Monday, October 22, 2018, p.m., Issue 164 (2024)

The House met at 1:35 p.m.

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

Routine Business

Introductions by Members

Hon. G. Heyman: It gives me great pleasure to introduce a number of guests who have come here today to observe question period.

Joining us from the Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. is their newly elected president, as of Saturday, Kathy Tarnai-Lokhorst; from the B.C. Institute of Agrologists — J.P. Ellson, the executive director; from the College of Applied Biology — Christine Houghton, the executive director, Brian Clark, president, and Derek Marcoux, the registrar; from the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C., otherwise known as ASTTBC — Theresa McCurry, the chief executive officer, and Sarah Campden, the vice-president; from the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals — Christine Gelowitz, the chief executive officer, and Robin Modesto, the president; from Tolko Industries — Tom Hoffman, the manager of external and stakeholder relations; from the professional reliance working group of concerns citizens — Bob Peart, coordinator.

Also here is Mark Haddock, the independent author of the professional reliance review commissioned by government.

Also in the precinct with us, and possibly in the House, is the Professional Employees Association and their executive director, Melissa Moroz. They are, of course, the accredited bargaining agent for government employees, professional licensed professionals.

Finally, in the gallery are some guests from my ministry observing question period. I think, for his very first time, Deputy Minister Mark Zacharias. Also with us is Jennifer McGuire, the assistant deputy minister of environmental sustainability and strategic policy; Leon Gaber, the director of the professional reliance review; and Peter Trotzki, the director of legislation.

Will the House please join me in making all of our guests very, very welcome.

A. Wilkinson: We tend to forget that the elected members of this assembly are only part of the function of the Legislature, because in every constituency, of course, there are the constituency offices, which serve the people of the province directly.

We’re very glad to have amongst us about 60 constituency assistants here who are visiting Victoria. I need only make clear their role by pointing to the weather. When they arrived, it was cold and grey and opaque, and within a couple of hours, it’s clear and blue and transparent and beautiful.

Thank you.

Hon. J. Horgan: Joining us on the floor today is someone no stranger to question period. It’s been a while since he’s had to answer any questions, and I don’t think any will be coming his way. But he was the Minister of Forests; he was the Minister of Labour; he was the Minister of Municipal Affairs; he was the Minister of Employment and Investment. He was also, for a period of time, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, and he was our 32nd Premier. It’s my friend Dan Miller, the former member for North Coast, with great respect to the current member for North Coast.

Dan Miller is here today to make sure that I answer all the questions succinctly and with a good message behind it. Would the House please make him very, very welcome.

J. Thornthwaite: I have a very special constituent in the gallery today. Glen Grigg is the chair of the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists of British Columbia. I wish that the House would make him welcome.

Hon. R. Fleming: In the gallery with us, we have two special guests today who are doing great work around promoting STEM education to K-to-12 students in British Columbia, both of whom work for Science World, a venerable science institution that has been doing this work promoting science education and curriculum to young people in B.C. for over 30 years now. Sarah Chow is with us here. She’s worked in science, I believe, for over ten years at Science World. She’s also a personality on the Discovery Channel.

With her is Chelsea Stoyt, a science educator who has taught all over the world and is now part of Science World’s On the Road team. We had the On the Road team here this morning to entertain and educate a group of young people, students from South Park elementary school. It was a fantastic performance, just showing what they can do and what they do in our school system.

I’d ask the House to make these two young women most welcome here today.

[1:40 p.m.]

A. Kang: I have several very special guests from the Taiwanese commerce community. They will be spending their day here at the Legislature learning about how the province works and meeting with members from all sides of the House.

As well, I understand that in Taiwan, there was a terrible incident just yesterday in Yilan County, with a train derailment. My condolences to their citizens.

With that, I would like to introduce Andy Chen, the director general of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office; Suzie Chen, division director of TECO; Ruth Chang, director of Taiwan External Trade Development Council; Eric Yang, the president of Taiwan Chamber of Commerce in B.C.; Tony Tsao, the vice-president; Esther Yu, the vice-president; and Angie Tsai, the treasurer.

Other members and directors are here today: Shan Tseng; Wendy Chang; Dennis Chiang; Sunny Chen; Jeffery Lin; Tony Lin; Benny Chen; Ray Kuo; Gary Yang; Jonathan Wu; Anthony Chou and his wife, Wen Yin Chen, and his two little guys, Chen Ray Chou and baby Chen Jen Chou.

Would the House please make everyone feel very welcome.

T. Redies: I am delighted today to introduce a very special constituent of mine, Kathy O’Connor, who is visiting from White Rock today. Kathy is here with Glen Grigg of FACTBC and is an advocate for the establishment of a college of counselling therapists. I am going to be speaking about her a little bit later today.

B. D’Eith: I just wanted to say a welcome to a very good friend who I have known for many, many years. His name is J.P. Ellson. He’s in the audience now. We actually spent many years together working in the music industry. He was the executive director of Sask Music, and I was the executive director of Music B.C. We are both past chairs of the Western Canadian Music Awards. We’ve managed to reel him out to the west coast. Now, of course, he’s executive director of the British Columbia Institute of Agrologists. I would like everyone to make him feel very welcome.

Hon. H. Bains: I’m really happy to welcome a delegation from the Canadian Union of Public Employees — Andrew Ledger, president of CUPE 1004, representing over 3,000 members performing all kinds of services across Metro Vancouver; and Sheryl Burns, president of CUPE 1936, representing 1,200 community social services workers throughout the Lower Mainland. Joining them from the CUPE B.C. office is Justin Schmid.

I am looking forward to having a meeting with them later on today to speak about workers health and safety and a number of other issues that they may have, to make life better for the working people in this province. Please help me welcome them.

D. Barnett: I have two guests here today, a young lady named Barb Marks…. Her dad was the first mayor of the district of 100 Mile House, and she now lives in the Lower Mainland. I would like you to help me welcome her here today.

Also, Mr. Tom Hoffman, who was here today meeting with the minister, is a constituent of mine in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. He lives in Williams Lake — a great Rotarian and advocate for our community.

Welcome, Tom.



J. Rustad: I rise today on a bit of a sad note, the passing of Len Fox several weeks ago. Len served in this Legislature in the early 1990s and was one of the last Socreds to be elected. Len, in his youth, loved hockey but, unfortunately, couldn’t afford a pair of skates. So he played goalie, wearing gumboots, which was, of course, very interesting.

Later, of course, he became a school trustee and served two terms as a trustee, including the board chair; served on municipal council; three terms as mayor in Vanderhoof; started a Ford dealership called Fox Ford in Vanderhoof, and many other accomplishments over his time.

So it’s sad that on October 6, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ALS and passed away 36 hours later, with his family. Len will be missed, but I know that his accomplishments will not be forgotten.

[1:45 p.m.]

Introductions by Members

Hon. J. Sims: I would also like to add my words of welcome to one of my constituents who is here today with Taiwanese commerce group that is here, and that is Yu-Shan Tseng. I just met her recently. Not only is she living in my constituency; she’s practically my next-door neighbour. Please join me in welcoming her to this House.



I. Paton: Also on a sad note today, I’d like to pass along…. Roughly last spring I did a two-minute statement on the wonderful life of a former Ag Minister, John Savage. John fought through some health issues several years ago and was doing very well.

I’m so shocked. I spoke to him just a week ago in Ladner, in his car outside of the Safeway store. Unfortunately, John passed away peacefully in his sleep, unexpectedly, on Friday night.

The loss of a great agriculturist, a great farmer, a great farm name in Delta — John Savage.

Introductions by Members

G. Kyllo: We’re joined today by Judy Higney and Bonny Mumford. They’ve come all the way from Nova Scotia, and they share a sister — my constituency assistant, Holly Cowan. Would the House please make them feel very welcome.

R. Kahlon: I would like to rise to make an introduction. I am a new uncle. My cousin had a beautiful baby girl on October 20, at one in the morning, after 12 hours of labour — 8 pounds, 4 ounces — Vera Atwal. Mom, Sumeet, and dad, Muneer, are all doing great.

It’s nice to become a māmā, as we say. It’s “uncle” in Pun­jabi.

I’d like to ask the House to please make wonderful Vera Atwal welcome to this House.

L. Reid: I have Georgina Patko in the gallery today. Georgina and I share a tremendous passion around Pathways Clubhouse. She’s a Richmond treasure. She’s relocated to Vancouver Island. She’s going to guide the development of that as we speak. Please make her very, very welcome.

I’d also ask the House to join me in wishing the very happiest of birthdays to Shelley Leonhardt.

Hon. J. Horgan: I’ve mentioned that former Premier Dan Miller is here. We had a lovely lunch together. The reason for the lunch wasn’t so much for Dan and I to get together. I can find him at the Thrifty’s any weekend, as everyone else does.

We were joined by the staff that Dan inherited in 1991, who had previously worked for the former Social Credit government and continued to work, after the NDP was defeated, for the Liberal government. These are three outstanding individuals who devoted their entire professional life to serving people in this Legislature. They are Serena Costa, Debbie Wade and the irrepressible Bert Willing. Would the House please make all three of them very welcome.

M. Lee: I would also like to rise in this House to welcome four visitors from Surrey, friends of mine in the community, who have been very active and involved in our political process. I thank them for all of their efforts in our community: Amarjeet Grewal, Sukhpal Mangat, Kirpal Mangat, Surinder Pal Singh Mahal.

S. Furstenau: I have two sets of introductions to make today, one in each of our official languages. First of all, I’d like to echo the Minister of Environment’s welcome to the five professional associations here today: the engineers and geoscientists, the agrologists, the biologists, the applied science technologists and technicians, and the Association of B.C. Foresters, as well as Tolko Industries and the Professional Employees Association.

I’m delighted that Mark Haddock, the hard-working author of the professional reliance review, is also here today, as is Bob Peart, a longtime champion for the environment.

Je souhaite aussi la bienvenue aux étudiants et aux enseignants venus d’Angers, en France. Il y a 40 étudiants du lycée Sacré-Coeur et leurs professeurs Jérémie Cotteverte, Corrine Busson et Crystèle Beillouet. Nous sommes ravis de vous avoir aujourd’hui à la législature et nous espérons que votre visite sera à la fois informative et agréable.

[French text provided by S. Furstenau.]

Would the House please make all of these people welcome.

[1:50 p.m.]

Introduction and
First Reading of Bills


Hon. G. Heyman presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Professional Governance Act.

Hon. G. Heyman: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.

The proposed Professional Governance Act has been prepared after extensive consultation and consideration by our government of the first two recommendations made in the independent report on professional reliance and natural resource decision-making.

This proposed act will ensure that best practices for professional governance are defined collaboratively and are implemented by the professional regulators that are within the scope of the act. This will include standardizing the structure and functions of regulatory counsels, requiring continuing professional development of all professionals, setting clear conflict of interest requirements, high ethical standards of professional conduct and enabling practice authorities to all five regulated professions.

The act will increase public transparency by providing express authority for ministries to proactively disclose natural resource information. The act will also strengthen government oversight for professional regulatory bodies by establishing a dedicated statutory office of the superintendent of professional governance to replace the current responsibility residing in a number of ministries.

If this bill is enacted, the intention is to bring it into force in stages, starting next year. The initial stage of implementation would enable the office and its policy, guidance, investigation and enforcement functions, and bring key provisions of the act into force, such as whistleblower protection.

During the implementation transition period, these authorities would operate alongside the existing governance statutes of five professional regulatory bodies — the agrologists, applied biologists, applied science technologists and technicians, engineers in geoscience, scientists and forestry professionals. The intention is that regulations will be developed to support full implementation of the new act, at which time the five governance statutes will be repealed.

Mr. Speaker: The question is first reading of the bill.

Motion approved.

Hon. G. Heyman: I move that this bill be placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill 49, Professional Governance Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

(Standing Order 25B)


A. Kang: Today it is my great pleasure to recognize the contributions of many small businesses from the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce in B.C.

TCCBC is a non-profit organization founded in 1992. It currently has close to 1,000 members, with categories such as accountants and lawyers, retail stores, insurance, financial agencies, construction, developers, cellular accessories like Mr.Com and supermarkets such as T&T, and many more. The mission of TCCBC is to consolidate and strengthen the experience of the Taiwanese business community and to bridge the gap between other local business groups.

TCCBC works closely with local charity groups and encourages its members to contribute back to communities. Jason Ko of Viva Pharmaceuticals has contributed millions of dollars to VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation and other local charities.

TCCBC doesn’t work alone. Together with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which is TECO, and Taiwan External Trade Development Council, TAITRA, the three organizations have been working hard to further advance the two-way trade and investment relationship between Taiwan and B.C.

In 2017, the value of all goods and exports from B.C. to Taiwan was about $695 million. Taiwan ranked No. 6 as a destination for B.C. origin exports in 2017, and in the education sector, Taiwan is B.C.’s ninth largest source jurisdiction for international students coming to our province. Tourism between Taiwan and B.C. is strong and is growing stronger. B.C. has a strong relationship with Taiwan as a supplier of energy products.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eric Yang, 27th president of TCCBC, Andy Chen, director general of TECO, and Ruth Chang, director of TAITRA, for your contributions to small businesses, prosperity and growth in B.C.


J. Sturdy: Homes that are energy efficient and comfortable, suitable for families and affordable in the rental market — these are the types of new-home developments that we need to see more of in British Columbia.

[1:55 p.m.]

In West Vancouver–Sea to Sky, Vidorra Developments is prioritizing people and energy efficiency in a very tight Sea to Sky rental market.

Radius is a private sector, multifamily rental project of one- to three-bedroom units recently completed in Pemberton. The building is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Canada with rooftop solar, rainwater collection, green roofs, community garden, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, built of long-term, durable, low-maintenance materials. Vidorra Developments has integrated all energy costs into the rent, so tenants have a reliable and stable housing cost out into the future.

Vidorra has also partnered with BCIT centre for building excellence, and through a Mitacs accelerant grant, graduate students with BCIT were able to model the building and make recommendations on areas where energy efficiency improvements were possible that would have the most impact on operational and maintenance costs.

Early results suggest that the rental homes at Radius are trending to be more than 40 percent more efficient than either a passive house or step 5 of the 2032 B.C. step code. In real terms, that means total energy costs of about $1.20 per day per unit, all in, which supports a sustainable building for both tenants and landlord.

There’s no question that a supportive municipality, by way of the village of Pemberton, prioritized and facilitated the development of these new, much-needed rental homes. Vidorra Developments and BCIT should also be recognized for their collaboration and commitment in improving design and construction methods and leading the way in one of the best rental housing products in Canada.


N. Simons: Today is School Library Day, a day to think about literacy and one of the most vital skills a person can possess. Reading and writing is not only important for an individual’s well-being; it opens doors to meaningful careers and a greater appreciation of life. Having a literate society is essential to the economic and social fabric of our communities.

That’s why governments past and present support the annual Raise-a-Reader campaign with significant investments that flow through Decoda Literacy Solutions. Government also supports literacy programs offered through community organizations, schools, Indigenous organizations, family resource centres, as well as through our wonderful network of public libraries around the province.

Last year Raise-a-Reader supported literacy sessions that were attended by almost 70,000 people, a fivefold increase from the previous year.

Today students around the province are celebrating School Library Day by participating in the Drop Everything and Read Challenge. At a time specific for every school, students in all classrooms are encouraged to stop what they’re doing and take 20 minutes to read. Drop Everything and Read draws attention to the importance of reading for fun. Without even realizing it, readers reap personal benefits from reading. Exploring new horizons and knowing more about the world is empowering.

School Library Day is coordinated by the B.C. Teacher-Librarian Association, a specialist association of the B.C. Teachers Federation. Our school libraries support students by offering diverse collections and inquiry-based learning opportunities. Our province’s teacher-librarians help students develop the critical thinking and digital literacy skills necessary to find and evaluate information, helping them to succeed in life.

In addition to thanking all the teacher-librarians around this province, I encourage everyone to find a time today to drop everything and read — in about six minutes.


T. Redies: I’m delighted to rise today to highlight FACTBC and its efforts to establish a college of counselling therapists under B.C.’s Health Professions Act. But mostly, I wanted to speak to the work of a brave constituent of mine, Kathy O’Connor, who has been actively helping FACTBC by speaking up for the needs and rights of those dealing with mental health challenges. Like any medical situation, it’s absolutely imperative that people dealing with mental health challenges can find and work with professionals who are properly trained and accredited.

As many here know, FACTBC is a society of 13 professional associations representing 5,000 counsellors and therapists in B.C. FACTBC has been advocating for government to establish a B.C. college of counselling therapists to ensure that counsellors treating mental health challenges are accredited and practising according to agreed standards. B.C. lags other provinces in having an accredited college, but this is absolutely necessary to protect those living with mental health issues.

[2:00 p.m.]

I want to say a few words about my constituent Kathy O’Connor, who has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of this issue. A former child development specialist, Kathy has had her own challenges, so she knows from both a professional and a personal perspective of the need to ensure that B.C. has qualified and accredited therapists. Kathy has actively worked with FACTBC on many fronts, including a petition which my colleague from North Vancouver–Seymour will present shortly.

Kathy, I admire your tenaciousness, your passion, your drive to help others to bring this to the attention of the B.C. Legislature. You have never let your challenges get in the way of helping others. For that, you are truly an inspiration to me.


R. Kahlon: It is my privilege to speak about a remarkable British Columbian. This individual emigrated to Canada in 1973. As a student in India, he was actively involved in student union activities. Upon his arrival to Canada, he saw an ad in the local paper that advertised the need for workers at a Fraser Valley farm. The then 20-something decided to go check out the farm.

When he got there, he was shocked by what he found. Years later he recalled his experience to his local paper. “There was no running water. There were no toilets, absolutely no facilities. I was expecting, in a country like Canada, there would be something better than that.”

What he saw were workers living on site in converted cattle barns, squished in like sardines, with six people to a cubicle, he recalled, adding that a good chunk of the little money they had would go towards the labourer for their rent. Meanwhile, workers were constantly exposed to toxic pesticides and unguarded machinery. Many were forced to bring their children to work because they couldn’t afford daycare.

After asking the farmer’s son why conditions were so bad, he was fired. The same fate followed him after he asked the same question to two other employers. That created an interest and a curiosity to find out what was going on. He later said: “Nothing was going to be done to organize or help farmworkers. They were not even deemed workers under the Employment Standards Act.”

Enough was enough, and this individual took action in his own hands. He went on to create the Canadian Farmworkers Union. I recall speaking to his kids about what it was like to have a father as an organizer. They shared their fondest memory and the hardest memory, which was seeing their father come home with a big gash on his head after he was attacked for trying to help workers to organize.

After that, he went on to be a founding member of the B.C. Organization to Fight Racism. He worked tirelessly and relentlessly to promote human rights and racial equality.

Last night the member for Burnaby-Edmonds, Deputy Speaker of this House, was a recipient of the United Way’s Labour Community Service Award.

On behalf of all my colleagues, I want to thank him for being a mentor and for all the work he’s done for 40 years to make lives better for British Columbians. [Applause.]


L. Reid: I rise today to recognize the great work of a much-loved British Columbian, Jody Paterson. Board Voice Society of B.C. is a B.C. non-profit representing the volunteer board members and executive leaders of more than 60 community non-profits, whose services address the social determinants of health. Their vision to be a clear and effective voice for community social services sees them engage on a number of fronts.

A major initiative in recent years has been to advocate for the need for a provincial social policy planning framework for British Columbia. With the support of the Vancouver Foundation, Board Voice completed a three-year project on this issue in 2017, after consultations with more than 1,500 people in 15 British Columbia communities.

A social planning policy framework would be similar to those already in routine use for planning and sustaining the economic efforts, health care and quality education in British Columbia. It would place social health and better social outcomes on the same level of importance as quality schools, great health care and a vibrant economy. Other provinces and individual municipal governments have already developed frameworks and plans for better social health.

B.C. has thousands of passionate and knowledgable people working in community non-profits that are eager to help our residents, communities and our province to achieve more. Count on Board Voice to be an active and enthusiastic participant in this effort, and please contact me if you have questions or ideas you would like to explore. More details about Board Voice and their work are available at their website,

Accolades to Jody Paterson for leading the change as executive director, and greetings to Terry Anne Boyles, the co-chair, who I recently had the pleasure of meeting.

[2:05 p.m.]

Oral Questions


A. Wilkinson: On Saturday, we had municipal elections all around the province, and the voters had their say. That’s how our democracy works. This is a good thing, as we see a new level of involvement at the municipal level — new voices, fresh blood — and we’ll see how it all pans out for this government.

In one particular place, it took a turn. That’s in Surrey, where the voters fairly decisively rejected the Premier’s transit plan. The Premier announced that funding for Surrey LRT was locked down on September 4, and the issue was concluded. But the voters of Surrey clearly disagree.

The question that goes to the Premier is: what is he going to do now that the voters of Surrey have rejected his transit plan for LRT?

Hon. J. Horgan: I welcome the Leader of the Opposition’s interest in transit in the Lower Mainland. If only they’d had this much interest back in 2013, we may well have had it done by now.

I do appreciate the intent of the member’s question. Certainly, the newly elected mayor of Surrey has a different point of view than those who were on the Mayors Council that put the ten-year Mayors Council plan together. We worked with the outgoing chair, the outgoing council, with the federal government to put in place funding for significant investments in public transportation in the Lower Mainland. If the mayor of Surrey has a different point of view, he’s going to have to take that up with the Mayors Council.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.

A. Wilkinson: Well, the Premier is anxious to draw some battle lines right out of the gate. Let’s take September 4. The mayor-elect of Surrey, on September 4, said: “For a Premier to tell a city what they’re going to get…is not the final word. The residents of Surrey will make the final decision, and I think that the Premier needs to start to listen.”

Premier, it appears that you’re throwing down the gauntlet with the new mayor of Surrey. Perhaps you can tell us how you’re going to come to a productive resolution of this, rather than just picking a fight.

Hon. J. Horgan: I did nothing of the kind. I pick no fights with anyone. The voters in Surrey have elected a new mayor and a new council. They will come together as a mayor and council. They will look at the various and sundry issues that they ran on, and they’ll bring those forward to the appropriate places. I would argue that had the people on the other side been paying attention….

The Mayors Council worked diligently on a ten-year plan. It wasn’t an NDP plan. It wasn’t a Liberal plan. It was the Metro region plan, and that’s where it needs to be resolved.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.

A. Wilkinson: Well, the Premier seems to have forgotten certain things that I use regularly, called the Canada Line and the Evergreen Line. But we’ll move on from that.

We now have the mayor of Surrey saying that he doesn’t want the Premier’s plan for LRT. South of the Fraser residents made their position very clear in the election on Saturday. The new mayor of Surrey says that in the first week of November, their first item of business will be to reject the Premier’s plan for LRT.

Over to the Premier. Will the Premier accept this change in circ*mstances, respond to the people of Surrey and start the discussion for SkyTrain in Surrey, or not?

Hon. J. Horgan: One of the first things we did was respond to the people of Surrey by eliminating tolls on the Port Mann Bridge. The second thing we did is work to put in place a project office to build the schools that are desperately needed in Surrey, because they were abandoned by people on that side of the House.

[2:10 p.m.]

I am quite happy to go back and forth with the Leader of the Official Opposition on issues where we can disagree, but I have to correct him. It is not the Premier’s plan. It is not an NDP plan. It is the mayors’ ten-year plan for transit in the Lower Mainland. If those on that side of the House had listened to mayors and councils while they were on this side of the House, they might still be here.

M. Hunt: In his victory speech on Saturday, Surrey’s mayor-elect said: “We’re going to stop light rail project and start to build SkyTrain right away.”

To the Minister of Transportation, will the Minister of Transportation assure Surrey voters that provincial funding is available for SkyTrain?

Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member from Surrey for his question, but he of all people should know, of the few members on that side of the House from Surrey, that these were hard decisions that were made over a long period of time by a council, I believe, he was a member of at one time.

I find it passing strange that the opposition today has decided to try and drive people apart rather than unite them. Again, perhaps that’s why they’re on that side of the House and not over here.

Mr. Speaker: The member for Surrey-Cloverdale on a supplemental.

M. Hunt: What I have chosen to do in my activities as an individual voter in Surrey is not what is before us today. What is before us today is the result from an election. You see, we all have our opinions, and we put our opinions forward to the electorate, and the electorate chooses to make its decisions, and the electorate has spoken.

The minister and the Premier have said that those funds were for a particular project.

My question, again to the Minister of Transportation, is: will the minister confirm, since the Surrey voters chose SkyTrain, that she will fund it?

Hon. J. Horgan: The member will know, as a former councillor who ran many, many times, that voters make choices for a variety of reasons.

We have a mayor and council in Surrey, duly elected on Saturday. That mayor and council will have to then go to other bodies in the region — the Metro table, for example — if they have a disagreement with the plan, which was not just funded by the federal and provincial governments but with a portion of taxes coming from municipalities. They’re going to have to go back to that table first and foremost.

I await those discussions, and I hope they’ll be fruitful.


A. Olsen: The number of meetings in my office about health care is growing; the number of emails, overwhelming. As the minister knows, my community, like all of our communities, is struggling to deliver primary care.

This week I met with Bruce. He shared his deep frustration with not having a doctor. I also met with Gary. He’s also retired on the Saanich Peninsula and is now without a doctor for the first time in his life. To cap off this week, David stopped by to share a story about the health challenges of his 81-year-old wife, Jane. The minister may know Jane, as the former member for Saanich North and the Islands brought her story to question period. David and Jane have lost their doctor twice in the last decade. At 82, he is now the full-time caregiver for his wife, Jane, who has Alzheimer’s, is partly deaf and has a disability — familiar story, no?

No doctor and very little respite — it’s a good thing that David is strong. He’s a powerful advocate for the changes in health care services that are so urgently needed in our province.

To the Minister of Health, I know the minister is working to implement team-based care models across the province, but in the meantime, people are struggling to find care. Can the minister give us realistic timelines on when the patients are going to start feeling real solutions to the doctor shortage?

Hon. A. Dix: I want to thank the member for his question. I think his question reflects the views of many members of the House from many communities around B.C.

[2:15 p.m.]

The people that he’s mentioned — David, Jane and Bruce, in his constituency — and more than one in six British Columbians are without a family doctor or nurse practitioner, a primary care provider. It’s for them, in May, that the Premier launched our primary care plan — which, because it’s a complex problem, involves several elements.

We are establishing urgent primary care centres in places around B.C., most recently in Quesnel, to help address issues of attachment in care. We know, as well, that it’s not just people who are unattached, but many people suffer more significant health needs than before and require significant care — people with mental health and addictions, the frail elderly, people with chronic diseases.

We’re also establishing, this fiscal year, 15 primary care networks — established in communities that will bring new resources to communities to address issues of attaching more people to nurse practitioners and family doctors. We’re supporting community health centres, including a couple in the member’s constituency that again, at a community level, establish team-based care to provide the care people need when they need it.

We are hiring 200 new general practitioners, 200 new nurse practitioners and 50 new pharmacists to support these actions across British Columbia, because such things are needed. In the member’s constituency, because I know he’s very interested in this, one of those primary care networks is going to be established this year to ensure that people have the care they need.

Mr. Speaker: Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen: As a constituent recently wrote in to our office:

“We are surprised to learn that it is next to impossible to get a family doctor here and even harder to see a doctor in a walk-in clinic if you have a job.

“Both my husband and I have attempted to get into a clinic during the day, and even if you show up early, the wait is well over an hour, if not longer. We have professional responsibilities and cannot take time off in the hopes that a doctor will be able to see us. This means we struggle to get prescriptions filled, referrals and results of any tests.

“I recently left work at noon to try to see a doctor, and I went to three different clinics that all turned me away because their doctor had already filled the quota for the day.”

In Saanich North and the Islands, we just recently lost a clinic.

To the Minister of Health, what is he doing to ensure the lengthy and unpredictable wait times do not interfere with the ability of patients to reach care?

Hon. A. Dix: Thank you to the member and to his constituents for bringing this forward.

I think one of the key aspects of what we’re trying to do in the Premier’s plan is to address urgent primary care centres, of course, primary care networks and community health centres that will be open not just during the day but in the evenings and on weekends. We know that people working in British Columbia have health care needs not just from nine to five but all through the week. It’s why all of these actions will establish more care for people, give people more options for care and allow them to get the care when they need it. This is a critical aspect of what we’re doing.

This is a significant challenge. When I became Minister of Health, more than 750,000 people were without a family practice doctor or a nurse practitioner in B.C., which is a huge number of people, more than one in six. That, I say with respect, is five years after the launch of the GP for Me program, a program that didn’t have…. Two years after, it was abandoned. The program itself had good ideas. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t a problem. But it shows the challenge that all of us face as a province in addressing these issues.

Increasingly, people struggle with chronic disease. We are living longer, which means we have new health challenges, and the challenge of mental health and addiction affects every community. That’s why we put in place a comprehensive primary care plan to address the problems of the member’s constituent and people in every community in British Columbia.


I. Paton: All three of the Delta mayoralty candidates were adamant about moving forward with the tunnel replacement. This was the most talked about issue in our Delta election. Delta mayor-elect George Harvie has a simple message for the Transportation Minister: “We need a new bridge. That is the number one concern I heard. We need a new bridge.”

When will this minister build the bridge?

Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for his question. I know he’s been working very diligently to address the congestion challenges at the Massey Tunnel. But he will also know that that project was not part of the ten-year plan for the local mayors.

[2:20 p.m.]

I’ve met with former mayor Jackson, as recently as at UBCM. The current mayor, I believe, was a staff person at that time and was part of the meeting. We understand full well the challenges at Massey, and the minister and I are going to be working as diligently as we can to make sure that the entire region understands the needs of focused investments on those critical points. But it has to be….


Hon. J. Horgan: The member from Kamloops has no idea what he’s talking about.

I appreciate the question from the member, and I look forward to working with him and the new mayor to try and address this serious challenge.

Mr. Speaker: The member for Delta South on a supplemental.

I. Paton: Well, the Premier speaks of the term “diligence.” To me, diligence is a report sitting on the minister’s desk called the Cowdell report, “What’s Happening with the George Massey Tunnel Replacement.”

To quote Mayor-elect Harvie: “How much longer will Delta residents have to endure an unsafe and unhealthy daily commute? Every day I heard this issue on the doorsteps…. Doing nothing is not an option.”

My question is: will the minister listen to the voters of Delta, dust off the Cowdell report on her desk, release it to the public and restart the bridge construction immediately?

Hon. J. Horgan: Absolutely under active consideration, as are all of the transportation challenges across British Columbia. But we need to recognize that the Mayors Council wasn’t put in place so that they could have more meetings. They were put in place to make sure that we could make rational investments in the fastest-growing part of British Columbia.

Those rational investments have to be done with the view of meeting all of the challenges in the region, not just the challenges of those in Delta. Critical issue — we’re seized of that responsibility, and I look forward to working with the member in the future.


J. Johal: Ashton Service Group is a longtime plumbing company in Richmond. When Ashton Group gets called south of the Fraser, they send two plumbers, not because the job requires it but because with two plumbers they can at least use the HOV lane to get through the tunnel. That’s how badly things have deteriorated under this minister.

On behalf of the Ashton Group and 14,000 Richmond businesses, when will the minister table the Cowdell report?

Hon. J. Horgan: Well, an interesting approach by the quarterback of the question period team today. First of all, we start by saying: “Stop construction on critically important infrastructure in one place, and fire up critically important infrastructure in another place.”

It’s the randomness of the questions that I believe puts in clear focus for the people of British Columbia the need for thoughtful deliberation on significant investments of this kind. That’s why there’s a Mayors Council. I would suggest the member should consult with his mayor, who was recently re-elected with a massive majority, about his views on addressing this issue.

Do we need to fix it? Of course we do. Was the solution put forward by the other guys the right one? I don’t think so.

Mr. Speaker: Richmond-Queensborough on a supplemental.

J. Johal: Had the benched Transportation Minister simply allowed work to continue, today we’d be a year into the building of the Massey crossing on behalf of 14,000 Richmond businesses; on behalf of commuters in Delta, Richmond, South Surrey and Langley; on behalf of ferry users; on behalf of tourists from Washington state; on behalf of longshoremen and truck drivers at the Tsawwassen port.

The minister has the report. She’s seen the report. Can she tell us what the report recommends and on restarting construction?

Hon. J. Horgan: Well, if the member doesn’t have time to contact Mayor Brodie, I’ll read a quote from Mayor Brodie. He said the following, “We have been disregarded and ignored in the questions that we have asked,” referring to the previous government. “I think that it’s absolutely critical to the future of our city” — that being Richmond — “that there be a re-examination of this project” so that important issues like this can be done in many different ways.


Mr. Speaker: Members.

Hon. J. Horgan: It highlights the requirement to have reasonable and rational discussions with all players at the table. That’s why there’s a Mayors Council. That’s why they come together — so that they can make sure that the best interests of the entire region are met. I’m going to listen to them before I listen to that member.

[2:25 p.m.]


S. Bond: Well, another community, another mayor elected in a landslide by voters who are sending a clear message about the policies of this government. In West Kelowna….


S. Bond: That’s exactly why this mayor has been elected, because of the mocking on the other side. In West Kelowna, it was Gord Milsom….


Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.

S. Bond: In West Kelowna, it was Gord Milsom elected, with nearly 80 percent of the vote. When asked during the campaign about the speculation tax, here is what the mayor-elect had to say: “The tax places West Kelowna at a competitive disadvantage…. It has already curtailed growth and has had a negative impact on local business and employment.”

We just heard from the Premier that they’ll work and listen. For months now, this Finance Minister has ignored the requests from local governments to reconsider her half-baked speculation tax.

Does she plan to continue to ignore the voices of mayors who have received overwhelming support from the voters in their communities?

Hon. C. James: It is very clear that this side of the House is continuing to stand up for British Columbians, while that side of the House decides not to deal with the housing crisis.

I would remind the member of the statistics when you look at Kelowna and West Kelowna. Rental prices jumped more than 8 percent between October 2016 and October 2017. Housing starts, in fact, are 35 percent above the five-year average. Unemployment has dropped from 7 percent in September, under the old government, to 5.6 percent. The economy is strong. People need housing, and we’re going to address it.

Mr. Speaker: The member for Prince George–Valemount on a supplemental.

S. Bond: The Finance Minister certainly has an interesting way of standing up for British Columbians when, in fact, she told British Columbians that if they paid tax in this province, they wouldn’t be captured in the speculation tax. The Premier said the same thing. In fact, two-thirds of the people captured in the speculation tax are British Columbians.

Last week the outgoing mayor of West Kelowna, who will now be sitting on the West Kelowna council, told the minister directly about the impacts of the speculation tax. I quote not our words but the words of an elected official: “It has curtailed growth in our city…. Single-family development in West Kelowna has dropped by 40 percent, and multifamily has dropped by 45 percent.”

Despite the minister’s claims, the so-called speculation tax has already impacted communities. Both current and recently elected mayors and councils have made it clear that they want out.

Just how many lost housing units will it take for this minister to listen to anyone other than the Leader of the Third Party?

Hon. C. James: Well, I can certainly understand from the other side, who spent 16 years not listening to British Columbians, why they would feel that way. If the members on the other side, who have talked about municipal elections, listened to every single council and mayoral candidate and individual who was elected or who ran, what was the issue that was at top of mind everywhere? Affordable housing needed to be addressed.

It is very clear who is standing up for British Columbians in this province and who isn’t. We are going to continue to stand up for those British Columbians and make affordable housing possible once again in our province.

M. Stilwell: Re-elected mayor Stew Young of Langford received 81.9 percent of the vote on Saturday. Now, he calls the phony speculation tax a job-killer.

[2:30 p.m.]

In Oak Bay, Nils Jensen waffled last week on the tax and received less than 30 percent of the vote. However, his opponent, who is opposed to the NDP tax, won the support of 70 percent of the voters.

Why is the minister rejecting the will of Island voters who don’t want her tax?

Hon. C. James: Congratulations to the mayors who were elected in our area, in the CRD. I look forward to working with them to continue the kind of strong growth that you are seeing in this area and around the province.

The member mentioned employment and the challenges in employment. Well, let’s take a look at the challenges in employment. One of the biggest challenges is finding housing for all the people who are employed right now in British Columbia.

Statistics from the CRD, the capital regional district, which includes the areas that the member mentioned — unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, the second-lowest in the country.

Mr. Speaker: Parksville-Qualicum on a supplemental.

M. Stilwell: Newly elected and re-elected local leaders across this province are calling on this minister to rethink her phony speculation tax. As a councillor, it was the Oak Bay mayor-elect, Kevin Murdoch, who proposed a resolution calling for the NDP tax to be suspended.

Why doesn’t this minister start listening to voters on the Island? They are included in British Columbians, which she says she is respecting and listening to. Start thinking about rejecting the tax.

Hon. C. James: Having spent most of my life on the Island, I can tell the member on the other side that people on the Island are being listened to, finally, after 16 years with the other side ignoring them.

Housing affordability is at a crisis in our province. I understand the other side doesn’t want to listen. I understand the other side doesn’t want to deal with housing. I’m guessing that in getting rid of the speculation tax, they want to support speculators and investors who are using housing for a market instead of using it for housing.

Well, we are not going to let that happen. We are going to end speculation. We are going to end money laundering. We are going to address the issue of housing for the people of British Columbia who live and work here.


T. Stone: When questioned about the so-called speculation tax back on May 17, the Finance Minister said: “One of the key factors we look at are housing starts.” Let’s look at what’s happened since this speculation tax was announced. Housing starts are down 42 percent in Vancouver. Housing starts are down 56 percent in greater Victoria. In West Kelowna, single-family development has dropped 40 percent, and multifamily development is down 45 percent.

My question to the minister is this. Does she still think that housing starts are a key factor, and if yes, how far do housing starts have to collapse for this minister to accept that her speculation tax is an absolute failure?

Hon. C. James: In fact, according to Statistics Canada, year-to-date housing starts for B.C. are on track with last year and well above the ten-year average. Perhaps the member would like another statistic. Again from Statistics Canada, the value of B.C.’s building permits actually reached a record high of $1.8 billion in August, and year-to-date residential building permits are up more than 20 percent.

[2:35 p.m.]

A quote from a developer in Kelowna, Luke Turri of the Mission Group, says that the speculation tax hasn’t impacted their 25-storey Brooklyn tower in Kelowna because they’re actually selling to people who are going to live in the units or rent them out, so they don’t pay the speculation tax.

[End of question period.]


J. Thornthwaite: I rise to present a petition. I have a petition here for the Minister of Health as well as the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions from FACTBC, the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C., who have distributed a petition of almost 12,000 people to ask this government to regulate counselling therapists, to protect British Columbians.

Orders of the Day

Hon. M. Farnworth: I call continued debate, second reading, Bill 45, the Budget Measures Implementation (Speculation and Vacancy Tax) Act.

[L. Reid in the chair.]

Second Reading of Bills



J. Thornthwaite: I’m rising today to continue debate on Bill 45, the speculation and vacancy tax. My colleague the member for Langley East had been talking last week about how it more rightly should be called a so-called inheritance tax because this tax is not a tax on speculation at all. But the government has taken creative licence and chosen to name it that way.

Most people would expect that a tax called the speculation tax would, in fact, address speculation. That is, however, not the case in this bill. This bill actually fails to deal with speculation. And it’s worse because it exempts speculators. It has a one-year exemption on newly purchased properties. So buying a property, waiting for the price to rise and selling it within a year is actually exempt from this tax.

That’s exactly what happened to a home just down the road from where I live. Somebody bought it, sat on it for less than a year and then sold it, and it went up, I think, $400,000 within that time frame. Some people would call that flipping. Others call it a wise financial investment. But almost everyone will agree it is speculation.

[2:40 p.m.]

Why is a bill that exempts speculation called a speculation tax? Well, in my riding, we’ve got people talking about how we have a school tax that actually has nothing to do with schools or education, and we have an employer health tax that causes the costs for employers in the public sector and the private sector to skyrocket. Your municipalities will be increasing property taxes to pay for it, and companies will be increasing prices or laying off staff to pay for it.

Increasing taxes does not belong in an affordability budget. The name “speculation” sounds good, but of course, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with housing affordability.

Municipal leaders whose communities are impacted by this tax are calling on the government to stop this tax. We’ve heard from the mayors from Kelowna, Langford and right here in the capital regional district. They are opposed. Their UBCM resolution stated: “The taxes imposed on municipalities without consultation or economic modelling of its impact….” No economic modelling at all on the impact on these municipalities affected.

The Nanaimo regional district stated that this tax has been identified as having “a negative impact where it is proposed, including creating an unequal playing field for real estate and property investments between jurisdictions.”

Some municipalities are in. Some were in, and now they’re out. Some are out, and some are in — no rhyme or reason as to why some are in and some are out.

The leader of the Green Party used to oppose this tax, but it appears, as we found out last week, that that’s not exactly happening. The leader was quoted saying that he didn’t agree with the speculation tax. It had too many unforeseen consequences. He agreed that it didn’t actually address speculation, and it was administratively burdensome.

He then brought forward, with the Minister of Finance last week, three amendments, but these amendments don’t address any of those concerns. The main one — the ability for municipalities to opt out — was ignored. The Minister of Finance did admit that these changes were actually put in place to appease the Third Party, not the municipalities affected, and I can tell you that many of these municipalities are disappointed.

I can tell you that many of my constituents are also disappointed that the Green Party said that they would stand up for municipalities and fight this speculation tax, and in fact, that is not happening. Some have said they caved. I guess, despite the comments of his own mayor, the Green Party leader and a unanimous resolution at UBCM, we were not hearing any standing up against the speculation tax from the Third Party. We expect that’s because they like to be on that side of the House, don’t want to be back on this side of the House, and it’s better to just side with the government and not go against the government, because then they will be maintained in their spot on that side of the House. But I digress.

Back to the legislation. It should, one would hope, have the aim of increasing the amount of housing available so housing becomes more affordable. Yet all of the NDP’s housing measures have the opposite effect. More than $1 billion in housing investments have been cancelled or postponed due to this tax, and that’s even before it’s been implemented. Projects have been sidelined. No homes have been built. Wages have been lost. In fact, Macdonald Developments cancelled 600 new homes in Langford and 110 lots in Kelowna worth $500 million. Belmont Properties has put almost 600 market and rental properties on hold here in Victoria.

What about housing starts? We heard about housing starts being mentioned today in question period. We know that the sign of a good economy is new housing on the way, and they’re dropping. Last week, many of us got visited by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. These are their stats. They report that residential property sales in the region have decreased since September 2017 — a 17 percent decrease compared to now. The last month’s sales were 36.1 percent below the ten-year September sales average. So housing starts are going down. In fact, some would say it’s close to almost half.

The affordability crisis looms largest in Vancouver, and on the North Shore, where I live. It was a major issue in the municipal election. So if this so-called speculation tax decreases the ability to build more houses, then it can’t possibly be having any effect on affordability in my community.

[2:45 p.m.]

This means fewer starter homes for young couples starting their families and their careers. It means fewer condos for older people aiming to downsize. Those prices have actually gone up. It means increased pricing pressures on the existing housing supply.

It means construction crews aren’t working, and construction, as we know, is the largest industry in our economy. New apprentices won’t pick up valuable skills, especially since the NDP are excluding 85 percent of workers from their unit benefit agreements.

But the biggest impact is felt by the people here in this province and across Canada. People have worked hard and invested in their own province. People have bought property with an eye to spending time in two parts of the province. It could be a cabin on the Island or inheritance property passed down from generation to generation. Madame Speaker, 20,000 people — 20,000 British Columbians — are impacted by this tax. That is almost two-thirds of the 32,000 people penalized by this tax. Another 10,000 are from other provinces, many of them from Alberta, who come and play in Shuswap, Kelowna and the Kootenays.

Again, this is not about speculation. This bill is about taxing people and punishing them for investing in their own province, their own country or in their own retirements. This bill will make housing less affordable for families as fewer new homes will be built. It will slow investments, and it will take money out of the pockets of hard-working British Columbians trying to save for their retirement. This bill fails to directly target speculation.

On this side of the House, through the Leader of the Opposition, we’ve introduced a bill that actually targets speculation. Our bill targets the flipping of pre-sale contracts. It doesn’t touch people’s cabins and vacation homes. This government’s bill is a tax grab, and we won’t be supporting it.

Hon. J. Sims: I am pleased to speak today in support of the Budget Measures Implementation (Speculation and Vacancy Tax) Act, 2018. This bill puts into place the speculation and vacancy tax, a tax that is an integral part of our government’s 30-point housing plan to improve housing affordability in this province.

Housing and the lack of affordability right now is a very complex issue. There is no sweet pill that is going to fix this problem. Members on this side of the House have recognized that. For over a decade, members who are now sitting on that side of the House ignored this issue. The government of the day did not take action to address the huge price increases that were happening in the area of housing. As a result, today we have municipality after municipality, business after business, families and individuals telling us how housing affordability is a key, key issue that is impacting on the way they live and their lifestyle.

I have met with the Surrey Board of Trade many different times. I’m always proud of the progressive work that that particular board does, whether it comes to affordable child care, universal child care plan, but also when it comes to tackling the housing crisis that exists in British Columbia today.

While I was meeting with members of the Surrey Board of Trade, they told me stories of companies that were finding it hard to attract people to move to Surrey because the cost of housing was so high. They talked about child care, absolutely. They said it’s not the wages that people are balking at. But when they get to Surrey, it’s about housing, and it’s about child care. Those were the two critical issues that they identified over and over again.

As I said earlier, this whole issue of housing is a major undertaking by this government, because we know how important shelter is.

[2:50 p.m.]

When you have people who are earning over $100,000 a year…. Not everybody in B.C. does that. Many would love to be able to earn that much. We’re hearing from professionals who are earning $100,000 a year and saying: “We cannot qualify for a mortgage because the price of housing is so high.”

Madame Speaker, I’m sure you’ve heard of these stories as well as have my colleagues. Not so long ago — I would say as few as two years ago — you had people who would be scraping together, borrowing from family, putting all their savings together, looking at their retirement plans, getting enough of a deposit and making a fairly decent bid to buy a house, to put an offer in, only to find that the house that they were hoping to buy was sometimes selling for as much as $200,000 or $300,000 more than the asking price.

I met with many constituents of mine who experienced that personally. They came to see me, and they said: “This just isn’t right. Here we are. We’ve got this income. We think we’re making a fairly good income, but we cannot afford to buy a house.” The houses were moving at a price way, way beyond the listed price, never mind the assessed value of the property.

So housing affordability is a big issue in British Columbia. It is not just in Vancouver or Surrey. I heard about it when I was in Kelowna. I heard about it when I was in the Kootenays. I hear about it in Nanaimo, where my daughter lives with her family. I’ve heard about it in Victoria as well.

I’ve heard people saying that we need to attract professional people into our region. But they just can’t afford to live here. I heard in Surrey, for example, very, very clearly, people saying: “You know, we’ve got these vacancies in this sector. We actually spend money. We recruit people. But when they look at the price of housing, they say: ‘Wow, what a beautiful area of the world to live in. We want to come here.’”

Then do you know what they say? “We’re going to have to take a job somewhere else, because we cannot afford the child care, and we cannot afford the price of housing.”

These are real issues being faced by working people — people who work for a living, who need to go out to work. We know — and I absolutely believe in this — that if you get up in the morning and you go to work and you work hard, you should be able to afford to buy shelter with your earnings. Many, many British Columbians cannot do that today.

Our province is amidst a housing crisis that is hurting the people who live and work in our communities. Prices have skyrocketed, making homes out of reach for most people — not only for those who are seeking to purchase a home but for those looking at renting as well.

I heard from many municipalities, many of them on the Island, even north Island, saying: “It’s the price of housing that stops us from recruiting people to come and work in municipal government.” So it’s not just industry. It’s different levels of government that are also finding it difficult to recruit, simply because of the cost of housing.

We are in a crisis, and for too long, those sitting on the other side of the House were either oblivious to the crisis, or it was just easier to look the other way. But I can tell you that the Premier of this province and this government are not prepared to look that way, because we want to make sure that our children and our grandchildren can afford to live in a house, whether they rent it or buy it.

Families with multiple children are living in bachelor or single-bedroom apartments because rents are so high. We know what that does to the quality of life. We also know what that does to mental health, what that does to relationships and young students’ ability to focus on doing their homework and be successful in their schooling.

[2:55 p.m.]

These issues of living in overcrowded areas have huge financial impact on our society. Single-family homes have been priced out of reach for any family earning less than $200,000 a year. Today a minister of the Crown in this province, unless they have another income coming in, would find it hard to qualify to buy a house in Surrey, in Vancouver, in Richmond, in Burnaby, in Victoria. They would find it hard to do that. Workers and seniors have been living in their cars because there is simply no rental housing on the market. We’re hearing that more and more.

Young professionals are leaving the province. Teresa, who lived in Surrey — not in my riding but in a riding close to mine — has now taken a job in Alberta. She didn’t want to move, because she has a young family. But she is going to make not only slightly more in salary, which didn’t really entice her; it was the thought of moving out of a one-bedroom apartment, with two kids, and being able to move into a three-bedroom house. Those are the kinds of choices young professionals are making today.

Businesses can’t find the workers they need to keep our economy growing. We hear a lot about economic growth. Economic growth is not possible without human resourcing, and in order to attract workers here into the areas where that work is available, we need to address the housing issue. There are recruits, people who are wanting to move to Vancouver, some of them from the United States, some of them from other parts of the world. But they are also looking at the price of housing and thinking: “Well, if I cannot afford to buy a house, how am I going to survive? If I cannot afford to pay the rent….”

Rent has also gone up incredibly over the last ten years. There is no way that wages, salaries, have kept pace with increases in the cost of housing, whether it’s to buy a house or whether it is to rent a house.

As a government and as elected officials, no matter where we sit in this House, we have a collective responsibility to take action. We have a collective responsibility to the people of British Columbia, to our children and grandchildren and to the generations to come, to tackle housing affordability right now. We cannot wait. This is not something that is going to go away.

This government is willing to take bold action to make sure that people can afford a home within the communities where they live and work. We don’t want people to have to sit two to three hours in traffic gridlocks commuting to work. We know that when people have to live so far away from the places where they work, that changes the communities. That changes the culture of the workplace. That also changes the culture for the people who are spending so long commuting, and we know that that has an impact that is costly to government in the way of mental health and other issues.

The speculation and vacancy tax is critical to make sure this happens so that people can afford to buy homes in the communities where they live and work, thus reducing the congestion on our public highways. This bill incentivizes — one of my favourite words — out-of-province real estate speculators and people who are sitting on empty second and third homes to make them available for rent or to put them on the market.

[3:00 p.m.]

People can have more than one home, as long as the other homes are rented out. As long as they are rented out — you know what? — then they don’t have to pay this tax. Let me be clear. Not a single person will have to pay this tax if they rent out their vacant homes — not a single person.

We need these underutilized homes to become homes for renters. British Columbia is facing near-zero-percent vacancy rates. While I’ve lived in the Lower Mainland — especially in the years I lived in Vancouver — I saw a growing number of empty homes while there was a growing number of people looking for affordable shelter. It is unacceptable for homes to sit empty when there are thousands of British Columbians who have nowhere to live.

This tax will also provide revenue to fund affordable housing initiatives in the areas most affected by the housing crisis. How does it do this? This annual tax is calculated between 0.5 of 1 percent and 2 percent of the assessed value of the property. The highest rate will apply only to foreign owners who are not paying their fair share of income taxes. This has been said before, but I’ll say it again: 99 percent of British Columbians will not pay this tax.

R. Kahlon: Say it again.

Hon. J. Sims: I will, just for you: 99 percent of British Columbians will not pay this tax. Most people cannot afford one home, much less three or four, but those who can afford three or four will not have to pay the tax if their empty homes are rented out. That’s all they have to do.

It is completely fair to ask those people who are fortunate enough to own multiple homes to rent them out. If they don’t want to — we live in a country where we get to make choices — if they are unwilling to do so, then all they have to do is to pay the speculation tax so that there is more money available to create affordable homes. That’s all they have to do. Anyone can avoid the tax by renting their home out for at least six months of the year.

This will actually address those who built a house and want to be able to sell it. The goal here is to provide housing. The goal here is to look at the growing number of British Columbians — young, middle-aged and those who are a little bit more experienced — to be able to have housing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Of course, this bill does provide for special-circ*mstance exemptions, and I’m so proud of our Finance Minister because she has taken the time to put forward a piece of legislation that takes into consideration that there are times when there could be a need for exemptions. That has been built into the legislation so that there is predictability and people know what is out there.

Let me talk about the exceptions. For people who are developing homes or significantly renovating them, there’s an exemption for them. For people seeking medical treatment — as we know, in our province, some people have to travel, so their house might have to be empty for quite a long period of time — there’s an exemption for them. I don’t know about you, but with my mother 94 and soon to be turning 95, I’m very, very conscious of seniors and the struggles they have. So for people who are residing in long-term care, there is an exemption. Their house can remain empty.

[3:05 p.m.]

For people who are on a temporary absence for work — that happens — once again, there’s an exemption for that, because this government and this minister were thoughtful enough to see through all those scenarios. There is an exemption for people with disabilities.

This government cares about people. It cares about British Columbians. It cares about ensuring there is affordable housing. This tax will work to moderate B.C.’s housing market and help turn empty properties into homes for people. That’s what we want: homes for people.

There are too many people who come into my office, offices of other members, telling us about the challenges of finding affordable housing. This tax will help to moderate. Because when it comes to choosing between British Columbians or out-of-province real estate speculators who buy houses and leave them sitting empty and don’t pay taxes here, our government will choose British Columbians every single time.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching for a huge number of years, and every one of those years is a very, very valuable experience for me. For me, when I look at legislation like this, I think of all of the children I have taught and their children. I think of my children, our grandchildren. I think of the young professionals who are walking into my office, some of them saying: “We’re going to have to leave this province because of the lack of housing.” It’s because of that I am so proud to be supporting this particular piece of legislation.

Because this government, unlike the previous government — my colleagues sitting across the way — is going to address the housing issue in order to ensure that housing becomes more affordable for today and for future generations.

R. Sultan: Last week at the adjournment of debate on Bill 45, the NDP’s speculation and vacancy tax, my dear friend from Powell River–Sunshine Coast pointed out that this was only one element of a 30-point plan whereby his government would expand housing supply; lower the cost of housing, particularly for the needy; greatly increase affordable housing everywhere; improve the housing situation for seniors; and, in all respects, find the pathway to a rosier future for our society.

Who could disagree with that? Well, all I can say is if the other 29 components of the government’s 30-point master plan are of similar thoughtfulness and effectiveness as this one, then British Columbia is in for a pretty bumpy ride until the next election, by which time the voters — more than a few of them still sleeping in doorways and under bridges — may choose a different government.

I was also very interested to observe my friend from Powell River–Sunshine Coast — and he is my friend — resorting to playbook 2 when challenged as to the effectiveness of the speculation and vacancy tax. He did not address the troubling issues and serious questions being raised but instead went on the attack. Attacking, we are now beginning to understand, is the standard NDP playbook response.

The universal and unchanging answer to any legitimate question is the magic number 16. We saw it again just a moment ago by the member for Surrey-Panorama, 16. That’s a code word for 16 years of terrible government, and that’s the answer to all of the questions being asked: 16, 16.

[3:10 p.m.]

Therefore, I suggest to the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast that you could facilitate the proceedings of this House in the future by simply standing up and shouting out “16” and sitting down again, and we will understand. We can even give you superior talking points about the point you’re making, and the whole proceedings will move more briskly.

However, I would caution the member, my friend, that endless repetition of the word “sixteen” does have rhetorical limitations. At some point, members opposite will have to give their heads a shake and admit they won the last election — sort of, with some help from their friends — and they are now actually the government. “Hello. You are no longer the official opposition.”

Sooner or later, since you are already approaching one-third of your mandate, you must explain and take responsibility for your own current actions, your current plans and policies. Bill 45, playbook No. 16 repeated over and over again is becoming tiresome and boring, quite frankly — not to say, irresponsible.

If Bill 45 is a key statute heralding British Columbia’s brilliant housing future, government MLAs should, in fact, demonstrate that they’ve actually read this not small piece of legislation. The government members — I’m looking at you — a feat of good governments that I’m increasingly beginning to doubt…. It is simply not good enough to throw rocks in our general direction, because we’ll just pick them up and throw them back again.

Unfortunately, the NDP-Green fiscal strategy underlying this bill is to grab some more money in new and clever ways from hard-pressed homeowners and spend it on higher-purpose things. That’s the strategy.

In their short time in office, the NDP-Green party has already done this in some 18 different ways, so often, in fact, perhaps they believe the 19th time — that is to say, this Bill 45 — won’t be noticed. But, sad to say, they’re wrong about that.

For the benefit of the folks opposite who haven’t gotten around to actually reading Bill 45, I offer a briefing, an outline of the bill. The purpose of the bill is clearly captured in the title: the speculation and vacancy tax. Clear as day, this is a bill which will put a tax on speculation and, just to be on the safe side, a tax on vacancy too. It’s not a short one-pager. It’s, in fact, 105 pages long. I guess it’s hard to figure out how to tax speculation and vacancy in fewer words. Fair enough. I can appreciate that.

The bill contains 42 definitions, which, no doubt, is one reason it is such a long bill, but there are curious omissions. The bill does not define what it is taxing. It does not define “speculation.” Nowhere. Nada en absoluto. Zilch. Rien. Ingenting, as they say in Swedish — nothing. That’s only half their problem.

The other half of the problem is that the bill doesn’t define “vacancy,” either, which is curious because that’s the easy one. You’re either hiding somewhere in that house or you’re not. So while defining speculation could draw us into a century-old University of Chicago economics department philosophical musing — which I did, for me, as I googled away on Sunday afternoon — defining vacancy by comparison should be easy as pie. But that definition, too, is absent from the bill.

Other important features of Bill 45 are 27 — count them — 27 tax exemptions. I doubt many pieces of tax legislation on the bookshelf of this library can beat that. Twenty-seven exemptions perhaps signals a certain degree of caution, if not beleaguered incredulity, among our very competent legislative drafters.

[3:15 p.m.]

What is not so clear in the proposed tax statute on speculation and vacancy are rumoured exemptions, orchestrated not by law but by where geographic lines are drawn on a map — arbitrarily, it seems to me. Here is where some spatial economic modelling could have helped — but nobody asked me — introduce some defensible analytic rationality to the whole haywire scheme. But it is apparent that no such analysis was performed.

The resulting boundaries remind me of the British and French arbitrarily and without consulting anybody carving the sands of the Middle East into new and separate countries about a century ago. Whether a British Columbia household today finds itself on the tax-paying side of the boundary or on the tax-exempt side of the boundary seems capricious.

Drawing these lines no doubt engaged persons of higher purpose recruited from the most loyal ranks of the NDP and Green alliance but not big on detail. How else could we find eminent persons in the NDP party and the Green Party somehow accidentally included in the tax-paying zone in the first drafts of the legislation, but after hasty revisions, excluded from the tax-paying zone, while persons of less-orange or less-greenish hue find themselves locked forever into the tax-full-paying embrace on the wrong side of the arbitrary boundary line? Too bad.

This is what the eminent member for Langley East talked about in these chambers on Thursday. As I recall, he also said it doesn’t pass the smell test. It does seem to be a remarkable coincidence that in the first geographic squiggling of the boundaries of this speculation and vacancy tax by the government, all three members of the Green Party were captured. But in the second version, they were not. Quite a coincidence.

Is this not also true of leadership on high of the benches opposite? Say it ain’t so, please, and I say that seriously. Otherwise, I must agree with the member for Langley East: it doesn’t pass the smell test. I could use more colourful language. Please, please, for the honour of this House, please remedy this seemingly outrageous situation. That’s an honest plea.

There are other interesting features. School teachers have evolved their own coda for who must be present and who’s absent from class. They see vestiges of such cultural norms in Bill 45. For example, section 33 says that you can be excused from paying the tax if you get a note from your doctor. Excellent.

What I conclude is that it’s hard to take this legislation seriously. It reeks of pandering, improvisation and caprice, not serious law-making, which is unfortunate, because, as Daniel Webster once said: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

There’s no question British Columbians’ housing needs are serious indeed. For example, the member from Sunshine Coast said we have a housing crisis, and I would agree with him wholeheartedly.

Last week I toured the Lookout shelter on Second in North Vancouver, close to my riding, and asked how they were doing. They house about 26 homeless every night and run at about 100 percent of capacity. When there’s overflow, they put foam mattresses down in the dining area, and people bunk down at least warm and dry for the night. But they must leave the next morning.

In addition, I met a person at the Lookout shelter who is tracking, on a computer, all of those living “in the rough” between Deep Cove and Whistler, sleeping in doorways, under bridges, in vans and in their cars, under tarpaulins and even semi-permanent encampments deeply inside of the North Shore Mountains.

[3:20 p.m.]

In only six weeks, he’d identified 100 such persons between Deep Cove and Whistler. It wasn’t hard to find them. The police know where they are. Others look the other way. This is the reality of the most desperate homeless in the community that I represent, which some would consider to be a very privileged part of British Columbia. Some of these desperate people are even trying to hold down a full-time job, living under those circ*mstances.

Unfortunately, I don’t see anything in the speculation and vacancy tax which will help our North Shore homeless. Nada. Zip. Ingenting. I don’t have to repeat the phrases. This brings me to the sinful activity which seems to be the focus of this legislation — speculation.

Wow, who can love speculators, the manipulators of global markets? We meet them in James Bond movies — crooked bankers simultaneously buying gold futures and selling pork bellies on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. There’s something underhanded and malignant about the whole scene. Therefore, it is not surprising that, again, as the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast reported, 88 percent of persons polled by Angus Reid are all in favour of the speculation tax.

Let me confess that if the NDP-Green alliance were to bring into this Legislature a real tax on speculation, as opposed to a fake tax on speculation, I would probably support it too. But is buying a house in New Westminster for $500,000 one year and selling it the next for $600,000 pure speculation? Maybe, but it’s not captured by this bill. Those might be called speculators, depending how you want to label them, but they get a pass from the NDP and the Greens. By the way, our side introduced a bill which would have caught them, which the NDP has not.

Is buying a share of Telus today at the current quote of $34.75 a share and, five years later, selling it for 50 bucks speculating? Well, in NDP world, I suspect many would think it is. Others might call it investing in the telephone company.

We should remind ourselves, public servants all — in particular, politicians of public sector origin populating both sides of this House in great numbers: former teachers, social workers, government people or simply MLAs — your pension depends on speculating and investing. Therefore, be cautious before you heap shame on the speculators. Be careful, NDP-Greens, when you demonize activities which create economic gain — buying low and selling high and other activities motivated by, heaven forbid, profit. Your pension may depend on it.

So what are the real goals of Bill 45? The aim of this tax is clearly to punish those who own property. Pure and simple. The aim of this tax is clearly to punish those who buy a second home. The aim of this tax is clearly to punish those who would be so socially insensitive as to build a vacation cabin in the woods. The aim of this tax is to clearly punish anybody who leaves their residence empty for a period of time — a year, a month, overnight maybe. The tax man will catch you.

The aim of the bill is to discourage Albertans from owning second homes in B.C. We reject their oil, and we also reject them in person. At least we can say the NDP-Greens are consistent. They don’t much care for Albertans or Alberta or for how Albertans earn a living, and the history of this legislation shows it. As a Canadian, I’m ashamed.

Let’s talk about enforcement. Bill 45 allows a tax man with a warrant to enter your premises to check up on whether it might be unoccupied — see part 5, division 7, section 93 of the bill. Having a switch to turn the lights on and off automatically isn’t going to fool the tax man. “That house is empty. We checked their heating bill. If I must, I’m going to enter that place with a warrant to read the undelivered mail and see if the beds have been occupied or if the milk in the refrigerator is sour — and prove whether or not somebody is living there.” These are invasions of privacy facilitated by Bill 45.

[3:25 p.m.]

Does anybody else in this chamber see the irony of this bill being introduced under the regime of an Attorney General who was the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association between 2008 and 2012? Well, I certainly do.

Having an empty home is clearly interpreted by the authors of this bill as wasteful and antisocial. How about the opposite extreme? Here’s a true story. Somebody took their penthouse condo in North Vancouver, chopped it up into 14-bed hostel and rented out by the night. The other strata owners objected and finally sued in court. Would the authors of Bill 45 endorse such behaviour? I guess so. It’s clear from their point of view that it’s a move in the right direction.

I believe that when tax policy sets sail in a direction to ensure that all housing must be occupied 100 percent of the time, it sets into motion an Orwellian nightmare, a dystopian dream, a degree of Stalin-like government intervention into our personal living arrangements most of us would despise.

What has been the overall economic impact of the legislation and its companion statutes — a full suite of NDP tax measures aimed at real estate and home ownership? Well, let us agree that Bill 45 is not a tax on speculation. It’s a tax on property and home ownership. It will erode confidence in the housing sector and dampen supply, not grow it. Through dampening supply, this bill will make housing less affordable for families as fewer new homes will be built.

For most Canadians, their home is their most important asset. It’s what they plan to use to finance their retirement. It’s what they plan to use to help their children to make a down payment on a home of their own. By discouraging the attainment of such goals, Bill 45 will contribute to unaffordability and shortages in housing. And this bill fails to halt speculation. It doesn’t even try.

In fairness, it’s not all bad news. UDI, the Urban Development Institute, has negotiated some softening of more difficult aspects. So to give them credit, it appears the government can listen and adjust the legislation, and they have. This is a good thing. Thank you for that.

As an example, here’s UDI’s October 16 press release. “UDI is pleased that the government committed today that they will exempt lands under development from the unfair speculation and vacancy tax. Today’s announcement recognizes that government taxes, fees and charges on development lands contribute to the increased costs of building new homes. Currently,” the press release goes on to say, “more than 25 percent of the cost of a new home can be directly attributed to government fees and charges.”

What the UDI is saying — and they are the housing experts — is if you want to make housing 25 percent more affordable, well, a good first step would be for government itself to back off from the charges and fees that it is imposing on new housing.

The press release concludes by saying, “We urge the B.C. government to act in Budget 2019 to apply similar exemptions for the new school tax and other increased property taxes on development lands that will otherwise be passed on to eventual homebuyers and renters” — signed Anne McMullin, UDI president and CEO.

Finally, let’s see what the short-term market reaction has been. As others have already pointed out, in Metro Vancouver home sales were down 43 percent year over year in September. In Metro Vancouver, the number of homes listed for sale is up 38 percent year over year in September. Housing starts were down by about 40 percent in Metro Vancouver.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

To me, these numbers signal a very large market adjustment is underway. Some will say: “Well, it’s about time.” But to me, the statistics indicate a demoralized real estate marketing and homebuilder sector.

Some NDP analyst would seize upon the numbers as indicative of success. New supply coming into the market — check. Prices are softening and probably will continue to soften — check. It looks like people are bailing out of real estate. That’s wonderful. Or is it?

[3:30 p.m.]

Unless we envisage a future where government itself builds worker housing à la Stalin’s red brick monsters in the Moscow suburbs, I think malaise in the real estate market hits all economic segments, high and low. On balance, this is not conducive to building housing supply. Housing balance will be restored, I would forecast, when people stop moving to B.C., just as they stopped moving here in the 1990s. Chances are history will repeat itself. Such are the fruits of taxation, such as created by Bill 45.

Good luck, NDP and Greens. Carry on with your plan to tax British Columbia to full employment, affordable housing and a more prosperous future.

It is quite marvelous what you can levy new taxes upon when you set your mind to it. The folks opposite are having a jolly time dreaming up new taxes in all directions. We await with dread their next taxation innovation.

L. Throness: It’s a pleasure today to speak to the speculation and vacancy tax bill, which is Bill 45. I want to take my time to give this pestiferous bill the treatment it so richly deserves.

I want to begin…. As my colleague from West Vancouver–Capilano was just talking about, I want to talk about the title for a moment. The word “speculation” has long been a trope of the left. It was originally a word in the 1500s that talked about scouting and exploring, but it has come to mean someone who takes high risks to buy and sell in a market in a way that alters market prices.

All the great leftists, like Lenin and Mao and the Soviet press…. They rail against speculators, along with landlords and capitalists and other counter-revolutionary elements. Here’s what a modern author said in a book about Brexit, about the modern use of the word “speculator.” “In leftist demonology,” they said, “speculators were the epitome of parasitical money interest, the enemies of the real economy.”

So when we come to the title of this bill, I’m not saying that the NDP were channeling Lenin or anything, but I’m sure they asked themselves: “We want to take a bunch of money from ordinary British Columbians’ pockets. How are we going to do that? We need an enemy to attack. We need someone we can focus on that will make the public angry, that will give us the political permission we need to impose this tax.”

The word “speculator” was just sort of snatched from the air. It was an unconscious reaction, because it’s in the DNA, the genes, of the left. So we have this bill against these nasty speculators that is not about speculators at all, as we will see.

I go back to the budget from 2018, in February, to find out about the speculation tax. That was in February, eight months ago. Two-thirds of a year has already passed, and now it’s been introduced in the House. It is supposed to raise $87 million in this fiscal year and $200 million every year thereafter.

Waiting eight months to introduce this bill has thrown the housing market into uncertainty. A person from B.C. might decide to go ahead and purchase a vacation home or not. Should someone from Alberta, who intends to retire here, build in B.C.? Should a developer take a big financial risk on a multi-unit development?

People have been waiting for eight months. In that time, $1 billion in housing developments have been cancelled since the bill was announced, even before it was tabled in the House last week.

You know, the government approaches this whole issue with such nonchalance, an apparent lack of concern for uncertainty that they have introduced into the market. It indicates that they don’t really understand how a market functions. They don’t hear the calls from real people that they are hurting.

Ultimately, it’s our own economy that they are harming. They are shooting B.C. and themselves in the foot. Why is that, Mr. Speaker? It’s because construction is an important growth driver in this province. It accounted for $20 billion of its GDP in 2017, 200,000 jobs, $12 billion in wages, $25 billion in investment value.

You interrupt this flow, this stream, and you interrupt jobs and family incomes. That’s not something that should be trifled with. But that’s what this government has been doing for the past eight months.

Who knows in Chilliwack what business opportunities have been lost due to this speculation about the speculation tax?

[3:35 p.m.]

Well, the minister has received a great deal of negative feedback about the bill. She’s made some changes. She’s introduced some exemptions. I hope that at some point, she will reveal how much the tax is now expected to raise, because the integrity of her fiscal plan depends on it.

The NDP have whittled away our surplus of $2.7 billion down to $300 million in the last budget. Who knows how much lower it’s gone because of the exemptions? In fact, just on Friday, the NDP held a press conference in which they cut the tax in half for Canadians outside of B.C. Now their rate will be half a percent instead of 1 percent every year.

There have been other changes. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow they’ll double it, or they’ll cut it for somebody else, as the government flies along by the seat of its financial pants. So what do these changes do to the budget? Has the minister blown her budget? This is a big hole to fill.

But I would point out that they didn’t cut the tax on Friday for British Columbians. They cut it for people outside of B.C. All the British Columbians who were captured by this tax initially will still have to pay through the nose. You’d think if the minister wanted to give somebody a break, she’d give British Columbians a break first — but not under this government.

Let’s talk about the tax for a moment. Let’s get something out of the way. The stated plan of the government is to reduce home vacancies to reduce home prices by reducing the incentive to buy and flip them without anybody occupying them between one sale and another. That’s how they define “speculation.” But we need to disabuse ourselves of both of these notions right away.

This tax will not reduce vacancies. It’s just going to drive investment out of the province and reduce the value of homeowners, because it doesn’t target speculation. Instead, it targets people with second homes who are not planning to sell them. They want to give them to their kids. They’ve had them for a long time. That’s why the speculation tax has become known as a cabin tax. People who inherited their cabins from their parents and grandparents, who never intend to sell them, will be captured by this tax.

Moreover, the tax is designed to target foreign owners, who will pay the highest rate of tax at 2 percent of a home valued at more than $400,000. But two-thirds of the 32,000 homes that will be captured by this tax belong to British Columbians, not rich foreigners — ordinary people, our friends and neighbours, Canadian citizens and B.C. residents, who live next door to us.

We can actually quantify the cost of the tax to British Columbians, because more than 21,000 homes owned by British Columbians will be affected. By definition, each of these properties are worth at least $400,000. At half a percent a year, the speculation tax will take in a minimum of $42 million every year into the future and probably more than that, because $400,000 is the minimum. This is from British Columbians — people who own a cabin — not people who are property-flippers and so-called speculators. This tax is pure punishment. It is class envy.

If you own a second home or a vacation home, you are doing something wrong. “We’re going to take that home away from you by degrees over time.”

Let’s talk about the speculation tax. It has quickly become apparent that the NDP have introduced not a speculation tax but an asset tax — a tax not on a stream of income but on the value of an asset. It’s a tax on people’s savings when they hold those savings in the form of a second home.

In this case, for a foreigner — say somebody from the U.S. or Hong Kong — it would be 2 percent of the value of the home that’s worth more than $400,000. That’s $8,000 a year minimum. Over ten years, that will tax away a fifth of the value of that place — $666 a month. That’s a lot of money. Most people cannot afford to pay this tax whether they’re from the States or overseas.

B.C. families whose cabins have been in place for a generation will also be caught by this tax. Where will they find the money to pay for it? That’s $2,000 extra in addition to property taxes, say, for a pair of grandparents on a fixed income, who just want to entertain their grandkids at the cabin. They’re not speculators. They’re hard-working British Columbians. The government has simply found an entirely new field of taxation, a new well into which they can dip their tax bucket.

Once they have established the principle of taxing assets, they will just be able to drop that bucket a little deeper, adjust the rate a little bit, and more cash will pour into government coffers to be squandered on this or that NDP government program.

[3:40 p.m.]

What is an asset tax, in reality? An asset tax is really a tax on the hard work of British Columbians. It’s a tax on thrift, as people scrimp for years to be able to afford a little cabin. It’s a tax on the discipline of saving to buy a nice vacation place. It’s about taxing positive behaviour, punishing hard work, punishing thrift, punishing saving — good qualities followed by British Columbians. And if you tax those qualities, people are going to say: “Why bother saving? Why bother scrimping to buy something nice if it’s just going to be taxed away?”

This tax will change behaviour. Instead of a second home, people are going to buy maybe a rec vehicle. They’re going to drive to other provinces or the States with it. Maybe they’ll buy a time-share somewhere or go out of the country for shorter, more expensive holidays. They’ll spend their money outside of B.C. That’s what’s going to happen.

Or maybe they’ll sell their cabin — at a reduced price, of course. Eventually, these cabins will decline in value as they’re sold and resold until their value falls under the $400,000 threshold so they’re no longer captured by the tax. The market for cabins in the affected areas will be permanently depressed.

Now, you might say somebody would sell their cabin for a lower price, still within B.C., but buy in an area outside the areas captured by the tax. But why would people do that when the legislation allows cabinet to add new areas to the ones presently captured by the tax? The tax can follow them wherever they buy, so again we’re going to introduce uncertainty into the market. All it will mean is that the revenue for government will decline over time as people take natural steps to avoid the tax.

Now, unfortunately, Chilliwack has the ill fortune to be included in the list of areas that will be captured by the tax. We’re lumped in with Abbotsford, Mission, the GVRD, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna — what good luck — even though Chilliwack has a vacancy rate of zero at the moment. There are no empty homes. People are crying out for homes to rent. Neither is there much speculation in Chilliwack, given that housing sales this month are down 53 percent from last year. It’s not a speculators’ market.

How did Chilliwack get to be chosen in this blacklist of taxation? Why Chilliwack? Why Kelowna? There’s no rationale. It’s completely arbitrary public policy. There’s no consistency across the province, no sense of fairness. I think the government just looked for the biggest cash cow to milk, and it exempted some areas.

Which areas did they exempt? The Premier and the Minister of Finance owe an explanation to the people of Chilliwack. They owe an explanation as to why Parksville, Qualicum, the unincorporated Gulf Islands and the Juan de Fuca electoral area were removed when Chilliwack was not. Why were they removed? I’d like to know what members of government or what friends of the government have a second home in those areas. To me, there’s a total lack of fairness here of due process, of transparency, of predictability.

Let’s talk about foreigners for a moment. Let’s talk about Americans as foreigners. British Columbia residents are going to pay half a percent tax on a second home that’s not rented out for more than six months of the year. Canadians from outside the province will now pay the same, due to Friday’s amendments, and non-Canadians will pay 2 percent of tax on the assessed value of their second home every single year.

Stewart wrote me a letter, and Stewart made a great point. I want to quote from his letter. He said: “We all know that many B.C. residents leave B.C. to go to San Diego, California; Scottsdale, Arizona; Palm Desert, California; and other U.S. destinations when the weather isn’t ideal in Vancouver and Victoria. The United States does not assess a speculation tax on these Canadian citizens, even though their properties in the U.S. are increasing in value and are vacant for parts of the year. They’re spending money in these cities, helping the local economy and paying their real estate taxes.”

Maybe some American citizens — say, from Arizona — who have a place in B.C. will complain to their state government about our 2 percent tax, which will be a minimum of $8,000 a year to them. You never know. The president, a little while ago, seized on a minor trade issue, in relative terms, of supply management to make a point. This kind of thing can catch on.

As we learned in recent negotiations with the States, Americans don’t take it lightly when they feel unfairly treated. I don’t know why, especially at this sensitive time, the NDP would poke America in the eye, calling them foreigners and punishing them with a 2 percent annual tax on their vacation property in B.C. They could arouse a sleeping giant, and that could turn very bad for B.C. snowbirds who have properties in the States. But probably the NDP did not even consider this possibility.

[3:45 p.m.]

Now, I want to go on to individual letters that I received, because there are a lot of individuals who the NDP is punishing. I received emails and letters from them. I want to quote some of them, just so that the NDP can see who they’re affecting.

Here’s what Brian from Chilliwack says: “We have rented our Ryder Lake property, which is within the municipality of Chilliwack, for over 20 years. It has provided a very convenient getaway for myself and my family, and now my grandkids. I resent that the government has branded my effort to provide a retreat for my family as speculation. I further resent that I am somehow placed in the same pot as those who are playing a real estate game to make a quick profit.”

Here’s what Ken and Carla wrote to me:

“My wife and I own a property in Chilliwack and have been long-term residents of Chilliwack for over 35 years. Five years ago, we moved to Vancouver because work took us there, so we bought a small condo in downtown Vancouver, where we live during the week. We return to Chilliwack on Fridays and are here for the weekends.

“We do not want to rent our property in Chilliwack, because we plan to have it as our retirement property in a few years, plus we spend our weekends at our Chilliwack home. We will not be able to afford this speculation tax if it is imposed as proposed, and would be forced to sell one of our properties. This tax will dramatically and quickly whittle away at our savings.”

That’s what it’s designed to do.

Here’s what Corny from Chilliwack had to say in his letter to me: “This new tax will only serve to drive up the costs of new housing and further harm affordability. A home is the bedrock of many families in B.C. Being pushed out of the market because of unaffordability dramatically increases financial insecurity.”

Here’s what Sharon from Chilliwack said to me: “This tax isn’t going to address affordability issues or even target the real speculators. The people who will be hit by this patchwork tax are law-abiding Canadian taxpayers. This is not the speculation tax we wanted.”

Here’s a story from Dean and Heather. Dean and Heather say this:

“I grew up in Kelowna, did part of my university education in Victoria and later worked in Victoria for several years. Later my career path took me out of province, and I’ve been in Calgary for the past 16 years.

“Because of my vacation home purchase, my family and friends have enjoyed many wonderful summer vacations and ski holidays in the Okanagan. We eventually plan to retire to our home in Kelowna for the major portion of the year. I think it is entirely inappropriate to ask us to suddenly begin to pay such an onerous speculation tax on a property I have legally held for years in the province.

“I’ve paid my property taxes each year. I’ve supported the local economy by way of purchasing two Kelowna homes and completely renovating one of them. I support the local hockey team, multiple restaurants, local merchants and arts and theatre venues in Kelowna. We are hardly a burden on the local economy. In fact, we’ve done a lot over the years to help the local economy. Just ask the Kelowna residents we’ve done business with.”

Here’s Beverly. Beverly is the manager of a short-term-rental property in Victoria. They have 12 employees. They’ve been part of the local economy for 25 years. She says this: “B.C.’s NDP government is treating Canadians as foreigners. The proposed tax is a punishment tax, designed to sharply discourage vacation home ownership.”

Here’s what Leanne says: “What makes this all the more agonizing is this: we already pay a premium because we have a family cottage. We pay more property tax because we don’t benefit from the principal home exemption. If we did decide to sell the home, then we would pay capital gains tax, so — boom! — we’re not getting away with anything. We already pay for this foresight of buying a vacation home for now, which turns into our retirement home later. We pay and pay and pay.”

Barbara says this:

“In April 2017, we started looking at condos that allowed us the latitude of using it as a short-term rental so that we could be able to make use of the condo several times per year. Eventually, we will transition to British Columbia, with our primary residence being the condo.

“We found a condo that met these needs and requirements, put an offer on it and purchased it, renovated it and fit it up with furniture. We do carry a hefty mortgage on the condo and a lot of credit for the furniture fit-up.

“We want to use the rental for ourselves as a vacation home during the course of the year. Renting it out long-term would not allow this.

“If the speculation tax is passed and we would have to pay it, we would have a major loss of moneys due to fitting up the condo with furnishings for a short-term rental. To switch the condo over to a long-term rental would be a financial catastrophe for our family.”

[3:50 p.m.]

Finally, I want to quote Kay from Arizona, who has spent every summer here in B.C. for the past 15 years. She says this: “Sadly, if this tax is approved, we would likely decide to sell our second home and lose the many memories we share with the B.C. community every summer.” Well, I think we should be sad to lose Kay and all those American dollars she spends every year here in B.C. as a tourist. On and on it goes.

What does the business community say? One would normally think that the government would consider what the financial community thinks. They would be concerned that the business community, the political community, would accept it. While nobody likes an increase in taxes, sometimes the business community will grudgingly agree: “Well, maybe it’s a fair tax. Maybe it’s reasonable. Maybe it’s necessary.” But not in this case. There is no acceptance among the partners of government around B.C.

Let me talk about that for a moment. Mayors have opposed it. Mayors from Oak Bay, from Langford, from Kelowna, from West Kelowna have called on the provincial government, at the recent UCBM meeting, to allow jurisdictions to opt out of the tax. The UBCM passed a resolution on it. Here’s what Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said in September. He made a good point. “I am concerned,” he said, “that it’s not equitable, because it’s not provincewide. True speculators can simply purchase in neighbouring communities without contributing to the tax.”

Even academics disagree with it. Andrey Pavlov, at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, said that the tax is poorly named because it does little to curb speculation and that it is actually more of a vacancy tax. Pavlov said: “It might provide short-term relief for rental-vacancy and housing prices, but government’s move to limit homeowner rights will actually discourage long-term development. It’s just going to backfire in the long run because that measure alone, without the corresponding increase in supply, is going to reduce new supply even further.” That’s what he said.

Let me talk about what some others in the business community say. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, two-thirds of businesses oppose the speculation tax. Richard Truscott, their vice-president for B.C. and Alberta, had this to say: “This patchwork tax on vacant property and new development will kill jobs and hurt local economies. We have already seen a major chill go through the home-building and tourism sectors, especially in places like the Okanagan. The government needs a plan that will target actual foreign speculators and not catch long-term B.C. homeowners and other Canadians in the crossfire.”

Let’s quote the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. That’s a very important business group. The president, Val Litwin, has said this: “We are hearing from small to medium-sized business owners across B.C. who are already feeling the ripple effect…. The last thing we want to do is slam the door on Canadians who’ve been working hard their whole lives to save and retire in B.C. It’s not good for B.C.’s or Canada’s brand. The outcome is less economic activity, less employment and, ironically, less supply in the housing market.”

Here’s what the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association had to say. “While the government wants to address housing affordability, this patchwork tax will do the exact opposite. It will kill jobs, make the housing affordability issue worse and hurt the B.C. tourism industry.”

Let’s go to the Canadian Home Builders Association. Here’s what they had to say: “The tax, as it stands, will negatively impact the estimated 60-plus different types of trades that contribute to the construction of new homes across the province, as well as slow the pace of residential construction in general.”

Finally, Neil Moody, the CEO of the Canadian Home Builders Association, reported this: “Potential homebuyers have already begun to scrap plans to build new homes in a variety of regions that are both inside and outside of the boundaries outlined in the tax.” This is what he said: “Uncertainty in the real estate market is growing, and we’re even hearing of trades approaching larger contractors, looking for work.”

What’s the solution to condo flipping? Our leader, the member for Vancouver-Quilchena, introduced a true speculation tax, in the form of a private member’s bill. Here’s what he called it. He called it the Strata Pre-Sale Contract Flipping Tax Act, 2018. It is meant to address the real problem, which is the short-term, quick flipping of expensive condos around B.C., mainly in Vancouver, but it would apply to everywhere in B.C. and to everyone, without distinction.

It would be a tax amounting to 50 percent of the increase in price when a condo is flipped, on paper, without being occupied in between. That would work like a charm. It would be fair. It wouldn’t tax savings or assets. It would give a very real financial incentive to have those places occupied instead of sold and resold while standing vacant. It would accomplish all that the Minister of Finance wants to do, and probably raise the same amount of money.

[3:55 p.m.]

What’s the difference between the two approaches? The difference is that we on this side of the House respect people’s savings and assets. We want to encourage more of it. But on that side, the minister wants a whole new field of taxation, a whole new world of possibilities for bigger government, funded by the savings and thrift and hard work of British Columbians. That is why I will be opposing Bill 45.

Hon. D. Eby: I rise to speak in support of the bill and the Finance Minister’s incredible effort in putting this piece of legislation together. Let me tell you, in my community, in Vancouver–Point Grey, that this bill is an example to everyone of the impact that they can have in getting involved in government.

So many people spoke out on speculation in our housing market, concerns about individuals buying properties — interestingly to the Leader of the Opposition, from Quilchena, many people from his community — people buying houses, who have no source of income and pay no taxes in British Columbia, and leaving the properties vacant. Neighbourhoods that used to be vibrant places filled with children playing on the streets, with neighbours who knew each other, are now silent.

Houses are vacant and empty. So many people who wanted to live in those communities are coming and saying: “We could work two lifetimes and never be able to afford to live in Vancouver.”

When you look at the unfairness of people buying property, not living in it, not paying taxes…. Then the people who live in the community — who pay taxes, who work hard, who want a place for their families — want to stay in the communities they love. That is what drove a bunch of people to get involved in the election, in government, and to talk to members on both sides of the House about concerns in the housing market.

I’m going to mention a couple of names. Justin Fung from HALT spoke out about this — a young computer developer and his family. The tech sector in Vancouver is so important and challenged by the fact that people earning incredible wages, well above the median salary in Metro Vancouver, can’t afford Vancouver. Eveline Xia, who started the #DontHave1Million movement on social media, is speaking on behalf of young people, saying how unfair it is, not just temporarily but forever priced out of the Vancouver real estate market.

Tom Davidoff, who wrote the housing affordability fund proposal, on which this legislation is ultimately based — incredible work done by these young people, by Professor Davidoff, to speak out and say: “There is something that can be done. There is a proposal that can be made.”

No surprise that the opposition opposes this. They made their side very clear in the debate when we were in opposition, when I would stand up again and again and say: “People are being priced out of the real estate market forever. We have communities that are silent that used to be vibrant. They’re filled with vacant homes. It’s unacceptable. Please do something about it.” They did not.

Well, the Finance Minister has done incredible work, turning what was really — and with respect to Professor Davidoff — a sketch of a proposal into legislation that is exhaustive, that is filled with exemptions for British Columbians facing everything from disability to different challenges that might lead them to have to leave a home vacant for some reason. What she’s done is address the core issue that we face.

I can only assume that the members on the other side that have spoken against this do not know what’s been happening in Metro Vancouver. Homes bought by students. Homes bought by housewives. Homes bought by numbered companies. Homes bought by trusts. Transparency International is saying that the top 50 most-expensive properties in Vancouver are owned by individuals with no apparent source of income.

This bill will enable and…. Finally, formally, someone will come and say: “Where did the money come from to buy this property?” How overdue is that?

[4:00 p.m.]

We’re not talking about seniors with lifetimes of paying taxes in British Columbia here. We’re talking about the reality of somebody buying a home, a multi-million-dollar home, with no apparent source of income — the most expensive properties in Vancouver.


Deputy Speaker: Members.

Hon. D. Eby: The members on the other side will kick and scream, because they know why this tax has public support. They know why this tax has widespread public support. Groups, independent groups, like Transparency International Canada…. Almost 50 percent of the most expensive properties in Vancouver — who owns them? Who provided the money? How did that happen?

When they were on this side, did they say: “This is an important question. We should find out”? Real estate is the biggest part of the Metro Vancouver economy, about 40 percent. Where is the money coming from? What’s driving this market? Let’s learn more about it. Let’s get the statistics. Let’s share information with Revenue Canada. It didn’t happen.

When the Finance Minister puts this bill together and commits to British Columbians that she’s going to ask these questions…. They are difficult questions. I understand that. There are lots of people who will say: “Oh, no problem. I sold a place, bought another place. No problem.” But there are a group of people that will have difficulty explaining how it is that they’re declaring poverty-level incomes and buying million-dollar homes. I think it’s okay to ask the question.

I would like to say to everybody out there — and there are many, many thousands of people who have spoken out about this: “Government has been listening.” This is why you contact an MLA. This is why you show up to a housing forum. This is why.

How do you avoid this oppressive tax? You rent out the place. In a housing market with vacancy rates lower than 1 percent, how on earth could you avoid this oppressive tax? You rent it out, or you live in it, and you pay taxes in British Columbia.

The members on the other side have not read the bill. They do not understand the bill. They demonstrate their continuing ignorance with the things that they say…


Deputy Speaker: Members.

Hon. D. Eby: …which are nothing short of shocking.


Deputy Speaker: The Attorney General has the floor, please.


Hon. D. Eby: If they were comfortable with what they had done on housing, if they were comfortable and confident with what they had done on housing, they wouldn’t be yelling at me in second reading right now. They would say: “We did so much on housing. How could you possibly say that people without a source of income are buying housing? How could you possibly say that?”

It’s notorious. It’s notorious that this has been happening. I can tell those members that these are the same members that thought we didn’t have a problem in casinos either.


Hon. D. Eby: That’s right.

These are the same members that thought we didn’t have a problem at ICBC.

The Minister of Finance and her staff are going to go out and ask the questions. You know what? If the answers come back and there’s no problem, then no problem. But we are going to ask the questions: where did the income come from? I think that in establishing that, we’re answering the concerns of many, many British Columbians.

I am so proud of what the Finance Minister has done here. I am so thrilled. This is, in many ways — although it will be difficult for some people; I acknowledge that — essential, an essential ingredient, to addressing the housing crisis.

The members on the other side say that if you address speculation, if you address vacant homes, developers will stop building homes. What? They’re building homes only to be held vacant? This is what the development industry is based on? This is what the members on the opposite side are defending? If you tax empty homes, developers will stop building homes, because that’s who they’re building homes for — for people to hold them vacant as investments?

We want developers to build homes for people to live in. We want developers to build homes for people to rent. That is the commitment of this government. We have a huge array of programs that will facilitate that — everything from rental-only zoning. Incredible things.

[4:05 p.m.]

The work is well underway. There’s no question that we are discouraging the construction of properties to be held vacant, and we are encouraging the use of houses as a place to live, as a place to build community, as a place to raise a family, as a place that they were intended to be.

I thank the Finance Minister for bringing this bill forward.

T. Redies: I rise to speak to second reading of Bill 45.

I do say, though, like my colleague from Prince George–Valemount, I was kind of surprised that the other side stopped debate on Bill 40 last week to speak to this particular bill. With the referendum in full swing, I would’ve thought the responsible action of government would be to continue the debate on that bill. Instead, the government chose to stop debate on Bill 40.

It must mean, from my perspective, that the government is really anxious to get this speculation tax legislation through, and I can see why. With sales down 20 to 30 percent year over year and annualized housing starts down by 43 percent, property tax revenues must be dropping like a rock for this government. It certainly looked like that based on the first quarter results, as the government’s forecasted revenue from property tax was down $50 million in the first three months.

In fact, after listening to the last few speakers on that side of the House, it seems like the Finance Minister needs a big group hug. Property sales in this province have been declining so rapidly that I suspect the government may be under a bit of pressure to make its forecasted numbers. It will be very interesting to see the September 30 results.

Let me come to Bill 45 specifically. Interestingly, as many of my colleagues on this side have pointed out, this tax is no longer called the speculation tax. It is now the speculation and vacancy tax. That’s because it never was a speculation tax. This was always an asset tax, a wealth tax, a cabin tax. It was a lot of things, but it was never a true speculation tax, and that’s because it really doesn’t address flipping, which is what speculation is all about.

It’s more so a vacancy tax, designed to force owners with second properties in certain key markets to rent out their properties or face punitive taxation. At least the Finance Minister has got the name half-right this time. But this tax has been half-baked and poorly understood from the start, even by the very people responsible for its introduction.

When the tax was introduced in Budget 2018, three days later, at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, the Premier had this to say: “If you pay tax in B.C., you are not speculating from outside B.C. If you have a home in Vancouver and a home in Penticton that you visit in the summer or to ski in the winter, that would not fall in with the out-of-province speculation tax.”

Even the leader of the Green Party was misinformed. Shortly after the tax was introduced, he advised a constituent: “This tax does not apply to British Columbians. Anyone who pays income tax in B.C. is exempt. You are able to own multiple homes without being subject to the tax.” To his credit, the leader of the Green Party acknowledged the mistake in his speech on Bill 40, saying it was embarrassing for him. How’s that secretariat working?

The Finance Minister herself contributed to the confusion around this tax, indicating: “The tax will target foreign and domestic speculators who own residential property in B.C. but don’t pay taxes here, including those who leave their units sitting vacant.” Through much of the spring and even today, she kept saying 99 percent of British Columbians wouldn’t be impacted by the tax. But of course, 99 percent of British Columbians don’t own vacation homes.

It’s curious to me that the Finance Minister continues to position this tax as a solution to stop foreigners speculating in our real estate market. Anyone with common sense would know that most second homes would be owned by British Columbians, because people who have vacation homes typically want to be able to get to them quickly and, ideally, without flying.

After pointing this out to the minister in spring estimates, we asked point-blank: how many homes were affected by the tax, and what percentage of the homeowners were British Columbians? Not surprisingly, the minister finally coughed up that of the 32,000 homes affected, 20,000 were owned by British Columbians, 10,000 by foreigners and 2,000 by other Canadians.

Well, well. So this is not a speculation tax aimed at foreigners. It’s an ongoing asset tax levied mostly on British Columbians and Canadians, who already pay a lot of income, property and other taxes in Canada and B.C.

[4:10 p.m.]

Only 31 percent of the people captured by this tax are the foreigners that this government likes to blame for all the evils in the real estate market in B.C., and that has not changed with the introduction of this detailed legislation in Bill 45.

The tax still covers the same geographic areas amended in March 2018. That amendment occurred because the initial introduction created a firestorm with British Columbians, especially those owning cabins on the Gulf Islands and vacation homes in Parksville-Qualicum and in Juan de Fuca.

The initial modification, while welcomed by this side of the House, raised some eyebrows. The Gulf Islands, of course, made sense because they were summer cabins with little long-term rental potential. But why was Parksville-Qualicum exempted if places like Kelowna and West Kelowna were still hit? Well, of course, the leader of the Green Party has a second home in Parksville-Qualicum, and as far as Juan de Fuca goes…. Well, we all know who was responsible for that riding, don’t we?

As an owner of a cottage in my riding, Dawn, said: “This tax is hypocritical, and worse, it is presented with the most cynical spin imaginable. It will have zero impact on affordability. It panders to ignorance and fear and prejudice. It is insulting. It exposes this government’s ideological and shallow thinking.”

Now, notwithstanding the March changes, this tax still covers municipalities in the capital regional district, municipalities in the Metro Vancouver regional district — other than Lions Bay — the cities of Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Nanaimo and West Kelowna and the districts of Lantzville and Mission. But the details of the legislation now indicate that the government can expand the tax to other regions by order-in-council. That means, friends, if the government doesn’t get its desired tax revenue from this still half-baked tax, the speculation and vacancy tax is coming to a town near you.

Under the legislation, the 2018 rate for all properties subject to the tax is 0.5 percent of the property value. In 2019 and subsequent years, the tax rates will be 2 percent for foreign investors and satellite families and 0.5 percent for British Columbians who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents but not members of a satellite family. Thanks to this coming amendment, other Canadians will also be levied at the same 0.5 percent rate.

The tax continues to be punitive to British Columbians and Canadians who, by virtue of wanting to have a vacation home or a retirement home in B.C., are now hammered by this government, starting in 2018 and continuing on ad infinitum. This tax is primarily hitting British Columbians who have worked hard and bought vacation homes for their enjoyment or have vacation homes that have been in their families for generations.

I’ve received literally hundreds of letters from British Columbians and Canadians upset over this tax. The stories they have shared with me convince me that the people who are being truly devastated by this tax are middle-class British Columbians like Greg and Jody from Surrey, B.C. Greg writes:

“I worked for 32 years as a police officer and retired in 2013. My wife is retiring this June as a school teacher, after 29 years. The two of us have contributed to the B.C. economy and paid income tax for 70 years. We always wanted to try and save up and see if we could be able to purchase a part-time residence near Kelowna, where my wife grew up. We also wanted to try and help our children through university. So we saved and saved and worked very hard.

“Last year we purchased a presale unit in a strata property that’s north of Kelowna in McKinley Beach. We paid $459,000 for it. On this purchase, we will also be paying almost $23,000 in GST and, of course, the wonderful B.C. property transfer tax of $7,180 — over $30,000 in these extra costs alone.

“To the people supporting this tax,” he goes on to say, “where were those people when I was working overtime shifts at 4 a.m., searching a drunk homeless man who unfortunately defecated his pants before he got in the police wagon to go to detox? Where were they when my wife was tutoring kids on weekends and in the summer to pay home expenses? Now we have to figure out if my wife should cancel her retirement.”

I have hundreds of letters like this from middle-class British Columbians who are now looking at selling the properties they worked hard to acquire or postponing their retirement — all to pay for this ill-conceived, poorly thought-through so-called speculation tax. People who have struggled and saved over the years…. Instead of buying foreign properties, they put their money into B.C. so they could have a second place to call home, to visit from time to time with their families. Now this investment looks like a mistake, because they’ll be paying the spec tax for years to come.

[4:15 p.m.]

With this spec tax, government has picked winners and losers. Through no fault of their own, people like Greg and Jody are losers. Even if they sell their property now, they will be selling at a discount. Many of these properties were built as second vacation homes, not permanent residences. Prospective buyers would have been people like them, but that market is now choked off. Few people are going to buy a second property in these areas only to pay tax on it for an eternity.

I have had hundreds of letters and phone calls from Canadians outside the province who are also affected by this tax. At least this government stopped its offensive higher levy on other Canadians. Taking a discriminatory approach to Canadians who are paying federal income taxes that benefit British Columbians….


Deputy Speaker: The member has the floor.

T. Redies: Thank you.

Taking a discriminatory approach to Canadians who are paying federal income taxes that benefit British Columbia through federal health transfers and affordable housing programs was just plain wrong. The tax is still wrong.

Again, the majority of people caught by this tax are not wealthy speculators. They’re average British Columbians and Canadians who’ve invested in our province for years — spending their money, paying property tax, contributing to local charities and volunteering in their local communities. All they wanted to do was to have a vacation or a hope for a retirement home in our beautiful province. Instead, this government is treating them like pariahs.

This tax punishes families for planning their futures. People like Debbie from Ontario, who writes:

“Because we’re out of province, we do not get the seniors exemption on the property tax. We pay property tax of $2,000 a year, and with the initial proposed tax, we would be paying an additional $3,500, for $5,500 a year.

“Do you, Minister of Finance, have any concept of how much money this is for us? Let me help you. Our Canada pension is $9,000 after tax a year. Kelowna is a city of retirees. Your calculation is not based on any sense of reality or affordability. How can we afford this?

“We have been contributing to your province for almost 50 years and are currently doing so. Look around you. The roads, the health care, your education — we have contributed to your province.”

No wonder people like Debbie and many others feel they’ve been ripped off and duped by this government. At the very least, the government could have grandfathered people like Greg, Jody and Debbie. After all, they’re not speculators. They’re long-term taxpayers in our province and in this country.

The municipalities are feeling it too. Places like Langford, West Kelowna and Kelowna have seen over $1 billion in development contracts cancelled or postponed. While the legislation provides some relief to property developers, the problem is this spec tax has chased away the end buyers who made the economics of these projects affordable enough to be able to offer new inventory to local buyers. Without British Columbians or Albertans looking for a summer property, the market has narrowed so much that developers don’t want to take the risk of building and not being able to sell out.

I’m sure others on that side of the House…. In fact, the AG mentioned this. Why don’t the developers just build rental property? Well, with the new tenancy rules, the rental increase is capped at inflation, and the true costs of landlords are rising at around 8 percent a year. The economics on building rental properties don’t work anymore either.

All this government has done with its plethora of taxes is drop the price of $3 million-plus homes by 20 or 25 percent, which isn’t going to help first-time buyers. It has killed thousands of new-sale units coming on to the market, and it has destroyed the economics of building rental properties in the province. Well done, government. Well done. So much for adding to the affordable housing supply in this province.

This is not just choking off affordable sales or rental units. It’s now starting to create a pall on employment in these sectors. Companies like the Staburn Group in West Kelowna write: “We are part of a group that owns a large acreage at Goat’s Peak, which we have worked on for over a decade.” This company has been trying for a decade to get a comprehensive plan passed. It is a project exceeding 1,000 new housing units.

[4:20 p.m.]

The gentleman goes on to say: “We were about to submit a rezoning and subdivision application for the first phase of over 100 lots, with roads and services exceeding $8 million. We have now stopped all engineering, planning and design work and put the whole thing on the shelf until a change of government. Ten or 15 professionals immediately impacted. Hundreds more person-years in employment on construction…. Largest housing project ever in West Kelowna stopped dead.”

It’s not just Kelowna that’s been impacted. Macdonald Development cancelled 600 new homes in Langford and 110 lots in Kelowna, worth a total of $500 million. Belmont Properties has put a hold on almost 600 market and rental properties in Victoria, to name a few.

Hundred of millions of dollars in investment up in a puff of smoke, thousands of jobs lost — all because this government cooked up a tax that mostly taxes British Columbians and Canadians who want a second home in B.C.

Not surprisingly, housing starts, a leading indicator for the health of the property market, have fallen dramatically. Annualized housing starts in B.C. have fallen 43 percent year over year — to just 25,600 units that are predicted, well off the 36,000 to 38,000 in housing unit starts that we’ve seen over the last several years. It’s even worse in Victoria, where the housing starts are off by 56 percent year over year.

Tell me, just how is this government going to build affordable housing if the private sector is running from this market like a herd of stampeding buffalo?

It’s not just housing starts that are down. Sales are also down. According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, the supply of residential homes hit a three-year high, but sales were down almost 38 percent, compared to the same month last year, and 29 percent below the ten-year June average.

In the capital, the Victoria Real Estate Board is reporting a 29.8 percent decrease in sales, compared to the same month in 2017. Why is this happening? Supply is increasing rapidly, so why is this happening? If the government’s plan was working, the increase in supply should have been snapped up. But that’s not what is happening. That’s because British Columbians, Canadians and other potential investors are losing confidence in this market.

As said by Kyle Kerr, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board: “Demand-side measures that are not yet live, like the…speculation tax, are dragging the market down as many consumers stand aside to watch what happens.” As a result, we are seeing price drops certainly in the higher-end homes, and we are now also seeing that in the condos, which I know this minister wanted to happen.

It is true. We do have a housing crisis in B.C. Many of us on this side have said that. But too few middle-class homes have been built in this province. To a certain extent, we all wanted housing prices to moderate or even correct modestly by 5 or 10 percent. But the question is: where will these price drops end?

I remind the minister, a 25 percent drop in home prices in B.C. will put one in four mortgagers under water. Sure, a correction of this magnitude will help people not in the market, but it will be a heavy price to pay for those young families who aren’t speculators, who’ve scrimped and saved over the years to get just enough money to get a down payment and get in the market.

The minister’s spec tax will not help those people who have to try and renew their mortgage if the value of their home is less than their outstanding loan.

I was speaking to the mayor of Langford, and he made a good point — that speculators typically don’t speculate in declining markets. You can’t short sell individual housing stock.

No one is going to buy housing for speculation purposes when anyone with a brain can see there’s only one way this market is going, and that is down. But curiously enough in this bill, the government has actually opened up a window of speculation — a short-term one, mind you, but a window nonetheless.

If you buy a home and you pay property transfer tax or you have a first-time-buyer or newly built homes exemption, you don’t have to pay the spec tax for a year. So, theoretically, you could sell the house on day 364 and not be subject to the spec tax, even if you left it vacant for the preceding 364 days. That’s very curious, indeed, for a government that is trying to stop speculation.

The mayor of Langford has also shared his concerns with the Finance Minister about how this tax is driving investment and jobs away from his community, something he has successfully cultivated in Langford for a number of years.

[4:25 p.m.]

He says that the proposed speculation tax will negatively impact long-term non-resident owners who are purchasing property with the intention of moving to British Columbia once they retire; negatively impact the economy and jobs, as it will discourage investment in British Columbia and our communities; reduce the revenue available to the province and to local governments, thereby reducing the number and quality of services and amenities that can be provided; work against continued efforts to develop a more affordable housing market; and ultimately, devalue people’s homes by 20 to 30 percent without creating any more affordable housing.

It’s not just the mayor of Langford who is opposed. At the most recent UCBM, local governments stood up and opposed the government’s reckless implementation of the speculation tax. It wasn’t just the affected communities. Many other local governments stood up and spoke out against the tax, because they suspected — rightly so — that if their city is not affected today, tomorrow it could be a different manner. Lo and behold, as indicated earlier, they were right, because this legislation says new areas can be added or dropped by regulation alone.

Mayors, against their wishes, could have this highly punitive, distortive tax piled on their communities with zero debate in the House. Though the mayors called unanimously for an opt-out clause, the Minister of Finance said, dismissively, that she would not let municipalities pick and choose what provincial initiatives they support or reject. So much for collaboration with the mayors.

Finally, while I appreciate that the member for Oak Bay–​Gordon Head worked to reduce the discriminatory rate for other Canadians, I’m disappointed that he didn’t follow through on his initial intention to vote against the tax. The mayors didn’t want a meeting; they wanted an opt-out clause.

The member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head thinks that this meeting will give the mayors the opportunity to present evidence, the facts of what this tax is doing to their communities, and somehow this will convince the Minister of Finance to back off. But the mayors have already been presenting evidence. They already know what is happening to their communities — $1 billion in lost developments already, sales down by 20 to 30 percent, housing starts by 43 percent and not one iota of incremental, affordable, long-term housing. How much evidence does this Finance Minister need before she recognizes that this is not the way to create sustainable and affordable long-term housing?

The chances of this Finance Minister axing the tax are zero to none, and we all know that. This is just a sham to help the leader of the Green Party save face, because he’s been saying for months he would vote against the tax. It’s disappointing, because if the MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head had followed through on his threat, we could have axed this divisive, poorly conceived tax and stopped some of the unintended consequences that we are seeing in the market today.

Not surprisingly, I will be voting against the entirety of this bill, knowing that it is one of the worst pieces of tax legislation ever to come before this House. That’s because it will pit community against community. It will lead to lost development and jobs. It won’t increase the housing supply over the medium and longer term, and it certainly won’t lead to affordable housing for the middle class. The tax was wrong when it was introduced. It was wrong when it was amended in March, and it is wrong now.

Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister will close the debate.

Hon. C. James: Thank you to all the members who took part in this debate and in this discussion on second reading. There are a number of pieces that I could spend a long time addressing, but I think we’ve had a lot of debate, and we’ll continue to have a lot of debate, I’m sure, on the speculation and vacancy tax. But I think there are a couple of key pieces that I just want to close off on.

The first one, most important piece, is why we are doing this, why the speculation and vacancy tax is coming forward. It is coming forward because we have a housing crisis in British Columbia. We’ve just gone through a municipal election. In this municipal election, what was the topic of discussion for candidates from all different political stripes? For candidates who are experienced or new, for people who were running for mayor and council, the biggest topic of discussion, because it’s the topic of discussion for British Columbians, is the issue of affordable housing. People are facing a crisis.

You know, story after story…. I hear the member talking about the letters she receives from other provinces, from people who have a second home or a third home here in British Columbia. Well, I think we need to also remember the thousands of individuals in British Columbia who are struggling, looking for housing, the seniors who, I can tell you, have come into my office, who are living in their cars. The individual in Vancouver who has camped underneath a bridge in his RV because that’s all he had to be able to live, because he couldn’t find a place to live.

[L. Reid in the chair.]

I mean, this is a crisis point when we have families with children who are having to tell their children that they’re camping so the kids aren’t upset — “We’re just having a camping experience” — because they lost their housing and spent months looking for housing.

[4:30 p.m.]

That’s not the kind of British Columbia that anyone in this province deserves. The people in British Columbia expect their government to be responsible and act on the biggest crisis facing them. That is what we are going to do.

We have a responsibility to act, a responsibility to the people of British Columbia. This should be no surprise to anyone. This was an issue that came forward during the election. This is an issue that came forward when we came in on budget. This is an issue that was in the budget in February. Moving ahead on this piece is an important part of our 30-point plan that I’m so proud to work on with my colleague the Minister of Housing.

We recognize that there is not one solution to the housing crisis. There’s not one tax or one measure that is going to instantly make the housing crisis go away after 16 years of neglect. It’s going to take a comprehensive approach. That’s exactly the work that my colleague and I did over the fall. We took time to talk to all kinds of groups and organizations and business groups and landlords and developers and individuals who were struggling for housing.

What did we come up with? We came up with a 30-point comprehensive housing plan that includes addressing supply and demand — not one or the other, because again, we’ve got to address them all; that came up with ideas around tenancy and supporting renters because, again, we have a crisis when it comes to renting in this province. When you look at a zero vacancy rate in many of the communities that we’re facing, we have to address this issue.

I think it’s also important to recognize that we are not addressing this issue simply for the people who need housing. Yes, they’re front and centre. Yes, we’re going to fight on behalf of the people of British Columbia because that, in fact, is what a government should do — fight and serve the people of British Columbia. But we’re also doing this because this is a huge economic issue.

This is the biggest crisis facing employers. Again, Vancouver Board of Trade, B.C. Chamber of Commerce…. When we looked at the discussion last fall, the discussion that came forward was: “You have to address the issue of housing, because we can’t recruit and retain employees. When they take a look at the real estate market, they go elsewhere. They move out of the province.”

I know all of us have seen those heartbreaking stories from individuals who love this province, who want to live and work in the community that they grew up in but who have no option in the entire region because of the lack of affordable housing.

And 99 percent of British Columbians will not pay this tax. We are talking about asking people who have second and third homes to contribute to the housing crisis. If they want to avoid paying the tax, they can rent their place out, because that, again, contributes to the housing crisis that we’re facing.

I heard the member ask about municipalities and choice by municipalities. I’m going to continue as I’ve done, working with municipalities on all kinds of solutions. But when you have a crisis, you don’t give the choice about whether you’re going to act on that crisis or not. This is a crisis, and we are going to act.

I am very proud to bring forward this piece of legislation. I’m very proud of the 30-point plan that we have put together. Most importantly, I’m so proud to be part of a government with a Premier who understands that standing up for the people of British Columbia is our job, that as the Premier often tells us, we are to get up each and every day and spend the day looking at how we can make life better for the people of British Columbia.

That’s why we were elected. That’s why we’re government. That’s the work we’re going to continue to do.

With that, I move second reading.

[4:35 p.m. - 4:40 p.m.]

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

Second reading of Bill 45 approved on the following division:

YEAS — 43






































Chandra Herbert






NAYS — 40


de Jong







































Hon. C. James: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill 45, Budget Measures Implementation (Speculation and Vacancy Tax) Act, 2018, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.

Hon. M. Farnworth: I call second reading debate on Bill 42, the Assessment Amendment Act, 2018.

[L. Reid in the chair.]


Hon. S. Robinson: I move that Bill 42, Assessment Amendment Act, 2018, be now read a second time.

I’m pleased to be introducing this important piece of legislation. The proposed legislation would authorize B.C. Assessment to value eligible major industry properties according to their current industrial use, rather than their highest and best use or future use potential, for a period of two years after the year of application. Owners would have the opportunity to apply for an extension, the duration of which would be determined by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.

Eligible major industry properties include those whose value is directly impacted by the adoption of, or amendment to, an official community plan that provides for redevelopment potential.

Now, the intent of the proposed legislation is to protect community-sustaining jobs that major industry properties provide to British Columbians. Major industry properties include sawmills and mines, smelters, large product manufacturers and other similar operations.

So many of our communities in British Columbia came about as a result of these facilities and now depend on the jobs that they offer. When these properties are subject to changes to official community plans that identify them for future redevelopment, they may face large increases in property values and taxes based on future, highest and best use potential. For some operations, this can be cost-prohibitive.

[4:45 p.m.]

To protect the jobs these major industry facilities provide, we have taken action to ensure predictable, year-to-year property tax levels on operating major industry properties prior to redevelopment. Without this action, some industrial property owners may choose to cease operations and demolish the facilities to avoid spikes in property taxes while they are moving through the local government redevelopment process.

In return for the benefit evaluation based on classification and a significant reduction in property taxes, we are asking for a two-year commitment from the owners to maintain the current use of the facilities with an equivalent or greater production level. We feel this is the best way to ensure jobs are protected prior to redevelopment. At the end of the two-year term, an eligible major industry property may make a one-time application for extension at the discretion of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.

If, at any time, the conditions of the commitment are not being met, B.C. Assessment will reassess the property based on its future highest and best use potential, and the property will be ineligible for reapplication.

Although there are 275 major industry plants in B.C., and the proposed changes are provincial in scope, we are only aware of one property, a sawmill in Port Moody, that would be affected for the 2019 taxation year. If the legislation is passed, should any other class 4 property be subject to the same circ*mstances, application could be made to maintain valuation based on classification.

I would also like to note that my ministry is also undertaking a review of highest and best use evaluation impacts on other property classes that are dealing with similar issues. This is in addition to ongoing work on identifying property tax mitigation strategies for small businesses subject to triple-net leases.

I hope that everyone here today joins me in support of Bill 42.

I now move second reading.

Deputy Speaker: Kamloops South. [Applause.]


T. Stone: A smattering? I thought that was pretty rousing applause there.


T. Stone: There’s the smattering, yeah.

The amendments being proposed in Bill 42, the Assessment Amendment Act, are, as the minister has said, to allow B.C. Assessment to value major industry properties, class 4, based on their current industrial use rather than on the potential future highest and best use as projected in an OCP. The valuation would apply for the following two years of taxation, and an extension can be applied for beyond those two years, for an additional one or more years.

A request for a revised assessment has to be made by the owner and occupier and can only be made once, whether for just the two years or the extension beyond the first two years. A valuation would revert to highest and best use when industrial operations cease.

As the minister pointed out, class 4 properties include lumber, pulp mills, mines, smelters, shipbuilding and loading terminals, and changes would apply to the 2019 taxation year.

Under the Assessment Act, property is classified based on current use and valued at its highest and best use market value. I think we all can acknowledge and agree that this can lead to certain properties being classified and taxed as commercial, with a higher tax rate, but valued as high-density residential, with a higher value.

We do support the intent of this bill to provide major industrial operations with additional tools to address the challenge that a very small number of these businesses are facing, which is the shouldering of an increasing share of the tax burden as their property values increase at a significant clip, due often to changes in an official community plan, but also, in some communities and some pockets of communities, due to sheer market forces.

We do believe that this bill is a small step to protect major industrial operations in communities from being potentially taxed out of business, which would result in the loss of some high-paying jobs. And we do need to recognize — every one of us in this House needs to recognize — that industries are changing and that we should support that. This bill is a signal to businesses that we understand the challenges of rising costs.

I certainly want British Columbians to be able to continue to work where they do today and not suffer the loss of that job due to the business they work for having to close because they can no longer afford to remain located where they are.

[4:50 p.m.]

As the minister has confirmed, we do understand that this bill is initially intended to address one very acute situation in Port Moody. Indeed, it may end up being a useful tool for a handful of other industrial operations.

I want to acknowledge and thank the minister’s staff for providing a bill briefing for myself and a number of my colleagues the other day. We were advised that at this moment, the total number of class 4 properties prov­incewide is about 275. The Ports Property Tax Act, which was brought in by our former government a number of years ago, addresses assessment issues that had arisen at 27 port properties across B.C. That leaves about 248 other industrial properties around British Columbia in this class 4 designation. So this is a tool that is very limited in scope in dealing with class 4 major industrial operations as classified in the Assessment Act.

I do want to say, however, that this bill does nothing to help small businesses, which account for 98 percent of all businesses in British Columbia. The question…. We’ll get into this in a lot more detail in committee stage. I would say: what about all of those small businesses that are facing the same challenges of rapidly rising property tax bills? Why did the government not embrace this opportunity to address the impact of this very similar situation, faced by small businesses, that this bill is intending to address for major industrial operations?

Is the government indeed considering extending these provisions to small businesses, who have been asking for years to be assessed at existing use instead of highest and best use for decades? We understand that there may be a consultation and an engagement opportunity. We don’t know that for sure, but that may be something that’s coming.

What we do know is that there are certainly a lot of small businesses across British Columbia, particularly in the Lower Mainland, that have been asking for some kind of relief when it comes to the property tax bills that they have and that have often, in many cases, been going up significantly. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the various chambers, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, BIAs, UDI and others have been asking for this. I do believe that as policy-makers, we do have a responsibility to ensure a competitive business climate to help our small business sector prosper.

What about protecting other businesses that are facing the prospect of having to lay off employees and/or close — businesses that are not class 4 but surely face the same risk as major industry does? Of course, I’m referring to literally thousands of small businesses across British Columbia.

It’s a bit ironic that last week, when this bill was first introduced, it was introduced during Small Business Week but makes no attempts to actually address the concerns that have been so consistently raised by small businesses on these cost issues — concerns such as those raised by Chocolate Mousse Kitchenware, a Vancouver–West End staple for more than 30 years that saw their property taxes jump almost 93 percent in 2017. They’re likely to face an additional increase in their costs by another 25 percent this year.

Even the Premier’s own chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, was concerned about this — so much so that he seconded a motion just last year, as a Vancouver councillor, to “address the impact of triple-net leases on property tax payments for small business tenants.” Coun. Geoff Meggs also put forth a motion in 2016 to take action on soaring assessments, and now here we are. Instead of calling on a provincial government to do something, Geoff Meggs is now the chief of staff of the provincial government. He’s now in a position to effect positive change for all of these small businesses that he once upon a time purported to be such a champion for.

We talk about the hollowing out of our cities due to small businesses having to lay off their employees and close, due to out-of-control increases in assessed values of the land upon which they operate. So I ask: why are the small businesses that really are the backbone of our economy…? We hear that from all sides of this House. Why has the NDP not chosen to include classes 5 and 6 as an eligible property so that small businesses can also be provided the kind of relief that is being provided in this bill for class 4 major industrial properties?

[4:55 p.m.]

B.C. is losing that competitive edge, and many small businesses are worried about their future. Many have expressed deep concern about the slew of taxes, new taxes, that this NDP government has hit them with, particularly the employers health tax and increases to the carbon tax, both of which impact their bottom line.

The NDP government is forcing many small businesses to choose between laying off workers or raising prices for consumers. The bottom line is that throughout Metro Vancouver in particular — although we see this in a handful of other communities, like here in greater Victoria and Kelowna and elsewhere — land scarcity, combined with a high demand for homes, has driven land values to record levels.

In the past five years, land assessments have been increasing at some 30 to 50 percent per year. The majority of properties in commercial nodes throughout the city of Vancouver and in many suburbs are assessed at residential redevelopment land value rather than their existing use.

There’s an issue of fundamental fairness inherent in that. The local, independent small businesses in these locations have been lobbying for a long time for fair property tax treatment, given their assessed values are as much as two to three times their existing use of value. These small business properties are shouldering an increasing share of the tax burden, as their values are increasing at a significantly faster rate to highly built-out properties.

Bill 42 is directed at class 4 major industrial properties, where, in the past year, a very small handful of properties have experienced this challenge for the very first time. Bill 42 goes on to establish that an eligible class 4 property is one where the municipality has adopted an official community plan impacting the assessed value of those properties.

As a point of comparison, the city of Vancouver passed the West End plan over two years ago, and assessed values under the community retail properties throughout the West End plan area increased between 200 and 300 percent overnight. Notwithstanding the pleas from small business, nothing has been done by the city of Vancouver or this NDP government to rectify the situation, which persists.

It must also be pointed out that this situation is not always a result of the adoption or change of an official community plan. Fundamentally, market demand has caused land value increases year after year at excessive levels simply as a result of market demand for residential redevelopment sites.

Local independent businesses must pay the skyrocketing property taxes due to the market norm of triple-net leases, which pass on the taxes to their tenants.

At the end of the day, the problem is quite simple. These types of properties are simply absorbing too much property tax, particularly in relation to the services that they receive.

Now, there are several potential solutions, one which is referred to as the split classification assessment approach. This is an approach which, in effect, values properties according to their classification, while still recognizing highest business use.

Under the Assessment Act, property is classified based on current use but valued at market value, which reflects a property’s highest and best use. Properties with redevelopment potential may have a current use that differs from their highest and best use.

For example, many properties have a current use of low-density commercial or light industrial, but their highest and best use, if they were to be developed, is mixed residential-commercial. This becomes an immediate taxation issue for these properties, as they are assessed at the highest and best use at values multiple times those of the current business use, but classified in their current use with the significantly higher property tax rates for class 5, light industry, or class 6, business and other, compared to class 1, residential.

A further challenge is that the property may be occupied by tenants who, under their lease obligations, are responsible for property taxes. Consequently, while the owner ultimately benefits from the increased value, the tenant pays the property taxes or the holding costs while the property maintains its current use.

Now, just last Monday, October 15, the CFIB, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, issued a research snapshot on exactly this issue, called B.C. Businesses Overtaxed Due to Antiquated Assessment System.

In their research snapshot, they highlight that in Vancouver, municipal tax bills for commercial properties rose 43 percent between 2007 and 2017, three times faster than the rate of inflation. And 69 percent of small businesses surveyed in April 2018 opposed the current assessment framework, with fully 78 percent supporting a move to split classification assessment.

[5:00 p.m.]

Interestingly, during the last election campaign, the NDP promised the CFIB that they would “support allowing municipalities to average and phase in large land assessment changes to provide temporary tax relief to property owners.”

As an interesting reference as well, homeowners under the Assessment Act already have today the same treatment available, as set out above for class 5 and class 6. Specifically, section 19(8) of the act states as follows:

“Despite any requirement of this section respecting actual value, if the assessor receives, on or before January 31 in any year, from the owner and occupier of eligible residential property, a notice in the form prescribed by the assessment authority that the owner and occupier owned and occupied the eligible residential property as his or her principal place of residence during the entire 10-year period ending on the preceding October 31, the actual value of the eligible residential property, for the purpose of the assessment roll for the calendar year following that October 31, must be determined taking into consideration only the actual use of the land and improvements that comprise the eligible residential property and not taking into consideration any other use to which the land or improvements could be put.”

I find that very interesting, as do small businesses all across the province.

Now, this bill is one step, but what’s really needed is an integrated long-term strategy for striking the best balance possible for protecting jobs and small businesses, on the one hand, all the while encouraging accelerated housing supply where it’s needed in communities.

With respect to housing, I think we all appreciate the pressure for the need for additional housing supply. We all support addressing the need for densification and new housing stock. I think we can all acknowledge that some communities don’t have much available land left for housing, so this often triggers updates to official community plans that then cause the issue that this bill is trying to address.

The fact that market demand and/or changes to official community plans can trigger such staggering increases in property tax bills for industrial operations, light industrial businesses and commercial or small businesses is one thing. But the fact that this situation is made even worse by how long it takes, on average, for new housing stock to be zoned and approved — particularly in the Lower Mainland — adds significant insult to injury and does nothing to drive additional housing supply, which is the number one most successful way to address the housing affordability challenge.

Developers are forced to wait years and years for zoning and approvals. There are approximately 120,000 units of proposed housing in Metro Vancouver that are languishing in development departments of various local governments. They can take five, seven, ten years to get a project approved, during which time land values continue to escalate dramatically, which only serves to increase the carrying cost for whomever has the vision and the plan to build housing on the land in question.

Guess who ends up paying the price for these escalating land values and related carrying costs? The homeowner. It gets passed on to the homeowner, and that doesn’t address the affordability challenge at all.

Again, the official opposition believes that the NDP government has missed another opportunity here to focus on increasing housing supply. In fact, every single housing initiative of this government has actually had the opposite effect and has actually contributed to a decrease in housing starts.

The NDP’s taxes, like the phony speculation tax and other policy actions of government to date, are serving only to slow housing construction, devastate the housing industry and result in lost jobs.

The NDP’s focus to date has been entirely on the demand side of the equation, mostly through targeted taxes and new fees added to the costs of housing — like the speculation tax, which we firmly believe has nothing to do with actual speculation. Rather, it attacks British Columbians. The majority of people who are paying the speculation tax will be British Columbians.

Housing construction is collapsing across British Columbia. This is dramatically reducing supply, but it’s also throwing a lot of British Columbians out of work — carpenters, drywallers, painters and many others who will soon be out of paycheques. These cancelled projects will do nothing to address affordability.

Or like the NDP’s changes to the maximum allowable rent increase, where they have moved from the previous 2 percent plus CPI to only CPI. Results of this decision? This has resulted in less construction of market rental supply across British Columbia.

[5:05 p.m.]

Or the NDP government’s decision last year to impose new TransLink development cost charges. This gives the authority to TransLink to set and levy DCCs on new construction in Metro Vancouver to, in part, fund the local portion of the mayors’ ten-year TransLink plan.

While we support transit investments in Metro Vancouver, we do have a problem with these costs being downloaded onto homeowners, and we do have a problem with additional costs being heaped onto the costs of actual construction in this province, which is resulting in a heck of a lot less supply. DCCs typically are assessed by local governments to cover costs associated with growth, such as roads, water and sewer networks. They can often include community amenity contributions, public art fees, permits, inspection fees, and so forth.

In a recent study done by the Howe Institute called The High Cost of Barriers to Building New Housing in Canadian Municipalities, the Howe Institute comes to the following conclusions. Excessive regulations and costs are choking the supply of new real estate in Metro Vancouver. They go on further to acknowledge or highlight that there’s a huge gap between the cost of building new housing and its market price, with extra costs on new housing ranging from an average of $229,000, in the eight most restrictive cities, to $600,000 of such extra costs in Vancouver. Why is that? Well, there are tight supply of land, strict zoning regulations, long zoning time frames and a heck of a lot of development cost charges and related fees.

UDI in Vancouver estimates that while in 2008 the average 900-square-foot unit had $43,000 per unit of local development cost charges, fees and other charges built into the cost, today that number is now $340,000, on average, per unit in Metro Vancouver. While the UDI would prefer that there be no TransLink DCC at all, they did ask for a $20 million annual cap, and their advice was not taken.

I would make this one final comment about DCCs. I have never seen or met a DCC that goes down in time, and I’ve never met one that goes away over time. They always tend to go up, representing added cost on that unit of construction. At the end of the day, the NDP is only adding taxes and new costs onto housing, which is not going to drive affordability. You can’t tax your way to affordability. We are seeing a dramatic plunge in housing starts across British Columbia — 43 percent across the entire province, with another 20 percent expected in the forthcoming fiscal year.

According to the Canadian Home Builders Association, “Contracts continue to be cancelled across the province…. Each contract makes a difference for local businesses and their workers.” So we really need to focus on supply. We’re going to continue to encourage this government and plead with this government to take at least one of their eyes off the demand side of the equation here — in terms of every initiative being focused on demand — and to focus on supply.

Let’s focus on requiring densification along transit lines. Let’s focus on tying transit investments to density. Let’s focus on not just encouraging but on requiring local governments to approve zoning and other related building permits in a much more compressed time frame so that we can get more of this supply onto the market as soon as possible.

With that, I can say that we in the official opposition will support this bill insofar as the very, very narrow scope that is provided for in this bill, but it does fall far short on providing the needed relief to small businesses. It represents another lost opportunity for this government to do anything that increases housing supply in British Columbia. It represents yet another fail for this government when it comes to housing affordability.

[5:10 p.m.]

A. Olsen: I’m pleased to rise today and speak to Bill 42, the Assessment Amendment Act. This bill is designed to stop major industrial sites from facing unreasonable assessment increases to their tax bill when the local government changes its official community plan and designates a Property for a different use in the future.

Properties are assessed for their highest and best use. Without this amendment, the new designation may result in an industrial operator operating under the previous use. They could face an enormous increase in their taxes based on the change in the assessed value. They might find it more economical, for instance, to shut down their operations, eliminating a number of jobs and the important municipal tax base at the same time. The bill before us is designed to prevent that from happening.

I support the government taking an active interest in ensuring that an industry or a major employer is not forced to shut down due to a bureaucratic technicality. But as a former municipal councillor, I’m aware of the official community planning process and the great care that locally elected officials need to employ when planning for the future. The decisions that they make have critical impacts on the current operation of their community. But they also have dramatic impacts on the valuations of the land, both now and in the future. Frankly, I have difficulty when this bill is placed in the larger context.

This year I’ve heard from several businesses in Saanich North and the Islands about unfairness and how they’ve been heavily impacted by B.C. Assessment and other government agencies and how it’s having an effect on their competitiveness and their bottom line. Take, for example, the major employers, some of the biggest in the capital region, that provide life-sustaining jobs for our constituents, quality-of-life-sustaining taxpayers for the municipal governments that we represent — the employers that are located on the Victoria Airport Authority land.

In January of this year, their overall assessment had jumped 21 percent. Their land value increased by 10 percent and their building value by 40 percent. These businesses have subleases with the Victoria Airport Authority, and under the Assessment Act, they are assessed as the owner of the land. This valuation has a significant impact on the actual amount of property tax these companies pay to the municipality and to the province.

Yet when my staff brought this concern forward to B.C. Assessment, their explanation was that they needed to review all airport lands in British Columbia and that there was a big discrepancy on how that land was being valued between different airports. I accept that, but I have a difficult time accepting that nothing can be done to lessen the impact on these businesses. I have a difficult time believing that more care could not be taken to the potential impact of losing these employers, to business competitiveness in the capital region and British Columbia.

In this legislation, we see an exemption in certain circ*mstances for major employers. The government scrambles to allow one type of industry exemption while B.C. Assessment and other ministries outright dismiss others.

I stood in this House last week and asked the Minister of Finance about business competitiveness in respect to another measure undertaken by this government. I raised the situation of another major important employer in this region. They’re an important business in the capital region. They hire and train youth in our community, and oftentimes it’s their first job.

This summer their CEO contacted me. He was distressed, and rightfully so, that their 2018 annual rent from the provincial government increased 42 percent over 2017. Let me state that again: 42 percent increase one year over another. They were not given any notification, from my understanding.

When they asked why, they were told that this was a result of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations applying fees that were more in alignment with the assessed value of the property and the current rental market. This increase came completely out of the blue with no early notification and is drastically different than the previously assessed valuation.

These two examples highlight one more situation where government policies are making it hard for major employers to do business. So when I see this bill in front of me today, I’m conflicted. On one hand, I fully support it. I understand why it comes forward, and it will have my support.

[5:15 p.m.]

But it is important that this government takes a look at the whole package of assessment issues and needs, as was pointed out by the member who spoke previous to me. I believe when I spoke to the minister on this, she agreed.

I look forward to looking at this in a much more comprehensive way, as my history goes back to the municipal council. I remember…. In fact, a gentleman named Tony would stand up every year at assessment time in our municipal council chambers. He’d challenge his assessment every single year. He’s a known commodity in the assessment office.

I think it’s important that we take a look at the whole package of this, and I think that it’s important that the government does the work necessary. While I’m going to support this bill, I strongly support the government taking much deeper action when it comes to B.C. Assessment.

P. Milobar: For 15 years, every day I had to deal with this issue as a mayor and as a city councillor. Now, after 16 months, we’re finally seeing something come forward, but it’s incomplete. That’s really my problem with Bill 42.

I don’t have a problem with the concept about Bill 42. I think it’s been well established over the years that when you look at class 4, class 5 and class 6, there’s been an ongoing concern within municipalities. However, Bill 42…. I think we’ve heard from previous speakers, and I agree with that, that no one wants to see the loss of a few hundred jobs, especially in a smaller community. I think everyone can get on board and support the concept and the drive behind Bill 42. But to bring in a piece of legislation that, essentially, takes care of one or, maybe, two sites around the whole province does not seem the proper way that we should be addressing this.

We should be looking at class 4 as a whole rate class. In Kamloops’s case, we’ve spent years trying to drive down the mill rate in class 4 to protect those jobs, not just within Kamloops but within the area. With our pulp mill, there are about 20 area sawmills that rely on our pulp mill to be a way for them to get rid of their chips. So as the pulp mill in Kamloops goes, so do 20 area sawmills, from as far away as Princeton and up into the Cariboo and up the North Thompson, that rely on that pulp mill.

Within the tax base of the city of Kamloops, there’s been a very concerted effort to try to address the class 4 taxation. But there are only so many tools local governments have when you’re trying to address, because there’s still only that one pocket of money. If you need, in Kamloops’s case, $100 million of taxation to operate a city, you still need to collect that other money from somewhere else once you’ve given that relief in class 4.

With Bill 42, the problem is you’re pushing a balloon within any respective city. Bill 42 may help a specific set of circ*mstances around one particular rate class of that particular site of what’s happening with its assessment, but Bill 42 doesn’t help some communities that have the reverse problem happening with some of their heavy industrial or light industrial or commercial spaces.

When you look at a city like a Vancouver, and you consider the ramifications and the overlaying problems that start to happen when you see small, local retailers start to have trouble strictly because of their property tax bill — based on highest and best use of the piece of property they might have on a Robson Street or on a South Granville or those areas — it starts to really dig in to the fabric of what made that particular area or that particular community so great.

You think along Main Street, out towards Nat Bailey or any of those areas, the problem that starts to happen…. It runs totally counter to everything this government has said they stand for. I liken it, almost, to one of my favourite books reading to my kids when they were growing up, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s kind of the same situation, because what’s going to happen is…. We see it playing out all across cities that have this demand. Kelowna has some situations where this happens. And it’s certainly in Vancouver, areas of Surrey and other areas — where if we don’t start trying to address what’s happening on the commercial level with those small businesses…. Again, back to the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie….

You have the small independent retailer close, be it a clothing store or a coffee shop or anything like that. Well, the reality is that no one else can afford to go into that square footage. They’re closing not because of a lack of customers. They’re closing because of property taxation driving their cost structure such that they cannot remain remotely competitive.

[5:20 p.m.]

What happens is that site sits empty. That puts even more pressure on trying to get the redevelopment happening, which, in theory, is a good thing, because you see more housing come into the neighbourhood. But what happens under this current structure of assessed values and taxation values, as a result, is that the commercial space that undoubtedly will get created underneath it, even though it’s brand-new, will actually be rented for even more per square foot and see its taxes even higher.

Those maybe 50, 60 people living above it are still not enough of a boost in business to see those spaces filled in. They sit empty for long stretches of time, and they don’t provide the amenity and the neighbourhood feel that they were originally intended to as street-front-level retail. Then that leads to added pressure to the strip mall phenomenon and the suburban mall phenomenon, where you see more and more pressure of the big-box retailers and the international retailers coming in.

Although I fundamentally don’t oppose, I believe people should have freedom of choice. They should also have that freedom of choice based on a level of fairness when it comes to taxation. What happens is, though, the retail pushes a little bit further out of the core, a little bit further out of the core. Well, how am I going to get from the core to the retail? I’m going to have to get into my vehicle and clog up the road, or I’m going to have to try to take some nonexistent transit.

That is the problem right there, which starts to drive more and more sprawl, more and more areas being developed further out from the core areas. Then what inevitably happens…. People say: “Well, there’s a mall right there. Maybe we should try to get a little bit of extra housing into this area.” So an area that previously might not have seen housing for another 15 or 20 years suddenly springs up.

I think of Richmond, what we’ve seen with Richmond. There was a new mall just built, as you’re heading in towards the Minoru Arena, and all of a sudden there was about four blocks’ worth of townhouses built all around that area that used to just be a field. Boom. You have instant growth and instant sprawl happening, albeit within their OCPs.

These communities are trying to do and manage the best they can. No one wants to say no to a potential development that might come into their community because of what that could mean to your community in terms of jobs and growth for that particular community. But it’s coming at the expense of another community.

If we’re going to look at Bill 42…. I really wish the government had taken the time to try to bring in the same types of measures and controls that we see in Bill 42, in terms of allowing a bit of local autonomy, allowing it to be connected to an official community plan, allowing the local governments to have a bit more flexibility into their mill rate structure so they actually could effect some change internally within their own mill rate structure for what works for their community, not a one-off piece for one piece of industrial land in one city.

That’s not what legislation in this House should be dealing with. This House should be dealing with legislation that can actually be used and reasonably actioned by the vast majority of municipalities within the province, and that’s not what this is. This is a piece of legislation tailor-made to try to deal with one situation.

In terms of why that is problematic and why we need to have those other levers in place for people in other communities…. As I say, depending on what your mill rate mix is, there are some communities…. Kelowna is a good example. They only have the one real industrial site, in class 4, to speak of. It’s the sawmill right downtown. It’s right next to the Grand hotel, right on the lake, a beautiful chunk of property.

They don’t rely as heavily on industrial taxation as Quesnel would. Quesnel relies very heavily on industrial taxation. Kamloops is a bit in the mix. Prince George relies reasonably heavily on heavy taxation as well.

It really depends, from town to town, what mill rate structure you see. In the case of Prince George, they’re at about $42 per $1,000 for a mill rate when it comes to class 4 industrial. In Kamloops’s case, we’re at $73 per $1,000. We’re trying to bring that down, but it makes it very hard when you’re trying to do that without other levers and ways that you can address the differentials within the rate classes.

When you look at a light industrial mill rate or you look at a business mill rate…. Fortunately, in Kamloops, that same report that was referenced earlier by the member for Kamloops–South Thompson…. We in Kamloops were seen to be the front-runner over the last decade across the province for trying to make these shifts happen. They can happen, but they are very difficult. They’re very difficult to do from term to term, from one council to the next, and you need to have that flexibility built in.

[5:25 p.m.]

Since the province was indicating a willingness to go in…. When I first heard that the Assessment Act was being looked at here, with Bill 42, when it was first being introduced, I was quite hopeful that meant there was going to be that flexibility across the rate classes for municipalities to still do what was right for them at a local level. Unfortunately, that’s not what this bill is at all. This bill is nothing but trying to address one specific site, maybe two, in the whole province. That’s about 1 percent — actually less than 1 percent — of the overall class 4 locations within the province of British Columbia.

We’re not likely to see any more true class 4 developed in British Columbia. When you consider that it’s for the type of processing and remanufacturing that it’s talking about, it’s very unlikely. But in Kamloops’s case, again, when you drive by on the highway, you see an industrial plant that is creating ball bearings for crushing in the copper industry. They’re a major employer in Kamloops. They’ve done a major expansion. They do great work. They’re a great community-minded company.

They’re classified as light industrial. Given that they have railway spurs, that they have tailings ponds and that they’re right next to the highway, they’re light industrial. The pulp mill, driving by, would look the exact same to the average person, yet they’re considered heavy industrial.

There needs to be a recognition that the world has changed. I was hoping that Bill 42 would have actually seen some of that come into play, but that’s not what we’re seeing in this bill. So it’ll be interesting, as we get into committee stage, to start trying to find out, through some questions, where the process and the mindset really was with this. It’s that inherent need for communities to be able to have a little bit more control over their own mill rates, a little more flexibility over their mill rates.

We have a light industrial, and we have a heavy industrial. We don’t have a large commercial and a small commercial, though. We have just commercial. So the small shoe store downtown is paying more per square foot in almost, I would bet, any city in this province. A downtown shoe store is probably paying more per square foot for that shoe store than a large satellite store would be paying per square foot in taxation simply because of the land values and the way the assessment works. Municipalities do not have any of that flexibility to try to move things around and try to stay within that spending bubble — not be overly punitive to homeowners, at the same time, but just try to meld the three together so that there is a bit more synchronicity with how all these rate classes work.

As I said, some communities have great values in one rate class and not in others. Then what you’ll see are wild swings where if you have…. Typically what happens in a municipality is you have large growth that happens within the residential sector. It will slow down for a year or two, and your commercial sector will pick up because of the new people and supply and demand of a little more retail space. So you’ll see these wild swings in assessed values. Mill rates will plummet or raise, and one rate class still seems to bear the brunt.

As much as Bill 42 is a step in the right direction, it is simply that. I don’t see anything in there that would make it so unbearable as to not support it. But I certainly see lots in there to say it’s a massive disappointment, I guess, that it was so shortsighted and so refined in its scope that it really doesn’t address any large-scale issues or problems when I think most municipalities are looking for a way for the provincial government to help them.

The other part of this is…. You know, municipal councils do come and go, and they change. That’s why it’s important that we make sure that there’s always that bit of communication, that although…. What one council said they would like to see happen doesn’t necessarily mean the next council will want to see that happen.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

On Friday, we had nothing but full steam ahead from the mayor of Vancouver and the mayor of Surrey — that LRT was full steam ahead in Surrey. That was Friday. By Sunday or Monday, we have, “We don’t want LRT. We want SkyTrain,” from both of the same mayors of Surrey and Vancouver. So in the space of three days, after an election, we went from full out one way to another. That can happen on tax policy changes as well.

I recognize that we need to build into this that municipalities get to have that autonomy, that freedom to try to set their own course with how they want to see taxation, but also being able to recognize that what may be a heavy industry problem in one community is not necessarily the problem for the next community that doesn’t necessarily have heavy industry. That doesn’t mean that in the commercial rate class, they don’t have the same types of problems with very significant job creators in their community.

[5:30 p.m.]

Why are they not being treated the same? If there’s a willingness to look at one rate class, the government should be willing to look at all rate classes and let communities decide where their job generators are, where their movement of economic well-being is, moving forward, and make sure that they know they have that flexibility to treat their commercial rate class no differently than an industrial rate class if that’s actually where the economic growth and the jobs are in their community — and recognizing that maybe those jobs in those sectors need a temporary relief, like Bill 42 would provide, for owners.

With that, I thank you for the time. I look forward to questions in committee stage. Certainly, Bill 42 is a very tiny step in the right direction, but very, very disappointing that it’s that. It seems to have totally closed the door to any other creativity that could have happened. I guess it’s just symptomatic of what we’ve been seeing in some of the legislation lately, in terms of lack of creativity and lack of trying to move things forward in a productive and constructive manner.

S. Chandra Herbert: It gives me pleasure to speak today on Bill 42, the Assessment Amendment Act. I never thought I would say those words, because assessment amendments and such things don’t get most people excited. But they should, because they really do impact how our communities work and whether or not small businesses can succeed.

I want to reference my colleague from Kamloops across the way. He mentioned that for something like 15½ years he had been working on these issues locally to try and make it better for small businesses, to try and get the provincial government to come to the table. I think that ever since I was first elected MLA, ten years ago, I’ve been trying to get the provincial government to realize this is a problem.

Unfortunately, as the phrase goes, for 16 years, we got next to nothing of action in terms of this issue from the previous government. Now, in 16 months, we’ve had the first action to get this addressed. Has it gone far enough? Does it address the issues in their entirety? No, but it’s the first time we’re really seeing that it is possible — changing the act itself — so that businesses can be assessed in a fairer way so that the tax impact is not so great as to drive them out of business.

We will need to do more because clearly, in my community, what we’ve seen along Robson Street…. I’ve raised this in question period. I’ve met with Finance Ministers, local government ministers. On and on it went when I was in opposition with the B.C. Liberals. They always said: “Well no. It’s the city. The city should fix it.” Then the city would say: “No, it’s the province that should fix it.”

You had the provincial government, supposedly business-friendly, blaming it on the local government, the local government blaming it on the provincial government, and nothing happening. Meanwhile, businesses were going out of business or facing, in some cases, tax increases of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I think of a couple of small businesses in my community, on Robson Street, where their issue has been that they rent the place. They don’t own the land. The city has rezoned the area so that you can have 20 storeys of density, of condominium development — that kind of thing. The land value shoots through the roof. These folks have signed triple-net leases with their property owner, so they are now having to pay all of the property taxes on that land even though they see none of that future benefit of upzoning, of land sales, of redevelopment, and so forth.

So you’ve got these small businesses, often two proprietors and maybe ten staff if you’re lucky. They poured their heart and souls into it, building it for many years. I remember going to the Finance Minister last year, when we were not government yet, asking: could we get this fixed? Can we get action on this? Again, it was: “It’s very complicated. I don’t think we can do this. We’re doing more studies.”

For years, I talked to folks in the business improvement association world and local business taxation experts. They would tell me that they’ve been fed line after line from the provincial government about how there was never an ability to do this, how the former Finance Minister, the former Small Business Minister, always said: “Yes, it’s a problem, but let’s do another study.” There was study after study leading nowhere and the provincial and municipal governments throwing up their hands — “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do” — while people were losing their businesses.

What does Bill 42 do? This addresses class 4 properties, so major industrial. It doesn’t yet address class 5 and class 6, which are the smaller businesses that I refer to in my community.

[5:35 p.m.]

I hope that in time, we can get there, because showing that we can do something, I think, opens the door to doing a whole lot more, as opposed to the previous argument, which was: “We can do nothing. Let’s blame it on the local government.”

Now, I think local governments do play a really important role in ensuring, of course, the success of small businesses in cases like this, in terms of how they do zoning, where they do zoning and the need for them to be involved — to do things like average out property taxes over ten years, for example, instead of two or three, maybe five. Let’s consider that. In some of these cases, it could really help.

I think that provincially there are a couple of other areas that we do need to look at. I know some may have concerns about this, so I’m speaking on my own behalf, but I’ve heard from a number of small businesses who have really questioned the whole concept of triple-net leases.

In the case I refer to, the small business I was speaking with, the property owner is making tens of millions of dollars through the fact that their land was upzoned. Meanwhile, this business has signed a triple-net lease, so they had to pay the property taxes, the utilities and then the rent. Well, the property taxes are now way outside of the norm, completely outside of their ability to pay, way more than they’re actually paying in rent, yet they have no choice but to keep paying because they’ve got a lease.

The owner is making out as the savviest financial investor ever simply because he owned a patch of dirt, and he rented it out to these folks and signed over a triple-net lease to them. Yes, he chose a good location for the patch of dirt — Robson Street. But when he bought it and when this business was there, it wasn’t zoned for massive residential. It was a three-storey building.

Just up the street, there’s a…. I think it’s about an eight- to ten-storey building, a medical-dental complex. I talked to the owner of that building. He said his property taxes have shot through the roof because of the upzoning on his land.

Now, ten storeys, eight storeys — he’s happy with what he’s got. He said that he doesn’t want to increase the rents for the renters in his building. He likes the mix of tenants he’s got. He doesn’t want to redevelop. He enjoys running his business as he does. But because the property taxes have shot so far up, he felt he had no ability not to massively increase rents on new tenants and a number of his people he said he knew were planning on leaving. So you end up either with empty stores or stores people can’t afford because they’re selling such high-end merchandise in order to pay the insane property taxes or a triple-net lease.

Some have said to me very strongly: “Get rid of the triple-net lease. The property tax should be paid by the person who owns it.” Other people say: “Well, they’ll just pass it on through the rent that they charge to the people.” But at least that’s something that you can plan for, generally, in terms of what negotiations you do with your landlord. The property tax is outside of the landlord’s control, yet they win the benefit if the land value shoots up so much. So that’s another area.

Now, adding class 5 and class 6 to giving the possibility that local governments could find ways to shift how they do taxation on these properties…. It’s challenging, because it can be winner and loser. So people don’t want to say, for example, as I proposed at one point: “Well, let’s look at areas that are facing these massive pressures in Vancouver. Let’s find a way that they could do….” I think the example was Richmond where, around the Olympics, they had this challenge around a few of their Olympic sites. The land value shot up so much. The proposal at the time was: “Well, let’s find a way to even that out over the entire property classifications.”

You could do that on Robson Street, but I know my colleagues in Vancouver-Fairview or Vancouver–Point Grey might say: “Well, wait a second. Why are you shifting the property tax burden of your local businesses onto mine? We’re also facing these large property tax increases.”

So it’s not easy, and I do understand it when the ministry says it’s difficult to solve the situation of class 5 and class 6. I understand it. There are political challenges, and there are the provincial-municipal issues. But you actually have to want to solve it, and I’m not convinced that the provincial government previously wanted to address this issue or that they were interested in solving it. It was more of, “This is a Robson Street issue” until it became: “This is a Robson Street and Main Street and Broadway issue.”

Slowly, it then got out to Burnaby and then to Surrey, and now it’s starting to impact communities all across B.C. What started as a very localized issue that they didn’t want to address, when I raised it, is now a provincial issue. I’m hoping, based on conversations I’ve had with the minister, that this is an issue that will be addressed. It will take some time, but this bill is a start.

Now, there’s a great organization that I’ve worked with and had the benefit of working with on and off over the years, of course — my local Robson Street business improvement association, in the West End — and Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

[5:40 p.m.]

They’re part of a coalition of 22 business improvement associations in Vancouver, what they call the Vancouver BIA partnership. They copied me on a letter that they wrote to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Really, they said: “Bill 42 proposes to assess class 4 properties based on current industrial use rather than their future and highest, best use, an important step in the right direction in the valuation process. We applaud the province for its prompt response to the issues facing class 4 properties and its commitment to addressing them with the proposed legislation amendment. It is our only request that the same consideration be given to class 5 and 6 properties. The health and vitality of our neighbourhoods is dependent upon it.”

I think it’s true. They absolutely encapsulate it. They know that this is important for the health of our communities and for why we love our communities. I’m hopeful that if we can get support from all across the House, if we can get the support of our new council and our new mayor in Vancouver, we can start to finally address this problem. For too long, small businesses in our community have been made to pick up the slack for inaction, for people ignoring them, for just basically saying: “Well, that sucks. Too bad you’re in a great area that people want to be in. You should just pay the cost.” Not understanding, of course, that the cost for….

Almost any business — aside from, well, I can’t even think of that kind of business — would be crushed if they had the kind of property tax increase that businesses in my community have faced lately because of the lack of action of previous governments and because of rezoning. It has put that huge pressure to redevelop — not to the benefit of local businesses.

Unfortunately, in a few of the cases, it’s luxury condos that are coming in, so not largely to the benefit of constituents in my own community, who are seeing the impact of the loss of their local business because of this upcoming, so-called luxury condo which could replace it — with, I might add, retail underneath. But the cost of that retail space, because of that property tax and because of how new it is, can be pretty prohibitive for some of the smaller businesses.

Many in my constituency are concerned that we’ll lose the small, idiosyncratic, interesting businesses like Chocolate Mousse, a great kitchenware supply store, and others, to be replaced only by chain stores, which could make the neighbourhood feel like any city, anywhere, at any time. You don’t know. While I’m walking down Robson Street, I might as well be in Hamburg, Germany, or California or New York or anywhere where they have major international chain businesses. So that is their concern. I’ll keep pushing.

We’ve had more action, as I say, in support of local businesses with this challenge of assessments and more discussion and genuine interest in the last 16 months than, I would argue, we’ve had for the last 16 years, in terms of assessment issues. I’m hopeful that, and I know that the minister understands it, with further work and continued pressure and continued ideas, we can get there with things like split assessments, land averaging — those kinds of ideas — and, potentially, challenges of triple-net leases, amongst other solutions, down the road.

I thank the minister for bringing this legislation and for showing that change is possible on this file. Let’s keep going.

C. Oakes: It is a rarity, actually, in this House that we hear members from all three parties that stand in support of a bill and stand in support of some opportunities that…. We feel, as legislators, that it’s never too late for us, as bills are put forward, to make changes that we think will help improve and to reflect what we are hearing out in our communities. Today what we’ve heard reflected from all of the speakers that have come forward…. I think that there’s a real opportunity for us to address class 5 and 6 and look at how we can support small businesses.

Last week we just celebrated Small Business Week. I know that we stand, all of us, together in this House in support of our fantastic small businesses that drive our economies throughout the province. But going back to….I am in support of the Assessment Amendment Act 2018 to provide major industrial operations additional tools to address the challenges of a very small number of businesses that are facing changes in their official community plans.

I think my area is a very interesting snapshot of how additional tools with an assessment are an opportunity for all members of this House.

[5:45 p.m.]

Of course, we have talked at length and will continue to discuss the challenges that we’ve had with 2017 and 2018 around the wildfires. While that drives significant changes in our communities, I do believe that out of change, often opportunities can arise. I’m optimistic, and I always work towards finding solutions to challenges that we face in our communities. I am confident with the people that I have the privilege to work with on the ground every day that the Cariboo will find that they’re resilient and that we will find opportunities as we transition our forest economy.

When I look at the transitioning nature of our forest economy, I am not suggesting for a moment that at any point will we see…. We will definitely see a change in the forest economy, but for people in the industry, we will look at it as a sunrise opportunity as opposed to a sunset. While we recognize that we’ve got challenges around fibre, and we’ve got challenges around beetle epidemics…. We’ve got challenges around so many aspects of the forest economy, what it is really driving us to do is to take a really close look at how we can better look at fibre utilization. How, as a community, can we look at the changing nature of our forest economy and look at how that may drive for change in our communities?

I know that we are going through an official community plan currently in Quesnel. Some of the things that we are looking at are the driving nature of technology, how industry has changed — technology opportunities in our communities and how that may reflect and change — and providing tools within the Assessment Amendment Act and providing tools for industry assessment to reconcile the vision that municipalities have for their official community plans and where they see potential for their communities to reach to and to go to without penalizing industries that are in the process of change. In that process of increased fibre utilization, whether we’re looking at value-added or what have you, I think that this tool is a step in supporting communities in transition.

Having sat on council, as so many of us in this House have had the privilege of doing, I certainly understand and concur with the members that have spoken prior about how we need to look at assessment, specifically around class 5 and 6, small business and light industrial — how there are opportunities. If the tools that we are talking about within this amendment act could be applied, it would really benefit and provide opportunities across the board for small businesses.

I am confident…. Again, I mentioned I’m optimistic. I was optimistic when I heard, last week, the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology say: “We care about small businesses and the people who own them, and we are committed to ensuring that they are viable and successful.” I know that he is committed to that, as all members of this House are. That’s why I believe that there is an opportunity within this bill to look at how we can improve upon this bill. We can go out, and we can look at how the changes and the tools that we are applying for one specific sector, for class 4…. How can we potentially look at those tools now also being applied to class 5 and 6 and create an even better bill that we can all be proud of here in this Legislature?

I think that there is a tremendous opportunity. The member from Vancouver east end talked about the solution that was being put forward by the CFIB around split classification. I would like to take a moment, if I may, just to read an opportunity that they have presented. I know that many members of this House have had the opportunity to speak with business organizations and groups such as our business improvement areas — the CFIB, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce — but currently, of course, we know that a property is assessed based on its highest and best use.

[5:50 p.m.]

What that means is if a large mixed-use, multi-storey building — businesses on the first floor with residential on the units above — is built next to a single-storey business property, B.C. Assessment will assess that single-storey building on the potential of the lot, not the actual building that exists. To put that in commonsense language, it’s the mom-and-pop grocery store that’s been on your corner for 40 years and that you’ve relied on. They’ve watched your kids grow up. They know you by name. You’ve developed that relationship. Next door to them, you have a multi-mixed-use unit that goes up, and that mom-and-pop store then becomes taxed at the highest and best use. It gets compared to the business and the residential multi-use complex that is next to them.

That puts incredible pressure on these mom-and-pop operators that really are the hearts of our communities, and we cannot lose them and what they provide to our communities.

Again, to the minister, having the opportunity to improve upon this bill and to provide these tools to other classifications I think would be critically important. The recommendation that was put forward by CFIB which is referred to as the split classification assessment approach talks about, in effect, valuing properties according to their classification while still recognizing their highest business use. Under the Assessment Act, property is classified based on current use but valued at market value, which reflects a property’s highest and best use.

The challenges that we have with properties with redevelopment potential may have a current use that differs from their highest and best use and, in fact, may be waiting for the zoning to occur to catch up to the official community plan. So even if they wanted to do the redevelopment on the property, they’re constrained because the policy and zoning haven’t been put in place that match what the official community plan puts forward.

For example, many properties have current use of low-density commercial or light industrial, but their highest and best use, if they were to be redeveloped, is mixed residential commercial. This becomes a taxation issue for these properties, as they are assessed at highest best use at values multiple times those of their current business use, but classified in their current use with the significantly higher property tax rate for class 5, light industry, and class 6, business and other, compared to class 1, as residential.

A further challenge is that property may be occupied by tenants who, under their lease obligations, are responsible for property taxes. Consequently, while the owners ultimately benefit from the increased value, the tenant, as the member earlier stated, pays the property taxes or holding costs while the property maintains in current use.

I think that there have been some very thoughtful discussions that have happened on how to improve upon this bill. I think that there are some solutions, whether you look at a split classification assessment approach and addressing class 5 and 6 that will improve upon this bill and will reflect the importance that all of us put on our small businesses in our communities, our mom-and-pop stores, the men and women who support our soccer teams, who support the vitality of our communities, who always step up every single day and make sure that whatever their community needs, they are there front and centre.

Finally, as job creators and economic generators, as affordability champions, because they’re the ones that are out there hiring that young person for their first job or hiring that senior to make sure that they have an opportunity to participate in our economy.

Tools are important for municipalities, and it is my hope that with the Assessment Amendment Act, 2018, there’s an opportunity to improve it, as we’ve heard from all members of the House today.

Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister to close the debate.

Hon. S. Robinson: I certainly appreciate hearing from members from all sides of the House, and it’s certainly a pleasure to hear that there is support for this bill going forward. That’s very good to hear.

[5:55 p.m.]

I do want to just provide a few comments in response to what I heard. We certainly heard from the member from Kamloops, who talked a bit about how small businesses have been asking for some of this work for years. Well, they had years — they had 16 years, in fact — to listen to the voice of small business and to take action. So I’m very proud of the fact that we are taking steps. This is a first step that we have committed to do because it is the right thing to do, because jobs are certainly at stake.

I also want to make sure that in response to…. Again, the member from Kamloops spoke. He somehow morphed this conversation about this bill into how long it takes to get housing through the various stages of development in local governments. While the members opposite chose to fight mayors and councillors all around this province and to blame them for what has become a housing crisis, we’ve taken a different step.

In fact, we announced at the UBCM…. I don’t know if the members opposite heard the announcement, but we are reviewing the development approval process so that it can be sped up, because it is a very costly endeavour to do those developments. I just wanted to correct that for the record and remind everybody that the members on the other side of the House had a decade and a half to address these concerns. Here we are, I guess, 15 months into our mandate, and we’re already taking steps.

With that, I do want to note that my ministry is undertaking a review of highest and best use valuation impacts on other property classes that are dealing with similar issues. We’ve certainly been hearing that, too, and we’ve started that work.

I know that the members opposite, given that the member who just spoke mentioned…. She had been the minister responsible for this file, so she’s fully aware that this work requires the ability to study what the impacts are, and that work is being undertaken as we speak.

In addition, we are looking at identifying property tax mitigation strategies for small businesses subject to triple-net leases. Like the members opposite have said, this has been an ongoing issue. The member for Saanich North and the Islands said the same thing. It is, and it’s been going on for years. I’m very proud of the fact that we’re taking the steps to address that, because we all know that those businesses are vital to everyone in our communities.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of the bill.

Motion approved.

Hon. S. Robinson: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of Whole House to be considered at the next sitting after today.

Bill 42, Assessment Amendment Act, 2018, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.

Hon. D. Eby: I call second reading of Bill 43, Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2018.


Hon. D. Eby: I move the bill be now read a second time. Bill 43 makes minor corrections and housekeeping amendments to various statutes. They’re all straightforward, non-controversial corrections and all minor in nature. The contents of the bill, when read, should reflect that for all members. The office of legislative counsel gathers minor corrections as part of the routine statute revision process. The result of that work is what we have in this bill.

The office of the legislative counsel takes pride, as they should, in the work that they do, and they serve this House very well. That office, made up of people, serves this House very well. Changes in the bill are presented before the Legislature so that this Legislature can approve all changes to statutes, no matter how small or minor they may appear.

In other words, there’s a very important principle here that people cannot go in and just change statutes, even for minor corrections. They have to have the approval of the Legislature before any changes may be made. Besides, if we did that, we’d deprive the Leader of the Third Party of an opportunity for a lot of fun on a regular basis.

The changes need to be done with the authority of this House to ensure B.C. statutes are orderly and correct.

M. Lee: I rise to speak in favour of this bill. As the title suggests, it is minor corrections. As I appreciate, from the briefing that the Attorney General’s office arranged for me, in walking through the various provisions of this bill, it’s very clear, when you look at the provisions, that they are minor corrections, indeed, of a necessary nature for the statutes that are being cited here.

[6:00 p.m.]

I look forward to having a quick committee process on this bill and certainly will be speaking in favour of that as well.

A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak in favour of most aspects of Bill 43, Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2018.

Unlike the member for Vancouver-Langara and the Attorney General, I do believe one of the changes is very controversial, and I will come to that at a later point. Perhaps maybe I should…. Well, I’ll come to that at a later point.

This bill, like previous miscellaneous statutes bills, corrects a number of typos and errors. It’s truly remarkable that some of these have been found. I’m amazed at the level of service we have here in British Columbia — for example, the change in Assessment Authority Act, the first section, No. 1, in this bill. What it’s doing in this change…. Somebody caught the change of December 3l and suggested it be changed to December 31 — 3l to 31. I literally couldn’t tell the difference.

I asked my colleague the member for Saanich North and the Islands, and he couldn’t tell the difference. My colleague the member for Cowichan Valley couldn’t tell the difference. The Minister of Health couldn’t tell the difference. So what I had to do was ask the Attorney General. The Attorney General pointed out that he was advised that, in fact, the number 1 was not a number 1 in the first December 31; it was the small case for the letter “l.”

Now, there’s just no way you could tell that. I have no idea, because they are identical, how somebody was able to find that. That person, if that person reports to the Attorney General, needs a pay raise, because this is just unbelievable, the level of accuracy in our legislation.

You know, I think I’m going to pull across right to the very controversial section at this phase, and that is section 21 in this bill. Now, it is controversial at its fundamental level. What section 21(b) says here…. Well, the first part’s not. Section 21 is a change to schedule C. It says, “in the description of Coste Rocks Parks by striking out ‘1 hectares’ and substituting ‘1 hectare’” instead. Now that, I agree, is not controversial. Clearly, “1” is not plural, so it is correct, actually, to have the singular form of hectare.

However, look at the second change, that “BC Hydro Plan plan” should be changed and struck out and replaced with “BC Hydro Plan.”

Now, I remember in the leadership debates, in the lead-up to the last campaign, that there’s a very subtle difference between the word “plan” and the number you use. I remember accusing the B.C. NDP at that time of having a plan to develop a plan to come up with a plan on MSP reform. I asked the now Premier in the leadership debate: “Is what you’re saying that you have a plan to develop a plan to come up with a plan?” He responded: “Yes.”

Here, we’re talking about a B.C. Hydro plan plan. So I’m not so sure that we can so glibly assume that this is a minor correction in light of the fact that maybe we need a plan for a B.C. Hydro plan and maybe we need a plan to come up with that plan to develop a B.C. Hydro plan. I look forward to exploring this at committee stage, and I do ask the Attorney General to bring in senior officials from B.C. Hydro to justify the use of the removal of the word “plan” in its second case there.

We move forward in this. Of course, there are some really important changes, like we see in section 2. Heaven forbid we leave “Local” unitalicized. That’s been corrected. Thank you. The section number is incorrect. That’s very important.

You know, this is shocking. This one is really shocking. Not as shocking, actually, as the fact that in section 1, the error in having the small case “l” instead of the number 1 has been in place since 1980. For 38 years, we have had December the 3l, small-cased, and not December 31 — 38 years.

[6:05 p.m.]

Do we have to go back and look at every reference in our history of law here to whether that was invoked and ensure that it was invoked correctly? But no….


A. Weaver: Wonderful.

The good news here is the changes are applied retroactively to 1980, so we’re safe.

In terms of another issue that was really troubling to me — it’s troubling to me that this actually happened — under the 16 years of rule by the B.C. Liberals, I would have thought that they’d have recognized the difference between American spelling and Canadian spelling.

Here we have, in the Clean Energy Act, an act brought in by the previous government, the use of the word “fueling” with a single “l” instead of a double “l.” It’s unacceptable for a representative of Her Majesty the Queen to be using single l’s in the words “fuelling” and “fuelled.”

What’s next? Is “travelled” going to have one “l”? Is “modelling” going to have one “l”?


A. Weaver: What’s happening to our English language here in this Legislature today? I sympathize with the members opposite who are saying, “Shame, shame,” to this.


A. Weaver: Even the Liberals have two l’s, as pointed out by the member for Penticton, who’s really not supposed to heckle from the back when he’s not sitting in his chair. But I liked it. Thank you for that.

Moving forward, we have a couple of changes here, where “an” was inadvertently written, and “a” has replaced “an” to correct it. I totally appreciate that. There is, actually…. I’m surprised we haven’t actually spawned a delegation from the province of Quebec. I’m concerned that we haven’t actually seen the francophone society of British Columbia up in arms about section 7 where the accent ague was left off économie. Instead of saying économie, it’s “economie.” What are we saying to our French British Columbians when we are so lackadaisical that we don’t take care of the application of the accents? It’s just outrageous, shocking, but I’m glad that it’s being fixed.

There are a few more examples, where “an” was changed to “a” — very important. We’ve got a typo here — a typo that I make myself sometimes. In section 12, we see the International Commercial Arbitration Act has an important spelling mistake. They spelled “usable” as u-s-e-a-b-l-e — a classic error — and it should be u-s-a-b-l-e. Anyone who plays Scrabble will know that that’s a no-no, trying to get rid of your extra “e,” no less.

We have others, in terms of the Local Government Statutes (Housing Needs Reports) Amendment Act, we’ve got a missing “R” there. The “S.B.C.” was supposed to be “R.S.B.C.” Who knows what they were referring to with “S.B.C.”?

We’ve got some renumbering of sections in section 14, a small addition in section 15. We’ve added the word “provisions” in section 16. It says here: “one or more of this Act.” Who wrote that? Who wrote this Mortgage Brokers Act so that it just said: “one or more of this Act”? What does that mean? Thank heavens we now know what it means. It’s actually “one or more provisions of this act” — a critical, critical addition that ensures that we actually are accurately dealing with this.

I’m really pleased to see the Parental Liability Act was updated. Heaven forbid we didn’t italicize the letter “y” in front of “young offenders.” That clearly has misled British Columbians. There’s another in the Water Act that wasn’t italicized. There are many of these.

Another one that, frankly, I think is quite shocking — I believe this is from the dark era of the 1990s. In the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act, there’s an incorrect use of the word “which” instead of “that.” Thank goodness that the people who review legislation have caught the more appropriate use of the word “that” instead of “which.” I am glad to see that that is changed here.

Most of these are pretty pale. Again, coming back to the egregious error by the B.C. Liberals with respect to the two l’s, even in 2004, they were making that mistake, where they started talking in the Wildfire Act of “fuelling” with a single “l” instead of a double “l” and “fuelled” with a single “l” instead of a double “l.”

[6:10 p.m.]

With these changes, I’m sure that grammaticists from north to south and east to west not only in British Columbia but across our beautiful nation…. Subjects who revere the monarchy will recognize that these changes are actually at the essence of what it means to be Canadian.

With that, I do thank the minister for bringing them forward. I’m particularly grateful that some of these are brought forward retroactive to the year 1980, two retroactive to the Dark Ages of the 1990s and 1997 and one to 2016.

The only thing I feel sorry for in this debate is that I don’t get to listen to the comments and the remarks from the member from Nanaimo, who went and got himself elected yesterday and now appears not to be coming back to this Legislature.

I do thank the minister for bringing this forward. With all seriousness, this is important work that our legislative team does. It’s important to have bills that are factual and correct. Obviously, I support this. I commend the work that’s done to find that — particularly, a pay raise for the person that found the “l” instead of the “1,” because that one was a toughie.

Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister will close the debate.

Hon. D. Eby: Thank you to my counterpart in the opposition and particularly to the Leader of the Third Party. He always puts so much work into this one, and I always enjoy hearing his remarks.

Actually, I hadn’t spotted the “1” and the “l” myself. It was in asking a question that had been raised by the Leader of the Third Party that I learned myself about that error that has persisted since ’79. The House is all a little bit wiser now thanks to his efforts.

With that, I move second reading.

Motion approved.

Hon. D. Eby: I move the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting after today.

Bill 43, Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2018, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.

Hon. D. Eby: I call second reading of Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act, 2018.



On the amendment (continued).

G. Kyllo: I’m happy to rise in the House and continue my remarks with respect to Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act.

As I had shared with the House last week, I’m very concerned about the upcoming referendum on proportional representation.

I also wanted to just clarify an error I made last week in referring to a motion that was actually moved by my colleague the member for Vancouver–False Creek. I inadvertently indicated the mover was from Vancouver-Fraserview, so again, I just wanted to correct that for the record.

Last week when we spoke, I was able to share a little bit about how proud I am to be a Canadian and how well our current parliamentary system has worked, both for Canada and us here in British Columbia. I also talked about the value of being a locally elected representative.

As I shared last week, I’ve lived in the community of Shuswap for over 40 years now, and I think that the ability of a member to provide service to his constituents is really indicative of the amount of time that they have spent in their specific riding.

I have four daughters and seven grandchildren, all residing in Shuswap. I think that the amount of time that we spend in our riding certainly makes us more in tune to the goings-on within our specific ridings and provides us a better opportunity to be of great service to our constituents.

Now, the current referendum process that is before the House today…. There have been a number of changes. If we go back to 2005 and 2009, when the previous referendums were put before British Columbia, back in 2005, there was acitizens’ assembly that was created.

About 150 British Columbians, is my understanding, were actually identified, and they sought out various different forms of proportional representation. They landed on one form of PR. At that time, it was a single transferable vote.

With a question of the magnitude of going to potentially change the way that we elect governments in our province, it’s really important that the electorate has a very clear and concise choice. Back in 2005, STV was the form of proportional representation that was identified.

[6:15 p.m.]

Elections B.C. created the riding boundaries and riding maps so that when the question was put before British Columbians, they had a clear understanding of the type of proportional representation that was being presented to them. As well, they were provided with all of the electoral maps so they could clearly identify and see where their hometowns and communities resided within that broader riding boundary change.

There were also two thresholds. If we have a look at something as fundamental as changing the way that we elect our governments, we want to make sure that there is a significant majority of British Columbians that are actually voting for that change. There was a 60 percent threshold that was put in place. So for the referendum to pass, it had to pass by 60 percent of voters in the referendum process, and as well, it had to pass in 60 percent of the ridings.

Now, I think that we can all appreciate the size and magnitude of the province of British Columbia. Some ridings are as small as six city blocks; other ridings, over 100,000 square kilometres. So I think it’s also very important that we give consideration to making sure that the vast geographic nature of our province is also taken into play and into consideration in establishing how we may move forward for giving consideration to a different way of electing governments and electing MLAs in our province.

What the current government has actually identified…. Again, we have to go back to what the reason is that this referendum is before the House. In the last election, I certainly did not have any constituents come up and express any concern to me about the type of election that we have in B.C. There were no questions brought to me on the doorsteps — knocking on literally hundreds of doors throughout the Shuswap — from anybody expressing any concern about electoral reform.

But here we have the three Green Party members that would like to see their seat count in the House increase. Under any form of PR, that would be the case, so there has been, I would assume, a significant amount of pressure put on the current government in order to move forward with this current referendum.

What have they done in order to help stack the deck in favour of a positive outcome for PR? They’ve reduced that threshold, from 60 percent down to 50 percent. They’ve also removed any regional requirement. In previous referendums, when there was a requirement to have the vote pass in a minimum of 60 percent of the ridings around the province…. They’ve taken that away.

When you have a province as diverse as and the size of British Columbia, it puts a significant amount of focus on the highly populated areas. The Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island have the population, and they can make decisions that have a negative impact on other regions of the province. They’ve removed that threshold.

As well, they haven’t identified any requirement for voter turnout. They’ve chosen to go with a mail-in ballot, to the tune of $14½ million, so it’s a significant cost. And they’ve removed the requirement for any minimum voter turnout. As we know, in past mail-in ballots when referendums have been put to the electorate through a mail-in ballot, we have very low voter turnout.

Let’s just assume for a minute that we even have a 40 percent voter turnout, which I think is highly unlikely. Even at 40 percent, the current referendum would indicate that a margin over 20 percent of British Columbians could change the way that we elect governments forever more. That is just wrong. Even the Societies Act of B.C…. If you’re a society and you want to actually look at changing your constitution or bylaws, it requires a two-thirds majority vote in order to change the constitution or bylaws of a society operating within British Columbia.

The NDP’s own party actually requires a two-thirds majority for any major change of any policy change direction within their own party. Yet here, for something as fundamental and important as the way we elect governments in our province, they reduce that requirement — from the 60 percent threshold, which we saw in previous referendums, down to 50 percent.

When I talk to constituents in my home riding of Shuswap, people are extremely concerned. As one of my colleagues has indicated, this is truly a stacked deck in a rigged game.

[6:20 p.m.]

The process by which we are looking at moving forward on this referendum is improper. It does not reflect the true will of British Columbia. As well, they chose to actually make the announcement and bring out the requirement during the heat of the summer, when British Columbians are not paying attention.

In my home riding of Shuswap, when I’m talking with and canvassing constituents, very few people are even aware of the upcoming referendum, let alone the forms of proportional representation that are actually put before British Columbians. So you have voters that aren’t engaged. You have a system that was put out before the electorate at a time when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. It overlaps with our municipal elections, which we just recently had over this past weekend. And British Columbians are not fully aware of or in tune with what’s actually happening.

Of the three different forms of proportional representation that are going to be out on the ballot, there’s a general lack of understanding as far as how they would play out. There have been no electoral maps provided to British Columbians so they can actually see how these proposed changes would affect the way they vote and the riding boundaries for their locally elected representative.

As well, as we know, up to 40 percent of MLAs, under the forms of PR that are presented, would be selected off of party lists. So, rather than the opportunity to actually elect your local representative, 40 percent of members of this House will be selected for you, not by the voters in a specific ride but by party bosses. Mr. Speaker, that is just clearly wrong.

There are a number of commitments that the Premier had made over the last year with respect to the form of question that might be put before voters, and he had committed to British Columbians by indicating that if the referendum was going to be put before British Columbians, it would be a simple yes-no question. But that is not what’s happened.

Again, our Premier of the province has fallen back on his word and actually moved forward with a process that is very different from what he committed to British Columbians prior to the last election.

Now, the amendment before the House is to have a six-month pause. As we know, this current bill, Bill 40, is looking at handcuffing or tying future governments to a future referendum process. We know that that just cannot be done. This bill that is before the House, which is being debated, largely is going to be putting a question for a future referendum eight years into the future. We know that this bill can’t actually be enforced. Future governments do have the ability of changing the way that they would even give consideration to moving forward on future bills or future referendums that may be put before British Columbians.

As we have a look at the true value of being elected as an MLA to represent your specific riding, we all care deeply about our communities. I think that the ability to provide service and to actually represent your local constituents is largely indicative of the time that you’ve spent in the riding by raising your families, by working — or some of us who are actually providing employment — and having a very good firsthand knowledge of what makes your various communities within your riding tick.

I think that is the most fundamental piece, in speaking to constituents in Shuswap that are most concerned…. The idea of having a local representative — actually, the word “local” would go away — appointed to your riding that would not even be required to reside within your riding is just so wrong in so many ways.

Recently there was an article that was produced by Jock Finlayson speaking about some of his concerns on electoral reform. He indicated that “there is nothing more fundamental to democracy than free elections and the rules by which our legislative representatives are chosen. Changing this system is a serious undertaking and one that demands meaningful public engagement, clear alternatives that people can easily understand and a voting process that ensures that the collective voice of British Columbians is heard.”

[6:25 p.m.]

This process has been rushed. Bill 5, which passed last fall, actually set out that there is a short timeline for this referendum to actually happen this fall. Yet we know that regardless of the outcome, if the referendum were to pass, it would not come into play until the fall of 2021, so what is the hurry?

We asked the question: why has the work not been done to adequately educate British Columbians about the three proposed methods of proportional representation that are actually going to be put before voters? There certainly is no hurry or no rush, from what I can see in talking to any of my colleagues, on why we had to have this referendum out the door in the fall of 2018, because the outcome wouldn’t come into play until the fall of 2021.

There is no urgency. There’s no rush to get this out the door. There certainly was time to have more engagement with an all-citizens assembly, to have more appropriate consultation with Elections B.C., to have a look at what the riding boundaries may potentially look like — so that voters actually knew what they were voting for.

Under the current referendum, for British Columbians, there are far too many unanswered questions. A lot of the details around how the forms of referendum will actually apply are yet to be established, and our Premier states: “Take a leap of faith.” Well, as Vaughn Palmer indicated, he felt that it’s truly more appropriate to refer to as a leap into the dark.

That certainly is something that I’m very concerned about — the manner in which this has been put before British Columbians. Again, speaking to the amendment, I certainly am supportive of taking a six-month pause and holding off on moving forward with the current bill.

Hon. M. Farnworth moved adjournment of debate.

Motion approved.

Hon. M. Farnworth: I move the House do now recess until seven o’clock.

Motion approved.

The House recessed from 6:28 p.m. to 7:01 p.m.

[L. Reid in the chair.]

Hon. M. Farnworth: I call continued debate on Bill 40.

Second Reading of Bills



On the amendment (continued).

Deputy Speaker: I recognize the member for Peace River South.

M. Bernier: Thank you, hon. Speaker.


M. Bernier: Thank you, as well, to my colleague from Nechako for that.

It’s an honour to speak now that everybody’s back from the dinner break. It’s interesting, on our Monday nights, to be going into the evenings. The first shout-out that I think I’ll do will be to my wife, Valerie, who’s at home and who’s probably one of the few people watching right now.

Hopefully, everybody else is enjoying their evening with their families. But for those that are watching right now, or for those that will be watching later, I think this is a really important opportunity we have here to be speaking to the amendment to Bill 40.

Of course, Bill 40 is something that…. Really, when we’re talking about changing the electoral system in the province of British Columbia here, it’s one of those times, I think, as a local MLA, first of all, to talk about the importance of an MLA, the importance of that local representation. You know, I’ve been through five elections — five or six, I think, now — myself over my 15 years in public office. Every single one of those elections was run through a first-past-the-post system.

In the province of British Columbia, in the country of Canada, for the most part, we have always run a stable first-past-the-post electoral system. If I look at some of the countries around the world that members opposite have tried to tout, for instance, as different, that work better, they say a place like Belgium — we’ve heard this one in the House before — that runs under a proportional representative system.

My riding, represented by one MLA right now, which is myself, is the same size as that country of Belgium. Belgium has 150 MLAs and 60 senators that represent the same geography that one person represents here in British Columbia — myself. And I’ve got colleagues that have similar-sized ridings and even larger ridings than my own.

[7:05 p.m.]

I should say that it can be a challenge, truthfully, to represent a riding that large. There are differences — differences of opinions, definitely; different communities; different regions — that you have to represent even within the existing riding system we have. And we have a government that is saying: “We want to expand that. We want to make it even harder. We want to make it even larger.”

I mean, in my corner of the province — literally, it’s the northeast corner of British Columbia — we already feel, being the furthest away from Victoria here in B.C., that we have to be louder, that we have to work harder to make sure that our issues, our concerns, are heard. That’s with local representation. That’s with a local person who understands the issues, who’s from the area, who listens to the concerns and then, I would say, is duly elected to do so from that area.

We have a referendum here in front of us to change that electoral system. Interestingly, again, to go back to Belgium, because some of the members opposite who are trying to tout that as a success…. In fact, Belgium does not allow legally binding referendums, as this government has put forward. Why? They say it’s unconstitutional. They’ll allow having non-binding referendums to get the feel, to get the gauge, of what the populace, the people in the country, might consider. But they have made it illegal in countries like that, which are under a PR system, to actually have binding referendums.

I find it quite interesting, the contrast here. We have a government who is actually trying to put it in — under the bill last year and the one that we’re debating now — and the motion that we have in front of us to wait six months to really gather more information because the people of British Columbia have not been given a chance to get that information. That’s not the people’s fault. The government has neglected, I would say, to do their job to ensure that we have a fair referendum, that we have the information so the people of British Columbia can make an informed decision. That’s why this motion is in front of us today: to ensure that we at least, at the very minimum, allow a bit more time for people to get that information.

Not just the polls around British Columbia…. But even as a local MLA, when I’ve been going around my community asking people about the referendum, it is amazing. I’m sure that every member in this House, in all three parties, if they’re doing their job, will have heard the same thing. What referendum? There are a lot of people out there that are being asked to vote for something that they haven’t even heard of yet.

Now, there’s a little bit of smatterings here and there. People are starting to hear, but they don’t have the information. There are so many questions. There’s so much uncertainty. I would argue that the government has actually done that on purpose. They know that the people who are motivated to change the system are well aware of what’s going on, because they actually helped shape a lot of this.

When you look at what I’m facing personally, from my region, as the local representative…. What people in rural British Columbia are being asked, arguably, to give up is that local voice, that person — it doesn’t matter what party — who is duly elected locally to bring that concern, those issues, down here to Victoria and to stand up for the people.

We go through elections. We go through elections so that people can put ideas forward and people can put policies forward. They can put a platform forward. Under the existing system we have, then people can go and vote and try to decide maybe who they align with a bit more, which party they align with, which ideas they align with. You will hear the people opposite, the government and PR supporters saying: “Well, that’s why we need PR, because my ideas might not align with the person who got in.”

Well, hon. Speaker, we have 4½ million people here in British Columbia. I’ll bet you and I could say we have 4½ million ideas, and people will never align 100 percent with anybody else. That’s great. Our democratic system allows people to have those differences. But we need to go through a process to look at who represents, at least at the very minimum, the majority of people.

Now, I look at myself again as an example and every single person in this House — on this side and, I would even hope and assume, on the opposite side here, in government and the Third Party. You run on a platform in an election. You win or you lose based on that platform. You win or you lose based on your performance in the past, your ideas for the future.

[7:10 p.m.]

That’s what people want to know, what they want to hear and what they vote on. But I also know that once you’re elected, if you’re the person that was successful and you’re in your office in your riding, your party hat comes off.

At no time has anybody walked into my office — or again, I would say, of anybody in this building — and said: “I’m only in here because I know I voted for you and that you’ll only help me because I voted for you.” I have never asked, nor should anybody in this House ever ask, who someone voted for. Once you are elected, you represent 100 percent of the issues, concerns and people in your riding. The present system we have actually allows for that quite well, and it allows people, regardless of who they voted for, to know who their MLA is and who they go and talk to.

One of the biggest things that I think is important as we go through this process is making sure people in British Columbia understand what’s at stake. Some of my colleagues have talked about not only the constitutional aspect but the fairness of what we have in front of us here with this referendum. When you have a referendum that has been changed — in this case, the third time that we’ve had a referendum to look at a different electoral system — this is the first time that it has been, I would say, government-manipulated. It is government that’s actually setting the agenda completely, without the people of British Columbia really having a say in the system. It’s the people of British Columbia who are going to be asked to vote again, knowing that there’s been political interference on the direction of a choice without the information.

I have to throw those words back at the PR supporters who are saying: “It’s all about fairness.” Well, this is anything but fair. It is not fair when the people are asked to vote on something without that information. You know, why are we here? I’ll talk a bit about some of that information on why we’re here.

Well, it kind of brings up the confidence and supply agreement right away. First of all, when you look at the agreement that we have between the Green Party and the NDP for the NDP to be in power, they signed that confidence and supply agreement to make sure that we have this referendum.

Now, again, I know other people in the House have said that the Green Party was pushing to ensure that we just actually had it forced through. So if I’m going to give any credit at all to the NDP, at least we’re going through a referendum and not just implementing an electoral system, but when I look at the confidence and supply agreement — why we’re going through this whole referendum to begin with — under that, what was signed and what was agreed upon between those two parties to be in government, it says that a referendum on PR will and must take place in the fall of 2018, concurrent with the municipal election. Well, oops. That didn’t happen.

The form of PR approved in the referendum must be enacted in the next provincial election. Now we’ve heard that there could be changes to that. “The parties agree that they will work together in good faith” on a form of proportional representation agreed upon that’ll be put to the public. Well, that hasn’t happened either. If you look at the ballot that’s going out this week, there are three. I’ll get to that in a second. They also agree that they will work together to make sure that this referendum passes.

Then, in the same breath, they say that this is not political, that they haven’t tampered with anything. It’s all arm’s length. Well, when you look at the fact that it’s now been changed to 50 percent plus one — and people in the House have spoken to the fact that the other two referendums were 60 percent plus one, which was, even then, a lower threshold than the two-thirds that most changes for most other groups would call for — to lower it to 50 percent plus one is something, I would say, that from a rural perspective really concerns me. With that 50 percent plus one, they also got rid of regional thresholds — which we had in the other referendums to ensure that, if nothing else, it was as fair as possible when a referendum question was going forward.

[7:15 p.m.]

In the last referendum, not only was it 60 percent plus one, not only was it made sure that there was a citizens’ group that was put together, which actually made sure that it was arm’s length from government, but we had regional thresholds to ensure that everybody around the province — especially in larger rural areas, like myself — wasn’t steamrolled over by larger urban areas in the province. They made sure that their voice was heard.

I would say, just as important as those, government at the time, Elections B.C. and the citizens’ assembly knew that if people were going to be voting on a system, they should at least have as many facts as possible. One choice was given: “You keep what we have now, or one other choice to change to.” That was one that was selected by a group of people from all over British Columbia, to make sure it was fair.

They also said: “To be fair, we have to show you what the maps are going to look like. We have to tell you up front what the ridings are going to look like. We have to make sure that you know that you may lose your local representative if we go to a zone system.” Overwhelmingly, people in the province shot down that system in that last referendum — arguably, again, because they had the proper information to make an informed decision. That was important to them — what they were going to either gain or lose by changing the electoral system.

This time it’s been completely gamed: “This time let’s leave that information out. Let’s let people guess. Let’s just put all these slogans out there and see if that’s what will make people excited to change our electoral system.” Of the people in my area, the more I sit down and talk to them about the options that we could change to…. There is concern. I would say there’s even fear by people, once they understand what they could be losing.

I’m curious if other rural MLAs in this House, from the government side, have had the guts to stand in their riding and say: “Just so you know, I support PR. I signed a document that says I have to support PR. By the way, I probably won’t be your MLA next time. Somebody will be appointed, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be me.”

I wonder if they’ve had the guts to talk to the people in rural B.C. to say: “We’re willing to sacrifice your representative. We’re willing to sacrifice your voice to ensure that we have this “every vote counts.” By the way, 90 percent of those votes are outside of rural British Columbia. That, I think, is not only unfair and undemocratic. To the people of rural British Columbia, that is why there’s so much to lose.

Now, I don’t want to stand here and create the whole thought, which we’ve been talking about so many times, about the rural-urban divide. I’ve talked to lots of urban people about this issue. When I’ve explained to them what rural B.C. has to lose, they tell me that’s not fair as well. This should be of just as much concern for people in downtown Vancouver, who have a riding of six square kilometres, as in a riding like mine that is 36,000 square kilometres. There are different issues, but we still have to have that voice here in Victoria because of that.

When I look at Belgium, again, as an example…. Of course, the government put forward these low thresholds. All you need, I think, is 5 percent of the vote in order to have a seat in this House. Well, in the last election in Belgium, they ended up having 14 parties that ran. Twelve met the 5 percent — or 3 percent, I think it is there — threshold. Out of that, under a PR system, the parties get together in a back room, and they appoint 150 MLAs to represent the different jurisdictions and quadrants that they have in Belgium.

That’s what we’re looking at here in British Columbia. We are actually looking at changing a system to the point where people are going to sit in back rooms and make decisions for people. We’re going to have parties in which, people in this room now, if they want to be an MLA….

[7:20 p.m.]

I wonder if the members opposite have had the guts to stand up and say that too: “Don’t worry, I’m not putting my name on the ballot. I’m not running in the next election. I’ve worked out a deal to be on the party list. Don’t worry. I’ll be a representative somewhere, as long as we get enough votes here in British Columbia. Hey, I might not be here. I might live up north, but I might be the next MLA for North Island or Surrey, for that matter. It’s wherever the party decides to put people, for whatever reason.” But they decide.

Right now under a first-past-the-post system, the decisions are 100 percent in the hands of the voters. They go to a poll, they look at the names, they decide who they want to vote for, and that person who gets the majority of the votes will become the MLA. It’s simple. People understand it. We’ve done it for decades. In fact, if you look at the election we just had this weekend, well, that’s how it was handled there too. A first-past-the-post system for the local government elections this weekend. Why? People understand it. It’s simple. There’s accountability. And there’s choice for the voter.

Under a PR system, you lose that ability, and you’re going to have to trust a party to appoint somebody that you may or may not like, that you probably can’t have any relationship with because who knows where they’re from, not necessarily even from your area. But if there’s anything that people can learn from PR, proportional representation, if you look at almost every case study from around the world — if you’re unhappy with an MLA or a party, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. There is almost no accountability when you put the decisions in the hands of parties, of backroom people who are making deals, rather than the voters who get to choose the person that they want.

I know the Premier stood up here and said: “I hope the people will take a leap of faith.” Not sure if the people of British Columbia right now can trust the Premier on that comment, especially when he said he was going to make it an easy, two-choice question on a ballot. Broke that promise. Seems like almost every single promise on this referendum has been broken. So if we have this amendment in front of us, at least with that, it will give the Premier and the NDP at least six months to try to come good on some of the promises that they’ve broken on this referendum. So I think, in all fairness, they should be voting with us to basically support that and try to back-pedal a little bit from the decisions they’ve made that have been wrong.

I want to go back again, if I can for a second, to the elections that we had this weekend. I want to congratulate all the people, first of all, who ran, who put their names forward to run for public office. It is a huge commitment. It is a huge sacrifice, I’d say, in a lot of ways, in local government. As a former mayor, three terms myself on local government, sometimes I miss those days of the real direct, hands-on, coffee shop, make decisions quickly to help the people. And the one thing about that, too, is there’s accountability, and the first-past-the-post system, which we have, which people understand, recognized that.

If you’re running for mayor or a councillor, people can go in and decide if they’re going to vote for you. You do a crappy job, guess what. They’re not voting for you next time, and there are ways to get rid of you. Under PR, that won’t necessarily happen. Can you imagine if we had proportional representation in local governments? I’ve heard some people challenge me over the weekend when I was making comments about why are we even trying to have two different systems here in British Columbia, first-past-the-post for local government and proportional representation for provincial. Some people tried to challenge me and say: “Well, why don’t we do a PR, then, for local government, make every vote count?”

Well, can you imagine, when you have municipalities where you’ve got two, three or four people running for mayor? Well, let’s use the system that we’re trying to put in place here for the province now. As long as a mayor candidate gets 5 percent of the vote…. I’m trying to make sure people can understand this one, because it does get confusing. If a mayor candidate gets 5 percent of the vote under a PR system, they’d be entitled to a percentage of the say, now, as mayor in city hall.

[7:25 p.m.]

Think about that for a second. If you had some communities like Vancouver…. I know that my colleague is probably going to talk about that in more detail with some information on that afterwards. But if you look at the close election we had in Vancouver…. By the way, a former NDP MP winning mayor of Vancouver. Congratulations to him — 29 percent of the vote, I might add. He’s now the mayor of Vancouver. But under a PR system, the second-place person with 28 percent — and a few more, as long as they got more than 5 percent — would now be sharing the mayoral duties for the city of Vancouver under a PR system. Not quite sure how you do that — rock, paper, scissors, maybe? It might be a choice of: “You be mayor this week; I’ll be mayor next week.” That’s what PR brings. It’s that kind of, I would say, craziness and uncertainty within a community and, in this case, within the province.

People will not know what’s in front of them, the reason being that you never know what kind of deals are going to be made behind the scenes in order to have power and be in government. Well, they’re getting a taste of it, when you look at the three Green MLAs that had to work out deals and now backroom deals that they work through their secretariat for the NDP to stay in government. That is a very small snippet of what people could expect, actually, under PR. That’s exaggerated a little bit but that kind of situation.

When we have this bill in front of us that we want to make sure that we amend, we’re all going to be, hopefully, speaking to this. It’s not only the uncertainty of this referendum with no information that people are being asked to vote on. But it’s also the fear of what could happen. Yes, I say fear of what could happen if we actually have PR in the province of British Columbia. Maybe in a place like Belgium it could work. They don’t have the geographical differences that British Columbia has — the differences between large rural and urban areas like we have. In British Columbia, we do have those differences.

But we also have — what? I think it’s 27 registered parties here in British Columbia. Can you imagine how that would look for uncertainty in B.C.? But what also has me concerned are some of the things that we’re hearing from some of those parties right now in British Columbia. I look at, for instance…. We actually, believe it or not…. I know some people challenged me on this, and I told them to go look at the last elections, in 2013 and in 2017, because they did run. We actually have a Communist Party here in British Columbia.

We have other parties, as well, that I would say could be extreme in thoughts or views. I don’t know if the people of British Columbia en masse in any stance or corner would support a lot of those views. But it’s interesting, they’re out there touting that a small party like the Communist Party can actually “potentially hold the balance of power and use that position” to start moving neo-libertarian austerity policies into British Columbia finally. That’s a quote directly here recently from the Communist Party in British Columbia. They’re actually excited about PR because they think it’s their door into helping move their agenda into B.C.

Now, some people say that’s fearmongering, that’s extremism. Yeah, actually it is, because it could happen. And that’s, I think, a concern that it’s important that we raise for people so they understand what’s at stake. You’ve got the Vancouver Island Party. They’re out there talking about: “Finally, we might actually get enough seats to start a Vancouver Island separatist party and create our own province here in British Columbia.” I wish I was joking. I’m not. These are actual facts. These are things that are being said. These are the ideas that some people have out here. And these are actually the things that proportional representation could bring to British Columbia.

Now let’s go back to the referendum itself for a minute. I know that on this side of the House, we’re speaking against it. The big reason why I’m speaking against it and a lot of my colleagues are speaking against it is because of the gerrymandering, the unfairness, the way this referendum is being put forward.

[7:30 p.m.]

I have publicly said, in my riding and in other places, that I would not have picked sides and been more neutral and let the people of British Columbia actually have a say if they had all of the information. We don’t know how many MLAs there are going to be. We have 87. We’re hearing it can go up. But to what? We don’t know. This government has not given that information to the people of B.C.

I’d love to be able to tell people: “Vote on this, and you’ll know the size of the riding and you can make an informed decision.” I can’t do that because the government has not given that information, has not allowed Elections B.C. to give that information. Arguably, Election B.C.’s job should be to make sure that that is out there as well, but in all fairness, they have not been given that information by government for people to be able to make that decision.

We don’t know what constitutes a rural or urban riding. We don’t know who’s going to be allowed to run. I could go on and on about the lack of information that’s been given by this government for people to make an informed decision.

In absence of that information, the people of British Columbia have no choice, in my humble opinion, to not only support us on this motion to have it extended, at the very least, but they should be, now that the information is starting to hit the mailbox, voting to keep the same system we have. They should be pressuring this government, even if they’re in favour of PR, to vote against this, because they haven’t been given enough information.

The people of British Columbia deserve better. They deserve a government that’s going to be fair, that’s going to give all of the information, and then the chips can fall wherever they’re going to be. They have not done that. They have not done their due diligence, I would say, as a government, to do the right thing, the honourable thing, the constitutional thing and the fair thing for the people of B.C. so they can make the decision that’s best for them.

That information is out in the mailboxes right now. I urge people to keep the same system, because the government has not done their job to convince them otherwise.

M. Morris: I’m going to speak in favour of the amendment to Bill 40 here, but before I start, I want to talk about a bit of a metaphor when I look at this process, which I believe is a flawed process.

When we build a building, we put a lot of resources and engineering into the foundation of that building to make sure it will support the weight that is going to eventually be there. So the engineering into the structure, the concrete that’s poured in that foundation to support the weight of that structure, is no different than the process that we use in developing a referendum or if we develop legislation with respect to proportional representation. The foundation and the engineering that is required to hold the weight that this legislation and this referendum is going to put upon British Columbians…. The foundation that holds that is our constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we have in Canada that I hold so dearly and that I’ll fight, to ensure that everybody’s rights are upheld.

In speaking to the referendum, I had mentioned that it’s a flawed process. It not only requires constitutional grounding, but it needs to be recognized as equally as important as a general election. I’m going to quote a couple of quotes from the Supreme Court of Canada. This case is a 1993 case, Haig v. Canada. The court in this case said: “During the course of the hearing, an argument was advanced that a referendum was distinct from and less important than an election. It was argued that, as a result, the generous principles applicable to the right to vote in elections should not apply with the same force to a referendum.” The judge said: “I cannot accept that contention…. The same principles applicable to the right to vote in elections should be applied in the same manner to the right to vote in a referendum.” This is from 1993.

[7:35 p.m.]

So life carried on. Of course, all of these stem from…. In 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched into the Constitution of Canada. It was amended, and it’s called the Constitution Act, 1982. As a result of that, there were a number of cases that went before the courts, all the way from the Supreme Courts in the provinces through the Court of Appeal process and into the Supreme Court of Canada, where the petitioners argued against various sections of the constitution and electoral process in Canada.

There was another case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. This was in 1997. The court said, “Although the referendum system is different from the electoral system, in that the popular vote concerns a specific question and is not necessarily binding on the government,” which in this case it is. In this case, it’s more than a simple question. It’s a complex set of questions. The court went on to say: “…whereas in an election the people vote to elect their political representatives for a specific mandate, the same principles underlying election legislation should in general be applicable to the referendum legislation.” Then the court says to see the previous comments in the case that I recognized above. “There are enough points of similarity between the two systems to draw such a parallel.”

Here we have the Supreme Court providing instruction to governments across Canada on how to look at referendums, saying that the general principles that apply to a general election also need to apply to referendums. This has been disregarded by this government. The referendum process, like I said, is flawed. The foundational principles are absent, and the second referendum that’s implied in Bill 40 will also be flawed as well. It’s a part of that foundation. The foundation is cracked, and whatever is developed from that foundation onward will be flawed.

The Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act and regulations require that the referendum be held by mail-in ballot between the 22nd of October and the 30th of November. The local government elections were held on October 20. The campaign for the referendum period commenced on July 1 and runs through to November 30. It was running concurrent with the campaign period for the local government election. The introduction of Bill 40 at this time only adds to the confusion in the process. The voters are completely baffled by what this government has been doing over the past few months with respect to the referendum act, 2018, and now Bill 40.

I want to bring up section 23 of the B.C. Constitution Act, bearing in mind that every statute that we have in British Columbia is premised upon and built upon the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 23 of the B.C. Constitution Act states that a campaign period for a general election cannot overlap with a local government election campaign. We’ve got the Supreme Court of Canada saying that the same principles that apply to a general election also are applicable to a referendum.

We’ve got a contradiction here. We have a referendum being held and the campaign being held during a local election campaign, contrary to section 23 of the Constitution Act. Further to that, though, the Chief Electoral Officer, in his report on the provincial general election and referendum on electoral reform dated May 12, 2009, provided advice to the provincial government of the day.

I’ll quote from that report: “The referendum was to be conducted in tandem with the November 15, 2008, local government elections. Initial planning revealed significant issues related to conducting a provincial referendum in tandem with local government elections.” So back in 2009, it was recognized as a problem. Nothing has changed in law between 2009 and 2018.

[7:40 p.m.]

In addition to the confusion that we have by overlapping the two campaigns, we had a local government campaign period and local government elections that were probably the most confusing and complex local elections that we’ve seen in this province.

We had a high number of mayors running in some of the municipalities, or people running for mayor. We had a long list of candidates running for council. We’ve had a long list of people running for school districts. Some of the ballots were enormous in size, and it took people a long time to wrap their heads around exactly what that looked like.

Now, you add to this a binding referendum that government has thrown at the people at the same time as the people are trying to digest the complexities associated with the local government election, and now they’ve got this possibility of a further referendum being thrust upon them somewhere down the road in the future.

I would say that the average voter in British Columbia must be totally confused, because most of these people in the House are totally confused over this as well. Most of the people in the House, and particularly government, don’t realize the enormity of the situation we have before us here when it comes to the constitution and the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms of everybody.

The other part of this that I have a great deal of difficulty with is there are no regional thresholds. It’s 50 percent plus one of the eligible votes cast. The Constitution Act, 1982, has provisions in there for electoral reform. It’s got provisions for a supermajority in that statute. The general provisions and the general thoughts behind that legislation dictate that electoral reform needs to have that supermajority right across Canada. Any provincial government that wants to step into this foray needs to ensure that the Constitution Act, 1982, is adhered to.

In this case, it’s not. The Attorney General and the Premier seem to ignore that completely, violating everybody’s constitutional rights here in British Columbia. I’m questioning government with respect to this.

We’ve got 50 percent plus one of eligible votes cast. Normally, in the electoral process and the change for the electoral process, you’d be looking at 50 percent of eligible voters. Big difference between 50 percent of eligible voters and 50 percent of eligible votes cast, particularly when you’ve got voters in British Columbia who are exhausted, who are confused from going through this very complex local government election cycle that we’ve just seen, who are very confused over this complex question that is being thrust upon them by the provincial government.

The Premier is saying we don’t need this supermajority. Even though every non-profit, corporation, organization, political party and other volunteer group in British Columbia, if they want to change their constitution, they need a two-thirds majority in order to do that.

Yet we don’t need that in British Columbia to change our electoral system. We don’t need that at all. We can just forge ahead and change our system. If two people show up, they get to vote, and if one of them votes in favour of it, hey, maybe we’ve got a new electoral system. It’s that ridiculous.

If the Premier wants to change the constitution to allow that to happen in British Columbia, then he needs to follow the process that’s outlined in the Constitution Act, 1982, to change the constitution to allow them to hold a referendum as he sees fit here with no majority, with no supermajority. The Premier cannot do this on his own without doing that.

Now, the process has started. The Referendum Act was passed in this House, even though this side voted against it. The Greens and the NDP voted in favour of it.

[7:45 p.m.]

But it’s a flawed process. It is unconstitutional. It breaches the Charter rights that we have in Canada, in British Columbia. The courts will determine that in due course. This government is going to cost millions of dollars in court cases for the courts to ultimately say: “Yeah, the government had no right to do that. It is unconstitutional. Should never have happened.”

Bill 40 suggests that a second referendum take place to determine if the citizens of B.C. want to continue with this proportional representation process that they know nothing about at this particular time. How confusing is that? To throw that out to them at this particular time and say: “But if you guys aren’t happy with the decision that you make, we’ll have another referendum somewhere way down the road here so that you can get out of it if you don’t like it.”

You know, it’s wrong on many counts. It’s wrong because it’s unconstitutional. It’s wrong because it ties the hands of future governments as we move forward down the road. If the government is questioning whether proportional representation is valid, perhaps they should just cancel the referendum altogether and say: “We’ll probably have to have a look at this later on, once we change the constitution.” I wish them luck, because there have been other changes that have been recommended to the federal parliament to change the constitution that haven’t succeeded in the past.

This morning there was a motion in the House talking about an electoral system where every vote counts. As I stated this morning during that motion, Elections B.C. does count every vote that comes in. That’s their job. They count every single vote that comes before them. Then I’ve heard the members opposite say, and I’ve heard proponents for proportional representation say: “My vote isn’t counted at the end of the day because the person I voted for didn’t get elected.”

Again, I’m going to refer to the Supreme Court of Canada. I guess my whole job, my whole purpose, during the senior years in the RCMP, was to ensure that all of the work that we did as a police force was constitutional and followed the rules of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After I left the force, I became an adjudicator with the Health Professions Review Board. I relied on the charter and the jurisprudence out there for six years as I heard countless cases right across this province, dealing with various things under the Health Act. I’m familiar…. I can walk my way through the law libraries, the legal libraries. I can work my way through the constitutional issues that are out there. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s been one of my sidelines, I guess. One of my hobbies.

I go back to a Supreme Court of Canada decision from 2003. If anybody — the members opposite — want any of the citations, I can certainly give it to them. The court, in this case, said, “In each election, a significant number of citizens vote for candidates nominated by registered parties in full awareness that the candidate has no realistic chance of winning a seat in Parliament or that the party of which she or he is a member has no realistic chance of winning a majority of seats in the House of Commons” — or in this case, the provincial Legislature. “Just as these votes are not wasted votes, votes for a political party that has not satisfied the threshold are not wasted votes either.”

The courts recognized that the votes aren’t wasted. Everybody’s vote is counted.

Again, I go back to a statement I made earlier on. So 1982 is when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched in our constitution, and various actions were brought against the court dealing with electoral processes in Canada. The first one that dealt with section 3 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms occurred here in British Columbia. That case was Dixon. I can provide that to the members opposite.

I would suggest at this time, too, that if the members are really serious about abiding by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and understanding how our electoral process got to where it is today….

[7:50 p.m.]

It’s modern. I heard the Premier say the other day: “It’s outdated. It dates back to the 1800s. It doesn’t meet the modern standards that we have in Canada.” Well, I beg to differ with him. It goes back to the roots of Confederation — 1867, Sir John A. Macdonald — but it’s been modernized. It’s been challenged in the court system, and the courts have defined and redefined some of the provisions of it, particularly since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came along. It is modern. It does meet our specific standards today.

The case was Dixon, 1989, B.C. Court of Appeal. They provided an excellent overview of it. If the members want to read it, it’s about a 50-page decision. The judge goes into an in-depth analysis of the history of how we got here, an in-depth analysis of what section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states. Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that every citizen of Canada has the right to vote for a member of the House of Commons or the Legislative Assembly and to be qualified for membership therein. Pretty simple. Pretty simple statement but a powerful statement.

It doesn’t say that political parties or government — or anybody else, for that matter — can appoint members of the Legislature, because every citizen has the right to elect a member of this House. So the notion that government has put forward in these PR models that they have here, where they say that 60 percent of the members will be voted in and 40 percent of the members will be appointed, is contrary to section 3 of the Charter. It’s unconstitutional. It doesn’t fit within the framework.

The courts, in various decisions here — there was another one that came out in 2003, as well — stated that the purpose of section 3 includes not only the right of each citizen to have and to vote for an elected representative in parliament or of the Legislative Assembly but also to the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process — so effective and meaningful participation in the process prior to the vote taking place.

Everybody gets a chance to vote. They have a chance to go out and listen to all of the candidates out there, listen to what their platform is all about, listen to what their policies are all about, and based on their perception of the individual and based on the policies and the platform they have to offer, everybody makes a legitimate vote.

The court also said, in analyzing section 3, that section 3 should be understood with reference to the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process rather than the election of a particular form of government. It’s found in the fact that the rights of section 3 are participatory in nature. Section 3 does not advert to the composition of parliament subsequent to an election but only to the right of each citizen to a certain level of participation in the electoral process.

What proportional representation is purporting to promote, as I’ve seen it and heard members of government speak about it and heard the proponents of PR speak about it before…. They want to determine who sits in the House after an election is already over and completed.

We have 87 ridings in British Columbia. The ridings were developed as a result of the Dixon case. The court came back and said: “B.C., the way you determine your electoral boundaries and the representation is contrary to the constitution. You need to do a better job.” So B.C. came up with the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act. Every so many years, they go out and they re-establish boundaries so that we have representation by population, which is very important, the courts have decided.

We can deviate up to 25 percent because of geographical and regional differences. That goes all the way back to a speech that Sir John A. Macdonald made back in 1867 in the development of the constitution. When we look at the representation by population, it helped us create the 87 ridings that we have today where candidates go out in those ridings, and they strut their stuff. They talk about their policy, their platforms. Their personality shows through, as to whether or not they’ll have a strong enough voice for that particular area, and everybody votes. Those are 87 separate elections, if we want to look at it that way.

[7:55 p.m.]

The results come in. And then somebody says, with proportional representation: “Hey, let’s have a look at that.” We’ve got these 87 ridings that have come in. Now we’re going to apply this Droop formula, this mathematical equation, and we’re going to determine the proportion of the popular vote.

We would have 70 ridings that may not have had a Green candidate campaign during that election period, and we would have several candidates in southern Vancouver Island — let’s use that just for a case — that would run. And 17 percent of the popular vote indicates that the Greens need 17 percent of the seats in the House.

What happened to all of the other 70 candidates throughout the rest of the province? They never had a Green candidate show up, and the people in those areas didn’t vote Green. They didn’t want Green. They wanted a Liberal or perhaps an NDP. They didn’t want Green, but now we have this thrust upon us.

The courts have said, in a couple of the cases that I looked at here…. In one of the cases from 1991, the court said that the process of adjusting for factors other than population is not capable of precise mathematical definition.

I don’t have it on hand here, but there are two or three Supreme Court of Canada cases that I read that occurred in the ’90s and into the early 2000s that specifically said that mathematics has no place in determining the equality of the vote in Canada. Mathematics doesn’t play. It goes right back to Sir John A. Macdonald’s day, when he said representation by population is important, but regional and geographic considerations are equally important as well.

The court said: “B.C., you can deviate by plus or minus 25 percent when you determine these boundaries, but you can’t arbitrarily say we’re going to deviate by 25 percent.” It has to be justified under rationale developed on those geographical and regional differences.

Part of that is the fact…. Look at rural British Columbia, which is just about everything north of the greater Vancouver area and north of the capital regional district. Rural British Columbia produced 80 percent, on average, over the last ten years, of B.C.’s exports — 80 percent of B.C.’s exports. That has equated to between $10 billion and $25 billion a year of revenue coming into the province because of B.C.’s resource exports from rural B.C.

I dare say, we punch above our weight. The money that rural British Columbia brings into the economy in British Columbia is one of those significant differences that we need to have a look at.

When people are voting in the Peace River, they’re voting for somebody who’s going to support Site C. They’re voting for somebody who’s going to support LNG. They’re voting for somebody that’s going to vote for oil and gas. When you have somebody voting in my district, they’re going to be voting for forestry. They’re going to be voting for mining.

We’ve got Mount Milligan in the area that produces great quantities of copper. When we go into the Lakes District and most of rural British Columbia, mining is a big part of it. Forestry is a big part of it. Oil and gas and the resource sector are a big part of it. It doesn’t show up on the Green platform very much, so people aren’t going to vote in that direction.

That’s what needs to be taken into consideration. You cannot apply the mathematical formula at the end of the day. After everybody has had their vote and everybody has made a determination of who they want to sit and represent them in this House…. Then you apply a mathematical formula and say: “Well, the general consensus is that we need this party because they got X number of votes, and we need that party because they got X number of votes.”

We hear all kinds of things about these false majorities. You know, the false majority — that’s a good term for the fact that they didn’t win. The majority of people in the regions…. We have 87 separate elections that take place in this province every time we have a general election, and those are the majorities. Those are the plurality of votes that count.

The Dixon case — again, I can’t emphasize enough. I think everybody should have a look at that case. It’s been foundational. It’s been one that the Supreme Court of Canada has used many, many times over the years since that decision came out in 1989.

[8:00 p.m.]

Beverley McLachlin was the Chief Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal at that particular time. She wrote that decision. She did a lot of work on it. A year later she was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2000, she became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and held that position for 18 years until she just recently retired — a very learned individual.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

In that case, she looked at it, and she said she recognized that there were ten core values that guaranteed your right to vote under section 3. The first one was: “The right not to be denied the franchise on the grounds of race, sex, educational qualification or criteria.” The second: “The right to be presented with a choice of candidates….” The third: “The right to a secret ballot.” The fourth, “The right to have one’s vote counted,” and not dismissed because of some mathematical equation. The fifth: “The right to have one’s vote count for the same as other valid votes cast in a district.” The sixth: “The right to have sufficient information about public policies to permit an informed decision.”

General principles apply to referendums. We don’t have enough information to vote on that.

“The right to be represented by a candidate with at least a plurality of votes in a district.” How about that? That doesn’t show up under a PR model.

“The right to vote in periodic elections. The right to cast one’s vote in an electoral system which has not been ‘gerrymandered’…or deliberately engineered so as to favour one political party over another.”

Then Madam McLachlin added a tenth one: the right to “equality of voting power.” That’s where we came into the electoral districts, dividing the population up and taking into those regional and geographical considerations.

The court further stated, and I’ll quote the court here: “The only provision in the Constitution Act, 1982, dealing with electoral apportionment places regional considerations over strict ‘representation by population.’ Section 42(1)(a),” of the constitution, “provides that ‘the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons’ is subject to the amending formula in section 38…. Interpreting section 3 of the Charter as requiring mathematical equality of voting power would seem to run counter to these provisions.”

Again, if the Premier wants to change the constitution so that we can accommodate proportional representation in British Columbia, so that we can accommodate this very flawed referendum process, then I suggest he look at section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution and follow the process under that particular statute in order to avert disaster within the province here with a flawed referendum process.

J. Thornthwaite: I’d like to give a shout-out to my CA, who’s here, Nick Hosseinzadeh. He was here with the rest of the CAs on their convention. I’m very proud of the work that he does for me on behalf of North Vancouver.

So we’re talking about Bill 40. I originally talked about Bill 40 last week, October 16, and I’m not going to repeat what I said. Right now what we’re speaking on is the hoist motion to put a pause on this referendum for six months, and I certainly agree with that and support this motion.

Today is the first day that the referendum question is arriving in everybody’s mail. It’s not lost on any of us on this side that, despite the Leader of the Opposition asking the Premier to debate proportional representation publicly with the so-called consortium of media, we still don’t have a date set, and we also don’t really know when that would happen. Obviously, we would prefer it sooner rather than later because people can start voting essentially today, and we don’t want to be waiting until the end of the voting period to have a debate. That would be totally not worthwhile.

The clock is ticking starting today. Again, we’re waiting for that answer from the Premier. Of course, the question is then: why are we waiting? Actually, I think that the reason why we’re waiting is because the government is afraid that the more people learn about proportional representation and the more they know about it, the more they do not support it.

[8:05 p.m.]

Last summer no one seemed to care that we were having a referendum. They didn’t know that we were having a referendum. The knowledge, at least in my circles, was virtually nil. I would ask people what they thought about proportional representation. The varying degrees of responses I would get would be somewhere around: “Oh well, that’s pretty good, because everybody’s vote counts.” Then I would talk a little bit further about what that actually meant, and they would say: “Oh well, maybe it’s a percentage of the votes that a party got in the election that would be the percentage of MLAs that we actually got elected.” That is true, but that’s where the details actually stop.

Fast-forward to today. The latest Angus Reid poll says it’s about a third, a third, a third. A third of people support PR; a third of the people do not. And then there’s a third of the people that are questioning. So there are more people questioning or opposed to proportional representation than there are in support.

This must be very frightening to the Greens, since we know that the reason why we’re having this referendum is to please them and keep the NDP and Green coalition together. It was part of their prenuptial agreement, and their marriage would possibly be annulled if the NDP didn’t agree to this referendum.

What is the definition of proportional representation? Well, the word “proportional” means that if there are 87 ridings…. We haven’t really been given an absolute whether or not those ridings would change, but say, for all intents and purposes, it is. What we’ve heard, with the model that is most talked about, is that 40 percent of the MLAs would be appointed and 60 percent would be elected. But where do we get that 40 percent? Well, the answer is: party lists. And then the people that I talked to, when we would get to that much detail, would go: “What is that?”

Well, if we take the results from the last election where the Greens got 17 percent of the vote, under proportional representation it would not just be the three seats that they actually earned through first-past-the-post. It would be closer to ten. And if we have 87 ridings — I’m not too sure whether or not we still will but suggest we do — that means the percentage of Liberals and NDP would go down accordingly just to keep the 87 seats. But for sure, we don’t know whether or not that is true, but we know that there will be some shuffling in numbers, and probably the Liberals and the NDP would go down accordingly because we would have to up the Greens.

But where would those people come from? We don’t know. If the Green bosses preferred their candidate from X region, then perhaps they’d just parachute that person to the North Shore. Who would they be? We don’t know. Would their name be on the ballot, or would that be determined after the election? Would we, as the public, get a chance to vote on that party list? Open or closed list? Would we actually get to vote for an MLA personally, or would it be part of a list that we were allowed to vote on? We don’t know that either — open or closed list.

How big are the ridings? This has been questioned numerous times. We have no maps. At least with the Citizens’ Assembly referendums that occurred in 2005 and 2008, there were maps provided so people could make an informed choice of whether or not they actually wanted their riding to look like that. We have no maps. We don’t know how big the ridings are, but we know they’re going to be bigger, way bigger. And what are the boundaries? We don’t know the boundaries.

If I was lucky enough, for instance, to get elected in the riding of the North Shore — and we already know that the ridings will be bigger — would that be all of North Van, all of the North Shore or even include Sea to Sky? I don’t know.

Anyway, say I was elected — or one of the ones that was lucky to be elected, the 60 percent. Then who would be appointed, based on the percentage of votes from the Greens, the NDP, other parties? We know that there are at least 21 other parties that are already registered in British Columbia. The Communist Party has been mentioned before. What do they have to get? Five percent to be absolutely appointed? Well, they could be appointed anywhere. Could they be appointed on the North Shore? Maybe. How do we know?

The other issue is that it’s unknown what classification a community would be, urban or rural. You’d think that we kind of know what urban or rural is, but actually, we don’t, because some communities are both. This is important, because one of the PR choices is called rural-urban proportional.

[8:10 p.m.]

How can people vote for this system if we don’t even know who’s rural and who’s urban? In fact, two-thirds of the ballot choices on the ballot have never been used anywhere in the world, so voting for them would truly be a leap of faith, as the Premier has been quoted as saying at the UBCM convention a couple of months ago.

There’s dual-member proportional, mixed-member proportional, rural-urban proportional. I checked out the notes from the people. I did look at what these different systems were, and I highlighted what’s common about them.

Common about them all is: party lists, larger ridings and mathematical formulas to get that MLA appointed to whatever that riding is. There are so many unknowns that I don’t know how people can possibly vote and be informed.

I often quote my dad. “There’s only one thing worse than not voting. It’s voting, and you don’t know who you’re voting for.” This is what this whole referendum is all about. We’re all supposed to be taking a leap of faith, trusting the people in the back rooms after the election to make the right decision and tell us what’s going on. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Other things that the proponents of proportional representation say…. It would force MLAs to work together. Would it? I’m very proud of my record, working for the residents of North Van–Seymour and North Vancouver and the North Shore, for that matter. The Highway 1 interchange project, which is currently underway at the foot of the Cut and which I talk about a lot in the House, took me eight years to work on with four different councils, two different federal governments and three different MPs. There was a first phase and a second phase, and now we’ve got probably the first phase that will almost be finished by the end of this year. There are four phases and three interchanges. It’s a huge project. It’s $198 million.

I was fighting for that since I was first elected in 2009. There was only one person consistently, for eight years, fighting for this project, and that was me, because the other levels of government changed around. Can you imagine if I was competing for interest with another MLA from somewhere else, who lived somewhere else? I can’t imagine whether or not that project would actually be happening if we were under PR.

I also worked very diligently with my North Shore B.C. Liberal colleagues to bring forward the HOpe Centre, the state-of-the-art mental health and addictions facility on the Lions Gate Hospital campus. I worked with the Doctors of British Columbia, psychiatrists, Vancouver Coastal Health and the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation to bring the third floor Carlile Centre to fruition for children and youth mental health on the North Shore. I worked on that, and I feel very proud that I was able to bring that forward.

I worked with the Ministers of Health and Children and Families to bring forward Foundry, the one-stop shop mental health facilities — 11 of them provincewide but one of them in North Van. I’m very proud of that. I’m very committed to my riding. Obviously, I’m committed to mental health issues. I fought for that, and I got that. My constituents are happy about that, because they know I’m committed to the North Shore, know I’m committed to North Vancouver and know I’m committed to North Vancouver–Seymour, and I will continue to fight for their issues.

Am I going to have to fight against an appointed, parachuted candidate that just happens to be appointed from region X? Is that MLA that’s appointed going to care about traffic on the foot of the Cut in North Van when they’re from somewhere else? No, because they’re not going to be accountable to the electorate. They don’t actually care. They’re accountable to their party bosses because it was their party bosses that appointed them.

I am very concerned that this is the type of situation that we would get if the proportional representation system is approved. One of the other things about being accountable…. If people decide no, they don’t want Jane anymore, then that’s fine. They can boot me out. But if PR systems come into play, as my colleague here mentioned just before me, it’s very, very difficult to get rid of people in PR systems.

[8:15 p.m.]

Even if you do get rid of them, they come back again in another form, as an appointed MLA. That’s kind of what happened in New Zealand. The deputy leader is somebody that lost his actual election in his riding, but because he was party leader, the party bosses — i.e., him — appointed him to another riding so that he could represent that riding, even though it wasn’t his riding to begin with. But who cares? He just got appointed no matter what, and now he’s the deputy leader, because the leader herself was on maternity leave. That doesn’t seem right. In PR, even losers can win.

Let’s look at what happened last weekend in the municipal election. Many elected officials did actually get booted out. Some people are very shocked about that. That’s pretty clear. They were elected, or not, under first-past-the-post. It’s pretty clear. You get the majority of votes, and you get in — or you don’t.

Let’s talk about the argument of what the people who are proponents of proportional representation say about power. I keep hearing this. They say: “You can become a government with 100 percent of the power with 40 percent of the votes.” Well, that’s not exactly true. In our case, in government, we actually worked with the opposition parties — the NDP in particular and the Greens in particular — to bring forward the work on sexual harassment policies in post-secondary education, as well as to include transgendered persons in the human rights code.

We worked with them for that. There are individuals that are part of those parties and that helped shape that legislation. So depending on who the government is, that does happen, but I can tell you that this coalition of the NDP and the Greens today is not working with us about anything. We’ve brought forward amendments on many bills, and we’ve been voted down consistently, 100 percent. I don’t know how that would change under a PR system. It really depends on who’s who in the zoo about whether or not there’s any cooperation, because they don’t have to.

Let’s go back to the municipal election and the numbers. I’ll say at the start that I’m not arguing with the results. I just want to congratulate all of the winners for winning but also to congratulate all the people that didn’t get elected.

I know that it takes a special kind of person to put their name on a ballot, run for election and have to deal with some of the crap that these people have gone through just to run in an election, let alone get elected. I put up my hat for these people that put their names on the ballot. Congratulations to all of the people that got elected. They’re living with the results, no matter how joyous it is or how painful it is, and everyone understands the rule: the one that got the most votes is the one that wins.

Let’s talk about a couple of examples. I like to talk about Vancouver, because this was a predictable result, actually. We’re not really surprised that the MP from Burnaby, Kennedy Stewart, got elected as the mayor in Vancouver, but here’s the thing: he actually got elected with 29 percent of the votes. If you assume — I think this is basically right, and you can question my math, but you’ll get the gist — that 40 percent of people actually vote in a municipal election, that means that Kennedy Stewart became the mayor of Vancouver with 11 percent of eligible voters voting for him, but everybody on the other side is ecstatic about that.

Well, that’s first-past-the-post. You can’t be happy with that result and then complain, provincially, that somebody with 40 percent of the vote, for instance, got elected. Let’s look at it a little bit closer to home, in North Van. We had somebody in the district of North Vancouver, Mike Little, who, out of more than 13,000 votes, got almost 60 percent of the votes. That guy nailed it; he did really, really well. He absolutely….


Deputy Speaker: Members.

J. Thornthwaite: He absolutely deserved to win. He got, as I said, 60 percent of the votes, and I’m told that it was a record turnout in North Vancouver, up 12 percent since the last election. A booming 36 percent of the eligible voters in the district of North Vancouver actually voted.

[8:20 p.m.]

Of all those people, 60 percent voted for Mike. I’m congratulating him. But in actual fact, 59 percent of 36 percent is 21 percent. So of the eligible voters, 21 percent of the people actually voted for Mike.

The same thing happened in the city, although Linda didn’t get as many of the votes. She got 29 percent of the votes. Say 30 percent of the people actually voted. That means 9 percent of the eligible voters actually voted for Linda. But that’s just the way it is.

I’m supporting Mike. I’m supporting the results in the district of North Vancouver. I’m supporting Linda. I’m supporting the results in the city of North Vancouver. That’s just the way it is. You can’t accept those results and then not accept the provincial results that are using exactly the same first-past-the-post system.

The thing about proportional representation systems is that they’re all about the parties. They’re not about the people.

When I look at a ballot, like I did in the municipal election last weekend, I pick who I want. I picked, in the district of North Vancouver, one mayor, six councillors and four school trustees. I know that one of the mayors, six of those councillors and four of the school trustees that were on the ballot are actually going to get elected. I know that. It’s pretty simple and clear.

In proportional representation, you have no idea who’s going to end up being your representative. You might get some that you elected or one. The rest of them will be appointed, and you have no control over that. The voters don’t get that choice. It’s the parties that make that choice. PR systems are party-centred, whereas first-past-the-post, our current system, is people-centred. I prefer to vote for or against my representative, and that’s why I’m supporting to keep our current system, first-past-the-post.

I really, really hope that the Premier will finally agree on a date so that we can actually hear what he has to say in a debate, a publicized debate, on television, with our Leader of the Opposition and see how they do.

Deputy Speaker: The member for Surrey–Green Timbers on the hoist amendment.

R. Singh: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my honour to speak on this amendment. We have an historic opportunity to make a change that could have a profound and positive impact on local politics. I’m very excited that we might lead the way for the rest of the country. We have the opportunity to change our voting system so that every vote is counted.

I think this is really good for our system, for our democracy. I meet so many people, especially from the younger population, who are not interested in voting. The reason for that is that a lot of times they have voted, and their representative has not been elected. There is a kind of disappointment and disillusionment in our young people, because they think that somehow they are not part of the system.

With proportional representation, every vote gets some representation. I think this is really good — to engage more people in our democracy, which is very, very important.

Also, we know about the…. We have a first-past-the-post system, and we know how this works. The party which gets only 25 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote, can get 100 percent of the power, and they can just do whatever they want. A lot of times it happens — and we have had examples — that they stop listening to people. They stop listening to what is really happening around them.

I can say from experience, coming from the community that I’m elected in, from Surrey…. For so many years, the issues that mattered to the people of Surrey were neglected. We had a government that was not listening, that was not putting the right kind of funding and that was not paying attention to what the residents of that community wanted.

[8:25 p.m.]

Because they had 100 percent of the power, they had the right to do whatever they wanted. That does not mean that they were working for the people, working for the majority of the people who live in British Columbia.

Now, when we have this kind of an opportunity to change the system, I’m very saddened that there’s a lot of fearmongering happening. I see the examples from the no side that if we bring in proportional representation…. There are examples being given about extremist or very fanatic governments getting in. I would like to share with you that we have an example here which just happened. We have a government that was just elected in Ontario, Doug Ford’s government, which had just 40 percent of the vote, but they have 100 percent of the power. They have just been elected, and we see how that person is trying to run the province.

I feel that the fearmongering is not…. We shouldn’t associate fear with the fearmongering. It is a new system. A lot of times people don’t know what it is, but we should be giving them the proper facts and telling them what it really is rather than scaring them off.

That’s what I am looking forward to, and that’s the reason I’m standing with my government on this issue. I’m really excited that now we have the opportunity to change the system that we’ve had for so many years. We are on the verge of creating history, and there’s no point in delaying it. We have waited for it long enough. Now is the time. We’ve had a lot of debate about it. I think it is time to change the system, and I’m really looking forward to it.

D. Barnett: I, too, would like to stand today and speak to Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act. I do not support this Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act, Bill 40. This is very, very concerning to myself, to all of my colleagues and to many of my constituents.

Let’s go back to the referendum that is going to be voted on by the people of British Columbia in the not-too-distant future. Many people have already received their ballot. My phone has been ringing all day, saying to me: “I don’t understand. I’ve got this package. I’ve got this explanation. It explains it as clear as mud. What do I do? How do I figure this out?”

This is one of the most confusing pieces of a referendum that has ever been sent out to the people of British Columbia — a great job by the opposition on confusing the voters of this province.

I just listened to my colleague across the way talk about other governments in Canada that have just been elected — one in Ontario that is making decisions and that there is no one there to object. Yeah, there is an opposition. I watch other provinces and countries. I watch their elections too. I don’t know why, but I do. The present government in Ontario was elected on a mandate they presented to the people. That’s exactly what he’s doing, exactly what he said he was going to do, and he was voted on it.


D. Barnett: Excuse me. I have the floor.

Deputy Speaker: Members, the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin has the floor.

D. Barnett: Democracy is not percentages. Democracy is people. In each riding in British Columbia, we have people that put their names forward. They get a ballot where everybody’s name is on it. They go on election day to this voting place. They get their ballot, and they secretly go in and mark who they wish to represent them. That is democracy. People in the riding know who they’re voting for.

This, here, will, of course, be all about what the opposition likes — its party. People will not matter anymore, the voters….


[8:30 p.m.]

D. Barnett: Excuse me. Oh, I’m sorry — the government. Thank you.

And you know, they are the government. They have to make decisions. They have to start talking like a government and quit saying “16 years over here.” Let’s be the government, if you want to be the government.

The government of the day is saying: “Trust me. Just vote the way I want, and I’ll tell you what’s going to happen later.” Then they turn around and say: “Well, if you don’t really like it, in four or eight or 12 years from now, we’ll give you another referendum.” Boy, that sure makes people feel confident that after they got this package in the mail, they should take it and they should vote for change. They don’t know what the change is. The government doesn’t know what the change is and can’t explain it, but: “Just trust me, and it’ll be okay.”

You can think about what kind of mess was made during the referendum. It’s what they’ll say four years from now, eight years from now. “Well, we’ll convert it back again, or we’ll think of something else we can confuse you with.” The NDP and the Green partners are essentially asking British Columbians to “buy now, and see a return on your investment later.” Except in this case, there is no buyer’s remorse. This referendum will be legally binding.

With 29 different factors that won’t be considered until after the referendum, how are voters expected to make an educated choice when they aren’t being offered any of the relevant information? First of all, how many MLAs? Is that a difficult question? Apparently. The size of ridings? Is that a difficult question? Apparently. What constitutes a rural riding or an urban riding? Is that a difficult question? Apparently.

Whether we use the closed or open list or even whether we use the list at all. Will your MLA be appointed? Will your MLA be elected? Why do we not have clean, concise, clear answers?

Let’s go back in history. We had a lot of history last night by a lot of good speakers, proud of the democratic system in Canada and in British Columbia, and we’ve had this discussion for days. Why do you want to change that system? It is quite clear. Quite clear. Those in power want to make sure they stay in power. They’ve come to the conclusion that power is more important than people.

I’ve been in my riding for over 50 years, and I’ve had the privilege of serving in public office for almost 30 years — 17 years as the mayor of a local community. I’ve sat on regional districts, hospital districts, social development committees, watershed committees — committees till committees wouldn’t stop coming. I have worked with constituents for all these times. To me, people are the most important people there are in British Columbia. It’s called people, and people in my constituency, whom I represent.

When people in my constituency come to me, I don’t look at them and say: “Did you vote Green, purple, pink, Liberal, NDP?” They’re all people, and you treat each person’s issue the same. You treat them with respect and compassion.

The opposition over there says this mean group over here….


D. Barnett: Pardon me. Well, you’ve got to start acting like government, and then I’d say it. The opposition over there says that this mean group on this side of the table does not listen.


Deputy Speaker: Member.

D. Barnett: Excuse me. The opposition over there…. Or the government over there. Remember that word “government” — okay? — and do it. Govern.

The opposition over there says that this mean group over here on this side of the table does not listen and does not care.

[8:35 p.m.]

Well, believe you me, I have never heard anything from that side that tells me they are not vindictive. I’m sorry, Mr. Speaker. The people on this side of the table are as compassionate as you ever see people. The people on that side care about their constituents. It’s time that we stopped saying that people on either side of this House do not care.

This side of the House cares more about people than probably anybody else in the province of British Columbia. We’ve laughed with our constituents, we’ve cried with our constituents, and we will continue to do that. Our job is to represent our constituents, not a party.

I’ve been through some devastating times in my riding over the last few years — many, many devastating times.


Deputy Speaker: Members. Members, we are discussing the hoist amendment — why this should or should not be….

D. Barnett: Yes, Mr. Speaker. We are discussing Bill 40, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that.

As I was saying, I’ve been through many devastating times in my riding, as have many of my colleagues on both sides of the House. We’ve been through two of the worst wildfire seasons in the province of British Columbia. Many of us MLAs, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know our ridings…. We know our constituents. They know who represents them. We got to help them. We got to visit them. We got to take them food and clothes, travel with them and care about them.

If somebody could tell me how somebody who isn’t even elected but is appointed by some party because they want power, not people passion, could say: “We’re going to appoint an MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin or for the Nechako Lakes….” How are these people even going to know who’s there, what their passion is, what their concerns are? How are they going to get from downtown Surrey to the Nechako Lakes in a day? They won’t get there in three days with the way things are in this province at some times of the year and how we have to travel and how we have to cope.

If you live in rural British Columbia, you will be totally forgotten because proportional representation…. Maybe the government can convince me differently. “Proportional” means numbers, not geography but numbers and numbers of people. That is what this government is all about. “We’re going to get control of power like we have now. You people over there, in rural British Columbia: ‘Figure it out yourself.’”

With the help of their neighbours, we hope, because rural British Columbia is urban neighbours…. We are hoping that this particular bill on the floor — both the referendum act and then the referendum that’s out there with the people who can’t figure out what it’s about — will be put to rest.

There is no threshold. We’ve had two referendums, and they both failed. They were put together by people, not by one minister’s office with the approval of a cabinet. I don’t even know if the cabinet approved it. It was a people referendum, with a threshold; 60 percent of the population in their ridings had to get out and vote. That is democracy — not 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent or 5 percent. I don’t understand that the government can’t figure out the word “democracy.”

We just had local elections, and people are saying that not that many went to vote. That’s what democracy is. It’s a choice. It’s freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom to vote, freedom to respect each other, freedom of religion.

[8:40 p.m.]

All of a sudden now we want to go into something that says: “Well, we’re going to appoint who looks after you. We don’t care what you say.” This is not democracy. It’s totally not democracy. I really and truly hope and wish that the government of the day would pause, just take a pause for a few months and really think about what they’re doing to the province of British Columbia. The only hope is that when it comes back after this referendum, and 20 percent or 2 percent or 30 percent are the only ones that vote, they’ll do like another province did back east and say: “You know what? We’re a government that’s going to listen to the people, so we’re going to park this.”

They will have a choice, the government, when the referendum comes back. I’m sure that if it isn’t the way they want it…. They’re government, and they have a partner who’ll never throw them out. No matter how many times he stands and stomps and yells and screams, he will never throw them out. They’ll probably have another referendum. If you don’t get your own way, just like little kids, you keep nagging. You keep doing it.

Let’s hope not. Let’s hope that everybody in government comes to their senses in the not-too-distant future. I have hope that that will happen.


D. Barnett: We have a me-too-er over there too.

Democracy is when people make decisions and send people to this House by vote. Like I’ve said, in rural British Columbia, we have small populations with massive, massive geography. Some of my colleagues in the government have the same. They’re not worried about their ridings because they know that if proportional representation goes through, because they supported it, whatever party they’re making a deal with…. They’ll get appointed in their ridings, believe you me.

It is an honour to be elected, for each and every person in this House, and you’re elected in a democratic process. This particular system that’s out there is so confusing to people. I can’t believe it. People in British Columbia are very intelligent people, each and every one of them. You can’t buffalo them. You can try. I know the government is hoping that it’ll work. I think that the government, should it work, should go out and talk to every single person that voted and ask them what they voted for. I would like to see the results. It would make me feel very, very good to see the results.

It’s interesting that the government says they collaborate, and they work together with everyone. We put all kinds of private members’ bills up. We put all kinds of amendments up. Never seen anybody pass one yet. I’ve been here for 11 years. Think back. Think. Think.


D. Barnett: You didn’t vote with us even when you were…. We were in government. You could vote with us too.


D. Barnett: Yes, we have.


Deputy Speaker: Members. Members, let’s get back to the hoist motion.

D. Barnett: The government can speak to this bill too. I hope they do. Bill 40, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act. It’s amazing how people forget very quickly. But the people of British Columbia do not forget. The people of British Columbia, as I’ve said before, have long, long memories. And from time to time, they’re not happy with their government. That’s when they vote somebody else in and somebody else out, just like they did last Saturday. Amazing how many people they voted in and they voted out.

[8:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, noting the hour, I will reserve my place and ask for adjournment of the debate.


Deputy Speaker: Members, please take your seats. We still have time to continue the debate.

D. Barnett: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me extra time this evening. I was trying to give you extra time on your way, but if you choose….


D. Barnett: Exactly. Our constituents sent us here. I appreciate that coming from the government side. He just admitted that he got voted in by his constituents on a ballot.


Deputy Speaker: Members, I know it’s getting late, but let’s get to the business: the hoist motion.

Please continue.

D. Barnett: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let’s get back to the motion on the floor. We’re discussing the second reading of Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act.

Now, I do not support this. We haven’t got through a referendum that the government put out there to the public, who don’t understand what it’s about. Now we’ve got an amendment on the floor before a referendum is even passed. So how do you really and truly expect the constituents, the citizens of the great province of British Columbia, to understand an amendment before a referendum is even passed?

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

What is wrong with the actual referendum, I ask the government, if they have no faith in the referendum, that they have to put an amendment on the floor to deal with the first referendum before the public has an opportunity to go to the polls and vote for it?

The opposition says: “Don’t worry. Trust me.” You know, when they….


D. Barnett: The government. I’m sorry. The government says: “Trust me.”

Before the last election, or during the election, the now Premier of British Columbia said: “We will have a referendum. It will be a yes or a no vote.” Well, guess what, folks. It’s not yes or no. It’s first-past-the-post or…. Who knows what the others mean?

I truly, truly have been trying to understand it. I’ve read it. I’ve listened to the government of the day. I’ve listened to all kinds of different organizations. Our hands are tied by this tight…. I don’t know what you call it that the minister, in his office, put together, which says you can’t speak about this. You can’t speak about it. You can spend this much money. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that. Even that is so confusing that most of the public don’t understand it. I guess you do if you make the rules but don’t share with the rest of the world what the real rules are.

We are talking about Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act.

It’s a sad day when the people of British Columbia may vote for something that they really and truly don’t understand. Or because they don’t understand it, they will not vote.

This is a world of technology we live in, and the government has said they are the technology experts. So how are we voting? Snail mail. One day we’re tech experts. The next day we’re snail mail experts.

I do not support Bill 40, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act. I will not be voting for this.

D. Barnett moved adjournment of debate.

Motion approved.

Hon. S. Robinson moved adjournment of the House.

Motion approved.

Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The House adjourned at 8:50 p.m.

Monday, October 22, 2018, p.m., Issue 164 (2024)


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