2001 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 37th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON
Tuesday, October 2, 2001
Present: Blair Lekstrom, MLA (Chair); Tony Bhullar, MLA (Deputy Chair); Jeff Bray, MLA; Ralph Sultan, MLA; Harry Bloy, MLA; Kevin Krueger, MLA; Barry Penner, MLA; Brian Kerr, MLA; Lorne Mayencourt, MLA; Ida Chong, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Joy MacPhail, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 5:05 p.m.
2. Opening statements by the Chair, Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
3. The Committee heard the following witnesses on the matter of prebudget consultation:
1) Faculty Association, University College of the Cariboo Faculty Association:
Thomas Friedman, President
2) Kamloops and District Labour Council:
3) Frank Anderson
4) Kamloops Pro-Life Society:
5) Peter Kerek
6) Larry Moulton
7) Kamloops Active Support Against Poverty:
Valoree Baker, Chair
8) Dr. Lal Sharma, School Trustee, District 73
9) Wells Grey Community Resources Society:
10) Dan Ferguson
11) Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association:
12) City of Kamloops:
Mayor Mel Rothenburger
13) Don Cameron
14) University College of the Cariboo:
Shirley Dorais, Board Chair
Roger Barnsley, President
15) Chris Ortner
16) Susan Wallace
4. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 9:05 p.m.
Blair Lekstrom, MLA
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2001
Issue No. 6
|Chair:||* Blair Lekstrom (Peace River South L)|
|Deputy Chair:||* Tony Bhullar (Surrey-Newton L)|
|Members:||* Harry Bloy (Burquitlam L)
* Jeff Bray (Victoria–Beacon Hill L)
* Ida Chong (Oak Bay–Gordon Head L)
* Brian Kerr (Malahat–Juan de Fuca L)
* Kevin Krueger (Kamloops–North Thompson L)
* Lorne Mayencourt (Vancouver-Burrard L)
* Barry Penner (Chilliwack-Kent L)
* Ralph Sultan (West Vancouver–Capilano L)
Joy MacPhail (Vancouver-Hastings NDP)
* denotes member present
|Other Members Present:||Hon. Claude Richmond (Speaker of the Legislature, Kamloops L)|
|Committee Staff:||Josie Schofield (Committee Research Analyst)|
Valoree Baker (chair, Kamloops Active Support Against Poverty)
Larry Bancroft (president, Kamloops and District Labour Council)
Roger Barnsley (president, University College of the Cariboo)
Shirley Dorais (board of governors, University College of the Cariboo)
Thomas Friedman (president, University College of the Cariboo Faculty Association)
Jack Keough (executive director, Wells Gray Community Resources Society)
Fawn Knox (president, Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association)
Mel Rothenburger (mayor, city of Kamloops)
Lal Sharma (school trustee, school district 73)
Merle Terlesky (Kamloops Pro-Life Society)
Louise Weaver (Wells Gray Community Resources Society)
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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2001
The committee met at 5:05 p.m.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Blair Lekstrom. I'm the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. I'm also the MLA for Peace River South. It's certainly a privilege to be here in your community this evening on our prebudget consultation tour to hear your views. What we're looking for is what your priorities are in helping us develop next year's budget. We are travelling to 16 communities in the province, gathering input and hearing the views, concerns and ideas of the public of British Columbia in order that we can formulate our report, which has to be completed by November 15 of this year and put into the hands of our Minister of Finance, Hon. Gary Collins.
Our job is to hear what you have to say. If there are opportunities for questions from members of our committee after your presentations, if you would entertain those, we will ask some questions on occasion. But our job is to listen and to hear what your thoughts are. I believe it's no secret that there is some financial difficulty in our province. It's our job to work with you, as British Columbians, to try and find ways to correct those problems that face us here today.
Everything that will be said is recorded by Hansard. So when you're speaking into the microphones, there will be a full recording and a written document of that.
I will just make some introductions, and then I will ask each member of the committee to introduce themselves. With us today we have Hansard staff members Pat Samson and Catherine Schaefer. Our committee researcher, Josie Schofield, is also with us as well as Anne Stokes, our Committee Clerk.
With that, I would like to begin. We do have a very tight time frame this evening. Trying to cover 16 communities, we are roughly doing two a day, so travelling and logistics are quite tight. Before we begin, I will ask the members of the committee to introduce themselves. I will start with my far left.
R. Sultan: I'm Ralph Sultan, MLA for West Vancouver–Capilano.
B. Penner: I'm Barry Penner, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent.
L. Mayencourt: I'm Lorne Mayencourt, MLA for Vancouver-Burrard.
I. Chong: Good evening. I'm Ida Chong, MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head.
J. Bray: Jeff Bray. I'm the MLA for Victoria–Beacon Hill.
B. Kerr: Brian Kerr. Malahat–Juan de Fuca on Vancouver Island.
H. Bloy: Harry Bloy, MLA for Burquitlam, a new riding in the lower mainland.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Our Deputy Chair, Tony Bhullar, will be joining us very shortly. Kevin Krueger, your MLA here in Kamloops, who is just outside doing a media interview, makes his apologies. He will join us in a few moments.
If you haven't had an opportunity, there is the prebudget consultation paper that you can pick up. I believe it's on the back table. Information on written submissions can be found there as well. For the people who are unable to make formal presentations here this evening or who feel better about putting forward a written submission to us, there is information on how to access our website and put forward written submissions. I'd encourage you to do that as well.
At the end of our evening we hope to have what we call an open-mike session for the people that haven't registered as presenters to this committee. If you're sitting here and you hear something and have questions or something to add, we hope to have some time to be able to do that as well.
With that, I would like to begin with our first presenter this evening, Thomas Friedman, who is with the University College of the Cariboo. Good evening. Welcome.
T. Friedman: Good evening. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I represent the University College of the Cariboo Faculty Association. I'm the president of the association. We represent more than 500 continuing and contract faculty here in Kamloops, at our campus in Williams Lake and at our regional centres in this huge region.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this process because I think the work of this committee will be very important for our members, for their families and for the institution at which they work. We welcome the commitment by the government to maintain its support for education even when economic times are difficult.
In fact, we feel that now, more than ever, the public investment in post-secondary education is essential. The increasing shortage of skilled trades and technology workers is one example of how publicly supported training can play a vital role. Institutional-based training in the trades and technologies ensures the maintaining of standards, coordination and portability. We recently had a major conference on the crisis in skilled workers — the shortage of skilled workers here — and the message came through very clearly that we are in a crisis situation that's going to get increasingly worse over the next several years.
The public post-secondary education system has a great deal to offer British Columbians in general and
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residents of this region in particular. Adequately funded post-secondary programs and broad access to those programs translate into a population ready to take on the challenges of building B.C. economic prosperity. A well-educated population, as I'm sure you are aware, is less likely to require government income assistance, less likely to be a burden on the health system and more likely to participate in voluntary public service.
I'd like to identify three issues that are priorities for our members and for the University College of the Cariboo for your committee to consider. First, post-secondary education and training assist in building a strong provincial and local economy. The wide range of degree, diploma and certificate programs at UCC help train young students for entering the workforce and provide opportunities for mature students to seek better employment. As a regional institution, UCC responds to the needs of our community. Our faculty designed curriculum in many of our programs that directly meet the requirements of local businesses. From personal experience I can tell you that students in our computer technician program in electronics have become job-ready for work with the B.C. Lottery Corporation because of that response to community needs. We have the expertise and flexibility, as well, to develop programming in newly emerging technologies that are needed to expand our region's economic base. Because of its integrated programming by which students can ladder from certificate to diploma to degree programs, UCC is in the unique position of responding quickly to changes in credential requirements as industries change and adapt.
Strengthening institutions such as UCC also allows local students to remain in their city or region while pursuing their post-secondary training. Not only does this make economic sense in the short term ( after all, students contribute to the local economy ( but it also strengthens the students' ties to their community. They will often remain in Kamloops and in this region to start new businesses or to seek employment in existing businesses. What's needed to reach this goal? We need to be assured, as an institution, of stable, predictable, adequate funding for all our programs.
Second, input from and participation by all stakeholders will ensure a strong post-secondary education system. We strongly believe that faculty along with government and institutional administrators must have the opportunity to participate fully in the planning and operating of our education system. We were very disappointed that wider input was not sought for the core services review, especially since the review anticipates basic and far-reaching changes to the way in which post-secondary education may be delivered in the future. Consensus is not always possible, of course, but full participation of all stakeholders ensures that government decisions are based on best information. For example, the UCC Faculty Association supports a Ministry of Advanced Education review of post-secondary institutions, particularly in the area of legislated change. In order to fulfil our regional mandate, UCC needs the ability to offer wider programming and graduate degrees and to support the research and scholarly activity that such degrees require. Such a review will be meaningful and effective if all parties participate fully and provide input into an eventual government decision. The more consultation, the more successful government policy decisions will be. To achieve this goal we support continuing the "charting a new course standing committee" process for the post-secondary education system, a process that's worked very well for the last six years, and we believe it should be continued. It brings together all stakeholders and gives everyone a chance to participate and provide input.
Third, we are facing a crisis in the recruitment and retention of faculty. As you know, the baby-boomer generation is reaching retirement age very quickly — too quickly for many of us ( and B.C. post-secondary educational institutions are experiencing a growing crisis in recruiting new faculty. Many of our institutions such as UCC, which began 31 years ago as Cariboo College, are experiencing the retirement of 40 percent of our faculty over the next decade. Such a high level of retirement means that recruitment of qualified faculty is a priority. In some academic disciplines — for example, computing science and business — the recruitment crisis is already threatening our ability to offer those degree programs. In other programming areas the pool of qualified faculty has shrunk because graduate school enrolments began to decline during the 1990s, when there was an oversupply of faculty.
Just as recruitment is a necessity, so too is the retention of existing faculty. Other post-secondary institutions — I'm thinking particularly of universities — are facing similar faculty shortages. We've begun to lose experienced, highly qualified colleagues. Successful recruitment and retention relies on a number of factors: competitive salary, appropriate workload and sufficient research opportunities. All require adequate funding and support. To reach this goal, the UCCFA supports targeted funding for post-secondary institutions to address the recruitment and retention crisis.
Thank you for the opportunity of participating in the prebudget consultation process. I'd welcome any questions.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Tom, for your presentation this evening. We'll look to members of the committee for any questions for Tom at this time.
L. Mayencourt: Have you made any offer or request to meet with Minister Shirley Bond about the issues of core review — or corresponded with her?
T. Friedman: We have corresponded with her through our umbrella association, the College Institute Educators Association, which represents us on a provincial level. Our CIEA president wrote to the minister asking for the ability to provide input and to participate in the core review process. We think it's very im-
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portant that the government and the legislative committee hear from all parties.
L. Mayencourt: Have you arranged to meet with her?
T. Friedman: We haven't received a response, to the best of my knowledge.
R. Sultan: Do you have any estimate of the percentage of your operating cost that is covered by tuition as opposed to government funding — just some idea of the rough proportion?
T. Friedman: I believe the level is about 20 percent of our operating cost. I think, when you meet with President Barnsley from UCC later in this session, he'll have those figures close at hand. I know that the tuition freeze is an issue that the government's going to be looking at very carefully. As an association, we've always tried to promote the idea that our university college is a place that needs to have access from all walks of society. We don't want to be the preserve of only those who can afford high tuition costs.
R. Sultan: As a supplementary, if I may, since this government is particularly hard-pressed to find the funds necessary to finance the most basic programs of need in this province, I'm wondering if your association would consider the possibility that if tuition was allowed to grow somewhat, as long as it was backed up by ample financial assistance and aid of various types, this might take some of the pressure off the government and give you the additional resources that I'm sure you need.
T. Friedman: I would certainly agree that a rise in tuition would help to maintain the programming we're doing now and perhaps even expand it. What our members have said to me is that if tuition were allowed to rise, they'd like it to be in a very logical, phased-in way and not a sudden grab for student dollars. I'm in the classroom almost every day, and our students say that the tuition freeze has helped them, but of course that's somewhat at the expense of threatening some of the programming.
I don't think lifting the tuition freeze is the only answer to addressing this problem. I think we need other financial resources and fully funded programming. Quite often we provide programs that are not fully funded, and often we have difficulty in maintaining them.
H. Bloy: I'm from Burquitlam, and Simon Fraser University is in my riding. I've spent a lot of time at the university, and the students are quite concerned about the tuition freeze. There's a number of students that want the freeze lifted. They feel that their four-year degree is now taking five, 5½ or six years to complete, and tuition is really the least cost of their education. When they get the housing and all the essential things they require, they're spending a lot more money. Do you feel the tuition freeze has hurt your college?
T. Friedman: From a purely financial perspective, yes. It certainly has. As you'll hear later this evening, our tuition was frozen at a level considerably below the system average, and that's a concern of ours. But raising tuition fees, of course, puts added burden on students. You said that tuition is only part of the expense of seeking a post-secondary education. Well, we feel that adding that additional burden is a problem. We like to see students who are there not just because they can afford to be but because the education is available to them and they have the ability.
B. Penner: I appreciated your presentation. I benefited by attending a local college in the Fraser Valley, now the University College of the Fraser Valley, some years ago. I appreciated the focus of that institution.
In your presentation you commented on the computer technician programs offered by the institution, but you are also making a pitch to offer graduate degrees, graduate programs. My concern about that is whether the institution might be encouraged to try to be all things to all people and lose its focus. How would you respond to those types of concerns?
T. Friedman: We have a regional mandate that we take very seriously as an institution. Because we do have this regional mandate, we have to somewhat be all things to all people because we serve the post-secondary educational needs of a very diverse population. I certainly appreciate your concern, but our desire to offer graduate degrees is not at the level that UBC or SFU would offer them. We want to offer graduate degrees that people in our community need and often have to leave the community to get. I'm thinking of MBA programs, master of education, master of social work. Often people working in their disciplines who need to upgrade their credentials can't do it locally, and our regional mandate says that we have to serve those needs. We want to have the ability to serve those needs.
B. Penner: Meeting those additional needs would require additional funds if you're not going to drop your existing programs — right?
T. Friedman: Yes. I would say that if you get one message from me today, it's that additional funds are needed, that this is the time not to cut back on investment in post-secondary education but to maintain a strong commitment. The investment in post-secondary education pays huge dividends for the local community, the region and the province.
B. Penner: Any suggestion about where those funds would come from?
T. Friedman: One suggestion should be lifting the tuition freeze, if it's done in a rational and logical way. The government, in the opinion of our association
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members, must make a commitment that this will be a budget priority and that those funds which are available have to be put into areas of our province where there are substantive and tangible results. We know that education provides those kinds of results.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Tom, for your presentation. I know it's always tough in 15 minutes to get everything out there. If there's anything further as the process or the month progresses, you can certainly further your submission through the written submission ability. We will take your submission, and it will be duly considered.
T. Friedman: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Our second presenter this evening, representing the Kamloops and District Labour Council, is Larry Bancroft. Good evening, Larry.
L. Bancroft: Good evening.
I represent the Kamloops and District Labour Council, which represents approximately 8,500 affiliated members within Kamloops, Lillooet, Merritt, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, North Thompson, Clearwater and as far as Chase. We have several issues that we would like to address with you this evening, and I look forward to this presentation.
I wish you a good evening, committee members and Chair. I'd like to start with a few things that I think are very important to address. I know they will be uncomfortable to some, but I believe they have to be said so that we can do the right thing before we do the wrong thing.
There is no doubt that the fiscal policy of the current government has brought onto the backs of British Columbians more doubt than any previous government before it. A strong elected mandate does not give a governing body the power to act fiscally irresponsibly. Previous governments were criticized for the fast ferry fiasco, but nowhere was the government given the mandate to give to those with more and less to those who need it.
The question of tax cuts was brought forward several times during the last provincial budget and during the election. The opposition party was asked on several occasions what kind of tax cuts the taxpayers of the province of British Columbia would be able to take to the bank. I was personally told that they would be fair to all taxpayers. That is clearly not the case.
A tax cut of 1.2 percent for a $20,000 income level is a mere $236. For those earning $200,000 a year, a proportional amount of 3.9 percent, or $7,800, is given. How is this fair to the taxpayers of the province? In retrospect, the total tax savings of those earning less than $30,000 per year — 48.8 percent of taxpayers — amount to $180.5 million in 2002, or about 13.4 percent of the tax-cut pie. Those earning between $30,000 and $60,000 — 38.3 percent of taxpayers — will receive about $456.5 million in 2002, or 33.9 percent of the total tax cut. The earners of $60,000 or more — 13 percent of the taxpayers — will receive 52.8 percent of the total tax cut in 2002. The top income earners, or 1.1 percent of taxpayers, earning more than $150,000 will receive a whopping 20 percent of the total tax cut. These facts are based on data from the B.C. Ministry of Finance.
The fiscal, financial responsibility of the government is clearly intended to do one thing, and that is to pay back those specific groups that elected this government. It is not fair and just to all residents.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the tax cuts create a big hole in the 2001-02 budget, estimated at $1.2 billion out of a $24 billion budget. The present government, when first getting into office, told the public that we have to check the books to see where we are fiscally. Without any public consultation, government grants massive tax cuts without knowing where the money is coming from. Is this responsible government? I think not.
Most of the taxpayers of British Columbia support more funding for schools, universities, a better health care system and a cleaner environment. Nowhere do I recall agreeing to a $1.2 billion debt. It is irresponsible fiscal management that the taxpayers will not stand for, as history has shown us recently. Other factors that come into play are the government's insistence to push tax cuts before the fiscal review panel had a chance to examine the books. Why?
I am also critical of the short time frame received for the government's prebudget consultation. By cutting public service levels, the government is going to create a bigger downturn in the economy. The public service provides a stable economy that small business has depended on.
An alternative path for the government would be to run deficits in the short term while keeping the lid on spending, allowing growth in the economy to bring tax revenues back into line with the current expenditures. This would allow the government to stick to their promise of not cutting health and education. That is the end of my report, and if you have any questions….
B. Lekstrom (Chair): We'll look to members of the committee, if there are any questions.
K. Krueger: Larry, you mentioned that the Kamloops and District Labour Council has 8,500 union people affiliated with it.
L. Bancroft: That's correct.
K. Krueger: What's the most it's ever had?
L. Bancroft: The most in history, and that goes back to 1898…. I believe the most we've ever had, before the labour councils were developed regionally, was about 6,200.
K. Krueger: This is the highest number of affiliates the Kamloops and District Labour Council has ever had?
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L. Bancroft: To my knowledge, yes.
K. Krueger: There are thousands of IWA members who've been laid off, who've lost their jobs around the province over the last ten years and a whole lot more recently with the hassles with softwood lumber between us and the Americans. The mining industry has lost, again, thousands of jobs in British Columbia as mining exploration almost stopped over the last ten years.
We committed in the run-up to the election — firmly committed in our platform — to a dramatic personal income tax cut for all tax-paying British Columbians, and we've delivered that. I'm not sure how you arrived at the 1.2 percent number you used, but it was 28 percent of the provincial income tax for the people at the lowest income brackets. At January 1 we'll have the lowest rate of personal income tax in Canada for the first $60,000 of income. I don't understand why anyone considers a government allowing people to keep more of the money they earn to somehow be taking anything away from anyone else. Can you explain that?
L. Bancroft: Absolutely. I think you missed the point. The difference is when individuals receive a higher percentage tax base — not because they earn more, but they get more of a percentage to take-home. I don't think that's right. It should be proportionate across the board, as far as being fair to everybody. If they're saving 1 percent, then they should be saving 1 percent. I don't believe that's the case. In order to bring forth a tax reduction like this government has done, you've got to find the money to do it. Now you're coming to us, asking us how you can bring a solution to the problem you just created.
I know you had a fiscal review panel that was supposed to take into account where the budgets were, and that's what we believed was happening. Then we had a tax cut. I don't think for one minute that it was done fairly. I don't think it was done with some consultation with your review panel. Maybe some of you were on the panel — I'm not aware — but I've been told that that wasn't done. In order to be fair to the taxpayers of British Columbia, I think that if you set forth with a review panel and that review panel comes forward with its recommendations, then you make whatever tax cuts you say you're going to make. I was led to believe that that didn't happen.
K. Krueger: There was never any commitment that we would ask people permission before we cut taxes. We had committed to cutting taxes before the election, and we've done it. There has not been half a year elapsed since to demonstrate the results. We do have the results of the past ten years, which are very clear. Your membership and British Columbians across the board, on average, were each taking home $1,738 less per year than they were at the beginning of the decade. The old approach of overregulate and overtax did that to our economy. We committed to do something new, and we specifically committed to tax cuts, so you have them.
L. Bancroft: Can I just comment on that? It's easy to say that we're going to give tax cuts to taxpayers in British Columbia, but where do you get it from? That's what you're here today to ask of us. I don't think there's any resident of British Columbia who wouldn't want to share the burden of trying to get the fiscal management of this province in order. Having said that, how can you make the tax cuts without knowing what the impact is that you're going to put on the education and health systems of the province? I mean, in order to do the cuts that you've done, you're going to have to address the issue of where you're going to get the money from. I don't think that was done responsibly. For the life of me, I can't understand how you can make all these tax cuts.
I'm not saying that tax cuts aren't good, because it creates an economy. But whether or not it creates a false economy…. The projections are saying that it's going to be 2.2 percent growth instead of the 3.8 that was projected originally. If we're going to be looking at spending this money within the system, then you're not going to create an economy with that kind of tax money that's given to me for $236. It doesn't do enough for me to create an economy. It doesn't.
In order for me to pay for Pharmacare and the drugs and the medicare that I'm going to have to pay for privately if that's the course the government takes, how am I going to be able to afford to pay for it on $236? Tell me if I'm coming around to the answer or not. I really feel in my heart that we're creating a problem within our province. I don't think anybody on this panel wants to see people with have-nots. In order to do that, we have to be fair to everybody. If we're going to create something that people are going to have to pay somewhere else to get through a tax cut, then $236 doesn't enable me to pay for my extra drugs that I have to pay for — or whatever the government decides it's going to have to cut, because we know that you're going to have to cut somewhere — or the educational needs of my children or whatever it might be. I think the problem is that I'm not one of the ones that got $7,850 — right? Look, if I made $150,000 a year, maybe I could afford some of the things that others couldn't.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Larry, we have time for one more question. I know that the time frames aren't very long to go through everything we have, but I will entertain Tony at this point.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you, Larry. That was an interesting and detailed report. Have you taken a vote amongst your 8,000 members that you represent to see if they support the tax cut or not?
L. Bancroft: No, because we haven't seen the impact in the economy. We believe that proportionately, the difference between….
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T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Yeah, the question, sir, was just so…. We're a little short on time. You didn't take a vote the 8,000 membership that you represent on whether or not they support the tax cut. That was my question, sir.
L. Bancroft: No, we did not.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Larry, I want to thank you for taking the time to come out and make your presentation this evening.
L. Bancroft: We will take a poll, and we will give you the results.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): You've brought up some interesting points. I can tell you, it's not easy — what we're facing in the province. I think it's fair to say that what we've done over the last number of years hasn't worked. We're looking for the assistance of all British Columbians to help turn it around. That's what we're here tonight to listen to and try and learn. Thank you very much.
L. Bancroft: Well, I hope you take into consideration some of the things I've mentioned, because I believe that the end result would be that you could at least control a downspin in the economy, for sure.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you.
Our next presenter this evening is Frank Anderson. Are you with us, Frank?
F. Anderson: Yes, I am.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Good evening.
F. Anderson: Good evening. I understand that you have my presentation, or at least you're being handed it as we speak.
My name is Frank Anderson, and I'm a resident here in Kamloops. I have four children aged nine, eight, six and four. My wife and I have lived here with our children for the past six years. Prior to living in Kamloops, we lived in some of the smaller, resource-based communities in British Columbia, including 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Alexis Creek and Castlegar. I work in resource management, and with our youngest now finally in kindergarten, my wife is looking at re-entering the workforce. At this time she is helping her mother, who was just recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.
I thank you for the opportunity to present some of my thoughts and information to the standing committee tonight. It appears from what we hear from the provincial government that there are two main initiatives when it comes to the province's finances. Those are tax cuts to stimulate the economy and spending cuts to bring the provincial deficit under control. I believe these two initiatives, especially the tax cuts and the planned layoffs of public servants, to be at cross-purposes when dealing with the finances of the province — in particular at this time in history, post September 11.
Tax cuts are necessary, it is argued, to stimulate the economy and put the province in a better position to compete with other jurisdictions. The argument from the government has been that tax cuts as an economic stimulator in time will pay for themselves. Late last week the Premier announced that he's instructed each ministry that is not in health or education to develop three budget scenarios of 20 percent, 35 percent and 50 percent cuts over the next three years. The Premier has indicated that there are layoffs in significant numbers coming to the public service.
Though StatsCan recognizes British Columbia as having the second-smallest public service in the country, only slightly higher than Ontario, the provincial government remains a major employer in the province. For the many smaller resource-based communities in this province, the provincial government employees are the major cog in the local community economy. In this area, Kamloops-Nicola and the surrounding area, there are roughly 2,200 provincial government employees that are BCGEU members. In addition to those, there are likely several hundred managers and PEA members employed by the provincial government.
The compensation package for these BCGEU members alone is roughly $120 million in this area. With $120 million, provincial employees in this area buy houses and cars. They grocery-shop, and they go to the theatre. They visit their dentists and their doctors, and they support the schools and numerous other organizations in this community. They help support the small businesses in their towns. With a compensation package for the BCGEU members alone of $120 million in just this area, it is estimated that the ripple effect to the local economy can be conservatively put at $240 million, or twice that. If the government goes ahead with plans to cut up to half these jobs out of the communities here, it doesn't take an economist to realize that the local communities will suffer a severe economic blow. If tax cuts are meant to stimulate the economy, that layoff of thousands of employees will have exactly the opposite affect. You can't chop your head off and expect your body to still function because it's being nourished by tax cuts.
There are other things to consider if massive layoffs in the public service were to occur. Many of the ministries in this region already experienced significant cuts in the Glen Clark era. The Ministry of Forests, for example, had its budget cut by over 30 percent during those years. The old Ministry of Environment lost 20 percent of its employees, and Transportation and Highways lost 30 percent of its front-line workers.
Many in these ministries already believe they're cut too far and that they're understaffed. Many feel that if you cut any more, you can't just keep trimming around the edges. Major reconstruction would be required,
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and that could mean that whole offices, particularly those in smaller communities, could be lost. The economic impact on those communities would truly be devastating, as it would be in this one.
Another major consideration is the aging workforce, particularly in the public service. In a 1999 report produced by the province's finance and corporate relations commission, some of the details are spelled out. I've provided some of those in your handout. Well, 2001 marks the year that the first group of baby-boomers is eligible to retire. As stated in the report, the aging overall B.C. workforce is a concern, but within the public service the problem is more imminent. Employees of the B.C. government are old partly because of the universal baby-boom phenomenon, but on top of that is a further distortion due to the incredible growth in government during the late seventies and early eighties followed by restraint and downsizing in the nineties.
The report also states that in 1999 only 23 percent of the government workforce was under the age of 35, while 12 years ago that number was 37 percent. The point is simply this: the government will soon be facing a real shortage of workers, especially young workers, and it's also set to lose a lot of its intelligent capital. It has a large number of employees who will be retiring over the next five to ten years. If the government goes ahead with massive cuts and layoffs, the results will be the premature loss of its most senior and experienced staff to retirement and the loss of what few young workers remain.
The government really is in a very unique time in history right now with an aging workforce, when it should be hanging on to its employees, especially the experienced ones, as best it can. Instead, massive layoffs are being considered. In short, the decision to go ahead with massive layoffs in the provincial government right now would cripple the government and its ability to deliver services for many years to come — perhaps decades.
My daughter has a saying whenever she sees a show that doesn't seem to make sense. She says: "That's just fiction." If I could steal from my eight-year-old daughter, I would say it's just fiction to think we can rip thousands of jobs out of an economy and expect that it won't affect revenues negatively. It's just fiction to expect we can eliminate jobs that protect the public interest and still expect our water resources, our fish and wildlife habitat, our forestry, our highways and our public safety to remain protected.
These resources as well as others will be at great risk as an already bare-bones staff is further cut. It is just fiction to expect an industry to look after the public interest if left to regulate itself. We'll just measure the results and see if there are actually trees there in 20 years or that our highways aren't falling apart.
What if you removed all the traffic police, or most of them, from the highways? Would the public obey the signs and just pay fines when they didn't? Of course not. We know that's ridiculous. Why do you think it would be any different with industry? My experience with industry is largely that they will perform not according to what you expect; they'll perform according to what you inspect.
It's just fiction to think that layoffs won't affect revenues in a direct way. Do you think we catch all the fraud and theft that goes on in our forests today? Not a chance. What would happen after massive layoffs? More fraud and more theft would go on, robbing the public purse.
It's not fiction that the pain of these layoffs will be tremendous in communities, families and to individuals. The Premier said that the private sector is suffering and that the public sector should share in that pain. He went on to say that it is painful, but we can get through it by working together. In the last 12 months the deputy ministers have received two significant, high wage increases, far greater than any other public servants. They're part of the public service. Are they going to share in that pain?
The government has created the largest cabinet in B.C.'s history. There are more MLAs getting a cabinet salary than ever before. Are they going to share in that pain? You know, we really are living in challenging times. The world has changed for all of us since September 11. People are more fearful and more stressed and depressed. In a time like this, people are looking for strong leadership — strong, courageous leadership.
You form part of the leadership that people look to. In times of uncertainty like this, the government can play a role in being a stabilizing force. What I'm asking each one of you, the Liberal MLAs here as well as this committee, is to show some real, courageous leadership and go back to the leadership in your party, back to the Premier, and say that you just can't carry the party line on this one.
You can't just sit by and watch your local communities being devastated by massive layoffs. You won't just sit and watch your constituents join the unemployment ranks because of the direct decision of your government. Be the leadership that has the courage to put the brakes on these cutbacks.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Frank. We do have some questions, I see. I will begin with Ralph.
R. Sultan: Frank, thank you for that presentation. The first point I would make is that the massive layoffs you referred to several times are, of course, speculative on your part at this moment. I think the Premier has made clear that there are going to have to be adjustments. Where, how and what financial adjustments have to be made remains to be seen, and that's one of the purposes of this consultation, for which we thank you.
The second point I'd make, though, is that I'd like to thank you for the good news you've presented to this committee. I refer specifically to page 4 of your attachment, titled "Succession Planning in the B.C. Government: A Background Paper," and the title 11, "The Im-
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pending Labour Shortage in B.C." I believe these figures are reasonable projections. As you pointed out in your presentation, this economy and British Columbia are facing a labour shortage. I think that is good news, in the sense that if we do — and I say that speculatively — require significant readjustments in the balance between the government workforce and the private workforce, it sounds to me from your own charts that there are going to be lots of jobs out there.
F. Anderson: Well, I guess, if I can answer that…. There's a couple of things. First of all, I don't think you'll see a lot of them wanting to come to the public service. We're seeing even now that a lot of people are not attracted to the public service, especially with cutbacks and layoffs.
There's a story about a plant that had a gas leak, and they called in an expert because they couldn't find out where it was. They were impressed that within minutes he found this pin-sized leak and within seconds was able to plug the leak. They were impressed until they got his bill. His bill was for $1,000. They asked: "What's with the $1,000? What's the breakdown there?" He gave them the breakdown: finding the leak, $1; knowing where to look, $999. The point is that you cannot easily replace experience and expertise. If you go ahead with significant cuts, which is what those numbers suggest, then you will prematurely lose experience and expertise that you will not be able to replace overnight, and it could cripple this government.
R. Sultan: I would agree with you. We do have, in fact — this is why we have the University College of the Cariboo — a shortage of skilled, talented and experienced people. This is a shortage throughout the entire economy. Why should the government hoard all these valuable people? Furthermore, if they are laid off, are they going to sit at home and collect EI? If your figures are correct — and I think they are — there'll be lots of jobs for them elsewhere, and I would think the pain of transition would be rather brief. I guess I don't quite see the doom, as if we were creating a permanent void in the economy that won't be rapidly filled elsewhere according to your own numbers.
F. Anderson: First of all, the number are out of the finance commission. Secondly, I think you're missing the point. The public service would be in competition for workers — right? Having numerous cuts over so many years, they're not going to compete very well. Not only that; you would have lost all your experienced people, and you would have let go a bunch of young people. So how are you going to be able to deliver the services that you have to deliver for tomorrow?
R. Sultan: Well, I don't mean to debate this, but it seems to me that you're making an awful lot of assumptions. We just don't know (a) if there are going to be cuts as you describe and (b) what the configuration of those adjustments would be.
Anyhow, I don't really mean…. I apologize, Chair, for getting into a debate here.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): That's fine. I call it discussion, and it's all valuable. I do have two other members wishing to ask questions. I will go with Lorne first.
L. Mayencourt: I want to thank you very much for your comments. I'd like to use the example that Ida used a little earlier today. One of the things we're doing is looking at ways that we can reduce government's overall expenditures. Sometimes that gets translated in the public service into cuts; we're going to be cutting people's jobs. The public service might be able to offer us opportunities to make cuts that don't affect large numbers of employees. An example of that is the B.C. bonds, which was a program that we had in our government for a number of years. Over the course of five years it will save us $200 million just by cancelling it, just by wiping it out and going and borrowing money on the open market.
I wouldn't doubt that it was some employee within the government ministries that uncovered that pinprick, if you will, in the pipe for us. Our challenge to you and to other members of your union is that you have an opportunity here and in other forums to help us find those cost-savings within the ministries' budgets that could ensure that we are getting great value for all the dollars we spend without sacrificing the jobs in this community or in any other. Within your job, do you see any opportunities where we could save money where it wouldn't affect employees or promote massive layoffs?
F. Anderson: In my job, I can tell you, no. We've been cut to the bone, quite honestly. I do take your comments to be somewhat positive, in the sense that I would take that to be that this government is prepared to work with the unions to try and resolve whatever issues. That hasn't been the case from my understanding to date. The Premier goes on television and makes an announcement of these huge and…. You don't want me to call them significant, but I don't know what else to call 20 percent, 35 percent and 50 percent.
A Voice: Over three years.
F. Anderson: Over three years. But you can go and ask the people on these worksites what they're thinking of that. I can tell you that when he made that announcement, that wasn't in sitting down to talk to the BCGEU. We were trying to meet with the government, and they weren't prepared to meet with us at that point.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): We do have one more question, Lorne. I apologize because of the time frames. I would entertain a question from Ida at this time, and we'll try and move on.
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I. Chong: Frank, thank you for your presentation. It's not so much a question but perhaps an opportunity just to provide a little more clarification. It has already been indicated by other panel members that the scenarios being presented are an effort to give those possibilities. Even in this past session, we had ministers who have looked in their programs and found better ways to administer programs, where it didn't necessarily result in job loss but resulted in significant savings. That is what we are looking at. Opportunities where we can actually enhance programs and encourage our private sector economy to move forward are what we're looking at.
When we were in opposition, we identified that cutting jobs in the Ministry of Environment, for example, cost billions of dollars in economic growth. So that was a wrong move. Those jobs that the previous administration got rid of should have been saved. We're looking at ways of finding spending controls as well as ways to find revenues that should be coming into government. We are looking for the public to provide us with those areas. The front-line workers can give examples of where we can look to help our government, to help our economy grow. I hope you will take those ideas into consideration and help us find new ideas and thoughts.
F. Anderson: Sure. It's not that I don't appreciate those comments, but I can tell you that when the vast number of members sitting on worksites heard the Premier make those announcements — and he specifically said layoffs — that's not the feeling they got at all.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Frank, I want to thank you for taking the time to come out this evening and put your views forward. They will be taken into consideration in the development of our report. I can assure you that many times people think the people sitting on this side of the table don't have heart and compassion. What has to happen in British Columbia is going to touch each and every one of us. So I can assure you that it will be taken into consideration in our deliberations.
Just before moving to our next presenter, I would like to recognize the hon. Speaker of the Legislature, who has joined us in the back of the room. He's also the MLA for Kamloops, Mr. Claude Richmond. Welcome, Claude.
Moving along, our next presenter this evening is representing the Kamloops Pro-Life Society, Merle Terlesky. Good evening, Merle. How are you?
M. Terlesky: Not too bad.
Just prior to my brief, I would like to make just a few introductory comments that aren't in the brief, but I would like to share them with you. Last year I appeared before a similar committee that was then chaired by Gary Collins, who is now the Finance minister for this government. Sad to say, not only did I not get any questions, but when I requested some justification of the expenditure of abortion costs in this province, I was not given a response by Mr. Collins in three attempts made to contact him by our society.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): A quick point of clarification would be that Dale Lovick was the Chair of that committee.
M. Terlesky: Actually, it was Dale Lovick. Sorry. I got my names mixed up. I did write the Chair. I couldn't remember the name, but it was the Chair.
Contrary to what Ms. MacPhail — and I had hoped she would be here tonight — would tell your committee, abortion is not in the Canada Health Act, my friends. I am disappointed that she is not here tonight, because she and her government were among the most stalwart proponents of abortion costs in this province. She has tried to demonize pro-lifers across British Columbia, and she has made abortion basically enshrined in this province. We highly disagree with that.
As I said, it is not in the Canada Health Act. The Canada Health Act states that provinces must supply services that are medically necessary. The federal minister, Allan Rock, has used these types of words to threaten New Brunswick for not funding private abortion clinics. These threats, I believe, are hollow. There has not been a province yet in Canada that has been financially penalized for not providing funding for private abortion clinics. You must decide here tonight and in the coming days if abortion is fiscally necessary, given the deficit projections. If it is a choice, then why do taxpayers not have the right to choose whether to fund it or not?
After speaking with the Hon. Claude Richmond, who I'm glad to see is here tonight…. I almost couldn't recognize Mr. Krueger with his fancy new hairstyle, but it's good to see him here too.
I also need to clear up, though, some of the matters after talking to Mr. Richmond prior to the election. Canada, I repeat, has no federal abortion law. It was struck down in 1998 by the Supreme Court of Canada. We stand in a void right now. There are no federal restrictions whatsoever to abortion access and no federal or Supreme Court demands that provinces must supply abortions. That is false material, my friends. With that, I will now go on to my brief.
Members of the committee, my name is Merle Terlesky. I am a member of the board of the Kamloops Pro-Life Society, and I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to express some of our concerns to you tonight. I'm here to address the cost of abortion in this province and why we think abortions done in private clinics should be defunded by the MSP. For your information, there are two clinics in British Columbia: the Elizabeth Bagshaw and Everywoman's Health, both in Vancouver. These are clinics that are privately owned, for-profit facilities. Premier Gordon Campbell recently suggested that there be more privatization in the health care system. We would tell him: "Yes, keep these clinics private, but keep taxpayers' moneys away from them."
Let me present to you some of the facts I obtained from the B.C. Ministry of Health. I've not been able to obtain figures since the government in British Colum-
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bia changed hands, so these are for the last fiscal period. I don't think they've changed much, though.
In the fiscal period of April 1, 1999, to March 31, 2000, there were 15,434 abortions performed in this province. We have one of the highest rates of abortions in the country. The average cost of an abortion was estimated at approximately $94, without complications, if the child is less than 14 weeks. If the child is over 14 weeks olds, then it's $131. With these figures we can calculate an average of about $112 per abortion, given the number that were done. Multiply this by the 15,434 abortions, and we figure that the previous government spent approximately $1,736,325 on therapeutic abortions during this period. That is an awful lot of money coming out of the taxpayers' pockets.
I disagree with the comments of big labour and those who support a socialist dream in this province. We don't have bottomless spending abilities in this province. We've seen what the NDP did to this province. They forced half my family to be living in Alberta. I can tell you that they're living prosperously now. They're all working full-time. My 17-year-old niece is making more money now than I ever did in the last ten years. I think B.C. can be Alberta, but we've got to get things straight.
The monetary figures released to me by the Ministry of Health for 1998-99 are as follows. I won't read them, but they basically did the types of abortions that are available in B.C. and the cost per type of abortion. The total came to $1,344,938, my friends — again, an awful of money from the taxpayers.
At this time we have been unable to obtain stats which state how many of these abortions were performed because of life-threatening complications to the mother. I do know, though, that in the U.S. less than 1 percent of the nearly one million abortions done every year there are done to save the life of the mother. My friends, pregnancy is not a disease. Few women die of a pregnancy today. We have advanced in the medical fields. I would venture to say that given the advances in medical science, particularly in North America, very few pregnancies today would pose a threat to the mother's life. Therefore, the previous government spent at least $1 million a year to fund a procedure which is not medically necessary.
Why is that? What did opposition member MacPhail's NDP government do to curtail the number of abortions in this province? I would venture to say — and I know — nothing. Ms. MacPhail was a champion of the right for women to abort their children, and she treated abortionists like heroes rather than just another person with just another job. In fact, she and her government went out of their way to deny people the right to even peacefully protest the atrocity of abortion and spent over $100,000 enforcing the unconstitutional bubble zone and incarcerating peaceful pro-life protesters right across this province. They met with and acted on the suggestions of the Pro-Choice Action Network in Vancouver, led by outspoken pro-choice advocate Joyce Arthur. Also involved in these meetings was Erin Kaiser, who was civilly charged and convicted for destroying a pro-life exhibit on tape at the University of British Columbia.
These people are not interested in advising the Attorney General about choice. Rather, they are concerned solely with increasing access to abortion in this province. Even Premier Dosanjh, when asked if it was hard for a woman to get an abortion anywhere in B.C., could not respond on the radio program. They would rather silence anyone who might dare to disagree with access to abortion. I find the fact that the previous government would take its policies from a radical Left pro-abortion group not only insulting but, my friends, very frightening.
Why are both sides of this issue not being addressed in the abortion debate? I will tell you why. It's because Ms. MacPhail and her cohorts, who recently had this government, are afraid of truth and are afraid of giving women a real alternative to abortion. There are alternatives. Why would she and her pro-abortion NDP government friends arrest people peacefully passing out alternatives to abortion in front of clinics in Vancouver? Not protesting, just standing there with a leaflet is a crime right now in the province of British Columbia within 500 metres of any clinic.
In the fiscal year of 2000-01 the NDP government estimated that it would spend 39 percent of its $21.9 billion budget on health. Education came in at 29 percent, social services 14 percent and transport 3 percent. We can see that those projections were built on sand, and they fell pretty quickly when your government came to office.
Perhaps this Liberal government, though, could allot some money to provide for more abstinence education in the schools, which could reduce the number of teen abortions done yearly. Instead of abstinence teaching, we now have Planned Parenthood welcomed into our schools. I'm sorry, but Planned Parenthood is not exactly an objective information provider. They are losing funding all over the world, particularly in North America, due to their openly pro-abortion stance. They criticize adoption, my friends. They're also one of the largest providers of abortion in North America.
Perhaps this Liberal government could support non-profit groups such as ourselves whose intent is to help girls and women avoid unwanted pregnancy, abortion and the awful side-effects of abortion such as post-abortion syndrome. Could not the over $1 million a year that was spent and is being spent on abortions be used elsewhere? How about improving our schools and our social services programs? Abortion in B.C. should be defunded except in extremely rare cases where the life of the mother is in physical jeopardy. Will this government show some fiscal moral character and stop this trend of eliminating lives for the sake of convenience? Or will it allow an admittedly loud minority to bully it into continuing to force taxpayers to pay for this atrocity we call murder and they call choice?
Mr. Richmond wrote recently, in Kamloops This Week, that constituents have the right to put free-vote issues to their MLA because you have such a majority government — issues that they want to come to the
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House. We would like to see a free vote on funding of private clinics in this province. Give your members the right, without punishment, to vote on this issue and how they feel. I think you'd be quite surprised at the results.
Basically, I think this government has an opportunity to make a good decision in this area. We're not calling for the banning of abortion in British Columbia. I don't think that's a realistic outcome or request. But if these two clinics wish to continue existing, we don't have to pay for them.
I'd be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much for your presentation, Merle. I will look to members of the committee, if there are any questions. I see none, Merle. What I will tell you is that we will take your submission, and it will be taken into consideration in the development of our report. You have put forward, as per our prebudget consultation paper, a recommendation as to where the government can save money. I appreciate your effort.
M. Terlesky: I'll just say this before I go. I'm not too surprised I didn't get a question, because this is an issue, quite frankly….
H. Bloy: I think we should cut him off.
M. Terlesky: You know, you sat here and gave questions to labour, who presented to you the blame that we're….
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Merle, as the Chair of this committee, I've just assured you that your presentation will be taken into consideration. I can't do any more than that.
M. Terlesky: I appreciate that.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Our next presenter this evening is Peter Kerek. Is Peter with us? Good evening, Peter. Welcome.
P. Kerek: My name's Peter Kerek. I have been a citizen of Kamloops for almost 22 years now. I have attended University College of the Cariboo for six years, in which time I obtained a bachelor of arts degree there, and I've since gone back to work on a journalism degree. For the last eight and a half years I've worked as a community support worker for a for-profit company that receives contracts through various government ministries, typically the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Staffing levels take up the majority of those funds. We work in group homes with mentally challenged individuals.
I'd like to talk about the difficulties in our workplace. When you talk about cutting 20 to 50 percent and most of our funding goes toward staffing, one logically assumes it will result in less staffing or needing to funnel clients into fewer spaces. In my particular workplace we're already having difficulties with getting enough staff, appealing to people to come and work for us. Part of that is because of our relatively low remuneration compared to the high levels of stress, especially working with physically and verbally abusive clients. It's not a normal working situation to be under that type of abuse from your residents. With less funding, I don't see how we're going to improve the pay for people in these situations.
We have high staff turnover already, which has resulted in a number of other complications. We've had vacation cancellations on staff, no coverage for sick staff. I'll give you a personal experience. Three years ago I had broken my big toe. The nail on it had been smashed, and it was a grotesque sight. I called my assistant manager to find coverage for me for the next couple of days, just the end of the work week. They phoned around, got back to me and said: "There's absolutely nobody to work for you. You have to come in." I said: "Come on. Can't somebody stay?" "Well, the only staff there is already on for 12 hours." So I came in anyway. They said: "Don't worry about doing your duties and all this stuff. We just need a body in the house, basically." So I went in and fulfilled my end of what I felt I was obligated to do.
Anyway, that's just one example. Currently we have an inadequate number of facilities. We have a situation where children are being housed in adult facilities with adults still there. That's normally not something that the ministry would approve of, but it's not like you can apprehend a child and then say: "Let's have a facility. We'll stick a dozen workers in there." It just doesn't happen like that.
In my particular worksite, in the last three years we've gone through six different people in managerial positions. If that's a desirable working situation, we wouldn't be going through managers like that. We used to have one manager who operated a home. Now we have one manager to operate two homes. Clearly that's already an indication of some kind of cutback there.
My biggest concern — if there are going to be large cuts, which is indicated, and that's the desire of your government — is for the quality of life for the residents and the increase of workload for the staff. These two go hand in hand. Where there are fewer staff for the residents, residents begin missing out on learning essential life skills so that they can be more independent and possibly even end up living independently in the community, which is always our long-term goal.
They'll miss out on human interaction, especially those residents who are no longer in contact with family and are essentially alone in this world. Most of the residents that I've worked with in the last eight and a half years have little or no contact from their families. The staff that they're around have essentially become their family.
Since, as I mentioned before, the funding for staffing levels takes up most of the budgets that the contracts are for…. Since this will result in fewer staffing
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hours and/or having to squeeze more residents into fewer homes, well, we all know how difficult it is for independent members of our community to get along with room-mates. Can you imagine what it'll be like for mentally challenged people, who already have low toleration skills and high levels of anxiety and aggressiveness? This is certainly not a recipe for a healthy and peaceful existence.
I suppose the most difficult aspect of the proposed budget cuts for me to understand is that the Liberal government wants to reduce taxes to help British Columbians, but in order to avoid running up the debt they need to reduce expenditures by cutting public services. By cutting public services, British Columbians are going to get fewer services and thereby suffer from the same tax cuts that are supposed to be helping them. Let's face it: no single taxpayer can afford to hire a social worker to watch over the children of the community, but many taxpayers together can certainly afford a few dollars each to collectively employ that same social worker.
I don't really think we should be using Ontario and Alberta as our models. Alberta is fossil-fuel rich. No matter how many taxes you cut, it's not going to give us the same fossil fuels as Alberta has. When you cut the public service, you're far more likely to get something like Walkerton. Many have pointed the finger directly at Mike Harris's cuts to inspection and testing staff as being the culprit in the Walkerton tragedy. B.C. already has the second-leanest public service in Canada. Let's not forget that 50 percent of B.C.'s trade is with Asia, whereas 90 percent of the rest of Canada's trade is with the U.S. The economic success in Alberta and Ontario is tied to the American economy far more than it is to tax cuts. Also, tax cuts didn't stop Nortel from laying off 10,000 workers in Ontario last winter.
In closing, there are a couple of things I'm curious about that maybe you can help me out with. According to StatsCan, in 1999 B.C. had the highest percentage of millionaire households living in it; 3.3 percent of the households, or roughly 55,000 households in B.C., could be considered millionaires. Is that the result of our high income tax rates? I don't really think so. Secondly, have there been any polls that indicate specifically that British Columbians approve of cuts to public service? I know we've had polls that show British Columbians don't want cuts to health care and education, and most people lump in public service with that. Are you going to conduct a poll? Maybe it's a good idea to conduct a poll on whether or not British Columbians approve of cuts to public services.
I'd be pleased to entertain any questions you have.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): All right. Thanks very much, Peter, for your presentation. We do have a couple of questions.
I. Chong: I just want to comment on a couple of things and maybe try to answer some questions you raise. First, your last question about whether a poll has been done about the cutting of services. Essentially, that's not what we're necessarily proposing. What we have heard in the past was that in some ministries there are layers and layers of administration such that the front-line workers were being starved, in the sense that they were not able to handle the caseload and work that they had to do. So when we asked people, "Is this the way you want us to continue?" they have in fact indirectly said: "No. We do want you to try and find out where there is duplication and eliminate that so that the moneys can be redirected to the front-line workers, so that patient care and students are considered first and foremost." The underlying intent of what we're trying to do here is find those programs which can provide enhancement in service to people and not necessarily just keep growing in terms of the size of the bureaucracy.
I want to address the other comment you made about the tax cuts. As you know, in the election we did say we would have our tax cuts. You're correct, as others have noted, that there is a downturn in the economy, but this is why tax cuts are in fact very important. British Columbia needs to be in a position to be competitive so that when the economy does pick up again, we will be able to benefit from that growth. And there will be growth. If we aren't at least in that race, we are never going to be able to catch up. We are so far behind now. One of the reasons why the tax cuts were implemented was to do just that. I hope that gives you a little information on the necessity to be competitive, to get our economy going, to create jobs.
P. Kerek: If I could, quickly…. The thirties were the worst time of any economy in North America. The way the Americans got out of it was increasing public spending. They had make-work projects. They decided to build roads; they spent a ton on it. It was to stabilize the economy.
I. Chong: I appreciate that, but ten years of high taxes and ten years of overspending haven't helped us. That's why we have to take a look at a different way of turning our economy around.
P. Kerek: Okay. I disagree with you about the high taxes, but anyway.
I. Chong: I just wanted to share that with you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): There are a couple of other committee members, and I will get to them.
J. Bray: Peter, thank you for your presentation. I'm a public servant myself — 13 years with the Ministry of Human Resources. I took to heart your comment about not being like Alberta or Ontario. I actually think that's exactly the approach that this government is taking. Alberta and Ontario simply looked at what their deficit was and said: "Okay, take that percentage off the top." Essentially what you did was cut whatever the percentage was from really good, valuable programs — say 30 percent. So you reduced the spending on valuable programs by 30 percent, and you're still funding
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not-so-valuable programs to the tune of 70 percent of what you were before.
This government is actually trying to take a much more constructive look at where, in fact, there are services that perhaps government doesn't need to provide, where there are services that can be provided better by the non-profit sector or whether there are services provided by the private sector, then allowing for the transition for that to happen.
I'm going to ask you a question. I don't mean to put you on the spot with this question, but if you take the tax cuts out of the equation, if we just kept going on the same as we were doing, by 2004-05 we would have a structural deficit of $4 billion per year. That's basically all the health care from Hope north for the rest of the province, to get some idea of what $4 billion means.
Given that that's a reality that any government would have had to face, without a prospect of that changing anytime shortly and a debt financing of about $3 billion per year, do you have some suggestions where government might be able to make some of those decisions? You're obviously arguing that in your area it's critical that government continue to perform that role. Are there other areas outside of health and education where you see government might be able to find some of those cost pressures relieved?
P. Kerek: What I'd like to see, instead of large companies being able to siphon off profits to foreign investors, etc., is if we could keep the moneys more in our area. I think that would be best served by an increase in Crown corporations. Instead of exporting our raw material, we should be working harder to encourage a local industry — for example, for softwood lumber, since it seems like we're going to have a whole lot more of that kicking around here — by seeing an increase in Crown corporations so that when there are profits, they stay right in B.C. and don't go to foreign investors.
I know that when the Free Trade Agreement was brought in, the whole idea was to encourage business. What happened over the years was that a number of the small businesses were purchased by foreigners, so instead of increasing the number of companies, all we did was encourage foreign investment in already existing companies in Canada. The number of jobs didn't actually increase from that particular part of the Free Trade Agreement. So I would like to see an increase in Crown corporations and more involvement directly in the economy, rather than trying to remove yourself completely from the economy.
H. Bloy: Peter, thank you for your presentation. Did you say you work for a for-profit or a non-profit?
P. Kerek: It's a for-profit company.
H. Bloy: It's a for-profit company. Is there a shortage of employees?
P. Kerek: Yes.
H. Bloy: Is there a reason why?
P. Kerek: They have pretty much been on a hiring campaign for years.
H. Bloy: You've been there for how long?
P. Kerek: Eight and a half years.
The shortage. A lot of people come in, try to work for a little bit and, upon experiencing some of the unpleasantness that we experience on my worksite, say: "No, you can't pay me enough."
H. Bloy: Is there special training for your job?
P. Kerek: There is a course — a community support worker course, a residential care worker course or something like that.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Peter, thank you for your presentation. In light of what took place on September 11, do you think government should reconsider the tax cuts?
P. Kerek: How the two are directly tied, I'm not particularly clear on.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): There seems to be some impact on the economy.
P. Kerek: Well, the softwood war was going on before September 11, and the air industry has been affected, but I'm not sure how many air industry workers were affected here in B.C. I don't even see it affecting our tourism a whole lot, because a lot of our tourists come from America. If anything, they're going to want to drive to Canada instead of flying somewhere else. I don't see how there's a huge correlation between a drop in our economy and September 11.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Peter, I'd like to thank you for your presentation. Just before you leave, one of your comments was that cuts are the desire of our government. I don't think any government goes in with the desire to do that. The reality is that we've got some tough choices, and that's what we're doing here this evening. The 79 MLAs are elected and don't always have all the answers — as in any elected position — and we're out asking the people that we represent. I want to thank you for your presentation.
Moving along, our next presenter is Larry Moulton.
L. Moulton: I'm not a public speaker, so if I end up spending my entire time looking at my piece of paper rather than speaking to you directly, I apologize.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): That will be fine.
L. Moulton: Mr. Chairperson and committee members, I would like to start by thanking you for allowing me to speak to you this evening about a matter that has been very important to me for many years. That matter is the public service and how government supports the
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people of this province. My name is Larry Moulton. I've been a resident of Kamloops since 1986. I was born in British Columbia, and I've lived in this province for the past 53 years. I've worked in this province and raised my family here and consider myself fortunate to have been born a British Columbian. I also consider myself fortunate in that I've had the opportunity to volunteer what time, skill and understanding I have to such activities as the Kamloops Hospice Association and assisting the facilitation of interfaith workshops on anti-racism and religious tolerance. I've had the rewards and challenges of being a foster parent to troubled youth and children with emotional and intellectual disabilities, and I've worked with unemployed youth. I've worked and continue to work with many professionals in relation to most of the activities that I've mentioned. Throughout, I've been continually impressed by the dedication and sensitivity that these professionals and community members show in their work in this community.
I'm very troubled these days by the reports of cutbacks to services the government provides — cutbacks to the public service who deliver those programs and services that are essential to us all. I've read the prebudget fiscal review report prepared by the Ministry of Finance. I don't presume to understand it all. What I do understand, though, is that according to the review panel's forecast, things look pretty grim. It seems as if government revenues may drop and expenses may rise. There's a belief that the only way is to cut costs, reduce or eliminate programs and lay off government employees. It seems as if there's a need for reducing regulations that may be a cost to government and an inhibitor to the economy. I'd like to take what time remains to me this evening to remark on these issues.
I'd like to speak first to regulation. I believe that any system, government or business relies on regulation. Society relies on regulation. Regulation is what makes order out of what inevitably would result in chaos. There's no doubt in my mind that regulation, like any organism, has a growth potential. It has a life of its own, it seems. As regulation grows, it runs the risk of becoming overly complex — root-bound, if you like — and no longer healthy. I think it's good to review regulation and trim where it's necessary, all with the purpose of maintaining health and productivity.
From my point of view, deregulation has been a buzzword for the past two decades or so, certainly since the era of Reaganomics. At that time deregulation was no doubt viewed as a healthy initiative. However, when overzealous bureaucrats cut and slashed regulation, some not-so-healthy situations developed. The disaster that hit the American financial markets through junk bond scams was one example. Another example in Walkerton, Ontario, concerning the lack of regulation around water purity can be held up as one of the least attractive results of lack of regulation. This lack of regulation resulted in the deaths of people. What cost was that, compared to the cost of ensuring that the quality of water never reached lethal proportions? What liability resulted from that tragic development?
Most recently, the unthinkable tragedy of September 11…. I wonder: what if airport security had been within the regulatory authority of government rather than being contracted out to the lowest bidder, who often offers wages to employees that are minimum wage or close to that level? Do people making minimum wage feel encouraged by that wage to think of themselves as performing an important and valued service? I think, on average, probably not. Do contractors who try to survive on the lowest bid provide top-notch training to their minimum-wage employees? Again, on average, I think not.
I don't know for a fact that regulation would have prevented any of the tragedies that I've mentioned. I do know that regulation would have greatly reduced the probability of those disasters. There are countless situations in our daily lives where regulation greatly reduces the probability of harm, loss and anguish. My point in all of this is to urge this committee to use prudence in any recommendation it makes with regard to changes in regulation. If this committee should err, let it be on the side of caution and safety for the citizens of British Columbia.
Likewise, with regard to the reduction of programs and government employees, when I hear reports in the media of the Premier suggesting reductions of up to 50 percent, my mind boggles. To imagine employees in the social agencies, already struggling to deal with the public's need for service, trying to meet that need with reduced resources is a recipe for the type of tragedies I mentioned before. Do we ignore the need for social workers to intervene on behalf of abused or neglected children? Do we ignore the need for social workers to train and support foster parents? Do welfare workers turn people away at the door, because there are simply not enough of them to deal with those whose misfortune it is to be without a job and lacking the ability to pay rent, buy food, meet medical needs?
We are in an economic slump, and there is unemployment. Unemployment is the main cause of poverty. The proven symptoms of poverty are domestic violence, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, the degeneration of self-esteem. We see these symptoms all around us in all of our communities. The very forces designed to offset these social ills, the support systems, are now being threatened by a reduction to ineffective levels of service. What possible good can come of that?
There's a couple I know. They are my neighbours in an adjoining apartment. They are my friends. They have lived in this province all their lives — lived here, worked here, helped to build this province. They live on limited pensions. They live modest lives, without extravagance. The prospect of Pharmacare benefits being reduced is devastating to this couple, one of whom has a pacemaker and requires ongoing expensive medication that taxes their limited income. To burden these people and others like them with further medical costs seems heartless. These are the people who built this province. Do we not owe them some greater kindness and consideration in their remaining
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years than a further reduction in the quality of their lives?
With respect to public debt and slowing economy, in 1982 there was a recession. Interest rates ballooned; there was unemployment. Because of those circumstances, my debt increased. Yes, I tightened my belt. I reduced my costs and operated more efficiently, but I never put my family at risk or deprived them. It was important to maintain a certain standard of living in order to maintain a certain degree of physical and mental health. As a result, my debt increased, but eventually I paid the debt off. It took more than three or four years. I believe this government can do the same.
I have not had a lot of time to prepare my thoughts. I don't have graphs and tables to present, only what I believe to be common sense, patience, hope and caring, and past experience. I sincerely urge this committee to use patience and prudence in any recommendation you make with regard to changes in regulations and the effective use of an already burdened public service. Again, if this committee should err, let it be on the side of caution and safety for the citizens of British Columbia.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Larry, I thank you for your presentation. It's a presentation that you can tell comes from your heart. That means a great deal.
B. Penner: Thank you, Larry, for the presentation. Although you said a couple of times that you didn't have much time to prepare your thoughts, I do note that you did have time to put together a detailed, four-page, very thorough presentation and obviously edited it somewhat for your oral presentation. You did very well considering a lack of time.
I'd like to respond to two things specifically. I've heard this a few times in the last while. This is the fourth hearing we've conducted in the last two days. We've repeatedly been hearing people citing the same example over and over again in almost exactly the same wording, and that's to do with the tragedy that happened in Walkerton, Ontario. I always find that a little bit confusing, because it was a government employee who, it appears, deliberately went out of his way to falsify the reports when the auditing process determined there was something amiss. That person then continued to falsify the reports. It clearly highlights the fact that even government employees can sometimes not be trusted to do the right thing.
Second point, and this is in the second-to-last paragraph of your written submission. I think it's a very good example about how in the 1980s you had to take on some debt to get through a tough time, but you then tightened your belt and made efforts to pay back that debt. Unfortunately, in the last ten years as the rest of North America went through an unprecedented economic boom, the previous government continued to borrow money year after year, putting the province deeper into debt. Today we're paying about $3 billion a year just on interest to service our total provincial debt. That's an amount of money that's much larger, in fact, than we spend on the entire advanced education system.
I know classical Keynesian economics, and I'll defer here to…. I have a real live Harvard professor of economics sitting beside me. Classical Keynesian economics would suggest that governments should deficit-finance in bad times and pay back in good times. Of course, the difficulty through the last 40 years is that very few governments ever had the discipline in good times to pay that money back. In the last ten years most governments in Canada did. Even Saskatchewan and Manitoba made substantial progress in reducing their provincial debt. Unfortunately, in British Columbia our debt more than doubled in the last ten years. That has, to a certain extent, put us in a real bind. That's why we're looking for creative ways to, as you said, tighten our belt — protect what's most important for your family and for our family collectively in British Columbia and try to get through this and focus on what's really essential. Thank you again for your presentation.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Are there any other…?
R. Sultan: Well, I'm the old Harvard professor that my colleague referred to.
B. Penner: I didn't say old, did I?
R. Sultan: Well, I am. At my stage, having reviewed many, many essays and theses, etc., I've developed a certain awareness. We've now received seven or eight submissions from persons with a similar background to yours. I must say that I'm struck by the similarity of length, tone, style and content. My question is — and I ask this in the sense that we really, truly want independent feedback from the citizens of British Columbia: did anyone assist you in preparing this document?
L. Moulton: No.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Are there…?
R. Sultan: That's my question.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Oh.
L. Moulton: I said no.
R. Sultan: Oh, I'm sorry.
L. Moulton: This is my document, based on my personal experience.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I see no further questions from any members of the committee, Larry. I'd like to thank you again for coming out this evening and taking your time to make your presentation to us.
Prior to going to our next presenter, just for the information of the people watching our proceedings, you may see members of the committee from time to
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time leaving the room for some time. With the schedule we have, we have to work through the meal breaks, so on occasion, on a rotational basis, you may see members leave the table. They're not doing that in rudeness. It's just a fact of life, in trying to get to 16 communities to have this consultation, that our time frames are very tight, so I'll put that forward for you.
Our next presenter is Valoree Baker, who is with the Kamloops Active Support Against Poverty. Good evening, Valoree.
V. Baker: Just as long as you all don't get up and leave, I won't feel bad.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I can assure you that won't happen.
V. Baker: Good evening, everyone. I would like to welcome you to Kamloops. Kevin, you already know how wonderful Kamloops is, don't you?
K. Krueger: That's right.
V. Baker: My name is Valoree Baker, and I am presenting this tonight on behalf of the Kamloops Active Support Against Poverty. One of the greatest problems facing the world today has to be profound inequalities in the redistribution of the Earth's wealth, so it was with considerable sadness that we watched our provincial government introduce an across-the-board tax cut to all B.C. citizens.
This obviously maintained the status quo by giving back far more money to the wealthy members of our society than to the poorer members, the end result being, of course, that the poor are still as poor as ever and losing ground each day, and the wealthy are even wealthier and wondering where to invest their excess wealth.
The provincial government finds itself with no money to continue the social programs that Canadians have consistently said they want to maintain. Recent world events have made it painfully obvious, to anyone who chooses to think, that this can no longer continue. Our taxation system, both federally and provincially, has become more shockingly inept at closing the gap between the rich and the poor, and it leaves us far behind the more civilized nations of the world.
The lunacy of telling someone who can't find work that they must survive on $510 a month and then turning around and giving someone making $100,000 a year an $8,000 tax rebate is self-evident. If we are this illogical when dealing with our own citizens, what are our Canadian government and provincial governments, not to mention our international corporations, doing to people we are dealing with in other countries?
Are we adding to or relieving the hatred that is building in the Third World nations? If we want to be serious about resolving the problems that face us in B.C., then we have to be courageous enough to look at what created them in the first place. The legislation that has been passed by the present and previous governments is creating a growing pool of destitute people who are living in quiet desperation, but no one should be so foolish as to think it will remain quiet forever.
Our provincial government missed a golden opportunity to relieve some of the anguish of poverty with their tax rebate, had it been just, but they did not do that. If the tax rebates had ensured that all citizens of B.C. were living at least at the poverty line, that would have been an instant injection of money into each of our communities.
People making $100,000 a year are already doing quite well and didn't need a tax break at this time, and the provincial government would have found that they still had enough money for the social programs that we all cherish so dearly. This is not profound economics; it is just common sense. One has to wonder why this was not done.
I hear continual murmurs that possibly one of the solutions would be to partner with private companies, particularly in the field of medicare. How could we possibly save money if we partner with a company that is set up to make profit? Public health is not geared to make profit, so wouldn't public health be able to supply services more efficiently and for less money than one that had to concentrate on the bottom line of profit? The only way that the provincial government would save money in this partnership would be if individuals who went to private clinics paid their own bill. Just exactly who can afford to do that?
Our provincial government, as well as our federal government, was conceived as a vehicle to govern the province and the country on behalf of the people in their best interests. How could it possibly be in the best interest of the people to allow foreign corporations to buy well over 70 percent of the industries and natural resources of Canada and B.C., giving us the dubious distinction of being truly unique among sovereign nations? Our provincial government must spend more of its time solving this wholesale giveaway of our province and resources and a little less time rushing towards privatization of our social programs.
We are truly living in interesting times. It will take very courageous people with vision to resolve what we are faced with. The one fact that seems to be painfully clear is that continuing down the same road we are on now is not going to do it. I wish you all well, and I also wish that all of you will have the courage — if not for yourselves, at least for your children — to do what must be done sooner or later. That is up to you. I thank you for your attention.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I will see if there are any questions from members. Harry?
H. Bloy: Not really. Thank you for your presentation and bringing this forward to us. I believe I can speak for all the members here that we want to do something different. We went through the election. We brought the tax reductions in with the true hope that it's going to restimulate the economy of British Columbia so that all British Columbians will benefit.
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B. Lekstrom (Chair): Valoree, I'll ask one question. I see we have a moment. Again, thank you for your presentation. You note in one of your paragraphs — and I'll just read it so I can get it — that "people making $100,000 a year are already doing quite well and didn't need a tax break at this time, and the provincial government would have found that they still had enough money for the social programs that we all cherish so dearly."
I'm just wondering — and it's been mentioned here this evening…. If we took the tax breaks out of the picture and set them to the side, the reality is that by 2004 we would still be operating with a $4 billion deficit per year. That's excluding the tax cuts that we have implemented. I'm wondering if there are other areas where you are thinking of saving money. Nobody wants to go in and make some of the tough choices, as you mentioned in the last paragraph. I'm a father of two children, and I want to make sure we build a society that's good. But there is some reality, other than the tax cuts that people are focusing on, that a $3.8 billion to $4 billion deficit is there by 2004 without the tax cuts. I'm just wondering if you had anything to add on that.
V. Baker: It isn't just the tax cuts. It is the entire taxation system that has to be revised — completely thrown out and a new one devised that is more equitable. We have one of the most absurd taxation systems in Canada of any of the industrialized nations in the world. We are down near the bottom of the OECD countries as far as tax level is concerned. The tax level is just a bugaboo that has no validity, if you look at it globally. There are many, many countries that pay more tax than we do, but those very same countries guarantee education for their children, guarantee medicare for their citizens and have social programs that they wouldn't dream of giving up. They wouldn't dream of having them chipped away at, the way we're watching it happen. All I am suggesting is that you have to be brave enough to say: "Look, we need a new taxation system where everybody at each level is paying an equitable amount of money into running our province and running our country." Would that not be fair?
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Okay. I was just trying to get clarification on that, because I wanted to make sure that the issue we're dealing with isn't strictly a tax-cut issue. This is far more significant.
V. Baker: No, no. I wish it was. Wouldn't that be nice?
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Wouldn't it be? Thanks very much, Valoree.
V. Baker: Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Our next presenter this evening is Dr. Lal Sharma. Good evening, Doctor.
L. Sharma: Good evening. First, the good news. I'll be very brief. This is a last-minute plan. As a matter of fact, I didn't know until this morning that I would be able to come. But I'm happy to be here.
Just to take a few moments, first, for those of you who don't know me. I think Kevin does, but he conveniently left and the same thing for Claude. Don't believe anything they tell you. I'm a duly elected member of the school board, but I'm not here tonight to represent the school board. That can happen when your other committee comes. I believe some of you are coming back for Education, and I'll look forward to meeting those people too. I have spent a lifetime in teaching, from grade school to graduate school, from the east coast to the west coast, not to talk about India and so on. After retiring, having nothing better to do and looking for trouble, I guess, I put my name in for election, and here I am.
There are frustrations. That's why I'm here. Maybe more than anybody else and like one of my colleagues, I am going through a lot of struggle as to how to bring about some modest changes in the system that could save some money to boot. You can see my scribble. That's just one page. The B.C. education budget and spending smart was my slogan. That has been my slogan, and that is my hope even today.
It may come as a revelation that almost one-third of our kids are not graduating on time. We have one of the lowest rates in the developed world. While B.C. is amongst the highest spenders in education — and I don't need to tell you this: $4.8 billion as of this year — our students are average at best. Why such a mediocre educational outcome, I ask? Could it be that our teaching programs do not work? Or maybe it's the teaching methods.
The definition of the movement of today — that is, the effective school movement — is one in which up to 98 percent of the students at every grade level are learning or ought to be learning whatever we have to teach them, regardless of their background. I think Valoree, who preceded me, would endorse this. Every child deserves our best shot, and we should stop making excuses that the child comes from a poverty background or has some kind of learning disabilities and what have you.
Meanwhile, the major players have some kind of denial here. With due respect I say that the Ministry of Education, the school board and the unions are all part of it. For some reason, we don't seem to be listening seriously. It doesn't take a whole lot of money. As a matter of fact, as I said, we're already spending about the highest per student in the country, close to $7,000 per student per year in B.C. So nobody can convince me, I repeat — not easily, anyway — that it is the lack of money. It's how we spend it and on what we spend it.
In a very modest way I have suggested on the margin here that if we could just trim down the bureaucracy and use cost-effective instructional programs, we would find that some substantial savings could be had.
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The parents are angry. I don't need to tell you. They're troubled. Some of them are even afraid of what they see happening or sometimes not happening in public schools. They are beginning to vote, I dare say, with their feet. We have charter schools. We also have home schooling. We have virtual schools — Internet and so on. It's just taking off.
It concerns me. I do believe not only that I'm a part of the public system but that for any society to become compassionate and stay compassionate, we need to strengthen our public system. So I'm a strong advocate for that.
To just give you one example here, in Kamloops we are going roughly $1.5 million over budget for special education. We started out with $11 million, and we're spending $12.5 million or something like that. It's getting out of hand. As a matter of fact, this board expects that your government will give us perhaps close to $2 million over and above what we have been getting for special ed.
I simply ask you the question: is there any end to this? Can we ever control these runaway expenses?
I give my own answer: yes. I cite you nothing short of the highest office in the United States, the czar of education today. His name is Dr. G. Reid Lyon, the adviser to President Bush. The question is: will proper reading instruction reduce the need for special education? The answer is categorically yes. Please permit me to read you one line: "Thus, by putting in place well-designed, evidence-based early identification and prevention and early intervention programs in our public schools, our data strongly show that the 20 million children today suffering from reading failure could be reduced by approximately two-thirds." Just like that.
I'm sorry I'm not having that much success with some people who should be listening. Maybe that's why I'm here. Perhaps I'll have better luck with you people.
I honestly, truly, strongly believe this, and I have demonstrated it. I hate to brag too much about that, but I have done it. I have been there. That's the main reason why I put my name in for election and so on.
Two-thirds in special education. I'm not talking about a magic wand that could turn an autistic child overnight. That takes a lot more money. We're not talking about that. I think the answer there is available, but that's more expensive, I take it. I'm talking about run-of-the-mill children who, because they slip through our fingers and fall through the cracks, end up in our special classes. They not only cost us more money, actually two to three times more money, but they also look for trouble and become behaviour problems for the court system. You know the rest of the story.
I repeat my challenge: we could prevent two-thirds of these children from going into special education and becoming rather expensive items to deal with not only in the human suffering, and so on.
I think I'll stop here if you have any questions. After that I just have one question that on my way here somebody asked me to ask you, so I'll ask that after.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Well, thank you very much, Dr. Sharma. There are questions from members of the committee. I know Barry would like to ask one.
B. Penner: Thank you, Dr. Sharma, for your presentation. Earlier, getting ready for this assignment that we have, I read through the fiscal review panel report. I'm not sure if you've had a chance to look at it, but on page 22 the very last sentence states — and I'll read it to you: "It is notable that the Ministry of Education's expense is growing at over 3 percent per year" — which, I'll add, is significantly greater than the rate of inflation — "in spite of no growth in enrolment."
Of course, in the last few weeks we've learned that the BCTF is proposing, they say, a 34 percent wage increase. But when you take into account the compounding value, because a lot of the increases would be in the first year plus the compression of the salary grid, it's more likely an increase in the range of 42 to 45 percent that they're talking about. This would amount to several billion dollars in additional expenditures at a time when we're already in a significant deficit here in British Columbia.
Has your school board had an opportunity to cost out the local impact of the BCTF demands and what that would do to your ability to fund existing services?
L. Sharma: Not very precisely, I dare say. But the rough figures are very scary. Personally, I find myself caught in the middle. It's like a rock and a hard place. Having been a teacher all of my life, I have no problem sympathizing. You see, the working conditions today — if I may elaborate just a bit — are not getting any more favourable. The children have different challenges; I don't want to bore you people with that. Teaching has never been more difficult than it is today.
Furthermore, watching teachers over the last ten years, both as one of them and now as a trustee on the other side, when I see…. It's no fault of any particular person; actually, they have not caught up with the cost of living. So what I'm saying too — as a matter of fact, the president of KTTA will vote for that — is that this has to be a quid pro quo. It is a two-way street. I'm asking for efficiencies; I'm asking for the teachers to justify. In a nutshell, I'm saying they deserve some decent wages. I hope I'm not pinned down as to what I think a decent raise is, but it's certainly more than 2 percent and less than 42 percent — somewhere in there.
Essentially, there has to be give and take. As I said here, I find that teachers have to open up to better ideas and do more with less — efficiencies, because the cupboards are bare. We all know that. The money does not grow on trees; therefore we have to spend smart. I'm sorry I can't speak more on that, because everything is under negotiation, and it's under wraps and so on.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Are there any other questions from members of the committee?
R. Sultan: Dr. Sharma, I found your presentation very enlightening and extremely well phrased. This
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two-thirds ratio you referred to, coming from the adviser to President Bush — how would one implement this new philosophy in the school system among the teachers?
L. Sharma: That is a challenge. I'm a strong believer in the carrot and the stick. I believe there has to be incentive, not necessarily financial incentive. You people are in a better position than I am. This is a provincial negotiation we're talking about. Again, I think there has to be my favourite phrase, which I have a hard time pronouncing: quid pro quo. We have to put it out to the teachers that we want the efficiencies. It's a give-and-take. I don't mean just in one area. As I said, it would be the early identification, the science-based or effective program. You have some excellent examples from the lower mainland. I could cite you examples from coast to coast — and even beyond, to England. One of our professors from Ontario has just come back after turning the British system around. They used to be behind us, and now they're ahead of us. I looked into it just recently, and I found that there are certain things we can do right here.
To answer your question, I think these would be kind of using some good programs and training our teachers a little more seriously rather than…. I was a professor at Dalhousie University. Looking back, I think I have a lot of blame to take, because our teacher training is not really what it's cracked up to be.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Dr. Sharma, I would like to thank you. I note that you did have a question you would like to ask at this time. I would like to allow you to do that, and then we will move on.
L. Sharma: The question was asked, by one of the teachers, if you people would have any comment about the essential services that we are hearing a lot about. This is a new territory, as you appreciate, that we all are moving into. It may become really sticky. We'll go back to that. How we solve that problem would determine to a great extent, but not entirely, the direction that education will take in British Columbia. I'm quite serious about that. If you people have any comment about how you see essential service…. We are charting a new area. How will it work out?
B. Lekstrom: Dr. Sharma, that's very difficult. This is the Select Standing Committee on Finance. I think it would be inappropriate for us to comment. There is a select standing committee, I believe, on education. They will be touring as well. It would be more appropriate at that time to ask that.
L. Sharma: Finally, the reason I was presumptuous enough to even scribble this page and come to you today is that when I hear the word "finance," I say: "What's the second-biggest ticket item for money in British Columbia?" That's education. Here I am a part of that and accountable. I hope you people didn't mind that I came barging in. I think that next to health care, education is fairly substantial, and I take it very seriously. I'm sure you do too.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you, Dr. Sharma. That is why we're protecting the funding for both health care and education. Thanks for taking the time.
Our next presenters are with the Wells Gray Community Resources Society: Louise Weaver and Jack Keough. Good evening, Louise, and good evening, Jack. Welcome.
J. Keough: Good evening. I was just commenting that I thought I'd recognized the voice of the previous speaker. I took a course with him at Dalhousie many years ago.
Just to begin with, I'll introduce myself. My name's Jack Keough. I'm the executive director of the Wells Gray Community Resources Society in Clearwater. I want to pass on the regrets of the Chairperson of the society, Eileen Sedgwick, who is unable to be here. She has laryngitis. We were trying to medicate her to get down today, but it wasn't successful. Ms. Weaver, another director of the society, was asked to present on her behalf. Sorry for all the confusion.
L. Weaver: The Wells Gray Community Resources Society is a primary social service agency serving the North Thompson Valley and the communities between McLure and Blue River. We're a non-profit charitable contracted agency that provides integrated, efficient and bureaucratically lean social service programs. We're funded by various provincial government ministries and Crown corporations, which include the Ministry of Children and Family Development; the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services; the Thompson regional health board; the Ministry of Attorney General; B.C. Transit; and also the TNRD. Our services include mental health programs; addictions services; support services to children and families; Clearwater and area transit, which includes the handyDART program; services to people with disabilities; and youth justice programs, to name a few. Our contracts are small indeed, some of which have annual funding of less than $1,000.
Since our incorporation in 1989 we have been very successful in developing a community-based, responsive, integrated service system which, in our opinion, has always been ahead of the stated goals of our funders and our bureaucratic and political masters. We have done this by maintaining a philosophy of services to people first. How we do this, in our opinion, makes us somewhat of a poster child for other agencies and service delivery systems throughout the province, particularly in small communities.
The North Thompson Valley has a relatively small population base spread out over a large geographical area. The valley's community needs are no different than any other community throughout the province. However, because of economies of scale, we do not always receive or provide the types of services that often exist in larger centres. Consequently, we have
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had to be extremely creative, flexible and constantly evolving to meet community and public needs.
J. Keough: Our contracts are not specialized but, indeed, general. We're always looking into how we can provide services and how these services can be flexible to meet individual and family needs. We do this by relying on the skills and good judgment of our program staff. Decision-making is reduced to the lowest common denominator. I'll comment on that later.
What we are required to do on a very regular basis, and it's just a common practice of ours, is stitch together various services to create one overall effective service. Some of our employees may provide services in four or five different program areas. So we look for individuals that have skills that are adaptable and are consistent with meeting the expectations of the various government contracts we enter into.
Long before the Gove inquiry our agency adopted an integrated service delivery system. We realized that program efficiencies were necessary to make programs more effective as well as address the economies of scale with funding dollars we received. Even before the creation of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, our agency was employing those very principles that this new ministry was now advocating. The difference was that our agency did not require any extensive or costly reorganization. We continued to provide services that were extremely cost-efficient, certainly less costly than most other agencies we have researched.
As a non-profit charitable organization, we are able to achieve this by tapping into other sources of funding unavailable to government to augment our existing services and support current programs. We start with the belief that the vast majority of our funding should find its way directly to the population that we provide services to.
We have one part-time manager and one full-time administrative support person for a staff of 13 in 16 different program areas. Our one clerical support is a receptionist, typist, intake worker, bookkeeper, payroll clerk, bus dispatcher and office manager. Our executive director on a part-time basis is our office administrator, contract manager, program coordinator, HRLR specialist, policy analyst, adviser to the board of directors, chief fundraiser, backup bus driver and backup counsellor to many of the programs. We can't do much better than this, but we make things stretch.
What we have achieved, with the limited funding we have received, we have managed to stretch to provide community-based services to individuals and families in need. Ironically, we recently went through a review of our financial position with our major funders. They fully acknowledged that the funding to our organization is 25 percent to 35 percent less than it should be. Nonetheless, we provide the services as expected, on budget.
We are already operating within the targets that this government is setting out. We are, again, already ahead of where the various ministries are going to be required to go. We have had to do this not only out of necessity but keeping in mind that our goal is to provide services to people, not to have a rich or comprehensive management system. Governments and other contractors should be looking to us as to how to manage to fulfil this very important mandate with the funds we are provided.
L. Weaver: You have a daunting task to make appropriate recommendations to respective ministries as to how the public feels about what services should be provided and at what funding level. We would hope — and it would be our strong suggestion — that guiding this entire initiative should be the principle that we need to do all we can to fund the services and programs that directly impact people and not continue to maintain expensive bureaucratic and managerial systems that exist in government ministries and contract agencies.
We have already said that we have rather insignificant and in some cases no administrative dollars in some of our program budgets. We were able to do this partially because we empower our direct service staff to make decisions on a daily basis using their good judgment, their skills and some common sense. Nonetheless, when the government cut administrative budgets from contractors many years ago, we were asked to return 3 percent of our contract dollars to the government because that was the formula expected of all contractors.
This approach has allowed us to complete delicate surgery with a dull axe. We would ask that in your recommendations you advise against this approach. The one-shoe-fits-all or the postage-stamp theory simply doesn't work. Some agencies and organizations have extensive administrative budgets and could more easily absorb funding reductions. In our agency, where administrative budgets didn't exist in many of our programs, a 3 percent cut created a deficit. We ask, as your initiative is to be implemented throughout your ministries, that your existing ADM and regional structures use this as an opportunity to look at existing inequities and disparities in funding and carefully look at each individual agency and program to assess the impact of funding cuts. We would hope for a more creative, logical and prudent approach than we have seen in the past.
We have previously stated that we have achieved cost-effectiveness. Let me give you some examples. Our programs and services are varied indeed. We access community facilities to run our programs, and we have an office space of approximately 600 square feet for a staff of 13. Our annual rent is less than $6,000. We utilize the community hall in Vavenby for our soup kitchen and local community space in Clearwater for a bike shop. Both of these are for people with developmental disabilities, and both are unfunded. We're currently approaching the private sector and other benevolent organizations to assist us in purchasing a house where we can have office space, operate a soup kitchen, operate a bike shop, provide weekend respite for people with disabilities, provide an emergency shelter for women and their children suffering from
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spousal abuse, provide an activity centre for people with disabilities and provide workshops and parenting courses.
We can likely house all these services for approximately $1,000 to $1,500 in rental costs per month, which represents l/6 of the current rent that the government pays to provide office space for its ministry social workers. Yet we are told that funding for our anticipated rent increase has been denied. By comparison, our local Ministry of Children and Family Development has a staff of four and a half social workers and one and a half clerical support staff. Their office space costs are approximately $6,000 per month. With the completion of the new hospital in Clearwater, they will be relocating to our building and displacing us. Their current square footage will increase from 1,800 to 2,500 square feet, and their annual office rent will be approximately $75,000.
Recently our agency was asked to participate in a leadership development program being offered in Kamloops by Royal Roads University. While the content and the value of the training was not in question, our eyebrows were raised when we saw the tuition costs of $2,000 per participant per week. We were unable to send anyone to this training, not only because we didn't have any money, but also we felt that the meagre training dollars we had could be better spent on our direct service staff. Ironically, some agencies sent several of their managerial staff, and as well, your government ministry sent numerous staff to a week-long training event that, in our estimation — including tuition costs, travel expenses, wages and benefits — cost approximately $100,000 for one week of training for 25 employees.
J. Keough: Much has been written and researched over the years regarding delivery of services in small communities, and we're well aware of those thorny issues around hiring retention. There are volumes sitting in Victoria in other government offices. As government funding shrinks, small communities often bear a disproportionate burden of these service reductions. It is usually stated that services will be of an itinerant nature, and from our experience they generally disappear later on. We urge you to monitor how these initiatives unfold and that you maintain some integrity as to how services are offered to outlying areas. It has been our experience that ministries use a dull-axe approach because the optics are appealing.
We are well aware of the economies of scale, and as we stated earlier, we have already addressed these. Sending government employees out in cars on travel status with travel expenses to the outlying areas incurs unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. Some services currently provided by government can be done as well and at significant saving by agencies such as ourselves. I have examples, if you'd like to ask later.
As we stated earlier, we are one of the many organizations that provide services to children and families directly. We do not operate costly residential programs. In fact, the services we provide are the very ones that enable statutory government employees like social workers and probation officers to keep children in their own homes without the expense of costly and sometimes questionable residential programs.
We work with children and families and parents to keep families intact and to provide those supports and services necessary to allow parents to become more effective and, consequently, raise children that will grow up as healthy individuals. In fact, we would expect that as you look to reducing the number of children in care throughout the province and look at some of those costly residential programs, you will look to agencies such as ours, which provide community-based services and support to families, for guidance and to assist in this undoubtedly greater need that will occur as more children remain with their parents and not in the custody of the state.
Just a bit of an anecdote. I recall being at a policing conference in the late eighties on Vancouver Island. It was for municipal elected officials. The deputy chief, I believe, of the NYPD was actually there at that time and was talking about how they had to reduce their costs within their department. They reduced staff by 1,000 people, and they didn't take a police officer off the street. They continued to provide those services to the people in the community of New York. That always stuck with me — those comments and their ability to make those kinds of decisions but also to implement reductions in cost but not affect the services to the people.
We would like to briefly address the notion of consultation. We always applaud the opportunity to consult directly with government and our funders regarding any changes to our service delivery system models. Realize, however, that we have had bitter experiences in this regard. Previous consultation has amounted to costly exercises that merely provided window dressing for government and ministries. This government has the opportunity to bring integrity back to this consultative process. However, it can only do so by remaining involved in the implementation of this massive undertaking.
In fact, we would make a suggestion at this time. You have approximately 77 sitting MLAs, of which approximately 25 are cabinet ministers. Of the remaining 52, we suggest you use existing MLAs and assign each one to a respective ministry and have them report to their cabinet ministers as to how this initiative is to be implemented in the regions, throughout the province and in the communities, and how it impacts on families and children.
Again, we're not seeking special privilege. We're not promoting a NIMBY philosophy that you shouldn't cut what we already have. We're not saying that services cannot be more efficient and that some programs ought to be eliminated. We are not saying that you don't have a mandate to bring about these changes.
We are saying that you have a duty and responsibility to look at how services are provided so that we can maximize the existing dollars and that you should closely and carefully look at those organizations and agencies that are currently in step. We'd also ask that as
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these changes unfold within the ministries, you as our elected officials remain accountable to agencies like ourselves for practices and implementation that are inconsistent with the overall stated intent of government.
We would hope that you are available and willing and open for subsequent presentations from organizations such as ourselves to advocate on our behalf where your political goals are at odds with implementation practices.
In closing, we would add that as we listened to Premier Campbell last week and the Hon. Gordon Hogg this morning, we thought we had written their speeches. We provide the necessary services for children to remain in their families, we are community-based and supportive, we are administratively lean, and we are extremely efficient and effective.
We thank you for your attention and are prepared to answer any questions.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Louise and Jack, for your presentation. I think it was very well put forward. Just a quick point of interest. You talk about the 77 MLAs and the usage of those with the ministries. We have initiated, as government, what's called government caucus committees. Those caucus committees oversee five or six ministries, with a group of roughly ten MLAs sitting on each one. It's very similar to what you're encouraging us to do. We have taken that step, and it seems to be working quite well. I think it's very important that every MLA that's elected to this Legislature play an important role. It's working very well right now.
With that, we do have questions from members.
L. Mayencourt: Before the question, I want to say that this is probably one of the best presentations we've seen from any group in the week that we've been doing this. I really applaud what you guys are doing. You've found very, very creative ways to serve your community cost-effectively, and you've gotten out of the box and served your community very, very well. I really want to congratulate you on that.
I also think it's very courageous of you to come to a public forum and talk about these things, because you have government contracts. I think it's just a wonderful thing that you've stepped up here to talk about how some of the inefficiencies that exist in the government can be remedied. And you've offered great examples of that. I promise you that I will make sure we don't do delicate surgery with an axe.
How many people are you serving and in what geographical area?
J. Keough: It's a large geographical area. It's approximately a 200-kilometre stretch of highway in the North Thompson. There is a population base of about 10,000. It's a small population base over a large area.
L. Mayencourt: The Chair has already mentioned the other point I wanted to raise. Really, you guys are wonderful. You're really, really important to this region, and congratulations on that. I'm going to take this report and make sure that other members of our caucus completely understand what you guys are doing. You're wonderful. Thank you very much.
H. Bloy: I'm not going to reiterate every word, but I'm impressed. One of the reasons I came onto this committee is that it's a positive committee. We were coming out to the communities. We wanted to hear from the people in the communities. We wanted to know how we could make these decisions that we have to make. We wanted suggestions. What you're suggesting is no different from what's going on in the real world out there, with Telus, AT&T and Bell Canada in the telecommunication industries, which use agencies that can operate much more efficiently than other ministries. I do applaud, and I'm extremely pleased to receive this.
I want to ask you one question, now that you're here: do you have a lot of competition with the ministries out there? Do you work well with the ministries in referrals, or are you competing with them for the same business?
J. Keough: No. Our referrals, for the most part — and not all of our funding is coming from the Ministry of Children and Family Development — come directly through them. We have one small program that really is an open gate for physicians and teachers, and it's really intended as a prevention program. It's offered to children and families so that they don't have to come through this protection gate. We see it as a very valuable program because we think that if we're in there early enough, we're reducing the need to come into that very costly and very intrusive protection gate within that system.
H. Bloy: This is early prevention.
J. Keough: That's one of the programs we offer. That's correct.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you once again for your presentation this evening. It was certainly very worthwhile, and we appreciate you taking the time.
J. Keough: You might want to mention that in your comments to Mr. Krueger. You'll be talking to him.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): We certainly will. Everything is duly noted and recorded in Hansard. Certainly, every member looks after that. Thank you.
Our next presenter this evening is Dan Ferguson. Is Dan with us?
[T. Bhullar in the chair.]
D. Ferguson: You folks must know when a public servant is coming to talk to you, because half of you are gone. [Laughter.] And the one fellow with no hair like
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myself chooses to leave when I get here. I don't understand. I wonder where he's gone.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): It's just dinner. Some of them are going out for dinner; we're continuing on through the dinner hour. I also am losing hair, so we'll make up for it.
D. Ferguson: That's fine; no problem. I had a secretary once who said that if you're going bald in the front, it means you're a good thinker, and if you're going bald on the top, it means you're a good lover. But if you're going bald on the front and the top, you just think you're a good lover. Let's keep that one in mind.
Anyway, good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight. As you know, my name is Dan Ferguson. I speak to you tonight as both a citizen of the city of Kamloops and a public servant. Firstly, as a citizen, I was born and raised in the Rossland-Trail area of the Kootenays, so if I shake and twitch and am a little slow, it's due to the lead exposure I had when I was there. I ate a lot of dirt when I played sports there. As a public servant, I work in the public health department with the Thompson health region. I consider myself to be a career public servant. I'm halfway down that path, and I fully expect to retire having been a public servant.
I'm not here tonight to lobby you for funding for a water treatment plant. I think Kevin and Mayor Rothenburger can do that. I'm not here tonight to criticize you for decisions around public health policy and the Workers Compensation Board and environmental tobacco smoke; I don't think that has a place here tonight. And I'm certainly not here tonight to lobby you on behalf of my program for any dollars. I'm here tonight as a citizen first and a public servant second. I just ask that you listen to what I have to say.
I've chosen not to give you my written notes, because I prefer to try to keep that eye-to-eye contact as much as possible so that I know you're listening and not reading. I can leave you the material later if you need it.
I believe that when we elected the government, cuts to public services were inevitable. It's simply not realistic for me to believe that any government at any level, if you want to maintain a balanced budget, can do that without taking a serious look at both your revenues and your expenses. That's just a reality. For government to do it is a monumental task, and I want to thank you for taking the time tonight and giving this the serious attention it deserves.
What I'm going to speak to you about tonight is balancing in a different term — that is, balancing what we provide and don't provide based on the values of society. We recently heard that all ministries are reviewing their budgets looking at 20, 35 and possibly 50 percent expenditure reductions. I'm not going to speak directly to those numbers; they're enormous. I don't think most citizens could get their brains around the kind of dollars we're talking about. They're very, very large.
If I can offer you any advice, my advice would be: "Think, and think really hard, before you get down to the business of doing what you're going to do." I'm going to ask you a couple of things on behalf of the public servants and citizens of British Columbia. Again: think, and think hard. Consult the users of the services that you currently provide and consult the people at the street level who are providing the services. What does the public need? What do our citizens need, and what can they do without? I think that's where you need to start.
Once you've done that, set your priorities. Once you've set your priorities, identify the ramifications of your decisions and know them intimately, down to the small details. Again, bring it down to street level. How are they going to affect the citizens of British Columbia?
Following that, communicate. Make your priorities public, both the short-term priorities and the long-term priorities. Be prepared to defend them. I think you're going to be attacked. You're going to have a tough position to tell people where you're going and why.
On a different note, if it's at all possible, provide ministries with budgets that are over a term of three or four years. The current way we do budgeting is crazy. We go into each fiscal year and operate, usually for the first five or six months of that fiscal year, not knowing if we've got a budget and how much that is. We go on year after year operating in the first six months not knowing if we have a budget, so we just carry on by the faith of God that that money's coming again next year. If it's possible, give us three or four years in a lump and say: "Hey, this is what you've got; this is where you're going." It allows us to plan and make some decisions and set our direction based on your priorities. What are your priorities? That's what we need to know.
Having heard the previous five or six speakers, I want to talk a little bit about health care and education because those are the two big ones. My only concern with these two ministries being exempt — I don't know if that's the right word — from the 20, 35 and 50 percent proposals is: are these budgets going to be frozen? Maybe you can answer that at the end. At a recent meeting, speaking with higher officials in the Thompson health region, if budgets are frozen today and we continue services for three years at the levels we're providing them today, that's basically equivalent to a 15-to-20 percent cut. The reality to me is: from where do we get that 15 to 20 percent? That is kind of the question.
The specific areas I work in that I'm most interested in are health and environmental protection, and those run together. We offer programs such as drinking water protection, food supply protection, safe disposal of sewage, reducing tobacco-related illness — which you probably all know is the number one cause of preventable disease in the province. We dabble in injury prevention. We have child care licensing programs, and we also do communicable disease control programs.
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I'm just a little concerned, when we're setting these priorities, about where we go, and I want to give you a small example. This is a living example, and I'd certainly be happy to expand on it later. We're involved in a program in the Scotch Creek area of the north Shuswap, which is about one hour east of here. We're looking at historical sewage disposal practices into what is known as a shallow, unconfined aquifer — a body of water that has nothing above it but sand and gravel, so it's basically unprotected from contamination — and what the impacts of sewage disposal methods are on the quality of groundwater that people are using for their drinking water supply. Although this isn't pleasant, in some circumstances they're recycling their sewage into their drinking water.
We work very closely with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. If I'm going to put in a plug or a lobby, it's that these guys have been cut, and cut deeply, by the previous government. It's to the point where we take some of their staff with us on the road, because they don't have the budget money to put gas in their trucks. If you don't believe me, just phone up there and ask. I can give you the number and contact names. Where I'm going with this is: know what the ramifications of your decision are, if you're going to cut.
I don't think that particular ministry can afford much of a cut — not at the street level, anyway. Maybe they've got some bureaucracy building at the top end. I don't know. Certainly at the street level, as an example, in one program — their agricultural protection program — they've got one person that covers almost 30 percent of the geography of the province. That's just not workable.
I'll use Scotch Creek as an example. If you put sewage into groundwater, usually the first thing you get is the transfer of phosphorous and nitrogen. Nitrogen causes a syndrome called methemoglobinemia, which is more commonly known as blue baby syndrome, in newborns. The nitrate combines with haemoglobin in the blood, and you don't get any oxygen supply to the baby. That's a precursor to things to come.
Fecal coliform. I think it was Barry Penner who made reference to Walkerton. E-coli is in that fecal coliform group. We know that aquifer already has high levels of nitrate — almost half of the maximum acceptable concentration that's allowable in the Canadian drinking water guidelines — and it's directly attributed to sewage going into groundwater. If you have a cut, be aware of what the ramifications are if we can't continue to monitor these things and try to change what we're doing out there. The long-term repercussions are there. Those are the kind of questions I think you need to ask.
I don't know how much longer you want me…. I'm going to try to cut it short here. All I'm trying to say in health care is that we can't continue to do more with less. Under the previous government we had several programs and initiatives added on to us without any additional resources. We're stretched thin. We're getting to the point where my own staff are asking me: "How can you expect us to do all this? This is totally unrealistic." The time and the hours are just not there. We certainly know that more bodies aren't coming.
In closing, what I'm going to say is: set your priorities, tell us what they are, and make sure they're defendable. Think through the ramifications. Is the risk of not providing a particular service too high? We don't mind doing one job over another, but you must provide the direction not just for 2002 but for many years to come. Where are we going, and how do you want us to get there? Don't cut and slash for the sake of cutting and slashing. Know what the ramifications are. Lastly, communicate. Tell the citizens and tell the public servants. At a minimum they deserve to know what your short- and long-term plans are, so please tell them.
This isn't going to be easy. I'm pretty glad it's you guys and not me, because I think you're going to be held accountable for the decisions you make. I don't think those decisions are going to be easy, and I think that defending those decisions is going to be difficult. Again, think, and think hard. Take your time. Be thorough in your research, because this is an enormous undertaking. It's going to be tough.
I have several other examples that I could discuss with you about where implications…. If you were to take major chunks out of service delivery, that is going to have some pretty serious potential impacts on public health and the environment. I'd certainly welcome discussing those with any members of the panel in the future. I welcome you to contact me. I can leave a copy of this, Tony, with yourself as acting Chair in the absence of Blair, if you wish.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): I'd appreciate that. Thank you.
D. Ferguson: Thank you.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Questions from the panel?
I. Chong: First of all, thank you, Dan, for your presentation. It was very thoughtful, and it lends itself to not really too many questions. But because you raised some issues, I thought it might be helpful to respond to them. As you know, the prebudget consultation included the fiscal review panel's recommendations. In those recommendations there was a concern that we not make across-the-board spending cuts and that, rather, we identify some efficiencies through comprehensive review of all government programs, which is why the core services review program is underway. It is rather difficult to speculate now, and that's why ministries are going through that process. They are going to identify those ways that it can improve service delivery. That should be completed this fall. Your comment about being aware of those ramifications is exactly what they're attempting to do.
We're taking the other issue you raised about budgets to heart. February 19, 2002, is when the budget will be introduced by the Minister of Finance. He will take into consideration part of our deliberations here,
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which will go into a report. At the same time he delivers that budget, he will have a three-year financial plan that will be released with it, again giving people some comfort as to how we intend to get to our balanced budget by 2004-05. I would admit that the communication has not been as good as it should have been in the communities as to how these cuts potentially were going to affect them. It's not next week; it's not next month.
The scenarios are designed to give options to ministers. Some will be able to deal with them a lot quicker. Some will take a little longer. It's over the three-year time frame. I'm hoping that gives you and those people who are here this evening, as well, a little comfort to understand our process here. This is going to be an ongoing process. Next year the select standing committee will also go out before the budget is presented, again soliciting more public input as to how you can help us, how you can provide solutions, as other presenters have given, and how we can provide better service delivery with the dollars we have. I hope that gives you some information as well. Your presentation didn't lend itself to me asking any questions. I just wanted to respond to some of the things you raised.
D. Ferguson: Thank you. I think the short-term and long-term budget forecasting will go a long way to stop the piecemealing. If you can do that and can do that successfully, I think you're going to take a lot of pain out of delivering the services. I'm one of those persons who delivers. When you don't know where you're going next week, it's very difficult to do that. I ask you, and I ask you seriously, to look at three and four years at a time. If you think you're going to be successful in a second term, then look beyond that.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): There's another question from Harry.
H. Bloy: Ida's asked most of the questions. What I would really like you to do is think of ways that we can save money within the budget that's there now. Could you present it to the Clerk of Committees? Fax it or e-mail it into us so that we can truly consider this.
D. Ferguson: Okay. I'll try to do that.
H. Bloy: This is what we're looking for. Thank you.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you, Dan.
Our next presenter is Fawn Knox. Hi, Fawn. Could you introduce the gentleman next to you?
F. Knox: Yes. I've asked Rick Turner to come with me. Rick is a teacher in the district as well.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you. Go ahead.
F. Knox: I'm Fawn Knox. Presently I am president of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association. I have a short presentation here.
This government has stated that health care is a priority and education is number one. I have a few questions on health but mostly on education. I am concerned when you talk about the time and hours that are stretched, but you're talking about that in education. If we're number one, I do worry about the other sectors as well. We're supposedly not going to have any cuts.
With regards to health, I do have a question as to why private surgical clinics have been given permission to operate in B.C. I just heard about that today. In terms of health as well, how did legislating nurses back to work improve health care?
It appears this government is not following the mandate it was given by the electorate on education. The government promised to maintain public education as a priority. The contract- stripping that BCPSEA has placed on the bargaining table will turn the clock back on education. They've asked to have the guarantees on class-size numbers eliminated, when research has demonstrated that smaller class sizes has improved student achievement. This step is regressive.
BCPSEA has also asked for no limits on the number of students with special needs in a classroom. This would impact greatly on the quality of education for all students involved. We've embraced inclusion, but we expect the support. When we have an unlimited number of special needs students in the classroom, it leads to disruption. We can't do what we're best at doing, and that's teaching.
Removing the limits on ratios of students to teachers for the non-revolving teachers. These are the teachers supporting the classroom teacher — the learning assistance teachers. This will impact on the quality of programs to some of our more vulnerable students in our system. Schools will find it difficult to manage with the decreased time for teacher-librarians, resource room teachers, school counsellors, learning assistance teachers and ESL teachers. These teachers have been put in place to support the classroom teacher.
We ask why the employer is asking for these extensive contract-strippings at the negotiating table, because the language we have in place already in our collective agreements, we know, improves teachers' working conditions but also definitely improves the learning conditions for the students. Our collective agreements have always done that.
How does declaring education an essential service improve our educational system? The BCPSEA have made application to the Labour Relations Board, and those are educational dollars and time and energy spent on determining what is essential. I feel this is a mockery of what essential means. It is not a threat to life and limb.
This government has stated that teachers are the most important component in the education system, so you cannot put children and their education first when you put your teachers last. You must talk to the teachers. We want a fair collective agreement. We want our employer to be given the mandate to achieve such an agreement. Teachers do not want to go on strike, but we need to put pressure on the employer. We want a fair collective agreement.
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This government has chosen to provide increases of 32 percent over one year for deputy ministers. The Premier himself said it costs to get good people. We know that as teachers. You chose to provide increases of 12 percent over two years for some of the highest-paid bureaucrats in the government. As well, you've chosen to provide tax breaks of $3.4 billion over two years, with most of that money going to the most wealthy British Columbians and to corporations. These are some of the decisions that contributed to the demise of the B.C. economy now.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
It's going to be the ordinary citizens of this province that are going to have to pay for these cuts to programs and services. I'm listening to the news, and I hear some of the cuts that will be happening — cuts to frills. When I hear day camp for foster children and preschool programs for children at risk, I don't look at them as frills. These are the most vulnerable people of our society, and they'll be hit the hardest. These include families whose children attend our schools, and we will be dealing with those students.
That's what I have given to you in my three-page document, but I'm just going to add a few things. Then I'm going to let Mr. Turner, if he would like to, add some as well.
With regards to our salary, as we've asked here, an average starting salary for a B.C. teachers is $36,700. We are asking for an increase in our wage because we want to attract and retain. We feel we've got the best and brightest in the system now, and we want that to remain there.
The handwriting is on the wall. There is a shortage of teachers. We liaise with the universities in this province, and the best and brightest are not necessarily going into education. They're choosing other fields. We want to attract them.
We have 1,300 people in Ontario presently who are teaching without the qualifications. We have 13,000 in the next four to eight years who are going to be exiting this profession. I truly believe all those 13,000 people want those standards maintained. We want to be able to continue to meet the needs of our students. I think that's it.
R. Turner: I'm here purely as a classroom teacher, just to give you a few anecdotes of my experience as a schoolteacher since 1973. I do remember the days when there were no class-size limits, and I would have 36 or 38 kids in an English 9 classroom. That would affect tremendously the teaching techniques I used. It would also affect tremendously the individual attention I might be able to give to youngsters with that many youngsters in a room. It meant that I was teaching to a large group pretty well all the time because of that huge volume of youngsters.
With a total teaching responsibility in the neighbourhood of 200 or more, that cut down on my ability to provide individual attention to those youngsters. Not that my load is particularly light these days, but with an upper limit, including the flexibility factor as an English teacher in the high-school system, with 30 youngsters I am able to get to know each of those youngsters in each of my seven classes much better than in the good old days when I had 36 and 38 kids in there. I am able to appeal more to their interests as individuals when I get to know them better and when I have the time to talk with them and interrelate with them individually. It gives them the opportunity to relate to me and get to know me a little better and to make more inquiries of me, rather than having to compete with 37 other youngsters.
The total teaching load of a high school teacher today in most years is around 175 or 180 youngsters. That's still quite a bit, but I would have you understand that compared to the good old days, or the bad old days, when there were no class-size limits, the quality of service I am able to offer those youngsters is vastly different with those class-size limits in place.
I would also indicate to you that there is a greater diversity of youngsters out there as well, and hence the need to get to know those youngsters better. As you well know, the days of the dad working and mom at home, the sort of stereotypical family, have long gone. Families are very diverse now. They're good families, but they're diverse. You can't make the assumptions that you might have been able to make 15 or 20 years ago. That increases the need, in order for me to be as effective as I can, to have smaller class sizes. Certainly the class-size limits that I have in contract now…. Improved class-size limits would be even better.
I know you're pinched for time, but I would offer an anecdote from my experience, when a teacher new to the profession…. Most of our members — I think two out of three — now are women; only one out of three are men. For whatever reasons, fewer men are being attracted to the profession — probably related to salary would be my guess.
A colleague of mine who's been a teacher for a few years took a look at the salary that a dental hygienist was making and spontaneously said: "Maybe I should have been a dental hygienist." The average starting salary of teachers in B.C. is something like $36,700; a dental hygienist's is $49,800. That appeared very attractive to that young woman just beginning her career life, with two children.
I know you're pushed for time. You may have some questions. I just wanted to share those anecdotes with you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Fawn and Rick, thank you very much.
Are there any…?
R. Sultan: I missed part of your presentation, for which I apologize. I just wanted to pose a hypothetical trade-off to you. Let me emphasize again that I'm not an expert on the problems of teaching and this ministry in British Columbia, but I do appreciate that society has dumped an enormous share of its parenting burden on
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people such as yourselves. This is part, I'm sure, of what you're struggling with.
It's my impression — correct me if I'm wrong — that over the past several years the bargaining tactics of your association have essentially stressed trying to increase the number of members by reducing class size and some very rigid staffing ratios at the expense of wage increases. Now, of course, the inevitable has happened. Your wages, I do accept, have fallen behind, and you're trying to catch up in a huge gulp all at once. But I put this question to you. Given the fact that we have only one pot of money, do you think teachers are generally willing to give on the ratio side for greater access to per-person income? I think that is implicitly the trade-off we may face.
F. Knox: Teachers did lead the way in class-size reduction, but it was not because we were trying to create more jobs for our members. We saw that research said smaller class size in conjunction with professional development for teachers, as well as early intervention, had a huge impact on student achievement. We saw that this was the right way to go. It was not a trade-off.
On the other hand, if we have those things in place, I think we'll be able to attract teachers to this profession. They know that the workload is manageable. You can see you're going to get some student achievement out of having those things all in place.
The salary business is: we want to attract people. We're seeing, just like Rick said, people wanting to go into other professions. We have the best and brightest now. I don't want to reduce the standards and not have those kind of people attracted to this profession. They did not go into this profession to make money, to be rich. They went into this profession because they loved teaching, and I want them to remain loving teaching.
R. Sultan: As a supplementary, it may not be a professional or teaching trade-off, but there's no question in my mind that it's an economic trade-off. That's really what the dollars and cents of this committee boil down to.
F. Knox: We need both.
B. Penner: I've been following this issue with interest, because my father's a retired teacher, my sister is a current teacher, and one of my best personal friends is a teacher in the lower mainland. I hear about it a lot, so I've been taking an active interest. I also have some contacts within the B.C. School Trustees Association that send me, on a somewhat confidential basis, their analysis of what's taking place.
One of the demands put forward by the BCTF, in addition to the 34 percent wage increase, is further restrictive language around the issue of class size which, if implemented, would require the hiring of another 4,038 teachers across the province. This seems to fly in the face of what the BCTF is also trying to say, which is that there's a shortage of teachers. Yet their own demands would further exacerbate the stated shortage of teachers and suggest to me that maybe the BCTF hasn't entirely given up on that particular strategy of trying to increase their membership base within the union. I just point that out, because 4,038 additional teachers would cost the system about $275 million per year. That's in addition to at least $1.2 billion per year associated with the wage demands themselves. It's a very significant cost issue.
As you've heard all night tonight, a number of people representing different government agencies or different government employees have stressed the case why their particular services are very important. I take that at face value. Of course, government's job, as they're elected to do, is to make the difficult decisions. There simply isn't enough money, at the end of the day, to do all of the things that we would sincerely like to do. Certainly, I can think of a lot of things I'd like to do if I were given a blank cheque, but I'm realistic enough to know that I'm not going to get that opportunity anytime soon. Our choice is a difficult one. It's about balancing or trade-offs.
I'd just like to end on this final point. The offer from the employer, on the face of it, is being characterized at this point as zero, 1.3 and 1. That's what the BCTF is sending out to their membership. The BCTF is not reporting that the employer has offered to eliminate the first step on the salary grid so that new teachers would start at a higher salary rate. In addition, employers also offered to add an extra step at the top end, with a higher rate of pay. The net effect of all that would be, on average across the province depending on the school district, increases of between 6 percent and 8 percent over the three-year term of the proposed collective agreement. That's in addition to the 2.3 percent overall salary grid lift that's been offered. I just put that forward in the spirit of information. And believe me, I'm passing it on to my sister as well.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): A question from Kevin.
K. Krueger: We're actually looking to get suggestions from the presenters at these hearings. You asked a number of questions in your brief, and it would take a long time to answer all of them. I just want to give you the straight answers here. Why have private surgical clinics been given permission to operate in B.C.? I'm told there were 25 when the NDP came to power; there were 50 when the NDP left power. I think the reason they're thriving and growing is that the public has not been getting the service it's looking for from the public health care system.
How did legislating nurses back to work improve health care? Well, we believe that every decision in health care has to have the patients' interests first. The two escalating job actions by nurses and by the HSA caused over 5,000 surgeries to be cancelled in British Columbia. We legislated a cooling-off period, and then we legislated a contract that gave B.C.'s nurses the best contract in Canada. The desire and the goal of government were to protect the best interest of patients.
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How did defining education an essential service improve the education system? It protects students from having their interests sacrificed because of disputes between adults. It's something we promised to do before we were elected, so of course we've done it. We'd really like to have had suggestions from the KTTA presenting here on how to do the right thing and the best thing for British Columbians.
I don't think it's helpful, for one thing, to say that we're giving money to the most wealthy British Columbians and corporations. The amount they're being taxed is a tax on their money. It's not the government who's giving them money. Government has withdrawn its hand somewhat from people's pockets, including your members, because we believe the economy thrives when people make their own decisions about how the money's spent rather than government taking it away and presuming to decide that. Your own members, as of July 1, received a very substantial, dramatic personal income tax cut, which is not giving money to them; it's allowing them to keep the money themselves. I think they liked it. That's what I'm hearing from your members.
To say that this government has contributed to the demise of B.C.'s economy is just silly. We've only been in office four months. Our economy went from the best performing to the worst performing in Canada over the previous ten years, so I don't think that lends any credibility to the association's presentation. We sincerely want to provide the best-quality education and health care that we possibly can to British Columbians. Those are the two ministries whose budgets have been guaranteed to stay at least as large as they are. We would like the help of professionals, and we believe that teachers have a lot of good suggestions to put forward.
My question for you is…. You said that you're concerned about the looming teacher shortage. That's a paraphrase. We're concerned about shortages in all the professions and skilled trades, really. We're certainly concerned about that. Obviously, we were very concerned about the same problem in the nursing profession. I understand that one of your provincial demands is an early retirement incentive package for some of your senior members. I want to know how that is at all consistent with the concern about forestalling the looming shortage of teachers.
F. Knox: It is consistent because we offer to our members an early retirement incentive package. We can keep the B.C. teachers…. It can be stable in terms of the teachers that we have there. It would be capped. We would know how many teachers are leaving each year. We could be able to tell those teachers who had been waiting since the time they entered the teaching profession that yes, there are going to be some jobs for you. I know many teachers out there who said to me — who have been on our teacher-on-call list for three to five years: "You know, when I started teaching, I was told there was going to be a teacher shortage." It hasn't happened. If we know now that there are going to be 25 or 50 teachers retiring, then these new people will know. Maybe that will help to attract more people into the profession. Right now, they're sitting on the TOC list waiting to be hired, but if they have it regulated that we have an early retirement incentive package and we know that these people will take advantage of it and that we're going to lose 50, then we'll know we've got 50 spots. If we don't have declining enrolment, those new teachers can take the spots.
The other thing is that with people retiring, there are medical costs and other costs that could be there if they're not going to have that attraction, because we know that at 55 we can retire. But many of us are not going to retire until we know that we've got — are probably looking at — a better retirement package in terms of our…. We have to put in more years. If you provided me with an early incentive package, maybe I'd consider going a little earlier. If I didn't, maybe there would be health or other costs that may be equally costly. So I think the early retirement package is consistent with the shortage in that we would be saying that there are guaranteed spots for you that you can walk into — that Rick and I walked into in 1972. We were not on any TOC list; there were jobs there.
K. Krueger: Well, I understand what you're saying. But it isn't consistent logic to say, on the one hand, that we're facing a shortage — and we know we're facing a shortage — and on the other hand propose what sounds to me like a proposal that you think will provide for orderly planning. You think you'll be able to guarantee jobs for teachers starting their profession because you know the senior teachers are retiring. The overarching issue and problem that you presented, and we see it in the universities and in all the health care professions, is that a big generation is retiring rapidly over the next several years. We haven't had enough new people coming through the education system to replace them. We know we're facing that problem, and I can't see how the logic follows that by getting your most experienced people to retire early, you're dealing with that looming shortage. So we might have to agree to disagree, or perhaps you could write me a letter and explain it to me more thoroughly.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): With that, we'll leave it at agreeing to disagree, because this is something that could be discussed for hours on end. I think all of us could agree to that.
I would like to thank you both, Fawn and Rick, for coming and making your presentation this evening.
Moving along, our next presenter this evening is His Honour Mayor Mel Rothenburger of Kamloops. Good evening, Mel, and welcome.
M. Rothenburger: Good evening. I appreciate having this opportunity to talk to you for a few minutes. I want to tell Mr. Krueger to relax, because I'm not going to hassle him about our water treatment infrastructure application — at least not tonight. I'll give you the day off.
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I apologize, first of all, for not having a written presentation to present to you. Unfortunately, council was not aware until earlier today that today was the day, and we've been in budget meetings of our own all day long. I just had a very short time before coming here to jot down a few notes to talk to you about. I am speaking only for myself and not for city council as a whole, because we did not have an opportunity, unfortunately, to discuss a presentation.
I want, though, to refer to the issue of balancing competing interests and making choices. I'm not sure whether what I'm going to tell you relates directly to this or not, but maybe one of the choices is fast-tracking to a balanced budget versus a more measured approach. The question may be: why even consider No. 2 when it would appear that the public in general probably is very supportive of returning to a balanced-budget situation? Well, the issue that I have is the health of the economy and whether or not we're entirely on the right track to get there.
The strategy, I gather, is to put more money in the pockets of the taxpayers and create a healthy climate for business in this province. That's a worthy objective, and I totally agree with it. The government's policy, as I understand it, is to eliminate subsidies to business. The definition of a subsidy, according to the information I have, is a program or activity which transfers a benefit to a for-profit or selected group of businesses beyond that which would be provided by the marketplace. That makes total sense in that I don't think we want to be providing an edge to one business when it's in competition with other businesses, although I'm not sure that municipalities wouldn't like the opportunity to provide incentives on a localized basis should the community charter provide for that.
In the definition of a business, according to a presentation by the Hon. Rick Thorpe at your open cabinet meeting in August, was option 1, review only for-profit businesses; option 2, also include sector organizations and community or regional development groups. Option 2 was the recommendation in that presentation. My question is whether that is now formally the policy of your government or not, because including sector organizations and community or regional development groups…. I would question if that is the correct choice. They are two very different things. One is providing a benefit and advantage to one business over the other; the other is developing whole new sectors of the economy. I don't see that that can possibly be a bad thing.
I'm going to give you a quick example, which is near and dear to my heart and which Mr. Krueger certainly is aware of. Technology Kamloops is a group formed earlier this year. It's a community-based group of volunteers which has the purpose of developing the high-technology sector in Kamloops. We have admittedly been a little bit behind in that regard, and it was felt that this group was a means of bringing all of the stakeholders to the table and working together to make that happen. Very shortly thereafter we applied for a community enterprise program grant to match the local funding that was provided. At the end of July the community enterprise program was terminated. The application that we put in, for $24,000, had been recommended at the local level and had gone to Victoria and died on somebody's desk there when the program itself was terminated.
That creates a real problem for this group. The funding that it has through local means will expire very shortly. It will die out, and we will possibly have to suspend the manager that we hired on the understanding that that provincial funding was going to be available.
The question is: what if Technology Kamloops folds up its tent because it doesn't have $24,000 — quite a small amount of money? What if, as a result of that, the high-tech industry in Kamloops fails to grow or stagnates or, at the very least, slows down and does not take advantage of opportunities? The result would be that existing high-tech firms here in Kamloops don't receive the support they need to prosper and expand in the way of identifying infrastructure and marketing and creating venture capital opportunities, and new firms won't be attracted because the vehicle for doing that has been lost. Those lost opportunities, I suggest, could amount to many millions of dollars. There's no doubt that high-tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in B.C., and it will be a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry here in Kamloops. The question is: will it be that now, or will it be much later?
I want to point out that this is not a question of going to the provincial government for a handout without local investment. The community matched that $24,000. The community also, by the way, as part of that same application, put in $60,000 of a $100,000 cost for a feasibility study for a fibre optic utility that would do a tremendous amount to give Kamloops a competitive edge in this industry. In addition, I should mention that the city puts in $700,000 a year of an $800,000 economic development budget for this entire region, so I think the local taxpayer is doing his or her share.
To me it seems that if these very worthy programs for very worthy projects are eliminated, in a sense it is another form of off-loading. I know the Premier has said that the provincial government will not off-load further costs to municipalities, but what's the choice? Either you let a project die or you scrounge around for local money. To me that is a form of off-loading and a contradiction of the intention of the government and the commitment of the new government to develop high-tech. On the one hand you're committing to develop the high-tech industry, and on the other hand you're reducing the opportunities for that industry by cutting sectoral funding if option 2, which I mentioned earlier, indeed is to become — or is — the government policy. The fact is that worthwhile projects very often need startup funding, and that is just a way of investing in the economy and in the local community.
Getting back to the choice issue, yeah, people do want a balanced budget. I would hope that what I am advocating here, which is a retention or a review of the benefits of economic development funding, wouldn't slow the balanced-budgeting exercise. I think the key point is that the short-term pain is going to be consid-
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erably longer than you would like it to be if economic development is wounded in the meantime while you are going for the long-term gain that I think all of us want.
The conclusion is that it's a philosophical question I put to you about choice. The question is: is the government making the right choice, or is it inadvertently creating barriers to its own objectives of economic development?
My suggestions? Well, I think we need to look further at those programs. Again, I use that one example. I'm not aware of all of the programs out there that have been affected to date by the cost-cutting measures or that will come under the knife in the near future, and we need to look very closely at the costs versus the benefits of those programs. I submit to you that it may be a false economy to eliminate them if they are hurting other communities the way I think our community is going to be hurt.
Secondly, at the least, grandfather applications that were in the system and that were already in process. When Minister Abbott sent out his letter announcing the elimination of the community enterprise program, that seemed to be what he was saying, but I'm not getting that message back clearly. The message I'm getting back is that that money is gone. If you have to cut, then tell us that you must cut, but don't tell us that all cuts are always good. Tell us that in the long term you understand the philosophy and the benefits of economic development programs.
Thank you very much for your time.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Your Worship, for your presentation. I will look to members of our committee, if there are any questions.
B. Penner: Your Worship, I believe you're required by law to balance your budget, and now we are required by provincial law to balance our budget. Not immediately but sometime in the next three years we are required by law to make ends meet. What suggestions do you have for us to accomplish that goal?
M. Rothenburger: Going back to my specific point about economic development programs, I think you have to, as I've stated to you, look at the value of those programs and whether or not cutting those funding programs is going to do more harm in the long term in the economy than it will do good in the short term. Not being intimate with the provincial budget and all of the various ministries and what programs are under review, I don't have a suggestion for you about what else might be eliminated.
Again, I'm not clear on what your philosophy is. If you're saying that there should be no financial assistance to sector organizations and community or regional development groups, that's a philosophical matter. I don't know what your answer is to that. I guess I'm arguing that point.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Any other questions?
Your Worship, there's just one comment I would make. I can answer one question: are all cuts good? No, not all cuts are good. The reality we face is that it's a challenging time. I believe there are going to be issues we have to deal with that…. Nobody likes to make cuts if it's at all possible to avoid them and if it's a service delivery that people enjoy. But at the end of the day, you and I both know — I've had a background in municipal politics as well — that balancing the budget is of vital importance if we're going to be able to grow our economies in the future. The philosophy you talk about is one that we are looking at. Long-range planning, I think, is something that for many years has been overlooked not just in finances but with the issue of teachers, our nurses and our health care professionals. The plan is a tough one to put together and a tough one to pull back in line.
I appreciate your taking the time this evening out of your busy schedule. Again, I apologize for the time frames we've put on people. They are quite tight for notification. If you have anything further to add as far as a written submission, we have the ability to accept that through the website and so on. I would encourage you to do so.
M. Rothenburger: Thank you. I understand the issue of cuts being necessary from your point of view. I guess our job is to challenge where and when those cuts occur.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): And work together to find that balance. Thanks very much, Mel.
At this time I would call on Mr. Don Cameron. Good evening, Don.
D. Cameron: Good evening. Thank you very much. I'll be very brief. I don't want any money; I just want to correct something.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): You're off to a good start. [Laughter.]
D. Cameron: I'll want to see you in a couple of weeks' time, though, Kevin.
I just want to point this out to you. It concerns finance, and it concerns highways or roads — whatever you call it — and ICBC. When we go to get our insurance, there's a lovely lady who gives us all the particulars and discusses what we want and everything. You pay your bill. Whatever the computer says, you pay it. Then I look in the paper a while later on, and I see where ICBC is giving money to various public works projects.
In this town over the last two or three years they've put in a couple of traffic lights at crossings. They've twice donated to what I'd call improvements in roads. I don't argue with that. What I do argue with is that that money should go through the proper Legislature. If it gets passed in the House or by the city, I have no argument with it. But I do argue with ICBC being able to
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say to me, "This is your insurance cost," and then I find that a portion of that money has gone to other things.
That's the sum total of it. I'm sorry, I didn't know to bring a copy for each one of you. I'll leave you a copy that was in the paper to explain it further. Thank you for your time.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): That's fine, Mr. Cameron. Everything is being recorded by Hansard, so we do have a copy of that. I just want to point out that your views are shared by many in British Columbia. It is our commitment — and we are in the process — to have a full review, and ICBC is under that review as well. At the end of the day, hopefully, the decisions made will be the correct ones. Thanks for presenting, Don.
Moving right along, our next presenters this evening are with the University College of the Cariboo: Roger Barnsley and Shirley Dorais. Good evening.
S. Dorais: Thanks very much. We'd like to thank the committee for being able to present this evening. I know it's long, but we have some important things to say on behalf of the University College of the Cariboo. We hope our short presentation will provoke some inquiries about delivery of post-secondary education and, in particular, give some ideas on how the government can become an economic enabler with respect to post-secondary education.
I'll bring to your attention the University-Colleges of B.C. core review reply. I think it's been handed out. It's several pages long; it's quite comprehensive. There are a number of issues that may be of some importance to the government and, in particular, to you as MLAs. It can perhaps give you a somewhat better understanding of what we're going through at this time and how we see we can help you economically.
I apologize. I've been to the dentist, and my right side is very sore. I'm going to turn it over to Roger Barnsley, our president, to highlight some of the issues that we've talked about here.
R. Barnsley: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you this evening. The way I'd like to present my remarks is, initially, to say that I think we all understand the limitations and restrictions that your government is working under. We recognize that the decisions you take will have to reflect significant fiscal restraint. Having said that, I would hope that your commitment and need to work in a fiscally restrained environment does not inhibit creative new solutions that do not require expenditures. I say that because I get the feeling sometimes that being concerned about dollars might restrain some creative thinking.
What I'm here to say to you today is that I think we can serve the government better. We can serve our students and our region better. We're not here to ask for more money. We're quite pleased and honoured that the government has said that education is a priority concern and that we expect to be supported in a similar way. I'm here to say that I think there are some real opportunities we can take advantage of that won't have the fiscal concerns. I'm trying to look for creative solutions here, and I hope you take it in that regard.
First of all, let me just say that we see ourselves as being absolutely key to the economic prosperity and sustainability of this region. We support the government in its new-era agenda and in promoting economic development. We see ourselves as one of your main tools in trying to accomplish that agenda.
As you can imagine, every post-secondary education institution can rightfully make that claim. That's indeed why you've made education such a high priority. Think about what UCC does in Kamloops in terms of economic development and sustainability. Our economic impact study shows that we inject close to $250 million a year into this community. That's with the multiplier effect; it's quite a tremendous impact.
We train the workers for the industries in this community. More and more, what we're starting to do is provide the research, the development, the innovation, the technology transfer for the industries. We've become a resource for this region. You know, our region extends from Merritt to Williams Lake to Lillooet to Chase. I always remind people that it's twice the size of Portugal, about the size of Germany, that we serve.
We are critical to it, but let me say something else to you. The university colleges of British Columbia — and I'll speak for my own institution — are highly entrepreneurial institutions. We're doing things very differently. We're quite unique, and we're becoming known for that flexibility in that role. For example — and this is quite unique in Canada — we've built residences on our campus, and we're looking forward to new residences on our campus, without government support or money. We've done that through a public-private partnership. We're very proud of that.
We've built a campus activity centre on our campus to support student events and a whole range of multi-purpose events on our campus, and we've done that without government dollars. The government offered us a mortgage, but we've made every single mortgage payment, and we continue to make it. We pay it back based on the profits we make from providing services to our students and our community. I think we all want to encourage that.
Another aspect you may not know. We're not required to do this by mandate, but we've gone out and set up an international division. This year we have 650 students from 45 different countries on our campus in Kamloops. We've estimated that each of those students has a direct economic impact on this community of about $30,000 a year. That's close to a $20 million to $25 million benefit; that's directly. The indirect effect is…. Over the last four years I've been at convocation and watched two or three Japanese students graduate from the tourism program. I know that when they return to Japan, they know us better, and they promote B.C. and promote this area.
You may not know that we also run programs offshore in 20 different countries of the world. Annually, we generate $6 million or $7 million or $8 million in international revenues. Those revenues go into provid-
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ing extra spaces for our Canadian and British Columbian students. You want to know that. We're not detracting. Without those, our institutions would have far less capacity to meet the needs of our students.
This is the context. We're committed to renew our agenda. We see ourselves as being critically involved in the economic development and sustainability of this community and this region. What we ask you is to consider the fact that as an institution we are entrepreneurial and that we want some opportunities to expand that.
Here's what we propose to do for you at no cost — not for you, for our students and for our regions. We'd like to work with you to make this a trimester system. Currently the utilization of our institution is primarily during the fall and winter sessions. But we can better utilize our buildings and better utilize our programs if we can move to a trimester system. We'd like to work with you on that and find out how to do that.
I'm sure you don't have much free time, but if you go back and look at the federal government Speech from the Throne of last February, the whole Speech from the Throne was focused on research, development and innovation and the movement of federal dollars to support those. The whole speech — and you can go back…. It says that the vehicle for carrying out the federal initiatives is the universities of Canada.
Our legislation does not recognize our role in research. We are not able to take advantage, to the extent that we should be able to, of federal initiatives, federal dollars, and to move those into our region and support the growth and development of the economy here and the businesses here. That's a mandate problem with our legislation.
Our legislation prohibits us from offering graduate programs. I understand the reluctance there, because people will say: "Do we need another PhD in biochemistry or one in genetics?" I appreciate that, but we're a full adult education institution. We provide programs for our adults from development programs and college preparation through vocational programs, career programs and university degree programs. What we're not able to do for the adults in our region is provide the mid-career professionals with the professional development opportunities they need. Specifically, I'm talking about the master's in business administration and education. I always tease Kevin about this, because Debbie's doing hers at the University of Victoria.
You know, that's pretty darned expensive for a family and pretty disruptive. I don't think it's proper that people in our community have to take their dollars and go to the lower mainland or to Victoria to get those programs. We're missing the economic benefit here. Not only that, but it's really disruptive to the family life for people to go down there. It's not always Vancouver or Victoria; it's more frequently Gonzaga in Spokane.
The other thing you should know — and I really want you not to forget this — is that last week I had a million-dollar contract turned down because we could not offer a master's in business administration at a competitive price to our Chinese partner. The agency….
K. Krueger: Tell them where it went to.
R. Barnsley: We're not sure.
S. Dorais: It went out of the province.
R. Barnsley: It went out of the province.
We tried to partner all over this country to find a program we could bring in. The best we could do — I'm not being critical — was Simon Fraser University, and they wanted $24,000 for each and every student. We could not make a competitive bargain on that.
So we had an agreement to offer that program to between 25 and 50 people for the next five to ten years, depending on how long that window with China works. We've had to turn it down. That program would have been sufficient to build a program for our Canadian teachers and business people. We wouldn't have had to pay. There was enough money there to make that program work for everybody. The thing we're finding now is that in our entrepreneurial areas of international…. For example, we've got the business, but we don't have the product. It's a pretty strange position to be in. That's because of our legislation.
What I'm saying to you is that you have the consortium document. It gives a number of areas of how we think we can substantially enhance and increase the ability of the university colleges to support your new-era agenda and to support the growth and development of this economy. Primarily, they focus on creating new legislation.
One other thing I would add is that one of the things we struggle with provincially, nationally and internationally is the name "university college." Nobody knows what it means. In fact, we've had it for ten years, and people still don't understand it. I suspect the government of the day may have given it to us because for five years the University of British Columbia was the University College of British Columbia when they graduated degrees through McGill back in the twenties.
In the national context now, most of the university colleges in this country — and there are 14 of them — are religiously based, small institutions on the grounds of a large provincial university. When our students apply for medical school at Calgary or whatever, they think we're the University College of Augustana, which is a small place in Camrose, Alberta. Yet our university program has more students in it than half the universities in this country.
So we've talked, and there's a community initiative here to get university status. We understand the government's reluctance, saying: "That's going to cost dollars." What I'm saying to you is that there's a lot that can be done without dollars at this time. There are legislative changes that can be given. We can find a name that works and have a comfort level for everyone. The document you have before you has been developed in that constructive way to work with you to help ad-
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vance the opportunities for post-secondary education in this region.
Again I will say in conclusion that we're coming here today to ask for opportunities, not dollars. Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Roger, Shirley, I'd like to thank you for your presentation. It's interesting when we talk about looking for these opportunities. Many people call it looking outside the box and thinking outside the box. I guess a little more simplified version is just applying a little common sense to move us forward. I thank you for your presentation.
R. Sultan: This morning we heard a presentation from your counterpart — your subordinate, I presume — in Williams Lake, referring to distance education and continuing education, particularly with focus on first nations. We were presented with the rather dismal statistics on educational attainment in the Cariboo generally. We heard the very impressive story about the degree to which your institution is reaching into these communities trying to uplift people to basic levels of literacy.
Here we have your fine presentation talking about ambitious and international master's level programs, and I as a former educator just wonder how feasible it is for one institution such as yours to have that span of programs all the way from teaching, as I gather, elementary literacy out in the Chilcotin to reaching, I presume, into mainland China. Have I got something wrong here?
R. Barnsley: No, you've got it right. It's incredibly challenging. It's all-consuming. What more can I say?
R. Sultan: Well, should we try to spin off one of these endeavours?
R. Barnsley: That's an interesting question. Let me speak to that directly. I think that whether by design or by chance, we have developed the most dynamic, interesting and unique institutions in this country. What we have done and what our strategic plan commits us to, Ralph, is that we will recognize learning, and we'll find ways to link learning.
Let me tell you what we do — what else works. The best way I can explain this is that I was at a conference last year talking about what we were doing. This woman from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario, stood up and said: "You know, our students take these programs, and when they go over to Trent University, which is three kilometres away, they get no credit for them." There's no recognition of higher learning. What we do is find ways to link all our programs and bridge them and ladder them. What we're doing now is that we truly believe that we offer an educational experience that really is tuned to the new economy. Because of our knowledge of college, college programs and the training that goes along with those, we are able to develop the worker who is highly skilled to offer industry but who can also take advantage of the kinds of courses around a university environment that are more theoretically based, more problem-solving and research-based.
Our commitment right now is to keep finding ways we can link these programs, with the focus on the learners, so he or she does not have to repeat learning experiences and can move ahead in a very cost-effective way.
But yes, it's time-consuming, and it is a challenge. It's time-consuming for me rather than my colleagues.
R. Sultan: Well, a supplemental. If you did have the legislative authority to offer, for example, MBA and master of education programs, could they be more or less self-sustaining? Particularly in an environment where we have, in my view, artificially suppressed tuition rates and our students have grown used to the idea that at least as far as tuition is concerned, university is relatively cheap….
R. Barnsley: I made a presentation on this. Ms. Chong will remember that when she was in Kamloops last time, we talked about this for a substantial time. In our presentation you will find that we're also recommending that we move to remove the fee freeze, and we move to what we've called market-sensitive fee structures. Those would vary by program, by region and whatever. We're suggesting that you really have to put the authority for defining those fees in the hands of the local board, because they're the ones who should be sensitive. The direct answer to your question is yes, we know we can offer those programs that I've suggested on a cost-recovery basis. In fact, given our international linkages, we'll be able to offer them at less than cost recovery.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Roger, today while I was looking at our itinerary, I was wondering…. It seems like it's causing some confusion. University colleges. I couldn't figure out whether it was a university or a college. Maybe it will have to be looked at. Perhaps that will form part of the report; I'm not sure. We're with Finance, though.
You were speaking of a trimester. It's been some time since I've looked at the acts. Do you fall under the University Act or the College and Institute Act?
R. Barnsley: You've come right to the nub of it, and I appreciate your questions. Our history was that we evolved out of the community college structure, and in 1989, after the government had carried out the Access for All initiative, which showed that participation of B.C. citizens in post-secondary education was the lowest in the country, there was a movement to expand capacity. So at that time, when community colleges in British Columbia had vocational programs, trades and technology and career programs, they also had two-year university transfer programs. Students would take the first two years and then transfer. What was decided was to expand that to the full four years. So over ten
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years we have grown from just starting there to the point now where we have 40 different undergraduate degree options, about 75 career and certificate options and 7,500 full-time students.
Now, through all of that, in 1995 the College and Institute Act was changed, and we're lumped in with that. There are 22 institutions that are governed under the College and Institute Act. What that act does is set out a standard of governance that's supposed to apply to — and I'll be extreme now — the Institute of Indigenous Government, which is in downtown Vancouver with about 25 or 30 students, to BCIT and ourselves and in-between places like the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. What I'm saying is that there's too much diversity in the act, and it doesn't reflect how these institutions have developed and their unique mandates.
So we're taking and have taken an advocacy position for the last year that in order to move us ahead in our growth and development to better serve the needs of our region, we need a separate act. We've argued at one time, and we can still argue, that it would be very simple to just incorporate us under the University Act but mandate us to maintain our comprehensive programs and our regional focus, because we don't want to give that up. If that is a problem for various reasons, we're saying: "Look to the opportunity of a uniquely designed act to fit these unique institutions to give us the opportunity to do these things that we've talked about."
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I will entertain one more question.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Actually, this is more of a comment than a question. I sat down not long ago with Dr. Gerry Kelly of Royal Roads, and he gave me almost the identical presentation. I'm just wondering if you guys sit down and have coffee together very often.
R. Barnsley: No. Gerry and I don't, actually. We do talk. We really are trying to meet the educational needs of this province. Gerry has a lot more flexibility in this than we have. He has his own act. We don't. I wish we did.
By the way, I'll make this point to you. We tried to negotiate a deal with Royal Roads to offer the MBA in Kamloops, and we couldn't do it because they have a requirement for a residency. You can't bring people over from China, get them settled here, have them live here for a year and every three months go down and spend three weeks in Victoria. It doesn't work — right? That flexibility is not there. We're saying that we really are the major players in the province, not just UCC and the other university colleges as well in terms of international students, and there's a real opportunity here for us to work together to sew that up.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Shirley and Roger, I thank you for your presentation. It was very well put forward.
We are now going to move to the open-mike portion of the meeting, and time is quite tight. We have received one request — Chris Ortner. We also have one further request, so I will have to restrict the amount of time on this as far as presentation.
Chris, without eating up any more time, I'll turn it over to you.
C. Ortner: Thanks, Blair, and thank you for hearing me. I'll try to be brief. I actually wasn't planning on speaking tonight. I was just coming to listen and, hopefully, to learn. But I decided that I would share some of the insights I've gained over the last six years of working in government. My history before that was all in the private sector and in small and large companies, mainly in the forest industry. I joined government six years ago and found it a fairly frustrating place to work.
To me there are really three main areas that we can improve on. The first is corporate services. I find they're very cumbersome. There's a lot of duplication. I'm talking about human resource services, vehicle and facilities management, and all of the accounts payable and receivable. I believe we should take a hard look at the Financial Administration Act, the Document Disposal Act and all of those busy-work things that hold people in positions for years, long after a job is done, looking after the paperwork. If we took a hard look at that, especially moving into my next area, which is the improved use of technology….
I think technology in government is about three light-years behind where it should be. Government doesn't use technology well, and what I find is that there is a lot of bureaucracy around not using it. Some of it is around job protection and that sort of thing. I think that now might be the time to do something about this. Everyone acknowledges that we need to cut $2 billion to $5 billion out of our budget. These are the kinds of tools that I think we should use, because a lot of what we do and how we do it goes back 20 or 30 years, even right to post-war periods. We're still doing things the same way; we haven't changed.
I think that receiving and paying things electronically, for example, is pretty simple. For example, you can't use Visa at a government agent's office; you've got to use cash. Information distribution should be all electronic. I've been pretty happy, actually, with the websites that have been around lately. They've been very good, extremely informative and very open.
I know from working in a government office that a lot of the phone calls you get that tie up people's time and make people inefficient could be handled if we were more open with our information. I find there's a lot of protectionism around information. Information is power. That's the old adage. It's true. People do protect it. They don't share it between individuals. They don't share it between departments. They certainly don't share it between ministries, and there's a lot of positioning around information.
Just on standardizing and converging databases, I think there are around 200 different formats that we
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use. When a new project starts, it can be in a small district office, a regional office or a ministry. There's no check on what the standardized format is, and there doesn't seem to be any initiative to standardize these things or create standard data protocols across government so that when you create a document, it can be archived and displayed in a consistent fashion. We're creating and maintaining many, many different systems, and I find that pretty frustrating because you've got to have software for each one and so on. I think there's a lot of improvement possible there.
Keeping brevity in mind, my last area is promoting personal accountability. I find there's a lot of dodging, and people don't like to be accountable for what they do or what they say. Both inside and outside government, I think we could really improve performance and create a lot of efficiencies by expecting accountability from people that we deal with, auditing individuals and going to more of a professional type of accountability, like an engineer would certify a building, for example. I think the biologists need to be certified so we can count on them for their in-stream stuff. We've got a lot of people who check that type of work, and they're professionals checking other professionals. Sometimes the professionals doing the work are actually more up to date than the people that are checking. They're better qualified.
Speaking of checkers, when you put in a piece of paper, especially a financial one, in the organization I worked in, we found that it passed through up to 11 different hands. That's insane. The person that puts it in should certify it correct, and individuals should be randomly audited for their trial, and so on, and fired if they're found to be not putting in the right numbers.
The other thing is around wages. I believe we should move to more of a merit-based system, and we should provide incentives for excellent personal performance. Everyone in government should have a personal performance plan linked to the strategies and goals of their organization. Those organizations should be linked to the other ones so that we start to act as a company, as a corporation, because that's what we are. I worked for government; I worked for a corporation. We have a job to do, and that's not what I see happening.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Chris, I thank you very much. You've squeezed a lot into a very short time frame, and I can assure you that a number of issues you've brought forward are issues that we are dealing with right now — but very much going back to what I've said before, commonsense issues. It's pretty straightforward that we're here to do a job regardless of whether we work for government or whoever, and it's not too much to ask to do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
I know there are a couple of brief, quick questions coming. I will go to Barry first.
B. Penner: Thank you for your very excellent, although impromptu, presentation. It leaves us with some thoughts. I think you hit the nail on the head that our practices sometimes haven't caught up with our capabilities. Government particularly is prone to rigidity based on the past, rather than looking to the future. I'll just give you a couple of examples I've encountered in the last week.
A friend of mine who works as a staff lawyer at the Legal Services Society has had his knuckles rapped by his union because the BCGEU is upset that he's been typing some of his own letters on the computer that taxpayers have provided him with. Well, why did they give him a computer with word-processing capability if they didn't want him to be preparing some of his own correspondence or notes, prior to going to court?
Another example. And I see we have the Speaker of the Legislature here. Hi, Claude. Since you're here, I'll take this opportunity to personally give you a suggestion which I haven't gotten around to yet. I recently noticed that Hansard is still being printed and put into all of the MLAs' mailboxes on a daily basis while we're sitting, even though it's available on-line. I think this is just a tradition that has been carried on for decades in government. We have to keep looking for ways to save money wherever we can.
Hon. C. Richmond: Exactly. Everybody's got too much to read. If you go on-line, you can do a keyword search and get to the heart of what you're interested in.
B. Penner: When I was first elected in 1996, I made sure I kept binders of all the Hansard transcripts in case I had to go back and check something. If I want to find a comment that Ralph Sultan made in August, I wouldn't go leafing through binders; I'd go onto my laptop computer and in 30 seconds be able to find the specific debate right down to the sentence. Then I could print off, if I needed it, that particular page and hold him accountable for what he said. [Laughter.]
Lastly, your point on accountability rings very true. I've been thinking to myself that fodder for a private member's bill someday might be that all government decision-makers be required to put their name, if not their signature, on decisions affecting people's lives. I'm thinking about the WCB, which routinely sends out letters to people telling them, "Sorry, we're rejecting your claim," but there's no name attached to it so you don't know whom to hold accountable for that decision. I have copies of letters like that in my constituency office in my ever-growing WCB file. I'm sure Kevin has the same.
These are things that just develop within a system, and we have to be eternally vigilant to make sure that we are conscious of the people we're serving and that we provide the best service in a respectful way.
J. Bray: I'm a 13-year public servant, BCGEU member, and I share almost all of the frustrations you mentioned, so I actually just want to applaud you. We've heard from a number of public servants who expressed differing opinions. You've listed some very concrete suggestions for ways in which you can make major
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changes within the public service to find some of what government is looking for.
I would really ask, Chris, if you could take a bit more time to write some of them down and if you can find ways that actually can enhance government service, reduce expenditures — that may or may not include all the displacement of staff — that might also allay some of the fears of my other presenters. You mentioned a whole number of great things from your experience that I think would be invaluable for the committee. I thank you very much, as one public servant to another, for speaking to us tonight.
C. Ortner: I'll do that. Thanks.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thanks very much, Chris.
It is 9 p.m. We are going to allow one more speaker at the mikes. Susan Wallace. Are you with us, Susan?
I will apologize in advance. Our time frames are very tight. There are aircraft waiting, so we will do the best we can. Thank you for presenting this evening.
S. Wallace: Thank you for giving me this chance to share my opinion. I appreciate having a chance to talk to my new government, because I do pray for the government. I'm actually very excited, and I wanted to hear a few more positive notes being brought up tonight, because you're new. We can't blame you for anything at this point.
My name is Susan Wallace. I'm on disability, so I'd like to speak a little bit about medical. I really appreciate the medical in Canada. I have family in both the U.K. and America. They both have very different medical systems. In the U.K. I was able to go and see a doctor without being a resident of the country, without ever getting a bill. I was seen because I was deathly sick. The American system is to the point that my family there, if they get a disease, have to mortgage their house and lose their homes. That's what they're faced with. Now, Americans don't tell you their problems, so don't pass that around. They don't really admit it. I don't think they would come to tell us that we have a wonderful medicare system, because it's not their nature to brag about Canadians, so I'm here to brag about it.
I would like to suggest an idea that could possibly bring some fees in. I don't know how feasible it is. I guess the doctors would have to agree. Right now I'm seeing physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic and a foot specialist, and I have to pay the user fee. I'm not sure if that's what you call it, but it's just a $10 charge. There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, $10 for a Canadian is not a lot of money. What I'm suggesting is: would it be possible for your general practitioner to charge that when you go in to see him? Still continue him on the medical plan but take in that extra $10 fee…? I'm just throwing that out as a suggestion. I don't know the population in British Columbia. Each person visiting the doctor, if you've got a million…. I don't know the population; I'm sorry. If you have a million people paying $10 a month, or every second or third month, to visit a GP…. Hopefully, we're not all as sick as I am, but I've had lots of accidents, so I'm really trying to recover and retrain.
At this point medical is a really important issue for me, and I just cringe. I can't even allow myself to hear people talking about going to the American medical system, because I know what they do down there. My family down there will tell you that you can't get sick. They've pumped my children full of calcium tablets, fluoride tablets. Grandma gives us all these preventative medicines. That's no guarantee that you're not going to get sick, but that's their attitude there. You just can't get sick, because you can't have this wonderful medicare the way we have it. I just want to put that plug in there — that it's just so important. Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Well, Susan, thank you. I think we, as well as all British Columbians, share that view of the importance of our health care system. I guess the issue that we're faced with as government is trying to find a way to be able to provide that in a sustainable manner, because it's truly unsustainable right now.
S. Wallace: Oh, I see. Right. Hopefully, that's one suggestion to bring in some extra dollars. It might help, if they're willing. I don't know. I'll pray.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): It is, certainly, and thank you for taking the time to bring your views to this committee.
It is now just after 9 p.m. In closing, I would just like to thank the presenters that were here this evening, the people that sat and listened to the presentations. I would encourage anybody who was unable to present this evening, who would like to put their ideas forward to the committee…. It's available through the website. I believe we do have information accessible at the back of the room on our pamphlets. Please pick one up on your way out.
I would like to thank the people of Kamloops and the surrounding area for hosting us here this evening. With that, I wish you all a good evening and safe travels. Good night.
The committee adjourned at 9:05 p.m.
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