S. Furstenau: Thank you, hon. Speaker, and thank you to Cariboo North for understanding. I had to wait for moving people out of my realm here.
I actually want to start by acknowledging that we just had a group of students come into the gallery. You look to be about grade 5 or 6, I’m thinking. Yeah, I’m getting nods up there.
I’m going to say that much of my speech really does focus on the responsibility that we have in this House to you. You should always be at the front of our minds in the work that we’re doing here and the decisions we are making here, because that work and those decisions are going to impact you more than anybody else. I want you to know that you are at the front of my mind in the work I’m doing — and all young people and future generations. I’m glad you’re here today. Welcome to the Legislature.
The members of this House know I originally got into politics because I’d actually lost trust in government’s ability to manage our resources and to keep my community safe. Contaminated soil had been dumped in my watershed in Shawnigan Lake. It’s a watershed that my children and many other children drink from every day. It’s the watershed that my children actually learned to swim in, in Shawnigan Lake. It’s a watershed that nourishes wildlife and our entire community. It keeps our local ecosystems, our children — all of our families — alive and healthy.
Several years ago in 2011, when I first moved to Shawnigan Lake, we began to notice signs with skulls and crossbones dotting the sides of the roads. We learned that the provincial government was considering issuing a permit to a company operating a quarry at the south end of Shawnigan Lake, halfway up the mountain that overlooks the lake that we draw our drinking water from.
The site has Shawnigan Creek on its eastern edge, which feeds directly into Shawnigan Lake, and a so-called ephemeral stream — although it runs pretty much all year — on its western edge, which runs into Shawnigan Creek. Despite immense public demonstrations, the draft permit was issued for the contaminated landfill.
The materials that were approved to be deposited in our drinking watershed included benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, methyl tertiary butyl ether, volatile petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chloride sodium glycols. We watched as truckload after truckload came into our watershed and deposited soil that had these contaminants in them. It was a threat to our health, and it still is.
The permit was, indeed, cancelled in February 2017, after immense work on the part of our community, but not before tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil were deposit at the site, contaminated soil that sits there to this day, two years after that permit was cancelled. As a mother, a teacher and a community member, I could not sit back and allow this to happen without getting involved.
My daughter turns 12 this year, much of like many of you up there, I expect. She will not be able to vote. You will not be able to vote until 2025, although if we lower the voting age, we could get that down a few years. We’re working on that.
This is just a few years shy of the latest IPCC report that has warned that we will hit 1.5 degrees of warming if we fail to change course in the coming decade. By the time she’s able to vote, the frightening trends of climate change will be worsening. She is, and you are, the ones who will have to deal with those repercussions.
I think back to the words of 15-year-old Swedish girl and activist Greta Thunberg. Greta has been skipping schools on Friday to protest for climate action. When the British Prime Minister criticized her movement for “wasting lesson time,” Greta responded: “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years on inaction” on climate. “And that is slightly worse.”
Today I am pleased to rise to the first provincial budget that takes substantive climate action. The $900 million that we see invested in CleanBC is proof of the success of the collaboration of a minority government. It is proof that we are setting a pathway towards fulfilling the debt that we owe to future generations. But we have a long way to go.
I still look up at the scarred Shawnigan mountainside each day and see that contaminated soil that sits there waiting to be removed. But I am encouraged by this budget and the shift it marks in how we view our role in government. In addition to the significant funding for CleanBC, there’s funding for education, funding to address the failures of professional reliance, increased affordability for students, for youth mental health, PharmaCare, child care and First Nations.
These investments, which we pushed for through the confidence and supply agreement, show that we take our role seriously. Our role is not to serve the interests of wealthy, multinational corporations that seek to exploit our raw resources. Our role is to serve the interests of future generations.
CleanBC is the culmination of years of work. As my colleague pointed out last week, it is not just a climate plan; it is an economic plan. It provides a pathway towards positioning British Columbia as a low-carbon leader. It is an all-of-government approach to tackling the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced. Most of all, it is an investment in our young people and their future.
To cover some of the numbers, the $902 million allocated to CleanBC provides $354 million in operating funding, $299 million in contingency for programs under development, $26 million in capital investments to help people and businesses reduce their emissions and $58 million in additional capital funding to make buildings more efficient. These are only some of the aspects funded under the CleanBC plan, which will take us a long way towards meeting our target of 40 percent greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030.
If we really look at these numbers, we can see how they will benefit the health and well-being of British Columbians. For example, $223 million will increase the climate action tax credit over three years. This can save a family of four up to $400 this year. By taxing what we don’t want — pollution — we can shift away from taxing things that we do, like good earnings for regular people.
Budget 2019 is projecting $1.7 billion raised through taxing carbon emissions, which reduces pressure on income tax and helps pay for the elimination of MSP payments, all while reducing pollution. By making homes and buildings more efficient and incentivizing the shift to electric vehicles, families will have to pay less each month for utilities and gas.
The research shows that climate change will and already is impacting society’s most vulnerable people first. By addressing climate change, we are heading off growing inequalities that put vulnerable people the most at risk.
In our submission to the Budget 2019, we called for CleanBC to be fully funded. Although there remains a great deal of work to be done, and it is essential that these commitments are seen through, I’m pleased to see our impacts, the impacts of our submission, in the provincial budget summary before us today.
The impacts of our submission are also demonstrated by the funding provided to support the professional reliance oversight office. This oversight office is a direct result of the organizations of communities just like Shawnigan in response to the systemic shortcomings of resource management in B.C. It was a failure of professional reliance that allowed the contaminated soil to be dumped in Shawnigan. It has also impacted countless other communities. I think of Mount Polley, Ymir, Hullcar, Merville — to name a few.
We called for a review of the professional reliance model in our confidence and supply agreement with government, and now following the review, 121 recommendations and the Professional Governance Act, we see the funding before us today.
The budget goes on to commit $7 million over three years for increased monitoring and oversight under the Environmental Management Act and $9 million for implementation of the revitalized Environmental Assessment Act.
An additional $20 million is going to fulfil government’s commitments to improving permitting and oversight in the mining industry. This is taking action to implement the recommendations of the Auditor General in her report responding to the Mount Polley disaster.
It is important to our caucus and to British Columbians that our public resources are managed with the public interest at the forefront. People need to be able to trust that the government is looking after public resources in a responsible, evidence-based manner, with environmental, cultural and economic values taken into consideration. That is why these values are entrenched in our confidence and supply agreement and why we called for this funding in our budget submission.
Unfortunately, not all of our resources are being managed in this essential way. I’m thinking first and foremost of our forests. Each year our wildfires are getting worse, and 2017 was the worst fire season our province has ever seen — until the summer of 2018.
The budget is increasing base funding for wildfires by $37 million per year, but we know that the fire seasons tend to be worse than we’ve expected. We would have done more.
Last year more than 1.349 million hectares burned as wildfires spread across the province. The increasing base funding for wildfires by $37 million per year, but we know that the fire seasons tend to be worse than we’ve expected. We would have done more.
Last year more than 1.349 million hectares burned as wildfires spread across the province. The previous record total was 1.216 million hectares, in 2017. In 2017, we spent $560 million fighting forest fires. By August last year, the province had already spent close to $274 million more in direct firefighting costs, more than four times the budget of $63 million.
We know that climate change threatens every aspect of life in our province. Government must recognize this threat and allocate funding to address the unavoidable increase in natural disasters. From wildfires to flooding, we must aggressively fund our emergency response network and plan on emergency funding needs in the years to come.
We also know that our forest industry is suffering. I’m glad to see a three-year, $10 million investment in the coastal forest revitalization initiative. I’m glad to see a three-year, $13 million investment in the forest carbon initiative. But as the budget itself goes on to point out, forest revenue is expected to fall 16.8 percent this year. That’s due to the lowest lumber prices, stumpage rates, Crown harvest volumes and logging tax revenue.
I’m going to take this opportunity to wave goodbye to the students who are leaving right now. Thanks for coming.
The decline in logging tax revenue is expected to continue over the coming years.. At the same time as the revenue declines, our forests are also declining. It’s not just wildfires or pine beetles; it’s also our own logging practices. We are cutting down some of the last remaining old-growth forests in the world. We are logging without considering the fact that we are jeopardizing the water sources of communities. These forests are then being exported as raw logs, meaning that we are not even benefitting from the long-term jobs or profits associated with value-added products.
The B.C. Green caucus would have done this differently. In our budget submission, we called for funding that prioritizes ecosystem resilience and Indigenous leadership. If our forests are managed to be resilient and biodiverse, and if we base our decisions in the best possible science and Indigenous expertise, we can improve this.
We also called for funding for land acquisition and habitat restoration. Protecting endangered habitat is more effective for both outcomes and cost. We need a long-term strategy for managing our resources so that we don’t see situations emerge like the logging of Vancouver Island’s last old growth or the extirpation of caribou in the Interior.
Although I’m encouraged by the funding that addresses our resource management structures, I remain disappointed at the lack of initiative taken to protect the water, forests and species that make up British Columbia. It’s not enough, at this point, to tinker around the edges of forest policies in B.C. We need an entirely new vision that takes into account that the world we are in is very different from the 20th-century world.
We cannot continue to engage in the same practices and expect different outcomes. If we want better outcomes for communities in B.C., for the watersheds that sustain those communities and for the animals that rely on these ecosystems, we must develop a new vision. Ultimately, we need to recognize that protecting biodiversity is not an optional outcome. It’s essential to the well-being of life, including the well-being of human life.
As we begin to implement CleanBC and reforms to resource decision-making structures, our caucus is committed to ensuring that these other aspects are not left behind.
A few months ago, inspired by the climate strikes of Greta Thunberg, students left school and came to protest on the front steps of this Legislature. One of those young leaders was Rebecca Wolf Gage, a local student and activist. She had helped to organize the protest and led her peers as they asked us to take action.
I’m inspired by the bold leadership of young people like Rebecca. It’s our job to hear them and to responsibly manage the resources that they will one day inherit. But the truth is that in British Columbia, some young people face more challenges than others.
The differences between the experiences of children is directly related to their socioeconomic standing. It’s directly related to family status, race, gender, ability and location.
Several years ago the former government applied an early childhood tax benefit. This gives benefits to parents of children up to the age of six, and it gave the same benefit to all, regardless of socioeconomic location and despite the fact that some families need more support than others.
This budget is introducing the B.C. child opportunity benefit. Families with children under 18 will be provided up to $1,600 per year for their first child, up to $2,600 per year for families with two children, and up to $3,400 per year for families with three children. These amounts will vary depending on family income. In other words, families who need more support will be able to access more support. I’m excited to see this initiative in the budget.
Government is building upon last year’s historic $1 billion investment in child care by providing an additional $9 million annually to support the child care fee reduction initiative and child care operating fund program.
I have heard concerns that a lot of this funding is going towards for-profit child care centres despite the fact that other child care centres often face a greater need. I intend to follow this issue closely as we approach estimates, but I would be remiss if I did not highlight the massive benefits that subsidized child care have afforded to the families across British Columbia. We believe in lifelong learning, and that starts at the beginning of life. This is also allowing parents to go back to work sooner, if they wish, which can help their families to thrive.
I am glad to see the commitment for $75 million over three years for child, youth and young adult mental health and addictions initiatives. We are facing an opioid crisis, one that has its roots in mental illness. There is more than $30 million allocated for addressing this emergency as well.
In order to set our province up for the future, we need to invest in the health and well-being of our children. But the fact of the matter remains, not all kids have the same experience. Not all kids are set up to be healthy and well, or set up to succeed. For instance, until now, children in the foster care system were ineligible for provincial child tax benefits. Given the crisis-level numbers of Indigenous kids in care, this exclusion disproportionately impacted Indigenous children and families.
This government is changing that and making kids in the foster care system eligible for these benefits — and I applaud them. I have concerns, for example, those benefits may be going to the Ministry of Children and Family Development for programming for those kids, and I will look at this in estimates.
We know that a huge number of kids are in the foster system because their families live in poverty. We also know that the outcomes for children who stay with their families are exponentially better than outcomes for children who are apprehended. Provincial child tax benefits should go to the families that need them, to help relieve their situation.
This budget is taking steps to provide more funding for children who have been apprehended but placed with extended family — which will increase by 75 percent. This is an important increase in funding that will benefit vulnerable kids, help their families and help communities.
That being said, this does not adequately address the crisis facing Indigenous families in our province. The scale of apprehensions of Indigenous children is heartbreaking and prolific, with wide-ranging repercussions. As I’ve said before, we know that the outcomes for kids who stay with their families are exponentially better than the outcomes for kids who are removed from their families. Children who grow up in a foster care system are less likely to graduate, more likely to struggle with mental illness and addiction, and more likely to die.
There are solutions. We need to be proactive and preventative. Many independent organizations are already doing this essential work. In our budget submission, we called for enhanced investment in programs that support parents and kids staying together. Programs like Sheway and FIR Square, for example, should be available in all communities, with an emphasis on the regions that currently have higher-than-average apprehension rates of infants under six months.
To say that I’m disappointed that this budget does not fund an explicit, proactive way of keeping families together would be an understatement. I can assure you that I will continue to focus on this file with the utmost dedication. All children deserve to be safe and healthy. All children deserve a safe and healthy climate, whether it is the climate writ large or the family climate that they grow up in. We need to be doing absolutely everything to support families to stay together.
This is, overall, a good budget.
It doesn’t do everything as we would have done it. But it’s clear that the submissions and perspectives of the B.C. Green caucus were represented in it, and it’s clear that we found our shared values between the two parties.
Almost two years in, I’m proud of how far we have come under our confidence and supply agreement. I’m especially proud of CleanBC and the reforms that will shape everything as we would have done it. But it’s clear that the submissions and perspectives of the B.C. Green caucus were represented in it, and it’s clear that we found our shared values between the two parties.
Almost two years in, I’m proud of how far we have come under the confidence and supply agreement. I’m especially proud of CleanBC and the reforms that will shape resource management decisions for the years to come. Although, as I spoke to before, there is a long way to go, we have steered British Columbia onto a pathway to respond to and mitigate the adverse impacts that we are having on our climate and environment.
I think of the young people I spoke of earlier, the ones who were in the gallery just now, of my daughter, who will not be able to vote until 2025, of Greta Thunberg, who bravely spoke to the world leaders in Poland this December, and of Rebecca Wolf Gage, who brought that movement to the steps of this very building.
The decisions we make today of lasting impacts — improved funding for child care, education and mental health — will have lasting positive impacts on the health and well-being of British Columbia. But there are still people being left behind. There are still Indigenous children apprehended from their mothers within days of birth. We have yet to guarantee the health and well-being of many people today and of future generations tomorrow. We have yet to restore, fully, British Columbians’ trust in government. We have a long, long way to go.
To this end, I want to invoke the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, who recently garnered a lot of headlines for an interview he did with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. I’m more intrigued, actually, by Bregman’s 2016 book, called Utopia for Realists, in which he makes the case for universal basic income, for open borders and for 15-hour work week. These proposals may seem outlandish and far-reaching to many, but so were the proposals of universal health care, public education and a five-day work week when they were first championed.
What Bregman reminds us most importantly is our need to never stop dreaming big. Let’s be sure that we dream of the best possible world, and then let’s work together to get there.
My caucus and I will be supporting this budget. But we will also continue to dream big, to dream of a world that Greta and Rebecca and the children that were just here and my daughter will thrive in, a world that we can be proud of, that we built together in light of the extraordinary challenges that we face today.