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
Wednesday, September 19, 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; Richard T. Lee, MLA; Bob Simpson, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Harry Bloy, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 9:02 a.m.
2. Opening statements by Mr. Bill Bennett, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
|1)||Academic Workers’ Union||Sheree Ronaasen|
|2)||West-Side Lake / Lakelse Lake Road Maintenance Association||Danielle Barnett|
|4)||Protect our Ports Committee||James Bourquin|
|5)||Coast Mountains School District #82||Craig Caruso|
|7)||Northern Health Authority||Shirley Gray|
|8)||South Side Working Committee||Diana Penner|
|9)||Northwest Community College||Diane Ready|
|10)||City of Terrace||Mayor Jack Talstra|
4. The Committee adjourned at 11:50 a.m. to the call of the Chair.
Bill Bennett, MLA
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2007
Issue No. 50
|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
|Other MLAs:||Robin Austin (Skeena)|
|Committee Staff:||Jonathan Fershau (Committee Research Analyst)|
|Jacqueline Quesnel (Committees Assistant)|
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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2007
The committee met at 9:02 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Members of the committee, let's get started. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. I'm Bill Bennett. I'm the MLA for East Kootenay. I live in Cranbrook, a city that's very similar to Terrace except we don't have an ocean. We have mountains. In other ways, it's very similar.
I'm going to ask the rest of the Finance and Government Services Committee to introduce themselves, starting with Jenny Kwan.
J. Kwan: Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
R. Hawes: Randy Hawes, Maple Ridge–Mission.
B. Simpson: Bob Simpson, MLA for Cariboo North.
D. Hayer: Good morning. Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley and vice-Chair of the committee.
J. Horgan: John Horgan, Malahat–Juan de Fuca, where there is water as well.
I. Black: Good morning. I'm Iain Black. I'm the MLA for Port Moody–Westwood. We have water and mountains there too.
B. Bennett (Chair): Also joining us here today, to my left, is Katch Koch. He's our Committee Clerk. He'll keep all of us in order.
Jonathan Fershau is in the very back, white shirt and tie, working diligently away on his laptop. He's our research analyst. He does his best to make notes in these meetings.
Of course, over here we have the two folks from Hansard Services, who record every single word that is said at these hearings — yours and ours. They stream an audio of this over the Internet for anyone out there who is interested in these hearings, and there is a surprising number.
The Minister of Finance for B.C. is required legally by legislation to release a budget consultation paper by the 15th of September each year. Minister Taylor has done that.
That consultation paper provides a description of the fiscal and economic conditions here in the province, and it identifies the key issues that need to be addressed by the public in preparation for the next budget.
If you don't have a copy of that budget consultation paper, there are some on the back table. You can help yourself there.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services — that's us — is charged with carrying out public consultations on the minister's behalf. This all-party committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly not later than the 15th of November of this year.
You can make submissions today orally to this committee. You can make written submissions. You can fax them in; you can mail them in. You can also make on-line submissions. All of the written or on-line submissions must be in not later than Friday, October 19.
Today we're going to hear from a number of presenters. We have pretty much a full schedule here this morning — people who have preregistered with the Office of the Clerk of Committees. Presentations are to be no longer than ten minutes.
If you can keep it within ten minutes, that means we have a few minutes, a maximum of five minutes, after your presentation for committee members to ask you some questions, which is sometimes — oftentimes, in fact — when some interesting ideas come out. So try and keep your presentations to ten minutes, and that'll give committee members a chance to ask their questions.
We also will have time at the end of this session, we hope, for an open-mike session. If there is anyone in the room that hasn't spoken that wants to speak, they can have five minutes at the open mike.
With that, I'd like to call our first witness this morning. Is there a Sheree Ronaasen from the Academic Workers Union?
S. Ronaasen: I've submitted a paper version of this presentation.
Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to speak to your committee today. I'm here representing the faculty at Northwest Community College. We deliver a diverse range of post-secondary programs throughout the northwest region. Our institution has three main campuses located in Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers, and we also offer educational programs in Hazelton, Kitimat, Houston and Haida Gwaii.
Across the entire network of campuses and facilities we have an enrolment base of close to 2,000 students. We are an important gateway for people in this community who want access to post-secondary education within this region and who want to avoid the expense and dislocation of having to move to major urban areas to get their post-secondary education.
Our college delivers a number of two-year certificate, diploma, trades, apprenticeship and university transfer programs, including associate degrees in arts, science and nursing. We are particularly proud of some of the unique ways in which our institution has taken the mandate to be a comprehensive community college and adapted to the needs and aspirations of this region.
For example, we are particularly proud of our first nations programming, including the Freda Diesing school of northwest coast art and design. It was
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launched in 2006, and it has established itself as an international school of first nation art and design. It took a lot of dedicated effort by faculty, staff and the community to launch this program, but it stands out as an example of how we can adapt post-secondary education to the programs and specific priorities of this region.
We have also developed a number of specific programs that our first nation communities have identified as important, including the coastal guardianship program and the Kitlope Field School — examples of the commitment to develop programs that meet the needs of first nation communities.
We want and need to do more in this region when it comes to creating accessibility and affordability to post-secondary education. Like every other region in the province, the looming skills shortage will mean that we need to provide more people with post-secondary education and skills.
We know generally that there is a gap between what new jobs will require in terms of post-secondary education and what the existing workforce has in terms of those skills. According to B.C. Business Council, 73 percent of all jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, but only 60 percent of the workforce currently has that level of education.
Add in the demographic shifts that are taking place — more workers retiring from the labour force than new workers entering the labour force — and you can see that skills and education will take on greater importance in the years ahead.
Unfortunately, the provincial government's policy of deregulating tuition fees in 2002 has created problems of affordability for students within the province. As tuition fees have skyrocketed, students have become discouraged and have opted for a job rather than skills for tomorrow.
For a young person, the prospect of higher costs for post-secondary education, tuition fees and the costs of living while attending school simply meant going into debt to complete their post-secondary education. These greater barriers to post-secondary education have consequences for all of us, not just individual students.
If we hope to close the skills gap that I mentioned earlier, we need to encourage and support students back to post-secondary education. If we are going to deal effectively with a looming skills shortage, we need to encourage and support full-time, part-time and mature students back into post-secondary education.
We don't encourage or support students when we allow tuition fees to skyrocket, as they have since 2002. We don't encourage or support students when we eliminate the student grant program and changes made by the B.C. government in 2002 when it deregulated tuition fees. And we don't encourage or support students when we allow per-student funding levels to fall in real terms over the last six years.
I'd like to give the Minister of Advanced Education some credit for correcting mistakes. He announced last week that adult basic education programs would be tuition-free. Post-secondary educators have been lobbying for that since tuition fees for ABE were brought in, in 2001-2002. Six years is a long time to wait, but at least the government has recognized the importance of removing those tuition fees.
That said, the announcement represents a small piece of a much larger fiscal commitment that we need to see in the February 2008 provincial budget. The ABE announcement will cost the provincial treasury somewhere in the order of $10 million to $15 million. The ministry's annual budget is $2 billion. It has a contingency fund of $200 million. You can see that there's a capacity to make choices there. We just need to see a stronger commitment on the part of government in terms of those choices.
I would also like to acknowledge that this committee has, in previous reports, talked about the problems facing the post-secondary education system. You have even made direct mention of the challenges facing ABE students. Somewhere between the work that you are doing as legislators and the cabinet table, where details of the final budget are worked out, there needs to be more emphasis on making post-secondary education a priority for the 2008 budget.
I would like to conclude by giving committee members some specific suggestions for what those priorities could be for the 2008 budget.
Previous provincial budgets have had specific themes. In 2008, make skills for tomorrow the main budget theme. Obviously, that's a direct application to post-secondary education but also an application to the K-to-12 system — English language training, preschool programs, work literacy programs, lifelong learning initiatives, health and safety training, apprenticeship programs, university credit and transfer programs. We need specific commitment to post-secondary education for a strong and prosperous future.
Second, provide post-secondary education institutions with the funding necessary to improve program options as well as program content. Many post-secondary education institutions are forced to eliminate specialized technical programs because the cost of equipment in specialized classrooms can't be covered in existing operating grants. Smaller rural colleges like ours are particularly vulnerable, and our communities lose out in the process.
Third, as a specific target for better funding in 2008, the provincial government should allocate an additional $200 million to post-secondary education. That would represent a 10-percent lift in the Ministry of Advanced Education's budget and would put it in a position to bring real per-student funding back to the level that it was in 2001.
Fourth, endorse the Canadian Federation of Students call for tuition fee relief. CFS, in previous budget consultations, asked for a 10-percent reduction in tuition fees. We support the call and believe that such a move would make a strong signal to existing and potential post-secondary education students in B.C. that it's serious in supporting those interested in post-secondary education.
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Fifth, finally, bring back the student grant program. It was eliminated in 2001-2002, and it has simply added to the growing debt burden that has discouraged students from entering or completing their post-secondary education.
Thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation. I would be glad to answer any questions.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Sheree, for taking the time to present to us and do the work to put your presentation together.
Are there questions from the committee?
R. Hawes: I have a couple of quick questions. You mentioned here that tuition fees skyrocketed. I'd be interested in knowing what the average tuition fee is for a full-time student in the institution in which you are a member.
S. Ronaasen: Can I give you an approximate figure?
R. Hawes: Yeah, approximately.
S. Ronaasen: Per course, it's about $250.
R. Hawes: So a full course load would be….
S. Ronaasen: Five courses.
R. Hawes: Just $1,200 or so.
S. Ronaasen: Yeah, per term.
R. Hawes: You also mention in here that there is a number of students who have opted to go out and work rather than attend school. You intimate that it's because of high tuition costs. I'm just wondering how you can connect the dots, at least for me, when the economy is hot. I think that traditionally most universities see a falloff in registration when there are jobs out there. When there are not jobs out there and the economy isn't so hot, enrolment goes up.
Is it because of tuition, or is it just because there are high-paying jobs out there?
S. Ronaasen: Well, I think we can see a trend. It's been more difficult for students in the last few years to just take courses to enter post-secondary fields, because of the costs involved. They're more reluctant to commit to just taking courses out of interest or entering into programs.
The economy right now is offering an alternative for students, but the thing is tuition. Our biggest point is that tuition is the greatest barrier that we see to students entering post-secondary education.
R. Hawes: I'll make it even simpler. What I'm trying to figure out in my head is…. I'm trying to picture the student who for want of a full course load, 1,250 bucks or whatever it is….
With the 10-percent cut, which is $125, would you suddenly have a flood of new students coming in if they could get it $125 cheaper for a semester? I'm trying to envision the student saying: "For that $125, I think I'd rather go and work than have a degree."
I'm just trying to picture that. Maybe you can connect that dot for me.
S. Ronaasen: I think if tuition fees are reduced by 10 percent, it will encourage students to enter. It's going to start the ball rolling and get people more interested in post-secondary education.
J. Kwan: I would suspect too that the reduction in tuition fees, which is what we've heard from the other presenters, signals to the general population that the province is interested in encouraging people to enter post-secondary education — probably as a first step, along with grants and so on to assist.
Just putting that aside for a moment. Other presenters have raised the issue of other costs related to education, such as books. In fact, in both Prince George and Quesnel presenters made the point that a textbook costs almost as much as the course itself. I wonder if you can shed some light on that, from your experience.
Also, I recall that last year when we were here, there was a presenter who made a point about aboriginal youth and students and their challenges in trying to access the workforce, and the need for programming that would actually bring them up to a certain level in order to enter into the workforce so that they can be a component towards the labour skills shortage and be able to take advantage of that.
I'm wondering if things have changed since a year ago or where the challenges are today with respect to that. I recognize from your presentation that there are a number of aboriginal programs, and that's great. You say that more needs to be done. Maybe you can shed some light for the committee in terms of what needs to be done more specifically, particularly targeting the aboriginal community.
S. Ronaasen: I can refer to our college. Overall, 44 percent of the student base is from first nations communities. In university credit, it's 28 percent. A significant part of the population is first nations. We have been, over the last year since we met, working in university credit to develop bridging programs from high school into the university level.
We have been working on that. New courses have been articulated. We're still in the implementation period. It's programming that needs support for a while to get people in the communities enrolling in it.
Another significant program in the community is being run through UNBC and the college jointly. It's the aboriginal teacher education bridging program. You may have heard about it. I understand that it was cancelled this year, but I think there is a real need in the community for that program. I think we should look at how that could be implemented in this
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region, especially working with the university and the college.
J. Kwan: Textbooks.
S. Ronaasen: Textbooks. I don't know how they're determined, but they have gone up significantly. Since I started here six years ago, my books have increased by at least double the cost.
J. Kwan: What's the average cost? Do you know?
S. Ronaasen: It depends, but it's around $100 to $120 for basic introductory textbooks.
R. Hawes: Can I just ask a supplemental question to that?
B. Bennett (Chair): No, I've actually turned down a couple of other members. We've got to keep moving here, or we'll be two hours behind if we're not careful.
Thank you very much, Sheree.
The next witness is the Westside Road Maintenance Association, Danielle Barnett and John Almgren. Welcome to the committee. We appreciate your taking the time to come this morning.
D. Barnett: I am Danielle Barnett, and this is John Almgren. We reside on Westside Drive at Lakelse Lake.
Westside Drive is a road approximately eight kilometres long and 13 kilometres outside of the city limits of Terrace. There are about 50 residents that live on our road. In 1994 the Westside Road Maintenance Association was set up to help with the problems. The road is a dirt road that originally was an old forestry road and that services the west side of Lakelse Lake.
For the last eight years we have been asking for our road to be a recognized road and to be maintained by the Ministry of Transportation and haven't gotten anywhere. The reasons were that it's not in the budget and that the ministry is not interested in taking over any more roads right now.
The hydro and the phone for these 50 residences were provided by the Westside owners. We cleared the land at a cost of $64,000. We paid for the surveying, and we paid to have the hydro line and the phone lines installed — at our expense.
The road was improved from a goat trail to a two-lane road. Culverts were paid for and installed. Rock was blasted and removed, and that was also at the property owners' expense. The road is graded, brushed and snowplowed by private equipment that people on our road own and maintain, and the time to use this equipment is donated time.
Our infrastructure to improve the living conditions for our neighbours has resulted in higher resale values and higher taxes. Taxes are taken, but nothing is being given to us, because we have put forth all the expenses to upgrade the road.
The road was given a name, Westside Drive, in the spring or late last fall. They put up a stop sign at the end of the road. We were given street addresses, but still the road doesn't exist as far as anybody is concerned. Nobody will help us maintain the road.
When there was flooding in our community and residences on Queensway and Old Remo were flooding, we were called to see if we had our road open. They put a plan in place to use our road for emergency access if they closed Queensway Drive. When it's convenient, our road exists and they want to use it. But if it's not convenient, the road doesn't exist and we're classified as water access only.
When there were power outages to the Beam station and the west side, our road was again called into need and it was there. Beam station was flooded, and all those people had to use our road to get to and from their homes, as that was the only access.
In our community 911 is being implemented. How will emergency equipment get to us? Are they going to come by boat because we're classified as water access? Or are they going to use our road, which doesn't really exist? We've worked really hard and donated lots of time to get it to where it is.
J. Almgren: I'd like to bring up that this road has been classed as water access forever. We've been driving out there for about 20 to 25 years. It just has never been changed. It's still classed as water access. About 97 percent of the people that live out there didn't go across by boat to look at this land; they drove on the road to go look at this land. So the road has been there. It's just never been changed.
D. Barnett: We feel that at this point it's a safety matter. If the plow truck breaks down, if there's a big snowstorm, what happens to the people that live there and can't get out of their homes? What if the plow truck guy gets sick, hurt, can't plow the road? What happens to those people that are out there?
Not just anybody can operate the equipment we have out there, and it's not the small community that it was. The population of Westside Drive is approximately 51 residents now, with approximately 75 percent of those people using their homes year-round. This consists of lawyers, business owners, retired people and working-class people. It's not just a goat trail that leads to nowhere with just a few people living there now.
Smaller communities around Terrace, like Gossan Creek and Kleanza, have fewer residences, and they're further out of town. They pay a lot less for taxes, and they have a road that's maintained. They have pavement and street lights. The regional district of Thornhill is 100 percent behind us, and they agree that the road needs to be taken over.
When the Almgren property was subdivided, part of the stipulation was that we had to give up part of the property as a road easement for a right-of-way. Other property is now in the process of being subdivided, and that creates more tax money and more people using the road, and still nobody will help us with the road.
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We had an environmental study done this summer, and they said there were no environmental issues with the road. RCMP patrol this road and give out tickets on the road. They claim it's a public road, but it's not.
We've been to the Ministry of Transportation. We have been to everyone to try to get this road changed, and nobody will help us. It's not just a few people that live out there anymore like it was. We're asking for assistance.
J. Almgren: We've purchased quite a few thousand dollars' worth of machinery — graders, loaders, backhoes, cats — to maintain this road out of our own expenses. Two or three of us are contractors in town, so we have access to this machinery. That's the only reason why this gets done, and it's all volunteer time.
B. Bennett (Chair): Danielle and John, as Chair of the committee, I think it's important that I make clear what our role as a committee is, and perhaps you know this. I think it's a good thing you came here today, and I appreciate the effort and commitment it takes to come here and represent the 51 residents that are out there.
Our job is to go around the province and listen to people about what they want in the next budget. I guess I could assume that you'd like to see enough — more — money in the Ministry of Transportation budget such that they could pick up that road, so we'll take it that way. If individual MLAs on the committee want to pick this up as something they want to work on and go and see the Minister of Transportation about this in Victoria, they can do that as well.
You're now on the record, so that's important. It's important that you did come here. I've got one person that wants to ask you a question, and perhaps there will be somebody else after that.
D. Hayer: I'm just going to ask: is your road in the regional district or the Ministry of Transportation? How long has that road been there?
D. Barnett: We are part of the regional district. The Ministry of Transportation would have to take over the road.
D. Hayer: How long has that road been there — 20 years or something like that?
J. Almgren: Yeah, at least 20 years, if not longer.
B. Bennett (Chair): So this road is in the regional district. How long is it?
D. Barnett: Eight kilometres long.
B. Bennett (Chair): It's eight kilometres. Over the 20 or 25 years you guys have essentially constructed it, removed rock….
J. Almgren: The last ten or 12 years.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. Graded it….
J. Almgren: Upgraded it, made it two lanes, put culverts in.
B. Bennett (Chair): Do the RCMP patrol it?
D. Barnett: Yes.
J. Almgren: They patrol it.
B. Bennett (Chair): School buses?
J. Almgren: No school buses.
D. Barnett: We have no children on our road, because there are no buses and there is no road for the bus to come down.
J. Almgren: People with children just don't buy on that side right now.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. I know that I'm going to actually introduce your MLA as soon as he comes back into the room. He was in here a minute ago. I'm sure he's familiar with this. I'm sure there will be members on the committee who will want to help him see what he can do here.
R. Hawes: Next week the UBCM, Union of British Columbia Municipalities, is meeting. I don't know how much you've talked to your electoral area representative on the regional district, but maybe he could talk for a few minutes, with your MLA, to the Minister of Transportation.
D. Barnett: We're just at the point that we don't know where to go. Everywhere we go, they say that there is no money. The Beam Station Road is at the other end of the lake. They service approximately 60 people. Their road was upgraded from a gravel road to seal-coating, and then this past summer it was paved — for 60 people.
B. Bennett (Chair): I have a suspicion that this might be a situation where to bring the road up to provincial standards might cost a lot of money. Is that a possibility?
D. Barnett: Yeah.
B. Bennett (Chair): Lots of rock to be blasted out to widen?
J. Almgren: No. No rock. Well, there is a small portion of rock but not a serious amount. We've already blasted that. We've had rock rills and rock trucks out there and did that on our own.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. Any other questions from the committee?
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We certainly admire your initiative, and we thank you for coming here today to tell us about this. Hopefully, something positive will come out of this.
Our next witness is Marilyn Lissimore.
M. Lissimore: Good morning.
I want to talk today about the importance of supporting and improving the addiction services in our province and specifically in the northwest. Terrace, like other communities in B.C., has been profoundly impacted by the use and misuse of alcohol and other substances. I'm not sure where I know this from, but I think that we actually have the highest use of alcohol per capita in the province in the north.
Addiction has a harmful impact on families, on public health, on employment, on public order and safety and on crime rates. In 2002, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the social cost of substance abuse in B.C. was $6 billion, in addition to health care costs, including death and disability, enforcement costs and lost productivity. The single biggest expense associated with substance use in Canada is increased health care costs.
In Terrace we function as a regional centre, which I'm sure you've heard before, for the whole northwest region, including Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Dease Lake, Telegraph Creek, the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Nass Valley. People from a large area come to Terrace to look for employment, education, social services and medical treatment.
The services here are trying to meet the social needs of not just our own community but the region as a whole. I'm not sure what's happening, but in the last few years we seem to be attracting more and more people in need of social services and, specifically, addiction services.
According to our established best practice in addiction treatments, patients need a full spectrum of services, including outpatient assessment and referral, detox, residential treatment, after-care services and supportive housing. In Terrace and in the northwest we have some of those services in place. Other parts are missing. In particular, we need detox here, and we need a stabilization — a low-threshold-type — service in Terrace working with the out-patient treatment and other community services and health, of course.
Right now patients who need to withdraw from drugs or alcohol under medical supervision are referred to services in Prince George, which is more than 500 kilometres away and nine hours by bus. That's a very difficult trip if you're withdrawing from drugs or alcohol, and it isn't safe. It's not meeting the needs of the people in this community that have this disease.
Then, once detox is completed, patients are returned to their home community — to Terrace, to the environment that they came from. Sometimes that's to the streets, because we don't have any supportive housing in this community for people who are in recovery.
Addictions services in B.C. are primarily funded by the Ministry of Health acting through the regional health authorities. In our region, the Northern Health Authority, they have integrated addictions services with mental health services, so we don't have separate addictions services any more.
It has worked well. They have a lot of things in common, and we need to work closely with mental health. But it also has resulted in the addictions services having a lower profile and reduced funding in the whole spectrum of health care services. Addictions services kind of get lost in the mental health services.
The provision of enhanced addiction services in our area, including a local facility for detox, has been supported by city council, by the RCMP and by the Kitimat-Stikine regional district. We've been working on committees trying to address the issue of addictions in this community.
I'd like to ask this committee to make the treatment of addiction — a preventable and treatable illness — one of the priorities in the budgeting process.
B. Bennett (Chair): That's a very clear request. Thank you very much for that. Just sit tight.
Members of the committee?
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Are there any non-profit societies that would also be assisting in delivering these kinds of services, or is this something that you're looking solely to the regional health district to deliver?
M. Lissimore: We are a non-profit society — Terrace and District Community Services Society — that provides addictions services, funded by the Northern Health Authority. We're doing lots of investigations about how we might be able to do a private-public partnership, maybe provide some beds that people could buy into, with some being funded by the Ministry of Health. We're looking at all sorts of scenarios that might deal with this issue.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Are you to the stage of development of your proposal that you are able to give a rough cost for the detox part? Not necessarily the supportive-housing part.
M. Lissimore: I probably am, but did I bring that information with me? No, I didn't bring that information with me.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Then I think there's an opportunity, too, to forward that on to the committee through the Clerk's office, and they'll get that to us. I for one would be interested in that.
B. Bennett (Chair): Marilyn, what's the name of the organization that you're with?
M. Lissimore: Terrace and District Community Services Society. We run Northwest Addiction.
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R. Hawes: I was just curious. Community Services, I take it, runs an out-patient….
M. Lissimore: We run an out-patient service, so people can come in for out-patient counselling. We do group-type work, so whenever there's a group of people….
R. Hawes: Right. What about residential treatment facilities in this area?
M. Lissimore: We have a youth residential treatment facility for this area that is used by youth throughout the province. We try to make the youth in this area….
R. Hawes: Okay. And for adult and women's treatment centres, is there anything in this area at all? Nothing? Even private?
M. Lissimore: That's not true. There's a native facility.
I'm not an addictions counsellor, and I'm not the manager of the program. I'm the executive director. You're actually asking very technical, detailed information that I was afraid you were going to ask. I should have brought my manager, but she's meeting with city council about this issue at this point.
There is a native facility in Kitwanga that we sometimes refer people to.
R. Hawes: But in Terrace or in Kitimat…
M. Lissimore: Terrace has nothing.
R. Hawes: …there is no residential adult or women's facility?
M. Lissimore: No.
R. Hawes: Prince Rupert?
M. Lissimore: No. I think Prince Rupert has some stabilization housing.
J. Kwan: Just to continue on with Bruce's question. On the supportive-housing part, do you have any sense in terms of what the needs are and to what degree? In my own community we also have a lot of addictions issues, and with programming you really need the housing to follow up. Otherwise, as you may well be aware, you just end up spinning your tail, because it's a revolving cycle, and you need that stability with the housing component.
M. Lissimore: I didn't bring those details with me, Jenny, but there's a huge need for supportive housing. There isn't any supportive housing at all in this community. Three years ago I couldn't have said that, but right now if I was trying to find a place to rent in this community, I would have a very difficult time. For somebody in recovery it's almost impossible. We've had an increase — it's a huge discussion in the paper right now — of people that are homeless in this community, and they are dealing with addictions issues.
J. Kwan: Okay. If you could forward that information, also, for the Chair of the committee, that would be very good.
M. Lissimore: Yup.
I. Black: Marilyn, thank you for the work that your organization does.
The question I have is on the availability of the detox beds in Prince George. Having spent some time examining this issue in my own community, I understand one of the bigger issues is how quickly one can get access to a detox bed, because if you have somebody at that stage where they're ready to try to get clean, you've got a very small window in which to get them into a bed and get them treated. If there is a long delay before they can get access to that bed, you may have missed that opportunity with that individual.
My question to you is: notwithstanding the Prince George proximity of those beds, when you pick up the phone and you make the call and you say, "I have somebody," what is the answer you're getting? What kind of a delay do you have in getting access to those beds?
M. Lissimore: I'm sorry. Again, I'm the executive director. I'm not a counsellor. I don't pick up the phone, and I didn't bring that information.
I know there is a delay. I couldn't tell you whether that delay is three months or three weeks. I can get that information.
I. Black: I understand. I'd be interested in getting that as well, please.
B. Simpson: Thanks, Marilyn. You're struggling with the same things that lots of our communities are struggling with. Quesnel is trying to get a homeless shelter that will be fully supported sobering beds, some addictions services and so on.
As that plan evolves, one of the things that a lot of communities get caught out on is that even if they get the resources, or B.C. Housing comes on board or whatnot, you then hit the human resource crunch. Can you actually get the trained personnel to deliver the work? Would that be an issue for you here? Is it something you're addressing as well?
M. Lissimore: The whole recruitment issue is something our society has addressed over the last year, and we seem to have stabilized. For some reason, we don't have that issue in our addictions programs. I'm not sure why, but recruitment to addictions counselling positions and to our treatment centre has not been an issue.
It's been an issue in our other programs. We have about 130 staff, and recruiting line positions has been an issue, but the counselling positions haven't been. They should be, because they're underpaid. There's not
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parity with Health, so they can go and work for Health and get about $10 an hour more and a pension plan, but I think the work is very rewarding, and they stay with us.
D. Hayer: Have you discussed this issue with the Northern Health Authority or the health authority that has looked after the…? What are they saying?
M. Lissimore: We have discussed this issue with the Northern Health Authority. They know that we need some form of detox. They know that we need some sort of low-threshold stabilization beds or some sort of program in this community. They are interested. They absolutely are interested. We're working with them. They want us to do proposals. It's Health, and we're just a very small piece of that puzzle. We are working with them, and they are….
D. Hayer: Trying to find some solutions?
M. Lissimore: Yes, and we're working with mental health.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Marilyn. We appreciate your time this morning.
Our next witness is James Bourquin, and I understand that James is part of an organization known as the Protect Our Ports Committee.
J. Bourquin: I have some large maps. These are also in the back of the handout — the written comments.
[B. Ralston in the chair.]
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much. I'm just stepping in for the Chair, who has stepped out for the moment.
I see you've got a fair volume of material here, so sometimes it's helpful to lead us to your key points and then hope that we get the message through that process. So you can go ahead.
J. Bourquin: The first three pages are the oral presentation, and then the rest is background information. This isn't an issue that's going to be decided today or anytime soon, but I thought the background information would help in the long run.
This presentation regards Alaska's proposed Alaska-B.C. electrical inter-tie, the proposed B.C. Transmission Corp.'s 287-kV northern transmission line, the proposed NovaGold 138-kV northern transmission line, upgrades of Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37 required and the coming era of energy-intensive open-pit mining in the Stikine region. I've got a budgeting problem too; I've only got ten minutes to go over it.
My name is Jim Bourquin. I'm a 26-year resident of Iskut, a Tahltan village of 350 people at kilometre 405 along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37. Over the years some of the things I've done are work for the Tahltan Nation Development Corp. on the Golden Bear road as a first aid attendant, and the same for Pickell Construction out of Fort St. John at the Bob Quinn Airport, also on Highway 37. That was back in 1989. I've been a truck driver, machine operator and relief foreman for the Stikine region road maintenance contractors for 11 years on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
I've participated actively in the Cassiar-Iskut-Stikine LRMP for four years as a volunteer. Recently, in 2003, I founded the Protect Our Ports Committee with help from municipal leaders around northwest B.C., but particularly with the help of the district of Stewart, home of Canada's northernmost ice-free port and Stewart Bulk Terminals Ltd., which loads Eskay Creek mine and Huckleberry mine concentrates for international export.
Protect Our Ports Committee is an ad hoc organization of concerned citizens, businesses and organizations in northwest British Columbia. We're working to keep international commerce flowing through upgraded Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37 transportation infrastructure and to enhance Canadian port facilities at Stewart, Prince Rupert and Kitimat.
The Stewart-Cassiar Highway, north of Meziadin Junction, is relatively narrow, without shoulders or any passing lanes, as would be required for any additional industrial trucking between the minesites, ports and mining service communities. It would need to be upgraded. It has recently been paved, and I'd like to think that is partially in response to groups like ours and northwest B.C. city councils that collaborate with the northwest corridor conference and others to sort out the priorities for transportation.
The Stewart-Cassiar is not built to the standard of the Yellowhead Highway, and it hasn't been recognized yet as a federal-provincial highway, which might be an important step to maintain this north-south connector between the Alaska Highway and the Yellowhead Highway.
As the northern mining region of northwest British Columbia enters the era of energy-intensive open-pit mining with the coming of a centralized northern transmission line, the responsibility falls on all of us, all peoples and all levels of decision-making, to control the pace and scale of non-renewable resource extraction to maximize the positive benefit and minimize the negative risk to this and future generations of Canadians.
The sizing of the northern transmission line is the single biggest factor in the ultimate pace and scale of energy-intensive mining activity we will experience along the Highway 37 corridor, both during the next 20 to 30 year mine life of the Galore Creek mine and further into the future sequence of additional energy-intensive, open-pit mines that could either follow or occur concurrent with the development of the infrastructure of the NovaGold Galore Creek mine.
In Hansard, May 17, 2007, there's a lengthy debate about the electrification of Highway 37. I've footnoted that for further reference. That debate was framed around the electrification of the highway as reducing
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greenhouse gas emissions. That's total folly. We need to have this debate, but it's not about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if that line's brought north, it's going to greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
The line doesn't actually reach the three isolated northern communities. It falls 150 kilometres short of those. It only goes as far as Bob Quinn. Also, the electrification of the open-pit mines is going to put ore-concentrate trucks on the highway between the minesites and Stewart. It's going to put diesel equipment at the minesites. All the shipping across to Asia is bunker fuel that's going to be burned. Once it gets to Asia, it's also coal-fired generators that are going to make the electricity to smelt the copper in Chinese smelters.
So it's the farthest thing from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These operations are going to be running 24-7, 365 days a year.
We need to have the debate, but we need to reframe it into a question of sustainable economic development for the region. The debate's not just about electrification. It's also about highway improvement and year-round maintenance, road infrastructure capital costs and maintenance budgets, which are also critical to the long-term wealth, prosperity and safety of all groupings of Canadian society.
We need to remember that Canada is a huge place, with lots of roads and other types of public infrastructure to support and with only a finite supply of non-renewable resources to extract over time. In a northwest B.C. context, we saw a boom and bust of the timber industry. Well, that resource was not managed sustainably.
There's much to be said for energy-intensive, open-pit mining to be controlled by a comprehensive planning process that budgets for a balanced upgrade of infrastructure requirements to the northern northwest B.C. region.
B.C. Hydro's proposed 287-kV northern transmission line would be to the long-term detriment of northwest British Columbia mining service communities and northwest B.C. ports. The pace and scale of 287-kV energy-intensive, open-pit mining could shift the northern northwest B.C. economy from flowing north-south along Highway 37 to eventually flowing east-west, connecting northern British Columbia mines to southeast Alaska ports and communities via an American Bradfield industrial corridor.
That's what all the background information is about. It's about this Alaska-B.C. electrical inter-tie and how that would come about to shift our economy from flowing to our ports and communities to flowing to American ports and communities. If we overbuild and go with 287, we're going to shift our economy out of our country and into the U.S.
This would come out through the following steps. With the 287 BCTC proposal, we'd have secondary mining projects behind Galore Creek, such as Teck Cominco's Shaft Creek copper-gold and Imperial Metal's Red Chris copper-gold. They'd have power to develop concurrent with NovaGold's project. NovaGold's project is going to run for 30 years.
With the 138-kV, these projects would run sequentially, serving the longer-term vision for an economic backbone for northern northwest B.C. Those steps are outlined in those bullets. The main points…. The mission of Protect Our Ports Committee has evolved from that of just transportation to now we're concerned about electrification. We support NovaGold's proposed 138-kV northern transmission line for the Galore mine and the Forrest Kerr hydro project. That's a private line that they would build from Meziadin Junction to Bob Quinn.
We oppose the 287-kV to Bob Quinn and the Alaska-B.C. inter-tie along the Bradfield road route.
We support B.C. Hydro doing a study of a Prince Rupert to Ketchikan, Alaska-B.C. electric inter-tie to back up Prince Rupert's electrical energy supply and as a possible market for north coast wind farmers.
The northern northwest B.C. energy alternatives. Supplies will only be developed in our lifetime if limited quantities of centralized electrical power are available from the Terrace-Kitimat region. If we oversupply the north, then we're not going to develop our own alternative sources up there.
B. Bennett (Chair): Mr. Bourquin, you're over time. There are a couple of members who have questions that we can take time for.
J. Horgan: Thank you very much, James, for your presentation. It's very refreshing to hear straight talk on issues. With the exception of Bob Simpson and Bill Bennett, by and large, we're city folk here. We like to think we understand resource-based economies in the regions, but the reality is that when you come to visit and hear directly from the individuals, it gives you a clearer perspective.
I participated in the debate you highlight here on Highway 37 and the electrification. I'm very, very encouraged by your straight talk that greenhouse gas emissions will in fact be increased by further industrial activity, not reduced. Knocking out a few diesel generators that are turning lights on and cooking dinner is a great thing, but it's certainly dwarfed by the industrial activity that would flow from a large proposal such as the BCTC one.
My sense is that the Tahltan people and certainly the people in the northwest are encouraged and enthusiastic about Galore Creek as an opportunity to replace Eskay Creek and continue to have industrial activity in the corridor. But if I hear you correctly, your concern and the concern of others is that surplus electricity will lead to more mining activity than is sustainable by the employment base starting off and also by the land base. Is that a fair assessment?
J. Bourquin: Very much so.
J. Horgan: With that, then, could you expand a little bit on what you believe would be a sustainable process in the northwest, with respect to mining?
[ Page 1174 ]
J. Bourquin: Sequential development of the large, open-pit, energy-intensive mines, based on 138-kV transmission line. That's 130 megawatts. NovaGold requires 83 megawatts. So with the 138, they would pay for that line themselves. It wouldn't have to come out of ratepayers' or B.C. Hydro's or the province's coffers. It could be paid for by the mining industry, and then there would be development of one open-pit mine after another.
We could have generations of employment in open-pit, energy-intensive mining, instead of all these non-renewable resources — resources that we've known about for 50 years; some of it, 100 years. It doesn't have to come out just over the next 30 years just because we have a big transmission line.
If we have a big transmission line, it's going to put so many concentrate trucks on Highway 37 that there'll eventually be an industrial haul road under the Alaska-B.C. electrical inter-tie. All those resources are going to flow to an Alaska port, so we're going to basically change the geopolitics of that area up there. It's going to report to the Alaska economy rather than the northwest B.C. economy, if we overbuild electricity.
I. Black: I don't profess to be an expert in this area, so my question is really more general. Two of them, real quick.
I've never heard of the Protect Our Ports Committee. How many members are in this thing? Hundreds of members? A couple of you? Just give me a context, if you could, please.
J. Bourquin: In the background information there's a section on who we are and how we're organized. It's an ad hoc committee. We've passed petitions at trade shows and fall fairs in northwest B.C., with over 1,000 people signing up.
I. Black: On the petitions?
J. Bourquin: Yes.
I. Black: But your organization itself…. How many people are there?
J. Bourquin: One example of the committee members is the mayors that wrote letters.
I. Black: So they're members of the…. Okay.
J. Bourquin: Those letters are all attached.
I. Black: Yes, I saw that. Thank you.
I'm looking for a little context here, because our committee has a focus of giving advice to the Minister of Finance as to how you'd like your tax dollars spent. I'm trying to gather and distil from your remarks.
I understand your passion toward this area, and I'm not in any way trying to undermine your passion for that area. What I'm struggling with is to try to gather from that the distilled comment or two that we should be contemplating as we think about gathering up the views of British Columbians and taking them forward in a document to present to the Minister of Finance.
If you could, in a statement say: "This is how I think money should be spent," or "This is how I think money shouldn't be spent." The rest of this is a fascinating debate. I don't dispute that or undermine the importance of that debate for a second. But in the context of the work of this committee, I'm trying to get the main point of why we're here, and I'm not seeing that yet.
Can you help me with that, please?
J. Bourquin: We don't as a province need to finance a $400 million, 287-kilovolt transmission line between Terrace and Bob Quinn.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, sir, for your presentation. We appreciate that it's a long way from Iskut to Terrace. I've driven it a few times myself. Thank you for making the effort.
Ladies and gentlemen, the local MLA for Skeena, Robin Austin, has joined us. Robin, everyone probably knows you. We're in Terrace.
MLA Richard Lee from Burnaby North just joined us, freshly back from China.
Our next witness is the Coast Mountains school district 82. Two witnesses: Linda Brown and Craig Caruso.
Linda and Craig, are you each going to present something?
C. Caruso: It'll just be me.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay. Linda will provide context if necessary during the Q-and-A session.
C. Caruso: She'll answer the questions.
My name is Craig Caruso. I am chair of the Coast Mountains school board, soon to be the Coast Mountain board of education. We are proud of our accomplishments and successes. Many of our students go on to do great things. This district has achieved much despite our economic circumstances.
Several years ago the board of the school district implemented a four-day school calendar. This school year we have reduced the budget by $4.4 million, and that was just to maintain our four-day school week. The funding level per student has increased, but our enrolment is declining faster than we can keep up. This trend extends to the entire province, but it affects the north more because of our geographical limitations and reconfiguring schools and classrooms.
Because of this higher cost of education in the north, the declining enrolment affects our budget more dramatically than school districts that have economies of scale. The north does not have as many options as the southern school districts. We cannot effect economies of scale due to the geographical limitations and distances between our schools.
In-district travel costs for trustees, teachers and administration far exceed the provincial average. As
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board chair, I myself travel three hours one way to attend meetings — I left Stewart at 5:30 this morning — and then three hours to return home, and that's if the road is open. Last winter was extreme, but the road to Stewart was closed for up to a week at a time. Our staff and trustees are put in harm's way travelling in these remote communities.
The cost to run a school district in the north exceeds the amount provided by the government in terms of our unique geographic factors. When we look at the most similar school district that we can compare ourselves to, which is the Stikine…. You have spread-out schools, the same weather patterns, similar geography. When it's looked at per capita, they receive in excess of $17,000 per student.
We in the school district receive about $9,414 per student. We do recognize that we receive more than the provincial average, but we feel it's not to the amount necessary to provide equitable education in this area.
For instance, $2 million is provided by the province for transportation, and that's been capped for a number of years. Currently, on our four-day budget, we are spending approximately $1.8 million on transportation — getting our kids to our schools.
We're enforcing the four-kilometre walking distance. We have the Terrace-Thornhill area. There are some extreme distances to the schools. Hazelton — same thing.
If we were to go back to a five-day school week, which is our goal, it would cost us at least an additional $250,000 over what we are being budgeted by the province for transportation alone.
Another example is our senior secondary school, Bear Valley, which is the school in Stewart. There are 25 high schools students in 8-to-12 in that school. It's three and a half hours from Terrace. We have 25 students. We need two and a half teachers just to be able to teach the core courses. There are very few electives other than by distance education, correspondence or electronic means. That equates to one teacher per ten students, which is one-third of the provincial average.
To look at it in just numbers, those students bring in approximately $230,000. Our direct teaching cost for those students is in the neighbourhood of $180,000, almost $190,000. That's not including administration, heat, lights, snow removal, snow shovelling, transportation. Just the teaching cost is 90 percent of what those children bring in.
The provincial walk limit is four kilometres, even for primary students. In other provinces the walk limit is as low as 1.6 kilometres. With our geographical distances and potential life-threatening issues of wildlife — lots of bears roaming the streets in Stewart — we would suggest that there be a review of these limits and to provide funding to transport our vulnerable children. These kids are walking to school in the dark up here, and in some areas they are walking home in the dusk in extreme winter conditions.
Last winter we had 31 feet of snow measured on the ground in Stewart. It cost additional dollars to remove that snow. We couldn't get anybody to shovel snow in Stewart at the union rate that we were paying. Everybody else was paying $20 to $30 per hour for snow shovellers during the extreme snowstorms.
We had to bring people in from Terrace, drive them up. The road closed. They ended up stuck in Kitwanga for a couple of days. They shovelled some snow there. They came up to Stewart. They tried to get out of there before the road closed again. We did that for a couple of weeks. We did that to keep the school roofs from caving in. There was a serious chance of that happening.
When children do not fall within the four-kilometre walk limit, there's an expectation for them to walk or drive to school. Quite often these kids end up walking. One of the routes the children do walk is Highway 16. This highway has been dubbed the highway of tears. You'll also recall the fatal mudslide last spring that killed two people. That was also Highway 16.
Our utilities up north are higher to heat the buildings. We've been trying to work out, with natural gas pricing, trying to get a cheaper price. We're told that there's no economy of scale until you get a school with more than a thousand students. We don't have any schools in our district with more than a thousand students. We don't have any schools in our district with more than about 500 students.
L. Brown: It's 680 in Kitimat.
C. Caruso: Sorry, 680 in Kitimat.
That's another problem. When we ask, "Why not? Why can't we get some kind of a break?" they say: "Well, the distance is too far to travel to get the fuel to your schools."
Training costs for trustees and staff usually require airfare to Vancouver for our BCSTA conventions, training academies. It's difficult, again. The cost of sending one trustee down to Richmond or Vancouver for BCSTA would probably be about the same as the entire school district of Richmond or Victoria attending the conference in their home community.
We struggle with a huge number of high-incidence students. These are special needs students. In the medical documentation all of northwest B.C. has higher incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome than other high-incidence students.
We have the lowest ranking of achievement, the highest number of first nations students and the highest number of learning-disabled students per population. There do not appear to be any comparators between districts in reviewing high-incidence kids, other than going through the health authorities and the determinants of health.
To sum up, I would like to say that like the Titanic, this great ship will go down if we do not receive relief. Our request is that the government return to a transparent process to fund high-incidence needs in our district, so that at least we can equate, rather than have that funding….
Whenever we ask about the funding, we're told it's rolled into the block funding. We would like a return to
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the transparent process to fund high-incidence special needs children.
We would like the government to realize that the cost of providing equitable education to rural and remote districts is higher. We peg the cost at about $1½ million more than we're receiving now.
We request that the government review the unique geographic funding to increase funding, such as for transportation, heat and snow removal. We also ask that the government review the current walk limits and reduce them accordingly. We request that additional training costs be included in the funding to accommodate the longer distances that we need to travel to get training or to bring people in to train us.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Craig. You just made it under the wire. We have time for some questions.
I. Black: Thank you both for your presentation. I always find it of great value hearing presentations from some of the northern communities. I do come from the bigger rural areas. The challenges we have in our school districts are very notable in their own right, but they're very different in many respects from your own.
I did have a couple of questions, however, on yours. I just want to solicit feedback, if I could. I was concerned about your use of the phrase "transparent process," because the funding formula is a pretty publicly available document that breaks it out by special needs allocations, by northern allowances and whatnot. It's quite an extensive spreadsheet.
Kind of a preliminary question, if I could. It's a detailed document. I've seen many of them. The things you said you wanted to see, I've seen many times in my own school district in a readily available document on line.
What is it you're not seeing that you'd like to see there? What am I missing?
C. Caruso: For the low-incidence special needs, that is very transparent. For the high-incidence, the ADHD, autism spectrum and those types of disorders, we're told it's rolled into the block funding. There's no separate line item that says that you have 500 high-incidence special needs children in your district and that you're funded for X amount. We're told that's rolled into the block funding.
L. Brown: There are three different low classifications, but there are as many high-incidence kids — the ADHD, the kids that can pose difficulty within the classroom.
I. Black: Level 1 is $32,000 extra per student, level 2 is $16,000, and level 3 is $8,000. So those are clearly laid out.
L. Brown: Those are covered. It's the other children. It's the high-incidence, labelled as such for a reason. The high-incidence kids don't fall under the extreme medical categories, but they do fall into the problem areas for classroom size and teachers.
I. Black: What we've seen in this area, as I understand it, is about a 32-percent drop in the student population over ten years, which will give you great challenges. I don't question that for a second. And funding has stayed pretty much…. Well, it's basically been restored back to where it was ten years ago. So you're still living with the same amount. Around $50 million or so, I understand, is the provincial allocation for 33 percent fewer students than you had ten years ago. This, on the surface, as you say, gives you a pretty high per-student funding.
The $1½ million that you're suggesting to request is about a 3-percent lift on that. My question for you is: could you quantify in dollar terms the other two requests that you had?
The $1½ million would take you from the $50 million to basically a 3-percent lift on that. But you're asking about reviewing the unique geographic funding for transportation issues and then training costs. Given that we're supposed to give feedback in as close to numerical terms as we can to the Minister of Finance, can you put some numerical context around that for us? That would be helpful to us.
L. Brown: We have a number of unique geographical dollars that are coming to us, but the dollars just aren't sufficient for our needs. We're not questioning the fact that we do receive funding under the unique geographical area, but our needs are greater than that. When we compare ourselves to other districts in the north, our funding isn't comparable to areas such as the Stikine.
C. Caruso: If they put this in, how much would it cost?
L. Brown: What we're asking for is a lift of $1.5 million to return to a five-day week. We could provide that funding for you. I haven't pulled it out.
I. Black: You said you wanted money on top of that for transportation and training. I'm just wondering if you have a dollar amount that goes with that as well. Or is that included in the $1.5 million?
L. Brown: That's included in the $1.5 million.
I. Black: Thank you. That answers my question.
J. Kwan: As I understand it, the funding formula formerly was such that there was the reclassification with special needs children so that high-incidence and low-incidence formulas changed into the three levels that Iain mentioned. Therefore, the high-incidence kids are now basically rolled into the block funding. There is no category for them to be assessed, so therefore, no
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funding is directed to those children, which is a common issue raised by many school districts. Certainly, in mine — we have virtually all inner-city schools in my riding — that's a major issue.
Along with that, there is a question in my mind on the assessment side — assessing the children to figure out what category they fall into and the huge waits, in terms of wait-lists, for the children to get into that kind of assessment in order to make that determination.
Again, that's my situation in my riding. I'm wondering whether or not you guys are experienced that here. Maybe I'll let you answer that and then one other follow-up question.
C. Caruso: Yes. When the board met to discuss this presentation, that's one of the issues that did come up. It was felt that the broader issue of attracting and retaining professionals in an economically depressed economy is beyond the role of the school board.
One of our huge problems is bringing the experts up from the lower mainland, from Victoria and getting them to assess. At any given time we've had as many as 90 children waiting to be assessed, and we couldn't get anybody to come up to do the assessment.
We've actually, in the past, investigated joining with some of our neighbouring school districts and trying to attract somebody to come live up in the northwest who would assess the children to try and get rid of this backlog.
J. Kwan: Just to quickly follow up on this case, do you have a specific proposal or idea that you think would work for your district here on the question around assessment? If you do, I think that is a good piece for us to receive, as well, so that we can incorporate it into the overall picture. Given that funding is one piece, the other piece is also making sure that the children are assessed appropriately and, therefore, that the package comes together for them.
Then, I guess there are the teaching assistants and so on. There's that piece as well. I'll leave that to you for a later submission to the committee for our consideration.
The other quick question is on the transportation, heat and snow removal — on the geographic funding. While you get that, what I've heard from you is that the actual cost of having to deal with those things is not addressed by the geographic funding formula, whereas before, the funding was such that the transportation, heat and so on was a separate thing from the overall block funding. So each school district would submit those as bills per se to the ministry, and then they would get funded for it. Am I hearing that correctly?
L. Brown: I don't know what the past was and the way they did it in the past. I'm fairly new to education. We do have unique geographical dollars of $2 million for education, and we can only cover a four-day week with that. It will cost us a greater amount of dollars in order to move to a five-day week, and our budget right now can't accommodate the excess.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Craig and Linda. That was a powerful presentation. Very well done, and we appreciate it.
We're looking for Anna Bernard, our next witness.
Good morning. Have a seat. Anna, are you with a particular group?
A. Bernard: No, I'm not.
B. Bennett (Chair): You're here as an independent citizen of Terrace?
A. Bernard: Yes.
B. Bennett (Chair): Great. Welcome.
A. Bernard: Good morning. I want to say thank you. I appreciate the committee taking the time to come to Terrace and having an opportunity to speak.
My name is Anna Bernard. I am here today on behalf of my dear 81-year-old mother who currently resides in an extended special care unit in Terrace View Lodge. My mother suffers from a severe mental health illness. My mother has a history of severe depression and has been treated with ECT treatment, which is electroconvulsive therapy, since 1997. I've included with my submission to the committee the detailed description of this treatment, which is directly from the B.C. HealthGuide available to all B.C. residents.
I would like to begin with a summary of what this treatment is. Electroconvulsive therapy is typically used to treat severe depression. During ECT electric currents are briefly applied through the scalp to the brain, inducing seizure. ECT is one of the fastest ways to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal patients or patients who suffer from mania or other mental illnesses.
ECT is generally used when severe depression is unresponsive to other forms of therapy or when these patients pose a severe threat to themselves or others and it is dangerous to wait until the medication takes into effect, which is about four to six weeks with most prescribed medication.
Prior to ECT treatment a patient is put to sleep using general anaesthetic, and a muscle relaxant is given. Electrodes are placed on a patient's scalp, and a finely controlled electric current is applied, which is a brief seizure in the brain. Because the muscles are relaxed, the seizure usually is limited to a slight movement of hands and feet.
Patients are carefully monitored during the treatment. The patient awakens minutes later. They do not remember the treatment or the events surrounding the treatment and are often confused. This confusion typically lasts for only a short period of time. ECT is usually given up to three times a week for two to four weeks.
ECT remains misunderstood by the general public, although it has been given since the 1940s and 1950s. Many of the risks and side effects have been related to the misuse of equipment, incorrect administration and improperly trained staff.
[ Page 1178 ]
There is also misconception that ECT is used as a quick fix instead of a long-term therapy or hospitalization or that a patient is painfully shocked for depression. Unfavourable news reports and media coverage have added to the controversy about this treatment.
In fact, ECT is safe and among the most effective treatments available for depression. It works best on seniors and is less intrusive than prescription medication, which I have seen directly, as it has successfully and dramatically helped my mother to return to a life of quality and to lead a happy, productive life — a quality of life that everyone is entitled to, no matter what age you are.
I'm just going to share my mother's story and also share some other information about the treatment. In the last ten years since my dear mother was 71 years old, she has been air-ambulanced out four times to receive this critically needed ECT treatment. She's gone twice to Vancouver — once to St. Vincent's Hospital, which is no longer open; once to Coquitlam, B.C., to Riverview Hospital, which is slated for closure in 2007; and twice to Prince George.
My mother was admitted into Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace in October with severe depression, and she waited 62 days in the Terrace hospital to receive a bed in the Prince George psychiatric unit to receive the ECT treatment, which was the only available centre in the northwest. She continued to deteriorate waiting for that bed to become available. My mother was air-ambulanced and transferred to the Prince George Regional Hospital from Mills Memorial Hospital.
The cost to the province to send my mother to Prince George one way was $5,000, for a total of $10,000 just to get her there and back each time. The cost to send her to Vancouver one way was $8,000, which was $16,000 return. The grand total for the last ten years is $52,000 — just to get her to a hospital that has the available ECT treatment for my mother.
My mother's needs continue monthly. ECT treatment is needed once a month in Prince George. She does not respond to antidepressants any longer. The province will not allow her to travel for ECT treatment via air ambulance because of the cost, and the family has been asked to drive our mother to Prince George once a month for maintenance treatment.
My mother cannot survive a ten-hour train ride, a nine-hour bus ride or a car ride for eight hours, as this would be detrimental to her health. Prince George Regional Hospital would not allow her to spend the night before her morning treatment, which would be first thing in the morning. Air ambulance will not allow her to travel back to Terrace the same day of the treatment. So our mother is not entitled to receive the treatment she requires on a monthly basis due to the cost to the Northern Health Authority.
My mother's health continues to decline as dementia has now begun, the depression cannot be treated locally and the traumatic stress of getting her to Prince George would be detrimental to her health. My mother would have to be heavily sedated to go via ground ambulance from Terrace View Lodge to Mills Memorial and to be admitted and then ground-ambulanced to the Terrace airport to fly by air ambulance to Prince George.
The only hospital in the northwest that provides ECT is still only Prince George. My mother would have to wake up in a new place with no family support and not speaking a word of English.
I am concerned that my mother is somehow falling through the cracks in the system. My mother is caught in the ongoing health crisis in this province, and it seems that the cost is overriding quality of care.
We must and need to bring ECT treatment to Terrace so that the 41 citizens of this region, from the northwest, last year alone who use ECT treatment…. They should be able to access the same treatments as other B.C. residents without having to travel long distances from their home areas. We are hoping that the Northern Health will come through with a solution to this problem, because Prince George cannot be a substitute for services in the northwest.
Moving my mother around like this has been hard on her health. It has been hard for her to adapt to another new room and environment. This is obviously very disruptive for the care of my mother and extremely unstable for her medical condition. My mother is 81 years old and does not read, speak or understand English.
Some depression will go away if not treated. ECT has in the past been successful for my dear mother, and others who have received this treatment have been given back a quality of life once again, and everyone, we know, is deserving of a quality of life. This treatment allowed me and my family to have a beautiful, healthy relationship with my mother. It wouldn't have happened if the treatment was not available. Where would she be?
Depression has become more prevalent in the aging population we have here in the northwest. If depression is treated, it can hold off the deterioration of the brain as we age. When you're mentally ill, it affects your brain, which affects the rest of your body physically. There is a growing aging population in the northwest and, as we know, Canada-wide. Mental health services for everyone are dramatically needed, especially for the aging seniors.
I have spoken with the northern health services, administrators for the northwest, and they do support the ECT treatment for Terrace. The northwest health authority is supportive and looking at it, but that is still not good enough. As a regional hub, there is a great need for people in the northwest who need critical treatment, and they should have access to the same treatment as people in the lower mainland.
The cost to the provincial government to fly patients in and out to get them to the hospital in Prince George and Vancouver is enormous. It is also a large demand to expect elderly patients that do not receive air ambulance to go via a long bus or train ride. Some of them have to go monthly, semi-monthly or weekly for maintenance treatment. Apart from the cost to the taxpayers, having patients isolated from their families delays the recovery
[ Page 1179 ]
process. It is also stressful and demanding on their already frail bodies.
This issue cannot be ignored any longer. All of us here today have aging parents or relatives. We have an aging population, and depression and other mental illnesses will only increase in the coming years. We need to implement this treatment in Terrace, which is the hub for the northwest, as 41 patients in the northwest accessed this treatment somewhere other than in Terrace.
The stats as to whether these 41 patients from last year went weekly, semi-monthly or monthly to Prince George or Vancouver were still not provided to me, so we do not know whether every individual case out of those 41 needed to go more than others. The cost will obviously be different for every patient. Some do require maintenance treatment so they continue to stay well and do not relapse.
This treatment is needed in the northwest, as it's still not available in Terrace, and a lot of people are being left untreated. It's not being offered to them simply because of the cost factor to send them away to receive the EC treatment outside of Terrace. We need more attention on mental health and illnesses, as it is not being talked about. We need more geriatric psychiatrists available for our B.C. aging population.
I'm very passionate about this, as this is my mother. But I'm pleading to you all, the government, to focus our budget on assisting our aging population, to continue to help them all to be able to have dignity and respect and some quality of life. If any of you committee members or people in the audience were to spend a few minutes out of your day and go to the Terrace View Lodge and go to the special care unit, the moment you open the door, you would be forever touched in a heartfelt way. Your emotions would be hard to contain, as all aging residents have had lives and values and importance — all of them.
I will stress and make you care why I am here today — to make sure that Northern Health receives money for funding for an ECT machine to be available here in Terrace. It is really urgent and of great importance for my mother and for the many others that are using this treatment on a regular basis, and that Northern Health receives funding to assist seniors with mental health and illness problems, which includes recruiting at least one — just one — psychiatrist to be permanently based out of the Terrace region, as we do not have one, and we haven't for many years. We have an outreach psychiatrist that comes here once a month, and they cannot provide the services to the entire community and the surrounding areas.
We also need a geriatric psychiatrist to come along with that team to provide the services specifically for seniors and mental illnesses. We need to take care of our aging population, as we all will experience our loved ones getting older and the illnesses that come with aging.
I want to thank you kindly on behalf of my dear mother and all the seniors that can no longer speak on their behalf and their loved ones that can't be here today. You will see me here next year, when I will continue to advocate for my mother and all the others that urgently need to have an ECT machine available and operating in the Terrace Mills Memorial Hospital soon. My mother needs a voice, and I'm her voice. I'm very passionate about this.
B. Bennett (Chair): Very, very well done. Your mother would be proud of you if she could be here. Thank you for that. So more money for mental health and specifically more for geriatric mental health issues.
B. Simpson: I actually have a friend in my constituency who just had treatment, and she managed to fight her way into the line to get treatment. She's a changed personality as a result, because of what she was dealing with, with her own mental health issues.
You've quantified the costs to the system of not doing this. Do you have a sense of what is required to put a unit in the hospital and the costs associated with that, or is that something we'd have to get from another source?
A. Bernard: Yeah, it was very difficult. The MLA office here has been supporting in the last few months to try to get just a number of how many people used it. They tried diligently to get that, and we just recently got that number.
We weren't sure about whether some of them are air-ambulanced. I know my mother was. Maybe some of them were and some of them weren't. No matter what, they're still leaving the community. They still have to find means to get there. They have to find day care. We don't know.
We know that the machine itself…. I've been told by the Northern Health Authority management here that the machine doesn't cost a lot, and they want it here. They really do. They supposedly had it here 12 years ago, and it just got outdated.
We have been told that an MD can actually administer that. Obviously, they would have to be trained. A psychiatrist would be suitably monitoring the first treatment, and then an MD can take on the following treatments. Why would any of the physicians not want to be more trained on any other kind of new services that would help their community itself along?
We talk about mental illness a lot in younger people and all that. Of course, it is important for every age group.
As I now walk into Terrace View, I see a lot of sadness. I have fellow loved ones here that have residents up there too, and they're here for support. It is very heartbreaking. They can't ask for help because they're very sick. They can't make that simple request, and if they do, it goes ignored. It shouldn't. No matter what age they are, they still need a quality of life. It is so important. So we need to get the machine here.
B. Bennett (Chair): We're going to just take a little bit of extra time here for one more question.
[ Page 1180 ]
R. Lee: Thank you for your presentation. I think the question about cost is not answered, but I think we will try to find out what the cost is.
A. Bernard: That would be great.
R. Lee: My question is on the frequency of treatment. Is there a correlation to quality of life? What's the optimum? What's the number? I guess it depends on the patient.
A. Bernard: The amount of treatment?
R. Lee: Yes.
A. Bernard: It's usually 12 to 14. Some require less. My mother's went as high as 14. She did not have the full treatment last time, and they wanted to send her back and give her maintenance treatment, but we had another crisis issue.
There were no beds available at Terrace View Lodge, and we had to grab that bed. If she went for that treatment, that bed would no longer be available and she would go back to Mills Memorial and continue to wait for a bed at Terrace View. So she didn't go get her treatment, and meanwhile she has deteriorated, and it would be detrimental for her to travel. She cannot.
R. Lee: So I guess the psychiatrist can determine what the optimum frequency would be for each patient.
A. Bernard: Absolutely. Yes. But maintenance treatment is very important too. Maintenance treatment is important because the treatment doesn't last forever and ever. It does in some cases. But if there are symptoms showing, then we begin maintenance treatments again to prevent the seriousness of the illness from starting to become worse, which it does very quickly. Once one sign begins of the depression starting again, it continues to get worse and worse day after day.
Seniors' mobility. They can't be expected to travel far. Prince George is far for people, and availability to there just to get treatment…. My mother waited 62 days to get treatment. That's a long time when she needed that treatment the next day. She got so sick that her kidneys went into failure.
B. Bennett (Chair): Anna, thank you. We appreciate your coming here today and presenting to us.
J. Kwan: Mr. Chair, can I just make a point for the committee?
B. Bennett (Chair): With regard to this presentation?
J. Kwan: With a request for the next presenter.
The next presenter happens to be the Northern Health Authority. I wonder, Mr. Chair, whether or not the individual would have the information related to the cost for this case. If not, perhaps we can ask the Northern Health Authority to provide that to us for the committee's consideration.
B. Bennett (Chair): Would you like me to do that? Or would you like to do that?
J. Kwan: I was going to ask you to do that, but I'm happy to do that too.
B. Bennett (Chair): I can do that.
A Voice: I'm guessing that they heard the request and might be able to answer that.
B. Bennett (Chair): Our next witness is the Northern Health Authority, Shirley Gray.
Shirley, can you tell us what your position is with the Northern Health Authority?
S. Gray: I'm a preventive manager in dental health. I am sorry. I can't fill that bill.
J. Kwan: We're going to have to get it somewhere else.
S. Gray: Yes. I'm sorry.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay, Shirley.
S. Gray: I come before your committee today to advocate for the enhancement and expansion of dental services and coverage for low-income individuals. I am a public dental health hygienist for the northwest region of the Northern Health Authority. I have lived and worked in Terrace for 18 years.
In B.C. we are very fortunate to have some government-sponsored dental plans for some of our vulnerable populations. However, these programs need to be improved.
I will first give two examples of gaps where dental program fees need to be enhanced, and then I will outline access barriers experienced by low-income British Columbians and some of the subsequent health issues and costs associated with the lack of dental treatment.
The first gap I will outline is an example of a disabled adult. Disabled adults are allotted a limited amount of dental funds to cover their oral needs over a set period of time. I've witnessed cases where the client cannot have all the dental treatment completed that the dentist recommends because the cost exceeds the yearly dental allotment.
For example, the dental plan will not have enough funds to cover both the cost of the extraction of multiple teeth and also the cost of the replacement denture. So the client has to make the decision whether they're going to live with some of the diseased teeth and only have some treated or have all the teeth removed and function with no denture and thus not be able to eat and chew food.
Inability to eat well will increase the risk for secondary medical conditions, which will result in higher costs to the health care system. The actual dental needs should
[ Page 1181 ]
direct the payment allotment in this case, rather than setting a fee limit. Then, the case would be able to have ideal treatment.
Another gap I see is that the government dental insurance payments do not match the actual dental fee charged for services. In this example, the cost of a dental exam, radiographs and a small filling will approximately total a hundred dollars, but the fee payment will only cover $70. The family will need to pay the $30 difference.
Unfortunately, the families that qualify for the dental program are already low-income. It is not uncommon for these families to be deciding between spending their money on food or on other basic living expenses. Extra dental costs are definitely a burden for these families.
I would also like to point out that if dental disease is left untreated, it will increase in both size and severity, and the infection will spread to other teeth. The eventual pain will interfere with the development and growth of the child, if it happens to be a child.
Realistically, the families I have seen have more than one child, and the children usually have more than one cavity. Thus, the cost to the family increases significantly.
These families aren't able to provide the extra dollars needed to cover the discrepancy in these fees. I have seen many children with dental abscesses and pain, where the parents' desire is to treat and to access dental treatment, but they find the financial barrier is a real barrier.
If the government-sponsored dental fees were increased to match the standard dental fees charged by the dentist, this fee discrepancy and barrier would be eliminated. Families would immediately have increased dental access, and then these children wouldn't be in pain anymore.
The second area I would like to address or discuss is the lack of dental supports for low-income adults. I would like to see the government expand dental insurance coverage to include low-income adults.
My role as a community dental prevention manager is to draw and use resources to prevent dental disease in the northwest region. Although my mandated job with Northern Health is primarily focused on children, I am in contact with many adults in the region who have experienced hardship due to the lack of access to dental care. I have identified this as an important issue because unmet dental needs in adults will negatively influence individuals' overall health.
Although I've always had inquiries by adults who need funds to have dental treatment done, I've seen a sharp rise in requests over the past five years. In response to this rise, I started networking with our area's anti-poverty society and our local MLA to brainstorm possible solutions.
I sincerely hope the government will help define the scope of the problem and introduce strategies to remove access barriers. I see poverty as one of the main barriers that limit adult access to dental services. Low-income adults I have worked with include seniors, mental health clients, young mothers and the working poor.
[B. Ralston in the chair.]
Untreated dental conditions can negatively affect the overall health and can eventually lead to serious medical complications. Medical complications increase the cost to our health care system.
I will describe some examples of how dental disease can lead to medical complications. Firstly, seniors usually have a limited and fixed income. Dental care is seen as a costly extra. Seniors often are taking many medications that decrease their saliva rate, thus increasing bacterial accumulation. This increases the rate of dental disease experienced.
If dental disease occurs and is untreated, it will lead to pain. Oral pain contributes to poor food quality choices, which in turn compromises the overall health of the individual. This can lead to obesity and can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and nutritional deficiencies.
Secondly, I see some similarities with mental health clients and the senior population. Mental health clients are also on limited fixed-income disability and take many medications that affect the saliva in the mouth.
When mental health clients develop dental disease and pain, the clients also have trouble eating and sleeping. The resulting stresses on their bodies can destabilize the overall mental health status of the client, and destabilization will increase the number of hospital emergency visits and stays.
Thirdly, the connection between bacterially induced periodontal disease in pregnant mothers and the subsequent increased rate of low-birth-weight babies is well documented. Premature and low-birth-weight babies cost more to the health care system because of the increased need for medical interventions to ensure that these babies thrive.
Premature delivery complications can result in conditions that require supports for the rest of the child's life. Any prevention in decreasing premature births will save health care dollars.
Fourthly, diabetic clients who have untreated periodontal disease will require more insulinization for stabilization. Untreated gum disease also increases the secondary complications of the diabetic disease. Once again, it is costly to treat the complications such as vision impairment, kidney complications and amputations. It is cheaper to provide preventive dental maintenance appointments than pay for these secondary medical involvements.
Finally, many low-income adults and families have pressing needs beyond teeth. Dental health is seen as important to many of these families but is an expense they just can't afford. Small dental problems go undiagnosed and untreated. Small untreated problems often lead to pain.
I know families that have had repeated hospital visits to ask for relief from pain because the clients have medical coverage but not dental coverage. Individuals continue to go untreated. The adults develop secondary infections that increase their risk for septicemia.
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Pain and infection interfere with work, sleep and parenting. The overall stress experienced by these individuals inhibits their ability to function fully in the community. Again, it would be more cost-effective to provide consistent preventive dental supports to our vulnerable populations prior to disease onset and to treat the dental disease in the earliest stages rather than seeing them in a hospital setting.
A great long-term goal would be to build on the dental health programs and benefits that are already in place. That's why I'm here. I already have a preventive dental position in the health authority.
Families and adults need support to attain and maintain healthier mouths. A few key steps — such as increases to yearly limits to cover the true dental needs of some of the clients, resolving the fee discrepancy between dentist's fees and the government coverage, and the expansion of dental coverage to include the vulnerable low-income adult population — will greatly improve dental health in the province.
Dental prevention is cheaper than paying for the medical complications that occur when dental disease is not addressed. A healthier mouth means a healthier individual, and a healthier individual is better able to participate in their family, home and community.
I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to present to this committee. I feel that the dental enhancements I've suggested deserve your full consideration. I hope to encourage you to address these gaps in the 2008 budget.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much.
Questions? I have a question myself, then. Under the Healthy Kids program, I think it's called…
S. Gray: Right.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): …there's a provision for low-income parents to make application to get support for dental services.
S. Gray: Absolutely.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): But there are, I think, if you look at the website for the college of dentists, there are relatively few dentists, and in some communities no dentists, who are prepared to take on the work at the rates that are offered. Is that the experience in this region?
S. Gray: Absolutely.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Is there any dentist here who's willing to take the work on at that rate?
S. Gray: There was one. I understand that he doesn't want to do it anymore because he was the only one. It significantly impacts his bottom line at the end of the year if he's seeing all the clients for 30 percent less.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): In your estimation, then, how many families are there — and as a result, how many children are there — that need this service in this region? Do you have a sense of that?
S. Gray: Oh boy.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Would it be hundreds?
S. Gray: Oh, easily, but I wouldn't have an exact figure.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): So there is just no one, other than this one person who is going to withdraw from that program, who is prepared to service people on that basis.
S. Gray: When I'm speaking about Terrace, yes. Other communities already don't have any dentist. I think it's even more of an exacerbated problem up in the northeast, where people have to travel two or three hours to get to a dentist, and they have no way to pay for that because they are already low-income.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
J. Kwan: Would an on-salary dentist with a health authority be one potential answer to this challenge?
S. Gray: I would think that it would be a good start.
They did have a bus that used to come around and see the Healthy Kids family. There was some disconnect between me working in public health and that dentist connecting with me so that I could say: "These are the clients you need to see." What happened was when that dentist would come to town, people would see the van. They could register through e-mail, which I find a lot of high-need families don't have. There was a toll-free number, and if they did connect, they would go.
They would get one or two fillings and an arch completed, and then they would say: "I think you need to go to the hospital and have the rest of the fillings done." The children who have the real problems are usually very young because they can't sit still in a dental chair.
That was just putting the problem back on the eight-month waiting list in the hospital. There is one day a month and two dentists who alternate for that one day a month. They can see five children in the one day that they come. So it is a problem.
J. Kwan: Can I ask one further question? Do you have an estimated cost for a request that would actually fill the need that you've put forward from the health authority side?
S. Gray: No, I don't. I did this because I'm just seeing so many different individuals who are coming forward.
It's not my mandate to even advocate, in a sense, for adults. My mandate is children. But so many of these parents are running into problems. How can they model what is good for their children if they themselves are experiencing pain?
[ Page 1183 ]
J. Kwan: Just an example in my riding. Again, we actually have huge dental care challenges with lower-income inner-city families. Some years ago we worked to get a dental clinic in and around the school district targeting the children. It turned out that the families ended up using it, and so we now have dental students providing the service as well as an actual dentist in the office.
Anyway, it would be good if somehow we could find out, perhaps through the Ministry of Health, what that cost is. Then we can have a sort of full deliberation on this piece relative to the budget discussion.
S. Gray: There has been some good work done with dental resident students from UBC coming up to Skidegate and providing treatment. They get a year's residency. But it's a drop in the bucket to the need, which is very unfortunate. I would like the idea of having something that's holistic.
Different pain clinics have been funded in partnerships across the province. But again, they're emergency clinics at the end result, rather than having something sustainable at the beginning.
R. Lee: I have a question about our assistance to the dentist graduates. We have got a plan so that if they go to remote areas to practise for positions in dentistry, they can have, say, 30 percent of their loan forgiven for each year. Do you see any success in that kind of a program?
S. Gray: Again, I think it would be a piece of the puzzle. I think it would help.
The dentists that come up here…. The needs are so high, and there are a lot of people with dental insurance. So they're busy without having to see someone at a lower fee.
If there was a way to reward dentists for seeing all the clients or some of the needier clients and some other way to enhance them for seeing them, that would be another good strategy, I believe — to somehow reward people for seeing the ones that are at the bottom of the barrel, for lack of another word.
R. Lee: Do you see any dentists coming up with that kind of a program — say, recent graduates from dental school?
S. Gray: One of the problems is that there is a lack of dentists, just like everything else in the province. They can move anywhere, and a lot of them don't know the north.
If there was a way to encourage them to come up and see it and see the benefits…. We did have one dentist here about 15 years ago who came up for two years and stayed because he saw the quality of life here was good. He could own a practice and a house and still pay off his student loans, whereas down south it's much more expensive — the cost of living and housing. So he came, and he stayed.
If we had a way of somehow supporting them coming up and seeing and experiencing the north, that would be another great piece to have in the pie.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Shirley. We appreciate it.
Our next witness this morning is the South Side Working Committee, represented by Diana Penner.
Welcome. Good morning, Diana.
D. Penner: I am here specifically as a resident of the south side of Terrace but also as a citizen of the northwest who has survived the flood of 2007.
Many B.C. communities, as you said in your introductions, are surrounded by mountains and mighty rivers and many tributaries. We as a nation have had the good sense to live on riverbanks and share in their vast harvests. Recognizing that power and not harnessing its full potential and not protecting the fertile grounds that rivers have provided our townships with can be problematic.
This year, like many in B.C., Terrace and area experienced extensive flooding and flood erosion damage. Some believe that the floodplain will flood sooner or later, so those on the floodplain are not empathized with in flooding circumstances. But does this mean that those living on hillsides should move out in case of landslides or that those beside a forested area should move out in case of forest fires or that those who neighbour the ocean should leave because of possible tsunamis?
It is important to remember that we live on a living planet, one that has provided us with many opportunities for a fine quality of life. The landscape of many well-developed townships is not without risk. We know of many cities that are built within the danger zones, built on earthquake fault lines, in the path of hurricanes or below the crest of volcanic mountains.
Probably the most common error we have made, though, is to build on the floodplain. Yet how many cities are built there? Hundreds of thousands are.
From our earliest days we have seen people inhabiting the fertile regions of the riverbanks and estuaries throughout the world. These regions have provided the food and the water sources for many civilizations and, in so doing, have grown into import and export centres that provide the much-needed resources that we and our inland users need. The roads and highways leading to many of these regions are accessed by the corridors made by the very same waterways.
Living near a river is not foolish according to most of the world's population. It is effective geographically, economically and politically. What is not wise, however, is not recognizing the power of that resource and not using the engineering we have at our fingertips to minimize possible damage that can occur in times of high water while still maximizing the benefits that come from the source.
As a result of the flooding in June 2007 and the devastation and the hardships incurred by Terrace and area residents, a working committee was formed to represent the south side of Terrace to seek flood and erosion protection. We developed a letter and took that letter door to door to our fellow neighbours to find out whether we were all on the same page.
This is what we put together, and this is what the residents of the south side agreed to. We presented this
[ Page 1184 ]
letter to our municipality and to our regional district. It says:
"We the people of south side of Terrace request that the governments and their respective bodies protect the integrity of land, property, life and lifestyle for the immediate needs of the localized population and the long-term needs of the greater citizenship of Terrace proper.
"We request that the city of Terrace, in cooperation with the regional district, take on a timely study to determine how best to solve erosion and flooding problems that undermine the safety and property of residents and the integrity of some key elements of the town's infrastructure.
"We request that the city of Terrace and the regional district and the government take on a holistic approach in their efforts to resolve the impact felt during the flood of 2007 on its residents and township and consider the full area as a unit, not as a series of individual, unconnected problem areas.
"We hope that the government and the political bodies will consider the Skeena River and its tributaries, both upstream and downstream, noting the impact of any control measure and its ramifications, from rock-control point to rock-control point and from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.
"We believe it is in the best interest of both the city of Terrace and the regional district and our politicians to acknowledge the physical and mental trauma that occurs when a town is impacted by natural disaster.
"We believe that our municipal and federal governments have not attempted to protect the people of this community in the past, as is evidenced by the lack of supports during the past floods of 1936, '48, '63, '72, '78 and '99. Funding only appears in emergencies and is used to bandage isolated problems, and the moment the water recedes, so do the dollars.
"We are requesting that a long-term solution be considered and implemented as soon as possible to increase the value and the productivity of this town and to recognize its role as a service hub to the northern corridor. As we see both Prince Rupert and Kitimat take on a more international role as harbours, we know that Terrace is strategically located to meet the needs of future growth in this region.
"Protecting the south side of Terrace protects the heart of Terrace. The south side of Terrace represents some 26 streets. It represents infrastructure that includes major hydro transmission lines; the Terrace sewage lagoons; the treatment plant and outfall pipe; Kiti K'shan Elementary School; École Jack Cook francophone elementary school; Kalum Street water pump house; Terrace city public works office and yard; the Terrace animal shelter; the major water, sewer and storm lines of the south side, and the natural gas lines.
"Flooding and erosion to this key area costs the city acres of valuable land and millions of dollars in property loss every occurrence. The mighty Skeena and its tributaries have caused flooding and erosion more frequently over the past years than ever before and are likely to do so again.
"We request the opportunity to share our local knowledge as neighbours and work with governments to find a solution. One suggestion that occurs most frequently is that of a continuous dike around the south side, extending from Kerr Street to Skeena Street.
"To provide stability to the economics of this town and its region, we need to address the issue of flooding and flood erosion with passion and conviction. This issue will not go away and needs to be addressed and dealt with expediently. We are asking the budget committee to look at allocating money to flood and erosion control to safeguard the south side specifically, because that's the community that I represent, but also the whole corridor of the northwest that has experienced it."
That's my presentation.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Diana. Good presentation. We do have time for questions.
I notice that His Worship Jack Talstra is here and is presenting, I think, shortly. Hopefully, you'll be able to stay around.
J. Talstra: Same topic, but there's no collusion.
B. Bennett (Chair): Municipal governments — and I'm going to play right into his hand by saying this — don't have the resources to deal with big files like this. I know that the provincial government last year managed to convince the federal government to release some of its so-called emergency funding early so that the province could actually take pre-emptive action around the province with regard to flooding. You make a good point that waiting for it to happen is probably not the best public policy.
D. Penner: There's another interesting thing that happened at that time. They released money in order to do flood damage prevention, but anybody who wanted to, for example, put sandbags around their house was not given free sand and bags to do so until we were actually in flood stage. So money was released, but the ability to actually preventative methods didn't occur.
R. Hawes: Thank you very much for your presentation. I really do relate to it and appreciate it. I live in the Fraser Valley. We were within a hair's breadth of a similar major disaster there. There was money. The provincial government stepped up and put money in. The federal government came late to the party, but that's neither here nor there.
I couldn't agree with you more. What's needed is a provincial strategy built on partnership between federal, provincial and local governments, and it's for the whole province. We need a flood-mitigation strategy that works, that has dikes, that has the dredging and cleaning of rivers where necessary.
Perhaps, in hindsight, we shouldn't have built on floodplains, but that's hindsight. We did build on floodplains. People are there. They're taxpaying citizens. They deserve to be protected, and we need to protect those properties.
Certainly, from the perspective of where I live right now, I am going to fight as hard as I can to make sure that that happens. I'm more than happy to see this on the agenda of this committee and would love to see a recommendation. Certainly, I'll do my part to make sure a recommendation goes forward that accommodates what you're looking for.
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B. Bennett (Chair): MLA Horgan, do you still feel the need to ask a question?
J. Horgan: I can't resist. Mainly, I want to commend you, Diana, for coming after the fact to continue to agitate for action between crises. We always, sadly, tend to relate witnesses' testimony to our communities. It's a failing of politicians. We have to talk about our neighbourhoods.
In my instance, on Vancouver Island we had horrific windstorms — never seen before on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The power was out for long periods of time. My office was inundated with calls. B.C. Hydro was trying to restore power; emergency centres were established. We've all had this happen in our communities.
Three months later I invited B.C. Hydro to come back. They sent ten senior representatives to discuss with my communities how we can better prepare, and five people showed up.
I commend you for coming between crises to say that we need to be better prepared before the fact, rather than waiting for it to happen. Of course when the crisis goes away, we shouldn't just go back to our regularly scheduled programs. We should be vigilant and prepare.
I commend you for that, and I thank the Chair for indulging me to speak about the beautiful riding of Malahat–Juan de Fuca.
B. Bennett (Chair): The wind has not diminished in Victoria, I can tell you.
D. Penner: It's okay. Smithers was just out for a week because of a windstorm three weeks ago.
B. Bennett (Chair): In reference to the member's comments, I think it's a strength of the committee that we've got a group of people from all over the province, who have actually had real experience with many of the issues that come before the committee. So I think that's a positive thing.
Thank you very much, Diana, for your presentation.
Our next witness is Diane Ready from Northwest Community College, speaking on behalf of the B.C. College Presidents Association. Diane, welcome. Are you speaking on behalf of…?
D. Ready: Northwest Community College.
B. Bennett (Chair): Not necessarily for the B.C. College Presidents Association?
D. Ready: No, on behalf of Northwest Community College.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee. My name is Diane Ready. I'm the vice-president of finance and administration at Northwest Community College. I'm here representing our president Stephanie Forsyth. With me is our chair of the college board of governors, Penelope Denton from Prince Rupert.
I'd like to begin by giving you a quick overview of the college context. The Northwest Community College region is an area encompassing 103,000 square kilometres and is home to 82,000 people — 25 percent of whom are first nations.
According to B.C. Stats 2001 census data, this is by far the largest percentage of aboriginal population as a percent of total population of all college regions in British Columbia. Within the vast geographical area covered by Northwest Community College, our campus locations reflect the population densities and the economic and geographic realities of the people we serve.
Hazardous winter driving conditions, high rates of unemployment and disenfranchisement from the education system require the college to provide educational opportunities to students where they live. As a result, we have ten leased or owned locations in Houston, Smithers, Hazelton, Kitimat, New Aiyansh, Terrace, Stewart, Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.
We also have a presence in a number of the high schools and in many of the 26 first nations communities in the northwest. As well, we offer a variety of program partnerships with the four northwestern aboriginal institutes.
The northwest region is starting to emerge from a decade of economic decline. The mining sector has been leading this recovery with a number of very large exploration projects underway throughout the college region. This activity, along with the opening of the Prince Rupert container port and the region's efforts to broaden its economic base, bodes well for a brighter future.
The aboriginal population is critical to the revitalized economy and is on a steady rise, while the non-aboriginal population is in significant decline. With employment rates in aboriginal communities still in the order of 37 percent to 80 percent, aboriginal people represent an increasing portion of the labour force.
Aboriginal leaders within our communities are looking for sustainable, long-term employment opportunities that acknowledge their traditional lands and values. They are seeking to build capacity within their communities, initiate business ventures and bring economic prosperity to their people. They will not be satisfied with their people only occupying entry-level jobs.
Mobilizing the aboriginal workforce is a key focus and strength of Northwest Community College. With the adoption of our new strategic plan in 2004, NWCC committed to redressing the colonization which has for many generations served to create multiple barriers for aboriginals.
In consultation and partnership with the aboriginal community, we are making significant advances in the design and delivery of programs that are building human capacity and paving the way to employment. As a result, 44 percent of our student population is of aboriginal descent, and we can no longer view our college as mainstream.
No other non-aboriginal institution comes close to this student body composition. We are clearly becoming a bicultural college. We have embraced the vision of the 2003 provincial memorandum of understanding on
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aboriginal post-secondary education, and we are conscientiously re-creating our programs and services so as to improve the participation rates and success of aboriginal learners.
The results are significant. For example, 76 percent of the annual graduates from the school of exploration and mining are aboriginal, with employment rates as high as 80 percent. Of our trades graduates, 38 percent are aboriginal, and 49 percent of our applied science students are aboriginal, many of these carrying on to further study at universities or institutes.
We have recently completed an economic impact study, and I will just share with you some highlights of that. Aboriginal education is one of the strengths of the college; there are many others. For example, consider the recent findings of the largest-ever economic impact study of B.C.'s 12 colleges, including Northwest Community College. The study clearly demonstrates that colleges produce a sound return on investment across the province. It totals $7.7 billion a year, almost 4 percent of the provincial economy.
Regionally, the statistics for Northwest Community College are impressive. Northwest Community College adds more money to the provincial treasury than it takes out. Not only does the college pull its own weight, but it also effectively subsidizes other sectors funded by the taxpayers. Absent NWCC, taxes would have to be raised in order to maintain services in all other sectors at our current levels.
The results of this study demonstrate that NWCC is a sound investment from multiple perspectives. Students benefit from improved lifestyles and increased earnings; taxpayers benefit from an enlarged economy and lower social costs; and the community as a whole benefits from increased job and investment opportunities, higher business revenues and an eased tax burden.
NWCC stimulates the provincial and local economy. Students benefit from higher earnings, thereby expanding the tax base and reducing the tax burden on provincial taxpayers. When aggregated together, students generate about $8.2 million annually in higher earnings due to their NWCC education. As many as 95 percent of students stay in the region initially, after they leave college, and contribute to the local economy.
The NWCC service area economy receives roughly $15.5 million in regional income annually due to our operations and capital spending. We do attract about 11 percent of our students from outside the region, bringing with them moneys that would not otherwise have entered the local economy. The expenditures of our out-of-region students for books and supplies, room and board, transportation or other personal expenses generate roughly $2.5 million in regional income in our service area.
Newly skilled college tradesworkers deepen the provincial and local economy's human capital, resulting in higher wages for students, greater returns to property owners, increased tax revenue and added income due to economy-wide multiplier effects.
Adding together the effects of college operations, student spending and past student productivity, NWCC accounts for approximately $219.3 million of labour and non-labour income in our service area. This is equal to about 6.2 percent of total income in the regional economy.
I will leave you with the rest of the statistics on our return on investment and talk about what we need to maintain this contribution to the economy.
To maintain service, B.C. colleges need a new funding mechanism that supports education and training programs and services for students. To maintain current levels of programs and service, we need the same overall one-time base operating adjustment that was provided in 2006-2007, which was $21.7 million. To maintain and enhance teaching and learning, the colleges need an increase in equipment and capital allowances of 10 percent per year for three years.
What does NWCC need to respond to demand in the future? We need funding that acknowledges the challenges of serving an aboriginal population, funding that is on par with that of other public aboriginal post-secondary institutions in B.C.
NWCC is not like other mainstream colleges in B.C. Our large aboriginal population makes us significantly different and presents us with extraordinary challenges. We are unable to keep up with the student supports and transition needs of our at-risk and aboriginal learners.
Unlike publicly funded aboriginal institutions, NWCC is funded as if it were a mainstream institution. It is not adequately funded to provide the outreach, literacy, transition and student supports required of our aboriginal learners.
While we have made significant inroads with our aboriginal and community-based programming efforts, much more must be done, and it could be accomplished with a program and service funding model that is on par with aboriginal institutions in the province. Such a model would recognize the uniquely bicultural nature of NWCC and the frequently multiple social and psychological challenges that must be addressed to ensure aboriginal learner participation is a success.
We need recognition of aging facilities and equipment and an increase in our annual capital allowance funding. The college struggles to maintain, let alone renew, our teaching and learning facilities, given a scarcity of annual capital allowance funds. Significant repair and renewal is required to address structures erected over 30 years ago. To that end, we are requesting an increase in our ACA funding by at least 10 percent a year for the next three years.
We need support for the construction of on-campus housing for aboriginal students, one of the many barriers to aboriginal learners participating in housing for single parents and families. With the resurgence of the housing market in the northwest, finding adequate and affordable housing is proving increasingly challenging.
B. Bennett (Chair): Diane, you can continue to read towards the end if you want, but you're into your five-minute Q and A now.
D. Ready: Okay. I'll just summarize quickly.
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The other thing that we would like to look for is support for the delivery of aboriginal programs that are of strategic importance to the region and the province, particularly where there is a shortage of crucial skills: allied health, trades, career and paraprofessional programming.
I'd like to just conclude by saying that we have made some great strides in that regard with our school of exploration and mining, Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art, aboriginal culinary arts diploma, first nations land stewardship, first nations coastal guardian, and aboriginal community-based early childhood education.
As you have the text of my presentation, I'll leave some time for questions.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I take it your premise is that the composition of the student body and the challenges that face you merit special consideration by the Ministry of Advanced Education. What response, thus far, has the board or the administration had from the ministry when you make this case? It's a fairly compelling case as you've presented it here this morning.
D. Ready: Our board has supported us to be a bicultural college. We see ourselves as a college that serves the first nations community in the northwest and the unique challenges that that presents. At present we are funded as other post-secondary institutions in the province that are mainly non-aboriginal. What we are saying is that we would like consideration for that additional funding, but that has not been forthcoming so far. We have certainly had the ear of the minister, and that has certainly been received with an open mind, but we haven't seen the kind of funding uplifts that we really do need in order to be able to do our job well.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): So some head-nods, but no dollars.
D. Ready: Yes.
B. Simpson: The Ministry of Advanced Education is one source, but given the shift that you're making and the group that you're now beginning to service, have you approached any of the aboriginal or first nations funding sources? There's the new relationship fund; that has quite a bit of money in it, and we're not quite sure where that money's going. Has that been a point of discussion?
D. Ready: Yes. We try and access any kinds of aboriginal funds that we can. Because we don't have a designation as an aboriginal institution, we are not able to access some funds that we'd be able to access if we were a bicultural college, particularly federal funds. Provincially and regionally, any kinds of funds that we can access, we certainly do.
Remember, though, that we are competing with colleges in the province as a whole, so it may be much more compelling or much more visible for a lower mainland or Island college to receive those funds. Often it's hard to get the attention of folks, because we are rural and remote.
I. Black: I just wanted to take a lead from MLA Simpson's question. The fund he was referring to was the $100 million first nations trust that was established last year, and it is at the discretion of the first nations community to direct that money in a variety of ways. This would be an excellent avenue for that, for their consideration, so I would encourage you to engage them in a dialogue at that level.
My question is going to the next level. I'm looking for and was listening for a mention of cooperation from, endorsement from or partnership with the first nations communities. It's not here. Could you expand on that and where that's at? You're positioning this as an aboriginal-bicultural institution, and yet it's that formalized partnership that seems to be lacking, from what you've told us so far. Can you touch on that topic, and give a sense of where you are with that?
D. Ready: Absolutely. We have affiliation agreements with 12 individual bands. We have programs in probably 12 to 16 of the 26 aboriginal communities in our region. We have a first nations council who advises the college board, and the chair of the first nations council sits on our college board. Our board is 40 percent first nations individuals, and we pride ourselves on having an initiative to hire first nations people in our college. You're right; it's something missing from there, and I'm really glad you brought it up. Thank you.
I. Black: Those are very compelling stats that you just gave me. I would encourage you to include them in that.
D. Ready: Yes, absolutely.
B. Bennett (Chair): Diane, thank you very much. I'm a big fan of your college, incidentally. When I was mines minister I spent lots of time in Smithers mostly, but down this way as well. I have the T-shirt, and had I thought it would go well with this tie, I would have worn it.
Our next witness is His Worship, Mayor Jack Talstra, representing the city of Terrace. Welcome to the committee, Jack. It's good to see you again.
J. Talstra: Thank you very much, and I welcome the committee to Terrace. It's good to see all of you here. I know many of you have been here before, and I know that some of you have been municipal leaders in a previous life, so it's a pleasure for me to address you.
I'm also the chair of the regional district of Kitimat-Stikine, and both the city of Terrace and the regional district feel that this is one of the top priorities that we should be addressing in the coming year. You have already been presented with that issue by Diana Penner, but it's
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to do with diking and the erosion problems that we've had in this region.
The one sheet of paper I have here is basically what we're going to submit to Minister Les when we are down at the UBCM conference next week in Vancouver. We'll be talking to some cabinet ministers about this issue.
I'd just like to read the page to you, and then I have some other comments as well.
The greater Terrace region has a population of over 20,000 people. The community provides public and private services to a population base in excess of 95,000. The community is strategically located to the Port of Prince Rupert, port of Kitimat and resource development projects in communities along the Highway 37 corridor.
We're actually a meeting place between Highway 37 going north and south, up to Whitehorse and down to Kitimat, and also along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
The recent floods from the Skeena River, as well as the slides along Highway 16, have again impacted the city of Terrace, the regional district and the economy of the northwest, and threatened the economic revival of our region. You may know that we are the last area of the province that's not booming, but it's starting to come. We don't want to jeopardize that revival.
In the last eight years the Skeena River has risen over its banks three times. The floodwaters of 2007 were by far the highest in recent memory. If it had not been for the investment by the province in the building of new dikes and the reinforcement of existing dikes, the damage sustained by the community would have been significantly worse than we experienced.
In order to assist in preventing future flooding and highway closures, the city of Terrace and Kitimat-Stikine regional district are requesting support from the province on the following initiatives.
(1) The work undertaken by the province in preventive diking was a tremendous success. The city of Terrace and Kitimat-Stikine regional district would like to engage in completing the work already started to protect the community from future high-water events.
In order to complete this work, we are requesting that diking be included as projects that qualify for the federal-provincial-municipal infrastructure program. We believe the citizens of our area would be prepared to contribute equally to a program that provided greater security for the population and businesses of the region.
(2) In order to determine the amount of work required to provide security to the community, an engineering assessment will need to be completed. This work would need to include the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas first nations, as their communities border on the Skeena River and/or its tributaries. The cost of this work is estimated to be approximately $200,000. We would request your support and participation in having all four levels of government participate equally in the cost of an engineering study.
If you turn to the first page, with the nice pictures, what you see in the top picture is our sewage lagoons. We were very thankful to Minister Les and to the Premier when they initiated a pre-emptive program. I mean, we all knew this flooding was coming. We knew it was coming to the Fraser Valley, and it would be coming to the Skeena River valley as well. To free up some money ahead of time is something that I think hasn't been done for a number of years.
Some of you that were in municipal politics years ago might remember that there was a program at one time, but there hasn't been, to the best of our knowledge, such a program lately until I guess the province sat down and spoke to the federal government as well, and they were able to anticipate some hot spots and free up some money.
We received $200,000 to provide some more embankment around the sewage lagoons before the flooding came. We appreciate that very much because without it, those lagoons probably would have been lost and a third of our town probably would have had backup of sewage. It probably would have been damages in the millions of dollars, so that was very much appreciated.
There was also an area in the regional district that received $700,000 to upgrade a dike along Queensway and Thornhill. Again, that was very, very timely because it prevented probably 200 homes from being flooded in that particular area. So you have that program starting to come. We would certainly encourage the government to continue with that sort of program.
Then of course, you have the program of PEP, provincial emergency program. When your house looks like it's going to flood away down the river, you can get some funding to try and prevent that from happening in the next 24 hours or whatever it is. We did receive $400,000 to save one of our streets, Kerr Street, from erosion that was happening. We appreciated that as well. Plus, there was $100,000 contributed to the regional district to deal with some areas there while the flooding was going on.
It seems that flooding is starting to be the norm. I don't know if it's global warming or not, or whatever it might be. We've had a lot of flooding in the last seven or eight years, and we're trying now to look at a pre-emptive program, maybe amortized over 20 years. Some sort of program that will alleviate that and save some of our top….
We don't have a lot of agricultural land in this area, but what we do have, the top-quality agricultural land, is of course along the riverbanks. I've lived in Terrace over 50 years, and I know there have been thousands of acres eroded over those years that have flooded down the Skeena, never to be seen again.
I know there's some talk now, if we peer into the future a little bit, about trying to farm closer to home, trying to save the emissions of large trucks transporting food from the lower mainland and so on. I think it's very important for our children and our children's children to maintain the farmland that we have. Even if we don't have flooding per se, we have continuous erosion all the time as that water goes down the river.
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We would really look at a long-term diking program and a long-term erosion preventive program. For example, if we did dike, as Diana Penner alluded to, around our agricultural land here in Terrace — we haven't done the studies, so these are not precise figures by any means, but a quick and dirty look at it — it would probably be $18 million.
Now, the city's share would be $6 million, say, under the program we're suggesting. If we were able to do that over 20 years or so, we could do piece by piece, although piece by piece is sometimes dangerous when you're doing diking. But we could look at it piece by piece and have that done in 20 years or something, and we could afford it. We could afford our third share in the city of Terrace if we were able to tap into that kind of a program.
It doesn't have to be the infrastructure program. That's only a suggestion on our part. It might be difficult for the province to get it into that program, because I think you have to get the other province's participation and the federal government's participation. It doesn't matter what the program is called. We'd be prepared to stick our neck out and say that we could share that one-third, one-third, one-third basis.
That's what we're suggesting here — to have a line in the budget for 2008 and beyond that we can depend on, which we can tap into. We can slowly, over the years, get this diking completed.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks very much, Jack, for the presentation.
D. Hayer: Thank you, Your Worship. Thank you for coming and presenting to us again. Last four times I've been here, I heard you from here.
In Surrey we have the Fraser River going right beside my riding. We have Barnston Island. We're told it might sink in the water with the floods. I think it's important that we not only fix the dikes but that we also do the dredging. Otherwise, the river just keeps rising.
Going around the province, everywhere else I hear the economy is really booming. This is one of the areas that was slow to pick up. Now the Prince Rupert port is open. I talk to people all the time. If you want a good investment, this is the year to come in. In Surrey just to buy a little lot for a house is $400,000 to $450,000.
How is the economy going here? Are you seeing the changes turning it around?
J. Talstra: It's starting to pick up. Of course, we had the downturn in forestry here. We are still a resource-based community around forestry. We had the pulp mill go down in Prince Rupert and all the sawmills that go with it.
The largest sawmill here in Terrace went to auction a couple of years ago. You can see a flat piece of land in our town now where a sawmill used to be. It probably employed 250 people. Then you have the same number of people in the forest, in the bush, so that's probably 500 primary jobs that have been lost in our community. That was a real blow for us.
We seem to be diversifying a bit now. The Port of Prince Rupert is going to help us to some extent. We don't know to what extent, but it has picked up the optimism in our area. The $2 billion modernization of Alcan in Kitimat will pick up this area. There's also in excess of $2 billion in mining activity going on just north of us with NovaGold starting up and other mining projects taking a look. That is really picking up our economy.
Our assessments have risen 32 percent from last year, so we're starting to catch up with the rest of the province now. You could buy a very good three-bedroom basement home for $150,000 to $180,000 at one time. Today it's probably $250,000 and heading into the $300,000 range. We're moving in that direction, as is the rest of the province.
We have a lot of optimism, but we have a lot of work to do yet as well.
B. Simpson: Thanks, Jack. It's good to see you again.
When you were talking about the old diking program…. I was actually a member of the Fraser River basin start-up committee with Premier Gordon Campbell when he was mayor of Vancouver. The Premier still calls it FRBSUC, which is the acronym, and it makes everybody cringe. That was an attempt to actually reinstate that diking program, and it wasn't as successful as people had hoped it would be.
With respect to a diking program…. You raised the issue of climate change. Of course, one of the things we've been asked to do is get feedback on what would constitute a green budget, a budget that addresses the issues of climate change. I think that for communities like yours, and particularly the picture with your sewage lagoons, it's that whole issue of infrastructure adaptation to these kinds of events and whatever the future may hold with that.
I'm curious about the whole way that we resource, or assist communities to resource, these kinds of things without always having to go and figure out how to fit a senior-level government program of some kind.
Effectively, you're asking for a diking program to come back, but you're still putting communities in the position where they're going to have to go and figure out if theirs fits. And as you've said, is it an incremental diking program, or can we actually have a broad plan that we know is committed to over the next couple of years?
The final comment I'll make before I ask my question is…. You also said you're willing to go the one-third, one-third, one-third. But you've got a federal government sitting on a fairly large surplus. You've got a provincial government sitting on a large surplus. Municipalities are facing a declining industrial tax base and then having to shift more of that tax base to their property holders.
Do we need to rethink that whole scene? How do we engage communities in a way that we give them access to resources without them having to pigeonhole their infrastructure issues and their adaptation strategies that we have to do? I think that's really the issue we've got here. What are your thoughts on that?
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J. Talstra: Yeah, we probably do have to rethink our whole strategy, I would think. The reason we've stuck our neck out and said we're willing to contribute a third.… I think it's something new, because normally municipalities will tell you that this is a provincial-federal problem — right?
We're so desperate here to want to solve this problem not just now but for the future, because we think flooding is going to continue to come in our region for whatever reason. So we're willing to say: "If no one else will come to the table, I guess we're going to have to show some leadership and be willing to say that we'll come to the table, at least to a one-third share."
You know, a lot of smaller municipalities probably can't afford anything. But we're willing to stick out our neck and say: "To get this going, let's make a contribution."
If you want to do it right, you've got to look at the whole Skeena River system, for example, from where it starts to where it flows into the sea. Really, you should have a comprehensive plan that will work itself out over the years.
That dike around Terrace, for example, should be built in one year, really. But it's a lot of money. Unless there's an innovative program from senior governments that would allow that — say, interest-free loans here or something to that effect — no municipality can do it. It's very dangerous to do it piecemeal, and you'd have to have a very good study beforehand.
One thing we're asking for, actually, is a study to see how we should tackle this issue to make sure that a piece of dike you do doesn't get swamped when there's a flood, and taken out. I think you need a comprehensive long-term plan, and then you need to have some funding commitments for it.
B. Bennett (Chair): Randy, do you have a quick question?
R. Hawes: Certainly, what I'm pushing for — put it this way — is a provincial flood mitigation strategy that addresses exactly what you're talking about. A long-term plan for the whole province, not just for the Skeena or any other….
There was some modelling done by the Ministry of Environment along the Fraser to say: "If there were a major breach of the dikes in the Fraser River, what would happen and what would be the cost?" The calculation was, worst-case scenario, $6 billion.
Just in the Fraser, it's several hundred million dollars to build the dike system that has to be there, along with — as Dave said — some dredging and some other mitigation work that needs to be done. But in the face of a $6 billion downside, it seems to me to make some sense that we better get on this.
What I would like to suggest to Jack is, and I don't know whether…. I gather you'll be talking to Minister Les again, probably at UBCM?
J. Talstra: Yes.
R. Hawes: It would seem to me that the mayors certainly along the Fraser — and there are other parts of the province that have the same problem, Prince George and other areas — need to get together, because there is power in numbers, and sit down with the minister and then sit down with the federal government, because this has to be a partnership.
J. Talstra: We have a resolution going to UBCM as well, and that might be the body that could sit down with….
R. Hawes: I have great fear, after serving for quite a long time at the local level, about resolutions that come forward at UBCM, because they never really seem to go anywhere. They're nice, friendly things, you know.
J. Talstra: But they represent all the municipalities.
R. Hawes: They make you feel good, but they never seem to go anywhere, and nothing ever seems to come of them. It just seems to me that at this point we need a little bit more than just a resolution from UBCM that goes off into the nether area. We need to have an actual sit-down and a formal commitment to say: "Let's move ahead together."
I know that Minister Les wants that commitment from the feds and is wanting to work with the municipalities. So he gets this. The feds have to get it. So maybe we need to work together in bigger numbers.
B. Bennett (Chair): We can have this former mayor and current mayor pick this up after the meeting if you want — we've got some time this afternoon — but that was a good discussion. Jack, thank you for coming in.
Oh, don't forget the large surplus that Minister Taylor just announced not long ago. Government will obviously have to make some decisions on what they're going to do with that as well.
We have one person who has indicated interest in speaking to us under the open-mike portion of our meeting. If Yvonne Nielsen could come forward.
Good morning. Yvonne, this portion of the meeting allows us to provide you with five minutes to speak to the committee.
Y. Nielsen: That's all I have. I was presented this last year. That's to do with the disability status on the BCID card for people with a permanent disability, which includes physical and mental disabilities.
I would like to see, in the 2008 budget, money put towards the already existing BCID card to add onto the back of the ID card a person's disabilities, similar to the way restrictions are put on a driver's licence. This information on the card is voluntary. If a person does not want this information on the card, they don't have to.
Why the information on the BCID card? People who have a hidden or visible permanent disability living in B.C. do not have legal proof to show they have a permanent disability. I've enclosed the mission statement
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on disability status on the BCID card, and there is more information there.
This issue has been going on since 1989. People with a permanent disability need the added info on the BCID card. I've enclosed the application proposal in the package.
Over the years more and more people are asking for the info on the card. I have enclosed some supports. The Canadian Disabled Individuals Association supports this issue. Even the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is saying the same thing for an ID verification. Then other supports I've got are from the former Terrace RCMP inspector, the Terrace city council, the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and the former B.C. Office of Disability Issues.
This issue will not go away. In fact, let's have B.C. be the first province to have such a card. B.C. already has the BCID card. Now all that needs to be done is an add-on on the back of the card — the person's disability and the parents.
This issue has been brought up to various select standing committees over the years and has fallen on deaf ears. The B.C. government has to wake up and listen to us who have a permanent disability. A petition was given to the B.C. government. This issue was also through the B.C. Human Rights Commission.
We, the survivors of a permanent disability, deserve respect, and the ID cards would improve our quality of life. All we are asking for is an ID card to show proof that we have a permanent disability, for whatever reason. This issue has to be resolved now.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Yvonne. You mentioned that you presented last year.
Y. Nielsen: Last year, and a lot of the same people here. Here's the BCID card, and just like a driver's licence, you put the information on the back. All I'm asking for is legal proof. I was injured nearly 20 years ago, and I have no legal proof to show that I have a permanent disability.
B. Bennett (Chair): Just sit tight for a minute, and we may have a question or two.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much for presenting again this year. I remember your presentation from last year.
I think what we did clarify last year was that you were asking that this be a voluntary thing. I think some people were concerned that if it was mandatory, people might feel that they were being stigmatized or singled out and that they might be discriminated against on the basis of having that on the card.
Your proposal is that you could ask to have that put on for identification purposes.
Y. Nielsen: That's correct. What I'm asking for is legal proof. I have no evidence. B.C. has the BCID card, and all you have to do is put it on the back. If people don't want it, they don't want it.
I'm always asked to verify that I have a permanent disability, and I'm not going to the doctor every time. In my package there's an application proposal. You can take some of that and put the information on the card. It's just like a driver's licence. You've got the restrictions on a driver's licence. That's all I'm asking for.
The BCID card is through ICBC. I don't know how it would work, but if you can find money to get that on the BCID card.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): A lot of good ideas to start here.
R. Hawes: Because this is the Finance Committee, just for my own edification, you're saying that if this were on there, it would actually save the province money, because you wouldn't have to go to the doctor to get a letter or whatever.
Y. Nielsen: That's correct.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Yvonne. I appreciate it. That ends our witnesses for today's hearing here in Terrace.
The committee adjourned at 11:50 a.m.
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