2001 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 37th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Present: Blair Lekstrom, MLA (Chair); Tony Bhullar, MLA (Deputy Chair); Jeff Bray, MLA; Harry Bloy, MLA; Kevin Krueger, MLA; Brian Kerr, MLA; Lorne Mayencourt, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Joy MacPhail, MLA; Ralph Sultan, MLA; Barry Penner, MLA; Ida Chong, MLA
1. The Chair called the meeting to order at 9:02 a.m.
2. Opening remarks by Blair Lekstrom, MLA, Chair, Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
3. The Committee heard the following witnesses on the matter of prebudget consultation:
1) Red Mountain Resorts:
2) Brenda Potter
3) Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society:
4) Susan Wilkie
5) City of Nelson:
Councillor Gord McAdams
6) Colleen Hutton
7) Pam St. Thomas
8) Trail Association for Community Living:
9) Advocacy Centre:
10) Corky Evans
11) Nelson and District Women’s Centre:
12) West Kootenay Labour Council:
13) Norman Gabana
14) Trail Women’s Group:
15) Graham Jamin
16) John Foglia
17) John Harter
18) Bev Onischak
19) Blaine Ellis
20) Pam Lewin
21) Trail Regional Hospital and Health Foundation:
4. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 1:02 p.m.
Blair Lekstrom, MLA
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2001
Issue No. 12
|P. St. Thomas||384|
|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
|Committee Staff:||Josie Schofield (Committee Research Analyst)|
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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2001
The committee met at 9:02 a.m.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome you to our public consultation hearing on our prebudget tour. We are travelling throughout the province.
My name is Blair Lekstrom. I am the MLA for Peace River South in the northern part of the province, and I am Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. We are here today to hear your input on the upcoming budget and the direction and your priorities as to what you see are the needs of British Columbians in the upcoming budget.
It's a very important time in our history in British Columbia. I think it's safe to say there are some significant financial challenges, as well as others, in our province. We're out speaking with people and finding out what their views, concerns and priorities are for next year's budget, which we are in the process of putting together.
Our mandate. We are a committee struck by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. We are an all-party committee. Unfortunately, Ms. Joy MacPhail, who is also a member of our committee, is unable to attend here today, but everything that is said is recorded and transcribed by Hansard. Ms. MacPhail and members of the committee, who at times are unable to attend every meeting, have the ability to review and go through all of the transcripts that are here.
With us today we have a number of staff people. With Hansard we have Pat Samson and Amanda Heffelfinger, to my right. At the back table, we have Josie Schofield, who is our research analyst, and to my left is Anne Stokes, our Committee Clerk.
The format for today is that the presenters will be allotted 15 minutes of time, usually 10 minutes for the presentation and five minutes for a question and answer period with members of the committee. Then we will move on. We are going to have to keep to a very strict time frame. Our agenda is full with presenters.
At 12:30 we move to an open-mike session. If you're interested in speaking on that, it is a five-minute format for each of the presenters at that time. It allows people who weren't able to put in requests to be a formal presenter or who have just sat through the hearings and have some things to add…. It's an opportunity to hear from you. We look forward to that as well.
Without further ado, I will begin, on my left, with introductions. I will ask the members of the committee to introduce themselves, and then we will begin with the proceedings.
L. Mayencourt: Good morning. I'm Lorne Mayencourt. I'm the MLA for Vancouver-Burrard.
H. Bloy: Good morning. I'm Harry Bloy from the new riding of Burquitlam in the lower mainland.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): I'm Tony Bhullar, MLA for Surrey-Newton and Deputy Chair of this committee.
K. Krueger: Hi. I'm Kevin Krueger, MLA for Kamloops–North Thompson. Thanks for having us.
J. Bray: I'm Jeff Bray from the riding of Victoria–Beacon Hill.
B. Kerr: I'm Brian Kerr from Malahat–Juan de Fuca on Vancouver Island.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): All right. With that, the questions we are seeking to gain answers to are laid out in the prebudget consultation paper. If you haven't received a copy yet, there are copies available on the back table. I would encourage you to please take a copy and read through it at your leisure. Some people find it dry, but it's very interesting. It lays out the position we're in quite well, I think.
Without further ado, our first presenter this morning is with Red Mountain Resorts — Mr. Jim Greene. Good morning and welcome, Jim.
J. Greene: Good morning, Mr. Chair, and welcome to committee members. I'm glad you could make it to Trail, British Columbia, to hear what we think of the budget process and provincial finances out here.
The basis for my comments today will be the tourism industry in general. I'm from that background and from Red Mountain Resorts in particular. I am the general manager of Red Mountain, and I have been actively involved in the travel and tourism industry in British Columbia for a number of years now.
To give you a little background on Red Mountain Resorts, we have 150 employees on average in the region during our winter season. That usually runs from November through until mid-April. We are probably the largest tourism attraction in the region, that being the West Kootenays. We are the oldest ski resort in western Canada, with the first lift going up Red Mountain in 1947. We're still in reality just a small business. Our revenues aren't huge. We struggle with the same pains that a lot of small and medium-sized businesses do in this province.
We are, of course, in a globally competitive industry where we must make new capital investments in order to attract new international-destination visitors. The ski business is highly capital-intensive. For example, one new lift up Granite Mountain of the high-speed detachable quad variety, which everyone seems to appreciate these days, runs about $4 million, plus or minus $100,000 for electrical and everything else. It's very capital-intensive for a business that might generate only $3 million in revenues in any given year.
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For us to compete globally, however, we have to start making these kinds of investments. International-destination travellers demand really the best in both lift service and accommodations these days. That's why other resorts in British Columbia, most notably Whistler and Blackcomb, have been so successful. They were able to attract the capital to make that new capital investment.
Over the past month, of course, we've seen world events change dramatically for our tourism industry and where it may be headed over the next year, two years, five years or even ten years down the road. The events of September 11 have certainly not been fully felt yet in this province, but we have seen some initial declines in air capacity, which are sure to hurt our tourism budget or balance of payments.
Like some other resorts in this province, Red Mountain is finding it increasingly difficult in these times to attract the capital investment that's necessary to fund new lifts and to attract new international tourists. It's not just the events of the past three weeks. It has been an endemic problem.
I think the main reason is that capital flows to where it is most appreciated. For too long now in British Columbia, it has been an underappreciated commodity. World money markets can transfer funds instantaneously to the places where they earn the best investments. For at least ten years now, British Columbia has not been seen as the spot where that investment is going to make an adequate return. We've been viewed as a very high tax regime, not competitive with neighbouring jurisdictions — specifically, Alberta and Washington State, where travel and tourism is also a big part of their capital spending initiatives.
Now that's starting to change. Obviously, we've seen some improvement with the tax reductions so far this year. I urge the government to continue with these reductions until we are competitive with Alberta and Washington. It's clearly the way we have to go.
Taxes are just one area of concern for us. High fees and hidden taxation are also responsible for our current situation. I'll give an example specifically from Red Mountain and from the ski industry — that is, the workers compensation situation right now. In the past two years we have seen our workers compensation premiums increase by 33 percent a year, and they're going up a further 33 percent this year. A small company like Red Mountain will be paying $65,000 in workers comp premiums this year.
That's not because we have a high accident rate. Specifically, the problem is that every worker at the mountain is now classified as a lift worker. There was no separation of resort operations from lift maintenance. We're paying the same workers comp premiums for my day care worker as for a lift maintenance worker who's hanging off a tower or working on a bull wheel. The same holds true for our bar service people — food and beverage — and lift-ticket checkers. They've all been rated at the highest rating possible. This is really just an example of a hidden tax of doing business in this province right now.
The list goes on, whether it be in field taxes or in overregulation. There are a number of other areas besides just corporate or small business taxation or personal taxation that are hindering capital investment in this province.
You can raise lift-ticket price only so much before you reach a resistance level and thus lower or negative real rates of return on the capital that's invested. In that situation, capital in British Columbia will not flow into the ski business — or into tourism, for that matter.
Clearly, large budget deficits are also unsustainable. Not only do they mortgage our province's future and hence our children's and grandchildren's futures, but they inherently scare away investment capital as well. I think investors realize that budget deficits lead to ever-growing provincial debt, which must be paid for at some time, possibly and quite probably through even higher levels of taxation.
There's no certainty that an investment made today will not be taxed away at some future date. This province has a structural deficit that is unsustainable. We cannot raise taxes to sustain it, nor can we continue to add billions to the provincial debt every year. To do so will, I think, surely choke the lifeblood out of business investment in this province.
I'm going to use a couple of old analogies. I hark back to one that my dad still uses; that is, you have to cut your suit to fit the cloth. I think for too long now we haven't been following that analogy. In other words — and I'll turn it another way — I think we've been shopping at Harry Rosen's, and we've had a Tip Top budget.
Reduction in the size of government expenditure is absolutely necessary to get this province back in a fiscally sound position. I think there's no denying the fact that it will be a painful process, but it has to be done. One only has to look at other jurisdictions who have made this adjustment successfully.
Probably the top-of-mind experience is Alberta. They recognized that they had a problem back in the late eighties and early nineties. To use another analogy, they went to the doctor, got the prescription and took some pretty strong medicine in '93-94. By the mid- and late nineties, they were well on their way to recovery. Right now, quite frankly, they're in a fiscal situation that tops the nation.
British Columbia, on the other hand, avoided going to the doctor back in the nineties. We knew we had a problem, but we hoped it would somehow go away. It didn't, and now we're in a position where we've been wheeled into the operating room and may require some radical surgery to fix our problem. We don't have a choice anymore.
I urge the government and this committee to report that the majority of the business people that I speak to, both in the tourism sector and around this region, know it's going to be a painful job but would ask that the government just get on with it.
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B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Mr. Greene. I will look to members of the committee, if there are any questions.
L. Mayencourt: How many people do you employ?
J. Greene: About 150, seasonally. Between December 1 and April 1, about 150, and probably ten to 15 year-round.
L. Mayencourt: On the problem you have with WCB and the rates going up, have you talked to them?
J. Greene: Oh, yeah. The Canada West Ski Areas Association lobbied very hard on behalf of all ski areas in the province and got absolutely nowhere.
L. Mayencourt: They didn't recognize that it was not fair?
J. Greene: No. Essentially, they recognized that a 100 percent increase in one year would be unsustainable, so they spread the increase out over three years.
L. Mayencourt: That's very generous of them.
J. Greene: That's as far as they went.
J. Bray: Thank you very much for the presentation. Given that you're in an industry that has a very small margin for your operating expenses versus the ability to actually generate any profit, and given that tourism is one of the growing industries for the province as we start to shift our economy, are there some things you think the provincial government could be doing over the next three or four years, in addition to what you've outlined in our budget process, that could assist the tourism industry, especially for those in the interior and the Kootenays, like yourselves?
J. Greene: Yes, I do believe there are some areas that would be of value. We operate within the B.C. Rockies tourism region. There are, of course, seven tourism regions in British Columbia. Essentially, we do a lot of joint marketing with other ski resorts within the region: Fernie, Kimberley, the new Kicking Horse resort, Whitewater, Panorama. They're all in our region.
Unfortunately, what has happened in the past six years, anyway, is that the budget of Tourism B.C. has been frozen at $23 million. That budget comes out of the HRT, and the $23 million is only a small percentage of what is collected under the room tax. In order for us to become more globally competitive, I think we have to look to jurisdictions that have increased their advertising or marketing dollars into the world market. Australia is one. England, of course, is huge. The Canadian Tourism Commission does a fair bit, but they don't specifically concentrate on individual regions.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I see no further questions this morning, Mr. Greene. I would like to thank you for taking time out of your schedule to come and present. I can assure you, as all of the other presenters we have heard from, that your presentation will be given due consideration in the development of our report, which is due out on November 15. Thank you again.
Our next presenter this morning is Ms. Brenda Potter. Good morning.
B. Potter: I'd like to thank you for the opportunity today to share some of my thoughts and concerns. As was mentioned, my name is Brenda Potter. I have two children, who are 14 and 12. We live in Nelson. We've been living in the West Kootenays here for about six years now. I've spent most of my life in B.C., and both of my children were born in B.C.
I've been raising my kids as a single mom since they were about six and four. When I was presented with the opportunity to move to Nelson from the lower mainland, I was thrilled. The idea of moving my kids to a smaller town felt like a much safer and healthier environment to raise them in. It has been the best move for my family and myself and resulted in tremendous positive changes in my life.
I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a home about four years ago. With a one-income family, that's something that would have forever been out of my reach at the coast. I've been an active and productive member of the community and volunteered my time and effort on many occasions. My kids also have been involved in many activities in the community.
Now I would like to focus on some of my concerns. I was going to try and keep this presentation very personal. However, many of the issues recently announced by the government affect so many of my family, friends and members of the community that I feel I need to address them as well.
Since I've arrived in Nelson, the economy seems to be slowly but steadily declining. I don't have many stats, graphs or charts on this, but I do have many friends who have moved away for lack of employment. It seems that every day there are more and more houses for sale in the area. The prices of houses have dropped quite dramatically since I purchased my house four years ago.
This concerns me. If I needed to go to another institution to refinance my mortgage, I may well not be able to get the funds, as my appraised value would probably be less than the amount I have mortgaged on the house. As well, if I should need to move away for some reason, the amount I would be able to sell my home for would probably be less than the financed value.
Nelson is a town where the provincial government is an employer of a significant number of people. Gordon Campbell said that the cuts to government will range from 20 percent to 50 percent. Cuts of that magnitude to one of our largest employers, if not our largest employer, will devastate our community. More people will need to relocate to find work and, again, our economy will slide further into recession. House prices will continue to drop. Local and small busi-
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nesses will continue to be affected and will perhaps be forced to close.
I would like to be able to address specific issues on the government cuts, as they affect me personally. However, very few details have been released. To talk of such budget cuts without providing details, I feel, shows a lack of respect and consideration for both those people who provide the services and for those who access public programs that may be slashed.
B.C. has the second-smallest public service in Canada, and I believe other options need to be seriously considered. If government goes ahead with plans to cut huge numbers of jobs out of the community here, it's obvious that the local communities will suffer economically.
Even the announced proposed cuts have brought fear and uncertainty to many people in the community, friends who I know will be affected, and they have stopped spending money on anything except the essentials. If a large number of government jobs are lost in the area it affects more than just those people who are laid off. Those laid off don't have any money to spend in the local economy, and small businesses and their employees will be affected. I don't think anyone who's laid off will be going skiing up at Red Mountain.
Finance minister Gary Collins says the government will face a deficit of $6 billion by the 2003-04 fiscal year. This deficit figure is close to the cost of the personal and business tax breaks offered by the government. The Finance minister also states that tax breaks pay for themselves. I question, then, why dramatic cuts are needed to make up for them. If tax cuts are meant to stimulate the economy, the layoff of thousands of employees will have the opposite effect.
I'm also concerned for the safety of my family. With a very lean public sector, many ministries already believe they are understaffed. With further dramatic job cuts, I worry that our water resources, our forests, our highways and our children will not be properly protected.
A further concern for the safety and well-being of my family includes proposed cuts to Pharmacare. This could directly affect the health of my parents. I also heard recently that for-profit clinics were being considered. I see that as the introduction of a two-tier health care system, and that is a direct threat on the quality of health care provided to the residents of this province.
This government has continued to portray health care and education as their priorities. These two items appear to be exempt from the budget review process. However, it has now been announced that the funding in these two ministries will be frozen, and I believe that translates into program and service cuts over the next three years.
The need to provide further funds in health care has been demonstrated over and over. This freeze will cut off the ability to make more hospital beds available and have more surgery rooms operating, and I don't see any reduction in waiting lists or improvements to the greatly lacking health care system.
Another issue that causes me a great deal of concern is the possible cuts to social assistance. I have a few friends who work in the ministry and other friends who are clients. The people I know who work in this field are already struggling, trying to meet the needs of clients with their limited staff. The workloads they are dealing with cause them very high stress levels and thus lower their quality of life.
These workers cannot just turn people away who are jobless and who cannot afford to pay their rent or buy food. If a few thousand of our public servants are about to lose their jobs, it appears that the government is about to increase the number of welfare recipients, rather than decrease them.
Another good friend of mine recently received a letter, as did 100,000 other people in the province, urging him to find employment. The letter referred to a job being the best security, and that social assistance was only a temporary solution until a job could be found. It also referred to a financial assistance worker being able to assist him in providing information and finding work.
The letter quoted a jobs partnership program with 6,180 vacant jobs. I would be interested to know the geographic location of these jobs, as they certainly are not available in this area. This friend of mine has been actively seeking employment. There are very few jobs or opportunities in this area right now. We need more jobs to decrease welfare payments, not more unemployed people.
Before I run out of time, I'd like to offer for your consideration a few other options rather than dramatic cuts to the public sector. A balanced budget is reached by increasing revenues and decreasing expenditures. Why, in light of the upcoming deficit, would the government continue to decrease its revenues with the elimination of photo radar and the already granted tax cuts?
Yes, it may be nice to have a few extra dollars in my pocket, but not if it comes at the cost of drastic cuts to the public service. Don't grant the tax cuts scheduled for January. Realize that the tax cuts already made were a mistake. Cancel them, and use the funds to cover costs.
In the past year, deputy ministers have received wage increases far higher than any other public servants. Are these ministers necessary, and were the increases warranted? This government has the largest number of cabinet ministers in B.C. history. This means that more cabinet salaries are being paid out than ever before. Are all of those costs necessary?
Government exists to meet the needs of its citizens. Public servants are citizens just like the rest of us. They pay taxes, they are consumers, and they are voters. Because of their work, they devote themselves to providing services to our community and our citizens. Moving millions from B.C.'s economy will have a devastating impact on our community. Perhaps the deadline for a balanced budget should be extended, and the government should continue to put some money into the economy to effect stimulation.
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I truly hope that this committee will listen to this community's concerns and consider alternative options and that the decision to proceed with drastic cuts has not already been finalized.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Ms. Potter, for your presentation this morning.
I will look to members of the committee if there are any questions. Mr. Bray.
J. Bray: Thank you very much, Brenda, for your presentation, and I appreciate that you had a perspective both personal and for all of Nelson.
You mentioned in part of your presentation that the economy had slowly been deteriorating in Nelson over a number of years. One of the things we're faced with is that if you take the tax cuts and put them aside so that we don't have tax cuts, and if everything else is the same — growth is the same, and expenditures grew at the same rate — we'd have a structural deficit of $3.8 billion in the year 2003-4. Even without tax cuts, we're still facing a situation where we are spending more than we are bringing in. We've been doing that for many years now.
You indicated that Nelson has seen a slow decline in their economy. Given that you've lived on the coast and now you're in Nelson, do you have suggestions on how government might deal with the $3.8 billion deficit and ways which government might help Nelson stimulate new economy, to actually reverse that trend over the last number of years?
B. Potter: Well, I think the best way to do that is to stimulate the people who live here to spend their money locally. In the years I've been here, there has already been a decline in people who work for the provincial government in this area. I really believe that the provincial government is the highest employer, and since they've been moving away from regional offices, there have already been a lot of cuts of available government jobs in this area.
There are plenty of ways the government may be able to do cuts, but I don't think that government jobs are the way to make those cuts. I think that higher up in the government, there's a lot of money spent that could be spent more wisely and put back into the community rather than being spent on the people who are rich and don't need those kinds of cuts. They already have the money to spend in the economy.
H. Bloy: How do you see us stimulating the economy here? How do you see us getting private enterprise to hire people to get the investment required to create jobs?
B. Potter: Again, I think the best way to stimulate the economy is to be able to provide more jobs to the people who live here. If they are here and can spend their money here, that's going to increase the small business. As long as there are more people with more money in their pockets and the ability to spend it locally, that's going to increase the economy. More people will be able to go into business on their own. Small businesses that are already established will be able to grow rather than close, as I've watched many do during the time I've been here.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I see no further questions, Ms. Potter. I'd like to thank you again for taking time out of your day to come and present your views. I can assure you that what we hear in the presentations will be given due consideration in the development of our report. Thank you again.
Our next presenter this morning is with the Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society, Ms. Gail Lavery.
G. Lavery: Good morning. Is this microphone working okay?
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I think it's going to be.
G. Lavery: Lovely. Okay. I presume that someone will tell me if it isn't.
I would like to thank the committee for coming to Trail and taking time to listen to what we have to say. As I was introduced, I am executive director of the Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society, FAIR, which is an umbrella organization of a variety of family service programs in Trail. I am going to be speaking from the perspective of FAIR, and I'll be speaking of and on behalf of FAIR's programs, but my points are equally true of the other not-for-profit societies in this community.
FAIR is an active member of the Trail family, youth and child committee, which consists of other non-profit societies, government ministry representatives, parents and youth. As a member of that society, I am convinced that there is no overlap in social services in this community. That's certainly one of the issues we've looked at seriously in the last few years. All of the current services are vitally important.
In fact, we have a fragile net in this community, and each component is dependent upon the assistance of other components. Just to be really clear, I'm not here saying that I don't want to see tax cuts affect the programs of my particular organization. I don't, but I think it is much greater than that, so I want to make sure that the context is understood.
A government that does what it says it's going to do, reduce taxes and balance the budget, certainly deserves our respect. At the same time, we depend on our government to make wise decisions based on the best information available at the time a decision is being made. I'm hoping to be part of the group that informs you and enables you to make the best possible decision, as you're faced with right now.
My concern is that it may seem necessary to reduce or eliminate some services to families and vulnerable people in this community. I want to put forward information to support the position that this would not be in the best interests of Trail in the short run and,
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indeed, would be potentially disastrous in the long run.
FAIR's programs help individuals and families develop their capacities to help themselves. Without these programs, some people would be desperate and have nowhere to turn for help with the realities of physical or sexual abuse, addictions or the despair that can lead to suicide.
Others would manage, but without the benefits that better parenting skills, personal or family counselling, life skills and assistance with quality child care can offer. They would therefore be less able to fulfil their roles as parents, workers and involved, participating members of a healthy community. We certainly concur with members of the Liberal government who have stated that families need to be responsible for families, and indeed they do.
We see many vulnerable people in this community who need some help in doing that. In some cases, it's short-term help — people who have been coping well, but now there's a new marriage with stepchildren on both sides, and things are falling apart. The more that the stepmom or stepdad does, the worse it's happening. We're looking at teenagers who maybe are going to be out on the street. These are strong families, families who can cope. Six sessions, maybe, of family counselling with parents and kids could get things back on track.
Yes, they'll manage, but they won't manage as well. We're seeing many people who've never had the resources in their family of origin, have not had the fair breaks and opportunities that some people have had. They don't have anywhere to turn right now.
That capacity-building takes a lot of steps. It might be starting with one of our programs to deal with the presenting issue, moving on to programs to enhance skills and working into job-readiness, then getting into the employment world and having the parenting skills they need so those patterns aren't repeated. I want to make the point that FAIR's programs are needed, effective and definitely cost-efficient.
I've given you a handout that is sort of broken down into some of the programs that the different funding ministries are funding. I'm not going to go into any great detail, but I want to talk about the fact that the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services is funding our transition house, which also includes an alcohol and drug supportive recovery bed.
We've realized in this community that the initial needs for transition houses have to some extent changed. There certainly still are women leaving abusive relationships who need a place to come and make some decisions and get back on their feet.
There are also a lot of women who are dealing with far more systemic issues, and the alcohol and drug supportive recovery bed is a very cost-efficient place for a woman to be while she's waiting to get into treatment. She's maintaining her sobriety during that time, and it can be a month's wait. Sometimes there's a support system afterwards, for a few weeks, before she's ready to go back into her own home.
It also funds second-stage housing, apartment buildings where a woman with children or without children can live for up to a year, never longer than a year. We don't believe the program is effective if it goes on for too long a time. She's meeting on a regular basis with counsellors and support systems, and she's working on a personal plan to get her life back together, whether that's abuse counselling, upgrading her education, perhaps taking college courses or pre-employment courses. She's getting the support she needs all in one place, connected with all the services.
We've had some amazing success stories come from there. In fact, some of our success stories, we have to remind ourselves, might not look like success stories. It's someone who hasn't been coping for 40 years in the community, and after that year, she's coping. She's may not be thriving, but she's coping. She's managing on her own. She's in a volunteer position, looking to have that turn into a paid position. Her children are safe. That's a huge success for us.
It also funds the children-who-witness-violence counselling program and the child care resource and referral program. I just want to mention the child care resource and referral program for a moment, because that supports people in this community who have day care businesses. That could be licensed day cares, or it could be licence-not-required home day cares.
It helps these people get their forms, get their insurance. There's a toy lending library, where if I've got a home day care and don't have a lot of overhead, I can come and borrow some big play equipment and keep it for two or three weeks, then turn it in and get something else.
It also provides services for parents. Parents, whether they have their children in day care or at home, can come in and purchase art supplies. They can take part in workshops and learn more about parenting skills. There's a huge membership in this community, both Trail and Castlegar.
Now, the Ministry of Children and Family Development funds a whole bunch of our programs. I'm not going to go over them in great detail, because you have them in the presentation, but I do want to say that they're cost-efficient. Many of them are group programs.
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General and the specialized victim assistance program. That's domestic violence, sexual assault, criminal harassment and children's sexual abuse. They work very closely with the RCMP victim assistance program and do referrals back and forth. Our program has the unique training to help women, children and men who have been victims of particular types of domestic violence assaults. They also have the training to prepare children as witnesses in the court system.
The Attorney General and Ministry Responsible for Treaty Negotiations funds a small parenting-after-separation information group program. The Ministry of Skills Development and Labour? Work connections. We have that program as a subcontract to the Trail Skills Centre, and they have a lot of information, which
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I believe they may be presenting to you, particularly around the skills gap. We believe we will be having skilled jobs available in this community, and it's important to us that we have the people in this community trained for those jobs, so we can get the people in this community at work.
Kootenay–Boundary Community Health Services Society funds our crisis line, which is a 24-hour crisis line. It covers the entire West Kootenays and provides everything from suicide intervention; to referral; to whatever particular service a person might be needing; to just somewhere to talk when someone's had a huge issue in their life, a decision to make or perhaps a disturbing death, and they need to talk about that to somebody who's not involved.
The operations of these programs are supplemented by alternative funding. We get funding from the United Way, Fruitvale Community Chest and donations from services clubs and individual community members. That is very much a value-added factor that they and other non-profit societies have. We have volunteer boards of directors who are very connected in the community and have access to other sources of revenue, so we can supplement the funding that you're giving us.
The funding you're giving us covers — just covers, but covers — our basic core services. We can leverage that with other money, so we can support a child in one of our programs to perhaps get the skates he needs to get involved in hockey, where he wouldn't otherwise. That can really turn things around.
I want to talk a little bit about some of the stats, the facts and figures, and we've just highlighted a few things. The point I'm making is that this is small potatoes in terms of the provincial budget but has a huge impact on a community like Trail. We have a $1.3 million budget, and that funds 820 hours of direct front-line service every week.
Highlighting a few programs, just as examples. Our transition house can provide a safe haven for between one and nine women and/or children for two weeks for under $10,000. A woman can live and be supported in an intensive programmed environment at second-stage housing for $8,900 for an entire year. That is not including her rent. Most women are receiving income assistance. Some are in low-paid jobs. Our rents are gauged at the minimum rent that a person would be able to pay on income assistance. That's all of the programs and support she receives for that year.
FAIR has workers who can provide respite for families with special needs children and youth. Workers provide children with opportunities for socialization, recreation and skill development while giving the family a necessary respite. Four hours per week can be spent with one child for only $80.25.
Talking about that program for a moment, the community came to us and said: "We have a lot of children with special needs who've been together since they were preschoolers in our former children's development centre. Now a lot of them are in their mid-teens. We're wanting to see something that's meeting their recreational needs better."
The parents came to us, so our workers and parent group formed a Friday fun club, where these kids, mostly young teens, come to our office and do crafts. They go bowling. They do a lot of activities that our program wouldn't be able to fully fund, but the parents have assisted with fundraising. The parents assist with the activities, and it's a huge success.
We have a Halloween party coming up. We expect we'll probably have about 30 kids, way more than we're funded to serve, but there are kids who don't have services, kids with special needs who've never managed to get past the wait-list. That's a wide-open invitation, and they'll be there and will be having a lot of fun.
A parenting group with eight members can be run for two hours per week for under $40. We have a number of parenting groups. We have something called Nobody's Perfect, which highlights potential at-risk parents. They would not necessarily all be, but they're low-income young parents who've not had a lot of skills themselves. It's a parenting program based on encouraging them: "Yes, you do know what you're doing. You're on the right track. Here's some information, and here's where you may come and get some help if you need it."
We also have something called CORE. Our children are in one room with children's early education providers — we call them preschool teachers — and the parents are in another room, watching the kids on closed-circuit TV. They see little Johnny try to hit little Billy over the head with a fire truck — we usually try to intervene before that happens — and they get to say: "Oh, that's a nice way of intervening. I wouldn't have thought of that option." They can talk amongst themselves and go, "Yeah, I tried that last week, and that is working for me," or "I tried it, and it's not working." They give each other a lot of support.
These are group programs. They don't cost a lot of money. Women who have been victimized by battering, rape, incest or childhood sexual abuse can be provided with counselling so that they can minimize the impact on their lives and end the repetitive pattern that often follows abuse. Thirty hours of such counselling costs $723 per woman.
As I said earlier, this can be one of a series of services that a person might need to get her life back together. We have programs for women; we have programs for men. We have programs for teens and for children, for people in their roles as family members and for people as individuals. I truly believe they are all needed.
I've also given you some information about Trail, which highlights the fact that we do have a higher-than-provincial unemployment rate and a lower-than-provincial average salary. Speaking again on the impact of my organization and of my fear and the fear of all of my employees that we could be losing programs, which would absolutely mean losing jobs, we don't have any overhead to make any kind of a cut.
We absorbed a 1.5 percent cut from the Ministry for Children and Families a couple of years ago, and it was
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incredibly difficult just to take in a 1.5 percent cut without cutting service hours. Any other cut would absolutely be service hours, which are employee hours.
We don't have high salaries compared to Cominco standards, but we're proud of the fact that we have reasonable, livable wages. We're certainly not paying what people might be looking at if they were trying to survive on minimum wage. I don't believe that's feasible in this community.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Gail, our time is very close to running down.
G. Lavery: I'll end up right now.
As one of the employers in Trail, we bring money to the Trail economy. We have people down here — 25 to 30 people, five days a week — who are buying lunches and doing their shopping and adding to the economy of Trail. I think that is important.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I know it's a great deal to get all the information in within the time frames allotted, but in order to hear from as many as we can, we have to limit it. I thank you. I will look to the members of the committee for questions.
L. Mayencourt: I come from the non-profit sector, so I appreciate all of the good work you're doing. I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions about that agency. How many people did you say you have working for you?
G. Lavery: We've got about 60 people on our payroll, but it's about 25 FTEs, full-time-equivalents. A lot of people are in halftime positions. It would be 25 full-time people if everyone were full-time.
L. Mayencourt: The money that you get from private sources, from the community, is that from local businesses? Do you get lots of support in that way?
G. Lavery: Services groups are very good — the Lions, for instance. Some are just plain community donations from individuals. We haven't had businesses donate to us on a regular basis. They've supported us in things like advertising for special events and donations in kind. We haven't managed to reach the business community, and it's certainly something we're trying to do.
L. Mayencourt: Within your organization and within that group of, let's say, 25 full-timers, do you have someone that does development work — raises money for you?
G. Lavery: We do not. We all do that off the side of our desks. In fact, I've got a fundraising committee of myself and about six staff members just getting together. We are looking at strategies and how to do this in a more effective and more holistic way.
J. Bray: I come from the Ministry of Human Resources — for 13 years — and I was particularly pleased to hear your philosophy on your second-stage housing. I think that's a philosophy that's underused throughout the province, and I commend you for it.
On the page that lists the variety of programs and where you get your funding from, I count at least 17 potential separate contracts. I imagine there are actually contracts within some of those line items.
G. Lavery: That's correct.
J. Bray: Each one of those contracts has a percentage of an FTE for administration of the contract. I'm wondering whether or not you see some efficiencies if government were to say that you were the primary service provider for social services in this community. Rather than all the individual contracts, the individual monitoring and the different forms and everything else, you'd get one cheque for core funding with some outcome measures that said: "Rather than how many came into your program, what were the results?"
There would be some efficiencies for government, but there would be no change in your ability to provide services. Perhaps there'd even be an increase to meet demands within a fiscal year, if you were given the funding in a batch and then measured on your outcomes.
G. Lavery: I think that would be of great assistance to us. It would allow us to spend less of our time monitoring the individual contracts and whether we'd received revenue. Our administration consists of four people, only one of whom is full-time. I'm not even quite full-time. That would allow that group of people, who do everything from answer the phones, create the paycheques and supervise and monitor the programs, to do something more, like private fundraising in the community. That would be of great assistance to us, yes.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): To keep to our time frame, we are going to have to move on. I know there are many questions, and it is a struggle for both sides of the table, wanting to present and then wanting to ask questions. Gail, I want to thank you for coming out and putting forward such detailed information to the committee. We can assure you that we will take it under consideration.
Our next presenter this morning is Susan Wilkie.
S. Wilkie: Gord McAdams is our city councillor. He's asked to come and sit with me and maybe add on to the end of my presentation.
My name is Sue Wilkie. I live in Nelson. My husband, Wendell, and I moved to Nelson 26 years ago for the pristine beauty, clean water and small-city atmosphere. We moved to Nelson because we wanted a safe community to raise our family in. We have four sons, all young adults and teens.
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We started our small tire mechanical business about seven years ago. This supported three families year-round and up to five families during the busy season. Because of the economic downturn in Nelson, we were forced to close this small business last year, and it was devastating. The dedication, hard work, financial and personal sacrifices both of and by our family were many.
Wendell worked six days a week, 14 hours a day. He was also on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He was on call for those having experienced the misfortune of breaking down on the highway, or for those working in remote areas and unable to get to the shop during regular hours. He was seldom able to participate in any family functions — like attending our sons' soccer games — unless they fell on a Sunday, and he was still on call on Sundays.
Thirteen years ago I was successful in winning a merit competition for a position in the public service. For the first time in our lives, we could afford to take the family to the dentist without great financial burden. All my four sons and I have had to take medication that cost a total of $1,250 a month. Without extended health benefits, we would never have been able to afford this.
Now I am the major financial support of our family. Our oldest son just moved in May, after completing college and successfully getting a job in Victoria. We currently have another son in college in Kamloops, one in grade 12, and our youngest in grade 11. Our two youngest sons are planning to go to college or university, if at all financially possible.
After not working for ten months, Wendell has just picked up some casual seasonal work and is soon to be laid off, which will leave me carrying the financial ball once again. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would ever be in the situation we are now in, with my husband out of business and working casual, the very real possibility of up to 50 percent cuts in the public service and my job gone, and having at least three of our four sons still financially dependent on us.
The economy in Nelson is not flourishing. Five years ago there was not a piece of real estate to be found. Now I'll drive down any street, and there is at least one house, possibly two, on each block. Very good friends of ours had to close their restaurant a couple of months ago and move to Vancouver to make a living. If 20 to 50 percent of the government jobs are cut, the impact on our local economy and community will be devastating. I can't help but wonder how many more houses will go up for sale, and how many more businesses will close.
One of our major employers is the provincial government. As public servants, we are expected to treat the public with respect. What about the respect and dignity of government employees? We are a tight-knit community and thrive on the network we have built. The work we do is worthwhile and valued by the segments of the communities in the West Kootenays. I am asking you on behalf of my community and my fellow workers to reconsider the drastic cuts to the public service. Consider the negative economic impact this will have if you go forward with your budget cuts.
G. McAdams: Perhaps I could just add that we have 600 direct provincial government jobs in the city of Nelson. In a city of 10,000, through a matter of scale, 600 jobs is incredible. You take that to Kamloops, or Prince George, or Victoria, or any of the other places, and 600 jobs would get lost in the economy. In Nelson, it's major.
If we get a significant cut, Nelson will hurt drastically, so we're asking you to be very careful when you look at Nelson. For example, just last week a car dealer in Nelson had planned a $400,000 renovation, but having heard Premier Campbell's speech, he has put it on hold. That's not saying he's not going to do it, but he wants to hear the fallout before he goes ahead. We're cautiously anticipating what you come up with.
From a personal side, I work for the new Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. I think it's an excellent idea. I've welcomed it, and I'm glad you've gone this way. We're dedicated professionals who ski, hike and live in wood houses, so we know we have to cut trees. We drink the water, so we know you have to have clean water. We like to go fishing and snowmobiling and everything on the weekend just like everybody else does.
All we're asking is to allow us to do this template for land use. We'll help you get there. I hope you look at that when you look at the cuts. We can help you achieve some of your economic goals by getting the land use settled right on a very low scale. I know that the clients I used to work with — in fact, Red Mountain was one of them — just said: "Quit moving the goalposts. Give us a template. Help us do it. Don't say no. Just say how, and we'll get there."
I think we can do that. I welcome you on this bold initiative of sustainable resource management. I think together we can make it happen and certainly that's what Nelson looks at with its tourism economy.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you, Gord, and thank you, Susan, for your presentation here this morning. I note that there are a couple of questions from members of the committee.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Thank you, Susan. My first question is: when did the economic downturn take place in your town, and do you have any explanation for why it might have taken place?
S. Wilkie: I think it has deteriorated over the last five years or so. I really don't have any explanation why. I think if you keep jobs in your area, the spending is in your area. There's been a cut to the public service over the last few years with the NDP government, but it's going to be nothing like the future predictions with the Liberal government.
H. Bloy: You talk about the downturn and the businesses that closed over the last five years. That's one of the reasons why we're coming out to all the
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communities — to talk to you to see how we can stimulate the economy. How do you see us getting private business investing again in British Columbia and coming back to this area?
G. McAdams: In Nelson, if you look down Main Street, which has done pretty well, we probably have more good quality outdoor recreation shops per capita than anywhere in B.C. We kind of look like Banff, even though we don't want to go to the scale of Banff. I think the tourism, which Mr. Greene looked at…. When I look at Nelson, I like to look at it as the mixed-farm approach. You have logging, mining, tourism, seniors, education and any other crop you can get going, so when one drops a little bit, the others sort of carry you. You've got another crop to carry you.
A Voice: The most popular crop?
G. McAdams: I think Nelson has tremendous tourism potential. I worked in B.C. parks for 24 years, and now I do licensing for a new cat skiing operation and some other lodges. I wrote the wildlife guidelines so that they know what they have to do if they're in grizzly bear country or something.
I think the promotion idea that Mr. Greene had…. Especially with Internet now, a lot of these back-country lodges get 90 to 95 percent of their bookings direct from Austria or Germany over the Internet. It has allowed them to play in a bigger league. I think we have to be creative in that area. Some of the ideas that Rossland is having — to be a destination resort — will have spinoffs so people stay in the area.
At the same time, get some other crops going. I know Nelson's got her little university. We're looking at bringing in Chinese students. We're trying to move out into as many areas as we can, but I'm really glad you're looking at it as well.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): All right. Well, Gord and Susan, I would like to thank you both for coming out today and presenting to our committee.
Our next presenter this morning is Colleen Hutton.
C. Hutton: Good morning. Mine's a little shorter and sweeter than the rest, but it is nice to be following up after some that have common themes.
I currently live and work in Nelson, where I moved five and a half years ago from Ontario. I'm a single parent with three children — boys. I was just reminded that boys are children too. I left Ontario because I faced unemployment for the first time in my life since I was 15 years old. My position as a child care community consultant was eliminated when Premier Harris restructured the finances in Ontario. Child care was one of the areas they restructured.
In my selection of a place to relocate to, I knew I needed to leave the province. It was the same all over the province in terms of professional possibilities for me, so I researched each of the provinces in Canada. I knew I had to find a province where child care was respected. This respect was proven through high standards and licensing regulations for the child care that's provided, high staff requirements in terms of qualifications for people who provide the care and support from the people of the province themselves.
I chose B.C. for all of those reasons five and a half years ago, and I was actually successful in finding full-time employment. As the story goes, we loaded up the car and we moved to B.C.
As is experienced by most parents, once I got here, I needed to find child care for myself. All of my children were under the age of 11. I didn't know the community that well, except for the location where I worked and the school my children went to, so I found a local child care resource and referral program and was successful in obtaining a list of people who provided care and group care that was provided for out-of-school. I'm quite creative with my child care, by the way, because I do have to meet the needs of each of my individual children as well, so I did combinations of licensed out-of-school care, licensed in-home care and in-my-own-home care.
I needed to access a subsidy. I barely made the subsidy limit on what I was making. There was no way I would have been able to pay the full price of child care without this subsidy. Even at that, there's still always a parent portion on top of what the subsidy covers.
Within the first few months of moving to Nelson, one of my sons was experiencing a lot of problems with the transition of the move. We were experiencing a lot of behaviour with him, so I contacted one of the local social workers. I was able to obtain a child care worker for him, somebody who worked not only with my son but also with the family as a unit to get us on track in terms of what we needed to do.
I also obtained counselling for all of my children at Nelson community services for the same reasons: in order to help them with this transition. It's huge to leave your extended family and move all the way across the country. To tell you the truth, I didn't realize that this impact on them was going to happen. I'm very glad I made the move, and they're certainly stable now.
I found all these resources through my colleagues in the child care field. In my professional life, I actually am the director of three child care programs in Nelson. I refer parents daily to areas in the community that access the same supports I had to access when I moved here. These could be parents that have lived in the area for a long time but didn't know that they could go here, didn't know where the phone number was for subsidy. They didn't know that they could access Saturday care at another centre in town. They didn't know there was counselling available for their children, that mental health was there, that social workers aren't big, bad people who come in and grab your children, that they're also there to support you and help you get your family unit back together.
Affordable, accessible, quality child care — and I have to say those three words; I'm sure you've heard them all across the province — is the cornerstone for family services in the community. Child care has estab-
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lished links. We don't work in isolation. You can't work in isolation with child care. We work with MCFD, we work with the Education people, and we work with the Health people to provide children and their families the services they need to be a successful family unit within society.
Social workers who are responsible either for protection, for the community living aspect of it or for family services will often request to place a child in one of the child care centres in order to stabilize things for the family so that the family can then access some other services. Mom and Dad can't go and access services with little Johnny in tow. Johnny also needs some stabilization as well while they go do what they need to do.
Child care professionals also assist families and teachers as a child enters school, especially if the child requires extra support. It used to be the term "special needs children" or "children with special needs." The terminology changes with the season, I swear. We take children that require extra support due to developmental delays, behaviour problems, syndromes, etc.
In the child care centre, we work with that child at least a year prior to entering kindergarten. We can then go meet with the school and say: "This is what works with this child, and this is what doesn't work. This is what you need to have in place." It certainly makes everything more successful.
Health nurses and pediatricians will also make referrals for a child to enter a child care program based on what needs they've seen that the family requires, and it's reciprocated. Child care workers also go and ask these professionals for help in all of the areas I've just mentioned as well.
Affordability of care still remains a constant issue for families. The out-of-school funding has been the reason for children in our community who didn't access child care programs a year ago, who were going home with lunch kids, who were hanging around the playground…. We heard that from teachers. These kids are hanging around the playground till 4:30, and their mom swings by and picks them up, because they can't afford it.
With the new school funding that has come into place — two of my programs are in fact out-of-school programs that I supervise — I have seen the enrolment double. These are kids that normally weren't in care. They have now doubled. The parents can now rest assured that their child is safe and healthy and in a quality program while they're working.
Affordable care also gives parents the ability to work, to look for work or to go to school. The cost to me for child care when my children were of preschool age was equivalent to my monthly rent amount. I actually had to decrease my hours of work in order to afford to work.
I like to use analogies, so bear with me here. You know those wooden blocks that four-year-olds build these magnificent towers with? They know that if they pull a block out of that structure, the structure is weakened. They know that if they don't have a strong foundation, the whole structure is going to collapse.
I call this foundation a quality, affordable, accessible child care program with community supports to keep it strong. We call this structure healthy, productive children and families, which is the basis for a stable, economically strong community.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Ms. Hutton, I thank you very much for your presentation this morning. I will look to members of the committee.
L. Mayencourt: Thank you very much for your thoughtful presentation. You mentioned how we've developed child care in the province by establishing standards and the number of people that are required to perform services and such. On the other side of it is how we measure the performance of a government service or program. In the case of child care, what is the proper way to measure that we're getting good results?
C. Hutton: Well, I think if you look in the school system…. I mean, it's been proven. I'm sure you've all heard of Fraser Mustard and his field. Every dollar spent for a child under the age of six is going to save you $2 later on. Those stats are out there. There's all kinds of research and documentation out there on that. Look at how many people can't work because they don't have child care. Parents aren't going to work if they don't have child care. They can't take their children to work with them. That's not reality.
L. Mayencourt: Dr. Mustard will be giving a presentation to our caucus a little later this month, so we'll look forward to that.
One other question. You mentioned that you had to reduce your hours in order to qualify for the subsidy.
C. Hutton: Oh, no. It wasn't to qualify for the subsidy. I reduced my hours of work because if I worked full time, then I had to pay more for child care — right? I had a child in school, so I needed after-school care, kindergarten….
L. Mayencourt: So there's a break-even point.
C. Hutton: There was a break-even point, which is kind of sad. I didn't access subsidy in Ontario, because you can't get subsidy in Ontario in unlicensed child care. In my community, there was no licensed child care. The only licensed child care was the nursery school that I ran.
L. Mayencourt: The reason I'm asking is that I heard this in another presentation, and I'm just wondering. As a child care provider, if someone's got a job and they're accessing child care and they are at a certain income level, they can then qualify for a child care subsidy. Is that at the right level?
C. Hutton: Oh, heavens no. The subsidy rates haven't changed in eight years in this province. Let me give you an example. A full-time preschooler will have
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an average cost of about $480 a month for the care. Subsidy covers $368 of that.
L. Mayencourt: My question really is: at what level does the parent qualify for that?
C. Hutton: That magic number is almost kept a secret. I think I heard the other day that it's about $22,000. It's very low.
L. Mayencourt: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Ms. Hutton, maybe just a question from me. In looking at the challenges we face in British Columbia, I'm just wondering if you have any ideas. I truly believe that what we've done in the past isn't sustainable. We continually provide more than we can afford, and that's the basis of the deficit. Do you have any ideas?
C. Hutton: You're thinking of Child Care B.C., which was repealed.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Just broadly, actually. I was seeking your input to see if you had ideas.
C. Hutton: I think child care needs a plan. There's no plan; it's hit-or-miss. It's really frustrating. You've got some child care, like supported child care, under one ministry; you've got child care itself under another ministry; then you've got the subsidy system under a third ministry. Child care is very fragmented. There is no plan.
I also am aware of the federal money that has come down for early child development. Each province has the ability to use it for what they want, which is how Child Care B.C. was paid. They paid out $11 million of the $25 million received this year. You still have $13-some-odd million in your pockets to spend for child care before the next rollout comes from the feds. You may want to look at that in terms of what you can do for parents and families in our communities.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Again, 15 minutes is a very short time frame. I think you did a very effective job of putting your presentation forward. Thanks very much, Colleen.
Moving along this morning, our next presenter is Pam St. Thomas.
Good morning, Pam.
P. St. Thomas: Good morning to you and the members of the committee. Thank you for hearing me today. I'm going to speak mostly from my written submission to keep me on time and on target so that we meet the ten minutes. When reserving my speaking time with the Clerk of Committees, I was asked which segment of the community I would be representing this morning. I found myself continuing to go back to that one question throughout the process of deciding what I should say to you today.
Who am I, and why is it important that I participate in this select standing committee? As a 52-year-old woman who chose to live in the Kootenays over 20 years ago, I raised four children in Nelson as a single mother supported on income assistance for part of that time. Since arriving in Nelson, I volunteered with numerous community organizations and groups, including the Salvation Army, as an outreach worker and Christmas coordinator. For the past 12 years, I've worked for the province with the Ministry of Transportation.
Part of the reason I'm here today is to address our two-tiered province. A two-tiered system is bad enough, but I'm finding that British Columbia has become a two-tiered province. Those that have and those that have not, those that want and those that want not, divide our population.
Our education system offers choices for public and private schools, but that's not what I mean by two-tiered. I mean that the children who live in poverty are treated differently in their communities and in their schools. It has been proven that children need to be well-nourished to learn. Some lower mainland schools have hot-lunch programs, but I believe that schools should also have breakfast programs to ensure that low-income children get the best possible start to their day.
I also believe that low-income families are disenfranchised by not being able to provide a computer for their families. As I'm sure all of you will agree, in the twenty-first century a computer is as necessary as we once thought television was in the family home, yet our low-income families cannot provide this item. Yes, schools have computers available, but schools are not open to students in the evening or on weekends.
Home is where computers should be if we want our children to routinely use them to advance their education. Government and schools could recycle older computers to low-income families but instead choose to ship machines from the outlying areas to the lower mainland for auction. Many outdated computers end up in landfills. Nelson offers neither computers nor lunch and breakfast programs for children living below the poverty line.
Both single- and dual-parented families living on income assistance find it increasingly more difficult to provide even the most rudimentary care for their children. With increasing costs for housing, utilities and food, many parents are faced with having to choose between food and paying their B.C. Gas bill or having to face eviction due to non-payment of rent. Parents should not have to choose between feeding their children and heating their homes.
Parents faced with these decisions on a daily basis live under a great deal of stress, because they fear having their children taken away from them when they can't provide for their day-to-day needs or having to voluntarily place them in the care of the province because they can't meet those needs.
In some ways, British Columbia is already a two-tiered province for much of its health needs. People
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who either pay for their own prescription drugs or have private coverage are often prescribed name-brand drugs, while others on income assistance or disability benefits are often prescribed generic drugs even though there may be serious side effects that can require additional medication to treat.
I am concerned when doctors require their patients to come to their office on a weekly basis to have prescriptions refilled when the refill could just as easily be telephoned to a pharmacy with the doctor's instructions to only dispense that medication to their client on a weekly basis.
Prescriptions could be adjusted accordingly at a cost and time savings to everyone. If the drug is an ongoing therapy and the client has periodic checkups by their physician, there should be no need for weekly appointments to pick up a piece of paper. It is a drain on an already overtaxed medical system.
I am concerned that doctors who practise in several hospitals in an area such as Nelson-Trail do not have staff to arrange appointments and manage patients. In some cases, elderly patients are sent from one area of a hospital to another and have to finally rebook appointments because their paperwork has not followed them in time for their appointments.
This appears to me to be double-booking for the doctor, which is good from a payment viewpoint but is confusing to the elderly patient, who must not only worry about their condition for another period of time but also must make another appointment at a later time.
Since the late 1980s, when Nelson lost one of its biggest employers, Kootenay Forest Products, the city's main employer has been the province of British Columbia. At that time, laid-off KFP employees who chose to stay in Nelson on employment insurance were faced with welfare or relocation at the end of a year. It appears that the cycle is about to repeat itself. Government employees facing layoff will also be faced with relocation, if they are lucky enough to be offered employment somewhere else in British Columbia, or hunkering down and staying in Nelson.
We are told not to listen to layoff hysteria because, although many headlines say cuts of 20, 35 and 50 percent, no hard numbers have been released. Many employees who came into government service after the privatization that occurred in 1988 have faced layoffs in 1992 and again in '96. They have survived and believe that they may be lucky again in 2001.
When I started with the Ministry of Transportation and Highways in 1989, I thought I would never survive a dirt ministry. I needed to work with people and their causes, not asphalt and gravel. Within a few months of arriving, I volunteered to join the John Walker committee, then the occupational health inventory and finally MOTH's wellness committee.
It appeared that our ministry had had several suicides attributed to personal and work-related stress during periods of downsizing. From there, it was decided that our ministry was unwell and that we should work at improving employee wellness, thereby improving productivity.
Like many government initiatives, it seemed that our health initiatives were on a five-year plan, which generally meant pushing fully funded initiatives for the first two years, then letting them carry themselves for another year or two and dropping off the funding and commitment in the last year or so. With that formula, MOTH's wellness initiative has died a natural death, and government is no longer interested or concerned about its employees' health or well-being.
With each downsizing, morale has dropped, stress has risen and those employees lucky enough to have kept their jobs remain behind to do those jobs and someone else's, while feeling guilty that they have a job and the person next to them does not.
The British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union, local 1209, represents more than 225 regular and auxiliary administrative services employees in regional and district government offices throughout the West Kootenays.
It appears that many people in government believe that administrative services are the lowest group of employees. This group is predominantly female, many of them like myself: single-wage-earning families with one or more dependents to support. We answer telephones. Who needs us, with voice mail on almost every government telephone line? We're the word processors, the data entry people, the stenographers and the financial clerks. Who needs us now that there are e-mail and templates to regurgitate forms and contracts? It looks like a hard sell to prove that administrative employees are necessary in the lean, mean government of the future.
I'll give you an example of why we're necessary. I had the opportunity to meet with an employee who works for the ministry, for Environment. His job is to work in the forests looking after our trees. He does his job extremely well, and he loves it. When it works, the system is that he protects British Columbia trees, his girl in the office — that's right, the administrative person; he admits that he's not politically correct — works in the office producing the reports, and our forests are safe.
Somewhere along the way, his girl got laid off in a downsizing and is now asking people if they'd like fries with their burgers. Here's the old myth again that administrative services workers are the least useful and the most expendable. Now this well-paid environmental worker is in the office typing his own reports in his own words at ten words a minute and $40 an hour, where once there was a professional who typed 60 words per minute at $18 an hour. He's the first to admit that his spelling is atrocious, and his grammar is not much better. And what about our trees? Recent information tells us that the pine beetles are winning in our forests. You do the math. In this case, everyone loses.
The Ministry of Transportation is living proof that privatization is not more cost-effective than having work done by public service workers. When the ministry privatized its electrical services, costs soared and
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efficiency decreased. It was decided to bring electrical services back into the fold of government.
Just in case we hadn't learned enough from that experience, transportation privatized its road maintenance program and once again realized that under private contractors, the province was spending more money for less service. This system is still in effect to this day, because we are no longer permitted to admit a mistake and return a privatized group to government services, no matter how necessary it is to do so.
I am sure you've had the opportunity to evaluate our highway system for yourselves during your travels. In the past, government employees took pride in keeping the province's infrastructure in good condition, but contractors now keep the same infrastructure in the condition that their budgets cover.
Our highways continue to deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate, because it's too expensive to build new highways or to repair existing roads. This information is supported by the B.C. Road Builders Association. It's an ongoing battle to see if we can provide enough paperwork to support highway improvements for the upcoming budget year. We're asked to cost-share whenever and wherever possible, and then we must try to complete the work in the same budget year.
In my ministry, paving, survey and construction field crews often work so much overtime throughout the summer months that time must be taken off at a later time due to financial restrictions that say overtime cannot be paid out. When overtime and other forms of work already done are calculated, employees are often on vacation from the end of September to the end of the fiscal year. This to me is a sign that the government is too lean.
Back again to the two-tiered problems or discrimination because you don't belong to the valued tier. Government workers are often seen as lazy. In my own ministry, the community joke is that it's the ministry of holidays. That's not the group of employees I see on a day-to-day basis.
I see a man who has uprooted his partner and two small children and moved them to a small community in northern British Columbia, because he believes he can make a difference in these difficult times for our province. He's an excluded employee and doesn't get paid overtime, so it's not the money that has him at his computer at midnight sending e-mails. It's the dedication he has to his job, his ministry and his province. He takes pride in a job well done, and he does it day in and day out.
I see the project manager who oversees a dozen projects from the Alberta border to the Slocan Valley. He has a sense of humour and a tin can on his desk collecting donations for his unfunded or underfunded bridge and road projects.
I see a woman who works in the human resources branch and has no union protection because she's a schedule A employee. As a public servant with 17 years seniority, she will have to face unemployment, but she will have to find jobs for some employees with less seniority than herself.
I see the young man who's just relocated from Victoria and bought his first home. He tells me he'll try to sell or rent when he's laid off. If he can't sell or rent and if he's lucky, he'll go back to Victoria and find work in the private sector, live with his parents and make his mortgage payments in Nelson.
I could continue with up-close-and-personal snippets to attempt to put faces to the people I work with — people who are only numbers to our government.
What do I ask of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services? I ask you to ensure that our government looks closely at the programs it wishes to do away with, to see who will benefit from those cuts and who will lose from them. Programs such as the Ministry of Transportation's road maintenance program will never return to government workers and will continue to cost the taxpayer more money for less service. Since 1995 the Ministry of Transportation in the West Kootenays has been downsized by 37.3 percent of its total workforce. Please remember that when you travel and are dissatisfied with the conditions of the highways.
I ask you to be supporters of seniors and single parents and to be the conscience of our government when it comes to the needs of this province's youngest and oldest citizens and the programs that take care of their special educational and health needs. I ask this committee to be the watchdog of the workers and to remember that in the tri-city area of Trail, Nelson and Castlegar, Cominco's downsizing will seriously impact Trail, Celgar's financial difficulties are influencing Castlegar's growth and Nelson's community government cutbacks will send this city into a recession.
Government workers pay their taxes, which in turn fuel government programs. Government workers purchase ski passes, new vehicles and homes. It's government workers spending their salaries in their communities that keep those communities' economies vibrant and growing, and without that spending, those communities will suffer. It has been estimated that with spinoffs, every government full-time job supports three private sector jobs in that community.
I ask you to be the defenders of the disenfranchised at a time when government can freeze programs for health and education, remove programs for support, vitamins and minerals for low-income AIDS and cancer patients and cut social programs such as job training for welfare recipients and then demand that the same welfare recipients find jobs or risk losing those welfare benefits.
I ask you to remind your government that public service employees have been providing cost-saving measures to this government and the governments before this one and that every time we have been asked to cut costs, we have risen to that challenge. Now I challenge the government to do the same.
The current cabinet is the largest and most costly Legislature in the history of British Columbia. I wonder: if this body were asked to do more with less or to
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reduce their operating budgets by 20, 35 or 50 percent within three years, how would they react and how well would they withstand the stress that such reductions would cause each and every one of the 79 seated MLAs?
I commend each of you for the gruelling schedule you have undertaken to visit many communities and possibly to gather information for your report. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to remember just how much my community means to me and for allowing me to share this with you this morning.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Ms. St. Thomas.
P. St. Thomas: Pam, please. Mrs. St. Thomas is my mother-in-law.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Perfect. I would look to members of the committee, if there are any questions.
L. Mayencourt: Pam, I'd just like to say that I too hate voice mail. When I call someone at a government office, I always prefer to get a real person. We think that the public service has been great and has worked really hard to help us with that. The proof is in that you've offered a couple of really good ways to save some health care dollars.
If there are other ways you can think of between now and the end of this month when we have to report, if you don't mind, I just ask you to send us an e-mail or a letter that gives us some ways we can either increase some revenues or find some better efficiencies in the government. We do need to work with you, and we look forward to doing that.
P. St. Thomas: We're doing cost-saving measures on an ongoing basis now. I think we have been for five years. In the first couple of years, we kind of scrunched out the dollars, and we've been down to cents. Now it's a real issue to look at the effectiveness of the dollars we're spending.
I see men who are project managers who should be out in the field monitoring contracts when we have contractors working. That's where their expertise is. Instead of that, we have them in offices, crunching coins to justify what they do. That to me is not right.
When I see men who type at much slower speeds, at much higher costs, doing my job, that's not right. Those are cost-saving measures. I think we need to find out where our people are best used, put them in that position, and let them carry on with their work instead of having to justify why they want to do that work.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): Just a quick question, Pam. Do you see a difference between name-brand drugs and the generic drugs?
P. St. Thomas: I do in some respects, because I speak from a personal issue. My mother-in-law is on permanent disability. She is supposed to have a name-brand drug for her arthritis, but she's not entitled to a name-brand drug. They give her a generic brand which causes stomach bleeding and a great deal of physical distress for her.
The answer to that is to not give her the name brand drug, that they have put her on in a trial, and then say: "Whoops, you can't have that; you're not entitled to it." They now give her medication for the side effects of the generic drugs. I don't think that's right. If I had more money personally, I would buy her the name-brand drugs so that she was physically more comfortable.
T. Bhullar (Deputy Chair): I thought that the generics were just duplicates or copies.
P. St. Thomas: They may well be in some respects, but I think that for some illnesses and in certain cases, or maybe it's on a case-by-case situation, they react differently with some of their patients, even though we try and sell them as the same.
I use house-brand acetaminophen. I don't have any difference in that as I do with Bayer Aspirin, but I know that there are some people out there…. It should be a choice for them and their health care provider, not for the people who pay for it.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Pam, I thank you again for your presentation to our committee. It was certainly very well thought out and certainly will be given due consideration.
Our next presenter this morning is the Trail Association for Community Living with Kathy Haggith. Is Kathy with us? Good morning.
K. Haggith: Good morning. This is far more intimidating than I had anticipated.
First of all, I'd like to thank you for hearing my presentation today. My name is Kathy Haggith, and I am the executive director with the Trail Association for Community Living. The purpose of my presentation today is to give you an overview of the roles and responsibilities that our organization has in the Trail community and, as well, to appeal to your committee to consider how funding cuts could affect direct services.
To start with an overview of our organization, I will give you a brief history and touch on the services we provide today. The Trail Association for Community Living has been established for 50 years in the Trail community. It was established originally by Dr. James Endicott, with whom some of you may be familiar, as he also established the Endicott Centre in Creston.
In time, as services have transitioned and as society's perception of how individuals who have developmental disabilities should be valued as citizens of the community and how services should be provided to them, our services have transitioned as well. If you'd like more information on the history of our organization, it's included in the brief you have in front of you.
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B. Lekstrom (Chair): Excuse me, could we have the conversations in the back…? It's getting very difficult to hear up here. Gentlemen? Hello, in the back. Thank you.
Sorry, Kathy. Please continue.
K. Haggith: The Trail Association for Community Living provides a number of services in the Trail community today. We have residential group homes here in Trail, as well as in Fruitvale and in Moorfield. We also provide community support, which is life skills, recreational and social opportunities and vocational-supported employment to individuals who either live independently in the community, semi-independently or still with their families.
We also provide a day program, which provides services to individuals who, as well, participate in community support and live in group homes. Through the day program, there are recreational and social opportunities provided, as well as vocational opportunities and life skills training.
Out of our day program facility, we are also the contractor for the Ministry of Children and Family Development's regional resource library. We provide other services to the community. We have a thrift store. We run a recycling service to the community of Trail. We provide respirator cleaning for Cominco and other contractors. We provide advocacy support for issues that we are current and familiar with.
As I stated initially, the purpose of this presentation is to appeal to government to thoughtfully consider how funding cuts applied without proactive reasoning could detrimentally affect services to the clients who we provide services to and, potentially, their quality of life.
To go over some of the organizational facts of the Trail Association for Community Living, the association currently receives over $1.3 million from the Ministry of Children and Family Development on an annual basis. From this budget, we are funded for one executive director and 0.5 of an administrative assistant. Consequent with those numbers, any cut to funding would result in a direct cut to services. In 1999 all of our contracts were cut by 1.5 percent by the previous government. Services currently are financially augmented by other sources of revenue.
In the Trail community, there are clients wait-listed for services, and there will be six to eight more individuals requiring support coming into the adult service system within the next three years. Many of the individuals we currently support are aging. Support is going to become more arduous and strenuous to accommodate within the current funding that we have, let alone provide more support that is needed.
I recognize that the deregulation and the core review processes presently being undertaken within the Ministry of Children and Family Development are separate from the purpose of this committee. However, I think it is important to consider the findings from these two evaluations when developing the future budget.
It is essential that our government consider areas outside of the service providers to determine where services are being repeated and those that can be delivered in a more cost-effective and quality-conscious fashion. It is fair to say that few, if any, of the services provided by contractors through the Ministry of Children and Family Development in the Trail community overlap or are repeated.
Specifically speaking, in the context of the Trail Association for Community Living, if the proposed 10 to 40 percent funding cuts are applied directly to the service provider, there will inevitably be reduction to direct services. All citizens of our provincial community have the right to be valued as people and as moral beings. Consequently, it is fair to say that any funding cuts applied directly to our organization would affect the service provided and possibly the quality of life for the people we support.
I ask not only this select group but also our representative government as a whole to thoughtfully consider the implications of where the funding cuts will fall. It is my fear that the province will end up in a reactive position where they're putting out fires from the lack of practical forethought. Ultimately, I fear that the lives and the services provided to marginalized, vulnerable citizens will be altered, and the lives that they are entitled to will be negatively affected.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I will look to members of our committee if there are any questions.
B. Kerr: Yes. I have two questions, Kathy. We heard a presentation earlier from the Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society. Are you a part of that? Do you work with them, or are you two distinct groups?
K. Haggith: We're two distinct organizations within the community. Our services provide support to youth and adults with developmental disabilities in the Trail area. The FAIR society provides services to other programs not within that population.
B. Kerr: Now, I'll try to paraphrase what my colleague Jeff Bray always asks in questions like this. He's familiar with this. He's been in the ministry for a number of years in that regard, and he understands that there are a lot of different, separate contracts that have to be administered where you get money under separate contracts and have to administer the outcomes and your performances. If you received core funding, if you received one block of funds and then measured specific outcomes of what you wanted, would that save you time and allow you to spend more time in actually providing the services?
K. Haggith: I think it's a question that needs to be thoughtfully considered, based on the evaluation of how those outcomes are stated and if they do specifically represent the services provided for the contract as
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a whole. Now, if I'm to interpret your question correctly, are you speaking of core funding to each organization or core funding to a region?
B. Kerr: Core funding to your organization here, where you could then determine how to divide it up, as opposed to getting separate contracts.
K. Haggith: Yes.
B. Kerr: That would be better?
K. Haggith: Initially, I can say off the top of my head that I think it would work better — yes.
B. Kerr: Thank you.
K. Haggith: There is a lot of time and energy spent on determining the different contracts, wherein many of them are repeated outcomes.
H. Bloy: Part of our process is consultation, coming out and listening to people. There are five questions, but in numbers 2 and 3, do you see any steps the government can take — and you've expounded upon some of this — to ensure that there is sufficient revenues to fund the priority social programs? Are there any programs that you see could be restructured, terminated or expanded? On number 2, do you compete with any of the ministry programs?
K. Haggith: Do we compete with any of the ministry programs?
H. Bloy: Yeah, like are you doing dual…. I understand non-profits. I know how tight they can run their budgets. Do you do the same programs as ministry programs?
K. Haggith: I'm not following you on that question.
First, I'll answer the first question, if I could see any programs that could be cut or reviewed. Are you asking that internally for the ministry, or are you asking that as a service provider?
H. Bloy: Either one.
K. Haggith: There is an excellent proposal — I say "excellent" speaking personally, not representing necessarily the view of my organization — that was put forward by Doug Woollard and Jack Styan from the coast. It is a proposal on how services could be provided differently with a different internal structure of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. I think some of the points that have been brought up in that proposal reflect my thoughts on where services could be delivered more effectively without actually cutting programs too directly.
H. Bloy: I know Jack Styan, and I have that.
K. Haggith: On whether we compete for programs, I don't know if I'm interpreting the question correctly, but I don't feel we compete with our ministry for any programs at this point.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): One final question.
L. Mayencourt: When you were answering Brian's question there, I noticed you hesitate on the question of whether it was core funding for an agency or core funding to a region. Is there something about the regionalization issue that is a concern for you, and what is that?
K. Haggith: There was a lot of discussion about regionalization in years past. My personal hesitation with regionalization is whether the regions are determined by distance or whether they're determined by dollars. I think it's very important to consider the differences of rural communities and urban communities.
For example, if we are speaking to someone in Kelowna when we are providing services in the Kootenays, it's difficult for them to have their finger on the pulse of what goes on in the Kootenays. My hesitation is on regionalization: how the regions are defined, where they are defined and who determines that.
As well, with regionalization, it's my understanding that a lot of the background that has been done in the Kootenays on regionalization was not found to be a cost-effective measure because of the area and the services that are provided. I also have a fear of each community losing its autonomy and the flavour of services that it offers to individuals.
I see some pros for it as well. If people receive more choice in how they receive their services and where they can receive those services, then that's a positive aspect, but I do have a lot of hesitation. I think it's a process where there would need to be a full evaluation, including internal and external evaluators, to determine what the actual pros and cons of it were.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Kathy, I would like to thank you for coming out this morning and taking time out of your schedule to present to our committee. I thank you very much.
Our next presenter this morning is with the Advocacy Centre: Patricia Lakes.
P. Lakes: Good morning. I'd like to say I'm glad you decided to come to the West Kootenays. It's your job to travel around and talk to us instead of us having to come to you.
The Advocacy Centre is funded with a combination of foundation funding and some provincial government funding. We work with victims of violence. We have a housing advocate who doesn't do direct service but works only on trying to bring housing to Nelson. We don't, for example, have emergency housing in Nelson, which surprises a lot of people. It costs the ministry a lot of money, by the way, too.
We do a lot of community response. We're often asked to do workshops. I'm the poverty advocate,
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which means I work a lot with B.C. Benefits things. That's a good chunk of what I'm going to talk about with you today.
Our priority with respect to the budget is that the social safety net be preserved, that prevention strategies be preserved. We believe they're cost-effective, although we acknowledge that initially both prevention and treatment will cost you more money. Down the road, we believe that prevention will pay off.
We definitely are concerned about cutbacks in affordable housing. Nelson has a vacancy rate of 1.7 percent. It is really hard for people to find affordable housing, and that's a very serious issue to us.
Better consultation. You've got a lot of good people on the front lines, including in MCF and MHR, and it really looks, unfortunately, like a lot of decisions have been made. That concerns us a lot. In addition to our caseload, we'll have drop-ins and calls to the tune of 300 people a month.
As I said, I'm going to first talk about welfare because of some reports that Human Resources Minister Murray Coell wants to cut welfare rolls in half. I understand we've got 130,000 people, but he'll settle for 100,000. It looks like this government wants to recoup a huge amount of your projected budget deficit by targeting the so-called employable people on welfare.
I wanted to make sure I talk to you about who these people are, because I deal with them every day face to face. I particularly wanted to make it clear to you that the so-called employable are not necessarily that way. If you think there are 100,000 people who are just messing around and collecting welfare, I would really challenge that view.
One of the things we do in the Advocacy Centre is to help people do disability applications. I'd wanted to bring the form for you this morning, but I had a crisis call, so I got short on time. The disability application form — and this is known by advocates throughout the province and known too by many doctors — does not actually ask for the information that Health Services wants in order to approve your disability.
[T. Bhullar in the chair.]
I know that sounds kind of amazing. I know government can write a form to ask for the information when it wants to, but it does not. There are two things that help you get disability 1 or 2. You have to show that you have expenses related to your disability, or you have to show that you require assistance. The form, which I will give you in our written submission, has this dinky little box with three lines saying: "Do you have extra expenses arising from your disability?"
Some people who are filling out the disability form simply write: "Yes." Well, their form will be rejected. Some people will write a list of things like physiotherapy, St. John's wort — all of which are totally acceptable things that Health Services accepts — but that also will get rejected. Some people are smarter. They'll write: physiotherapy, so much a month; St. John's wort, so much a month; my doctor wants me to take vitamin B, so much a month; I have to travel to medical appointments, so much a month. That, also, will get you rejected.
I worked with one fellow. He and his doctor had applied six times to get him disability 2 status, which he definitely qualified for. Six times they had been rejected, because what Health Services really wants is an itemized list, costed out. They want your expenses to be costed out monthly, they prefer your hours of assistance to be costed out weekly, and they want the doctor to give a specific endorsement to that list. There is nothing on the form to show that.
I note, again, that Murray Coell was saying there's been a 14 percent increase in the numbers of people going for a disability or getting disability 2. Part of that is because people and their doctors have finally realized that you've got to go to a community law office or to an advocate. It's like there's a secret formula to get DB-2 status.
I have volunteered, by the way, to rewrite the form for you at considerably less than you'd pay consultants. I haven't been taken up on that. It's a good offer. Right now what's happening is that workers are trying to get these same people, who have applied before and not succeeded, to please go. That's because, of course, the job-search letters are coming out.
This one person I referred to, by the way, ended up getting long-term DB-1. It's just amazing to me. They won't give DB-2, which is the permanent, but they'll give the temporary for periods of five years. Go figure. This fellow was a family man. Unfortunately, if you have disability 1 and you have a partner who's not qualified for disability, you can't get health benefits, according to the law. One of the sad things about this is that the family had to break up.
This guy really needed treatment. If you live in Nelson, you often have to travel to Kelowna or Vancouver for really essential things — MRI, CAT scans. The ministry is reluctant to fund on a crisis grant. If I'm on DB-1 and I have a partner who's not on DB-1 — even though maybe my partner works and doesn't make enough money to get us off welfare, which was the case — and if I have a scheduled appointment in Kelowna, the ministry takes a position on crisis grants.
I don't think this is a worker. I think this is the ministry: "You know what? If it's a scheduled appointment, this couldn't be a crisis." You can go to appeal and argue that, but the upshot of it is that the only regular way to get this MRI scan is if the doctor agrees to say that it's life-threatening. A lot of doctors feel really weird about that.
Again, I have to raise a question. In B.C. we rural people still produce a lot of your economic benefit. What's the point of denying us basic health services like CAT scans and MRIs? There's a huge list.
I had one woman call me some years ago in total panic. She had been going to Vancouver for eye treatments — without these treatments she was going to be blind — and there was some kind of glitch in the system. I know, because we got a bunch of these calls. Suddenly the ministry was saying to her: "Sorry, you're
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not on disability 2. We're not going to fund you to go down for these treatments."
That's with the existing system — saving you money but again, at what cost? In some cases, if somebody is on disability 1 and they don't get the treatment, maybe they are going to be on disability 2. Of course, there's the whole issue about the health and humanitarian costs of denying people treatment.
In addition to that, there are some people, particularly people with mental illnesses…. One of the funny things was that health services had kind of a bias against mental illnesses. I had a fellow in my office — this has changed in the last year — and this guy had paranoid schizophrenia. He was having constant care, constant workers.
He also kept getting turned down for disability 2, because for some reason the hours of assistance that people needed for a mental disability were not being regarded the same as the hours of assistance that people needed with a physical disability. The only reason that changed, by the way, was because of a B.C. Benefits Appeal Board decision.
I think that was a darn good move on the part of the appeal board. Now we've got people with really severe mental illnesses, which are unfortunately not being controlled by drugs — chronic depression, bipolar, forms of schizophrenia, things like that — and we are at least able to get them the disability 2 status. Of course, sometimes there are other things you can only get if you have disability 2.
We also have lots of people, particularly with mental illnesses, who don't want to apply for disability 2, so they are also what you're thinking of as employable. Believe me, they're not. One of the reasons they don't want to apply is because they don't want their diagnosis to be on record, even though, realistically, their diagnosis is on record because they've been in psych wards here and there. They still have a huge resistance to applying for the benefit. They're not suitable for employment training programs. Unfortunately, some of them are kind of disruptive. Some of them are difficult for us to deal with, and we're supposed to be the good guys.
Under the current disability, even if somebody qualified, say, in another province and came to B.C., the person has to agree, which I understand on one level. If you take away worker discretion to govern their files with respect to employables, there really isn't anything that you're going to succeed in doing with these people. There might be some solutions about that. For example, you could start making the disability status, the permanent one, transferable between provinces, and that would take away some of the problem.
As well, there are people who are much more functional but who are also afraid of their diagnosis being on record. I worked with one woman who had a pretty serious depression issue, but she was dealing with it — again, through additional expenses. She was afraid that if she qualified as a disability 2, then it might be used against her in a custody battle. Again, we can suggest ways that this won't happen, but these are still fears that people have.
There are also people who don't want to have the DB-2 status even though they're on welfare and would get more money. For some people, there's a big psychological barrier. They want to hang on to the notion that they are going to work or they're going to find enough work. For whatever reason, they just don't want to go in that direction.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
Ironically, a lot of these people are coming back to us now. We've got a couple right now who didn't want to apply for disability 2, but they're not going to get regular full-time employment, so they have to do the application now. Ironically, they now have to cost you more money. There's a fear that workers are going to lose their discretion on that.
Then there are the people that don't quite fit: people with chronic addictions, people who have anger-management problems — people who are among the last to be hired and the first to be fired when they do find jobs. The thing is that among the services that are there, it takes a well-funded, well-supported service to really get people into work, especially in this category and especially if you're talking about regular full-time jobs.
Both the federal and provincial governments tend to want to fund really cheap job-training services. What you end up doing is creaming the crop. You end up picking the most functional people, and, yeah, you put them through and get them jobs. But the people we've always had in our culture, for thousands of years, people who don't quite fit and who don't quite function, need a lot more than what you're willing to provide. If you're looking at cutbacks, of course it's going to get worse.
With respect to employment training programs and the desire to fund the cheapest possible programs, I would have to say, in general, that in my work as an advocate, I've sometimes seen difficulties. I worked with one fellow a while ago who was supposed to be doing a forestry training program run by a consultant contracted by the provincial government. This fellow was working in thinning. He had no proper training, including chainsaw training. He was working without a hardhat, chainsaw gloves or proper boots and without proper supervision.
You know, this was a nice young guy, and he wanted to be a hard worker. The only reason he came to see me was because his girlfriend made him come. As is typical of a lot of people, he didn't know who to go to. He sort of had a notion that maybe this was not okay. He had no idea what proper safety was actually required for work in the woods, which is one of the most dangerous occupations in this province.
He had no idea where to go. I of course sent him to employment standards. The dilemma is that if this guy just walks away and if this consultant is a good — excuse me — bullshitter with respect to whom he's contracting with, it's going to be the word of this welfare
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recipient against the word of this consultant unless somebody has the time to look into this.
If you have people in this situation — they don't even know what WCB standards are, and they don't even know who to go to — then of course they're scared to leave the work conditions because they're going to be cut off welfare. In other words, there's caretaking. You're worried about people cheating. When it comes to government systems, it can include many more people than people receiving welfare.
Another aspect, too, with respect to employment training programs in general, is that for years and years we've been predicting a skills shortage in the whole of Canada that is not going to be filled by immigration. I hear rumours the government is talking about workfare. I've got to wonder about this. Here we've got these skills shortages, and to meet these shortages we would have to fund expensive programs, which just might lead to a deficit.
I think that not to do so would be penny-wise and pound foolish. Say you do workfare like Ontario, and you get people picking up garbage — well, whoop-de-do. I respect garbage collectors. I would hate to lose that service, but five years from now, is it going to be garbage collection on that list of skills shortages?
If we're going to meet the skills shortages for those kinds of jobs where we need personnel, maybe we do need to bite the bullet and incur some kind of debt to do it. I haven't seen anybody come up with a solution as the boomers seriously start to retire, except maybe for stalling retirement. You're not going to fill those skills areas with simplistic job-creation programs.
I want to be clear, by the way: I'm not trying to diss those people who are running those programs. I think they're pedalling as fast as they can, but they have very limited resources and very limited time. They're not even seeing the people on welfare who are coming to them for employment training programs as often as they should. Again, I know that from people I'm talking to.
There's a lot more that I could say, because there are a lot more services that we do. I would ask you to listen more, especially as you look at that 100,000 figure, and in particular, to listen to the people.
If you're concerned about people cheating the system, take the time to really listen to your investigators and your verification officers. I'd suggest that, yes, I've run into some bad workers, but by and large, let the workers do their job. Double-check on the kind of training they're getting. There are some people that are trying to just phone and threaten people and not do their homework, but you've got other people in the system who are trying to do good work. I don't know that they're necessarily being rewarded or reinforced for doing the good work they're doing.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Patricia, I'd like to thank you. I know, as I've indicated before, that 15 minutes is very limited time, but I appreciate you taking the time and effort to come out and present to our committee. Are there any questions from our committee members? I see none. Patricia, again, thank you very much.
Our next presenter this morning is Mr. Corky Evans. Good morning, Corky. Welcome.
C. Evans: Good morning, Mr. Chair.
Friends, once about 20 years ago I served on a regional district with a director who was also a practising Quaker. I noticed that when Sean spoke at meetings, he would sometimes address the rest of us collectively not as directors but as friends, and if his argument was with something that I personally had said that he disagreed with, then he would personalize the word, too, and address me as "Friend Evans."
I asked him once about this practice, and he explained to me that he'd learned to talk that way at Quaker meetings. He found it useful, too, in public life, especially at times when he profoundly disagreed with the ideas of a person, to address them as "Friend" in order to clearly separate his feeling about their arguments or their ideas from his feeling about them as people. "That's really honourable," I said.
I hadn't thought about my friend Sean for some years now — at least not in this context. Today it seemed appropriate to take a lesson from his Quaker tradition and begin my presentation with his language and say, "Welcome to the Kootenays, Friends," before I go on to say how profoundly I disagree with what it is that is said to be your intent.
Of course, there are many fundamental differences between our points of view, and that's a really good thing. It makes for a pluralistic and democratic society where citizens here have choices and their franchise is not illusionary. I don't intend to go into any of that today.
To everything, as they say, there is a season, and while it may be coming on winter outside, this is, metaphorically speaking, the springtime of your government. You have earned the right to try out your ideas. Therefore, I accept your right to reduce the income of government by virtue of your tax-reduction scheme.
Today I want to focus on the folly of following that reduced-income initiative by then attempting to find all that missing money by looking for 100 percent of those funds from the 40 percent of your activities that provide services to people, to communities and to land. This kind of math was called ratio-and-proportion way back when we all went to grade 7 or thereabouts.
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Politicians and economists often talk about these issues in terms of pieces of a pie, and try as I might, I could find no nicer word to describe your proposal to find all of your savings from one-third of the pie than the word "haywire." It won't work, and if it does, the pain will then be delivered upon rural people.
When we ran for office against one another a little while ago, I had a really tough time countering your argument that the electorate could have their cake and eat it too. I asked myself how. In this case, of course, that would be their tax reductions and their services at the same time. How, I asked myself, do I argue against a platform that says: "We will give you back some money. You go spend that money, and that will make more money to generate more taxes so government will not have to cut services"?
At first I thought I could argue: "Oh, but then you're going to have to run a deficit, because even if your theory is proved correct, it's going to take time for those revenues to return." But then, in your wisdom, you blew my puny argument out of the water by simply agreeing with it and saying: "Okay. We'll run deficits for a few years to protect services." After that, I had no argument left.
Now, though, it turns out that you propose not to increase revenues by virtue of promised economic growth but to reduce government by the amount of your tax reduction scheme. This reminds me of those shoddy seed catalogues that come out in January and take advantage of our winter blues to convince us to buy those miracle plants that produce six-foot corn in 60 days or 200-pound pumpkins. Then they ship the same old varieties in a new package in the spring.
Never mind all that. Maybe it's even okay for you to change the plan after you get the mandate. Others will decide that after the harvest is in. The great folly that you need to understand today is that if you're really going to save all that money, you can't do it in the manner you propose. You cannot freeze two-thirds of your budget and then find all those savings from the remaining one-third without eviscerating the rural economy.
Let me see, now. What's left after you freeze education and health and then deliver your statutory services? Those are mines, roads, land, small business, environment, agriculture, farming, forestry, fish, tourism and water — to name just a few. I know that these portfolios have other names now to obfuscate the matter, but you get my drift. These are the parts of government that allow us and encourage us to go to work. These are the ministries that your original promise to grow a bigger pie needs, to issue the permits to let us make the money that lets us live here, at least in rural B.C.
To build a housing project, for example, a developer needs water. In Surrey, Vancouver or Victoria, he or she goes to the city, gets a permit, hooks up to the water and builds the housing. The last time I inquired, it could take up to six years in this area to get a surficial water permit for development, because we already don't have enough people doing the work to assist the developer to make it happen in a timely manner — or a grazing permit or a back-country recreation tenure to take tourists out to find the powder that they crave and will pay for.
Sure, I'm culpable in all this. I was in part responsible for grazing permits and then back-country recreation — and lots of it. I am absolutely ready to accept responsibility for any impediments to work that I, in my time, created or failed to resolve.
Now look at what your government is proposing to do: respond to these issues by asking the very ministries responsible for land and community-based activities to spend the next three years not solving the problems but taking themselves apart.
Perhaps you like to use that pejorative term "bureaucrats" to describe the people who do this work. You certainly wouldn't be the first people to use the word, but I want you to think for a minute about not just the regulatory function of the Crown or its agents but also the economic facilitation function that they perform as well. At least, outside Vancouver they do.
B.C. is not Alberta or Saskatchewan or even Washington State. We are unique here in that the people own 97 percent of the land. We own, as the economists would say, the very means of production. We administrate that land with fewer government workers already than Alberta or any other province — save one. As you know, that's the province that made Walkerton a household word. Washington State to the south has on its public lands something like ten times the number of government workers per acre than we do.
This is not a normal land mass to administer, either — thank goodness. Our land is so productive of wealth and supports so many communities precisely because it is so rich or, as geographers and foresters would say, so complex. We have, for example — and I'm sure you know this already — more indigenous plants and animals in B.C. than all the other provinces in this huge country combined. And you propose to manage that complexity — how? — by laying off the game wardens or the biologists, the grassland managers, the surveyors, the parks rangers. Who?
I remind you of that because of the ratio-and-proportion problem we talked about before. You can't really avoid any of the names on my theoretical list of professions. Your Premier is talking about getting 100 percent of his savings from this one slice of what government does. Where does all this lead? If you follow this path, in three years' time you will have gridlock on the land. Then the corporations that have the resources will say: "Okay, let us manage the land. We can do it cheaper anyway."
The big companies will control rural life. The people will be vassals on the land, and small business is toast. Maybe you will just cut to the chase, then, and sell the land outright after you render the Crown impotent to perform its role as steward.
Your government is young, and you of course have the right to sow your crop. I warn you, though, that your business plan cannot work beyond Hope, unless it is in fact your plan to create chaos as the groundwork
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for radical change. Personally — and I've thought about it — I do not believe that about you, which is why, like my old friend Sean, I can call you Friend and ask you to consider my comments. Thank for you for giving me this opportunity.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Corky, I thank you for coming out and presenting today. Certainly we go back a number of years. Speaking from the rural portion of British Columbia, I know very well of what you speak. I do appreciate you taking the time here today.
I will look to members of our committee, if there are any questions for Corky.
Corky, I see no questions, but I can assure you that the challenge before us — and you've been in our shoes before — is significant. It's correct to say that we have a job to do, and we will try and do it. I can assure you we will bring balance to this. I can assure you that the view you speak of, of rural British Columbia, will be heard loud and clear. I'm not the sole voice in bringing that to our caucus. Thank you very much.
Our next presenter this morning is with the Nelson and District Women's Centre, Thea Trussler.
Good morning and welcome.
T. Trussler: Good day. My name is Thea Trussler, and I represent the interests of the Nelson and District Women's Centre. The centre is Canada's oldest rural women's centre and will be celebrating its thirtieth year in 2002. As an organization that has seen many political and social changes during that time, we feel we speak strongest for rural women's needs in B.C.
The concerns regarding funding cuts are reverberating around the women's community of B.C. We've been told that transition houses are to be protected, and we applaud that move. We would like to take this time to highlight the functions of women's centres as being the first point of contact for most women wanting to leave abusive relationships.
If I may quote from the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services website, it states: "Women's centres are often the first place women go for help in their communities in times of crisis. Providing operating funding for these centres helps them deliver vital services to women in communities around B.C." Then: "Our government is committed to the stable funding of women's centres so that women's needs are identified and responded to throughout the province."
Since there has been a significant amount of media coverage regarding extreme measures of funding cuts, campaign promises broken and a degree of mistrust of what is around the corner for all government-funded programs, I felt compelled to address the committee today.
The amazing ability of women's centres to stretch their funds to the utmost is a sign of our dedication to women's needs. At the Nelson women's centre, we offered a training course. Our last session included 15 women. Five of those women obtained work as a direct result of contact and training with the centre. We offer a housing and employment directory for Nelson and area. Referrals from the centre include those to doctors, counsellors, lawyers and advocates. We offer numerous health, wellness, support and spiritual groups through the centre.
Centre staff are present on a variety of committees, including prevention of violence against women, women's health, food security, transition house advisory, short-term accommodation, sustainable community initiatives and numerous other groups within the region. We offer a lending library of over 2,500 books and videos, Internet service, food distribution and a free clothing store.
The Nelson centre is unique in that we are one of the few centres that has chosen to purchase a house rather than rent a space as most other centres must do. The services at the centre run on a budget of less than $48,000 per year.
One of the dynamics of rural settings is that many women shy away from institutional settings like government buildings or church organizations. The importance of women's centres as a key service for women to receive information on housing, counselling, employment and connecting with new friends are all elements essential in diminishing isolation for women in rural settings.
The new dynamic of unprecedented stress on Canadians as a result of the September 11 attack and the resulting war has demonstrated itself already in our statistics. We warned women on September 13 at our annual Take Back the Night event that in times of crisis and war, domestic violence escalates. Our statistics demonstrate this at an alarming rate.
From September 11 to October 11, 2001, we have had five times as many calls from women with regard to domestic violence in comparison to the entire six-month previous reporting period. Women suffer most during times of war and national crisis, and to think that we may have funding cuts in an all-ready stressed budget is frightening. If anything, a new look at increasing budgets for women's centres should be in order.
New pressures on our staff after September 11 included the local emergency preparedness contact for housing calling us on September 11 to ask if we could be an option for housing if Americans were stranded in the Kootenays. A new component of training for all volunteers has been incorporated to deal with stress management and political analysis during these times. Always more is needed with less moneys and resources.
I hold you to your "commitment to stable funding of women's centres." As we face the impending economic recession, women's needs will only increase. As we deal with the social implications of war, women's needs will only increase. As we are called to be stronger than ever as a country, women's voices will only grow louder.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Thea, for your presentation.
I will look to members of the committee. Mr. Krueger?
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K. Krueger: Thank you for your presentation, Thea. That's an absolutely shocking statistic, and I want to make sure I understand it. In the one month after the attack, you had five times the calls than in the six months previous?
T. Trussler: Five times as many in one month in comparison to the six months prior.
K. Krueger: That's terrible. Is there normally any sort of increase in the first month of fall, or is this a total aberration?
T. Trussler: Increases usually occur between December and February, during the dark months of the year. This is an anomaly.
K. Krueger: That's awful. I was really concerned when British Columbia expanded gambling. At the time, that was one of the things I was assigned to work on in the opposition caucus. The Internet research from everywhere else in North America demonstrated a dramatic increase in gambling addiction problems everywhere that gambling expands and particularly in the effects on women.
The spouses of male pathological gamblers had three times the frequency of suicide attempts and eight times the frequency of a whole range of really serious stress-related illnesses compared to the rest of the female population. I was interested to hear that you're the oldest women's centre in British Columbia. Do you know if gambling expansion has affected women in British Columbia in those and other ways?
T. Trussler: Not with our statistics here — it hasn't touched within Nelson and the area that I'm aware of. Those situations haven't come up in dialogue.
K. Krueger: Have you seen any increase in addiction issues affecting women and families through your centre over the last several years?
T. Trussler: Statistically, there are more services in the area that perhaps are helping alleviate that. Within my statistics, Nelson and district seem to not have high addictions. It's alcohol-related, not drug-related, and abuse within the family quite often is a result of violence from a drinking partner.
K. Krueger: Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Are there any other questions from members of the committee?
Thea, I see no further questions. I thank you for your presentation, and I can assure you that what we take in through these presentations, through the oral submissions and the written ones, will be given due consideration in the development of our report. I thank you very much.
T. Trussler: Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): We are going to move on to our next presenter, who is with the West Kootenay Labour Council, Mr. Dick Schultz. Also, Mr. Al Graham, I believe, is…. No? Is it Gerry? We just have a few too many names on our list. Good morning, gentlemen.
D. Schultz: Good morning and welcome to the city of Trail.
I'm Dick Schultz. I'm a Selkirk College instructor, a BCGEU member and the third vice-president of West Kootenay Labour Council. I would like to thank the all-party Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for seeking input on the challenge of preparing the 2002-03 budget.
The dictionary meaning of the word "budget" from the Canadian Senior Dictionary is an estimate of the amount of money that can be spent, and the amounts to be spent for various purposes in a given time. I'd like to put forward some issues that I feel relate to the various purposes in a given time, which might alleviate some of the intimidation that the media is forecasting to the public.
We are concerned with the 2002-03 budget that would be implemented on April 1, 2002. The media, with government news releases, have alarmed the public with security of their employment, the hold-the-line on education and health, the proposed cuts in Pharmacare and the public service cuts, to name a few.
We also have been told that this government, prior to September 11, had eliminated 39,000 jobs, and is responding to the U.S. crisis with accelerating more layoffs. We are hearing through the media that some city and municipal elected officials are very concerned that any reduction in the paycheques in their communities would also cause fear and panic in their fragile economies.
The recent 19 percent tariff on lumber, the government cancellation of vital health and educational construction projects, the tourist issues regarding airlines and cross-border delays and the recent announcement of the closing of the truck industry manufacturing plants give the public very little to be optimistic about.
The government sector on private sector employment. Employed individuals actively serving communities in volunteer organizations do not see the prospect of losing their jobs, applying for EI and going on welfare as beneficial to their life experiences. However, the educational opportunities that have been available may also not be available when downsizing was necessary in the past for hard-working, law-abiding people. We've also been told that removing $400 million from the B.C. economy could trigger a made-in-B.C. recession.
Where are the election promises that the personal tax reduction would stimulate and improve employment? I'm very concerned that the trickle-down economics of tax cuts doesn't work for me. I know that economist John Maynard Keynes advocates that governments spend their way out of inevitable recession. The legacy of Keynes was that his policy not only created prosperity but also well-paid employment.
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Yes, we like the prospect of lower personal income tax. I for one, however, did not or could not see into the future and weigh the consequences to our lifestyle or health and education institutions. I would propose that the government revisit personal income tax cuts, recognizing the election promises and the crisis in the world regarding terrorism.
Give each B.C. tax-paying individual a rebate on their tax return beginning in the 2003 tax year. I feel this would give the provincial government some well-needed breathing room and allow for a better assessment of provincial needs facing the government regarding public service workers, health care workers, education, construction projects, Pharmacare, labour issues, the world crisis and softwood lumber.
Thank you for your attention on these issues, and thank you for allowing the public and myself to have input in the proposed budget.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Dick, for your presentation.
Possibly, I could start off with a question in dealing with this. The issue of the deficit we face is fairly significant, and there are people who question the issue of the tax cuts that have taken place. If we take those and set them to the side, in the 2003-04 budget year without the tax cuts implemented, we'd still face a $3.8 billion deficit if we didn't change the way we deliver the services to the people of British Columbia. I'm just wondering.
Putting the tax cuts aside is one of your recommendations. I understand that. Do you have anything else you think we could look at in order to bring our financial house back in order?
D. Schultz: I haven't really given that much consideration. On the other hand, there's very likely the opportunity to turn around and use borrowed funding, as has been suggested — deficit funding — to implement and begin the road to recovery. The road to recovery has to not necessarily be on things that have happened in the past.
We have to have an optimistic outlook. If we've got an optimistic outlook, we're going to get industry coming in, and our people will be optimistic in putting their efforts together and creating and paying taxes to be able to pay down the debt that we may accumulate in the short term. In the short term, I expect that we're going to have to go into deficit funding.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I'll look to members of the committee if there are any other questions.
H. Bloy: We've been deficit spending for a number of years now, and there's no real measurement for the value of the dollar that we've gone into debt for. How do you see us measuring if we borrowed money to build more roads or more public buildings? What sort of measurement level do we use for value, whether it's done through the public service or the private sector?
D. Schultz: If I recall, back a number of years ago in the Bennett era, it was all deficit spending, and yet it recovered. I mean, we've got mines that were not there — had never been built. We've got lumber that's been logged over the last number of years that has turned around and improved our society. We've got hospitals that were built that have improved our way of life.
One has to look at the overall outside picture. Look outside the box. I mean, that may be a colloquial or a new saying, but I think we have to look outside the box. We can't always look in the box and say: "This will happen before…." We've got to start looking outside the box using other things. We're going to make mistakes. Other governments have made mistakes. Industries have made mistakes, but in their mistakes they've learned and been successful. That's why we've got the big business we have today. We've got to do the same with government.
H. Bloy: I agree with you about "outside of the box," for sure.
D. Schultz: Yeah, good.
L. Mayencourt: Gerry, do you share the view that Dick is talking about: rebuilding the infrastructure, reinvesting in that? Do you have any ideas of how we can finance that? What do you guys think about private-public partnerships? Is that a viable option?
G. Shmon: You talk about private-public partnership. I had the opportunity to be listening to CBC radio. There was a private-public partnership struck in Cranbrook with recreation facilities there, and this private-public partnership got up and got working. The first thing that happened with the private-public partnership was that the operator increased the user fees by more than double on this particular facility.
With that, they had to come back to the community and say: "Our facility is not being used. What do we do? We have to renegotiate." I have my doubts about private-public partnerships. I just don't see that working.
L. Mayencourt: Do you have any other ideas of how we can fund things? We're kind of in a deep hole here. Where do we get the money from? We can't print it.
G. Shmon: I guess that instead of running, we have to walk, take our time. Do what we can with what we've got and don't run. If we're going to run, we're going to spend foolishly. If we walk, take our time — spend it right.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Gentlemen, I would like to thank you. Certainly one of the key issues you touched on, Dick, is that for many years, whether it's businesses or governments or in our personal lives, if a mistake is made, far too many people try and justify the mistake rather than owning up and saying, "Look, it was a mis-
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take," and trying to correct it. Certainly, I think that's something that we, as government, in stepping through the next four years…. There will be some pain that I think all British Columbians are going to go through together to try and get us back on track. If something was a mistake, certainly I can give you my assurance that will be corrected and not justified.
I thank you for your presentation.
Our next presenter this morning is Norm Gabana. Good morning, Norm.
N. Gabana: You pronounced my name right, so you passed.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): All right. I'm having a good day.
N. Gabana: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to be here. I think it's a great opportunity.
I'm a private citizen. I've had many years of union experience. I was even the vice-president of the local union. I was management at Cominco, city council, regional districts and now am on health boards, so I have, in my 30 years, a little bit of accumulated knowledge I think might be of some help.
When we start looking around, I've always been a believer that there are economies in existing operations. Before you add something on to the front, you'd better cut something off the back. I just don't think there's an endless pot of money that we can just keep going to. When I look at myself, personally, I'm on a pension from Cominco, not indexed. As long as I live, it will likely stay where it is now. What we're talking about is eroding my quality of life, and I'm not prepared for that.
From that, I think some of the things I could suggest you look at locally would be the Columbia Basin Trust. The government is prepared and has an agreement to put in $50 million a year into this organization for the development of the Columbia River dams, under the premise that we have this big bogeyman about how hard done by people are who were displaced from behind the High Arrow Dam.
Let me assure you. I lived in Castlegar when the kids would come down from those communities to go to school in Castlegar, and they didn't even want to go over Christmas, let alone go back and live there. We've had this bogeyman of about how hard done by everybody has been. I have a relative who traded bushland in behind the High Arrow Dam for lake frontages on Kootenay Lake. He's not going back to Deer Park if you took the dam down, I can tell you that much.
We have this whole thing about how hard done by it is, so we've got to give these people money. Columbia Basin Trust has been the vehicle. Their latest escapade is to buy private power development from the local West Kootenay. I attended all those hearings, and I tell you that if something would make you sick, it was listening to them justifying their financial price for that purchase.
It was the highest price ever paid for generating assets, and they want the provincial government to pay half of that. You are going to assume half of that debt, and they are going to assume the rest of the debt and pay it off.
In essence, what they did, in my opinion, was to assume the amount of money they could generate, write to the provincial government — they got income tax forgiveness to boot on their profits — and extrapolate an amount of money about how much they should pay for those assets. It was probably the record price ever paid for assets in North America. I'm hoping the Public Utilities Commission turns them down.
Basically, you have some expansion projects that they're looking at that have been looked at for years — very high-cost power. I urge you to look at some of that and decide whether that commitment of $50 million really should go on. In my opinion, it shouldn't. I'm going to circulate a letter afterward of my final arguments to the Public Utilities Commission on that process.
The other part of that…. It is certainly an agency that's giving money out to people who come and ask — fish people, recreation facilities. They are giving out money in the Columbia basin area. I think this is a cancer in a form that's going to start in the rest of the province. What happens to the gas-producing areas? What happens to the coal-producing areas? What happens to the lumber-producing areas?
We have a very unique anomaly here that I think was created for political means, and I urge you to look at it and look at the economies. My recommendation to you is to dump the whole organization. Put it within B.C. Hydro, and demand some accountability.
On the other side of the question, I'm the appointee on the community health services society, which is the old public health, as most of you know. I'm also the appointee on the greater Trail community health council, and I can assure you there are economies in existing operations. In the nineties when things were a little a bit tough, there wasn't a lot of money around. Management hunkered down, and we survived. I believe we provided a pretty good level of service, and I think we are still providing a darn good level of service.
Then we got into the government almost negotiating with the unions at the back door. If you talked to people who were on those bargaining committees from HEU and that, you'd hear they were negotiating. Down the hall, the unions had rooms. Provincial government people were going to them. It was really a sham, as far as negotiations went. Bargaining positions. Money started to flow in, and there's been a lot of money flow into the present health service delivery plan — a lot of money.
I'll give you a bit of an embarrassing example. The health services society of Castlegar — of which, I hate to tell you, I'm a director; I get voted down pretty regularly — has capital assets of $4.4 million. There's more money than we can spend. Now, does that make any sense?
You have a report from Deloitte and Touche that talks about funding unfunded liabilities. From an accountant's point of view, I think it's logical, but what
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you're doing is…. They've recommended government fund all this sick leave, accrued time and all of that through the whole health care system. Who are we going to lay off? Who are we going to get rid of?
We're going to accumulate all this kind of money. We're sitting in Castlegar right now with this group that has $3.56 million in cash. Certainly, there's money on the mental health side, and it's all stovepiped. Accountants love to hide money. You know. We've all been there. You know the games they play.
I urge you to look at those reserves. Why do they need reserves? They don't need reserves. Reserves cause problems. Poverty breeds character. That's what I call Saskatchewan intuition. When they didn't have anything, they made it do. I think we need a little bit of that.
From that side, those are just some of the examples that I can talk to you about. I'll give you an example: speech therapists consolidating services. Health services has speech therapists; school board has speech therapists; community health council has speech therapists — all in this community. How would you like to be a speech therapist? I won't tell you which group they prefer to work for. That's the kind of thing.
They rented some buildings. The major health buildings in Trail and in Nelson have 30 percent vacant space. The building in Trail, when you walk out that door and look across the street, you're going to see a building that we're paying $30-some a square foot rent for on the second floor. There isn't one building in downtown Trail that's getting more than ten bucks. That's what we've inherited: $750,000 a year to keep that building warm and housed across the street. If that was my money, it wouldn't be happening; if it was yours, it wouldn't be happening.
Negotiations with BCBC. I'll tell you what happened. I was on the board of health services that has that building. The owner came to us and said: "There are two years left in the contract. We'll cancel the contract. We'll sign on for another ten years, and we'll give you a 10 percent reduction in rent." Isn't that a deal? I'd have loved to have that deal too. He got turned down. What I'm saying to you here is that it's my money. We're the people in this province. We make things happen. It isn't some boogeyman off somewhere else; it's us who do it.
I think there are economies in operations. There are plenty of them out there. We have to be a little hard about it, and we have to find them. The facts are not nice. The task you have before you…. The people who really won the election are the ones that lost. You've got a tough job. All I can urge you — having been defeated a couple of times in city council elections and having a few more whiskers gone soft — is that once you're finally out of office and the job you wanted to do, just don't let the prospect come of you being able to say: "I wish I had…." There's nothing deader than a defeated politician.
I know you have a tough job, and nobody likes to do cutbacks, but I think it has to happen. There are some economies out there, but there aren't enough. You know, where we heard, "Creating these jobs, creating these jobs," creating $25 and $30 an hour jobs on deficit financing is a no-brainer, in my opinion.
It just can't continue to happen. Somebody's got to pay the piper at some point down the road. Now, there has to be some compassion for dealing with people. We're all prepared to cushion a little bit, but at some point there's got to be more on the top of the water than underneath it.
With that, I guess I get a little bit carried away. Fortunately, it's not all bad. You hear all this talk about contracting out. Certainly, there are going to be some failures. There's no question about that, but there are also successes and flexibility. Where you have employees and they come to you with a problem, you'd better get your wallet out, because that's the only answer. When you have a contract, you have some flexibility.
Certainly, the bad news gets the headlines, but there can be successes and management accountability. Contract failures? Management accountability. Somebody didn't do their job right. In my opinion, Jimmy Pattison wasn't wrong: somebody's got to be fired once in awhile. That's where it comes from. Sometimes it's job preservation that has a failure in contracts. Well, it's there.
At any rate, with that, I'm going to shut up. I'll leave you this letter. I'll also leave you the financial statement from the Boundary health services society if you want to see the assets and the liabilities. I'm sure there are some accountants among you. If you have any questions, I'll try to shut up.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Terrific. I was just going to thank you. Not terrific that you've shut up. That might have come out wrong. I want to thank you for your presentation.
I note that we do have some questions from members of the committee, and I'll begin with Lorne.
L. Mayencourt: I appreciate the bit about the building across the street here. That's an interesting fact. It would be interesting to find out what the story is behind it.
I'm probably typical of most people from my neck of the woods, which is Vancouver. I don't really understand. You were talking about the Columbia Basin Trust. I don't quite understand that, and I would like to understand that. Could you tell me a little bit of background on that? What's the deal?
N. Gabana: One day or two days? [Laughter.]
L. Mayencourt: Well, the Chair says I've got two minutes.
N. Gabana: As a result of the Columbia River construction, there was a lot of political flak. It was a very clever move to set up this Columbia Basin Trust to deal with the impacts of the development of the Columbia River dams. Basically, the High Arrow, in particular, was one, what with the relocation of people and all
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those hard done by. All the bad news has come out about what happened there, but as a result of the High Arrow Dam construction, in particular, there were huge savings as a result of flooding. The city of Trail was saved two floods. Down the river, even if they're Americans, are people. There were huge savings in flood damage down in the delta area.
This Basin Trust now has money coming into it. The provincial government, I think, is giving it $2 million a year now for administration of the whole thing. It's a complex organization. They have set up a hierarchy that would be a capitalist's dream. How you ever punch through this thing and find out who's accountable or where, I can't tell you. They've got Columbia Basin Trust Power, Columbia River contracts, Columbia Basin itself — a whole array of things.
What they do is try and deliver some social programs in the area. They'll grant money for recreation, fish habitat and social programs. It's really provincial money being funded into this very specific local area of the province. Does that help a little bit?
L. Mayencourt: Yeah, a little bit.
N. Gabana: I'll buy you lunch.
L. Mayencourt: Yeah, would you? I'll buy you lunch.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Are there any others questions from members of the committee? Seeing none, Norm, I would like to thank you for your presentation today.
Moving along to our next presenters, which is the Trail women's group, we have Eileen Pedersen, Julie Morrison, Patricia Harmston and Rita Taenzer.
J. Morrison: Distinguished panel, each of us is going to speak for two minutes, and I'll just start off. I'd like to say thank you for coming to Trail. Welcome to Trail. We're glad to see you here. My colleagues are Rita Taenzer, Eileen Pedersen and Patsy Harmston. My name is Julie Morrison.
We come from a group of women in this area, and we're concerned about poverty and violence against women. We're concerned about cuts to services and the negative impacts that will surely result, especially to minority groups and women. We'd like to urge the government to think creatively at this time. We urge the government to increase spending in the public service sector to stimulate an economy that in light of the softwood lumber tariff and recent world events is moving towards a recession.
B.C. already has the second-leanest public service in Canada, comparable to Alberta and Ontario. From June to August this year, we've lost 39,000 jobs. More job loss at this point would only further damage our fragile economy and send us further into recession. Now is a good time to increase public sector spending to stimulate the economy.
If money is cut from the public service sector, it will no longer be available to the economy. Removing half a billion dollars all at once can only have a devastating impact on our economy. It makes no sense at this point. Dramatic tax cuts were reckless before the current economic turmoil, and further tax cuts, plus spending cuts, would not be appropriate.
We need to invest in things that business needs, like a highly educated, skilled workforce. We must protect and expand education. ITAC has already warned of serious shortages in trades and technical occupations in the coming years. More money must go into continuing care, emergency response teams and primary health care reform. We need to protect the advantages we already have, such as cheap, efficient electricity supplied by our own publicly owned B.C. Hydro. We must invest in new environmental technologies and higher value-added uses.
Any further tax cuts, especially to the rich, must be cancelled. Government exists to meet the needs of its citizens, to create an environment in which sensitivity to those needs allows fair, equitable and just treatment for all its members. We have to address inequality and poverty. This should be on the top of government's agenda.
Because B.C. has a low debt-to-GDP ratio, second only to Alberta's, and because our debt-servicing costs at about 7 percent are relatively low, we can afford to run a deficit at this time. A budget is something to go by, and sometimes it is appropriate to be in the red. We cannot afford to lose thousands of jobs in the public service sector.
R. Taenzer: Good morning. My name is Rita Taenzer. I'm pleased that this room was chosen as the site for this meeting, as it's the room used each time a provincial election is held. It's in this room that citizens have their moment of democracy every four years, and I hope that the presentations you hear today will enlarge that democracy and that you'll hear what's being said all morning.
As you've already been told, our group is interested in women's issues. Our interests include education, support and celebration of women. For years there have been many groups who have been proactive regarding women's issues in this town. In 1979 a group of psychiatric nurses had seen too many battered and abused women come through the psychiatric unit of Trail hospital.
These women were not crazy, but they were abused and were in crisis, and there was no other safe place for them. The nurses worked and lobbied and educated until a transition house, a safe haven for women and children, was created. This transition house is widely supported by the entire greater Trail area.
I feel it's quite likely that if you walked out on the street at the end of your meeting here and asked somebody about the WIN Transition House, they would know about it. They would be proud that the community has it, if not proud of why we need it. Unfortunately, there is still a need today for transition houses in this and many other communities, and our group,
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like those psychiatric nurses in 1979, is adamant that these services for women and children remain.
Yes, there are challenges and demands in formulating a provincial budget that would be fair and yet face economic realities. You and Minister Collins have some tough choices. We believe that cutting services for women, children and families is not cost-effective in the long run. If, for example, you decided to close the transition house here in Trail, we would be back to the conditions we were in during 1979, and abused women would be forced back into what likely would be mainstream health care. There would be less real support for the victims and increased health care costs.
We have heard some talk about your government perhaps changing legislation to have spouses remain in an abuser's home and have the abuser get out. In many cases, this would be like signing death warrants for these women.
The nurses in 1979 fought long and hard to get services in place in this town, and our group will fight just as hard to keep services such as the transition house, the crisis line, addictions counselling and victims counselling, particularly for women, here in Trail 22 years later.
E. Pedersen: Hi, and welcome. Thank you for this opportunity. Today I speak to you as a school teacher who has worked with children since 1965, a teacher particularly focused on, first, counselling children in the classroom to bring out their talents, confidence and best potential for learning, potential that may have gone underground due to sex role stereotyping.
I speak also as a feminist, one who has studied and lobbied for change — to change women's place, my place, in society — for the past quarter of a century: the degradation, violence and disrespect suffered by women at the hands of men; the erosion of self-worth; the depression, leading to despair; and the downward spiralling when no one listens, no one supports us. No one cares enough to see how in the end this ignoring contributes to a weakening of the world's society — such a vast amount of lost creativity, potential and joy in the world.
I will do my best to convince you to increase funding for transition houses and other programs that support women by giving you a tiny glimpse of the trickle-down effect of women having nowhere to turn when they're abused. I'd like to begin by asking you a few questions.
How many of you, specifically on the panel here, have been bullied at school? Have had your children bullied? Have grown up in families where your mothers, grandmothers, sisters or brothers were hit, punched or kicked — perhaps had some broken bones, had chainsaw scars or were murdered? Perhaps it was you who suffered violence. What kind of fear did that instil in you as a child, or have you forgotten?
Did you feel safe to see the one who gave you life and cared for you having her life threatened? Did you fear for your own life?
Children are traumatized in these situations. Mental anguish — fear for one's life, fear of losing your mom — causes incalculable and far-reaching harm among children and families. Children have nowhere to turn. Imagine for a moment what it must be like to be a child cowering helplessly in fear while his or her mom is attacked and may possibly die. The child's very foundation of security is shattered. Intense stress sets in and negatively affects in a most intense way their ability to cope with life, to trust and to become strong, healthy, contributing members of society.
School achievement suffers. Learning difficulties and disabilities appear. Attention and behaviour problems emerge. Schools are constantly trying to deal with bullying. Where did kids learn this behaviour? Where do victims of bullying learn to be victims?
Student alcohol and drug addictions increase. Crime increases, and the jails fill up. Women's emotional, physical, spiritual, mental and economic health suffers heavily, affecting their ability to cope with life, to trust and to be healthy, happy, contributing members of this society.
The family unit ceases to be a place of safety and love, where respect for each other is fostered, where positive role models encourage youngsters. The public health system becomes overloaded with people trying to heal from the physical and emotional effects of abuse. The country's economy suffers. This situation is far too common.
I ask you: which is a better solution for this government — to cut funding and remove the supports a mother needs to protect herself and her children, or to help her find the inner strength to provide a safer, healthier environment? Funding support for women's lives is not a competition. It is vital for women's and children's physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and economic health — indeed, for all members of this province and the society at large.
Money spent helping women to get on with their lives is money wisely spent. You must consider these far-reaching effects. You must continue to support the healing of society, families, women and children and, in the process, men. They too will reap the benefits.
P. Harmston: My name is Patsy Harmston. I'm here to talk to you a little bit more at a personal level about poverty issues concerning families today in British Columbia — just a very small portion, because it could take all day.
Six years ago I became a single parent, and I started out living on social assistance. Like many people, I returned to school, which is itself a major self-esteem builder. I started volunteer work, which eventually turned into a paid position a few hours a week. In turn, that paid position turned into more and more hours until I am now at a full-time position at that worksite.
The most difficult, most challenging time for me financially was when I was on social assistance and working part-time. You're allowed to make a certain amount of money on social assistance before they start to dock your pay, but it's so little that it's basically pay-
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ing for your transportation, the clothing you need for work and that type of thing. Your quality of life really doesn't improve at all.
On top of that, when I went off social assistance, that was the hardest part. That's when I became part of the working poor, as we're called. Part of my medical benefits were lost, because prescriptions were no longer paid for. I'm extremely fortunate that nobody in my family — neither my children nor I — have major health problems, because the fact is that a lot of people in that position do have to make the choice to stay on social assistance. They can't afford their meds any other way.
I did go off. I was on medications, and even with that I had to go off them for about a year till I got benefits at work. After that, my biggest issue was child care and child care expenses. I started off with a full subsidy, but of course as my work increased and my paycheques increased, my child care subsidy went down substantially, to the point that now it's almost non-existent
In fact, after my last pay raise, my child care subsidy immediately went down to almost equal, so I'm really not benefiting much. Partly, I do work nightshifts, and the child care subsidy that the government provides doesn't take that into consideration with school-age children, so I'm paying a lot for it.
These are just a few of the hardships that people on low incomes face. I'm extremely fortunate that I have a decent paying job. I won't even get into the dental issues, because they're huge. Part of the problem people face in this town is just finding a dentist that will take them when they're on social assistance and the government dental plan. A lot of dentists won't do that. They'll only do emergency cases. Down the road, of course, that will cause huge problems.
There's also — well, it's called "poor-bashing." I don't like to call it that. I think that's a petty term. It's discrimination. People in poverty have to face it from the schools, teachers, news media and the general population. People who are low income have things said about them in the newspaper and such. If you said it about other people, it would be called hate literature.
Again, my story is much more fortunate. My kids don't have the huge health issues that other people face. I did not come from an abusive marriage, and my childhood was wonderful — there was no abuse — nor do I have any kind of substance abuse issues. The hurdles are gigantic for people who are facing that, and it's a cycle. It goes on from generation to generation. Trying to break that cycle is extremely difficult, and that's where the community social service programs come in.
I understand you want solutions. You want ideas on how to do budgets so they work for people. I'm not a money person. I have no solutions for you. I'm sorry. I think other people can do that much better than I.
What I do know is that what you're dealing with is human lives. Healing takes a long time. There are no quick profits. There are no overnight success stories. When you're investing in human beings you need to take the financial risk to make the financial gains down the road. You need to look at long-term goals for these people to become financially independent and make wise choices.
When you hear the cliché — and it's a true one — that children are our future, I want you to remember that when you invest in the child, you need also to invest in the whole family, because nobody's more important to a child than their parents — mother and father.
R. Taenzer: I think I have about one minute to wrap this up. You've heard a little bit about who we are and what we think is important. We recognize that we're in trying times. Things like the softwood lumber and tourism and high-tech are in difficulty. The events of September 11 have made the entire world a different place, and you and the minister and the deputy ministers will be making tough decisions that are going to affect every single British Columbian.
One thing we feel is that the tax cuts to those earning $150,000 and more per year were unnecessary and certainly not part of the publicized new-era agenda. This group makes up just 1.1 percent of B.C. taxpayers and yet received 20 percent of the tax-cut pie, and we would suggest rescinding these cuts. Cutting the public sector at this time would not help the economy but hurt it, as Julie has said. The sector is already lean, and we ask that you look for B.C. solutions to maintain services and improve revenue possibilities without arbitrarily cutting services, as has been done in other provinces.
There are still too many social justice issues plaguing our province — actually, plaguing the entire planet. These strange times we are in may be a perfect starting place to say: "Enough, enough to greed and hatred." Let us start genuinely caring for our fellow citizens and put people — especially the poor, women in need and children who are witnessing too much violence — ahead of the greed and the growing imbalance of the world's resources.
When I look around my community, my country and the world we are in today, I say that what we have been doing has obviously not been working. Let us make wiser choices as we move onward.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I would like to thank you for your presentation here this morning and this afternoon, actually. We covered both. I will look to members of the committee for questions.
J. Bray: Thank you all very much for your presentation, but I'm going to contradict Patricia for a second. You said that you didn't really have solutions. I think you, in your own story, actually demonstrated some of the solutions. Some of the supports you received to make the transition from income assistance to work, while difficult and perhaps not enough, are some of the investments that I think all of you were talking about. My own personal view is that you actually did offer up some good suggestions.
We have heard about the fact that the child care subsidy has not been adjusted in the last six years; that
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there is — and I've heard in other communities — a lack of special infant and toddler spaces for child care. This then makes it difficult for single-parent or two-parent families to enter the workforce when there isn't the capacity for child care. Those are the types of investments, on economic and human terms, that actually generate real capital and return.
I think you did speak of some very important suggestions from your own personal experience, and I want to thank you for coming forward and speaking in a big room, with microphones and everything else. I think we hear from lots of groups, but it's the personal stories that actually have the most impact for committee members as we go back to start our report.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Julie, you were talking about increasing spending in the public service sector right now. Are you talking about increasing our deficit even more? I know that if we take the tax cuts out of the picture — which some people disagree with; I'll certainly give that — then by 2003-04 the province faces a $3.8 billion deficit, excluding anything to do with the tax cuts. I'm just wondering if your thought is to spend even more than that and create a greater deficit for the province. We're taking notes so that we can weigh this out.
J. Morrison: Well, I think that if we don't increase spending in things like education, trades training and health care, we're going to pay a much larger price down the road. I think your deficit will be even more. Certainly, the social costs are going to be tremendous. It's my understanding that in the last ten years spending has been maintained but not increased. We're losing in those sectors. That's my understanding. I'm not an economist, and we could debate.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): We could debate that for hours, I'm sure.
J. Morrison: Yes, I'm sure we could.
That's my concern. If we don't make investments in training, better technologies, education and health care, we're going to be even further in the red than if we go along as we are now. Does that help?
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Yes, it does. Thank you. The issues that you've spoken to today certainly bring the issues forward for us as a committee. Certainly, the issue that we have to deal with is trying to get our financial house back in order as a province, but to do that with a sound social conscience, making sure the most needy in our society aren't being faced with the burden of carrying all the weight.
J. Morrison: Of course, with investment in education, you'll have higher-paying jobs, which can generate more taxes. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): The challenges won't be easy. There are many challenges, and the decisions will be tough. I think it will take all of us to build our province back up.
J. Morrison: I don't envy you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much for coming today.
Our next presenter this afternoon is Graham Jamin.
G. Jamin: I'm a little bit like a fish out of water. This is the first time I've presented. I'll take my time here. Thank you for coming to our community to hear our concerns.
I work as a family support worker for the Nelson Community Services Centre. It's much the same as the FAIR agency, which you heard about earlier. We have many of the same programs they offer in Nelson. We are a non-profit, publicly funded agency providing direct front-line counselling and support services to families and individuals in our community.
I personally work with families referred by social workers for initial assessments and begin the bridge services during an investigation. I also work with families where there has been a finding that the children are in need of protection or where there are specific mental health needs that need to be addressed in the family. The majority of these families are in crisis, and I work towards stabilizing immediate problems, help assess and refer to the appropriate services and help plan and implement long-term solutions.
I'm not necessarily here to fight for my job. I've been there before, but in reality I want to speak on behalf of the families our agency serves. As one of my co-workers put it, a counsellor providing Stopping the Violence program counselling to women, our clients for the most part are women and children living in poverty. Many are disabled due to emotional and/or physical problems related to past trauma. Some live in fear of further mistreatment or assault from partners, family and predators in our community.
Until such victims heal from past traumatic stress, long-term depression and other debilitating effects of abuse, many do not have the strength nor confidence nor resources to become active and productive members of our community, which they so deeply desire to be.
These are people who don't speak out about their stories of abuse, their generational problems with drugs and alcohol, their mental illnesses, etc., and how this affects their lives. I think, as does my co-worker, that we do bring hope and redirection to their lives and, more importantly, develop new directions for their children.
I'd like to relate to you a recent experience while participating at an ICM meeting in our ministry office. An ICM is an integrated case management meeting. I was questioning a social worker regarding the plans for a child who suffers from a number of mental health
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disorders, issues with drugs and alcohol and who is presently in care but hoping to return home soon.
Along with other ministry staff clinicians, we could only guess as to what services may be available in the near future. Due to the looming prospects of program cuts, planning is very limited to what we can do right now. There is a very strong possibility that new directives to meet budget cuts will prematurely force this child to return home — a very stressful and difficult environment due to other issues the family faces.
This reunification may happen with few support services to assist them. I fear this could quickly become a burden for the courts and the Attorney General to deal with. I am hopeful and have seen situations like this turn around, but the certainty of the future does not look promising in this situation.
I present to this panel that this concern is indicative of the cost to children and families in B.C. — the cutbacks we have. Those silenced by their own personal tragedies and misfortunes will be those who pay for the cutbacks. Has this government had any ideas or projections as to what impact these cuts may have in the future?
There's also a cost to stability, efficiency and the long-term ability of the Ministry of Children and Family Development to carry out its mandate. Ever since I began to work in the social services sector, there has been a public demand for restructuring and restraint.
The first I know of it came with the hon. Grace McCarthy when she was Minister of Human Resources. Then we had the restructuring to the development of the Ministry of Social Services and Housing and, since the Gove report, the creation of the FMCF. Now there's another revamping under the Ministry of Children and Family Development, with the most severe funding cutbacks that we've ever seen in our history.
Full restructuring may be required to meet the budget demands — this at a time when the former child advocate, Joyce Preston, stated in her final report that there's a staffing crisis due to a lack of a stable and experienced workforce. Constant change has impeded the maturing of this ministry.
Long-term planning and commitment are necessary. The child commissioner, Paul Pallan, says investing now to take care of our children will save millions of dollars in the future. I hope you pay close attention when Dr. Mustard speaks to you at the Legislature. His message is clear: investment in our children is critical.
There has been direction by the government to offer at least some protection for the educational and health needs of our children and families. I feel that their social needs must also be protected. This should in fact be foremost: to provide them with the social tools they need to learn to be productive and live healthier lives.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you, Graham, for your presentation.
Are there any questions by members of our committee to Graham?
Graham, I see no questions — well, possibly one. Again, facing the challenges that face all of us…. They don't just face government, because we're all government in the sense that we have to get our financial house in order. We talk about making sure that we look after the children, in particular, and I agree. I'm a father, and I think everybody has some compassion inside — or most people do.
Knowing that changes have to happen — I don't believe we can continue doing what we've done in the past — do you have any ideas on cost savings or what the government could look at? It doesn't mean that every single program has to be cut. There may be efficiencies in some areas to help offset some of the challenges in others. I guess I'm just putting that question to you, if you've got any ideas.
G. Jamin: As I said, there have been cutbacks right from the McCarthy era. I worked in the Ministry of Education for a number of years as well. We've faced cutbacks for years now, but they've only been small cutbacks or restraints — a bit of a percentage here and there. We've never, ever faced 30 to 40 percent cutbacks, the type of devastation we're looking at, at this point.
With those smaller cutbacks or restraint, at least we were able to take a look at it. It was presented back. In the school district, we would present back with those problems. We were able to look at it from a grassroots level and send information back to the government to say: "Yeah, maybe there are things we can do with less in certain areas." We can build restraint that way. But to get a top-down budget restraint of this magnitude, I can't see how we can do it.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Possibly just a follow-through on that. We are in the process of the core review. I'm sure you're aware of that. It's a process where we're evaluating government and the services we provide. Should we provide them? Are we providing them in the most effective manner? I was going to ask a question about whether you were aware of it or whether you'd been involved or asked your opinion on it.
G. Jamin: No.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I agree. I think it's important to learn from the people and the front-line workers about how to find efficiencies, how to provide the service to the best of our ability. I'm certainly a believer that we can always enhance everything we do in our day-to-day lives or in our jobs. If we reach the point where everything is running perfectly, I guess things would be questionable at that point. We always strive to achieve better results. I thank you, Graham.
G. Jamin: A question that could be put back to your own cabinet or your own Legislature is: how could you cut 30 percent off your own budget — off of cabinet, off of government? From that, you could get understanding of how difficult it is to make those cutbacks.
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B. Lekstrom (Chair): I agree. This is not an easy task for government or for our workers in the civil service. The issues that face us all together are certainly tough challenges. Graham, I thank you very much for taking the time today to come and speak with us.
It is now just about 12:30 p.m. That concludes our registered presenters today. We do have a half-hour of open-mike session. We have a number of people that have expressed an interest in speaking to us during the open-mike session. The format for the open mike is five minutes. We do have to cut it down somewhat in order to try and listen to as many people as we possibly can.
I will call on our first presenter for the open-mike session, who is John Foglia.
J. Foglia: By the way, I'm a small businessman in the area. One of the experiences I've had is trying to get some people to work. We run a taxi service. As you've noticed, the town is not that big. Therefore there isn't a lot of money coming in, so the best we can pay is minimum wage. Some of the people coming in applied for the job, but once they found out what the wages were, they said: "Well, I might as well stay on welfare, because I make more money being there than I would working for you." And I agree. If this person had taken the job at minimum wage, they would have no more government protection as far as dental, medical and whatever else there is.
One of my suggestions was that if these people took the job, the government, rather than taking their subsidies right off, would say: "If you're making minimum wage, it will take you this much to survive, and we would pay for your medical and dental or whatever." In other words, it would probably cost the government maybe $2 an hour to subsidize this person, rather than possibly $5 or $6 or whatever it might be at the present time. I believe we would be able to put some more people back to work. It's at least a starting point. From there we get them started, and they can move on to better things. That's one of the suggestions I have.
The other one is that we have a dispatch service, where mainly girls seem to want to work because staying in an office is sort of a safer environment. Again, they come up and say: "I've got three kids. If I take your job it will cost me so much for a babysitter for my kids, because I will be cut off from my benefits." Again I suggest the same thing. Whether they're men or women — I guess I'd better be careful about what I'm saying here — who want to stay home with their kids, there may be ten of these people that are staying home. And it may be because of this predicament — that they cannot work for minimum wage due to the fact that the government cuts them right off their benefits. I would assume that out of these ten people, one of them would probably say they'd rather stay home and look after the kids. Why couldn't we get this person and put him or her through a course where he or she could look after another family's kids so that everybody would get back to work? I'm by no means an expert on this, but I thought it was something that we could look at.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): John, I thank you for those suggestions. I don't believe any one individual is the expert at solving this problem. That's the job we're doing, travelling this province to hear ideas from people like yourself.
J. Foglia: There are people for whom it doesn't matter what you do. I think we find this all over the world. I'm sure that here in Trail and everywhere, for some people no matter what you offer, it's not going to work for them for one reason or another. If we can take whatever amount that is and turn it into a positive, I think it would help everybody. It definitely would change the attitude.
The way things are going now for small business, you have to pay part-time kids $7.50 an hour, no matter what. I really believe there's a lot of kids out there who would be off the street if there was some kind of guideline to say that after school, you can come over there for $3 or $4 an hour. These kids, I bet you, would go and do that.
In the long run they would find, whether it's a trade or whatever, an avenue for themselves. As they grow up, they'd say that this is the avenue to take towards working — or a scientist or whatever that may be. We keep these kids from doing this, and we say: "Well, you're 20 years old; you should know what you want." Well, it's not like turning lights on — flip, and now you think. It doesn't work that way.
You have to start at a young age, not to force them but to say: "What would you like to do? Try it." The way that small business and a lot of other stuff is, their hands are tied behind their backs. I personally am afraid to take one of these kids in, because of all these rules and regulations. I think safety is very important. That's the first thing I do with one of these kids. I've just hired one; his first day was yesterday. He's 22 years old. You almost have to show him how to turn the light switch on and off, and that's sad. I think that's really sad, and I believe that maybe only 10 percent of that is his fault.
I was born in Europe. By the time I came to this country at 15 years old, I was a journeyman. I was stuccoing houses at 15 years old. I know what I've gone through. There's no way that any kid should go through that. I suggest that any one of these kids who is willing to come out and see what a mechanic or a bricklayer or a carpenter is like should have that choice. I don't think these kids have it.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Okay. I'm hesitant to cut you off, because your ideas are very good, but our time is limited. John, I want to thank you, because the issues you've brought forward are certainly worth consideration in trying to solve some of the challenges before us. Thanks for taking the time.
Our next presenter is John Harter.
J. Harter: You may not like me, but I'd like to ask you to listen to what I have to say. We've seen predominantly the same sterile, artsy ruins of the NDP
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appealing for more victim roles. British Columbia has basically been without a government for almost 20 years. The ministry of justice is a cesspool of corruption, breach of trust and a secret society whose primary rule is: do no harm to a fellow member. Protect the individual. There are solutions out there, but they're going to come from individuals, not from group psychopathology. The one thing we are is social animals. We believe the big lie, not the little one. Let's move on and embrace the Charter of Rights. When Trudeau created Canada with the Charter of Rights and made Canada a sovereign nation in 1982, he said: "Okay, kids, I've given you the tools; now go out and build yourself a country." We've had the sterile, urban, border Canadians with their group psychopathologies feeding us victim roles and feeding us 650 trade qualification certificates. Washington State has three and no leaky condos.
Professional associations — completely above the law. When the Real Canadian Superstore roof collapsed and eight tradesmen made formal complaints, the epithets you gave them made them go away. What happened to him? A $5,000 fine and six months' suspension. Anywhere else in the world, he would have gone to jail. A breach of trust. From one ministry to the other, breach of trust is the order of the day.
RCMP cannot investigate a civil servant unless the deputy minister points a finger and says: "Let's go." The RCMP is a large system. Large systems don't work. Large systems without checks and balances breed corruption, poverty and organized crime. We need to fire the RCMP, eliminate their contract and go to elected regional district police chiefs across the province. We can do the job for a quarter or an eighth and have far better justice instead of more group psychopathology.
When I came up with the idea of the fixed-link floating bridge in 1980, it was based on the Terms of Union. British Columbia had an existing militia. The Terms of Union say the federal government will provision it and the Legislature will control it. I suggested that we change the name of the B.C. militia to the B.C. corps of engineers in public health service; make a competing force for health care; and get people trained, directed, growing and part of something bigger than themselves. You can't work it the way it's been going. We've had one paradigm shift with the NDP's disappearance. We had another one recently. Now is the time for creativity, dynamics, courage and abandoning victim roles. Let us participate.
British Columbia is the only place in North America where if you get a ticket, the only way you can get rid of that ticket is to pay it. You can't work it off, go to jail for it or go to a course for it. The purpose of those tickets is revenue. They have brought policing into disrepute. Crown won't let you appeal them. It's on and on and on. There's a law with social services….
B. Lekstrom (Chair): One minute, John.
J. Harter: Just one more thing. When I testified in front of Judge Gove, he cleared the room. I suggested we eliminate the whole Ministry of Social Services. That was truly the problem. Give people the tools and the direction, administer it by the Ministry of Finance and eliminate all those parasites feeding on the blood of the poor. Make people strong. There is a law that exempts anyone in child protection from civil prosecution. It violates the charter. It's Nazi Germany law, and it makes social services completely dysfunctional. You have law after law after law that is illegal. Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): I'm sorry to cut you off, John. I know that 15 minutes, let alone five, is tough to get a message across in. I thank you for taking the time to come forward today.
Our next presenter this afternoon is Bev Onischak. Good afternoon.
B. Onischak: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you for this opportunity to participate in the B.C. Legislative Assembly's prebudget consultation. One advantage of being one of the last speakers is that many of my examples have been provided before me.
The Selkirk College faculty association represents 130 instructional and support faculty on four campuses in Trail, Castlegar and Nelson. Our members teach in university transfer and career technology programs. We believe that education is the key to building and maintaining strong and healthy communities. This is even more important when economic times are difficult. We are pleased that the government has made a commitment to maintain and support education.
The public post-secondary system is well positioned to help address the current and anticipated shortage of skilled workers in trades, technologies and professions. We will need to replace the so-called baby-boomers that are soon to retire. In the past Selkirk College has been able to address the needs of local employers when they have identified upcoming shortages. Sometimes we have done this even before the national predictors have said we are going to have a shortage of nurses and welders, etc. In fact, recently Selkirk College provided welders and other tradespeople for the Kootenay Lake ferry project.
We are able to respond to the educational and training needs of all our local citizens. We provide basic education to young people leaving high school and to mature students, who have been displaced from their employment, seeking a career change or seeking a whole lifestyle change. We heard women speak earlier this morning about the self-esteem building that was available to them through education when they've had to leave their homes and their marriages and seek new lives.
Selkirk College was founded in 1966 and was the first community college in B.C. At that time the founding fathers and mothers recognized that education could be made more available if our local students did not have to travel out of the area and could study at home. The cost of living and travel is even higher now,
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and it's even more important that education can be obtained locally.
Over the years the college has grown and now plays an active role in retraining. We have taken men and women who have been displaced from the company formerly known as Cominco and from the forest industry, and we have admitted them to the college to study nursing. We heard earlier from one of our presenters of the role that nursing has played in improving the lives of the citizens of Trail. We have brought people into computer information systems, silviculture, business information programs, water treatment programs, child care. These people have found employment and thus do not have to rely on government income for assistance. In fact, they have become financially independent and are able to stay and contribute to our community.
The college has also grown and changed its focus over the years. Students come from outside our community to participate in some of our niche programs. Many of these students then go on to settle in the area and remain to contribute to our economy. Some students leave the area, true, but they go back to northern B.C. and to the coast, where they have originally come from.
Another group of students that have come to us recently is the international education students from China, Japan, Africa, Mexico, Germany. These students spend a short time here. They drop a lot of money in the pockets of local businesses. They go home, and they preach goodwill about the Canadian hospitality that we've shown them. Local education makes sense for both the students who save on relocation costs and the local businessperson who sells services to these students.
At this point I'd like to make some observations about the financial costs of education to our students. Tuition fees are only a minor cost of education. As noted above, the cost of living and travel costs are high. Many of our students finish their programs with large student loans. When I went through university, tuition was thought to be expensive, but in fact it probably wasn't. I think the cost of living then was lower than it is now. However, the main factor in preventing me from having a huge debt load was the availability of part-time and summer work. I went through university, and I do not have a debt. When I started at the college over 20 years ago, I saw students who were much like me. Now our local employment situation is such that our students have to work at two or three minimum-wage jobs to supplement their student loans.
Our students also have to find suitable child care that is safe, affordable and flexible enough to allow them to attend classes and study in labs and evening library sessions. The successful student is the student who can spend time after class hours in labs and libraries. I have seen many talented students have to drop courses in order to meet employment and child care commitments. These students then have to extend their two-year programs to three or more years and thus incur even higher debt loads.
I would like to address the issue of faculty retention. While most colleges are….
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Bev?
B. Onischak: Okay. Well, I was just going to say that we have faculty retention issues. We've attracted many faculty members, but now we need to have competitive salaries to keep them. We have two faculty on leave. One is a research chemist who's gone back to Cominco where he can earn one and a half times our salary rate, and he works fewer hours. Another one has gone back to Alberta to work, and we fear that these people may not come back into our system.
With that, I will close and thank you for the opportunity to address the committee.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Bev, I thank you very much. Again, I apologize for having to cut the time short. We do have a couple of other presenters, and trying to get to everybody is important. I thank you for your input here this afternoon.
I will call our next presenter, Blaine Ellis. Good afternoon.
B. Ellis: Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm not a very eloquent speaker, but I have some suggestions that would possibly really help.
I've looked around and seen all the papers and things. I'm wondering if a good way to help reduce our budgets in all these ministries is to come up with ways to reduce the paper. You go in to start a small business, and they give you booklet on booklet on booklet. Hundreds of pounds, it sometimes works out to be. Trying to search through it slows you down. I'm suggesting that the government, instead of putting it all down on paper — there are computers available all over this place — could start putting it on CDs. The cost of printing a 100-page booklet is a couple or three dollars to the government. The price of a CD is a buck and a half. If you changed half the print run of your booklets to CDs, the ones that get sent to general publication, it would be a hell of a lot easier for people who are trying to do things in the province.
You also might decide to have some of the computer experts working for the government create little tax programs for our provincial tax. It may take ten or 20 minutes for a businessman to fill it out, looking through everything. Most businesses are on computer now. Most small businesses have at least one small computer somewhere in their system. If the government could put together and make their reporting systems and put out a CD that will work with six or seven of the most prevalent accounting programs, your small business man can say, "Oh gee, it's time to do the provincial taxes," go in, hit a subroutine and have it look through everything and do it out. They can report it simply, easy as that, rather than having to go through three or four months of receipts to do the same thing.
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We're an electronic world now. We've got to take advantage of some of these things.
The government could design a database so a person starting a business could go in and say: "Well, I want to do this, that and the other thing in my business. What regulations am I having to watch out for? Where could my problems be?" Right now you go through page after page of various regulations for selling things, for taxes and for safety issues just to figure out your two or three items that no one thinks to put in. If you were to build this, you could put it on line. Anybody in the province with a modem could dial in, check it out and find what they're looking for. Quite frankly, you make it easier for them to start something. It's scary enough for people who want to try starting a business without having a major paper roadblock put in their way. Thank you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Blaine, I thank you for your suggestions. They do tie in with what we are looking at within the legislative buildings, and so on, and are following through on to see if we can work our technological wizardry a little better for government to operate possibly a little more effectively and efficiently. So I thank you for bringing your suggestion forward today.
For our next presentation I will call on Pam Lewin.
P. Lewin: Good afternoon. My name is Pam Lewin. I manage the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce as well as the local visitor info centre. I receive no provincial or federal funding, although chambers within one hour of me do. I want to talk to you today about our local community. I've provided the lady at the back with extensive information and will provide more at your request. I want to offer that service up front.
It's the Selkirk College area that I'm talking about right now. Our area has 22 percent of the local government, 4 percent of B.C.'s population and 17 percent — going to 22 percent — are seniors. The grant process for local government now penalizes any change in some of the restructuring that has been suggested. The Columbia Basin Trust treaty expires, I believe, in 2024. There are two programs for allocation: one is called investment, and the other is called spending. Within this spending program, they help to do social, economic, cultural, environmental and educational programs. Most of them are administered in the spending program through the resources of regional government and allocation.
We are providing you with a more detailed written report, but I want to touch on some highlights — they are not in priorities — about our local businesses. I will just read you the list and try to be very brief.
We want to talk about the disabled in the workforce and the added cost to businesses for insurance and equipment to accommodate those disabled people. Technological needs — high-speed lines, the ability to use cell phones and the 911 service. Training and retraining programs — you've heard lots about that today. WCB and the nightmare it creates almost daily with changes, demands and reclassification. Deregulation and the cost of red tape for businesses and small businesses. The lack of support for research and development so businesses can grow. The manufacturing tax and our constant competition with our neighbours in Alberta, who have no manufacturing tax. The apprenticeship program — the work-skills training for today's businesses and trades, including tourism. The small business tax. The tax reduction was only for corporations, which are about 40,000 of the nearly 300,000 businesses in our community — in our province. Sorry. It would be nice if they were in our community. We wouldn't be talking to you today.
I want to talk about infrastructure and the fact that we need water services, power, sewer and roads in order for us to expand and grow our economy. We also need to recognize that if we go into partnerships privately, we need to control inflation and monopolies.
We want to talk about tourism, which is the number two industry in B.C., and the impact of the airline cuts and of 24-hour crossings. We want to talk about the economic stimulus for rural communities and rural areas, the cost to businesses of the airline cuts and the fact that it costs us more to fly from here to Vancouver than it does for you people to fly to Kelowna.
We want to talk about the cost of aboriginal issues. The aboriginal bands have been extinct here since 1956, and yet we have five claims on our land here in the Trail area.
The relationship of rural communities to their neighbours and to the lower mainland. I want you to remember that we cannot get our services here, and every time we send a hospital patient to the lower mainland, it costs us extensively.
The impact of downsizing both public and private businesses — you've heard some of that today — and what it means to our workforce here and the fact that our young people are now leaving our community.
Those are just some of the highlights we're talking about. The paper is much more detailed and has an executive summary. I've only highlighted some today. I thank you for the opportunity to present and for being here to listen.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Pam. You did a wonderful job in the five minutes provided to you to get that much information across. I thank you, and I can assure you that the information you've left with us in writing will be looked at and read over.
P. Lewin: If you're looking for clarification on any of the details that have been provided, we contain a very extensive resource library about our community and the services and quality of life here. We'd be more than pleased to send you that.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Our last presenter today is Ms. Linda Lafleur.
L. Lafleur: I'm here representing the Trail Regional Hospital and Health Foundation. I know we're right
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before the 1 o'clock time, so I'm really going to summarize what I've got written up for you.
I just really wanted to highlight the fact that we're an organization that carries the privilege of raising funds for our regional hospital and our area residents. We're not a political group, but our work is highly dependent on the budget decisions that are going to be made by your government. We do not wish to carry the burden of responsibility for all the needs of the hospital and our facilities, but we gladly take on the challenge of raising those moneys. We are very afraid that all the changes that are going on with the economy and any budget decisions will impact on the level of donations that this community will be able to make to our foundation — therefore a reduction in the amount of funds that we can actually spend on equipment and other things needed in the hospital and the other facilities.
To give you a little bit of information, to date we have, through the generosity of local businesses, industry and individuals, raised over $4.121 million for the health care project since 1998. The government really needs to see that this isn't just our foundation. I would suspect that other foundations throughout the province will be giving you the same kind of message. It becomes very difficult for foundations, especially in the health sector, to dig into our communities that are struggling.
If I'm to be the last speaker, I've heard all morning the needs of…. Our community groups are very important organizations that keep this community strong. They all rely on our hospital, our acute care facilities and long term care. There will be a limit. We're afraid of reaching a limit if the cuts are too deep and really get down in there. We won't be getting the donations and the kind of financial commitment from organizations like Teck Cominco and smaller groups and businesses. We just wanted to make you aware of our concerns and how cuts will affect the ability of this community to support its hospital. I know you've heard it all.
The unemployment rate. We do have pending layoffs coming in other sectors, not just the government sector, and this always lessens the availability of funds into the foundation. Our local and regional governments, I'm sure, have made decisions for long-term giving to our hospital. I think it would be unfair and unwise to dismantle those plans they have made for giving to our equipment needs. They've put a lot of time and effort and money into making those plans as well.
Again, hospital funding. We don't want to lose our ability to recruit and retain our physicians. As we all know, we are in an isolated part of the province. I've only been here five months. I feel that it's more isolated here than it was in Dawson Creek and Moberly Lake,
where I'm from. We had easier access there. Here it's very different, and the transportation is actually harder — to get out in a case of an emergency — than it was up north. We thought we had problems there.
We have the same issues as other communities where our population of seniors is rising. They are probably one of our largest groups of people who donate to our hospital foundation. I would hazard a guess that's the same across the country. If people don't see that we have a stable hospital and health care system, they tend not to open their pocketbooks, because they're going to move away and have to go somewhere where their care is available.
I just wanted to sort of put that in a little package for you — that whatever decisions are made at the budget level, they will affect the community groups and the fundraising groups like ourselves. Just to give you an example before I go, we had a cornerstone-laying ceremony at our new ambulatory care project just a month ago, where the Freemasons came and did a beautiful dedication ceremony because they had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars toward this project. Like I said, I'm new here, but I know that the people who have spent the last 12 years or more with this foundation don't want to see that that's the last token, the last cornerstone laid in the community's health care. I just want to leave that message with you.
B. Lekstrom (Chair): Thank you very much, Linda, for coming out and certainly touching on the issue you did with transportation and access. To hear that it's even more difficult from this region than it is from the north, where you were from and I'm from, puts great thought into my head as to the challenges we face right throughout this province. This is a beautiful area of British Columbia, but it certainly is not without its challenges. I thank you for coming forward today.
Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our meeting here today. I would like to thank each and every one of you, the presenters and the people who came and sat and listened. I would encourage anybody who thinks of ideas in the coming weeks or who has more to contribute to please forward that information to us through the Clerk's office in Victoria, not Dawson Creek. The information is on the back table on how to access that and submit written reports. They will be given equal consideration to the verbal reports that we accept during all of our public consultations. In closing, I want to thank you for hosting us here today. It is a beautiful part of our province. Enjoy the rest of your day.
The meeting is adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1:02 p.m.
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