My response to Budget 2017
Today, I gave my response to the government’s budget and included some parting words and thanks for those who have helped me and my office along the way. It has truly been an honour serving you as your representative in Victoria for the past eight years.
You can find the full speech and transcript below.
V. Huntington: I rise to provide not only my thoughts about the 2017 budget but also some parting thoughts about my time in this place, time that has been unique and fascinating and filled with the wonder of working in these halls. There is also a bit of sadness that the experience and contribution of the majority of the members could have been so much richer had this government not insisted on being the democratic dinosaurs they are.
Firstly, the budget. I am always conflicted when speaking to the budget, and 2017 is no different. I welcome a balanced budget and can support the fiscal management that the balanced budget represents. There is no denying it is an achievement and puts British Columbia in an enviable financial position.
But the difficulty I always face is whether I support how the government achieved that balance. Was it fair? Is the government really trying to do the best it can for the weak and vulnerable in our society? Is it managing provincial debt appropriately? Are the numbers pretence or truth? Is the language nothing but spin, exaggeration or doublespeak? On these issues, I do have concerns.
Let me say that I detest election-year spring budgets. It is a blatant vehicle that allows the Liberal Party to use public funds to influence voters. So clever. So insincere. Clever because the communication gurus wreak their profession upon the people, and insincere because the political dinosaur that is the B.C. Liberal Party willfully refuses to do what all other jurisdictions have done in the name of democracy and efficiency — move the election date to the fall.
Gosh, that means we would actually finish a real budget. We would actually adopt a budget. Voters could test its veracity. But no, government keeps the election date where it is so that it can manipulate the budget and hand out election goodies.
Pre-election budgets are a profound waste of time and money. Our fixed spring elections allow the governing party to muster the resources of the bureaucracy to craft an election platform document. There is no quarterly report update, no public accounts from the Auditor General, and the House will be back in a few months to do it all over again. Budget 2017 is an election platform document paid for by taxpayers who are paying an additional $2 million to advertise it.
Let's talk about the remarkable increase of $2 million for additional government advertising. Just before the election, you will learn that a 50 percent cut to MSP premiums is coming, but you won't learn that government had increased MSP by 50 percent, that you have to apply for the cut and that it won't be available until next year. And that is only if the fall budget doesn't dump it. You will learn that there is a welcome $50 increase to disability allowances, but you won't learn that the $50 is simply returning the horrid clawback of the bus pass in 2016.
Using government advertising for partisan purposes is a specialty of this government. It is a complete disrespect for the tax dollar and the voter. It is ethically questionable and should be against the law, but of course, this government has refused to permit opposition bills that would ensure the Auditor General reviews all public advertising. B.C. is always the political dinosaur.
What about the fees this government is imposing on the public? Fees that are out of control. Fees that are filling the holes in B.C. Hydro and ICBC that were dug by this very government. In ICBC alone, rates have increased 32 percent since the Premier took office, and they still look for more.
Fees and licences are taxes by another name, and they are out of control in this province. They are wiping out discretionary income, and they are monetizing every aspect of our interaction with government. Fees even put a cost on public recreation. When can we expect coin-operated biffies in the very campgrounds where we pay for the site and pay for the wood and pay for the reservation — if we can get it?
Have members ever taken a look at the master list of fees and licences? There are 2,500 different fees and licences. In the mad dash to reduce red tape, I'll bet the government never once looked at what is on the master list of fees and licences. Heaven forbid they rationalize a cost to the public, a fee to the treasury. It boggles the mind to think that there are 2,500 different fees levied by this government.
But rather than continue with a litany of concerns, I would like to speak specifically about a disenchanting line item that affects the Delta school district — the ultimate catch-22. This budget formalizes a $15-million-a-year program to eliminate school bus fees where they exist. But wait. Delta has no school bus fees. Why? Because there aren't any school buses anymore. Why? Because previous government cutbacks in education forced Delta to cut school bus services for all non–special needs students.
Nothing we did would convince the Minister of Education that he needed to change the bus funding formula. Delta has a large rural area cut by four major and dangerous provincial highways. Would government listen? Of course not. So Delta gets no money to eliminate bus fees because we have no buses anymore — unbelievable and unfair.
As these may be my last words in the House, I want to take advantage of the tradition that the throne speech and the response to the budget are vehicles through which members may comment on their time in this place.
How does one thank an entire constituency, all of Delta South, for the honour of representing them in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and for the incredible leap of faith they took in electing the first independent in 60 years — and then to honour me with the privilege of being their voice in Victoria for a second time? The people of Delta South re-elected an independent for the first time in British Columbian history. How can a member properly thank the voters for that trust?
I was first elected in what I've always called a draw. But I won, and it was because the people were angry and had been lied to and because they ultimately decided to turn their back on a government that no longer listened to the people. This was a riding that was so Liberal that it named a park after the beloved MLA Fred Gingell — whose desk, by the way, I still use.
I hope I have treated the people of Delta South with the dignity and respect that they have shown me. My constituency office is nothing if not compassionate and hard-working. It has served the community with such determination that I honestly don't know how properly to thank the people doing the job.
My constituency assistants are second to none. Bernadette Kudzin has been exceptional in her interaction with troubled individuals. She has resolved the most serious of cases. She has personally found housing where the system said there was none. She's helped people who had no food, no money, no place to sleep. She has notified social agencies when caseworkers aren't doing their job. Everyone who has ever visited the office comes away with a feeling of inclusion and a sense of being listened to and that we care.
Yvonne Parenteau is my office manager and the other wonderful public face in my office. What could we possibly have done without her intelligent interest in doing things right and making sure I am accountable? Yvonne and Berni were both involved in my first campaign, but it was Yvonne who, in the crazy days after winning, would knocked on my door and say, "I will do this and this and this, and you don't have to worry about it anymore," and then she would leave and do it. Members have to know that as an independent, there was no one to help me. It was a confusing, scary time, and without Yvonne, I don't think I would have survived.
Then there is dear Jeannette Cormier, who has faithfully volunteered for eight years in my constituency office, doing everything she could to relieve Berni and Yvonne of the enormous workload we have.
Delta South has no government offices, and Surrey is over two hours away by bus. My office became the de facto government one-stop shop. Berni and Yvonne absorbed a workload and expertise that was not intended for a constituency office. Jeannette was the soul of discretion in service and support, and I will never be able to properly thank her.
I must also thank Peter and Richard, who came to us from Community Living and who have cleaned our offices for all these years. We have loved learning from them and are so grateful we had the opportunity to employ their services. And then there's Jamie, who also came to us from Community Living. Jamie comes in once a week to do our shredding, and nobody shreds quite like Jamie.
I want to mention my delight in all the youth who've been part of the Delta South youth legislative advisory committee. They've shown everyone how devoted, intelligent and hard-working the youth of our communities can be. They should all be proud of their accomplishment and the introduction they have had to the politics and issues of this province. As a matter of fact, the present members of the advisory committee will be visiting the precinct next Monday, and I look forward to introducing them.
It is always dangerous to thank a few when many have contributed their time and energy and loyalty to a cause. That is what my riding association has done — revelled in the cause of independence, the belief that an independent can serve as the voice of the people in a manner that is not possible for members of a party caucus.
Phil Horan, my long-serving president, has been a staunch, precise, careful and faithful leader and is adored by everyone. We could not have managed without Phil. Nor could we have managed without Dan Tate, our financial agent and treasurer. Dan is a fierce believer in doing things right, and woe be to any of us that try to cut corners. Dan's ethics kept us on the straight and narrow, and we will be forever grateful.
Julie Berks, the professional woman working in a high-powered job in downtown Vancouver, is our secretary and managed all the communications with our 400 members and 800 supporters. Her counsel was sought by all, and her wisdom was a leveller for our more enthusiastic moments.
Lois Wilkinson and Frank Addison were my fundraisers and advisers and are fixtures on my executive, and what an executive it is — hard-working, always ready for a challenge, always ready with support. I will never forget them and cannot thank them enough for their loyalty and faith in the role of an independent. Whether it was policy advice, organizational advice, event organizing or a shoulder to lean on, they were always there.
I can't forget my legislative office. Carla Perry had worked in Delta South for Fred Gingell and then here for the Liberal caucus. Carla let me talk her into working for me. Without Carla, I couldn't have organized the office or understood the first thing about being here in this place.
Shawn Courtney, who's now clerking in the Supreme Court; Brad Densmore, who is now with the Ombudsperson; and Aldous Sperl. They were superb researchers and much appreciated.
And then there are Stephen Harrison and Andrew Patrick. Stephen came to my office when Bob Simpson returned to Quesnel. After Bob, I'm sure my office was not quite up to his normal standards, but Stephen persevered and has guided me, chided me, led me, brought me lunch and made sure I knew what to say and when. He has an extraordinary mind, of unimpeachable ethics, and I am forever grateful for his skill and dedication.
Andrew has been my communicator. I would say that most members would join me in saying he has done an amazing job. We fight over what I should or could and can say, and I always lose. I have been so well served by these two remarkable young men.
I have no caucus to lean on, so the Clerk's office became my go-to phone number. I cannot thank Kate, our Deputy Clerk, and Craig, our Clerk, enough for their advice and assistance.
Similarly, the facilities staff in this building were so welcoming and so helpful that it's hard to express my full appreciation. They are wonderful people, and I'm grateful for their friendship.
So too, just down the hall from me, were the Hansard men and women, who always made room for me when I went to visit and to listen to their stories. They do know a lot about us, you know.
I don't want to forget the Sergeant-at-Arms, who has given me such good advice and support over the years, as have the protection staff and the pages in this House. What wonderful people serve and protect the members of this facility.
Lastly, I want to make sure that I recognize the dining room staff, who never once made me feel I shouldn't be included in that lovely room downstairs. They always made me feel welcome.
Penelope Chandler and Jared, of the opposition, and the offices of the House Leaders have been wonderful in keeping my office informed, because people do forget we're there. They have always managed to let us know what was going on.
Lastly, to the members of this House, and especially the members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition: thank you for the respect you have shown the lone elected independent. It would have been a difficult experience without the collegiality you've extended. But to the NDP caucus I owe a special thanks. From the House Leader to the chair, and to members of the standing committee on agriculture, you've always been available to me — to advise me, to help find me when I was lost and to let me join you for dinner, to buy me the odd glass of wine and even to invite me to your occasional Christmas party. I am grateful and indebted to each of you.
Independence is not a sport one can engage in lightly, nor does the opportunity come along very often. It is a coming together of the stars, and it takes a team to support a successful independent MLA. I could not have done the job, this amazing job, without all of the people I have mentioned. It has been an experience, but independence is what the people, in the depths of their heart, want from their representatives. They want to know what we think and what we are saying on their behalf.
I've been honoured to devote my energy to being the voice and servant of Delta South. It has been an experience never to be forgotten in a House that must always remember its purpose: to serve the people and the public interest with honour, integrity and honesty. Thank you all for the honour of sitting in this place.