MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard Responds to Throne Speech in the Legislature

Today, MLA Leonard responded to the Throne Speech in the legislature. You can read the transcript below, or find the link to the video here:

Okay, let me start that again. I am privileged to address this government’s third throne speech, as we enter into another full budget cycle.

I would like to acknowledge that we are in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, particularly the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. I think this is an important thing to acknowledge especially today as the Moose Hide Campaign began once again this year — and the acknowledgment of all the work that’s being done by the organizers for the Moose Hide Campaign, recognizing that today has been proclaimed as the Moose Hide Campaign Day.

It’s a real privilege to be able to stand here and acknowledge that, knowing that every party and every member of this House is supporting the work to reduce the violence that is perpetrated against, particularly, Indigenous women and children. I’d like to also acknowledge that in my constituency, it’s the territory of the K’ómoks First Nation.

I would also like to take an opportunity today to acknowledge my husband Ron Eby’s constant support and his commitment, particularly, to reducing our energy consumption in the house. I’d like to share with you that I have to endure the power being turned off to my hot water tank so that I’m never sure if I’m going to have a hot shower in the morning, as he tries to reduce our energy consumption. But it’s his commitment, and it’s part of the many things that he does every day to make life better for British Columbians and to do our part helping to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, which is a big part of why I stand here today.

I’d also like to acknowledge my executive. They are very involved. They’re very committed. They have a lot of special talents and skills to support the work of this government. I have been privileged to have them support me through many trials and tribulations, as this is a first term for me as MLA.

I’d like to also make a special shout-out to my constituency assistants, particularly Leanne Rathje, who’s been with me since, oh, almost day one. For many months this past year, she has had to take on the challenges of meeting the needs of people in my constituency, alone.

I’d also like to welcome a new constituency assistant, Matt Landry. His youthful energy and enthusiasm and his skills and talents are most welcome. I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m sure that the constituents in my community are going to be very well-served by this young man.

The first speech that I remember…. I remember the excitement and the anticipation of being part of a new journey that was being charted by our new B.C. NDP government. It was like a ship setting sail on its maiden voyage. I get, now, a year later, to look back on what has been an amazing, amazing trip so far. We had 16 years of inattention to the plight of all but the top 2 percent of British Columbians. Today there is a very different feel in our province. We see the positivity, the hope and aspirations, after so many years of barriers for people wanting to make life better.

There are so many things that were mentioned in the throne speech. I’m sure I won’t touch on all of them, but I’ll go through a life cycle. I’m going to start with health, because most people’s first introduction to the government is through our health care system. We’ve done so many good things to make life better for British Columbians.

I’ll start with the Fair PharmaCare. As the member for Surrey–Green Timbers mentioned, 240,000 people are benefiting from the cuts to Fair PharmaCare. That’s a lot of impact. We’ve also supported urgent primary care provision, and it’s happening in my community. There are more family doctors, more pharmacists. In my community, I’m particularly proud that we are supporting nurse practitioners in a big way.

We have a new hospital in the Comox Valley, and when it opened, there simply weren’t enough beds, right from the get-go. As time went on and things didn’t settle out, we were very privileged to have more beds added to try and relieve some of the pressures in the health care system in our community.

On top of that, we have a desperate need for residential care for seniors, and our government created temporary beds until the request for proposals was approved. This request for proposals added on to the 70 beds that had been approved through the previous government. What we did was made permanent those temporary beds that were a stopgap measure, and we added more respite beds, added more hospice beds and added more residential care beds. So instead of 70, our community is going to be receiving 151 beds.

It’s going to be provided through two different models. We’re going to have a dementia village, which is a really exciting possibility that’s opening up with Providence Care. We also have an inspiring new facility that’s coming to town, a new provider.

We’ve also seen an increase in the community care hours so that people are able to stay at home, where we know people want to be. We’ve also, of course, added, across the board, throughout the province, an increase in hours so that residential care beds have the kind of care that they need. It’s a standard that is being met by millions of man-hours, staffing hours, to make sure that people, if they have to go into care, are going to be well cared for.

I know that this is…. I’ve witnessed that with a lot of friends who have aging parents. The last place they want to see their loved ones go to is a residential care facility. In fact, it can be a wonderful experience, taking people out of isolation, if it’s done well, and we have that commitment to doing things better.

We’re also, in the health care field, adding more hip and knee surgeries and more MRIs. One of the things that we all hear about is the long wait-lists. That’s starting to be chipped away at so that people don’t have to suffer and can get on with their lives.

We also have more health care training spaces at our North Island College. The Minister of Health made a comment, when he was making the announcement around the residential care beds recently, about how we really need to value the jobs of the people who do the care. It is not a place where you’re going to see people entering into that as a profession unless we actually value it and celebrate it. I think that’s one of the avenues that we are pursuing — to make sure that we are reflecting, in our policies and programs, that value.

After you’ve given birth and you go home and you’ve dealt with all of your aches and pains…. The next big thing that was in the throne speech was child care. So many people have had to wait very long periods of time to find decent-quality affordable child care. Many families end up having a parent stay at home because they simply cannot find it. Our economy really deserves to have people who have developed their skills and talents come back into the workforce when they are ready and not be seeing child care as the barrier for the advancement of people in their careers, an advancement for the businesses where they serve.

I’d like to make a comment, too, about women who leave the workforce for a period of time to raise their children. It’s an admirable thing that women do. It’s, generally speaking, women. But when they leave the workforce, there are long-term effects. They’ve reduced their earning power. They’ve reduced their pensionability.

[3:05 p.m.]

They have to take a place where…. They haven’t advanced their careers for so many years, and getting back into the workforce is often a very difficult thing. So for us to take the steps to really make child care a number one driver of our economy is something that I value so much.

In terms of what’s going on in my community, we’ve seen new spaces come. We have more spaces at North Island College for training the early childhood educators.

Again, the issue around valuing that job, the early childhood educators. We’ve increased wages. We’ve added bursaries and on-the-job training so that people can work and improve their skills. We’ve also made more affordable the child care for families. I’m very proud to say that not only do we have the programs relating to reducing child care fees and subsidies; we’ve also introduced pilots for the $10-a-day child care. And one of those pilots is in our community.

We are also working on partnerships. At Lake Trail School, where we’re doing a $26 million renovation replacement, it includes 60 new child care spaces. Of course, we have a program where we will partner with local governments and school districts, public institutions, to provide $1 million to develop those child care spaces, a half a million dollars for non-profits and a quarter of a million dollars with for-profit child care institutions.

What we have done is focused on quality affordable child care. The throne speech makes mention of the fact that we are going to have new collaborative legislation that will give universal access to quality affordable child care the force of law. Not a program that’s going to be dismissed at any time in the future.

Now after you get the kids in school, you have a whole new set of issues to deal with. I have mentioned Lake Trail, and we know that the funds are going into not only seismic upgrades but also new builds, to make sure that we get rid of portables. We also know that there’s been the contract language reinstating so many teachers that are coming back into the classroom. That’s so important, especially after seeing a 14 percent increase since 2013-14 in mental illness and behaviour categories.

Our government is providing for 3,200 special education resource teachers, 180 educational psychologists and 918 school counsellors. I know in my own community, kids entering into kindergarten on the vulnerability scale are doing abysmally, and they need all of the supports that they can have to become successful in life.

Nearly half of the students who have mental illness or behaviour categories don’t graduate. One of the issues around mental illness is anxiety. As I say, the numbers are growing. There are things that we can do to make life a little less anxious for our young people. If they see that there’s hope in the future and that they can have confidence that they’re going to have a place in our economy and that they are going to have a better life, that helps. It’s not all about the supports. It’s about seeing that there is a future for them.

In my community, it’s been forever that kids leave the valley — that they don’t see those opportunities and have to leave their families. It’s a big scary world out there, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done to train our young people so that they see that future.

I want to talk next about the environment, because I know that that’s a deep concern for the youth of this province.

I also know it’s very important to my constituency as a whole. People are very, very passionate about the environment. I want to say that the path forward on climate change has not been very stellar with our old government. They undermined the recommendations that were being brought forward by people who work in the field, even going so far as to go outside of the province to make sure that they got the direction they wanted.

However, we now have a new government, and we have charted a new course, in partnership with the Greens. I think that it’s going to give the confidence that people need in our future in B.C. The CleanBC plan offers clean energy jobs. It’s going to be dealing with solid waste, cleaner transportation, dealing with buildings and reducing pollution from industry. I’d like to just touch on that because a lot of people hear the word “CleanBC,” but then they don’t get a fleshed-out version, a sense of what it is that we can accomplish if we stay the course.

The training. As I mentioned earlier, that’s the future of our youth. It’s a place to build confidence and a place for success, and we are investing in that.

On solid waste. I know in my community, particularly, the issue around solid waste is that it’s getting more and more expensive. The opportunities for solutions are diminishing. The throne speech makes mention that we are going to be helping communities to achieve the reductions that they need. I know that’ll be welcome news to many in our communities, especially in local and regional governments.

On clean transportation. I had somebody come into my office who was just so excited that they were getting one of the electric vehicles. She said: “It’ll be my last vehicle, and I never would have been able to do it without the $6,000 incentive program that’s available.” We really need to be focusing on those renewable fuels because, by and large, the biggest contributor to our greenhouse gases in our everyday lives is our vehicles.

In terms of our buildings, of course, there’s the whole issue of retrofits — another thing my husband is very keen to hear about. I know that we spent $1.7 million additionally on an affordable housing project called the Braidwood housing project. I was told by the organizers that it was, in major part, to increase building efficiencies.

We all have a part to play. It makes life more affordable when we have reduced energy costs. I’m excited that we are going to be looking at net-zero energy building standards so we can make sure that everybody benefits from that now and into the future.

Of course, all of that reflects on the ability for us to increase our jobs and opportunities. There’s a company in my community called Prisym, which I was just reading about in our local community development newsletter that comes out every week. They’re a solar energy provider, and they’re integrating renewable energies into new and existing buildings. They’re going out and providing complimentary information sessions so that contractors, as well as people who are doing their own contracting, can benefit from those possibilities.

I remember many years ago when I was in local government and hearing about the opportunities and the incredible savings there are if you are building new — being ready to adopt those renewable energies, rather than trying to fit them in long after you’ve built the houses. Of course, most of us don’t live in brand-new houses. Most of the marketplace is older buildings, so we have to find ways to make that happen.

I’d like to just make a comment about the consumer protections that were mentioned in the throne speech. I don’t go out to concerts a lot, but I do remember having an opportunity to see Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, and it was pretty exciting. It was before there was such a thing as bucket lists. It would’ve been on my bucket list to be able to see such performers.

There are performers now who try to make it accessible for people to see them perform, and the whole scalping industry has made it inaccessible to so many people. I’m very proud that we are going to be taking action to try to circumvent the software that is making it difficult for people to be able to enjoy concerts and other events throughout B.C.

Also, I know that people — oh, so many people — have to live paycheque to paycheque. The idea of dealing with short-term loans in a way where…. We’re increasing consumer education and providing oversight and some capping so that we can start to influence the direction, to make life more affordable. You don’t want to be seeing people being taken advantage of, and I applaud our government for taking that on.

I can’t tell you how many people have turned to me about cell service, saying: “Oh, if you can do something about cell service….” I recognize — it was mentioned in the throne speech — that we don’t have all of the power on the issue of the cost to consumers of cell service. But where we have authority, we are paying attention and doing what we can.

On the issue of ICBC, I hear a lot of comments about: “Oh, we need the competition. We need to go into private insurance.” It’s been just shown over and over again that that’s not the way to drive down the costs and make sure that people have quality insurance. We’re committed to that — to having a public insurance system that provides the lowest cost and a quality product. The lack of regulation and the skimming off of ICBC’s revenues is over. Our government last year put in $950 million to try and straighten out the books, and I’m pretty impressed with the work that’s being done.

I’d just like to conclude by saying that we have so many opportunities. The future is bright; hope is in the air. We have every opportunity to turn to our youth and say that we’ll hand on the baton to the next generation, once we start to further implement the things that we have started in the last year. It isn’t a rehashing. It is the beginning of the building of the foundation that we started last year. We have to build on it. It’s going to take time, and people need to be patient. They need to be persistent in making sure that they hold our feet to the fire, and we will accomplish a better B.C. for everyone.