2007 Legislative Session: Third Session, 38th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Present: Bill Bennett, MLA (Chair); Bruce Ralston, MLA (Deputy Chair); Iain Black, MLA; Randy Hawes, MLA; Dave S. Hayer, MLA; John Horgan, MLA; Jenny Wai Ching Kwan, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Harry Bloy, MLA; Richard T. Lee, MLA; Bob Simpson, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:02 a.m.
2. Opening statements by Mr. Bill Bennett, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
|1)||College of New Caledonia Students Union||Valentine Crawford|
|2)||Prince George Chamber of Commerce||Michael Kerr|
|4)||City of Prince George||Councillor Don Zurowski|
|5)||Faculty Association of the College of New Caledonia||Dr. George Davison|
|6)||College of New Caledonia||Lynn Jacques|
|7)||University of Northern British Columbia Faculty Association||Paul Bowles|
|8)||Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia||Dan M. Jepsen|
|9)||Central Interior Logging Association||Rick Publicover|
|11)||Theatre North West; Community Arts Council of Prince George and District||Ted Price|
4. The Committee adjourned at 11:44 a.m. to the call of the Deputy Chair.
Bill Bennett, MLA
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2007
Issue No. 48
|Chair:||* Bill Bennett (East Kootenay L)|
|Deputy Chair:||* Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley NDP)|
* Iain Black (Port Moody–Westwood L)
Harry Bloy (Burquitlam L)
* Randy Hawes (Maple Ridge–Mission L)
* Dave S. Hayer (Surrey-Tynehead L)
Richard T. Lee (Burnaby North L)
* John Horgan (Malahat–Juan de Fuca NDP)
* Jenny Wai Ching Kwan (Vancouver–Mount Pleasant NDP)
Bob Simpson (Cariboo North NDP)
* denotes member present
|Committee Staff:||Jonathan Fershau (Committee Research Analyst)|
|Jacqueline Quesnel (Committees Assistant)|
[ Page 1103 ]
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2007
The committee met at 8:02 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming this morning. My name is Bill Bennett. I am the Chair of this legislative committee on finance and government services.
I'm the MLA for East Kootenay. Even though it says in the literature in the back that I'm the MLA for South Peace, I'm really not. I'm the MLA for East Kootenay, although it wouldn't be so bad to be the MLA for South Peace, because it's a nice riding, a nice area and a stronghold of the government.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): So far. [Laughter.]
B. Bennett (Chair): I'd like to start things off this morning by having the Finance Committee members introduce themselves, starting on my immediate right with Bruce.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Bruce Ralston. I'm the MLA for Surrey-Whalley and the Deputy Chair of the committee.
I. Black: My name is Iain Black. I'm the MLA for Port Moody–Westwood.
J. Horgan: John Horgan, MLA for Malahat–Juan de Fuca.
D. Hayer: Good morning. Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.
R. Hawes: Randy Hawes, MLA for Maple Ridge–Mission.
J. Kwan: Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
B. Bennett (Chair): On my left here is Katch Koch, who is our Committee Clerk. Jonathan Fershau is in the back. He's the research analyst for the committee. Jacquie Quesnel is at the registration desk at the back.
Also joining us today are these two folks over here from Hansard Services. They prepare the written transcript of our meetings as well as stream the audio for this meeting out over the Internet for all the people in the province, who I'm sure are waiting today to listen the committee's activities.
The Minister of Finance for B.C. is required to release a budget consultation paper by September 15 each year. That consultation paper provides a description of fiscal and economic conditions here in British Columbia, and it identifies the key issues that need to be addressed by the public in preparation for the next budget.
If you'd like to review that paper and you don't have a copy of it, we have copies at the back. Help yourself if you don't have one of those.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is charged with carrying out public consultations on the Finance Minister's behalf. This all-party committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly not later than November 15 of this year.
Information on how you can make a presentation to the committee, for those who are not on the list to speak to us today, is available on the website. You can find contact information there for upcoming meetings, meeting transcripts and guides on how to make an oral, written or on-line submission. You have three choices in how you contribute to this prebudget consultation process.
As a reminder, any input this committee receives in writing or in electronic form is given the same consideration that an oral presentation would be given here. The deadline for all the submissions, whether they're written or on line, is Friday, October 19.
Today we're going to hear from a number of presenters who have preregistered with the Office of the Clerk of Committees. Presentations are to be no longer than ten minutes. That allows us five minutes up here to ask questions of the presenters. If we have time at the end of our session here this morning, we will also have an open-mike session where people can get up and tell us what they think or ask questions. They have about five minutes each for that.
Just before we call on our first presenters this morning, let me say that MLA Bob Simpson, who is a member of this committee, sends his regrets. He's got a personal matter that he's had to deal with. He lives in Quesnel and had intended to be here but can't make it here this morning.
I ask Valentine Crawford and Justin Simon to come forward. Apparently, you folks are going to share your presentation. That's cool with us. Just remember that you've got ten minutes for your presentation.
V. Crawford: Good morning. My name is Valentine Crawford, and to my right here is Justin Simon, our executive director. Thank you once again for this opportunity to present to you. I know I've had the pleasure to present to you in the last couple of years, so my nerves aren't as bad as they were the first time I did this.
B. Bennett (Chair): Ours neither.
V. Crawford: Our student union represents about 4,000 members now. That's down from 4,500 last year. We represent students from here to Quesnel, Mackenzie, Vanderhoof, Valemount, Burns Lake, so it's got quite a range of geographical area. In addition, we have quite a diverse demographic, right from high school students to retired seniors continuing with lifelong learning.
[ Page 1104 ]
Since last year tuition fees have gone up by another 2 percent. For the committee's convenience, we've provided the updated tuition fee charts, which we've submitted the last two years, and we've continued to update them for you.
Just to give you a quick idea, the bottom line is what it would be if tuition fees were just capped at 2 percent before the deregulation in 2001-2002. The top line is the actual result of the cap, before the cap in tuition fees and then after, up until today.
It is continued. We have also included the enrolment charts from last year, with 2006-2007 numbers. However, 2007-2008 numbers will not be out until November. As soon as that information is available — hopefully, before the committee wraps up — we'll ensure that that information is given.
It's noticeable, however, in our hallways that the number of part-time students actually has dropped, and the number of full-time students has also begun to decline. Those who are continuing now as part-time students are not doing so solely out of necessity but the lack of options that they have as students.
"I cannot afford to take on any more student debt; therefore, I have to work and go to school, putting my career on the back burner. I want to attend college part-time, but I cannot afford to, because I do not make enough money at my job to pay for the tuition and the books and the cost of living. I do not qualify for bursaries or scholarships or student financial aid; therefore, I have to say no to my career goals."
Those are just two samples of what we hear on a regular basis through our membership throughout the Prince George campus. It's unfortunate. I am a prime example of moving from a full-time student into a part-time position just because I'm no longer able to afford it. There are several hundreds, if not thousands, of others within this region alone who have had to make these difficult choices.
We've talked about tuition fees quite a bit, and you do have the information in front of you. But really, today we also want to take some time to focus on student loan repayment and interest fees.
J. Simon: My name is Justin Simon. This will be my first time, so I am going to be quite nervous. Please bear with me.
With the average tuition fees at about $5,000 per year, many students must borrow heavily to finance their education. As a result, B.C.'s average student debt of $27,000 at graduation is the second-highest in Canada. With interest, that debt grows by thousands of dollars over the course of repayment.
I personally know the cost of interest from my B.C. student loan. I currently can only afford to pay $29.21 a month, as I am living paycheque to paycheque, and I am still trying to take courses on my current $2,800 B.C. student loan. We've actually included my personal statement in the package there.
As you can see, less than one out of every three payments that I make is actually applied to the principal. Fortunately, my loan isn't as large as others would be. If you go to the next page, you can see that Valentine's loan repayment is higher. He's paying higher interest as well.
A recent Mustel Group poll, conducted between August 8 and August 20, 2000, and commissioned by the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students and the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness, found that 39 percent of British Columbians support the elimination of interest charged on student loans, while an additional 48 percent believe that interest should be no higher than the government's actual rate of borrowing, which is currently 5 percent. The government is currently charging 8.75 percent to 11.25 percent on student loans.
If you take a look at the graph that's labelled "Cost of interest," you can see the difference in interest paid over two different payment periods based on three separate amounts. The first amount is $20,000, and the cost of interest is approximately $6,000 for a ten-year repayment and almost $10,000 for a 15-year repayment. That's nearly 50 percent of the original loan.
If nothing is changed, it won't be long until the average student debt reaches $32,000 at graduation. As you can see on that graph, if a student were to take 15 years to pay back, they would be paying back over $15,000 in interest alone.
This is a clear indication as to the necessity of having a needs-based grant system in place. Having a needs-based grant system would help reduce the daunting levels of student debt and improve access to universities and colleges. Also, the funding for the B.C. loan reduction program, which is funded by the Millennium Scholarship Foundation and awarded to only the highest-need students, will be discontinued in spring of 2008, resulting in increased student debt by the thousands of dollars unless a needs-based grant system is put in place.
V. Crawford: Therefore, for your deliberations, we would like to make the following recommendations.
Increase funding for the B.C. post-secondary education system, and account for inflationary funding.
Reduce tuition fees by 10 percent for 2008 and 2009.
Implement a system of non-repayable grants in B.C. that provides upfront funding which is accessible to full-time and part-time students, and eliminate interest on B.C. student loans.
By investing in public post-secondary education, this will improve B.C.'s diverse economic potentials and ensure that the province has a flexible and adaptable workforce, for these are a necessity to ensure that B.C. can meet and expand in local and global economies.
On behalf of our 4,000 members, I want to thank you for meeting with us today, and we hope to answer any questions you may have for us.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much for your presentation.
Members, are there questions?
J. Horgan: Thank you, Valentine and Justin. You did just fine. Way to go.
[ Page 1105 ]
You made a presentation last year. Other students across B.C. made presentations. I anticipate that we'll be hearing more from student union representatives as we proceed.
I'm wondering. After your presentation and the submission of the report to the Legislature, did you get a chance to read it? If you did, did you see your views reflected in the final report?
V. Crawford: Last year's? To a larger extent, yes. The only piece that was missed, unfortunately, was tuition fees — once again.
We do want to thank the government for committing to adult basic education in this province and once again making it free in the province.
J. Horgan: With respect to a needs-based grant system, did you raise that last year? I don't recall the content being the same. If you did raise it last year, I don't recall it being in the final report.
V. Crawford: No, you're absolutely right. We have raised it the last couple of years, and it wasn't in the final report as well.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for a very good presentation. You know, I have four kids in school and three in post-secondary, so I can relate to it.
How is the job situation? Do you think that may be at all affecting the number of students going to school? I have three of them in post-secondary. They are all working part-time, and I'm trying to tell them to go full-time. They said they want to get some work experience. Are you having the same type of experience here, or is it different?
V. Crawford: I don't think so. Primarily, the jobs that at least the part-time students are managing to maintain are those in the service industry, such as Starbucks, McDonald's, serving at Boston Pizza — that sort of thing. They're not high-paying jobs, and they're not necessarily post-secondary-focused in terms of the end career. It's mainly out of necessity.
I know that I myself work three jobs and go to school. It's a matter of necessity and a matter of survival. It's not feasible to be a full-time student anymore. Between needing the grades to succeed and the amount of time that you have to put in and then additional work hours, it's just no longer feasible.
R. Hawes: Just a couple of questions about tuition fees. You mentioned in your presentation that the average tuition was about $5,000. I think that was the figure you said.
V. Crawford: Correct.
R. Hawes: I'm looking at your graphs here. I'm seeing arts, $2,241; science major, $2,899; home support, $2,500; and if you go to the trades, $3,100 for welding. I'm wondering where the $5,000 came from, because it doesn't seem to be indicated here.
Then a further question. When you talk about a 10-percent reduction — I've asked this question before — based on these amounts, we're talking $200 and $300 a year that would be the reduction. Are you saying that for the want of $300 a year, $25 a month, people would drop out of university? I would suggest that they're not very motivated if for 25 bucks a month they're going to give up a university degree.
J. Simon: For sure. To answer the first portion, $5,000 is the average for B.C. In Prince George we are fortunate that tuition fees aren't as high, but it's the average for B.C.
V. Crawford: These tuition fees are based on full-time enrolment, so it's five courses for the academic semester, for two semesters. That's what the tuition fees are based on.
R. Hawes: In your opinion, are there students that would drop out of university for the want of $25 a month?
V. Crawford: For the necessity, yes.
J. Kwan: I'll preface my question with this. I know it's hard to believe that sometimes $25 may not seem like a lot to us because we're on a full salary, and a salary that just increased at that, but for a lot of people really living from paycheque to paycheque, who are very much on the bottom rung, it's a big deal.
I just dealt with a constituent whose rent subsidy was cut off because it was deemed that she was too poor to be able to exist on her current income. B.C. Housing did not believe that that was her total income, so therefore, her rent went up significantly, and she was evicted. Anyway, we're dealing with that at the moment, but that's the logic in which we live in British Columbia.
Having said that, I do recall the presentations last year from many of the students across British Columbia who came forward with very succinct presentations asking for the government to consider support for the students to advance their education. This year I see that the tuition fee reduction is still there, at $98 million.
Could you refresh my memory, and the committee's memory as well? For the non-repayable grants program there was a figure that you gave us in terms of how much it would be in order to actually put it into a program like the one that was in place to assist students on the front end, as they entered into the education system. If you could give us that as well.
Do you have an estimate of what the interest costs might be for student loan interest forgiveness. If that was to be implemented, do you have an estimate of what the cost might be, whether retroactively or forward-looking, in terms of into the future?
Last but not least, on the question around funding for post-secondary education and to account for inflationary funding, that's pretty well at the 2-percent cap.
[ Page 1106 ]
I guess that's what it is doing, at least at the moment anyway, with the low interest rates. At the end of the day, it's not really a reduction of tuition fees.
Can you refresh the committee's memory on the increase in tuition fees that has taken place since the tuition fee cap has been lifted — what that picture looks like? Therefore, we can get a sense of what we're trying to do here.
V. Crawford: I'll address the first one. I don't have last year's presentation, so I don't have the grant numbers, but I can get those for you. It's not a problem.
J. Kwan: We can look it up as well.
V. Crawford: Fair enough.
In terms of how much the tuition fees went up, I understand that from the original lift of the tuition fee freeze, they doubled in the three years, I believe it was, before the cap was implemented. In CNC's case it went, in university transfer, from $1,100 as a full-time student to $2,100. Does that answer that part of the question?
J. Kwan: Yes, it does. And on the estimate of the interest piece of the student loans?
V. Crawford: That we don't have.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thank you for your presentation. On page 6 and page 7 you have attempted to address the question that's been posed by the Finance Minister about what she calls a green budget. I understand that the issue of air quality is of continuing public concern here in Prince George. What would you see as the responsibility of the provincial government to address the issue of air quality here in Prince George as part of a green budget?
V. Crawford: Wow. I wasn't prepared for that one. Prince George has faced this, primarily because of where we're situated. We're situated in a bowl-type area, so when there's release at the pulp mill in combination with the traffic, it creates a little bit of a bubble affecting air quality.
What's the provincial government's role in terms of a green policy? That I can't answer.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, gentlemen. That was a very good presentation. It was well put together and well organized, and we appreciate the time that it took to put it together and to come here and present it to us.
The next presenter is the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, represented by Michael Kerr and Sherry Sethen.
Good morning, Sherry. I understand that you're a councillor with the city of Prince George as well.
S. Sethen: I am.
B. Bennett (Chair): I think you and I have met before, probably at Pat Bell's Natural Resource Forum or someplace like that.
Michael, I'm sure we've met as well. You have ten minutes for your presentation, and then we'll have about five minutes for questions. Go ahead.
M. Kerr: Thank you for coming and hearing us.
My name is Michael Kerr, and I am the immediate past president of the chamber of commerce. Our current president is in Toronto at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce AGM meetings. I also work for the National Research Council as an industrial technology adviser in northern B.C., and I teach part-time at the University of Northern B.C. in the faculty of business.
Today I bring the views of our approximately 950 business members covering the sectors from retail right through to high-end manufacturing.
I must admit we do live in good times right now in the province, which is great. I was at the port opening in Prince Rupert last week, and I was thrilled to see the buzz of economic activity that is projected from that port opening and the excitement that is not just in Prince Rupert but in Prince George and all the way across to Edmonton. In fact, many U.S. delegates were there, excited about what that means to not only our economy but theirs as well.
Consultation process. We've always supported what you're doing here, getting input from the various communities. We do thank you for that. Our members are thrilled to be able to have a voice and to give input. We realize that you do have tough challenges to use our money wisely, and so we do make some suggestions and hope you take those into consideration in your deliberations.
The Prince George chamber, as well as the B.C. chamber and Canadian chamber, believes that debt reduction is always the number-one thing that we should be looking at. In our policy manuals you will always note that we suggest 50 percent of any surplus be put directly into debt reduction. That is a given.
The second priority that we hear most from our membership is education and skill development. We hear about the labour shortage and challenges associated with that from our members in every sector of the business community up here. With that, let me just look at some of the areas within education where we can have an advantage.
First off, we suggest — and these are in no particular order — a direct surplus to attracting and retaining the most highly qualified personnel, and with that, grants or scholarships for students at the master's and PhD levels to continue the development of those high-end skills. We have a deficit of master's and PhD people, and the way the retirements are going, we will have even more of a deficit in the near future.
The shortage of skilled tradesworkers is yet another challenge that we still hear. The trades trailer was an excellent idea and has been extremely well received by the community surrounding this area as well as our members. Training people in the communities where they're at on the basic, fundamental skills in trades has had a huge impact.
[ Page 1107 ]
Our members are saying: "One trailer is great. We need more." So at the earliest possible convenience, we suggest bringing on more of these trades trailers to help stimulate training.
Training tax credit for businesses. I believe the federal budget, the last one, did have a tax credit for businesses that were spending money on training and upgrading their own people. We suggest that the province consider a tax credit for businesses which are using a credit to increase training and skill development of their own people. We believe that will stimulate labour growth as well as skill development.
A book tax credit. You heard in the last presentation about tuition fees. But I think we've missed another key expenditure that students have to bear, which is getting out of control. As a part-time instructor…. I just brought you the textbook I'm using. This small, little textbook — no big thrill — is $160 for students.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I guessed $125.
M. Kerr: Yeah. It's getting outrageous — what these book companies are putting students through. For some of them, it's not the tuition; it's the books that are becoming the limiting factor to their education.
Some sort of credit or tax benefit to the student population to cover those costs above and beyond would certainly be a help to those students in my class. They were all begging me: "Couldn't you find a cheaper book?" I was, like: "No, this is the book we really need." So they're scrounging, doing whatever they can, to make those ends meet.
Another one that has come up, which the chamber and its members feel very strongly about, is that we need a mechanical engineering program at UNBC, training mechanical engineers in the north for the north. There are approximately 40 to 60 co-op UBC engineers at any point of time in the north doing mechanical engineering. That tells me that there is demand. We need people, and it's very difficult to attract mechanical engineers out of the lower mainland.
Much like the medical program, we would suggest that we start to look very strongly at how we can do a similar model to the medical program on mechanical engineering. Examples are also out there, like Lakehead University. With University of Toronto they did a mechanical technologist program and then slowly built that up so as to reduce the immediate costs, because putting in the capital…. It would be very high to immediately put in a mechanical engineering program, but you could stage it, and that would be well received.
Another idea that we have come up with is incentives to create the most educated population. Some form of incentive to high school graduates — of scholarships or reduced tuition fees, based on marks gained in high school, as they approach university or college — might have some merit for stimulating kids to keep going.
One of the things we've noticed is poaching. Many companies will go into the high schools and poach kids before they've even graduated. Those kids are then limited because they're not pursuing their post-secondary education where they might, simply to catch a paycheque today, and that's limiting their future. We want to be very careful there. So incentives to keep stimulating them to reach their maximum potential are very much needed.
Again, enhancing the provincial nominee program. It has been well received, but I think we need to keep going, keep at it. I think it is a good thing to do.
Health care. Believe it or not, health care is also a major issue for our chamber members in order to attract and retain people in the north. The costs of health have been going up, but we also believe in what Northern Health is doing right now, and that is to take a proactive approach with business on preventative health care — spending or encouraging businesses to do things such as put a shower into their workplace.
A little tax incentive or some form of incentive to get businesses to take that health program is good prevention. We believe that will help reduce, in the long term, some of our health care budget.
Cancer clinic. That's always right there for us. That one is definitely a necessity. We would like to see the report that was just issued to, at least, the government. We have not seen it as yet.
Then looking at opportunities to create incentives to generate revenue. Those things would certainly be an asset.
Tax rates. We believe that reducing corporate tax rates, given the amount of surplus, would in fact stimulate more growth into the budget. This government has shown that a reduction in tax rate actually increases spending, which increases overall the budgets and the surplus that we have.
Port of Prince Rupert, phase 2, is definitely a must. Even though phase 1 has just opened, phase 2 is a must, especially for all of the north. We believe that we will see manufacturing companies move in. We will also see more transportation taking place through that phase 1. Phase 2 will certainly move forward.
That is essentially it, but I will conclude with this: the greatness of this province is achieved through the ability of our leaders to enhance conditions such that people can achieve their maximum potential. Government has shown a direction of being able to get out of the way of progress and not be a limiting factor. The Prince George chamber believes this must be continued to prepare for any potential changes the future might bring. Today we must reap the rewards to prepare for the future.
With that, I thank you for your time.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Michael. We have a little bit less than five minutes here for questions. Let me just take stock of who wants to ask a question right now.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): A couple of quick ones on page 3 that I just want to clarify. I really appreciate the fact of the nature of your presentation, and obvi-
[ Page 1108 ]
ously, your contact with other realities of post-secondary education assists the presentation. You're advocating the elimination of tuition for graduate students — that all tuition fees be eliminated for graduate students.
M. Kerr: Not entirely. Some form of scholarships or incentives, and with that, not knowing all the ins and outs of the system, whatever is within your means. Look at the Alberta and Newfoundland models.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): You say Alberta and Newfoundland. It's a competitive market for graduate students; we heard that last year from the Universities Council. I think there was some attempt to respond to that by setting up a series of graduate scholarships for those kinds of students.
You say attractive programs for students which eliminate or reduce tuition. Your understanding in Alberta or Newfoundland is that there is no tuition for people beginning at the master's level in certain areas.
M. Kerr: In some cases, yes. I won't say eliminate it being a 100-percent rule, but look at where it fits.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): One final question, if I might. Initiatives Prince George has spoken frequently about their plan for an expanded airport and the opportunities for commercial freight traffic from the airport. I take it you haven't abandoned that, or you support that direction. I don't see it in your submission.
M. Kerr: Correct. We had to limit it, knowing that it was a short presentation. We also knew they would cover it.
R. Hawes: Just a quick question on your labour shortage. You talked a lot about — and rightly so — the shortage of skilled trades, etc. But I'm hearing more and more from my constituents who are trying to run business operations that they can't find unskilled labour.
M. Kerr: Correct.
R. Hawes: As we move through this, they're saying that for the entry-level position — particularly in lumber mills, shake mills, etc. — they just can't find people. Is that the same experience, and if that's the case, what would you recommend? What do you see as the solution for this?
M. Kerr: I agree with that totally. We have to be careful, though. I alluded to companies even going into the high schools, taking people before they've even graduated. It's even more prevalent in the Peace area. We need to be careful, because economies ebb and flow. We want to make sure that we don't end up with a workforce that is essentially unskilled when times change.
Yes, we do need to look at those things — immigration. We also need to look at the fact that we have aboriginal populations with 90-percent unemployment, yet we're saying we need more workers. We need to tap into those local areas. The Prince George chamber is actually working with the local bands to try to utilize some of those assets within our own area to tie into there.
There's no easy answer to that question. I know I'm kind of going around it. It's a tough question that both the government and the Prince George chamber are trying to work on to make it meaningful for everybody.
S. Sethen: May I add one comment to that? We also are working with Employment Action, which is our group in Prince George that helps the people with disabilities or challenges to get back into the workforce. We feel that we need to broaden our acceptance and realize that these people may have certain disabilities, but that doesn't mean they can't work. That doesn't mean they are not able to do jobs. The workforce needs to accommodate, wherever possible, in those areas.
The other thing, when we're talking about labour in general, is that we believe some of the points — such as the education and the health care points that we've made in here — will also help us retain some of our unskilled workers as well as our skilled workers.
As they look forward to where they're going to be moving, some of the most important questions that they will ask are: what is the education for me and my family, what are the opportunities in that community, and what is the health care system?
Those are broad issues that are across all areas of humanity which — it doesn't matter if you're unskilled or skilled — will encourage you to stay within that community.
B. Bennett (Chair): We're actually out of time, but I'm going to allow one more question, if you can keep it short.
J. Kwan: Two parts to my question. The list that you have put forward here…. I'm wondering: is it in the order of priority according to the chamber, or is it just a list that you've sort of assembled?
Related to that, just last week the NDP caucus was here in Prince George and met with the chamber, amongst other groups. In that discussion child care was actually mentioned as a top priority as well as its impact on businesses, because of the workers not able to get child care for the children. Therefore, the issue of affordable, quality, accountable child care is a priority, yet I don't see this on the list here.
Is it, once again, a case of time limitation in your inability to put forward all the issues that you want to?
M. Kerr: It was that as well as the fact that I had to prepare this over the weekend.
That particular one…. Yes, child care is still a top priority. It just simply didn't hit my mind as I was writing it, although it should have.
[ Page 1109 ]
In terms of the education priorities, no, those are not in any particular order.
J. Kwan: I mean, all of the priorities — not just education.
M. Kerr: Correct.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Michael. We appreciate the fact that you spent some of your weekend preparing for this. This is an important process, and we appreciate that you recognize that and have participated.
Welcome, Mr. Mitchell, to the committee. Are you here on behalf of an organization or anything?
S. Mitchell: No. I'm here more on behalf of chartered accountants and with a commentary as to some of the issues — as a business practitioner here in town, what's working and what needs to come, from our perspective.
I'm just fighting a cold. So I'll probably be brief and allow you to make up some of your time here, hopefully.
First of all, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you here. There are two areas, I guess, that I want to touch on briefly. One is just a quick overview and a discussion of some of the infrastructure projects that, from a Prince George or central interior perspective, I think should be a funding priority. The other one is a few comments on taxation and a few specific ones, which I think would probably be fairly easy fixes. They may not seem like huge items, but they can certainly simplify business application in the long run.
First thing, my primary focus is in tax practitioners. Of course, being in Prince George, we have a huge amount of small business clients. With every provincial and federal budget that does come out, we do watch it quite closely to see what's been happening.
We also keep a fairly close eye to see where the province is at. I'm quite pleased to see the latest quarterly report showing the financial position. It continues to show a good position, and I think that's something B.C. has come a long way on. We still have some way to go to maintain it or to increase that, especially with our cousin in the next province, who we're trying to compete with for labour and for businesses much of the time.
With the strong economy, much of it has come about from commodity prices. As well, though, the tax and the fiscal impacts that have been followed have had an impact. We do notice it with our clients, and the reduced taxes — personal, corporate and sales tax — have all had a significant impact. I think that direction should be continued. They do make a difference, both personally and from a business perspective here.
Prince George, I'm sure you're aware, is in a bit of a growth spurt right now. In the region there have been a number of new jobs that have been created over the last years. I think the number that I've seen is about 2,800 new jobs. Mind you, that's last year's number.
Along with that demand for jobs comes a demand for skilled labour, and I think the prior presenters touched on that quite well. Again, I would suggest that the government continue to move in that direction, taking under advisement certain of the items that were presented. I think a step such as the apprentice tax credit has made some difference.
I know from talking to a number of our clients that one of the large items which they see is if there's any way to try and accelerate immigration, particularly in respect to tradesmen. I know that's kind of a double-edged sword. Mr. Kerr referred to poaching out of the high schools, and I guess we have to be careful if we poach out of other schools and provinces or other countries.
The mining sector here is an unusual thing. You don't see any mines generally as you come into Prince George, and Prince George isn't necessarily thought of as a mining town. However, it has a tremendous impact on our economy, both from a service and a supply aspect. The forest sector as well. It's been something that's primarily, or to a large extent, due to the pine beetle uplift that we've been having. But that does cause some concern on a go-forward basis if there isn't a plan in place to assist in that transition.
Just by way of a quick anecdote, most of you have probably seen the report that came out from, I believe, the national real estate council. I may have gotten their name wrong. It was regarding the dire straits, in their minds, that Prince George will be in, in five years' time. I'm not sure that properly reflected where the situation is going to be, but the impact that that kind of stuff has…. My brother is involved as a commercial banker here in town. When that came out, he spent the better part of the day talking to his risk-management people in Vancouver, trying to convince them why they should still lend on real estate in Prince George.
Those are the types of things. What Prince George really needs is to have that incentive and to make sure that diversification is happening with a lot of that, with the assistance of the provincial government.
I think some of that, in addition to the funds that are being established, is a targeted infrastructure. Prince George is a transportation hub, and that's one area where we can get a little less reliant on some of the forest industry aspects of things. I've just listed a few items down there — four items — where I think I see a priority as to where infrastructure project funding should be looked at. Actually, I notice that the government stole my thunder yesterday with the release on the Cameron Street Bridge. Thank you very much for that.
It's interesting when you live in this community and you see how it actually does affect it. That will have a huge effect. I drive to work each day through that area, and along that way now I'm having to merge with logging trucks, with fuel trucks, with chip trucks, who are not necessarily made to try and handle that size of road and then travel down through a fairly heavy corridor on 5th Avenue. So when you're mixing in the traffic of the commuters and also the school buses that travel that way, I think it's extremely critical that that happen, and I thank you for that.
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The other items. The Prince George Airport expansion funding. That's one area where Prince George has a huge opportunity. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of investment that's already happening up around the airport area, and it really just needs that to kick-start.
I know there have been discussions and announcements, but unfortunately, the cheque hasn't been forthcoming yet. That's something where, if it doesn't get moved on fairly quickly, you tend to lose off on some of the competitive advantage. I'm not sure if you'll be having a presentation from them, but certainly they can tell you what the potential of the expansion could be.
Highway 97 and Highway 16 — again, the roadworks. We're starting to see some of that around here. If you look at the number of logging trucks or heavy vehicles that are travelling, particularly on the Highway 16 corridor…. Again, I know when I travel out to the outlying communities — Fort St. James or Vanderhoof — to see clients, if there's a little bit of rain on those roads, you're driving in ruts, and you're doing very well if you're not hydroplaning in a small vehicle.
It is not only from a transportation flow mechanism but also from a safety factor. I think that that type of stuff needs to be continued on and needs to be made a priority for this region.
The fourth point — I guess more of a generic and general thing, because I know it gets thrown out there — is to have that plan in place or have a fund from the amount of money that comes out of the northern B.C. sector — the tremendous amount in the stumpage and the royalties — and to have some of that set aside to manage a transition into another phase of less dependency on the forest sector.
Income taxes. I was quite pleased to see the reduction again in the corporate tax, as I mentioned. Reducing it to 12 percent is something that has that effect and moves us closer to where Alberta is at right now — to their 10-percent level. I'd like to see that moved if we could, because there is a lot of competition for industry. We maybe don't see it quite so much here as they do in the Peace country. I think any time you start getting close to the border, if there's a choice of locating in B.C. or Alberta, one of the things that people are looking to is the tax rate.
Mr. Kerr referred to it. Even though we've gone through a process of reducing both personal and corporate taxes, from what I understand, the actual collection of tax dollars has gone up. I think it's something where you do show that you can stimulate that business investment, and it does have good offshoots to it.
The next one is a small bit of a technical item. It has to do with reducing the way the small business limit is calculated. Generally, right now if you have more than $15 million of capital that is loans or shares, you're not considered to be a small business, and you lose your small business deduction.
Some time ago B.C. recognized that taxing capital was not necessarily the most effective way of doing things. To that effect, they eliminated the capital tax, and I think that's something that could be looked at.
The next area is commodity taxes. Again, I'm not going to get into the detail of it. I don't know where things are with tax reform right now, but I think looking to see the harmonization of GST and PST, whether or not it be developed along a study…. What businesses have to go through now — different recordkeeping systems, different rules, different auditors — is extremely disruptive, and I think that harmonization of the system would be a big boost to the businesses of British Columbia and would certainly simplify their lives.
Two final matters. Specific items are the treaty process and…. Again, it's more a generic comment. We've seen a lot of stops and starts in that through the process. Sometimes, from what I've heard, it's because mandates have changed. Sometimes it's federal; sometimes it's provincial. That is having an impact, and it does weigh on the minds of businesses, particularly the minds that are looking at investing in this sector. To have a more clear mandate, possibly, or direction on that would be helpful.
The final one, again a small thing. There are two ways of combining companies. You can either amalgamate them, or you can wind them up. Currently, if you wind them up, you still have to pay the property purchase tax on any real estate that's transferring. That's something that does add additional administrative costs to businesses. Really, you're achieving the same thing that you do by way of an amalgamation, in which there are special rules of property transfer tax that don't apply in those circumstances — I guess from the broad to the extreme.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present, and I'm happy to take your questions.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Mitchell.
Members, do we have questions?
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much for the presentation — very thoughtful. You suggest, on page 2, four areas of diversification with the mining and transportation. I'm wondering about your thoughts about the role of the university in assisting economic diversification.
I understand that recently there's been some sense that the university here is losing some momentum. Student enrolment is down, and staff layoffs have taken place. It seems to me that in an economy in transition, a university is a very important driver, so I'm wondering if you have any comments.
S. Mitchell: Absolutely. I think that's very well put. I think when the university came in, when Prince George did go through some cycles of hard times with the commodity prices, the university is really what helped to contribute a lot. It not only provided the skilled people, but it also provided that draw for people to come. I think the medical school that was just put into place recently….
We've been really pleased. There have been a lot of people that have really had to eat crow. They said a
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number of years ago that a university couldn't work in the north, and it's just been fabulous for Prince George and the north.
J. Kwan: Actually, my question follows on Bruce's exactly on the issue around economic diversification in your presentation, in which you are suggesting that funding needs to be in place, in particular with the pine beetle situation. On that note, I'm wondering: are there other specific programs which you may want to suggest that the government consider?
Also, on the funding question, do you have any concept of what the funding formula might look like with respect to supporting economic diversification in resource communities, and in this instance for Prince George?
S. Mitchell: No specific projects, other than possibly some of the infrastructure projects I've listed. I know there was some discussion, I guess more from a federal perspective, as to what could qualify. There is a beetle assistance program federally. There is nothing specific other than those that I would think of off the top.
As to your second question — how it would work…. Again, I haven't developed any formula-driven…. I think, practically and reasonably, something that would allow a direct tie-back would be if it was tied into a certain percentage or a certain allocation out of the amount of the revenues that were collected out of the region, particularly in respect to the stumpage or other commodity areas. Those are the items, I guess, that are the fuel that drives the engine.
J. Kwan: Sort of like a Fair Share program.
S. Mitchell: Yeah.
B. Bennett (Chair): That's all the time we have for the presentation. Thank you very much, Mr. Mitchell, for taking the time to put it together and come here with a cold and everything and take the time to present to us.
The next presenter is the city of Prince George councillor, Don Zurowski.
D. Zurowski: Good morning. I am joined this morning by my council colleague Sherry Sethen, who was up just a few moments ago as the director of the chamber of commerce.
Mr. Chair and committee, it's a pleasure to welcome you back to the city of Prince George. We understand that you're visiting 13 communities around the province, and you'll be reviewing a great deal of information. I have no doubt that your capacity to digest it and make great decisions and recommendations to the Legislature will be on spot.
We also would like to celebrate with you your responsible and progressive budgets in 2007 and 2008. That is an important key driver in the sustainability of this province — its good fiscal policy.
Unlike some of the previous presenters, I did not author this document, but the council of the city of Prince George was critical in recognizing the six items that we present to you, as well as the recommendation. I'll attempt to abbreviate the presentation and allow time for questions.
The first issue is infrastructure upgrades required for the CN transload operation and intermodal rail terminal. The city of Prince George has several sections of road network impacted by CN's transload operation and intermodal rail terminal project that is now under construction. Phase 1 of the $20 million terminal scheduled for completion by October 2007 will provide for the import and export of container products and materials to and from Asian markets through the Port of Prince Rupert rail and marine intermodal facility.
There was an announcement yesterday in Prince George that the provincial government, along with the federal, would be investing a combined total of $2 million in the redevelopment of the Cameron Street Bridge. This is an essential connector to the intermodal facility. There are a number of major capital investments required with municipal infrastructure to meet the needs of the expanding container activity in the inland container activity.
We recommend to you that the province of British Columbia support Prince George in obtaining funds through the Asia-Pacific gateway initiative to facilitate the infrastructure upgrades required due to the impact that the development of the CN transload and intermodal rail terminal. A clear recommendation from the city of Prince George.
Issue 2: transportation infrastructure. I believe I was in front of you with this last year. In a February 24, 2006, news release the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, announced that the ministry would be investing $30 million a year for the next three years for the rehabilitation of interior roads affected by the increased number of logging trucks carrying pine beetle–killed wood. Minister Falcon said: "The increased heavy truck traffic means portions of the highway road structure will require resurfacing much sooner than originally planned."
Also in the release, Prince George MLA and Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell said: "We recognize that the impact on our roads is a consequence of the increased cutting of pine beetle timber. That's why we believe it is important to take steps to commit funds to ensure that the impact of the pine beetle epidemic does not affect the safety of our roads."
We agree. Like the interior highways, the increased number of logging trucks carrying pine beetle–killed wood has adversely affected Prince George roads. So the city of Prince George continues to recommend — as we did last year, and put forward a resolution through the UBCM — that a portion of the above-mentioned $30 million a year be allocated to the city of Prince George for the rehabilitation of municipal roads affected by the increased number of logging trucks carrying pine beetle–killed wood. They are, lady and gentlemen, substantial.
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Issue 3: an integrated community sustainability plan. This is some rather big words and maybe some new language that the city of Prince George is presenting to you. I'll read two paragraphs, and then I'll make a comment.
"The city of Prince George is embarking on a project to bring a sustainability lens to corporate operations through community leadership, encouraging multi-stakeholder participation in the development and implementation of an integrated community sustainability plan."
That's a lot of big words. But not dissimilar to the province of British Columbia, things do not get better because you want them to get better; they get better because you cause them to get better.
The city of Prince George currently has environmental strategies, social strategies, land use strategies, transportation and infrastructure strategies. What we're doing is pulling them together with a different approach corporately to cause things to be better in the future in Prince George with things like environmental issues.
We put this in front of you now. The city of Prince George requires outside resources to help build capacity in the noted areas to build a cohesive sustainability plan. We recommend that the province of British Columbia make funds available to the city of Prince George so that the necessary resources can be sourced to develop and implement Prince George's integrated community sustainability plan. Often things like land use issues and environmental impacts are so closely associated, and we need to tie them together in a much better and planned way.
Issue 4: linear infrastructure. The city of Prince George has conducted condition assessments for 7.6 kilometres of sanitary sewer and 9.2 kilometres of storm sewer in its downtown core. The condition assessment results indicate that due to age and poor conditions, over $1 million worth of sewer should be replaced. The sewer assessment represents less than 2 percent of the city's sewer infrastructure.
Since 2003 the city of Prince George has participated with ten other municipal partners from across Canada and with the support of a National Research Council–sponsored project to establish a national standard for a recommended process for municipal infrastructure investment planning.
The project considers how municipalities can develop process models that will assist them to plan and invest in improving aging infrastructure. The model will provide how-to steps to prepare assessed inventory, calculate asset values and perform condition assessments. It will also provide guidance concerning integrated assets within a capital expenditure plan so that municipalities can finance and improve projects efficiently.
The province of Alberta has provided tools for municipalities to assess them to manage their linear assets using software that is available under the provincial municipal infrastructure management system program.
The city of Prince George recommends that the province of British Columbia assist municipalities to develop infrastructure strategies that will enable small to medium-sized cities to prepare efficient and effective capital expenditure plans for replacement or upgrade of linear infrastructure assets.
Pine beetle epidemic. As you know, the city of Prince George could encounter either a future of a recession or a future of opportunity. Prince George is in the centre of the province's forest — a major biomass supply. Through milling residues, logging debris and non-forest biomass potential on a global basis, the biomass supply in this area far exceeds most jurisdictions.
The increased cost of fossil fuels, close proximity to major biomass resources, the existence of proven and emerging biomass-based technology, together with Canada's consideration of signing the Kyoto accord, provide a rapidly growing potential to locate a viable bioenergy centre in Prince George.
There is a ten-year window of opportunity during which surplus biomass supply and enhanced fibre sale from this area, if properly managed, could contribute to a bright future to the city and the province.
Financial support for the proven cogeneration of electricity and heat and pellet production for sales should be the first move in this direction. Financial support should also be provided for plant construction in partnership with the University of Northern British Columbia bio-oil and biogas research and development programs.
Infrastructure in these emerging technologies would provide the platform for the city of Prince George and the province of British Columbia to benefit from renewable bioenergy as an internal energy source and as a revenue source.
Proceeding in this direction would also provide the opportunity to select species for replanting that would provide fibre for bioenergy after beetle, when fibre and biomass supply will be reduced. Selecting the species now would ensure the continued supply required for the bright future of the bioenergy production.
The city of Prince George recommends to the province of British Columbia two very clear recommendations. Quickly refine the mountain pine beetle emergency response. Canada and B.C. implement a strategy and inform municipalities of application process for funds.
Recommendation 2. A very important opportunity, an economic opportunity that is green. Encourage B.C. Hydro to give preference to biomass-based co-gen power projects in green energy calls for proposals, and remove the barriers that allow industrial customers to sell power to themselves but does not allow municipal customers to sell power to themselves. That's a critical point.
Currently, the industry can sell hydro to itself, but municipalities cannot sell hydro to themselves through distribution of the hydro grid, for a market fee. The above would assist the city of Prince George to receive its potential to become a community that successfully provides environmentally beneficial bioenergy products, green electricity and sustainable non-timber forest revenues.
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Our final point — and we've taken some time here, but they're important.
B. Bennett (Chair): You're a little bit over time. You can go quickly.
D. Zurowski: Let me make the points in abbreviated form: the pine beetle epidemic and air quality monitoring and management. We have a fair bit here that we're saying about it, but there are numerous steps to be taken to improve the airshed and the monitoring of the impacts of the accelerated harvesting. We have a plan that the city of Prince George has approved, and we're working with your ministry on it.
I'll simply read the recommendations. It does require resources. Not surprisingly, it requires economic resources to improve our airshed and to manage the beetle infestation impact.
Provide funding to Prince George air quality management planning process to assist the implementation of recommendations from the phase 2 plan as well as for additional research and monitoring.
Encourage biomass utilization, improve existing pollution controls, and support pollution control on new and existing industries to encourage biomass utilization.
Implement a forest stumpage allowance for the chipping of debris from the harvesting of Crown timber around communities where the burning of that debris would compromise the airshed and affect human health. The resulting woodchips could be utilized by other markets such as bioenergy, where viable, or spread at the site.
Mr. Chair and committee, that concludes our presentation. We hope there is still time for some questions.
B. Bennett (Chair): That was a very thoughtful report with lots of detailed recommendations. I have three people on the list to ask questions.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Don and Sherry. It was a very good presentation, just like the last one.
I have another question which is a little different but relates to the Finance Committee, talking about the budget of the MLAs. Yesterday before I left Surrey I received a call from one of the local papers saying that I should not be supporting the Premier in his step to add more rural seats back to the north here. I'm wondering how people in the north feel. Should the government try to say there should be seats kept in the north here — the one you lost in the interior north — or should we try to save money and say not interfere with the mandate of the commission and go by their report?
D. Zurowski: I'd like to present this. Many of us in northern B.C. felt that we were real team players when we put forward the recommendation to simply maintain the seats in the north and add the seats as required in the south to have per-capita representation.
The challenge with that, MLA Hayer, is that what has happened in the process is that the percentage of influence that northern British Columbia has in the Legislative Assembly actually goes down. Even though we've maintained the seats, based on the recommendation that it sounds like is going to be out there now where we may maintain the seats, our percentage of influence in the Legislature goes down.
That's concerning to us, in the fact that 70 percent of the export wealth is generated through resources extracted from the rural part of the province. Prince George, again being team players, because we live next to a tree does not mean it's more our tree, but we play a larger role in managing the resource. From a government perspective, I would be concerned about having strong and many voices from northern British Columbia competing for influence in the Legislature.
I would talk about the fact that it's not simply about per capita. It's contribution to the provincial revenue stream, which includes things like health care. Resources contribute in a very large way to our health services and our education services in this province.
J. Horgan: Thank you, Don, for your presentation. It's unfortunate that our colleague Bob Simpson isn't here, because he would engage you in a much more detailed discussion on the bioenergy or biomass debate. It's not as clear-cut as some of your recommendations suggest, but it certainly is a direction we need to go in. I know B.C. Hydro and the ministries of Forests and Energy are all working in that direction.
I'd like to ask you specifically about the city of Prince George energy plan, which involves some generation in the downtown core. We were here, as my colleague Jenny suggested, last week, and I did meet with a lower-level bureaucrat from the city and had a detailed briefing.
I'm wondering if you could give the committee a sense of when the council started down this road and when you expect to have a couple of megawatts up and running.
D. Zurowski: First, I've been on council since 1999. I think we began the discussion in about 2000 — certainly 2001, as the beetle infestation accelerated. We've learned a lot about bioenergy in our region because in fact we are the Saudi Arabia of bioenergy. There are more wood pellets that come out of this trading area, Williams Lake to Vanderhoof, than any other area in the world. It's about a $100 million economic impact. Plus it's green.
In answer to the question of when we expect to be up and running, it's 2009. It does require public contribution and public funding to make a business case work at this point in time. It's most cost-efficient to use fossil fuels versus bioenergies, of course. But if you put in the environmental weighting, bioenergy wins the argument.
We are going to talk with municipal investment and do it for operation in 2009.
J. Horgan: Just a follow-up, Chair, if I could, on that answer.
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Earlier in your presentation you made reference to the city buying energy from itself, as some large industrial customers are able to do. How would that tip the scales in terms of economics of the city plan?
D. Zurowski: It would make a very large difference, frankly. What we're currently up against is that we have to supply heat and power to our own facilities through our own infrastructure, if we take it off site. The only other option is selling it to Hydro. If we can use what is referred to as retail wheeling — which is to generate the energy at source, maybe generate electricity at our plant downtown, and send it to our utility yards for a fee using the B.C. Hydro infrastructure, rather than having to sell it to Hydro at wholesale price and buying it at retail — the business case makes a tremendous amount of sense, and it's a reasonable request. They'll do it for industry. Why not municipalities?
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): The Minister of Finance has asked the committee in the consultation to focus on ideas for what she has called a green budget. It seems to me, and I wanted to hear your views on this, that in your last item the major challenge to the environment and human health in Prince George is air quality.
In a prospective green budget, what would you see the role of the provincial government being in assisting the persistent problem of air quality here in Prince George?
D. Zurowski: Let me really go out there on this one. From a heavy-industry perspective, we have a lot of permit levels, existing permits issued to longtime operators in the city of Prince George.
We need to take up reducing the permit levels, and we need to do it thoughtfully and responsibly by way of really supporting green initiatives, for them to take up green energy sources, and providing incentives for them to reduce their contribution to the airshed.
They've been here for a long time. We value their jobs and their input. We do not want to be radical there, but we need to have incentives and programs in place that cause them to reduce their contribution. You've got to take up the big issue, not simply the smaller issues, when it comes to the environment.
Our integrated community plan goes some distance to addressing some of that as well.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, folks. We're pleased, as a committee, to come to Prince George as our first stop on this prebudget consultation tour. I know that personally, I always look forward to coming here. I have a lot of friends in Prince George. It's a great town.
Thank you for taking the time to make the presentation this morning. It was very good.
D. Zurowski: It was our privilege, and we will see many of you at UBCM.
B. Bennett (Chair): Dr. George Davison, faculty association of the College of New Caledonia. Welcome. Can you get your presentation in, in ten minutes, do you think?
G. Davison: I think so.
Thanks for the invitation to speak to your committee today. I am here representing 400 faculty at the College of New Caledonia, Prince George's oldest public post-secondary institution, which provides access points for students in our communities who want to engage in post-secondary education and training.
As you know, we offer programs from Burns Lake in the west to Valemount in the east, from Fort St. James and Mackenzie in the north to Quesnel in the south.
We currently have the equivalent of about 3,300 FTE students enrolled in a variety of programs, including developmental, business administration, university transfer, health sciences, technologies and trades training.
It would be an understatement to say that post-secondary education will play an increasingly important role in the future of our province. We're told by the B.C. Business Council that over 73 percent of all new jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. We know, as well, that many occupations, whether they're white collar or blue, are experiencing a supply crunch. That problem is projected to get worse, not better, unless we find ways to support and encourage more people to acquire the post-secondary skills that we know we will need for tomorrow and well into the future.
If post-secondary education is critical to the future of our province, it's even more critical to the future of our region. Although mills are running at full capacity today, we know that the beetle-kill timber harvest levels cannot be sustained and that the inevitable decline will require a transformation in our regional economy.
To ignore that fact would be to accept that the central interior region of our province is relegated to what one northern mayor said in the 1980s: "We live in a toilet seat economy. It's always going up and down."
As a region we don't want or need to go there, but it will take deliberate and carefully managed investments by the provincial government to ensure that this region has the capacity and skills to cope with the impacts of the beetle-kill timber. Post-secondary education is one of those investments.
CNC has a great track record for creating the very program that this region needs. We have a well-established trades-training program that allows apprenticeships from this region to upgrade their skills. We have a health sciences program that is training a variety of much-needed health care practitioners. Our university transfer program has sent students on to finish degrees at every university and university college in British Columbia. Our latest partnership is with Thompson Rivers University, where students can enrol in both institutions at the same time and have a spot guaranteed in the third year.
Again, the emphasis is to give people in this region the opportunity to learn in this region.
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We've also put in place a medical lab technology program to ensure that the central interior has the skills to perform its own diagnostic medical tests rather than rely on lower mainland labs to do that work for us.
Finally, we're developing an aboriginal studies program to ensure higher levels of post-secondary participation and completion within our first nations communities in this region.
These programs are all examples of steps taken in the right direction. The problem is that those steps are far too modest given the challenges we face as a region, and they're not addressing the larger and more fundamental problems of affordability. In many respects, we're tinkering at the edges when what we need are far more decisive measures and fiscal support from the province.
Let me give you a few specific examples. The provincial government has allocated a lot of money for building expansion but has not increased our per-student operating grants in a way that comes even close to offsetting the impact of inflation. New buildings or mobile trailers are great to have, but if we don't have the operating grants to hire faculty and properly equip these new facilities or replace old equipment, we're not making the right investments.
The new joint facility in Quesnel is great, but it cannot accommodate the trades training the community is desperate for, so a closed public school is being converted into a suitable space. Quesnel is also lucky to be the first campus to get the mobile trades-training trailer. But according to one observer, the trailer was robbed at each of the 22 stops it made around the province, so by the time it got to Quesnel, not much was left to start the welding program.
Our human kinetics program just got some footballs and basketballs, the first in many years, and they've overspent their annual budget by 400 percent. Science labs are woefully lacking in equipment, and scrounging faculty are buying what they can find on eBay.
Since approving the policy change in 2001 that allowed tuition fees to be deregulated, affordability has become a major problem for our students. That problem has played itself out in different ways in different regions. Here in the central interior it has undermined one of the important mandates of CNC: to be a comprehensive community college.
What that means in real terms is that as tuition fees have skyrocketed, students have been turned off the prospect of post-secondary education. Some have gone directly to universities, because with deregulated tuition fees and the notion that if you pay more, you're going to get more, the once-attractive fee differential between community colleges and universities has all but disappeared.
Other high school grads have gone to work in Alberta. Declining student numbers in the K-to-12 system and the government's own 25,000 Olympic FTEs have actually made the situation worse, as allocations were front-end loaded to universities, and they scooped up everyone they could. Colleges have had difficulty meeting their FTE targets and are threatened with cutbacks.
Colleges need a fairer formula funding system, and we need to create new financial incentives to get students back into post-secondary education. Given the looming skills shortage and the specific needs in this region to create new skills for a new economy, those kinds of incentives should be part of a larger commitment to help this region cope with the massive change that we know is headed our way.
CNC's university transfer programs have been particularly hard hit by the deregulation of tuition fees. In the early mid-1990s our university transfer enrolment was about 2,300 full-time and part-time students — about 38 percent of the college's offerings. Today it's closer to 1,100 — about 25 percent of the college offerings.
Again, what has happened is that marginal students have left the post-secondary system, a move that we know is pretty shortsighted but that to a 19- or 20-year-old seems like the right move because we've made the post-secondary system so expensive.
Solving the skills shortage will require great effort and well-thought-out policies to support the potential students we have discouraged through current policy. We also need to appeal to the 20-to-40 age cohort, who will need retraining to meet the needs of a changing economy.
Lastly, chronic underfunding has also led to the elimination of more expensive programs, even though these are the very programs we will need to create new skills in the region. CNC has either eliminated or vastly reduced its electronics program, its geographic information systems program, its wood technology program, its engineering design program and its computer information systems program.
From an administrative perspective, these were expensive programs because they required special classrooms and specialized equipment and they didn't have a large number of students. When operating grants were flatlined, expensive programs were easy targets for cutting.
Unfortunately, that's what we've seen happen at our college. The sad part is watching experienced faculty retire or leave prematurely and young faculty be laid off in the process.
These are serious problems, but provincially we have the resources necessary to fix these problems. What seems to be missing is a much stronger commitment from the government to make the necessary investments that we need now to address these problems.
We have budget surpluses. In previous reports by this committee you've mentioned the seriousness of the skills shortage and the role that post-secondary education can play in solving that problem. But to date neither the surpluses nor your final reports have been enough to make meaningful change in the budget allocations for post-secondary education.
In February 2008 we need to see far more decisive measures. Here are some priorities that we think would make a major difference for both post-secondary education and this region.
(1) Make affordable public post-secondary education a major priority for the next budget. We know there's a
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skills gap. Seventy-three percent of new jobs will need some form of post-secondary education, but only 60 percent of the workforce currently has some form of that. We know as well that our skills shortage can only be solved by investing more in post-secondary skills.
(2) Give institutions the funding necessary to improve program options as well as program content. The example from our college of expensive programs being cut because funding wasn't available to keep them in place isn't just a CNC phenomenon. We need to ensure that post-secondary institutions have proper funding to provide the full range of program options that students need to complete their post-secondary education.
(3) As a specific target for better funding the 2008 budget should allocate an additional $200 million for post-secondary education. That would represent a 10-percent lift in the Ministry of Advanced Education budget and would put it in position to bring real per-student funding back to the level it was in 2001.
(4) Endorse the Canadian Federation of Students' call for tuition fee relief. The Canadian Federation of Students — and CNC's own student association earlier this morning, I think — has asked for a 10-percent reduction in tuition fees. We support that call and believe that such a move would send a strong signal to existing and potential post-secondary students that British Columbia is serious about supporting those interested in post-secondary education.
(5) Lastly, bring back the student grant program. It was eliminated in 2001-02 and has simply added to the growing debt burden that is discouraging students from either entering or completing their post-secondary education.
Thanks for the opportunity to make this presentation, and I'll be glad to answer questions if you have any.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks very much, Dr. Davison. Questions from members of the committee — we might have time to get a couple in here.
J. Horgan: Thank you, Dr. Davison, for your presentation. It is similar to a presentation that we did have this morning with respect to the impact of deregulation of tuition fees and the absence of grants or other financial assistance.
We did have a presentation this morning from the chamber. I know that my colleague Dave Hayer has children in university. I now have two, and tuition is no longer theoretical for me. It's a reality, a significant one. The chamber referenced the materials — books, tools, that sort of thing.
What impact are you seeing on your students trying to meet the needs of the materials that are required to complete programs that are now deregulated?
G. Davison: It's a challenge. The cost of materials is often as much as the tuition these days. One of my colleagues told me that a math text is $175 now. Our courses are $225. It's what is adding to the increasing debt load of students. They have to scramble to be able to afford it, and they're carrying debt far longer than you and I did when we went to university.
R. Hawes: I'm trying in my mind to connect some of the dots here, because you did speak, Dr. Davison, about declining enrolment. I'm just wondering: how much of that is really due to a hot economy?
We heard some earlier presenters talking about poaching at the high school level, where kids are taking a look at the kind of big money that they can get by just going straight into the workforce, and they're disappearing. So they're not going to….
It's not unaffordability of tuition. It's more that they can make some pretty good money. They're 18, 19 or 20 years old and see the prospect of getting into some pretty big money right now. Maybe if the economy cools, they'll move back into post-secondary. I don't know.
Relative to other provinces in Canada, I don't think that tuition fees in British Columbia are at the top of the ledger. I'm just wondering how relative….
G. Davison: It's relative compared to where you would like to be. Quebec maintains the lowest tuition in the country…
R. Hawes: Yes, they do.
G. Davison: …because as a province, they have said that post-secondary education is a priority and that they are going to take up more of the costs of that than impose it on the students who attend institutions.
I think we probably benefited from the government policies in the '70s and early '80s, when tuition was considerably lower than it is now.
You're right. There is a hot economy at the moment, and many students are making the choice to go there. But you and I also know that things are cyclical. Unless the government starts to plan to even out those highs and lows, we're going to end up with…. Once the economy does cool and all those kids who have gone to the Alberta oil patch have no work anymore, they're going to be coming back to institutions.
Programs can't just be started up and stopped on a dime. They need long-term investments in order to keep them going and in order to keep them functioning. What we've seen are pretty shortsighted decisions made in terms of offering technology programs, especially in this region. I don't know if they're ever going to come back five, ten or 15 years down the road.
It doesn't take a lot of investment to keep the programs going, but it's a pretty quick decision to pull the plug on a program when the institution can't face its budgetary concerns. Those are because of government policies of not funding inflation sufficiently.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks, Dr. Davison, for presenting a thoughtful report to us this morning, and thank you for your answers. We appreciate your time.
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We've got another presenter, Lynn Jacques, from the College of New Caledonia, and then we're going to take a ten-minute break after that.
Welcome, and good morning. Beautiful day here.
L. Jacques: It is very nice today. A nice brisk fall day.
I'm Lynn Jacques, and I'm the interim vice-president, academic, at the College of New Caledonia. I'm here today representing our president John Bowman and our board chair Bruce Sutherland, who are away on business today and are regrettably not able to be here to appear before you.
I'm just going to read through this presentation.
B. Bennett (Chair): Can you get through it in ten minutes, do you think?
L. Jacques: I certainly can.
First of all, I'd like to thank you for coming to Prince George. We appreciate this opportunity to share with you our thoughts regarding the provincial funding for post-secondary education and particularly the college system.
In April the province's post-secondary system was pleased to receive Geoff Plant's report, Campus 2020 Thinking Ahead. The B.C. colleges found Mr. Plant's report impressive in terms of scope, imagination and practicality.
The Campus 2020 report reminds us that students and learners are the reason why our institutions exist, when Mr. Plant writes: "First, it is easy to get lost in the nuances of top-down system design. The key question for government should not be 'What is best for institutions?' but rather 'What is best for learners?'"
In our opinion, what is best for students and learners relates to accessibility and affordability, excellence in teaching, imaginative innovation in curriculum design and delivery, and seamless transferability. This is what the community colleges do, and the Ministry of Advanced Education needs to make it possible for them to implement their programs and services for the benefit of students and the local communities.
When the needs of our students and learners are correctly addressed, important benefits flow as a natural consequence, not only to citizens as individuals but also to local communities and the province as a whole in terms of a vibrant economy and a civil society. Citizens become students initially as a means of acquiring the knowledge and mastering the skills required to qualify them for rewarding participation in workplaces of the province and later as a means of maintaining and upgrading their competencies.
For their part, employers need workers with the right skills, and they need them now, if not yesterday. But the skills that are right keep changing as knowledge transfer takes place, so retraining becomes an important component of advanced education.
The province needs citizens who are literate and well educated. Our society needs workers who, when they leave the workplace for the day, go home and serve their family and community as responsible citizens.
In our opinion, we need to focus on preparing the workforce for a workplace that is continually changing and thereby putting our province in the best position to stay ahead of the ever-changing profile of skills shortage. Within the labour market there are certain areas that need catch-up and/or fix-up attention designed to increase the supply of work-ready citizens. Among those we identify as our priorities in the northern part of the province are the allied health fields, trades and our aboriginal learners.
As I'm sure you know, the community colleges are largely about workforce development for the workplaces of the province. AVED needs to make it possible for them to continue playing this role to the advantage of citizens and the province.
Today we want to leave your committee with just two recommendations. However, these two issues are of vital importance to the college system and CNC both in the intermediate short term, which is the 2008-2009 year, and then much longer term, to 2020.
Those two recommendations are (1) that AVED must develop and implement a new funding framework model for the college and institute system in time for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and (2) that AVED provide for 2008-2009 the same one-time base operating increase of $21.7 million that was provided in 2006-2007 to allow institutions to maintain current levels of access to programs and support services to students. There's a little point there on the bottom about what that would translate to for CNC.
The next part of the presentation is about that funding framework model for change. We are aware that Minister Coell and AVED have committed to reviewing the funding mechanism, and we support that decision. However, we know that such a review will take time. It is also entirely possible that AVED may find it necessary to set this review aside in favour of the greater attention to the recommendations of the Campus 2020 report.
From our perspective, a new funding framework model must address five key issues or problems that significantly impact CNC and other community colleges. The first issue is the trades funding gap, and this is probably something that is not well known in terms of the system. Currently the Industry Training Authority is providing 65-cent dollars to support the delivery of apprenticeship and trades foundation programs.
Neither the ITA nor AVED is providing additional funding to support increased facilities, student services and administrative support costs associated with the expansion of trades training. This lack of systems thinking results in inadequate funding and effectively penalizes the institutions financially for responding to the need for expanded trades training when we commit to adding programs that are not adequately funded.
The second issue is the process used by AVED for determining FTE growth allocations to the colleges. The Auditor General's report on the 25,000-additional-seats initiative, the strategic investment plan, has highlighted the need for change to how growth seats are allocated in the absence of funding to offset the cost pressures resulting from inflation.
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The third point. There is a need for tuition-levelling funding. CNC's tuition rates are the second lowest in the province, currently 15 percent below the provincial average for community colleges. This is a good thing for students. However, this fact creates enormous fiscal challenges for our college. If CNC's tuition was just at the average level for colleges, our revenues would be an additional $900,000 annually — quite a significant sum for our institution.
If government is going to manage or control tuition rates through a tuition increase–limit policy, then it should also recognize the inequities and challenges it has created for institutions like CNC and increase AVED's funding to colleges to compensate those that have been placed at significant fiscal disadvantage.
The fourth item is that the funding framework model must recognize the financial implications of delivering college programs and services in rural and northern communities. Issues related to geography, population, small multi-campus operations and class sizes have been well documented in Post-Secondary Budget Review Phase 2 for University Colleges, Colleges and Institutes, prepared by Perrin, Thorau and Associates, and in the small colleges project report published in 1997. We hope that AVED will draw on these studies in the development of a new funding model.
Lastly, there is a need to recalibrate this college's FTE student targets to reflect the institution's true total enrolment capacity in 2008 and 2009. The current FTE targets were established many years ago and for many institutions are unattainable as a result of capacity erosion from years of compounded, unfunded inflationary pressures on budgets.
The value of community colleges is well established, and in the next few days further evidence of the tremendous economic and social impacts that are achieved by colleges in B.C. will be presented through the public release of provincial and regional economic impact studies.
In closing, I want to emphasize the following key messages. The College of New Caledonia is a vital resource for the people of the central interior region. CNC is contributing greatly to the economic prosperity, quality of life and health of the communities it serves.
The second point. CNC is making the best possible use of resources it receives. Over the past five years the college has extensively reallocated resources to meet new and changing program and service needs.
The third point. In 2007 and 2008 CNC has reached the limit of its financial capability to absorb additional costs and to reallocate resources in order to respond to the increased demands and needs for college programs while at the same time maintaining a balanced operating budget.
The final point. In 2008 and 2009 CNC must receive a significant increase in operating funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education. Approximately $1.2 million is required at this point. If additional funding is not provided, substantial cuts to programs that are currently in high demand by students and employers will be necessary in order to balance the college's operating budget in the next year.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to present and would be pleased to answer any questions that you might have.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Lynn, and congratulations for getting it in under ten minutes. You're the first person this morning. You're very well organized.
Committee members, do you have questions for Lynn?
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): The chamber of commerce, in its presentation, said that it's important that the budgetary surplus be allocated to increasing the opportunities for students to pursue trades. They spoke about what they regard as not only the skills shortages but the general demands of the labour market here.
You say that there may be, if funding doesn't increase, substantial cuts to programs that are currently in high demand by students and employers. I'm particularly interested in the programs that are in high demand by employers.
Without being alarmist, what programs might be on the chopping block, in your view, if you're forced to make some tough decisions?
L. Jacques: I would say that in terms of our program mix right now, we are at probably the leanest place that we could be. In terms of those programs, we haven't had those discussions internally, but we are at our capacity for delivering trades training.
We have taken on an additional 48-percent increase in trades training this year. Unless we do receive additional funding for infrastructure…. We need administrative resources. We need additional resources for facilities and also for equipment. That would be one that would be extremely challenging to continue with that capacity.
I think also that the colleges are signing a training accord with the ITA. The funding formula or the method of funding with ITA is going to cause, I would say, a lot of conservative program deliveries around the province in trades, just because of the utilization rates that are expected around the province.
That's going to be a challenging one for us. We currently have a gap in the funding of almost a half-million dollars between what we are funded from ITA for trades and what we are actually delivering. That's extremely challenging.
We are receiving a lot of funds for targeted programming — health programs and aboriginal services, for example. We are very pleased to have that funding, although inherent in that funding there are not any costs for administration and facilities and so on.
Other than that, in terms of the programs, it would be fully enrolled programs that are very much in demand. At this point we haven't identified which programs those would be.
B. Bennett (Chair): I have just a quick question with regard to the funding that you said came in, in the last fiscal. I think it was $1.2 million?
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L. Jacques: Yes.
B. Bennett (Chair): As I understand your presentation, that was one-time funding that the ministry gave to the colleges, and New Caledonia would like to see that repeated and, I suppose, made an annual funding adjustment. Is that the point?
L. Jacques: Yes, and it's very critical that we do receive that level of funding.
B. Bennett (Chair): Did that funding come with any sort of targeted strings attached to it or anything?
L. Jacques: It was targeted for program delivery. In fact most of it was used for program delivery, although we did have to cover some of our inflationary costs and also had to put a small amount of it into contingency because we are expecting an even more difficult year this year.
B. Bennett (Chair): What was the explanation by the ministry when you got that money? What did they say when they gave you that money? Did they say that this was one-time and that you can't expect it in the future? Or did they say it's something that would be continued?
L. Jacques: They said that it was one time and that it couldn't be expected in the future.
Actually, we had two allocations. One allocation came about around the end of November, and another one was closer to the end of the fiscal year. There was some anticipation that we might receive some one-time funding this year, but we understand that that has not occurred.
We are receiving, though, a large grant for upgrading one of our trades facilities — $2.3 million. However, the cost of that renovation and upgrade is over $3 million, so it still challenges us. We are very appreciative of the $2.3 million, but it doesn't cover the full and very necessary cost of that. The infrastructure, in terms of mechanical and electrical infrastructure, is failing.
B. Bennett (Chair): We appreciate your presentation. I'm the MLA from Cranbrook.
L. Jacques: Nice to meet you.
B. Bennett (Chair): I'm near the College of the Rockies there, and I understand some of the challenges that small rural colleges have. Thank you for coming in and presenting to us this morning.
We're going to take a recess until about 10:05 this morning. We'll be back here at 10:05.
The committee recessed from 9:50 a.m. to 10:06 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Hansard staff, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back. It's the legislative committee on finance and government services. I'll get started again with Paul Bowles from the UNBC Faculty Association.
Paul, thanks for coming this morning. The floor is yours. You have ten minutes, and then we'll have a few minutes after that for questions.
P. Bowles: Thanks very much.
My name is Paul Bowles. I'm a professor of economics at UNBC. I'm here today on behalf of the UNBC Faculty Association, which represents 220 professors, instructors, librarians and other academic staff at the university.
It being the start of a new school year, I like to try and talk to as many of my students as I can in their classes. I was talking to one student yesterday who explained to me that she was new to UNBC. She had spent one year at a college in the lower mainland, and then she spent a year at one of the lower mainland's universities and has now transferred to UNBC at the start of her third year.
I must have looked quite quizzical, my curiosity getting the better of me as to why she would be at three different institutions in three years. She gave me the answer. She said: "I want to find somewhere where the professors can give me more attention."
At first I was quite shocked at this, but after the initial shock, I am forced to say that the answer is really not that surprising. It reinforces the point I want to make today, which is that government must pay more attention to the quality of the higher education we provide in B.C.
For almost two decades successive governments have focused on the need to provide more space in our public education system. The reasons for this are well known, and the important thing to note is that the public universities have responded. Between 1985 and 2005 full-time-equivalent enrolment in B.C.'s public universities grew by more than 80 percent, jumping from 42,000 to almost 77,000.
UNBC has been a critical part of this expansion. Prior to 1993 a comprehensive university education was a ten-hour drive away from Prince George, and that was in good weather. When UNBC opened its doors, not only did our young people get access to a broad array of university degree programs, but industry gained access to world-class research. And all of the communities in the north, particularly the first nations communities, had substantial new intellectual resources to draw upon.
At UNBC we think we have done a remarkable job, but we can do better. The expansion of the higher education system in B.C. over the past two decades has come at a price. Little by little the quality of educational experience for students has been eroded. At UNBC we have lived under funding constraints since the day we opened. Between 1993 and 2005 provincial government funding for a full-time university student dropped by over 18 percent when measured in inflation-adjusted dollars.
It's true that some of this lost revenue had been made up by increases in tuition fees, but it doesn't seem fair that we have to balance our books on the backs of students.
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Today in B.C.'s public universities, classes are larger. Multiple-choice and short-term answers have replaced essay exams in many areas. There are fewer term papers assigned. Libraries are open shorter hours, and there are fewer academic and personal support services. The cut and thrust of seminar debates, the exchanges with professors — the things that students remember as the high points of their university experience — are on the educational endangered species list.
None of this is to say that students are getting a poor-quality education. My faculty and staff colleagues work very hard to provide our students with the best education we can. We are actively engaged in enhancing a student-centred learning environment. The quality of instruction remains high, but the quality of evaluation has slipped. We have fewer opportunities to evaluate students, and we don't evaluate them as rigorously as we would like to.
On top of this, increasing tuition fees and living costs mean that today's students don't have the time to take full advantage of what we do provide them. Each fall I like to get a sense from my students about the other demands on their time. This year, yesterday, I asked my class: "How many of you are working?" Over half of them work more than 15 hours a week. Some are working full-time jobs in addition to being full-time students.
Of course, you might say: "Isn't it a fine thing the students are so industrious." But it isn't about working hard; it's about making ends meet. Students, by and large, need to work so that they can go to school. What can be done about this?
Firstly, government has to stop tying all of the funding increases to higher education institutions to increases in student numbers. Yes, we need to create more spaces, and we need funding for that. But we also need general increases to institutional budgets to try and turn back some of the degradation in quality.
Secondly, government has to pay more attention to the role of graduate education and the role that that plays in high-quality university. Until this year you would have been excused for thinking university only had students in bachelor's degree programs. For many years government funding for graduate education was virtually ignored by governments of all political stripes. The 2007 budget marked the start of new funding specifically for graduate education, something which we welcome and which we stress needs to be continued.
Thirdly, government needs to make substantial new investments in university-based research. No matter how you measure it, we have lagged Alberta, Ontario and Quebec for years. This means we have difficulty in attracting top-quality graduate students and top-quality faculty.
Fourthly, our students need some relief from the high costs of being a student. They need to be able to work less. Some groups have suggested that this be done by rolling back tuition fees. Others have suggested it should be done through a more generous program of student bursaries. I don't know what the right answer to this is, but I do know that we have to stop burying our heads in the sand and pay more attention to the real lives of our students.
Finally, I want to add a few points specifically about UNBC. It's important for government to recognize the reality that UNBC is the hub of a far-flung research network operating in the interior and northern regions of our province. UNBC is one of B.C.'s four research-intensive universities, as acknowledged in the Campus 2020 report. Yet three of them — the so-called Georgia Strait cluster — are to receive "at least 95 percent of new research money." It's disappointing to find the report designating four research universities and then picking three of them as winners.
UNBC's importance to the region cannot be underestimated. Its multi-campus operations spanning large distances provide unique challenges. The costs of this need to be explicitly recognized in the budgeting process. I'm reluctant to use the term "northern allowance," but something which recognizes the unique cost environment that UNBC faces needs to be put in place.
I hope I've been able to impress upon you the need for government to pay attention to the quality of educational experience. The student I spoke of earlier is transferring into her third year. She's lucky. She will avoid the first-year course in biology with 350 students. She will avoid the first-year stats courses with 150 students. She will get the personal attention from her professors that she seeks. But we could do so much more. Placing quality at the top of the agenda would be a service to our students and to the taxpayers who fund public institutions.
Thanks for your attention. I'd be happy to try and answer any questions you may have.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks, Paul. Do you have a copy of your notes that you can provide to us?
P. Bowles: I can provide a copy, yeah.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. Thank you.
Questions from members.
J. Horgan: Thanks, Paul, for your presentation. I went to a small liberal-arts university for my undergraduate degree, and I appreciate the importance of small-class teaching at the university level.
I wanted to ask you specifically, not about the debate we were having over here — although we could maybe pick that up off line — but about the challenges with the operating funding formula. What proposals specifically could you make to this committee to help alleviate some of the challenges that you outlined in your presentation?
P. Bowles: I think if we see that the real cost…. A lot of funding now comes through envelope funding for specific programs, and that causes considerable tensions for the delivery of programs across the university. I'd like to see just a general increase in the dollar amount given per student. I think that would solve quite a few problems.
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B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): A couple of questions. Mostly I want to ask you to comment on some of the other presentations that have been made.
You spoke about the importance of graduate research and the beginnings of recognition of that by the government in the last budget. The chamber of commerce advocated a program, like Alberta or Newfoundland, which would eliminate or reduce tuition beginning at the master's level.
My first question would be: would you support that?
Secondly, the city of Prince George talked about the necessity to develop a research capacity, particularly in biomass energy, to assist this region in developing new economic opportunities as the pine beetle falldown emerges and as those jobs and that economic driver disappear.
What would you see as the role of the University of Northern British Columbia in leading that economic transition in this region?
P. Bowles: With respect to your first question on eliminating tuition at the graduate level, we all recognize that education brings private benefits. Individuals undertake degrees because their expected future income streams are higher. As a result of that, students have been expected to pay for part of their education.
The balance has gone to the point where many…. But there are also social benefits to higher education in terms of its ability to contribute to a dynamic workforce and to the subsequent growth. The question is: what should be the balance between the private costs and the social costs? One can argue, if one looks at what's happening across the country….
Ontario has put large amounts of new funding into graduate education, so Ontario universities attract many of our students with high scholarships. They have high tuition, but they offset that by even higher scholarships. One way to go is the Ontario route, which is to keep tuition relatively high but have high scholarships in order to offset that and attract students that way.
The model which you're talking about says: "Okay, perhaps not. We find it difficult to compete with the levels of funding which they're putting in, in terms of scholarships, so perhaps compete on having lower tuition."
I think that either of those routes would work. One has to look at the balance between tuition costs on the one hand and the availability of scholarships on the other. At the moment we have the same tuition costs as, for example, Ontario, but we have much lower levels of scholarship support.
One could address that either way. I would support that initiative, as I would support increasing the availability of graduate scholarships.
In terms of the research capacity and particularly biogas opportunities, the university does have a substantial focus on environmental issues. It has a large environmental science faculty in forestry, etc. I think 11 of our 13 research chairs are in environmental areas. The university has a new environmental engineering degree program, so the university has significant expertise in this area.
But I want to make a broader point than that, which is that as the pine beetle runs out, not only are new economic opportunities needed, but we need to ensure that we are not training students with specific knowledge sets which don't change over time. That's to say that we need to be not just responding to the specific impacts of the decline in the wood supply because of the pine beetle but enabling students to respond in creative ways to that. That's to say, create student-centred learning environments — so as well as the specific knowledge, which we can transfer, to be able to have learning environments where we can anticipate the next problem that's coming along.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Paul.
We're going to run out of time here before everyone who wants to ask a question gets to ask it, so let's do our best to keep the questions succinct, and maybe we can get through everybody here.
D. Hayer: I have four kids, and the three in post-secondary are the other ones who want to join next year. I served on the board of governors of Kwantlen University College for a while in the late '90s. I remember at that time tuition fees were frozen. We didn't have enough funding. We just kept cutting the classes, so kids were taking longer to graduate.
Also, when I was talking to people, they said there were no jobs around. Lots of kids were going back to school rather than sitting at home. Now it's basically the reverse. We have a lot of jobs out there.
When I talk to people, they say that they come up north here. Some of my neighbours' kids are here. They say that it's because of the environment. It's a smaller community. Also, there's the government program where if you go study up north and you stay there a certain period of time, then your student loan will be forgiven — right? Some of those programs.
Do you think it is important for government to encourage students to come in here and maybe work up north and to have that type of program, to go into certain fields if their student loan is forgiven?
P. Bowles: Yes. One of the ironies, of course, with the university sector is that we do well when the economy does badly, in some sense. Our student numbers grow when job opportunities are limited, so certainly the booming northern economy is affecting enrolment here.
I think the basis of your observation, of course, underlies what's being done with the northern medical program in that doctors who get trained in areas tend to stay. The 70-70 figure is that 70 percent of doctors practise within 70 kilometres of where they trained.
With the challenges that the north faces demographically…. We all know about labour shortages throughout the province, but with the demographic changes in the north, that's particularly the case. So programs that encourage students to come here and stay here are obviously going to aid the region considerably as well.
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J. Kwan: You mentioned the Ontario model. I'm wondering if you can shed some light for the committee members on the Alberta model. British Columbia often strives to be just like Alberta, and I wonder how they fare in the advanced education system with respect to that.
The second part to that question. The student body also made presentations, as they do pretty well every year with the Finance Committee. They call for a reduction in tuition and so on — the list that they have presented. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that and this faculty association's position related to these students' recommendations to the Finance Committee.
P. Bowles: I can take the last question first. With regard to reduction in tuition, I will speak personally. I'm not sure that the faculty association has a position on that. Personally, as a faculty member and as a parent, I have great sympathy for students who have seen substantial increases in tuition. So they are increasingly having to carry double workloads of school work and employment in order to finance their way through university. Many of them are ending up with large debts at the end.
The problem you have is that if you freeze tuition, as was done previously, then one has to make sure that government steps up and meets the increasing costs. So I gave you inflation-adjusted figures, but in fact, the inflation rate in the education sector is actually higher than the core inflation rate.
The problem that any committee, any government, faces is that it's easy to provide a relatively high-quality education when you only admit a few students. As you may tell from my accent, I'm English by origin, and I did my education in England. I had a very good, high-quality education at British universities because at that time, the British education system was very elitist. It only had a small percentage of students of that particular age group going to it.
When one opens up the higher education system — as one should, correctly — so that anyone who can benefit from higher education is able to go…. It's costly to maintain the same quality and to provide a high-quality education to a more broad-based population, to larger numbers.
That's the dilemma which all governments face — that it costs money. Whether one gets it from tuition revenue or whether one gets it from increased government core funding, it has to come from somewhere.
Personally, I think it's gone too far in the direction of raising the money from students. I think it's reached the point where it's jeopardizing students' ability to effectively undertake their studies. So I would support reductions in tuition, but only if it's matched by government ensuring that a high-quality education is possible with increased funding.
The Alberta model. Alberta always seems to be in a state of flux, so I'm not sure that there is an Alberta model per se, at the moment. Although I will, if I may, get back to you on that when I've done a bit more research.
I talked to you about student numbers in some of our first-year classes. I have a colleague whose son has recently gone to the engineering program at Alberta, where the first-year class is 1,200 students. U of A is, of course, growing exponentially, as is the whole city. Having been at U of A just a couple of months ago, I think it would be incorrect to say they have a model. They're just trying to hold the line as best they can and put out fires wherever they can, because their enrolments are just going so rapidly.
I will look into that and respond to you, if I may.
B. Bennett (Chair): I'm going to have to cut it off. We're out of time. Paul, thank you very much for your presentation and for your answers.
The next witness is from the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia, Dan Jepsen. Welcome, Mr. Jepsen. Nice of you to take the time to present to our committee.
D. Jepsen: It's a pleasure to be in Prince George, as usual. Just to acknowledge that we are in the Lheidli-Carrier traditional territories, and I'm pleased to make a presentation today.
What I thought I should do is just provide a few highlights of what we refer to as the good-news story in B.C., and then shed some light in regards to the feelings of our 4,000 members and how we continue to improve and maintain the investor confidence that we've got in British Columbia right now.
Just a few key facts. This brochure will be going out to all mayors, all MLAs, and over 5,000 of the mineral exploration–mining community around the world in the next week or so, primarily designed to, hopefully, influence the Fraser Institute survey that often gauges global investment confidence.
Just a few key facts of how things are coming along. Investment in mineral exploration, which is absolutely key to the discovery of new mines…. We've gone from about $25 million to $265 million. I'm thinking that for 2007, we might even be above that. I think it's an amazing testament to B.C.'s renewed confidence that mineral exploration confidence in B.C. has gone from 5.7 percent of Canada in 2001 to 18.3 percent in 2006.
I've had a number of deputy ministers of mines from other jurisdictions that are wondering how we are doing this, and there's a number of contributing factors. But that is definitely a good-news story.
Gross mining revenues are up from $3 billion to $8 billion. Average salary, again, has gone from $74,000 — that's salary and benefits — to $99,900 last year. So very high-paying jobs.
Number of mines opened: three of them in 2006. They're all relatively small. An absolutely stunning fact is that the best results we have at the end of 2006 is that 25 of the 50 mines in the permitting process in Canada are in British Columbia. Not one of those projects is currently in Ontario.
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I looked at some refreshed data in the last week provided by the mining association, and there are actually 33 projects.
It's important to note that a mine in the permitting process is excellent, but until it opens and is constructed, it doesn't provide very much benefit to the economy. We've got to work very hard to get those opened.
A few other things. Geoscience. Certainly the commitment of $25 million two years ago to create Geoscience B.C. has been a huge success story in encouraging mineral exploration into B.C. That agency's overheads are very low, and I think they virtually doubled the money that they've spent to date — the $8 million that they spent. They've got a further $8 million from universities and industry to apply to geoscience.
The QUEST project, which some of you are familiar with, is in this area. It's designed to create mineral exploration investment in the beetle-kill area and has resulted in investment of $4.25 million from Geoscience B.C.
The northern development trust has put another $750,000 into it, and over 430,000 hectares of land have been accessed for exploration. Again, we certainly think that mineral exploration and mining could be part of the diversification strategy for the communities that are going to be impacted most certainly by the beetle kill.
Moving to some of the highlights from the presentation. I turn to the focus of the recommendations that we have for the panel's consideration: a further investment in geoscience, mine development tax incentives. I'm not going to spend too much time on that, because I've been looking at some of the producing mines that are going to be providing additional detail based on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report from last year. I think the accountant and the producers have a better skill set than a lowly old forester to provide you with the accurate data on those tax incentives.
Encouragement to move forward with the resource revenue-sharing policy for first nations and the mineral exploration mining community in B.C. Of course, infrastructure is close and dear to our heart. Recently I left a meeting early and then found out that I was nominated president of Water Highway B.C. I just want to touch a little bit on that issue.
I continue on geoscience investment again. Major kudos to the investment of $25 million to create Geoscience B.C. It was a one-time investment. I think $8 million to $10 million of that fund has been spent already. Based on global investments in geoscience, to encourage investment globally, we would like to encourage you to consider topping up another $25 million into that fund because it's a very wise use of funds.
We have 850 mineral exploration companies based in Vancouver, and less than 10 percent of those are active in Canada. We'd like to see more of those companies investing in Canada. My passion is to invest in B.C., so I want to see more investment back to B.C. Geoscience, again, will deliver those types of results.
The mining tax credit program. There are people who are more skilled in that area to provide better data and better recommendations. But the one thing I would touch on that I am knowledgable about is that both in forestry and in oil and gas, there are tax incentives to offset the costs of development on roads and stuff. That does not exist within the mineral and mining industry.
The largest single private sector investment in B.C.'s history has been announced in the last two months. It's the Galore Creek, NovaGold, Tahltan, Teck Cominco project; $2.1 billion will be invested to construct that mine in the next four years.
Just a sound bite that I got last week from Don Lindsay, president of Teck Cominco, the largest mining company in Canada: "That's a larger investment than the Olympics." And it's here, right in B.C. — 1,000 jobs in construction, 600 jobs to construct it, and there are 650 people working on that site right now, including 30 percent of the labour force there being Tahltan First Nations.
It's a huge success story, the Tahltan story. Unemployment is gone. In 1985 Jerry Asp and I spoke at a conference. Most recently it was 87 percent. They are now down to 7 percent in the winter and 4 percent in the summer — a very, very good-news story.
Again, I think we should look at opportunities to offset road development costs with a similar thing that is done for forestry and oil and gas. I think the road into the Kemess project is about $67 million.
A resource revenue-sharing policy. I don't know what the answer is on this, but I know there have been efforts within forestry to look at a revenue stream to first nations. I think in my own heart that if there were a formalized resource revenue-sharing policy, it might have had an influence over the troubling Kemess decision that happened in the last couple of days.
I've been here for two days, and I know that many of the people I've talked to are extremely disappointed that the Kemess North project is not moving forward because it is 400 high-paying jobs for another — whatever it is — 15 years. That being said, I know that there is a lot of effort to try to get first nations communities on side. But a resource revenue-sharing stream certainly would have helped in a situation like that.
Infrastructure. Again, B.C.'s strength and commitments over the last 50 to 100 years…. They have always invested in infrastructure, from dams to hydro to highways. One of the things that our members have agreed on would be the support of putting power up the Highway 37 corridor. Right now NovaGold and Teck Cominco will make power to deliver to only their site, but there are a number of communities in that corridor. There are a number of other mineral and mining projects that would benefit and other independent power projects that could be put back on to the power grid.
I know there is a lot of work being done on this file. It is my understanding that first nations are increasingly on side with the corridor. We would certainly like to see an investment in the Highway 37 power corridor. The focus of reliable, cost-effective power serving all British Columbians is something we would certainly support.
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On the water monitoring network, I have put a low-resolution brochure…. This will be released at UBCM next week, and it will be going to all mayors and all MLAs in the province. In the last 24 hours I have got COFI, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Geoscience B.C., who have all signed up on this. I've got a number of mayors already signed up.
This isn't rocket science, as far as I've considered. It is my understanding that B.C. is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada that is considering cutting back on water monitoring. With flooding, tourism and extensive resource development projects, we need to look at a continued investment in water quality monitoring. The ask on this, I believe, is initially small. It's $200,000 to come up with a comprehensive strategy that we can all buy into for a long-term strategy for water quality and quantity monitoring in British Columbia.
Right now the annual investment in water monitoring between the federal government and the provincial government is $4.9 million. I think the study will probably say that in the long term, there needs to be a larger investment. But I think the one thing about this is: this is something that crosses boundaries from tourism, forestry, aggregate, mining. I've got mayors on board that are concerned about flooding.
If you can commit this money, this is a get-out-of-jail card. All these people will say, if there are any flooding issues in the next 12 to 24 months, that the government saw the light and were making this investment to come up with a thorough, comprehensive strategy for consideration in B.C.
I've put that plug in. The water quality and quantity monitoring system is close and dear to all of our hearts.
That's my presentation, and I'd be more than pleased to try and answer any of your questions.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Dan.
J. Horgan: I know that the Chair will want to have some time to ask some questions, so I won't take too much time.
I support the mining industry in British Columbia. I've said on a number of occasions that our wealth in British Columbia, formerly above the ground, is now clearly below the ground, whether it be oil and gas or in the mining sector.
That being said, there are significant challenges, and you're aware of those, Dan, more so than me, with managing the environmental expectations of people in our community right across British Columbia. The Minister of Finance has asked us to go around the province to hear from citizens and to focus on environmental issues and climate change in particular.
My first question to you would be with respect to Highway 37 and the electrification process. In your opinion, is electrification a cost-effective way of meeting climate change challenges across the province and particularly in the northwest as we look at mine developments like NovaGold, Red Chris and others in that region?
D. Jepsen: Well, certainly I believe that it does because all of those projects and all of those communities are relying on…. Their hydroelectric power is generated by diesel. That diesel is, of course, delivered by truck. So you're burning hydrocarbons to deliver diesel to burn to create power. The power that comes from hydroelectric, I believe, certainly is much, much more efficient. There's no doubt in my mind that that is an advantage on the global warming file.
J. Horgan: The second question, if I may, refers to your final comments and your brochure here with respect to water quality and quantity. One of the challenges with Kemess North, as you know, was the Duncan Lake, or the Amazay, as the first nations in the area call it. The devastation of that body of water…. How do you reconcile that issue with your association's support now for water issues?
D. Jepsen: We've always supported water issues. I think there's no doubt in the minerals and mining industry that impacts to water quality need to be mitigated. Again, a forester speaking on ARD needs to be very cautious, but there is no doubt that if you ask the basic question: where is the best and only spot for ARD-generating rock…? It needs to be underwater. Then the question remains: if it needs to be underwater, you've got two choices. Either it goes into a current body of water — a natural lake — or you build a huge dam, you create a man-made lake, and you put it in underwater.
As a forester, I certainly feel that logging a large area to create a man-made lake and create a dam that presents risks…. There are issues that go along with that. The one example I use is that I used to drive by Buttle Lake on my way to Gold River when I was in forestry. Buttle Lake is the drinking water for Campbell River. Buttle Lake's got all the ARD-generating rock from the Myra Falls in that drinking water. There has never been an impact to Campbell River's drinking water.
What is troubling is that 15 years ago they made the decision that that was probably not a good place to put ARD-generating rock. They now store the ARD-generating rock above ground with man-made dams. The only ARD-generating rock that's going into Buttle Lake is the ARD-generating rock that's the ballast for the road system that went in. All the rock in the area has got ARD in it.
Again, there are solutions here. It's a balance to try and explain these in terms that communities and indigenous people can understand. Ultimately, they can make the decision.
My understanding on the Northgate project is that if you try and do the alternate situation where you create the big dam and the new lake and log the heck out of it to create this man-made entity, the cost would be another billion dollars. Even with the high commodity prices we're dealing with right now, that line extension would be uneconomical.
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In the end, if those communities don't want that to happen, I guess that's their choice. But I've spent a considerable amount of time in my career in indigenous communities with very high unemployment rates. We have over 30 first nations communities that have formally approached us to develop memorandums of understanding to create investor certainty around mineral exploration and mining because they want to mirror the Tahltan job.
They want to go from 85-percent unemployment to 4 percent. How do we do that? I don't have the time to organize all these MOUs, but I do my best to visit first nations communities and explain, to the best of my ability, how mineral exploration and mining can be undertaken in an environmentally sound way, protect their culture and heritage and, more importantly, share those benefits with their communities. That's what we need to do.
You cannot develop a large industrial project anywhere in the world anymore if communities and indigenous people don't want it. So in the contrast that's happened in the last three months…. NovaGold is moving forward with the Tahltan as a partner, and we know the announcement of what's happened with the unfortunate decision on Northgate yesterday. Those are the two extremes. We need to work harder at it.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Dan. There's really good information in here.
My question is: how is the government staff — the bureaucracy — relationship with your association? Is it getting better? Is it the same? Are there more challenges there to make your organization and your members more successful?
D. Jepsen: There has been a huge turnaround. I would be honest with you that three or four years ago I was getting at least four to ten angry calls a week about getting drilling permits. I have only had one call since Christmas. There has been a huge turnaround.
The majority of our members would say that all the drilling permits are issued within 30 days, and in some cases I've heard stories…. I recently heard a story of a drill permit that went in after business hours in Smithers on a Friday night at 5:30, and on Saturday morning they had their drilling permit. They couldn't believe it. They phoned me at my home and said: "I can't believe it. You know, there are people working on weekends, and I got a drilling permit within 12 hours."
That's the type of thing…. Those stories need to be told to the other 750 companies that are not currently exploring in B.C. We need to get them on board, and those are part of the success stories.
Where our eyes are turned is to the federal bureaucracy, which is deeply troubling. There are 14 separate departments federally that can either slow or stop a mine from moving forward.
Minister Bennett spent a lot of efforts in Ottawa. We're very pleased, as a result of those efforts that we did jointly with the Mining Association, that it resulted in the federal government committing $60 million to move forward with a pilot project to get these projects approved.
The Northgate project was a pilot project for an improved harmonization of mine permitting. There are still some issues there, but it is a success story. That mine's approved, and it's moving forward — $2.1 billion investment. It is a good-news story.
R. Hawes: Thanks, Dan, for your presentation. I'm looking at your newsletter The Good News in B.C. — 2007. I'm looking at a picture in here of the Orca quarry. You said earlier that if the communities and first nations don't want a project, it generally won't happen. Obviously, aggregate quarries are something a lot of municipalities don't like, and they fight.
An offshoot of that is the use of the product, which is asphalt and ready-mix. Considering our focus on a green budget, I'd just wonder about your comments in terms of the location of both asphalt and-or ready-mix in the same quarry. You're not trucking material out and unloading it, only to process it, load it up and truck it out again.
D. Jepsen: It's an area that I'm not that familiar with. The aggregate producers have their own association, but I used to say in my career in forestry that I didn't need to find a goldmine, I needed to find just a basic gravel pit.
It's interesting that the Orca pay…. Again, Polaris is another major, major success story. Judith Sayers, Bill Cranmer and others…. I went to the longhouse opening on northern Vancouver Island. It was a momentous occasion.
The shipments of that gravel are going straight into San Francisco for concrete and ready-mix. Although Marco Romero, who's president of the company, won't be straight with me, the rumour is…. This is like selling fridges to Eskimos, but reliable sources have said they have actually shipped a load of sand to Hawaii.
It is a good-news story, and people like Chief Judith Sayers and Bill Cranmer are huge spokespeople for the industry. Judith Sayers actually offered to come on a trade mission with the minister to New York to speak about positive first nations relations and how those projects can move forward.
B. Bennett (Chair): For the benefit of the committee, if I can get you, just as briefly as you can, Mr. Jepsen…. You've mentioned geoscience investment. You've mentioned mine development tax incentives. Here we are in Prince George, the centre of the pine beetle problem in the province. What can the provincial government do to help communities like Prince George and Quesnel and all the other communities that are going to be impacted by the pine beetle epidemic to diversify their economies?
D. Jepsen: Well, I'm actually doing a presentation. They have rescheduled me to do a presentation to
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OBAC right after this. Certainly, because of my forestry background — I spent a lot of time in the north here when I was in forestry — about 18 months ago I was approached by OBAC, CCBAC and a number of the mayors to ask whether I thought there was an opportunity for mineral exploration and mining to be part of the diversification strategy up there.
Not being a geologist, the big challenge has been that there's a lot of dirt on top of the rock. Therefore, it's quite complex — the geoscience data that needs to be created. So the QUEST project and Geoscience B.C., the efforts from the current government to get the flight line data….
Just think about that number I gave you; 423,000 hectares have been acquired by the mineral exploration sector in the last few months to explore for the discovery, we hope, of new mines.
I've also learned through the grapevine that in the data that's being flown right now in the $4.5 million investment, there are huge geological anomalies that aren't staked right now. When this data is released at roundup, we'll see another uptake in exploration. There's no doubt in my mind that there are other discoveries to be made, and that will help diversify these economies.
The other thing that's vitally important. Globally, the mining industry does not create mining talent anymore. NovaGold is not doing that either.
When it is up and running, it'll be two weeks on, two weeks off. So people in places like Prince George, Quesnel and Kamloops can get those jobs, fly in to the site and work for two weeks at $99,000 a year. Probably, it'll be higher in four years. Again, it's less disruptive to the economies, and the idea that you build new towns is just not the strategy that they're doing.
A fact I used from Don Lindsay, Teck Cominco. The number one challenge facing that company isn't commodity prices, isn't first nations, isn't indigenous relations; 50 percent of their 5,000 employees are eligible for retirement in five years.
The trucks at Highland Valley copper are $10 million trucks. The truck driver with the most experience at Highland, who makes $99,900 a year, has one year of experience. So forestry workers, millworkers, pulp workers, sawmill workers….
As I told a group last night, I look at the equipment at a mine. It's got wheels. It's got tires. It's got hydraulics. If you can work on a yarder or a logging truck, you can work on mining equipment. I think that I'd like to see my friends in the forest industry take those jobs and earn in those high-paying jobs and do well. That's my vision.
B. Bennett (Chair): With that inspiring response, we'll thank you very much for your presentation and for travelling up from Vancouver.
D. Jepsen: Always a pleasure.
B. Bennett (Chair): Do we have the next presenter from the Central Interior Logging Association?
You're Rick. And the last name is Publicover?
R. Publicover: Yes.
B. Bennett (Chair): Welcome to the committee. Thank you for coming, and we'll look forward to your presentation. You have ten minutes.
R. Publicover: Thank you very much for the opportunity to come before the committee. The CILA, the Central Interior Logging Association, endorses the government process to hear from residents across the province.
We represent 200 members from 100 Mile in the south to the Northwest Territories–Yukon border, and from the Alberta border in the east to the Hazeltons. We represent loggers, log haulers and suppliers.
One of the things that we've seen, as your previous speaker was talking about, is the vibrant economy. We see lots of resource development in the northern communities, and I think the strength in terms of going forward is the diversity that we see.
We have a number of areas that we see that the government needs to make reinvestments into for these northern communities. That includes retaining and attracting workers to the north — it's interesting that both previous speakers touched on that; capital improvements of existing and new infrastructure; and providing services to northern communities in order to retain people in the north.
People want to have training to access employment opportunities. Businesses need sufficiently highly skilled workers and modern infrastructure to safely and efficiently conduct their operations. Communities need timely access to provincial services and programs to provide a balanced and quality lifestyle for the residents.
We've seen a lot of economic development in the north from various sectors: the increase in mountain pine beetle harvest; a new mining development, as the previous speaker talked about; increased oil and gas exploration as well as increased tourism. They provide excellent opportunities to strengthen northern communities on numerous horizons.
Many communities are no longer reliant on single resource sectors and are promoting diversity within their communities, resulting in unprecedented growth that we haven't seen in many decades.
The challenge, of course, is to fill up our communities and provide for the workers and residents who are needed in the north. I've spent a lot of time in Fort Nelson, so I'm well aware of the difficulty in attracting and retaining people.
As we look at the demographics across B.C. and the present lack of trained and qualified workers, it's testing the capacity of many corporations and communities and the success of the businesses that are situated there.
One of the other things that we need in terms of strategic development is excellent infrastructure — the highway systems that service our areas as well as
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resource road upgrades. Currently a lot of the roads are overburdened in terms of traffic, and we need to relieve some of that pressure from a safety point of view as well as efficiency of operations and competitiveness.
It's affecting the development in a number of areas. We now have competing interests on a lot of the forestry roads that had been originally established just for one sector of the economy. Now we have multiple users on that road, and we've got a crisis in some of those areas.
Businesses are unable to safely transport workers to and from their worksite and efficiently move resources to manufacturing centres and products to markets. A new strategic plan and long-term provincial commitment to upgrade the current provincial highway and resource road system is critical to business growth, to community stability and to serve the needs of northern residents and the travelling public.
As I mentioned, there are a number of factors. We've seen the uplift — the mining, the oil and gas — and now we have a new tourism initiative the government has put in to make this the best place on earth. I think we need to take advantage of that and build the appropriate infrastructure.
So if we look at recommendations we have for training and skilled workers, one of the things we need to look at is to develop some skills upgrading and apprenticeship programs. Although there may be a decline in the number of overall workers in the forest industry in the past decade, there is still a huge demand for highly skilled and trained workers. Our members are experiencing difficulty in attracting those new workers as well as training them.
There's a gap there. We've got a need on one side, and we've also got on the other side young people and new workers who want to enter into the business. There are no entry-level positions. You can't be a chokerman and then work onto a piece of equipment. Now the industry is highly mechanized, and the equipment is high cost. Nobody is going to put somebody who is new, first day on the job, on a $500,000 machine. So we need to get that skill set brought up through programs that government can partake in.
We've seen a lot of migration in the industry to some of the other sectors such as mining, oil and gas, as well as a huge level of retirement that's occurring in the industry. I think the average age for truckers in the forest industry is 54. We've got a huge vacuum that's going to be created here in the next ten years, so we need to develop those skill sets.
We are working with a number of organizations to look at skills training for the forest industry to attract, as well as to retain, individuals in that. We're working with three other logging associations, the Council of Forest Industries, the Industry Training Authority…. It's being funding through Service Canada. We'd like to see how we can work with the province to develop a skills and apprenticeship program for skilled workers in the forest industry.
The next thing…. Once the program is developed, there need to be some pilot programs to test the results of those as well as employment awareness training on opportunities that are available, non-traditional sources such as women, and greater enhancement of first nations opportunity in the employment end.
In terms of major highway infrastructure, both Highway 97 and Highway 16 we see need upgrading. There was a government commitment to twin Highway 97. We recommend that be done over the next ten years as well as upgrading to the west. With the increased port traffic, mining and some new oil and gas development that's expected out that way, we need to be getting ahead of that in terms of implementing passing lanes as well as rerouting commercial traffic around smaller communities.
There are a number of proposals that have been put forward to the provincial government, and we recommend that those be initiated — so a strategic plan to implement strategies to upgrade the road. We recommend that the Cariboo connector be completed over the next ten years — I'm not sure what the original time line was for that — as well as upgrading on Highway 16.
In addition to that, as I mentioned, the resource roads need upgrading as well from forestry roads. We need to examine again another strategic approach from the resource industries that are expected to use those resource roads. There needs to be upgrading in terms of widening, turnouts, drainage structures, etc. — those types of things.
Lastly, in terms of the communities that people like to live and work in, there needs to be excellent and timely access to provincial services — for example, health care, particularly in emergency care. In some of the smaller communities if you're in a traumatic accident, and you've got serious injuries, the chance of fatality is much higher. We need to make sure that emergency care services are focused in our rural communities.
As well, services such as e-learning and opportunities to bring education to the smaller communities so that we can retain people in those communities…. I think the last person — or somebody — talked about doctors. If they've trained in an area, they'll tend to work in that area. We need to have the ability to train people more effectively through local means as well as institutions.
In summary, I think if we look at the three areas: skills training, investment in resource development roads as well as highways, and then easier and better access to provincial government services in rural communities….
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks, Rick. That was a good presentation. You got it in within the ten minutes, so we have some time for some questions from committee members.
R. Hawes: Rick, you said in your presentation that none of the logging companies would take a choker-
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man, for example, and put him on an expensive piece of equipment without having the proper training.
I'm just curious. Maybe I hear more from the manufacturing side, but from what I understand, entry-level workers, unskilled workers, are a huge problem. You can't find people that will come to work as chokermen — or in the manufacturing, you know on the greenchain or wherever, in a mill. Every time somebody acquires some skills, of course, they move on, and you can't find replacements at that bottom level. Without having those people, the unskilled people, you don't operate.
How big a problem is this?
R. Publicover: What I'm saying now is that there are no longer those unskilled positions in the forest. Now it's highly technical equipment — processors, feller-bunchers — that are operated on computers, and the cost of the machinery is anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.
R. Hawes: On the logging side, then, you don't have….
R. Publicover: Yeah, from the logging side we need skilled workers that are trained and experienced in operating equipment.
R. Hawes: So your problem is different from some of those on the manufacturing side.
R. Publicover: That's right. Yes, we need to develop that pool of skilled workers that we can draw from. Contractors are looking for young workers to enter the workforce, because they've got an opportunity to retain them for a longer period of time.
At the same time, the people seeking work in the forest industry are saying: "Well, I can't enter there, because I don't have the skills, and I can't get the experience." We need those training programs to bridge that gap, to develop the pool of workers who are skilled that the contractors could draw from.
B. Bennett (Chair): Any other committee members?
Rick, I just have a personal question. I'm curious. You're obviously very familiar with the industry. Elected people have been hearing for a number of years now about the impacts of pine beetle on the midnorth and on the Prince George area in particular.
What's your sense of when we're going to see a reduction in access to wood or a reduction in volume of wood? At what point is it estimated that the sawmills and the pulp mills are not going to be able to get as much wood as they need because we've lost our pine?
R. Publicover: It depends on the area, and it's probably within the next ten to 20 years that we're going to see some reduction there.
From a different perspective, though, there is also the opportunity for bioenergy. When you look at that employment gap that may be occurring on the solid-wood side, there's the megawatt side in terms of power and bioenergy fuels, etc., that we need to be looking at. There are some great opportunities in there that we need to be focusing on.
B. Bennett (Chair): Are there any mills out there right now that you're aware of that are within, say, two to three to four years of having timber that they can afford to purchase, given transportation costs? Or are they still going to have fibre for the next ten years, most of them?
R. Publicover: I would say for the next ten years for sure.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. Thank you very much for your presentation.
Next on our list is Mr. John Funk. Are you from here in Prince George?
J. Funk: Yes, I am.
B. Bennett (Chair): Welcome to the committee. We appreciate you taking the time to come and present to us this morning. We spend ten minutes on formal presentations, so if you can get yours in within ten minutes, we'll have a few minutes after for committee members to ask you questions.
J. Funk: Okay. I crowded it a bit. It might run over just a hair, but I'll try and get it into ten minutes.
Something happened to me in the last few days, as a result of which I'm here. In any event, to start out from the beginning, the Vancouver Board of Trade wrote a letter to Hon. Carole Taylor, Minister of Finance, in July of last year regarding the Health budget of $13 billion, which is 37 percent of the provincial budget. There was an increase of 34 percent in the last five years.
The letter to the minister said that what is needed is meaningful reform of the health care system. Health care requires effective policy and process reforms, a more cost-effective health care system — meaningful reform. The status quo is not acceptable. A great deal remains to be accomplished to improve the management and efficiency of the systems. They called for opening the system to more competition.
We can shave off a billion or two. Maybe you think I'm dreaming, but stay with me for a moment. Last September the Globe and Mail had an article about a guy who had a metal plate screwed in a bone in his leg after it fractured. He got one of those antibiotic-resistant infections in that wound, so he spent the last six years in and out of hospital, once for six months, and then he got a similar infection in his other leg.
After 21 operations he can barely walk and only with great pain. The Globe said 220,000 others get hospital infections every year in Canada. Of these, one out of every 27 die — kaput. That's 8,000-plus a year. Pain, funerals, tears and heartbreak times 8,000.
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What got me here? About 25 years ago I had a very serious and painful heart attack. Later I looked for ways to avoid another and started reading about things, especially alternative stuff — mostly vitamins, etc. I tried some that worked.
Last January I slipped on ice and broke my ankle. The doctor fixed it with some handy rebar and screws that he had around. In August I asked him to take it out. He said: "Why? They won't do you any harm." I had to give him a bunch of scientific proof from the Internet that metal in your body or your teeth is bad, bad. He grudgingly removed it, and I promptly got infected with that same hospital virus as in the Globe and Mail article. It was hot. It burned like a blow torch on my ankle, and at the same time, it itched like crazy. Terrible.
They tried a new antibiotic. Useless. They doubled the dose. It wasn't any help. But previously I'd read about oregano oil from Turkey — that's the country, not the bird. You can google it at oregano oil, Georgetown University. You may find it profitable. It's supposed to help for viruses, colds, flus, yeast infections, mould, athlete's foot, cancer, bacteria, and most everything else.
It had worked for colds and flu for me. In 20 minutes I could begin to feel better. I put some on my ankle. In three minutes that burning, which nothing could stop, and the itching started to go. The wound has now healed. Since last week I stopped putting any oregano oil on it.
You're welcome to this for $22 at the health food store. It's probably going to be the best $22 you ever spend. The moral is that doctors are not God. They do not know everything. We therefore have to accept final responsibility for our own health. Think about. Six years, 21 operations, pain, no life. For $22 I avoided all of that — and maybe death.
Here's where the Vancouver Board of Trade and Carole Taylor and the Ministry of Finance come in. I saved the ministry tons of money — probably half a million dollars if I'd gone the same route as that other guy in the Globe. You can tell Carole she owes me $22 for the oregano oil.
The doctor did not know about myelotoxicity, either, as well as a lot of other stuff — that it's very useful to make people well and keep them well — because he had never been taught it. They must be taught to save Carole money — hundreds of millions — and incidentally, to save people some misery and death.
Why are doctors in such abysmal ignorance of, shall we say, alternative medicine? Is it because the drug companies have hijacked the medical system by carefully donating to the medical schools in exchange for what is taught and what is not? You cannot patent herbs, so just forget it, Doc, and write a prescription.
Who is making money? It's hard to believe the Globe report — 220,000 Canadians get blindsided yearly by hospital infection, largely, the paper said, by the doctors who won't wash their hands. Who is accountable? We spend our time worrying about a few radical Muslims killing perhaps a few hundred people at most on the odd occasion when there are thousands upon thousands quietly and needlessly being killed around us. There is no care emerging from the drug companies any more than a drug-pushing guy on a motorcycle.
Now, fast-forward to the Globe on September 12. That's just last week, re the Avandia drug. The company tries to justify about 42,000 heart failures and an increase of 8,000 heart attacks in Canada. Some people going blind and women with bone fractures due to the drug. The U.S. FDA and Health Canada, although advised of severe problems as far back as April and before, including deaths, are not alarmed. They just say: "Keep pushing them drugs, folks." What type of reward program is there in place? And how many more millions does this cost the taxpayer when there are 220,000 people infected in hospitals?
What is the solution? Consider establishing a "civilian commission" with one or two doctors but mostly insurance agents, retired judges, janitors or millworkers, etc., with money and power to check on Health Canada, drug companies and the Ministry of Health — especially the media. Nobody would stay longer than two or three years, to limit the temptation to sell out. A billion dollars is fairly strong medicine.
One doctor with a conscience said in the Globe that there were other drugs equally effective and cheaper, so why would a doctor prescribe more risky and more expensive drugs? Does it have something to do with rewards, dollars? Should this matter of rewards from the tender-hearted drug pushers also be examined under a microscope?
To put it another way, if doctors are not gods, then maybe they are human. If so, then some would be open to temptation. When I asked a casual acquaintance, a doctor, to stop writing prescriptions for tranquillizers for a friend because, I said, they're going to kill her, he said: "Well, I have to make a living too." She died within a year.
See also as a postscript to the sad tobacco store, number 8 on this thing, about the Chinese who caught Canada's drug companies poisoning them, as well as Canadians, by way of our pork exports. It was yesterday or the day before that I saw it on the Internet. This is big business. There are millions there to China. What cost is there to the Health Ministry, under this section — in the tens of millions? We're talking about hogs being poisonous across Canada.
B. Bennett (Chair): You have about a minute left there, John, for your formal presentation. Do your best.
J. Funk: Okay. I'll try to finish — a little late but not too much.
A cure — anybody from the Hell's Angels or associated with a drug company that tries to donate money to a medical school or tries in any other way to influ-
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ence in any way what is taught at a medical school should be declared a dangerous offender an sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence of a minimum of 15 years. There should be a mandated number of scientifically accredited instructors in alternative medicine at each medical school with minimum course requirements for all students. Eventual estimated savings in doctors' visits, etc., could be in the billions, with decreased time off work, in widows' pensions paid and in more taxes paid to the Finance Minister.
An order from the Premier — and this is the big one, number 6 — that no further heart operations be performed in B.C. There is enclosed documentation that this would immediately result in a decrease of almost 60 percent in deaths of heart patients who would otherwise be slated for surgery. Perhaps over 1,000 deaths a year could be averted this way. Many of these people with appropriate alternative care will become useful taxpayers, and many of these now unemployed surgeons could then apply themselves to useful, necessary work, reducing the wait-lists in other categories.
Extrapolating from U.S. statistics, this could save the B.C. government $1 billion a year. Because you are more than twice as likely to die from this surgery as you are from the disease, over 1,000 more living, breathing taxpayers would pay the government.
We all have friends or family that have tried to stop smoking. We read the warnings on the packet. Well, it turns out that the kindly souls at tobacco companies have substantially increased nicotine content as well as introduced additives to make it even more difficult for the smoker to quit. This is not to mention the additional health hazards. All that is needed is an order-in-council to ban additives and, secondly, to reduce nicotine content by — what? — 40, 50, 80 percent. Lives and taxpayers' money would be saved — medical expenses in the millions.
There's a pill — and here's the icing on the cake — to keep the doctor away. Very cheap — a safe pill, no side effects. Included are 84 scientific references, peer reviews and studies that you can double-check on the Internet that it prevents and/or cures many diseases, including rheumatism, arthritis, kidney and thyroid problems, hepatitis, heart attacks, diabetes, killer septic shock, prostate problems, lung cancers for smokers, DNA repair, colon cancers and more — as well as a general boost to your immune system. This is selenium.
If the Hon. Carole Taylor had this information distributed to every B.C. household, how much more would she have to spend on, say, education, human resources and paying down the provincial debt? Amen. Praise God.
B. Bennett (Chair): John, you did very well to get through that. I gave you a few extra minutes, which will come out of the question-and-answer portion of your 15 minutes here with the committee. Thank you very much. I'm going to allow one or two questions.
J. Kwan: I'll be very quick with my question. I gather from your presentation that you're in support of alternative medicine. To that end, if I'm correct in that assumption, would you advocate, then, for alternative medicine to be included in a list of services provided as supplemental services under MSP?
J. Funk: Anything that works should be included.
B. Bennett (Chair): That's a good answer. Thank you again for your presentation. It was very thought-provoking. We have a copy of it, and we will definitely take it into account in our deliberations.
J. Funk: God bless you all.
B. Bennett (Chair): Are the representatives from Theatre North West and the Community Arts Council of P.G. and District here? If you'd like to come forward, folks, and take your seats here.
Ted, are you leading this submission? Your name is adjacent to this witness name here this morning. Or are all three of you presenting?
T. Price: No. I have something I wish to present. If there should be any questions outside my bailiwick, we have Anne Laughlin, who is the general manager of the theatre, and Linda Herman, who is the executive director of the community arts council.
B. Bennett (Chair): Excellent. Okay, if you could get your presentation done within the ten minutes, then we'll have five minutes for questions after that.
T. Price: I'm especially pleased to be speaking to this committee today on behalf of Theatre North West and the Community Arts Council of Prince George. It's my understanding that last year this committee recommended an increase in arts funding. Many of us want to thank the committee for this, and I hope that today you may receive some more ammunition to help fight this good fight.
Theatre North West and the Community Arts Council of Prince George are presenting a united front because we both believe that it is crucial to the future of the arts in British Columbia that communities receive consistent and realistic core funding.
Sufficient funding would allow our organizations to focus on the artistic side of their operations. Instead, arts organizations are expending huge amounts of time and human energy applying for often elusive and even peripheral grants, seeking alternate funding sources and engaging in endless activities that have nothing whatsoever to do with providing our community with the arts. This is all just to keep our doors open. With adequate means we could better get on with our jobs.
Recently we have begun to face a particularly worrisome challenge. Although this challenge is recent, it is going to stay with the province for a very long time. We are starting to fail in our efforts to interest the next generation of artists, administrators, technicians
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and managers in entering our field, because we cannot pay them properly.
If the truth be told, when it comes to remuneration and hours of work, a surprising number of organizations in our province stay alive by being in regular and sometimes habitual breach of the Employment Standards Act. The baby-boomers have both created and put up with this conundrum, but we are now getting our comeuppance.
When today's young people are told that they will enjoy the rewards of being needed and appreciated but we cannot afford to pay them properly, they reject the notion. When we tell them that they probably can't expect a balance between their work life and their personal life, they are rejecting us again.
Many are moving on to other sectors — for instance, administrators to health care, the civil service or business; designers, technicians and craftspeople lost to film or commercial television. And you know how Somerset Maugham summed up television: chewing gum for the eyes. It's a terrible waste in many cases.
This drift away from the arts is not just in theatre. The skill shortage has hit across the arts. But even worse is that we are in danger of squandering or burning out much of the valuable talent that is presently in hand, and such shortages always hit the north hardest.
With particular regards to Theatre North West, it's Canada's most northwesterly regional theatre and the only professional theatre in the northern two-thirds of British Columbia. According to the Canada Council for the Arts, Theatre North West has the highest per-capita subscription rate in Canada. Simply put, northerners are crazy for theatre.
Notwithstanding this enthusiastic response, Theatre North West is constantly struggling to operate within its resources. In order to attract practitioners to a remote area like Prince George, we must be able to offer them a good wage.
Other costs involved in running a theatre are the building operating costs; the rights and royalties to stage the play — for our organization, that runs between $30,000 and $35,000 a year; the design and building of the sets; lighting and technical costs; costumes; advertising; ticket printing; programs; and so on.
Because we're a distance from major centres, expensive travel costs are involved for every production. Ann Laughlin, our general manager, is an absolute wizard at getting the most value for our dollar, but it is an ongoing battle.
For Theatre North West this battle has now taken on an amazingly ironic and astonishing twist. This season we're elated that audience demand has hit an all-time high. However, for the first time in 14 years, this season we have been obliged to downsize our activities, to do less. The gap is widening between public demand and the human resources that are available and willing to provide.
When we do not nurture our talented people, the quality of life in our northern communities is diminished. The needs and aspirations of northerners are no less than other British Columbians, and our contribution has been enormous. We are as worthy of the endless benefits and pleasures of the arts as any others.
I'd also like to tell you something about the very successful endeavours of Prince George's Community Arts Council. The council has a program to assist our schools with the current arts curriculum. The Artists in the Schools program provides an honorarium to artists to go into the schools to demonstrate and teach their disciplines. Potters, painters, dancers, musicians and actors take part in this program.
The demand from schools far exceeds the funds available for the program. Last year over 30 schools applied, but there were only enough funds for six artists. That means that 80 percent of our schools applying were turned down.
The Community Arts Council also has the preschool of the arts in their facility, which offers regular preschool programming enhanced by a strong arts component. Music, dance and drama are offered as part of an ongoing effort to bring the arts into the lives of Prince George's young children.
The Community Arts Council offers three $500 scholarships to graduating students pursuing further education in literary, performing and visual arts.
With stable and realistic funding, both Theatre North West and the Community Arts Council would be able to pay staff adequate wages so that we can retain quality people in key positions. We would also be able to attract the next generation into putting their talents to work in the arts.
We would be able to concentrate on creating the best-quality theatre productions for our region. We would be able to offer increased scholarships, both in number and in value, to deserving students pursuing the arts. We would be able to have access to a greater number of professional artists.
Our province's longstanding tradition of stinting the budget for the B.C. Arts Council is worrisome. With the council's per-capita allocation being less than seven cents a week, we rate among the stingiest of provinces in partnering the arts. Our province's average contribution to the budgets of its performing arts organizations is 7 percent, and 7 percent ranks last in all of Canada.
Nonetheless, the B.C. Arts Council is presently the only source of core operating funds for many arts organizations in the province. That makes those of us committed to the arts more than grateful for its existence. It is an invaluable agency. We believe it is the best vehicle to deliver the stable funding that is the pivotal component in allowing British Columbia to have a network of sustainable and successful arts organizations.
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to speak. Once again, we wish to thank the committee for its past efforts in recommending improved circumstances for the B.C. Arts Council. We look forward to the prospect of a positive result in the next budget.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Ted. You're well within the ten minutes, so we have some
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extra time, actually, for questions, and I have three people on the list so far. John, you're first.
J. Horgan: Thanks very much, Ted, for your presentation.
I represent a semi-rural constituency on Vancouver Island just outside of the capital city. People in the arts committee there and, as the committee heard last year, right across B.C. are starving for resources to maintain a vibrant arts community.
You've echoed the challenge that I hear, but I wanted to burrow down a little bit. There are funds, as the minister will tell us, and I have no quarrel with her when she says that there is an increasing amount of funding for arts in the lower mainland. The challenge then is: how much of that is percolating out into the regions?
Could you give us an indication, Ted, with respect to the northwest and Prince George in particular? Do you sense that the enthusiasm in some quarters, in Vancouver…? Why is that not spilling out into the regions? If not, then how do we get it to do that?
T. Price: You know, it's a conundrum we face on every level. Basically, what it amounts to is that the arts in British Columbia are very urban-centric. We have great challenges dealing not only with agencies but with things like talent agents, who we work with in negotiating contracts with the actors, and the attention from our peers. Now, it's much improving, and it's absolutely on the right track, but this urban-centricity, I think, is at the nub of so many problems.
Perhaps I could just give a brief anecdote to illustrate how big the challenge is at some times. In this last ten months we have had three visits from representatives of the Canada Council from Ottawa. In 14 years we have had one official visit from a representative of the B.C. Arts Council. Indeed, how that came about is that there was considerable misinformation about our organization that was spread through a jury, which we were able to glean from the council officer.
We were very alarmed at this misinformation about our circumstances, our programming and our activities. We said: "We need to get you up here, because Ottawa knows more about Prince George than Victoria does, even though Ottawa is so far off." She said: "You know, there is no budget for it. We can't come." So then we said that we'd pay for it. "No, can't do it. It's arm's-length. It's got to be arm's-length. Can't take your money."
What we did was go to the Prince George foundation, and we got a grant to bring up a representative for the B.C. Arts Council. We phoned them. We sent a letter to the executive director and the official who said she couldn't come, and we said: "We'll pay for it. Here's the grant." We also asked her to see our symphony on her trip.
Then about eight days later we got a phone call, and the phone call was: "Give the money back to the Prince George foundation. We'll get out there." The individual did, and we're very grateful for it, but that's the kind of disconnect, the kind of inappropriate isolation, the kind of north-south split. As I'm sure that you're all aware, it's not just in the arts, but it's very, very acute in the arts. It's in many, many sectors.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I really appreciate the presentation. We had a number of presentations from the arts alliance around the province, as I'm sure you're aware, to make somewhat the same case last year. Although the intrinsic benefits of the arts to participants, viewers and audiences are obvious to those who participate in the arts, the economic arguments for the arts are sometimes more compelling for those who are maybe not as familiar with those benefits.
My experience and the experience of other members of the committee, I'm sure, is that there's a body of literature about a vibrant arts community being necessary to attract people to participate in the labour force. It's one of the things that people consider when they come to a community — whether there's that kind of aspect to life in the community that they're being asked to join.
The chamber of commerce here just made a presentation this morning. They're concerned about a labour shortage, an economic transition here. They want to attract more people to this region to do all the kinds of work in the more traditional parts of the economy, if I can perhaps put it that way.
Have you had any success in persuading other leading organizations in the community to support the position that you're taking on behalf of the arts community, your audiences, the schools and the other groups that you represent?
T. Price: That's something that we talk a lot about. Certainly, other organizations are really aware of that argument. To be really frank, the response has been checkered. There's tremendous moral support, tremendous encouragement. Although many of these individuals that represent these organizations are aware of the financial arguments, it would appear that they have other priorities.
A. Laughlin: I'll just jump in, too, and say that they are the professionals in tourism. We're the professionals in creating the work. What they tend to want us to do is to do their job. We don't have the time, the manpower or the people to be tourist agents and booking agents. That has been something that I've always bought. We will create the product. We are here. You do your job. We've got it here; you bring the people. That's always a challenge.
Then, quite frankly, the other challenge is that to bring people from out of town — I mean, I can only speak for the theatre — is a real challenge. For instance, I got a phone call this morning from Quesnel. People wanted to come and see the shows, and I said: "I'm sorry. We have no room for you. The reason we have no room for you? Because we have downsized this year. We are doing our first production as a second stage, and there's no room."
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He was just, like, flummoxed. He said: "Well, how is that?" So then I had to explain the whole history and why we have to do that to keep him on side so that he would come to our mainstage series.
I had never in my career turned away a theatre patron, and this is what I am now faced with. I just think it is appalling.
T. Price: We're a little bit in the predicament of a public swimming pool that has enough staff to run one shift, but the demand is such that they need to be open 24 hours a day. You turn them away.
A. Laughlin: We've worked so hard at audience development, and then we say: "Sorry." It's a human resources challenge. We do not have the resources.
J. Kwan: I have a couple of questions for you related to the issue around economic spinoff from the arts community. I fully understand that in your organizations you probably don't have time to actually work that math out. Oftentimes when we talk with the Minister of Finance and government agencies, they only talk about money. They don't want to talk about spending money.
[B. Ralston in the chair.]
Yet of course we know that the work you do seeds the community, and therefore there are economic spinoffs that come from it. I'm wondering whether or not there has been any work done at all around an analysis on economic spinoff on the arts initiatives in our community, and if not, is there any potential to partner up with someone to actually do that work? That would give us the ammunition to go forward and be the advocate from a different perspective.
T. Price: There have been all sorts of studies on that. I think the latest work in that realm in our province is something called Arts Future B.C.: Contributing to our Future. This has been pulled together by the…. What is it? The community arts alliance? What's the umbrella?
L. Herman: The Assembly of B.C. Arts Councils.
J. Kwan: Could you forward that document to our committee so that we have it for our deliberation? Then we can take a look at it and see how we can advance the arguments from the other perspective.
If I may follow up with one other aspect in your presentation. You mentioned that British Columbia now is at 7 percent in terms of budgeting support for the people in the arts organizations and that we're the lowest across the country. Can you shed some light as to who is the highest and what their percentage is?
T. Price: Quebec is the highest and has been for some time.
J. Kwan: Of course, I should have known.
T. Price: For a sidebar on that, that shows sort of the value and power of the arts. That's really thanks to René Lévesque. When he was really bound and determined on his mission, one of the first things he did to create a strong province, a united people, dynamic communities in the province, was to fund the arts, because arts is the great adhesive. That's what brings a culture and a people together.
J. Kwan: My sister left B.C. to go to Quebec for that reason.
R. Hawes: Just a quick question with respect to the theatre. The city I live in, which is Mission, has a 700-seat theatre that's not funded by the provincial government. It is run by volunteers, for the most part. You can rent the theatre, so it has some professional presentations. There is money that goes into it from the district of Mission.
I'm just curious: is Prince George funding anything for the theatre?
A. Laughlin: Indeed, we receive $72,000 a year from the city on an $830,000 budget.
R. Hawes: This is strictly a professional theatre, I take it.
A. Laughlin: Yes, it is. We're a member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres.
R. Hawes: So it's not a society; it's….
A. Laughlin: Well, it's a non-profit registered charity, yes. But we hire Equity actors. We're part of the PACT theatres.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I don't see any further questions, so I want to thank you very much for making a very passionate presentation. I expect that we'll hear more from others in the arts community at our other stops. We're due in Quesnel this afternoon.
I think we have a spot for open mike, but I'm not sure that there's anyone here who would address us on that basis, so I'm going to thank you and adjourn the committee till this afternoon in Quesnel. Thank you very much.
The committee adjourned at 11:44 a.m.
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