In the House

Doug’s Private Members’ Statement on Supporting Resource Sector Jobs, full clip

D. Donaldson: I'm happy to rise today to speak on the topic of supporting resource jobs in this province. Here are the results of the Premier's so-called jobs plan for northern and more rural areas of B.C. The number of people on welfare in the north has increased 10.7 percent, compared to a year ago — 2½ times the provincial average.

Year over year,  increases in the number of people on unemployment insurance jumped by 12 to 17 percent in northern communities; 12 percent in Prince George; 17 percent in Williams Lake; 21 percent in Vernon; 22 percent in Salmon Arm; 25 percent in Kamloops; and 29 percent in Penticton. 

These Statistics Canada numbers show the B.C. Liberal view of how great the economy is doing in the province ends somewhere around Hope. 

What can be done differently? Here are a few suggestions. First, make basic family costs like B.C. Hydro and ICBC rates more affordable. Both have skyrocketed between 25 and 36 percent in just five years under decisions made by this government and nothing to slow the trend. 

On top of a 30 percent rise in B.C. Hydro rates under this Premier, we can expect another ten percent increase in the next few years. And an ICBC report predicts a stunning 42 percent increase in the next few years. There was nothing in the recent budget to address either of these hidden taxes. They take money out of the pockets of families and resource workers, which means less disposable income for spending in northern and rural businesses. That equates to fewer jobs. 

Second, settle comprehensive land and resource agreements with First Nations. The B.C. Liberals' approach is to sign one-off agreements on a project-by-project basis. That's their approach. Although these do bring benefits, they are no match for the certainty of comprehensive agreements. Even the former B.C. Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant says the current approach is misguided. That lack of certainty results in less investment which is needed to support jobs, especially in the resource sector and resource communities. 

At the foundation of comprehensive agreements are land use plans. Land use need to be created and existing ones updated in partnerships with First Nations, in the context of the Supreme Court of Canada's Tsilhqot'in decision in 2015 on title and consent. 

They are especially important for certainty around natural resources like minerals. Nothing puts a finer point on the danger of losing critical investment to elsewhere than the latest Fraser Institute survey of mining companies, for instance, which ranks B.C. 18th from the bottom out of 104 jurisdictions when it comes to "investor certainty concerning disputed land claims."

That is the record after 16 years of B.C. Liberal government. Calling hereditary chiefs who disagree with her idea of development "ragtags" as the Premier did just last year, does little to advance reconciliation or foster certainty. 

Third, in forestry, we've lost 30,000 jobs under the B.C. Liberals. We still have forest-dependent communities in the north, so the forestry portfolio needs attention. The Premier's all eggs in one basket approach, focusing solely on LNG, has diverted almost the entire attention of the resource ministries to that one sector, to the detriment of others like forestry. 

Tenure reform is long overdue to allow more access to fibre from the forest to more entrepreneurs. Value-added opportunities need attention to reduce the number of raw log exports that have hit record levels under this Premier, averaging six million cubic metres a year — enough, by conservative estimates, to support 4,500 workers. 

The Northern Rockies municipality, with Fort Nelson at its core, made withering criticisms of this government's forestry jobs plan when they wrote, just in November, that: "Rather than encouraging a restart of the forest industry and the employment and prosperity it would foster, the tenure system has supported the speculative hoarding of wood and the export of unprocessed logs and jobs away from Fort Nelson. Changes need to be directed toward discouraging wood hoarding; greater local and First Nations involvement; flexibility adaptability to changing realities; rewards for innovation and investment, at least toward economic diversification; and how best to repair the broken links between resource communities reliant on their sustainable forest development."

That pretty well sums up the job-destroying legacy of 16 years of B.C. Liberal government in this province when it comes to forestry.

Fourth, recognize, protect and expand the existing jobs supported by natural resources and make that a priority when considering other proposals that put those jobs at risk. Here's a big example of that. The jobs derived from the freshwater fishery in northern communities. In the Skeena River watershed alone, that is worth $25 million a year and supports hundreds of jobs. We're talking the wild salmon resource. 

These are community located jobs, whether in guiding, retail, material and equipment, processing, transportation, hospitality, accommodation or construction.

This sustainable resource, supporting existing jobs, can be put at risk when a government with blinders on about anything except LNG doesn't see or understand the impact of development — in the eelgrass beds around Lelu Island, for instance. Those beds — which provide critical rearing grounds for salmon smolts, transitioning between fresh water and salt water at a precarious stage of their lives — if damaged or destroyed would irreversibly impact the wild salmon runs of the Skeena, according to independent, peer-reviewed science.

A smaller example in this category is one I just recently witnessed at the community meeting in Kitwanga, but one that I know has had numerous examples over the last 16 years. A plan is proposed to cut timber in an area at the base of the Seven Sisters class A provincial park along Highway 16 that would destroy pine mushroom habitat. For those who don't know, pine mushrooms cannot be cultivated, and there's a high demand for them in Japan. Pickers can make an important cash infusion into their seasonal employment.

The estimated 10,000 cubic metres of merchantable timber would perhaps provide two winters of logging employment. The pine mushroom patches in this forest will support pickers with a direct cash input for years and years. Again, a lack of consideration for long-term jobs and the creation of uncertainty for loggers and commercial mushroom pickers, both of which are resource sector jobs.

Statistics Canada shows that this government's job plan has failed those living in the north, but it is the people in the communities who know that this B.C. Liberal economy is not working for them.

It's time for a new approach to resource sector jobs in this province, and with that, hon. Speaker, I'll take my place and listen to the response from the government side. 

G. Kyllo: I'm proud to rise today to speak to supporting the resource sector jobs in our province. The B.C. jobs plan has focused on eight sectors, originally, on trying to grow the provincial economy and create jobs across B.C. In direct contrast to the comment of the member opposite, we have been focused on diversifying British Columbia's economy, and we're now focusing on nine separate sectors to provide economic growth across British Columbia.

The resource sector is a vital sector in our province. The key sectors of the B.C. jobs plan, including forestry, mining and natural gas development, provide good-paying, family-supporting jobs for hard-working British Columbians so they can take care of the people they love. The resource sectors are an integral part of the B.C. jobs plan, which has taken B.C. job growth from below the national average to the highest in Canada — the highest in Canada. That employment in B.C. is currently the lowest in Canada and has remained there for the last eight consecutive months.

International goods exports have grown by 10 percent and now total almost $36 billion, with B.C. having one of the most diversified markets in Canada. B.C.'s economy has expanded by just over 12 percent or nearly $25 billion. We want to see that growth continue, especially in our natural resources sector. 

One way we're doing that is from Budget 2017, and that's eliminating the PST on electricity. Beginning on October 1, the tax rate on electricity will reduce to 3.5 percent from the current 7 percent, and it will be eliminated entirely by April of 2019. This is good news, especially for our resource sectors, helping them to remain competitive in global markets.

Another measure from Budget 2017 is the extension of the mining tax credit as well as increased funding of $18 million to the Ministry of Energy and Mines over the next three years to support mine permitting and oversight. And the forest sector is receiving record support with a $150 million investment in the reforestation initiative.

This is the kind of support that I am talking about. It's unfortunate that the opposition refuses to support the budget that includes these important measures to support our resource sectors and the economy of rural B.C.

We appreciate and understand that the growth of the jobs sector in B.C. has largely been in Metro and in the southern part of Vancouver Island. That is not unique to British Columbia. We're seeing that across Canada and around the globe as there are more people moving to larger centres. But our government has focused on a diversified jobs plan and providing supports for rural British Columbia.

The rural dividend fund is a $25-million-a-year investment now committed for an additional three years — a $100 million investment on supporting rural communities with populations below 25,000 people and providing them the supports to help them to look at diversifying their local economies. As well, the recent appointment of the Minister of State for Rural Economic Development. Our government is aware of the differences between the economic growth that is happening in rural parts of our province and those in the Lower Mainland. But we have a focused commitment on diversifying both our sectors, which serve our province, as well as diversifying the markets.

We have worked hard on diversifying markets with other parts of the globe. Back in 2001, 74 percent of all of our trade was with the United States. Our government has made a continued focus on diversifying those markets, increasing trade ties with Asia. We've now reduced our reliance on the U.S. market to 54 percent. These initiatives on diversifying the sectors that we focus on in B.C. and diversifying our markets is one of the reasons why B.C. continues to lead Canada in economic growth.

The forest sector directly contributes $7.3 billion to B.C.'s economy in 2015, employing nearly 60,000 people and supporting more than 7,000 forest sector businesses in B.C. Forest products account for 36 percent of B.C.'s total exports in 2016.

Locally in my region, companies like the USNR and the Sawmill Equipment Company in Salmon Arm design, develop and manufacture world-leading sawmill equipment for companies here at home and around the globe. Great West Equipment just recently opened a new facility in Spallumcheen, providing heavy-duty equipment sales and service largely to support the resource sector. These businesses support good-paying, family supporting jobs in my community.

B.C. is a global leader in using wood technology and design. UBC's upcoming student residence will be one of the world's tallest hybrids at 18 storeys, and it's slated for opening in 2017. Our government has invested more than $400 million since 2005 to support forest area wildlife infestations.

Our government is working hard to support rural development in rural B.C., and we will continue to do so.

D. Donaldson: After 16 years of B.C. Liberal government, that hodgepodge of announcements we just heard from the member for Shuswap is frankly an insult to resource-dependent communities in this of province, honourable speaker. Perhaps the member didn't hear that unemployment in one of his own communities has risen 26 percent year over year, according to statistics Canada.

After five years as Premier, this Premier wakes up and realizes that rural B.C. is important just before an election and puts together a grab-bag of previous announcements with no plan and no theme and no objectives.

I'll give you an example — the rural dividend fund. I have a community, Telkwa, who has been looking for a less than $2 million contribution from this government towards a water tower, something as basic as safe water in their community. Yet this government can spend $16 million on government advertising, telling the rest of the rural province area how great the economy is doing. Telkwa can't even get less than $2 million for safe water from this government.

Post-secondary funding was mentioned. This is a government so arrogant that they dictate to communities what is good for them when it comes to post-secondary funding.

I had a First Nations person who was in control of post-secondary skills training in their area. They were contacted by a community college saying this government had provided money for LNG training in their community. They have no LNG jobs or any kind of LNG on the horizon in their community. They don't have those natural gas resources. They need jobs and some training in mining, and that money wasn't there. That shows the arrogance.

To recap, you need action on affordability for resource workers. We need comprehensive land use plans and land claims with First Nations to increase certainty — especially investment around the mining sector. We need tenure reform in forestry and more attention on value-added.

We need to have existing jobs and the resources that support them considered in decisions around development — and protect the wild salmon resource in northern rural areas. And we need a better focus on post-secondary training and let communities dictate what needs to be done in their communities to support resource sector jobs.

Those are the kind of actions a government that was concerned about supporting resource sector jobs in this province would undertake. I look forward to this side forming government on May 9 and undertaking those kind of accomplishments.