.

Meanwhile, the story the B.C. NDP are telling themselves about the billions they have spent in mental health and addictions is completely devoid from the reality that families are facing in my riding. Billions of dollars have been spent, and yet, when community groups with grassroots programs of people with lived experience ask the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to help them support their programs, the minister can’t seem to get the money, because the Health Minister controls it.

We see unhoused people released from hospital with no care plan left to languish in pain at the bus stop.

[3:10 p.m.]

We see families whose loved ones have died by suicide shortly after they were released from the psychiatric emergency services at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, their families entirely left out of their care, left to wonder how they can change a system that sees no fault in the way that they operate.

These are heartbreaking and tragic stories that are completely opposite to the story government tells of their programs. There are no treatment or recovery options close to where people need it, or if there are, they are grossly inadequate. The government has entirely lost control of the narrative about harm and stigma reduction. Their weak and empty defence of safe supply and decriminalization has only deepened the stigma of the most vulnerable people in our society.

The B.C. NDP have longed to be an environmental party. However, their plans to ramp up fossil fuel extraction, grow the nascent liquefied natural gas industry, is a huge contradiction that they cannot explain. They brag about an LNG industry, which they castigated when brought forward by the former B.C. Liberal government, when they were in opposition. Shame on the B.C. NDP members for sitting back while the fossil fuel industry pumps propaganda into our ears about so-called clean gas.

I toured the northeast last summer, and I saw the farmland cut into pieces by pipelines, frac sites, tailings ponds, freshwater storage ponds on fertile land with pumps pumping fresh water out of creeks and rivers. We’re in a drought, a climate emergency. I hear the Site C reservoir is not being filled not because of denning bears, although that’s a good enough reason in itself, but because of a lack of water.

Perhaps I’ll hear from B.C. Hydro that my fears are ill founded. Perhaps their silence will tell me all I need to know about that project.

Member after member after member of the B.C. NDP stood in this House and berated the climate change-denying B.C. Liberals — that was it: climate change-denying B.C. Liberals — for trying to build a gas export industry in British Columbia. Some of those members did not run again in 2020. Some of those members sit here and pretend like they didn’t say those words about LNG, about the LNG industry, as the B.C. NDP government excuses, ignores and creates space for a new era of climate denialism.

I saw how that region in the northeast is gripped by LNG. I hear how the next phase of the major infrastructure projects being built by the B.C. Hydro ratepayers subsidizing transmission lines to divert clean electricity from British Columbians who are going to pay for it to frackers so they can make some specious claim about their even greener, even cleaner LNG industry. It’s a special kind of pollution of the mind, and the B.C. NDP has allowed this industry to troll us with misinformation and disinformation.

Meanwhile their pipes leak harmful methane everywhere. They flare massive amounts of gas to relieve pressure, with no price paid. And yet we’re going to electrify their frac sites and cooling turbines, so Moe Sihota, a lobbyist for Woodfibre LNG and B.C. NDP spokesperson, can go on the radio and argue with me that the LNG industry is clean and doing us some favours.

At the same time, I have to hear him trot out falsities about CleanBC being some sort of award-winning program when in reality it was just the industry fund, the very narrow part of the program, that won awards. Yet it won’t stop him from rolling out Andrew Weaver’s name, who supports CleanBC — of course he does — and somehow equate his support for CleanBC as a support for the LNG industry. Nothing could have been further from the truth. LNG drove Andrew into a fury.

The B.C. NDP hypocrisy on LNG and Site C are remarkable. They spent as much time hating on Site C as they did on LNG, and yet, when Site C comes online, the electricity will be funnelled to industry and the $20 billion cost will be saddled on the B.C. Hydro ratepayer. It’s going to make your $100 rebate in Budget 2024 look like spare change.

So as I’ve already established, the B.C. NDP have lost their social democratic credentials. And these environmental decisions demonstrate why the B.C. NDP is no longer an enviro-democratic organization either.

[3:15 p.m.]

In Budget 2024, they failed to make any substantive investments in the commitment to protect 30 percent of the land by 2030. They failed to deliver for the watershed security fund. No funding for old growth protection, and no new funding for the nature agreement or biodiversity and ecosystem health frameworks that we have been long awaiting for.

Seriously, we have an $89 billion budget with tiny investments in the environment. Shameful. Apparently, this is a government that is concerned about the environment and climate change, but frankly, it’s an embarrassment.

After British Columbia faced record wildfires last season, we see the B.C. NDP investing $175 million in operating and capital funding over the next three years to support additional wildfire response, recovery and infrastructure resources. We blow through that budget the first month into the season.

They invested in the Barrowtown pump station in the Fraser Valley, but nothing for Merritt. Again, we see a lack of integrated thinking as we have this orphan flood control infrastructure that is undersized, with no plan for upgrading, and no plan to protect threatened communities.

The completion of the Cowichan weir and the $10 million to improve the St. Mary Lake on Salt Spring are welcome investments. However, the $359 million invested in response to climate emergencies, CleanBC, advancing the clean economy, safer access to First Nations communities and critical transportation networks and community infrastructure in 2024-25 is a fraction of what is needed.

In fact, the $359 million that is earmarked for those four programs is 0.4 percent of our $89 billion budget. That will show British Columbians where the environment is on the priorities of this B.C. NDP government.

Reflecting on our $89 billion budget, one would think it would include some remarkable investments in mass transit. No. Even though our housing growth requires transit, Metro mayors are warning TransLink is in serious financial trouble. B.C. Transit needs new buses, more buses, more mechanics. We need a serious investment in bus rapid transit, light rail, high-speed rail, intercity buses connecting all British Columbians. What did we get? Nothing. No visionary plan. Just silence.

When it comes to active transportation, Budget 2024 offers $25 million. I have been working for four years with the Salt Spring community to improve the Fulford-Ganges Road with active transportation: pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. That project alone would cost $25 million, maybe more. The minister visited the island, saw the need and cannot be happy with the level of investment in active transportation in an $89 billion budget.

That is the context of how ridiculous this investment in active transportation actually is. It could be eaten up by a single project. The needs across the province to improve our active transportation are great.

Especially in an election budget, these are the kinds of announcements that communities love. They improve the quality of life, safety and increase health and well-being. The NDP have missed the mark so entirely on these points in Budget 2024, why would I be surprised they missed the mark on this as well?

It’s disappointing. That is just active transportation and mass transit. When I look at the levels of the deterioration of our provincial highways, in general, an issue I have been raising for years, an issue for all my colleagues across the province, the deterioration of our provincial roads….

The Minister of Transportation knows it is a problem. We all raise it with him every year in budget estimates. We’ve been raising it with him for years. As the Finance Minister never gives the Transportation Minister a big enough budget to have any impact, the roads continue to deteriorate, and it becomes a losing situation year over year over year.

It’s not just the lack of ability to support communities that identify their priorities — like Salt Spring, who want to upgrade their main road with active transportation — it’s the actual basic safety of all road users that is a growing concern. The lack of centre lines and fog lines is a perpetual issue in my constituency office that South Island transportation office knows all too well about.

[3:20 p.m.]

Centre and fog lines deteriorate much quicker than the budget allows them to be refreshed. On dark Gulf Island nights like on Galiano — well, frankly, on all the Gulf Islands: Mayne, Saturna, the Penders, Salt Spring — with an aging population, bright lines are necessary.

In this case, I don’t think it’s a matter of the Transportation Minister’s staff being neglectful. I just think it’s a matter of the Minister of Finance not putting enough resources into a long-standing, well-known problem. But it is a matter of safety, and these are our provincial highways, our provincial roads. We are liable for them. So despite the discomfort it causes our budget, we have to take care of them. The Transportation Minister has to take care of them.

When transit is the tool that unlocks most of the density that the Housing Minister is bragging about to British Columbians, how is it that the Finance Minister has so little in this budget for mass transit?

I’m not talking about a SkyTrain station or a few kilometres of SkyTrain lines south of the Fraser or partway out to the University of British Columbia, but a dramatic decade-long infrastructure program that connects British Columbia like we’ve never been connected, a visionary piece that says to the person living in Smithers: “You don’t have a car and you can’t afford to fly, but don’t worry. We have a robust intercity bus system, and you can go anywhere in this province.” Comfortable coaches that move people from places they are to places they want to be. A future-looking piece, a strategy that outlines high-speed rail connecting Vancouver with the Fraser Valley, with plans to connect to the Okanagan and beyond.

It’s not just the roads and the rapid transit, but it’s also the water that British Columbians need to be connected on. We’ve heard or personally experienced the challenges that B.C. Ferries has been going through. We know the B.C. NDP government has been slowly taking more and more control of the corporation, without much more and more of the accountability, leaving it with the senior staff at B.C. Ferries.

However, the investments made last year are welcome. Clearly, we have issues with both the equipment and human resources at B.C. Ferries.

The ferries are critical for the current and future socioeconomic well-being of our province. They’re our marine highways and marine transit systems, connecting coastal communities and economies to the rest of British Columbia and Canada.

I raise my hands to Nicolas Jimenez for his openness and candour regarding the challenges the ferry system faces. It appears we have a few vessels that are having significant mechanical issues. Those Coastal class vessels keep breaking and disrupting service.

In addition, the people at B.C. Ferries, the terminal and vessel staff, have done an excellent job under extreme pressure, often with the cameras on, in delivering the best service they can, and I raise my hands to them.

We, the provincial government, changed the corporate structure that turned this necessary transportation system into a profit-focused corporation from a service-focused corporation, and unfortunately, it has them chasing the wrong values. So we’ve had staff languishing in casual roles, stripped the training capacity, basically carving out the ability of the corporation to train the mariners that we need. As a result, we have the B.C. Ferries corporate communications telling customers and British Columbians that the reason there’s no service for them is because of a lack of global mariners.

We are competing with the global shipping industry. There it is, right? The lack of vision and strategic thinking that comes from this House. With this corporate model focused on profit rather than service, we actually have lost both profits and service.

British Columbia will always be a coastal jurisdiction. We will always need a marine transportation network. What are we doing competing with the global market? Why are we not the leading jurisdiction in providing mariners to the global market? We have highlighted the career path for our youth. We have a robust training and post-secondary system, and B.C. Ferries is the place that everyone can get their start, work while getting an education, and either choose to stay or choose to go and work somewhere else.

[3:25 p.m.]

Why have we limited our thinking to the ferries as being a marine highway instead instead of making it a necessary part of our marine transportation network; supplementing big vessels with water taxis, potentially operated by local First Nations; connecting coastal villages with the bigger network — all part of the same system, all funded and subsidized by the broader network. Why do we insist on continuing to play small ball here in British Columbia?

This lack of vision in transportation exposes what I was discussing earlier with respect to our lack of systems thinking and planning. We have, on one hand, the housing minister creating policy that housing density is driven by transportation planning, and then apparently the government forgot to integrate transportation planning. It’s absurd, really.

This is the systems thinking that we lack — the thinking that looks at the transportation needs of our province today and into the future and paints an exciting picture of multimodal transportation that connects the communities that this government plans for massively increasing the density in. How did this government miss this? Well, we always miss it. Somehow, in our community planning and zoning, the transportation for people that’s inextricably linked is missed by government. Yet they’re parts of two different ministries that apparently don’t coordinate much.

To the housing minister: you want to increase the population of all our neighbourhoods by two, three, four, six or 100 times? Then you better talk to the finance minister to let the transportation minister know that there needed to be thoughtful planning for all transportation networks that support a much larger population.

Perhaps someone over there should talk with the emergency management minister about how the mass densification on the North Shore that’s happened over the last number of years is working for the commuter.

Perhaps they should talk with her constituents who need to desperately get to an emergency room at rush hour, sitting in gridlock for hours because the communities densified in the provincial and local planners thought people would be transported around the region by magic. While you’re at it, perhaps someone should call my colleague from Sea to Sky country before he retires and have a chat about the intercity bus system that he and others have been talking about to see if that can be integrated in some way.

The result of density is traffic. The result of traffic on transportation networks that are not built to the capacity that they need to be is gridlock. The result of gridlock is pollution, not just unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

By the way, the transportation minister talked with the environment minister to discuss the challenging emissions increases that congestion creates by the housing minister’s density plans. How are we accounting for those increased GHGs? We’re not likely accounting for them, right?

The other type of pollution that nobody over there is likely thinking about is wasted time — people idling in their cars, wasting time, listening to podcasts, festering in frustration and anger. How much time is wasted because we have a government that does not integrate obviously connected systems? Nobody is counting, because nobody wants to know, I guess. It’s a depressingly large number, I bet. Wouldn’t that time be better spent with their family, at recreation centres, literally anywhere but languishing in the cockpit of their car?

What is exposed here is the lack of systems thinking of our government, governing by announcement. The housing minister rolls out his inspiring and hopeful vision of cheap houses for everyone, and time will show that his plan is rhetorically amazing but lacking the thing people need: affordability. Well, the transportation is left answering the question about why we can’t afford basic safety measures for provincial highways, like centre lines and fog lines; why communities that prioritize active transportation face frustrating bureaucratic roadblocks; and why, if you’re on the Coldwater Indian Band and you don’t have a car, you can’t get to Merritt or Vancouver.

[3:30 p.m.]

When I walked into this chamber yesterday, I got to hear the environment minister, the minister responsible for fighting climate change, celebrating the $25 million investment in active transportation like it was a generational investment in mode-shifting.

Seriously, what is this government spending $89 billion on? The amount of waste and rhetoric pouring from the members of this B.C. NDP government polluting the airspace in this place, attempting to provide a smokescreen for this budget…. Are those emissions being counted against CleanBC as well? Do we have sectoral targets for the rhetoric and propaganda generated out of this room? Well, we should.

There is an issue that I cannot leave on the table here. It’s too important, and that’s that the Public Safety Minister needs to be held accountable for the complete fumble of police reform in this province.
In April 2022, the special committee on police reform, the committee that the minister tasked with a comprehensive review of policing, tabled an excellent report. Our recommendations were integrated. They recognized the interconnectedness of public health, public well-being and public safety. We provided a suite of recommendations that were linked, not 11 separate recommendations to be randomly applied but a package with a timeline and a plan for police reform.

Even though the committee was created at a time when some in our society were calling for defunding the police, we produced a report that recognized the need for public safety services.

[J. Tegart in the chair.]

We acknowledged the need for more control over training, independent civilian oversight, tiered policing from community policing to special tactical units, addressing systemic racism in response to sexual assaults, better support for trauma for our first responders, the need to support police response with mental health professionals on calls related to mental health, a more integrated 911 service, an all-party committee to assist the ministry with implementing a transition from the RCMP to a provincial police service and to implement our recommendations.

There was all-party consensus on the recommendations, a rare moment in this place — all-party consensus. Well, the Public Safety Minister couldn’t have that, could he?

This place is so ill-prepared to deal with agreement. He immediately ignored our report, and instead of maintaining the all-party consensus, instead of keeping an all-party committee like we recommended that could assist in keeping the politicians on the same page from all the different political parties here, he did the opposite of our recommendations. He made police reform secret.

The key issue we uncovered early in that review process was that public confidence in our police is critical and necessary. Where this confidence breaks down, it’s not good for the public, and it’s definitely not good for the police. So the Public Safety Minister went to work undermining his own process. He mismanaged the Surrey policing file by allowing it to turn into a political nightmare. Instead of stepping in early to demonstrate leadership, he was dragged in when it was already too late.

But more than that, he ignored the recommendation the committee made to keep an all-party committee together to ensure that the police reform process that is going to take a decade, the need to keep political support over multiple parliaments and potentially multiple governments…. We cannot afford policy lurch on this file.

The Public Safety Minister apparently knew better than the recommendations that we drafted, knew better than the work that we did in investigating this issue. He decided in his wisdom that the public confidence was best captured and maintained by a secret, internal ministry process, one he’s holding quite close to his chest. He decided that the recommendations of our committee were best ignored.

Just a couple weeks back, we learned that his police reform process has been stalled because First Nations have paused discussions. Why? Because the minister is ignoring the recommendations of his own committee.

[3:35 p.m.]

In Budget 2024, the Finance Minister rewarded this Public Safety Minister with an increased budget. It’s now about $1.2 billion for policing in this province. And yet his police reform process is languishing. He has consistently made decisions that do not instill greater public confidence that this government understands the challenges facing public safety and policing and little confidence that they are delivering police reform in a cost-effective and collaborative way.

In the theme of collaboration, here again we see an example where the siloed ministries are impediments to us addressing holistic problems. The committee recommended the Mental Health and Addictions Minister complete a review of the Mental Health Act. That’s what we heard from many of our witnesses. The Mental Health Act needed a complete review, yet we have crickets over there.

It’s inexplicable to me that this Public Safety Minister is allowed to continue to fumble this file and there be no accountability for the fact that he was given a good report, a comprehensive report, an intentionally integrated report and, instead of taking the advice of his own policing leadership, the advice of the people he taxed with looking at the issue, he just went off on his own and has, frankly, wasted two years.

We’ve heard on both sides of this House the discussion of the merits of this $89 billion budget. On one side, the government has been praising their effort and celebrating the most expensive budget in British Columbia history, a budget that is expensive but fails British Columbians on so many fronts.

They left a multi-billion-dollar contingency for the Premier to use as his election promise slush fund over the next few months. We learned today in question period it won’t be for FIFA. Still don’t know what it’s going to be used for, but nonetheless, we know one thing it won’t be used for. Leaving this slush fund is either an unethical act or an illegal act, but it turns our budget-making process into a mockery.

What this speech has done is provide a clear indication that this government, like governments before, has failed to address the multilevel, multidimensional, interconnected, integrated challenges with the complexity and strategic thoughtfulness that we need at this moment.

We do not approach these systems as systems. They’re one-off announcements, kind of like political candy, intended to placate the sweet tooth but, in the end, so disappointing after the sugar crash. So as we confront the reality that we face today, the reality that our political, social and economic theories and ideologies are grounded in some kind of magical thinking, grounded in a perverse thinking that our finite world can produce infinite growth….

Indeed, even back in 1970, when the Club of Rome met to discuss the world problematique I talked of at the beginning of this speech…. And they proposed to Jay Forrester to bring his systems-thinking approach that assisted corporations through industrial dynamics — the modelling he was creating with a new computer code language that could produce a map of the world system.

Jay Forrester is the first person to introduce industrial dynamics, urban dynamics, to map out system dynamics. This was back in 1970. His work illustrated how positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops interconnect all things. And when there is an input in one, there’s a reaction in the opposite.

Yet here we are today, pretending like we have some kind of magic inoculation and that we’re immune to the issues that confronted our society and our planet in 1972, the findings of the world study: reality. The reality is that at that time, population was doubling every 33 years. And the consumption of natural resources doubling every 20 years — the first time in the history of our planet that we had that rate of exponential growth.

[3:40 p.m.]

Politicians of all stripes have since wrapped themselves in this fantasy, a fantasy that this finite world that we live in is infinite; this fantasy that the concept of infinite growth is a political tool used by politicians unprepared and unwilling to face their electorate, unwilling and unprepared to face their constituents with the reality that our finite world cannot possibly produce infinite growth in perpetuity; that somehow it will not catch up on us; that the positive and negative feedback loops will suddenly shift, so our generation will be the first to be emancipated from the tyranny so as not to impact us in our moment of power.

Despite our desire to think magically, we know that this is a tragedy, a tragedy that this government continues to deliver meaningless rhetoric instead of systems thinking. It’s unfortunate that instead of looking at the systems dynamics that Jay Forrester and his team at MIT so skillfully illustrated 50 years ago, painting a dire picture that if we were to continue the rates of consumption that we were going at in 1972, that we would be exactly where we are at today.

In 2024, we have a so-called social democratic party leading this province that has fully embraced the infinite growth model. They have accepted a delusional reality that growth continues exponentially and unabated. Of course, this is not a real reality. It’s an illusion, a simulation based on an infinite growth model that just simply doesn’t work.

Study after study after study has shown that when you do not pay attention or pay respect to the positive and negative feedback loops of our interconnected world that we live in, it breaks down. We know in our hearts that we live in a finite world. And this B.C. NDP government has done little to respect our planetary limits — the limits in our province, the limits of our ability to support exponential population growth. This is evidenced by the erosion of the social fabric that British Columbians expect, the social fabric that’s stretched thin and is breaking down.

When will we turn and face the reality before us? When will we speak honestly to the people of British Columbia to let them know that the finite world has limitations and we are thinking and managing them collectively and strategically. When will the housing supply lobby, the Housing Minister that scoffs at systems thinking, advancing a narrow, pre-1970s thinking that we can just have infinite growth…?

The deception has grasped the imagination of politicians and decision-makers, and we have been tricked to not consider the positive and negative impact loops of our decisions. Indeed, the current high cost of housing is a result of not paying respect to positive and negative feedback loops. For example, not providing enough housing over the last 30 years increases the cost of housing and is entirely a potential outcome.

However, deploying the same kind of thinking, the same kind of infinite growth thinking, the same kind of non-systems thinking, non-planning thinking that got us into the problem in the first place is not a successful strategy. It’s not a successful way to approach the problem. Scoffing at me and others when we suggest that we need to instead deploy systems thinking in our response, that we need to ensure that, inextricably linked to our decisions on housing, we are seriously considering the five key elements of the original 1972 model — populations, food, industrialization, natural resources and pollution — and how they are connected and interrelated with services like education, health, transportation, technology and investment…. It’s important. Indeed, it’s critical.

The dangerous and immature thinking that we can just increase housing supply and our quality of life and cost of living problems will go away needs heavy and constant pushback. We need to demand that our decision-makers don’t fall into the easy trap of simple thinking, and that they do not try to solve problems we face with the same kind of basic, disconnected and, frankly, elementary thinking that created it.

[3:45 p.m.]

So as we are looking forward to the election, as I started this speech, and British Columbians are tasked with selecting who will lead us into those five remaining decades of the 100-year timeframe laid out in the limits of growth, we need to be asking ourselves who is in it for themselves and who is in it for British Columbians.

Who is prepared to face the difficulties with honesty, transparency and accountability that we need to bring people together at a time when systems that we’ve relied on falter? Who is prepared to step away from the political, economic, social ideologies that are driven by an unrealistic cult of infinite growth to recognize that it has failed us and driven us toward a precipice and that we stand here with very few tools and resources that we need to shift our operating system? Frankly, at this moment, we need a brand-new operating system.

I don’t believe that any one of the political parties, entities in this chamber, are well equipped to do it on our own. We’ve learned to speak to our base. We’ve been rewarded for it. However, outside of that, we falter. What we need is an election result this year that removes the political burden from any one member or that hands a majority to any one political party in this House and, rather, distributes it to all members of this House.

If the systems we are trying to fix are interconnected and integrated, then we in this House are going to need to take our individual approaches, our political, social and economic theories and ideologies, and link them and integrate them. We need to become interconnected. Despite our differences of opinion, we are not enemies. We just have different opinions.

We are called on at this moment to work together in a way that our competitive political system is not designed to deliver. We are called to work together in a way that a majority government is not threatened. As we have seen over the past four years, that is not a skill mastered by this current government. However, what we have witnessed over the past few months is a desperate attempt by partisans to drive wedges in order to show distinction between us for our own selfish political pursuits.

No doubt I will be criticized for my criticisms. “There he is, standing here, calling out the NDP time and time again. Then he has the audacity to call for us to come together and work together.”

Our system, as it is designed, the responsibilities of the government and the critic roles as they’re currently laid out…. I have a job as a critic. That’s my job, to critique the government. This government, another government. That’s my job. We always need the role of the critic. They create a functional and healthy democracy. Healthy coalitions, even. Complaining about critique, even sharp critique, is exposing an unnecessary fragility that in and of itself tells the public about the style of leadership. Democracy is not supposed to be done in darkness.

Even before the 2020 election, when I was a part of the confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. NDP, we worked collaboratively in partnership, and I also worked as a critic. That’s the sign of a healthy democracy. This province cannot afford another majority government of any brand. What we need is a good decade or so of minority governments. Force the people in this chamber to work together, to collaborate, to integrate our social, political and economic theories and ideologies.

There is a word in SENĆOŦEN: JSIṈET. It means “to raise or grow up a child.” I see the infantile nature of this democracy, the power dynamics and the behaviours and desperate need for raising up, for growing up, for maturation. Majority governments will tell you they are stable, but autocrats can also bring stability for a time. That does not mean that they are the best suited to govern the people or make the decisions that are in the best interests of their people.

Majority governments, after a time, begin acting like the mob, threatening people with fearmongering and, worse yet, punishment for not falling into line. How many community and organization leaders have been told to fall into line with the B.C. NDP government, either directly or indirectly?

[3:50 p.m.]

We may be suspicious that the collapse predicted by the world model way back in 1972 will not materialize. It’s just a computer model. However, over the first 50 years, that computer model has been remarkably accurate. It’s in our interest to find a way to work together to ensure that in the next 50 years, it’s not so accurate.

The authors of The Limits to Growth note that the best time to get started was in 1972. The second best time is right now. If we work together to “…alter these growth trends and establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable for the future, the state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on Earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize their individual human potential.”


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