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George Heyman speaks to Motion 23: Balanced Budget

You will get no argument from me or anyone on this side of the House about the importance of balanced budgets. I rise to speak to the motion, although I will decline to join in the praise for the Minister of Finance, who, I believe, has made the classic mistake of focusing solely on the goal of a balanced budget instead of the very important questions to British Columbia about how we achieve that.

We’ve achieved that in a number of ways that have hurt British Columbians and hurt British Columbia. We have seen fees for Medical Services Plan premiums rise significantly for families across B.C. This affects very clearly what those families are able to do with their own money, what they are able to do to support their own children in their own growth. We’ve seen, year after year, this government balancing the budget by taking dividends from a Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro, while piling debt into deferral accounts. The end result of that is devastating for households and businesses both. We are seeing, over the next five years, a 28 percent increase in hydro rates. That’s on top of a 50 percent rise in the 12 years since 2001.

Ferries. We’ve heard much from the Minister of Transportation over session after session about how important it is to get B.C. Ferries’s house in order. Since ’03, we’ve seen a 45 percent increase in fares on the major routes, 85 percent on the minor routes. That’s had a devastating effect to local economies, whether it’s on Vancouver Island, whether it’s on the Gulf Islands, but it is a real and negative impact on economic growth in British Columbia, particularly in small communities, and it’s not acceptable.

What else has happened in this budget year? We have seen a $230 million tax cut for the richest 2 percent of British Columbians, money that could’ve and should’ve been spent in the context of a balanced budget on any number of services that not only benefit British Columbians; they benefit the economy. Even as we speak, and for the last couple of weeks, the Finance Committee has heard from group after group and individual after individual across this province speaking about the need for more money in the K-to-12 education system if we want the children of today to have an equal opportunity for a bright economic future.

We’ve heard the same thing about post-secondary education. When students graduate with over $30,000 in debt, if indeed they can afford to make the choice to continue in their studies, it puts them deep, deep into a hole. It makes them make bad decisions for their future, because they have no choice when faced with the option of: “Do I go to work now, or do I continue to amass debt?” That’s why we have a lower completion rate than we should have in post-secondary.

Whether it’s seniors care; housing; child care; cuts to adult basic education, which is so important to helping people who didn’t complete high school or immigrants taking their place in this economy; whether it’s stable funding for literacy…. Literacy, hon. Speaker, has a direct impact on the future expenditures of any government in British Columbia on social services and a negative impact on productivity and the economy, as well as ending up with many people losing their jobs because they don’t have the basic skills that come with literacy. Literacy groups in British Columbia have sought, year after year, stable funding, and they have not got it.

Let me simply close by pointing out what every British Columbian has observed over the last months and years: the continuing crisis in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There are not the resources that people in the ministry need in order to keep track of what’s happening to children in British Columbia, and someone with no less background in finance than the former Finance Minister for the Liberal Party, Colin Hansen, stated just this morning on radio that he believed the Ministry of Children and Family Development was underfunded and needed more money.

Hon. Speaker, yes, we’ll balance the budget, but we’ll make better choices about how we do it, choices that this government should have been making over the last years.

Question Period: George Heyman asks about US access to health info of BC residents

G. Heyman: It’s like listening to a tape recording from a year ago by the Health Minister. British Columbia has robust privacy laws because they were introduced by an NDP government, and they’re weaker today because this government consistently undermines them.

It’s a matter of record from both the Auditor General and the Privacy Commissioner, who informed the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is authorized to order a U.S.-owned company to produce records that are under its control even when the information is located in Canada. Those U.S. court orders are made in secret, so we would never be told.

Yet the Liberal government failed to share this important information with British Columbians, despite having assured us that our records are secure. That’s not surprising, because this government has a history of hiding information from British Columbians until they’re forced to disclose i

Imagine. Our health information can be seized and used by the U.S. government without us even knowing it. Why isn’t the minister responsible for privacy protection enforcing his own laws to protect British Columbians’ private, personal and sensitive medical information?

Hon. A. Virk: This issue has been canvassed quite extensively in standing legislative committees. There have been updates to legislation. The assertion from the member is simply incorrect. The suggestion somehow that the members opposite are defenders of privacy legislation…. We determined right in this House just several weeks ago…. The members right across here were working, were mentoring, the suggestion that privacy legislation was far too open. That was determined right in this Legislative Assembly just several weeks ago.

Madame Speaker: Recognizing Vancouver-Fairview on a supplemental.


Madame Speaker: Members. Members will come to order.

Please proceed.

G. Heyman: The minister is simply unaware of communications made to his own officials within his own ministry that concern protecting important, sensitive information of British Columbians, or he’s just hiding his head in the sand.

In November 2013 a paraplegic Canadian woman was denied entry into the United States because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression in 2012 and had attempted suicide a decade earlier. It was a mystery and remains unknown how the U.S. government accessed her personal and private medical information.

Cases like this one show that there are serious consequences when personal medical information gets into the hands of foreign governments. That’s why our law says that information has to stay in Canada and be accessed only by Canadians. Why won’t this minister ensure that the government follows its own laws?


Madame Speaker: Members.

Hon. A. Virk: Well, the members opposite certainly want to spin a number of conspiracy theories. The privacy data of British Columbians is very important, and this government takes that responsibility….


Madame Speaker: Just wait. Please proceed.

Hon. A. Virk: The data security and privacy of British Columbians is indeed a serious matter. The suggestion, to spin these conspiracy theories…. Data collected about British Columbians by British Columbian institutions is safeguarded in the best manner possible, and it’s going to continue to be done so.

[End of question period.]

Question Period: George Heyman asks Minister Coleman about Little Mountain Housing

G. Heyman: For 50 years the Little Mountain site provided 234 units of affordable social housing in a tightly knit community. Eight years ago this government sold the property, forced tenants to move out and promised new units would be completed in 2010. The new owner, Holborn Properties, began demolition without redevelopment approval at a time when housing costs were skyrocketing.

The minister recently trumpeted the opening of 53 seniors units on the site, almost 200 units short of the promised number and five years after the promised completion date. Some plan.

Will the minister ever deliver on the promise of 234 new social housing units at Little Mountain, plus ten units for Musqueam band members?

Hon. R. Coleman: Six years ago there were 6,000 more people homeless in British Columbia than there are today. Today there are people that may be on our streets that are curled up in a doorway somewhere, where a loved one is wondering where the services and help for them for housing and mental illness are coming from.

Back six or seven years ago, this government gave this ministry the money that would come out of Little Mountain, whenever it came, in advance, so we could go out and address this issue.

Out of Little Mountain today there are over 2,000 units of housing across the province of British Columbia for people with mental health issues, addicted and at risk of homelessness in British Columbia. In addition to that, the programs that are putting food and 24-hour services into shelters across B.C. also came out of the build to leverage that property.

I think when you leverage the change in thousands of lives on one piece of property, and as you’re taking some development time with the city that takes a little longer than necessary, to take that money and invest it in changing people’s lives who are on the streets of British Columbia was the right decision to do then, and it certainly is today.

Madame Speaker: Vancouver-Fairview on a supplemental.

G. Heyman: A little delay? Only that side of the House could be five years late, deliver just 20 percent of their promise and then brag about it. Eight years of vacant property, five years late, less than a quarter of promised new units built. Off schedule, off track and off target.

The community fought for staged development to minimize displacement of residents and keep the community intact. Yet this government neither sought nor provided that sensible safety net in its rush to off-load property and responsibility.

Will the minister tell Vancouver residents desperate for affordable housing exactly when the remaining units will finally be built?

Hon. R. Coleman: In the city of Vancouver there are 14 sites that are presently either completed or under construction, with regards to homelessness, mental health and addictions. That actually started from the vision of the member for Vancouver–False Creek when he was the mayor of the city of Vancouver and put up the first 12 sites. In addition to that, because we were able to leverage, we were able to go into the marketplace and save thousands and thousands of units across British Columbia, where we purchased properties and revamped them in order to take care of people on our streets.

In addition to that, we picked up 28-plus properties in the city of Vancouver for homelessness. The reason we were able to do that is this ministry was allowed to leverage the money given to us by Treasury Board to match up to Little Mountain. So the Little Mountain legacy project today is probably in the thousands of people and the thousands of units that have been helped by British Columbians.

At the end of the day, everybody that was on Little Mountain was housed. Everyone has been supported in the marketplace since. They have the right to come back when the project is complete if they wish to. But at the same time, we use that….

I know you don’t like the fact that thousands of people that were homeless on the streets of British Columbia are housed today. I know you don’t like the success. The success is this: 6,000 fewer people homeless in British Columbia today on the basis of using an asset of British Columbians in order to save people’s lives and turn their lives around.