I'm pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to respond to the budget.
Our government supports economic development. Communities in the province, such as the Cariboo-Chilcotin, need to be safe and secure in order to succeed. Safety and security come through developing a strong economy. They say that the third time is the charm, and balancing our third consecutive budget in a row is not only charming, but it is a result of our government's continued hard work with a projected surplus of $879 million.
We are grateful for the opportunity that British Columbians gave us. We have listened. We have a plan, and we are delivering on the commitments that we made to the people of British Columbia. We did this with fiscal prudence and a strong vision.
Prudent fiscal management supports B.C.'s triple-A credit rating, which allows more taxpayer dollars to be spent on direct services rather than debt-servicing costs. Fiscal responsibility requires discipline. We are balancing the budget because that is the very heart of fiscal responsibility.
Because of our government's strong fiscal discipline, we're able to find room for modest investments that strengthen and encourage growth in key economic sectors, such as resource development.
We have leveraged the knowledge and skills of British Columbians and the strengths of our natural resources. With this budget, we are continuing to build on these advantages.
Our government is extending the mining flow-through tax credit for an additional year by developing our natural resources responsibly, working with industry and harnessing the power of the private sector.
Forestry has always been the backbone of the economy of the Cariboo and reflects the ecological and the cultural diversity of our province. Our diversified forest industry is so strong that our region has a reality show, Timber Kings. That shows the incredible skills and talents of those building magnificent log homes for buyers around the world that boosted the Williams Lake economy.
There are 51 community forests in B.C. that play an active role in the forest sector through harvesting and supplying logs for the market. In the Cariboo region we have community forests in 100-Mile House, Clinton, Iskut First Nation, Likely-Xatśūll, Tatla Lake and the city of Williams Lake and the Williams Lake Indian Band as partners, and in Wells-Barkerville.
There are also important and growing opportunities for employment and economic growth while enhancing the working relationships between communities and local First Nations. In the 100-Mile House we have West Fraser Sawmills, 100 Mile Lumber and Chasm Sawmills, Ainsworth–100-Mile House OSB plant, and a number of log home builders in the area also rely on timber from the timber supply area.
We also have four lumber mills: two Tolko industries, West Fraser Mills, West Chilcotin Forest Products, Tolko chip mill, Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group pellet mill, West Fraser plywood and veneer sawmills in a thriving softwood lumber industry.
The Northwest Energy cogeneration plant operating in Williams Lake since 1993 is the largest biomass plant in North America and sells energy to B.C. Hydro. It consumes 600,000 tonnes of wood waste to generate 66 watts of electricity.
We have a plan. We laid it out. Why does it matter? It matters because if we respect taxpayers, we can't simply assume that these costs will be dealt with by taxpayers alone. We need to responsibly develop resources in British Columbia so that we can give British Columbians the kinds of advantages that they expect and deserve.
As we continue to build and diversify our natural resource industries, we're making sure that First Nations are partners in advancing economic prosperity. We continue to make slow but steady progress on the treaty front. In the meantime, B.C. is the first province in Canada to share provincial revenue from mining, forestry and clean energy projects with First Nation communities.
We now have more than 200 revenue-sharing agreements in place, ensuring that First Nations benefit directly from the work taking place in their traditional territories.
We also have been tireless advocates for diversifying our markets, and thanks to those efforts, we have seen great success in China and hope to duplicate that success in India.
Forestry is another traditional mainstay of our rural communities. More than 40 percent of the province's regional economies is based on forestry activities through more than 6,600 businesses.
The NDP say they care about forestry, jobs and communities. Well, how did they deal with mitigating the pine beetle epidemic? Back in the '90s, local communities, industry, foresters, mayors said, "Let's go in and manage the beetles," even though they were in a class A park, but the NDP said no. The result? Devastation.
It was agreed to give Carrier Lumber about $75 million in cash and other benefits to compensate for timber rights improperly confiscated by the opposition in 1993. The settlement stems from a 1999 court ruling that found that the NDP government abused its authority by taking away cutting rights. The government then tried to cover this up, the court found, by failing to disclose more than 2,000 relevant documents. This is NDP forestry. Our government's initiative for responsible forestry is a step in the right direction to create long-lived wood products that store carbon for decades and even centuries.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for Rural Development, I will continue to be a voice for rural communities in our Legislature. As a resident of the beautiful Cariboo-Chilcotin, the interests of rural communities have always been important to me. Rural British Columbians are generous, hard-working people with a pioneer spirit. Whether they're ranchers, miners, teachers, doctors, they're independent and proud. It is the rural parts of British Columbia that give our province its unique character.
Employment in rural communities is one of the main benefits of community forests. According to the upcoming report by Natural Resources Canada, the industry average of jobs per metres cubed is 0.2 jobs for 1,000 metres cubed. These jobs are exclusively in forestry, logging and support services.
The mining industry is important to British Columbians. An average salary today in the mine industry is over $114,000 a year, up from $81,000 in 2001. We actually have approximately 20 percent of all the mineral exploration investment in Canada happening right here in British Columbia, in rural British Columbia. Extending for one year the B.C. mining flow-through share tax credit will provide have approximately 20 percent of all the mineral exploration investment in Canada happening right here in British Columbia, in rural British Columbia. Extending for one year the B.C. mining flow-through share tax credit will provide an incentive for mineral exploration.
In addition, a base budget increase of $6.3 million annually to the Minister of Mines and Energy to support continued improvements to permitting the regulatory oversight, including increased of mine inspections. Under the previous NDP government, mining was decimated in B.C. The mining workforce shrunk by 36 percent and mining executives ranked B.C. as the most antagonistic place in the world to invest in mining.
Our province has the most diverse agrifoods industry in Canada, providing approximately 60,000 jobs, generating roughly $11.6 billion a year for our province's economy. We are further committing to $2 million to our Buy Local program to help farmers and food processors promote their B.C. products.
Our health care system. More than 800,000 residents, or 20 percent of the province, do not pay MSP premiums because of premium assistance. When we help seniors, we help everybody. Over the past decade we have focused on expanding the range of care options available for seniors in order to meet this increased demand, while supporting healthy aging to improve the quality of life for all B.C. seniors, helping them remain independent for as long as possible.
Our government has reduced the rate of health funding increases to an annual average of under 3 percent from a high of nearly 8 percent in the mid-2000s.
The budget reaffirms the B.C. government's commitment to health care, with nearly a $3 billion increase to the Ministry of Health's spending over three years. Our province continues to have the best health care outcomes anywhere, including the longest life expectancy in Canada and the country's lowest mortality rates for cancer and heart disease. I am proud to say that B.C. ranks third in the world for health performance. In 2015 health care funding again is at a record level of $19.2 billion, more than double the amounts spent in 2000-2001.
When it comes to transportation, our government has invested $2.9 billion in transportation investments. With Highway 97, the Cariboo region is benefiting every day, as motorists are safer now and have more effective connections to work and home.
In the Cariboo region, four-laning three sections south of 100 Mile House has included 70 Mile North, starting north of Willow Road. That was completed in October 2013. Stormy Road North and Bullock Lake Road projects were also completed in October 2013.
Over the next three years construction will start on four-laning between Carson Drive and Fox Mountain in Williams Lake, as well as four-laning the south boundary of the Williams Lake Indian Reserve and Lexington Road. In addition on Highway 20 at Alexis Creek in the Chilcotin, and Anaheim Lake airport there was $4 million of resurfacing of approximately 11 kilometres, including extending the runway pavement at Anaheim airport that was completed in the fall of 2012.
On Highway 20, in the Chilcotin west of Riske Creek, there was also $3.5 million of resurfacing of approximately 12 kilometres that was completed in the fall of 2013. And there were four projects delivered along Highway 20 in 2014. We installed a dynamic messaging sign just west of Williams Lake on Highway 20 at a total cost of $340,000. The Ministry of Transportation provided $300,000 of that.
We brushed the highway corridor in the Tatla Lake area of the Chilcotin. We seal-coated 92.84 lane-kilometres between Tatla Lake and Puntzi Lake at a total expenditure of $1.89 million. We resurfaced and paved 39.2 lane-kilometres between Anahim IR and Lees Corner in the Chilcotin, investing $5.33 million. I'm proud of the work that has been done by the Ministry of Transportation on Highway 20 for the people of the Chilcotin, for their safety and for transportation and to create economic growth.
Our tourism sector in British Columbia employs more than 132,000 British Columbians — almost one in every 15 jobs in our province — and generates $13.9 billion in revenue. Our government believes that the tourism sector can continue to create jobs, opportunity and prosperity for British Columbians in every corner of the province.
In the Cariboo-Chilcotin freshwater fishing is one of the many attractions. With this budget we are delivering on our commitment to direct all revenues from freshwater fishing licences, approximately $10 million a year, to the Freshwater Fisheries Society for conservation activities. Freshwater sport fishing generates approximately $500 million a year in economic activity, much of that taking place in rural British Columbia and in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
British Columbians expect their tax dollars to be used wisely and that every available education dollar is going to help children in the classroom, whether it is in K to 12 or post-secondary. We are engineering our education system and training so that B.C. students and workers have the skills to be first in line for jobs in a growing economy.
This budget delivers significant funding for education, up $576 million over three years. Total funding to school districts will top $5 billion next year. That's $1.2 billion more per year that goes towards school districts, such as school district 27 in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
More than 70 percent of those jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, and 44 percent of those jobs will be skilled trades and technical occupations. As part of that plan, Budget 2015 extends the training tax credit, which benefits both employers and apprentices, to the end of 2017. We are also extending the enhanced credit, which provides an additional 50 percent for First Nations individuals, people with disabilities and their employees.
With this budget we are reaffirming our commitment to keep our province on the right track of expanded growth and opportunity, ensuring that British Columbia stays the best place to live, work and raise a family. The 2015 budget truly does reaffirm our commitment to keep our province on the right track of expanding growth, opportunity and prosperity in the most balanced way.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
MLA Barnett on BC Budget 2015
Yesterday afternoon in the BC Legislature - Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said the following in regards to BC Budget 2015: