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October 31, 2006

A Revised UBCM Speech

"I plead guilty to having learned from something with regard to that."
Premier Gordon Campbell, October 30th, 2006, on CBC Newsworld with Don Newman

Newman asked Campbell what changed between Campbell's opposition to the Nisga'a treaty and his celebration of the proposed Lheidli T'enneh treaty. Without prompting, Campbell expanded on his admitted mistake and said: "I think we've also learned a lot from the experience with the Nisga'a. We had actually a very good experience there. The Nisga'a first nation, I think we've seen some significant benefits to that first nation." After commenting on charter rights, Campbell went on to say: "I think we have to be clear the Nisga'a treaty is something that helped inform us. It's been good I think in general for the people in British Columbia and for the Nisga'a."

When he was Leader of the Official Opposition, Campbell led a filibuster against the Nisga'a treaty. As he admitted to Newman, he took the treaty to court and lost. Did Campbell believe what he said then, or was he trying to outmaneuver the BC Reform Party at any cost? One way or the other, no one can deny that he has done a 180 degree about turn in his attitude to the first nations.

Imagine the possibilities if the Premier had more conversions on his road to Damascus.

Let's pretend that he's had such conversions immediately before his October 27th speech to the UBCM and see what a difference it could have made. Regular text in the following condensed re-write is from the version on the Premier's website; bold text indicates additions or admissions following his hoped for conversion. As they say on the web text, "check against delivery".

Well, it is great to be here in the traditional territories of the Songhees and the Esquimalt First Nations, to have a chance to talk with all of you again.

When I come, I can't help but thank all of you and thank the UBCM.

You know, this is by far the most comprehensive provincial meeting of public elected officials and public servants that we have in the province. Isn't it interesting that it's local governments that bring us all together to examine a full, complete provincial agenda? It's so important to focus on those common purposes that we share.

Every year we seem to be able to come together and have an idea of what we should all do together. I want to apologize for the stubbornness of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. We were wrong to bring in Bill 30 and strip local government of any say on independent power projects. Today I'm announcing that the Utilities Commission Act will be amended to provide for continued consultation with local governments on power projects, and projects generating less than 50MW proposals will be reviewable under the Environmental Assessment Act as requested by the UBCM. I was clearly wrong to say the province always knows best and that local government should be ignored.

We've worked together to combat crystal meth, and improve community health, and prevent and prepare for West Nile virus and pandemics. And we're going to continue to work in that spirit of partnership because it's the true way to build progress. It's the way that we can ensure that we provide a better quality of life for all the people that we serve in British Columbia.

The theme of your convention this week has been: vibrant and integrated communities. It is a great theme: vibrant, integrated communities. Vibrant communities are excited by their future. They're not mired in the past.

Your communities are a recognized strength today for British Columbia. They're an important cornerstone for our future.

So we have to ask this question: what more can we all do to design healthier cities and towns that provide healthy choices to citizens, and help us sustain services for the next generation of British Columbians? We all know we have to start from the ground up.

The good news is that we also know what creates healthier, less costly, more sustainable communities: higher densities. New densities also will help us create healthier communities. It will use less land. It will create a sense of place and create the opportunity for more affordable housing.

Now, I've sat in your chair. I know why people don't move to higher densities. I've gone to a few public hearings in my day. It's the same reason that we fail to make difficult decisions with regard to housing the homeless or to better help the mentally ill: small-p politics. It's not popular to increase densities. We just don't do it. It's not easy to create homeless shelters, halfway houses, rehab centres, or mental health facilities. And it's not just money; often it's zoning.

We simply can't allow fear, and in some cases ignorance, to stop us from doing what is right. It just compounds our problems, and the price we pay is played out in our streets at the expense of our mutual goal, vibrant communities.

I was wrong to eliminate the position of the Mental Health Advocate, as I was wrong to eliminate the Children's Commission. I am announcing that the government stall on selecting a Child and Youth Advocate will end, and the position of Mental Health Advocate will be re-established. We all know that government needs independent watchdogs with real teeth.

I want to thank those of you who've been working on the Premier's task force on homelessness, mental health and addiction services. I'm so proud of your work that it is still a secret. Its website has nifty photos but no report. We've doubled the budget for shelters and affordable housing. There will be another $32 million for housing in the next two years. We're ready to build hundreds of more units. We've already built or are building 10,788 new units of subsidized housing since 2001. I know these numbers don't balance with BC Housing's Annual Report, but don't get picky. The housing numbers were inflated by calling assisted living subsidized housing. OK that did mean breaking the promise on building 5,000 residential care beds, but it's their fault if they didn't save enough or win the lotto. We are selling tickets online now, you know.

I don't want to accept people living on our streets. None of us, least of all the homeless, want to accept it. But we're going to have to work together if we're going to put this behind us. You know, announcements are a beginning, but it's execution that matters. Time adds costs and carrying costs and escalating construction costs.

As well as building housing, there is another component to this. So often it seems to me our critics overlook the fact that leaving more money in people's pockets actually makes a big difference in what housing is affordable to people. In June 2001, the day after I was sworn in, I announced a tax cut of more than $20,000 per year for the top 11,000 income earners in this province. It only cost about $200 million per year in lost revenue. Think of that as making their housing more affordable. Compare that to the average of $169 per month that seniors receive under shelter aid for elderly renters (SAFER)

And today I can tell you that we will increase the shelter allowance for income-assistance recipients in the next budget for British Columbia and that will be the first increase since 1994. Did I say time adds costs? In this case it would add costs to help income-assistance recipients in November rather than telling them to wait for an announcement in February. Did I say that? Just kidding, I really meant to say that I'm guilty of being wrong and if we can afford more than $200 million a year for those at the top, we can afford a 50% increase in the shelter allowance for all categories of income-assistance effective immediately.

We're going to work with you. There'll be new incentives to create new facilities and support those with mental illnesses and addictions. You know, we're going to listen to you. We're going to listen to what we've heard from you. You know what you've told me? De-institutionalization is a failed experiment. So we're going to work with you to make sure that we provide for the care and the support for people with mental illnesses as we look ahead, and it will be a major item on our agenda. Of course what failed was the political commitment to build housing in the community, not the commitment to close the big institutions that victimized inmates, but if you've read the planning documents for the health authorities you know they are facing cost pressures to build replacement beds for Riverview. Declaring deinstitutionalization a failure today might allow us to escape that cost pressure, just like double counting our promise to seniors as both assisted living beds and housing.

We know P3s save money, transfer risk and add great value through design innovations and private sector ingenuity. You know, for the first time since 1983 we've been granted a AAA credit rating again in British Columbia. That will save our taxpayers about $50 million in interest costs over the next ten years. Don't ask me how we can borrow for so much less yet save money by having private sector partners borrow for us at higher rates; it's all part of that P3 magic. Notice that I said we "know P3s save money"; I didn't say we have any proof. It's like tax cuts paying for themselves. Just repeat the mantra.

Strong, vital communities are a core value of our Pacific vision. It's powered by the imagination of British Columbians who want to reach higher to create healthier, vibrant, integrated communities that will be defined by our mutual strengths, our mutual purpose and our mutual belief that it is B.C.'s time to lead. It's B.C.'s time to shape Canada's future, and what an incredible future that will be.

Thank you very much. Don't hold your breath waiting for enough 180 degree conversions to fix the long list of mistakes.

 
 

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