Gordon Campbell, Leader of the Official Opposition for the Province of British Columbia
A NEW FUTURE FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA
Chairman: George L. Cooke, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Robert P. Kelly, Vice Chairman, Retail Banking, Toronto Dominion Bank and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Rev. Captain Wendy Murphy, Rector, St. Bede and St. Crispen Anglican Churches; Lucy Fernandes, OAC Student, Central Commerce Collegiate Institute; Thomas A. Buell, Past President, Weldwood of Canada and Consultant, Weldwood of Canada; Jane Pepino, Partner, Aird & Berlis; the Rt. Hon. John N. Turner, Partner, Miller Thomson; Diane Francis, Editor, Financial Post; and Sandra Whiting, President, Black and Professional People Association and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by George L. Cooke
We are privileged to have with us as guest speaker today, Gordon Campbell, Liberal Leader of the Official Opposition in British Columbia. He entered provincial politics in 1993. He was elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1994 and led his party to 33 seats in 1996.
Mr. Campbell attended public school in Vancouver. After graduating, he received a scholarship to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he worked his way through university in the dining hall and as the associate to the Secretary of the College--a diverse skill set even at a young age. He later received an MBA from Simon Fraser University.
Described by Diane Francis as having the wholesome good looks of a high school gym teacher and being a Reformer disguised as a Liberal, we note that Gordon was a teacher and basketball coach in Nigeria for Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO), and he was an assistant to former Vancouver Mayor Art Phillips. He left city hall to start his own business.
He was elected city councillor in 1984, then won three successive terms as mayor of Vancouver. Macleans magazine columnist Peter Newman described Gordon as "a mayor who heads the most progressive and most openly accountable civic administration in the country." Accountability is something all Canadians want but don't get often enough from political leaders. Gordon, welcome to The Empire Club of Canada.
Thank you. It is great to be here and I want to thank the Empire Club for giving me the chance to come and talk to you about my province--the province of British Columbia--and what the future holds for B.C.
Many of you here in this room today, and I am sure many in Ontario, will have some sense of how it feels to be in British Columbia in 1998. You probably remember how it felt to be in Ontario in 1994.
When I was flying here I spoke with people on the plane. I heard from many people that they were coming here, looking to invest in Ontario. They were looking at opportunities in Ontario. They were looking at economic growth in Ontario. They were excited to be part of a growing economy in Ontario again.
Today in British Columbia, things don't feel quite the same way. In fact, Glen Clark makes Bob Rae look like Mike Harris.
We currently have the worst government in provincial history. Now I don't want you to be too upset with the people in British Columbia for that. We still have an excellent work force. We still have excellent resources. We still have an entrepreneurial spirit--a spirit of enterprise that I believe can be tapped into and can turn our provincial economy around again.
We just happen to have a government that has brought together a lethal combination of incompetence and ideology. And it is not something that I say with any joy. What has happened in British Columbia has been really tragic. The human toll in our province has been significant. Community after community is feeling that pain.
Just imagine seven years ago we were the number-one economy in Canada. We were the place where people wanted to go and invest. We were the place for which people said: "Let's go and look at opportunities in British Columbia." Unfortunately, when I was flying in yesterday I saw in The Globe and Mail's Report on Business a new index of provincial performance. Guess where British Columbia was? Last; tenth.
We have a government that is looking for excuses instead of improving things.
You have probably heard people referring to the Asian flu. Just so you all know, British Columbia was suffering from NDP pneumonia before anyone identified the Asian flu. It is something that has been building and building and building.
We were the only province in Canada in 1997 to lose jobs. Just think of that: British Columbia--a province the size of England, France and Germany combined--losing jobs while in Eastern Canada that little province called Prince Edward Island created more jobs than B.C. did in 1997.
And yet we have a finance minister today who has announced to all British Columbians that we are not really in a recession; we are in a sectoral recession.
There is the forest sector that is in a recession, the mining sector that's in a recession, the agriculture sector that's in a recession, the retail sector that's in a recession, the home-building sector that's in a recession, the construction sector that's in a recession.
A sectoral recession. Think of that. Sixteen thousand people have lost work in the forest industry.
The home-building industry is one of the leading indicators of economic activity. Do you know the number of new homes that were started in the capital city of Victoria in August? Three.
Do you know the number of new homes started in the suburb of Langley, a fast-growing suburban community in the greater Vancouver area in August? Zero.
Mortgage defaults are up 141 per cent. Sometimes when we think of the economy we only think big business, big business investment, big labour and big government. But when the economy is in trouble, like it is in British Columbia, it is people who are being hurt. They are losing their life's savings in record numbers and we have a premier in B.C. who says this is only a statistical recession.
For the first time in a decade and half we have watched as more people are leaving the province than are coming to the province.
I was recently visiting the community of Cranbrook. Cranbrook is in the Kootenays in British Columbia. I was walking down the street and meeting with people. A fellow came up to me and said, "Oh, Mr. Campbell, welcome to Cranbrook. It is good to see you here." I said, "Thank you very much. How's it going?" "Not very well." I said, "What's the matter?" "Well, my son and I are going to drive to Calgary tomorrow to see if we can find his first job. He wanted to work in the Kootenays. He wanted to work in the community where he grew up but there are no jobs here. So we are driving to Calgary and you know if we don't find a job in Calgary we will drive north to Edmonton and we will probably find a job for him there." He added, "Last year I had to drive my daughter to Saskatchewan to find her first job."
Now even here in Ontario, you know and I know that God did not intend people to move from British Columbia to Saskatchewan.
That's what Glen Clark has done and the NDP still doesn't get it.
You were all probably paying close attention as Glen announced his economic strategy in the spring of 1998. In preparing for that budget Mr. Clark met with business leaders. The business leaders said to him, "Mr. Clark whatever you do, do not change the Labour Code." So Glen thought that over and he did two things. He created 1500 new campsites and he changed the Labour Code.
Just imagine. The economic answer that our premier came up with was 1500 new campsites.
I think that one of the things that we have to do is we have to make sure that Mr. Clark and his cohorts understand exactly what is happening in British Columbia. He must understand how people make investment decisions.
Because you are here today, I am going to give you a gift--a very special gift. I'm going to give every one of you $1 million. When I tell people in British Columbia that they are getting a million dollars, they are pretty excited about it. I guess we are in Toronto, so let's try this again! I am going to give every one of you $1 billion. But there is one caveat: You have to invest in one of the two most western provinces in Canada.
Now let me give you the conditions. In one provinceBritish Columbia--you have the highest marginal personal income tax in any place in North America. You have a corporate capital tax, you have 7-per-cent sales tax, you have a government that has run seven successive deficits and doubled the debt in the last seven years alone. And you have a government that will attack business whenever it is in its economic or political benefit to do so. That's British Columbia.
Keep your billion--there's another option.
You can invest in Alberta. A government that has a $2.5-billion surplus. A government with 15 per cent lower personal income tax. No sales tax, no corporate capital tax, and anything that it can do to encourage business it will do.
How many of you here are planning to invest your billion dollars in B.C.? Please put up your hands.
How many in Alberta? OK and the rest of you are just going to put it in the bank, right?
I was in a meeting in B.C. the other day with about 200-300 people where I asked the same question. One person actually put up his hand saying that he would invest it in B.C. I said "That's good. That's what we want. We want investment in B.C. But can you tell me why you are investing in B.C.?" "Yes" said the fellow, "I see an entrepreneurial opportunity there. I'm going to invest in moving vans and move all those people from British Columbia to Alberta."
That is not the kind of investment we are looking for. We, the B.C. Liberals, are going to turn around the economy in British Columbia. We are going to change the way the province works. And that's my message to you today.
I want you to know that in spite of the fact that things are not looking very good today in the province of British Columbia we still have a province with excellent resources. We still have a province with excellent people who are ready to go to work. All we have to do is change the current government in B.C.
We have to change the government so that we have a government that believes in private enterprise again. A government that believes in private-sector investments again. A government that believes in profits again. I want you to know that there is a big difference between Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell and between the NDP and the B.C. Liberals. We believe in profits. Imagine having a Minister of Forests who announces to the world that the days of big profits are over in British Columbia.
Well, there's an investment strategy for you! Come to B.C. and invest your dollars--no profit here!
Of course, that is not going to work. We want to have profits because we know profits mean jobs, profits mean investment, profits mean the dollars that we need to support health care and our public education system. Of course, we want to have profits.
When we are elected we are going to act very quickly and very boldly to change the direction of our economy. We have a Nine-Point Economic Recovery Plan that we believe will set a course for the future. It will move B.C. back from number 10 up to number one in this country.
Within the first 90 days, we will pass balanced-budget legislation in our province. The legislation is written and we are ready to pass it. It says quite simply that the government can't spend more money than it takes in. It will provide fiscal discipline in our public service.
We are also going to pass "Truth in Budgeting" legislation within 90 days. Now I have to tell you that there has been a real problem with truth in budgeting for British Columbia. You may recall that in 1996 Mr. Clark told us that he was running a second balanced budget. It took our Auditor General almost 18 months but he has now come forward with his report. In fact, the 1996 budget had a $748-million deficit. We are aiming in British Columbia today for a $1.5-$2-billion deficit. Now I believe and my colleagues believe that that is taxpayers' money and they deserve to know exactly what is happening with their tax dollars.
And our Truth in Budgeting legislation is very straightforward. It says we have to keep the government's books the way the government makes you keep your books.
We are also going to bring in what we call Merit Employment legislation to depoliticise the public service: Hire people on the basis of their experience, expertise and background not on the basis of the political card that they hold.
And we are going to change the tax system in British Columbia. Within 90 days there will be a dramatic cut in personal income tax in our province. We have set a goal for ourselves that we will have the lowest personal income tax of any jurisdiction in Canada within the first term of office.
Now I know that in Ontario you've got a big headstart on this. They do in Alberta too. But I think that it is time that we understood that people in this country are willing to work hard if they can get ahead. I believe that one of the engines of a free enterprise economy is individual initiative and individual work.
So what we will do is cut personal income taxes. I just want to remind you that the fact that those dollars are not going to the government does not mean that they disappear. In fact, dollars are far more powerful in your pocket then they are in the government's coffers.
Because in B.C., I can tell you over the last seven years--six of the last seven years--personal take-home pay has gone down. We are the only province in the country in the last year that watched as the average weekly salary went down. So as I travel around B.C., people say to me quite regularly, "I am working an awful lot harder but I'm not getting any further ahead." And they are right. We want them to know that if they work harder, they will get ahead. They will be able to think about savings. They will be able to think about providing a better future for their kids and providing more security for themselves.
The first step in that regard is to reduce personal income tax and we will do it.
Within that first 90 days, we will also start a major review of the entire cost of government in British Columbia because we have to get rid of a lot of the waste, a lot of the NDP's ideologically-driven programmes. We are going to bring back things like open tendering in B.C. We are going to eliminate the fixed-wage legislation that the NDP imposed on our public contracts which has cost our taxpayers approximately $400-500 million since it was introduced, for no net benefit.
We are going to reduce regulation by one-third within the first three years. I am sure that some of you are aware of what has taken place with our forest industry. To give you an idea of what has gone on in terms of policy, our Minister of Forests announced that he was going to cut regulation and save about $350 million a year by cutting the regulatory burden that he has placed on the forest industry.
When he was asked: "Mr. Zirnhelt, but aren't you going to lower some of your standards by reducing regulations?" "Oh no, standards won't be affected by this." Just think about what that means. It means that in the three years since that Forest Practices Code was introduced the government has taken a billion dollars out of the industry for no benefit. We have to stop that kind of policy making.
The B.C. Liberals have worked with Alberta and the other provinces and have gone through a regulatory review so that we can cut our regulation in the province and eliminate the huge hidden costs on small business. We want to re-ignite small business in our province, reignite investment in our province.
I think what I have to leave you with is this: We know that the moves that we will have to make are going to have to be bold. We understand that there will be difficult decisions to make but we are ready to make them. I have been working for the last two years to unite the free enterprise family in B.C., to bring it together because we cannot afford another term of NDP government.
We will have an election in B.C. It might be in the next six months or the next year or it may be, God forbid, two years away but the NDP's time is running out. It has run out of ideas and now it is running out of time. We are ready to defeat the NDP and bring back a free enterprise government. We are ready to do that. We are ready to do that with a programme that is decisive and that will work.
What I would like you to think of as you leave today is not that B.C. is number 10 in economic growth today. We are at the bottom of the list today and there is no doubt about it. But if there was ever a blue chip stock in Canada it is British Columbia. We are a province with great resources. We are a province with great people with great talents and we will be a province that has a government that will encourage private-sector investment again.
You will want to be able to look back in five years and 'say I made the right investment decision. I invested in British Columbia when it was at the bottom and boy is it "ever fun to be making those dollars and seeing those returns on my investment? Is it ever fun to be back at the top and recognise that I'm a part of the solution?
We want everyone in Canada to know that British Columbia has not gone away. We are going to be an active, vibrant and vital player in the Canadian family. We are going to lead by example and we are going to give our province back to the people who live there.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Robert P. Kelly, Vice Chairman, Retail Banking, Toronto Dominion Bank and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.