Students, entrepreneurs, investors, innovators – and yes, politicians – gathered in Vancouver last week for the second annual #BCTECH Summit.
B.C.’s technology sector is the biggest it has ever been, with over 106,000 jobs and almost 10,000 companies – and counting. The tech sector employs more people than the mining, oil and gas, and forestry sectors combined, and tech jobs pay 75 per cent higher than the average industrial wage in B.C.
If you’re looking into a career in tech, there has never been a better time. Besides being a growth industry with great pay, tech skills are transferable. Tech jobs aren’t limited to high tech; you can find tech – and tech workers – in manufacturing, mining, and tourism.
So you can work in any industry, anywhere in the world, but here’s the best part: you don’t have to go anywhere. Kelowna is one of tech’s hotbeds, home to some 550 tech firms employing about 6,500 people.
In the Okanagan, tech is a billion-dollar industry, and it creates an indirect impact of more than $284 million for businesses – supplying them everything from cables to curtains to coffee.
Because tech is a globally competitive industry, we’re working every day not only to support B.C. and Okanagan tech companies, but to foster continued growth and success.
That’s why we used the second #BCTECH Summit to seize the moment and make sure tech firms have what they need to thrive: ready access to money, markets, ideas, and talent.
Let me just touch on two: money and talent.
Last year, we launched a $100-million venture capital fund to invest in start-ups. We’re also ensuring B.C. has globally competitive taxes — not just low, but tailored to reward innovation in fields like augmented and virtual reality.
Tech is about ideas. If we’re already making sure B.C. entices firms with competitive taxes and access to capital, we also have to make sure those firms can tap into a deep, well-educated pool of tech talent.
That’s why we’re working to incorporate the world’s universal language – coding – into B.C.’s K-12 curriculum across the province. We’re also making sure those students have opportunities when they graduate, increasing the number of post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) grads by 1,000 per year.
We're also doubling the number of co-op students to 14,000, and investing $400 million in STEM-related physical infrastructure at universities and colleges – including $41 million for a new Teaching and Learning Centre at UBCO.
Just as I’m only scratching the surface of what we’re doing to support tech, we’re only just beginning to realize our potential as a tech hub in Kelowna and B.C.
Just when others turn inward, we will continue to out around the world and find new connections and opportunities.
Our government proudly supports thriving rural communities, and we’re building on our record with the new Rural Economic Development Strategy.
The Rural Strategy is a commitment that builds on the investments we made in our recent balanced budget, and responds to what I’ve heard directly from British Columbians living in rural communities. The strategy includes immediate investments that will lay the foundation for economic diversification in rural B.C.
Here in the Okanagan, we’ve seen how important it is to support our booming tech sector. That’s why we’re making a $40-million investment to extend high-speed Internet access to rural and remote communities, bringing faster broadband speeds that will create new economic opportunities and lay the foundation for new investment and jobs in B.C.’s flourishing tech industry.
Our plan also provides an extension of the $25-million Rural Dividend Fund to reinvigorate and diversify more local economies which will ensure that British Columbians in all regions have the opportunity for good-paying jobs and a high quality of life.
Many organizations in our community have previously been supported by the Rural Dividend Fund, and I’m pleased that the extension of the fund means ongoing support for our economy here at home.
I’m also proud of the strategic investments we are making in another important economic generator, our environment. We’ve invested $10 million to manage invasive plant species that cause significant economic and environmental damage, and to replace Crown-owned range fencing.
Additionally, we’ll be investing $150 million for the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia to plant tens of millions more trees, which will help fight climate change and create over 3,000 jobs in rural British Columbia.
To further strengthen local businesses, we’re phasing out provincial sales tax on electricity purchases by reducing it to 3.5% in October, and will eliminate it by April 1, 2019. This will improve business competitiveness and economic performance.
We will also further support rural businesses by reducing the small business tax rate to two per cent from 2.5 per cent, effective April 2017, which means our province will have the second-lowest small business tax in Canada.
Our plan gives rural British Columbians the tools to shape their own future, and reflects the importance we place on the workers, families and businesses who reside in in the rural areas of the province.
Rural communities are the backbone of British Columbia, and I look forward to watching them strengthen and grow.
Our government delivered another balanced budget in 2017 that provides significant tax relief for middle-class families while also making record investments in key priorities.
We're investing a record $13.7 billion in new and upgraded infrastructure projects to support services and jobs. Part of this funding will be invested to six-lane 4.5 kilometres of Highway 97, which includes upgrades to major intersections to reduce congestion, improve safety and facilitate ease of access.
Additionally, Budget 2017 will be leaving nearly $1 billion more in the pockets of many B.C. families and seniors by cutting Medical Service Plan premiums. As a first step toward eliminating them entirely, our government is beginning the process by reducing MSP premiums for households with an annual family net income below $120,000.
Also, the income threshold below which households are fully exempt from MSP premiums is increased by $2,000. These changes will reduce premiums by 50 per cent for up to two million British Columbians.
Province-wide, we are making strategic capital investments in Health Care Infrastructure to the tune of $4.3 billion in budget 2017. A portion of this funding is being invested in the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre here at home in Kelowna.
I'm also proud of previous investments our government has made in our region over the years. Like the $6 million we committed to develop the new state-of- the-art Okanagan Centre for Innovation, and the $11.3 million investment for the new Teaching and Learning Centre and the UBC Okanagan campus expansion.
We also pledged $7.2 million to convert a discontinued CN rail line into the Okanagan’s trail network with a new recreational corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream. We also funded a $9.4-millon tree fruit replant program to help B.C. growers make the most local and international market opportunities for high-value B.C. apples and cherries.
We are supporting single parents on income or disability assistance by paying for 12 months of training for in-demand jobs; transit costs to and from school; and child-care costs during their training and in their first year of employment.
Single parents can also remain on income assistance while attending a training program. Since launching in September 2015, over 4,415 single parents have become involved. Almost 850 are now employed.
Our government will continue to build on that success to create an even stronger future for British Columbians. Together, we have accomplished a lot, but we still have more to do.
Managing money is about setting priorities and making choices.
When it comes to managing provincial finances, there are a lot of priorities on the table, and many difficult choices to make.
As your MLA, my number one priority is the people of Kelowna-Mission. When I look at the 2017 provincial budget, it’s clear to me that our government is making choices to prioritize you along with all British Columbians.
I’ve had many visits from parents whose children are struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction. In the budget, our government chose to support these families with a $45 million investment in more mental health counselling and treatment for children.
I’ve also heard concerns from many constituents, especially seniors, about their MSP premiums. We chose to address concerns like these by reducing premiums by 50 per cent, as the first step to eliminating them entirely. So seniors with an annual income of $29,000 will save $132 a year, while families with an income of $52,000 will save up to $900 a year.
In our growing city, there’s significant and growing demand for housing. Our government chose to continue taking action on this important issue with $920 million to provide almost 5,300 units of affordable housing to those who need it.
I recently attended the opening of i-spa-us ki-low-na at Chapman Place, which we funded in partnership with the City of Kelowna. I was touched to hear from people there about the difference these kind of investments are making in their lives.
The budget’s landmark investment in affordable housing will allow us to keep building projects like this, and continue addressing housing challenges in Kelowna and across the province.
In the Okanagan, our post-secondary institutions are doing a great job preparing students for their bright futures.
Our government chose to keep investing in our next generation with commitments like the $40 million in federal-provincial funds for the new Teaching and Learning Centre at UBCO and investments in skills training at Okanagan College.
These are just a few choices apparent in the budget that point toward the number one priority of our government: standing up for British Columbians.
Your hard work and our prudent management has put our government on enviable financial footing. With a balanced budget and significant surpluses forecast for the next three years, now more than ever we have the freedom to pass the benefits of our enviable situation back to British Columbians, and the people of Kelowna-Mission.
And that’s a choice I am proud to be a part of.