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, October 10, 2007
Present: Bill Bennett, MLA (Chair); Bruce Ralston, MLA (Deputy Chair); Harry Bloy, MLA; Randy Hawes, MLA; Dave S. Hayer, MLA; John Horgan, MLA; Jenny Wai Ching Kwan, MLA; Bob Simpson, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Iain Black, MLA; Richard T. Lee, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:04 a.m.
2. Opening statements by Mr. Bill Bennett, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
|2)||British Columbia Construction Association||Manley MacLachlan|
|3)||Okanagan College Students' Union||David Lubbers|
|4)||Meyers Norris Penny LLP||
|5)||Dr. Eugene Krupa|
|6)||University of British Columbia Students' Union – Okanagan||Krystal Smith|
|7)||BC Food Processors Association||S. Anthony Toth|
|9)||Royal Roads University||Dr. Allan Cahoon|
|10)||British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association||
|11)||North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society||John Belfie|
|12)||Canadian Taxpayers Federation||Maureen Bader|
|13)||University Presidents Council of British Columbia||
4. The Committee adjourned at 11:41 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, OCTOBER 10, 2007
Issue No. 57
|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:||Al Horning (Kelowna–Lake Country L)|
|Committee Staff:||Jacqueline Quesnel (Committees Assistant)|
[ Page 1415 ]
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2007
The committee met at 8:04 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Good morning, gentlemen. Good to see you out early this morning. My name is Bill Bennett. I'm the MLA for East Kootenay, and I'm Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. This is our committee, and I'll allow them to introduce themselves to you.
D. Hayer: Good morning. I'm Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.
B. Simpson: Bob Simpson, MLA for Cariboo North.
H. Bloy: Harry Bloy, MLA for Burquitlam.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley and Deputy Chair of the committee.
J. Horgan: John Horgan, MLA for Malahat–Juan de Fuca.
J. Kwan: Jenny Kwan, MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
R. Hawes: Randy Hawes, MLA for Maple Ridge–Mission.
B. Bennett (Chair): We are being assisted today by our Clerk, Les Gönye, who is from the Legislature of New South Wales in Australia. We're also assisted today by Jacqueline Quesnel, in the back at the back table, and our two friends from Hansard Services who record this and stream the meeting audio out over the Internet.
The Minister of Finance for B.C. is required to release a budget consultation paper by the 15th of September each year. She did that. That budget consultation paper provides a description of fiscal and economic conditions and identifies the key issues that need to be addressed by the public in preparation of the next budget.
Our job as the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is to go out and carry out those public consultations on the minister's behalf. This all-party committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly not later than November 15 of this year.
There are a variety of ways you can make submissions. If you're not satisfied with the submission you make here today, or even if you are and you want to make another submission, you can do that on the Internet, or else you can just simply type one up and fax it to us or mail it to us. But you have to have your submissions in by Friday, October 19.
I think that's enough of my introductory comments for this morning. I think we should get started.
Domenic, I believe you're the first witness.
D. Rampone: I'd like to thank the committee for allowing me to speak. It's always nice to put names to faces. When I see your names in the paper or on the radio and stuff, it's always a pleasure to put the name.
I'm a local farmer in the area here. Our family has been farming in Kelowna since 1893, and we hope to continue. There are now six generations on our farm. I personally am an independent farmer. I'm not representing any group or any association.
The agricultural budget has decreased over the last few years. We should increase this to keep up with the demand for high quality and safe food. The agricultural industry in this province should be supported at the same levels as other countries around the world. When you hear reports and talk to other farmers, they seem to support the agriculture at a higher level than we do in the province.
We as a society should be worried that we are not supporting the primary food production at a level that the farmers of this province can make a reasonable standard of living. When I've talked to some relatives…. Our heritage is from Italy. Some of the items that they do to preserve olive oil production in Italy are quite substantial. If you can appreciate, olive oil to the Italians is quite important. They support it by the fact that they guarantee them, I understand, a price per litre of olive oil. They also get to sell them on the open market and keep that.
I've come up with some ideas, and I've really thought about this a lot. Times when you're on the tractor and hoeing the products that you grow….
Make money available for programs that assist farmers in being innovative with their farming practices and in seeking new items to grow that make economic sense. For example, the increased production of garlic. When you go into the stores, there seems to be a shortage of garlic in British Columbia. You see garlic from China and France. I think we should try to encourage and try to have programs to have farmers to encourage products like that.
Some ideas I thought of too. Give farmers tax credit for reducing their water usage — i.e., drip irrigation. Some of the fruit farmers in this area with drip irrigation have used half the water they allotted from their irrigation district, and they get the same production of products. Rather than give subsidies for that, I think tax credits to them for doing that kind of thing would be the best usage of tax dollars.
Another example I came up with is tax credits for purchasing new tractors. Some of the newer tractors don't pollute the environment as much as the older tractors. But when a farmer buys a new tractor, there is no real incentive to do that.
Farmers should be given tax credits for planting trees and crops that help clean the air. Can you imagine how the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan Valley would be without farmland purifying the air?
I think the regional districts and the local municipal governments sometimes don't give credit to the trees
[ Page 1416 ]
— especially in the Okanagan Valley, in the East Kelowna area — that purify the air. Nothing's mentioned in any advertising or any promotions or anything that's done that that farm area helps keep the air clean.
Adequate funding for extension programs that assist the agricultural industry. A lot of the extension programs over the past have been cut. I used them years ago. As a young adult I relied on information from the Ministry of Agriculture people for different things wrong with the crop. Now it's really difficult. You either have to pay for it yourself — and that's a real….
There are a lot of retired agricultural specialists with the Ministry of Agriculture that have gone into private consulting now. They're outstanding people, and I really think that should be funded.
Increase funding to have ministry staff in every office in the province. It's my understanding that there is no professional ministry staff in the Oliver office, for example, which is the wine capital of Canada. This area is covered by a staff member in Kelowna. It seems to me that this is an example of spending more time on the road than actually working. I really think that's important because people do rely on them for their expertise.
Increase funding for the transition process to licensed abattoirs. Some areas of the province have none. For example, the one in Kelowna has closed down, and there's nothing available. If a local farmer has one cow that he needs to slaughter, he has to transport it to Falkland or Salmon Arm.
Have a budget item to specifically fund chickens in your back yard or small-lot agriculture. This would assist in having no transportation costs for produce, and if there are some transportation costs, they would be directly reduced.
I know the regional district of Central Okanagan has hired an agricultural officer to try to help people that have…. There are a lot of small acreages around the province, not here also. I know they've done a big promotion in the district of Kent with small-lot agriculture. They seemed to be quite successful with it because there are some products that are quite profitable.
There was a fellow that — we also have a fruit stand on our farm — grew these outstanding blackberries up here. They sold. He was making a good profit per pound on them. I think that should be encouraged and funded to get the small-lot people aware of what products are out there.
Adequate funding for promotions. I've talked to Minister Bell about this, and there are some encouraging things coming. It used to be called Buy B.C. Now I think it's referred to as ActNow.
In this morning's paper there was an ad for ActNow B.C. encouraging people to eat nutritious food. I thought it was an outstanding ad. One component, I think, was missing. It didn't say: "Buy B.C. produce."
I also wrote a letter last year to the Interior Health Authority complimenting them on their ads on the local TV about nutritious food and how we should eat it. But they never mentioned to buy local B.C. food, which is very safe to eat. I think we should do that as a society — promote it in all our ads. We're promoting the nutrition but not promoting buying local B.C. fruit.
The other thing, too, is that I think that we as a society…. When I've talked to different people, they're not aware of some of the great things that are happening in agriculture. In this area everybody is aware of the wine, but nobody, not even some of the local municipal and city politicians, is aware that the research station in Summerland is the leading research station for sweet cherries in the world.
I think we need to promote that both the provincial and federal governments are funding an outstanding program like that. I really think we have to blow our own horn on that.
I think we're in the top five producers of blueberries and cranberries in the world. Most people in the province don't know that. As farmers and as elected officials, provincially or federally, when we're talking to different people, I really think we tend to have to blow our own horn that there are some awesome things happening in agriculture in the province.
I sit on the Agricultural Advisory Committee as a farmer for the city of Kelowna. We had a tour of the area two years ago. Val Roddick happened to be here, and she and Al Horning — I can't remember the other member — were on the tour.
From Oyama to Peachland in this area there are 10,000 head of cattle. Most people don't even realize that there is a bit of a cattle industry in the Central Okanagan. I think we have to promote that aspect — that we are a viable thing.
The other thing. I did write a letter last year through Sindi Hawkins to the minister. They have this circle tour that says "mountains and vineyards." You see it on the highway sometimes. I said that there's one component I think is missing there. It should be "mountains, orchards and vineyards."
When you drive — and this is the fault of the industry, too, I think — up and down the valley, you could drive right down Harvey Avenue through the city of Kelowna and not know that there are many apples grown, not know that there's a bunch of things. I think we have to promote that more than we do.
I've used the example sometimes that, when you're travelling in the United States, you know that you're in Gilroy, California. You know that you're in Nebraska, in corn country. But you'll also notice that in 1967 some girls' softball team won the state championship. I think we have to promote what we do a little bit better with a lot of things.
One more point, and then I'm finished. As a society, let's fund the agricultural industry properly, and let's never complain about farmers with our mouths full.
B. Bennett (Chair): That's a good point to end it on. We have some questions.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Given that the question of water in the valley is a long-term problem and likely to get worse, not better, I'm interested in your idea on
[ Page 1417 ]
tax credits. Could you just briefly describe how that might work, to your mind — a tax credit for reducing water usage by using drip irrigation?
D. Rampone: For example, now, it can't necessarily be a tax credit from the irrigation district because sometimes those tax…. Even though some farmers I think complain about it…. In some of the major irrigation districts over here, they may pay $100 an acre for water, which I personally think is an all right fee.
If you say: "Okay, if you reduce your usage, we're going to give you a tax credit on your income tax, on the provincial portion, when you fill out your…." I'm not sure how the formula would work, but something like that to recognize that you're reducing water for the area. I don't know how that would flow, but I think it could.
I even contacted the water committee for the city of Kelowna and said: "You guys have advertising about the water reduction on lawns and how you do that, but how come you don't give credit to the farmer guy?" With the farmer reducing that water, it's flowing eventually into Okanagan Lake and is used for domestic purposes. There's got to be some credit given back to the farmer. I'm not sure how it would flow, but I think it should be on the income tax.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Domenic. We always have your local MLAs Al Horning and Sindi Hawkins promoting your local fruit, bringing it to the caucus. And they're always trying to promote your local wines. They're very hard-working MLAs.
In this presentation you made, you talked about giving credits. Have you put any thought into how much money government should set aside or how much money what you're trying to suggest will cost the government?
D. Rampone: No, I haven't, because I'm not too familiar with how it would work in northern B.C. or the Kootenays or the Fraser Valley. I haven't really thought about it. You know, I think you'd have to analyze. Obviously, you can't have everything, but I think the tax credit formula would be a way to flow money through and encourage people to do those innovative things.
In the past I've seen some agricultural programs when it's been, for example, per pound for apples or per pound for potatoes or something that everybody gets. This encourages the good farmers and the farmers that are really innovative and want to make it work — an incentive to put those things in.
J. Horgan: Thank you very much for coming in and sharing your ideas with us today. I represent an area called the Cowichan Valley, which is predominantly agricultural, and I hear some of the arguments that you put forward today all the time. Innovation, conservation, promotion — those are touchstones, I think, for the government of Canada, the government of British Columbia — past, present and probably future. But when the rubber hits the road, it never seems to make it down to the community.
I see that we have Mr. Toth coming up after you. My question revolves around the notion of food security. When governments, both federal and provincial, stepped into the agricultural arena in the past 12 months or the past 24 months, it was certainly by my constituents' standards in a destructive way with respect to the abattoir regulations.
I wonder if you could, in advance of Mr. Toth, lay out how, in your mind, the government could have done a better job or how they could do a better job now easing in these regulations so they're not closing down small abattoirs and forcing producers to go farther and farther afield to get their animals dealt with.
D. Rampone: The one licensed abattoir that's really close to our house was run by Norm Dais. A couple of times I suggested that he contact the government and contact local media to get his story told. He didn't want to. He was close to retirement and stuff. He was having this abattoir…. He was renting it out to the Casorso family, which is another old family in the Kelowna area that has been here 100-plus years.
It was all licensed. Everything was good. He never had a problem. But he had to remodel this thing to have an office for the Canadian Food Inspection, and had to spend all that money to do that. There was no assistance for that for him.
The other major thing was that when he disposed of the carcasses, the city of Kelowna was going to charge him in excess of $100 per animal to dispose of the carcass in the local landfill. Well, it made it prohibitive. I contacted the local waste reduction people here, saying that there's got to be some better way to do that.
Like I say, now you've got to transport from here. Over the years we've had cattle and that kind of stuff, and now you've got to transport them to Lavington or Salmon Arm. If you're talking about a green environment, the environmental costs of transporting this all over the area….
There should be, I think, those incentives to build the infrastructure — to say: "Okay, there's going to be a 50-percent or a 40-percent grant" — similar to what they do with the environmental farm plan, which I think is a really good thing. We benefited from it. We filled out the environmental farm plan, and we got a 50-percent grant for a deer fence we had to put around our cherries.
The same sort of thing could be tied to the…. You have to have some responsibility to have your farm safe. In return for that, there may some grants available to fund, to upgrade those types of things, which aren't available now.
B. Bennett (Chair): Domenic, can I ask you just to sit tight for a minute?
Is our next presenter here?
J. Horgan: I say we keep going on farming. That's my vote. We've got an agricultural representative that's
[ Page 1418 ]
just the best we've had so far. I say we go until we run out of time.
B. Bennett (Chair): Well, we're out of time, in terms of the 15 minutes. It's up.
Domenic, we do appreciate you coming here this morning, and we look forward to Tony Toth's presentation, if he makes it here this morning.
Like my colleague, I have a lot of agriculture where I come from as well. I'm certainly familiar with the issues that you raise. You make some good points, and I think that with all of the interest in reducing greenhouse gases, we also should be having a look at what we can do to encourage farmers and ranchers so that the food that people consume doesn't have to be transported so far. That's another issue that I'm sure government will look at. Thank you for coming in.
I think that since Mr. Toth isn't here and British Columbia Construction Association is, with Mr. MacLachlan….
I think we should go ahead with you, Mr. MacLachlan. Good morning. I'll just let you fire away.
M. MacLachlan: Okay. I do have a handout for the committee this morning, and of course, it would take me longer than ten minutes to work my way through it, so I'll leave it with you.
There are five recommendations that we're touching on in this presentation — they're all summarized at the end — dealing with issues around infrastructure; investment; development of the existing workforce, including immigration and the use of temporary workers; and support of the training system. What I'd like to concentrate my ten minutes on are issues that have arisen over the last number of years around construction procurement.
Just as a little bit of background, we do represent about 1,800 contractors — in fact, in excess of 1,800 employers in the construction industry across British Columbia. Our members work in northern B.C., in the southern interior here, on the Island and, of course, in the Vancouver regional area. We are an inclusive organization that is not labour relations–related. Our members are both union and open-shop contractors.
One of our primary functions is to deal with the systems that the industry operates within. Over time BCCA has been instrumental in developing and maintaining what we call industry standard documents and the support of standard practices.
The issue around what we're describing as fiscal responsibility of publicly funded construction. We're encouraging this government to focus on ensuring that public construction is undertaken by its agents and its agencies in a manner that utilizes existing industry-accepted standard construction policies and procedures.
Standard practices and procedures simply translate into good business. They provide equity for all parties by appropriately apportioning liability and ensure the most transparent and accountable use of public funds.
The provincial government, as trustee of the taxpayers' dollars, must be able to monitor and ensure the use of accepted tendering procedures whenever such dollars are involved in a construction project. This, again, is simply sound policy.
We encourage the government to entrench the principles of transparency and fairness, including the use of standard tendering documents, in all tendering procedures funded through public moneys, regardless of the procurement method.
BCCA predicted problems within the tendering process when the provincial government moved towards greater autonomy for local governments in 2001. Our concern lay in the loss of established equitable provincewide standard tendering policies and procedures.
Shortly after taking office, this government introduced the capital asset management framework as the guidelines for governance, service delivery, risk management, accounting and reporting. The framework included three components. However, the third critical component of the framework — that being a range of practical tools such as technical guidelines, sample documents, templates and manuals — has never been introduced.
This fact, along with the government's move to decentralize construction procurement, has produced an environment where individual ministries and local government agencies were allowed to establish their own construction procurement procedures. Such decentralization has proven to be problematic for both industry and public agencies that purchase construction services.
Most public agencies recognize a diminishing construction procurement expertise within their ranks, resulting in a dependence on outside consultants, who often are out of touch with industry trends and positions relevant to liability and risk management. Through downsizing and government realignment, procurement expertise within government, in our opinion, has also been decimated.
As a result, ministries and public agencies are outsourcing their procurement processes to organizations or independent consulting firms who, while reported to have the ear of government and policy-makers, are simply not in tune with current accepted industry practices.
The introduction of the new capital standard in the 2007 budget and the role of Partnerships B.C. relative to the capital standard have created confusion and uncertainty within the industry and its relationship with public buyers of construction services.
On the fourth of July this past summer, in response to concerns raised by industry about practices in use by public agencies, the Ministry of Finance announced and immediately implemented the capital procurement audit tool. The cover letter from Minister Taylor announcing the audit tool was addressed to the board chair of the 295 public agencies procuring construction services. However, it's very apparent that today few agencies are familiar with the content or the intent of that audit tool.
It's reported that there is no one government public document addressing the government's current capital procurement strategy, policies and standards. The documents are open to interpretation, and few stake-
[ Page 1419 ]
holders are aware of their existence, meaning or effect on their operations. Those documents are the capital asset management framework; the capital procurement checklist, which was the audit tool; the capital standard portion, which was included in the 2007 budget; and the Partnerships B.C. service plan. As a result, we're witnessing considerable confusion and, possibly, misinformation in the marketplace.
Standard practices and procedures mean good business. They provide equity for all parties by apportioning liability and ensuring the most transparent and accountable use of the public purse. Requiring that standard policies are adhered to guards against the inappropriate inclusion of such problems as local preference, hidden preferences, lack of transparency in contract award, and inequitable and oppressive liability and indemnity clauses — all of which have the potential to lead parties into a conflict and, ultimately, into the courtroom.
We would concede that it may be difficult to attract bidders in today's environment. The truth is that bad documents, bad schedules, difficult buyers along with bad business practices are the main reasons contractors choose not to bid a project.
The current superheated construction sector has produced many challenges, including skill shortages, that affect the capacity of builders to take on additional work. In the heated current moment, justification for off-site tendering practices, such as sole-sourcing, as a means of ensuring having a contractor on site make little sense and are simply bad business.
We would recommend that the government act quickly and expeditiously, working with industry in an open, transparent process to ensure that the principles of transparency and fairness, including the use of standard tendering documents, are imbedded and demonstrated in all tendering procedures funded through public moneys.
As I mentioned, we have five different areas with recommendations. Very quickly, on apprenticeship and trades training. It's clear that with $128 billion in major projects either underway or on the books here in British Columbia, we've got challenges around having the capacity to actually perform that work, so training is really a central focus.
We know that there have been considerable increases in the number of trainees. In fact, we've seen almost a 60-percent increase in the number of people working in the industry over the last few years. There are more people working in this industry today than in agriculture, forestry and fishing. It's a significant industry and a significant challenge for all of us in meeting the challenges around those major projects.
While government has bolstered the investment dollars into trades training, investments have usually been on a one-time basis. We believe it's critical that government recognize that additional dollars are required just to keep up with the training, let alone increase it any further. In order to maintain current training rates and increase those rates, government must address the cost associated with the necessary facility improvements in operating cost increases.
Many colleges continue to have long wait-lists. For example, the College of New Caledonia still has 599 people on the wait-list for trades training. Because apprentices cannot get into their classes, their training time lines are pushed out, forcing some apprentices into taking six years to complete a four-year program.
Finally, on the immigration and foreign worker area. We believe that this is a reasonable and strong part of the solution to British Columbia in solving, certainly, the construction industry's labour needs. We would encourage government to reinforce their commitment to the provincial nominee program to ensure that both employers and immigrants have timely access to the provincial nominee program. We believe that additional resources would not be wasted in improving the ability to provide service through the provincial nominee program.
I think I'll stop there. Again, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee, and I'd be pleased to answer any questions.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Mr. MacLachlan.
H. Bloy: Thank you for building British Columbia. How has it been, getting immigrant workers into Canada on the short-term basis? Are you frustrated with the process, or is it working?
M. MacLachlan: We recognize that this is the jurisdiction of the federal government. While the federal government has undertaken a number of initiatives to assist in streamlining their processes, there is still a great deal of frustration. The simple fact that a skilled master journeyperson in any trade in any area outside of Canada cannot accumulate enough points in the current scoring system to be eligible as an immigrant to Canada is a source of great frustration. That scoring system needs to be addressed.
In our involvement with the Canadian Construction Association, we know that the CCA has been a great advocate of this directly with the minister, although again, there are three agencies involved with the immigration process. Even the pursuit of the short term, if you will — the temporary foreign workers in the PNP program — at the federal level requires the involvement of Human Resource and Service Development Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and border security. While HRSD has certainly ratcheted up its process — the recent announcements around the accelerated labour market opinion process — the reality is that it still takes CIC and Border Services some time to process the applicants.
For the most part, as I say, we're very happy with the provincial nominee program because it does accelerate that process. We believe that there could be more resources committed to the PNP. We believe it's a great service that will accelerate the process.
R. Hawes: Thanks for the presentation. It was very interesting. I'm just curious what impact, in your opinion, TILMA will have on your industry as we move ahead.
[ Page 1420 ]
M. MacLachlan: We've undertaken an evaluation of TILMA. Certainly, we see that there's a great opportunity to…. The intent of TILMA, obviously, is to merge the two economies, if you will. The initial concerns were expressed around whether this would result in a lowering of standards — in other words, a rush to the bottom — in terms of accreditation and training standards. We're heartened by a recent conversation we've had with our counterparts in Alberta.
What BCCA has undertaken is a…. We're trying to do our own analysis of what this means for B.C. At the same time, we've partnered with the Alberta Construction Association, and they're doing their analysis on the Alberta side. What we've recognized is that while it's a high-level framework document, there's still a lot of detail that hasn't been put in place, and of course, issues generally arise in the details.
For the most part we accept TILMA and believe that it could be beneficial. We think there are some wrinkles that could appear, one of them being the application of provincial sales tax. When you've got a contractor coming out of a jurisdiction that doesn't have a provincial sales tax and working in a jurisdiction that does, we want to ensure that that doesn't create an advantage for that contractor in their purchase of equipment, machinery and that type of thing. But for the most part we are very supportive of the concept and are anxious to work through the details as they emerge.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): On page 4 of your presentation you mention the new capital standard that's set out in the February 2007 budget. I have it in front of me, and it says: "Provincial policy now requires public-private partnerships are the base case where the province will be contributing more than $20 million to the capital cost of a project."
You go on to say: "We're witnessing considerable confusion and, possibly, disinformation in the marketplace." Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
M. MacLachlan: The confusion, we believe, comes from the application of the standard and whether or not the P3 process is…. It's how that process is evaluated and how it's going to be applied in areas such as school districts. There clearly is, in our opinion, some confusion around the role that Partnerships B.C. is playing in relation to their involvement with those school districts, for example.
Just to go back to the other part of our presentation, where we spoke about the audit tool. We were involved in direct discussions with the Ministry of Finance, and we all — industry as well as the folks in Finance — acknowledged that there was an education piece that was required in this — either the application of the checklist or the audit tool and, in fact, the capital standard.
What we're calling for today is that education process. Our recommendation around the involvement of industry in the application of the standard and the application of the capital asset management framework: we believe that industry can play a role in that education process.
The other piece. I just want to reinforce that we're seeing a diminishing capacity within those agencies to manage procurement. That capacity is being diminished through retirement and realignment.
For instance, if you have a municipality where potentially the largest purchase the manager of that municipality has undertaken is a photocopier — I may be a little facetious in this — and then they have a new fire hall that's going to cost them $10 million to build, there is a lack of capacity or a diminished capacity to manage that process.
We believe that there's a clear need for some form of education process in place that requires not just the buyer's side of the equation but the supplier's side of the equation, which of course is industry.
B. Bennett (Chair): Mr. MacLachlan, thank you very much for your presentation.
The next witness is the Okanagan College Students Union, Mr. Lubbers.
D. Lubbers: Good morning. My name is David Lubbers. I'm the chairperson of the Okanagan College Students Union. Thank you again for this opportunity to share the concerns of students in the Okanagan in a constructive way and for allowing me to give our ideas and some alternative solutions for you.
Our students union represents approximately 5,000 students across a large geographical area, from Salmon Arm to Kelowna and Penticton. We don't just represent academic university transfer students but also students in professional programs such as licensed practical nurses, early childhood educators, trades students and business students.
Before I tell you what we would like to see in the 2008 budget, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the work that this committee has done in calling for the elimination of tuition fees for adult basic education in 2007. I'd like to thank everybody here who's a member of the government for this huge, huge event. I think that you've done a great job in making an impact on students' lives, allowing people to have a second chance. Thank you very much for that.
Now let's look at the future. Students at Okanagan College have four priorities for the coming year, and these priorities are shared by post-secondary students throughout British Columbia. The priorities are, in order of importance: (1) the reduction of tuition fees by 10 percent for the 2008-2009 year, (2) the implementation of a system of non-repayable grants in B.C. that provide upfront funding for part-time students as well as full-time students, (3) the elimination of interest on B.C. student loans and (4) increased funding for B.C.'s post-secondary education system that accounts for inflation.
As I go through I'd like to talk a little bit about the people who maybe wouldn't be here or who maybe aren't here going to school with me anymore. In some ways I'm lucky. I've been around the post-secondary education system for a long time.
[ Page 1421 ]
When I graduated, I thought university was where I wanted to be. I was wrong. I went and worked for about ten years before I came back and discovered that university was for me. So I remember what tuition fees were like in '97, and they're considerably more now than they were.
I grew up in a pretty small town that didn't have a lot of money. I wonder where some of the people I went to school with would be now, given their economic situation then, if tuition fees were as much then as they are now. They probably wouldn't be RCMP officers or pilots or helping to build orphanages. They wouldn't be doing a lot of those things, and they wouldn't be contributing to the B.C. government's economy — our economy.
By investing in post-secondary education systems, we will improve B.C.'s diverse economic potentials and ensure that this province has a flexible and adaptable workforce. I hear a lot of people — well, not a lot of people, just two — talk about where the economy would like to go and where we want to see it go, but none of those things are possible unless we have people who are educated and qualified to perform the jobs we'd like them to do.
If we're not willing as British Columbians to reinvest in that, we're never going to see what we want to see out of this province. We're never going to achieve our goals.
Today tuition and ancillary fees remain the most significant barrier to acquiring a post-secondary education. In British Columbia the average university student pays nearly $5,000 in tuition and ancillary fees, while college, university college and institute students pay an average of just over $3,400.
The current tuition fee policy, which caps annual fee increases at 2 percent, has done nothing to reduce the cost of post-secondary education and has instead sent the message to potential students and families that post-secondary education will remain out of their reach for the foreseeable future. Students at B.C. post-secondary institutions will pay $963 million in tuition fees this year, of which $18 million is a result of the 2-percent increase in tuition fees.
The government should feel confidence in adopting a policy to reduce tuition fees for post-secondary education. The policy continues to receive widespread support, with public opinion polling showing that 80 percent of British Columbians support the idea of reducing tuition fees.
In addition, numerous academic studies conclude that post-secondary education spending is a wise investment in a region's economy. You don't have to do a lot of research to see how investment in post-secondary education has been a real boon to other economies, particularly in Europe. While we are aware that the provincial economy is strong, the government should use this time of economic growth to invest in provincial programs which steel families against future periods of economic decline.
Here in the Okanagan the board of governors of Okanagan College has seen fit to freeze tuition fees for the past two years. Good for them. However, despite this measure, the fact remains that Okanagan College is the second most expensive college in British Columbia, exceeded only by Capilano College. The tuition fees faced by people here in the Okanagan who are considering post-secondary education constitute a significant financial barrier to entry into the system.
Next, student debt and grants. This is important as well. In Canada more than half of all post-secondary students require some financial assistance. Three-quarters of those receiving student loans believe they would be unable to participate in higher education without this assistance.
In British Columbia the average student debt upon graduation has increased dramatically from being the lowest in Canada, at $18,000 in 2001, to today's high of $27,000, the second highest in the country. It's a shame to see an economy that's doing as well as British Columbia's is not doing more to correct that. Why are we the second worst in the country when we should be the best?
Rising tuition fees coupled with the absence of a need-based grants program has proven to be disastrous for those students who depend on the student financial assistance programs. This past year B.C. Budget 2007 included a $23 million cut in funding for student financial assistance. While the number of available college and university seats has risen over the past four years, student loan applications in British Columbia have fallen by close to 40 percent, which students understand to be a clear indication of the socioeconomic impact of rising tuition fees.
The moneys for the B.C. loan reduction program, funded by the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, will be discontinued in 2008. If these moneys are not replaced by a federal grant or direct allocation of B.C. moneys in budget 2008, the effect will be significant.
The Ministry of Advanced Education is currently undertaking a review of the student financial aid system in British Columbia. It is our sincere hope that this committee recognizes the devastating personal and societal effects of inhibiting half of the current generation of college and university graduating students with this debt.
I have some other things here, but since I only have about 30 seconds left, I'll wrap it up.
Student debt, student loans and tuition fees are important barriers. They're barriers that prevent people — maybe not people you know but people I know — from going to school and doing things that we need them to do in the economy, from being members of an economy.
Student loan interest. The interest on student loans is higher than the rate that you can get them at. Why are we charging students for these things at such a high rate? In fact, I don't think students should have to pay interest on their loans at all.
The average student loan is $27,000. If I get $27,000, it will take me nine and a half years at $400 a month to repay that, $18,000 of which will be interest on my student loan. That is another barrier to British Columbians
[ Page 1422 ]
who are just starting out, who want to start a family, who want to build a home. I want you to take that into account, please, when you give your recommendations.
Sometimes it feels like these cuts don't amount to much, but they amount to a lot for a lot of people. They'll stop them from achieving their goals and being British Columbians who support the rest of us or take from the rest of us. That's the determining factor.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, David.
Committee members, any questions?
David, the committee has heard this presentation or very similar presentations in each community that we have visited. Yours was very good, and the fact that there aren't any questions doesn't mean that committee members aren't interested. They're very interested and, I think, are becoming familiar with the issues that you raised this morning.
Do we have Meyers Norris Penny here this morning?
[B. Ralston in the chair.]
D. Haw: Good morning. My name is Darcy Haw, and I'm joined today by George Mason. We're both chartered accountants with the firm Meyers Norris Penny here in Kelowna. It's a pleasure to be able to speak to you today about the next provincial budget.
For those of you who are familiar with Kelowna, you may have noticed a significant growth in this area over the past decade, particularly in the last five years. Kelowna and the entire Okanagan region are growing considerably, as we've been attracting both people and investment.
A study by the Chartered Accountants of B.C. earlier this year reported that business and corporations in the Thompson-Okanagan development region have increased by 117 percent since 2001. The strong growth in investment in the region has contributed to impressive job growth as well. Last year 9,700 new jobs were created in the region. In the past five years 43,500 new jobs have been created, a gain of 20.8 percent, the highest percentage increase in job gains in the province.
The population growth in the Thompson-Okanagan development region was double the provincial average last year, as we grew by 2.3 percent compared to 1.2 percent in B.C. The Thompson-Okanagan development region now has over 500,000 people.
It is indeed a pleasure to be able to discuss the budget when the economic and fiscal situation of the province is so healthy. This does provide us with opportunities that we wouldn't see in a downturn.
The latest quarterly report shows a fiscal surplus, solid economic growth and a declining debt-to-GDP ratio — very good news. We believe that the government's taxation policy has helped to stimulate this economic performance. Through competitive business and personal tax rates, the climate for investing and working in B.C. has improved.
We believe that the government's previous reduction in corporate tax rate to 12 percent in 2005 was very positive, as this edged us closer to Alberta's 10-percent tax rate. With a strong fiscal position, this may be an ideal time to make another reduction in the corporate tax rate to help sustain our economic growth going forward.
We would like to see B.C.'s corporate tax rate brought in line with Alberta's. This may prove necessary should Alberta reduce its corporate tax rate in the coming budget or in the near future. Similarly, we would point out that Alberta does not impose a capital tax on financial institutions. If B.C. is to attract investment in this sector, we must look seriously at the capital tax on financial institutions and consider whether this tax sends the wrong message to investors.
Finally, as chartered accountants we see many small businesses struggle with the high administrative burden imposed by having two separate sales taxes: GST and the social service tax, or PST. While the government is to be commended for its efforts to reduce red tape in B.C., we feel that there continues to be a lot of red tape when it comes to the sales tax.
Having two sales taxes means that B.C. businesses require separate recordkeeping, reporting and remittance for the GST and PST. Moreover, businesses may have to deal with two sets of auditors enforcing compliance at the federal and provincial levels.
We agree with the CA institute that a study should be initiated to consider how to simplify the regulatory burden imposed by two sales taxes on businesses in B.C. and to consider solutions such as harmonization with the GST or a B.C. value-added tax modelled after the GST.
That concludes our presentation for today. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Well, that was short and sweet. Thanks very much.
D. Hayer: A very detailed, good presentation. When you're looking at putting the PST and GST together, have you looked at what the new rate would be for the PST and the current one? A reduction? Or how would you go? More items would be taxed. Any suggestions?
Also, have you done any studies to see how the public feels about it?
D. Haw: Well, I don't think what we're suggesting is necessarily a change in the provincial sales tax. More just a change in the administrative policy with the way the tax is administered, like changing to be harmonized with the GST or changing the model of the way it's applied. Not necessarily a change in the actual rate.
D. Hayer: PST is only charged on some items, but GST is on a lot more items than PST — right?
D. Haw: Exactly.
D. Hayer: When you harmonize them, there are going to be some issues. People will say the govern-
[ Page 1423 ]
ment is receiving more revenue than it used to with the PST. Any suggestions on how we could deal with that?
D. Haw: I think it's a very difficult issue to tackle. We agree with the Institute of Chartered Accountants that a study would need to be performed to determine what way to best reduce that administrative burden — whether that be full harmonization with the GST and then reduction of a rate to accommodate any additional taxes that might be applied to certain sectors or certain types of services.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Just along the same line, in those jurisdictions where there is so-called harmonized GST and provincial sales tax, is there then provincial tax on services?
G. Mason: Yes.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I think that's the public policy question that one would reasonably expect a public reaction to, if this policy were to be implemented.
G. Mason: What happens with harmonization like they have in the Maritimes is that you broaden the tax base. Therefore you should be able to lower the overall tax rate. We wouldn't have any idea what the total ramification would be on it.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I would presume there are studies from the Maritimes, where it's been implemented, about the post-implementation effect on the total revenue. Have you examined that, or has your institute examined that?
G. Mason: I don't know if they have. I'm sure they have.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, gentlemen.
The committee recessed from 9:01 a.m. to 9:02 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Dr. Krupa. Sir, you're here presenting on your own behalf. You're not representing an organization?
E. Krupa: Not one particular organization but more of a movement, if I could explain. I work with UBCO as well as with a number of universities and a number of community movements that are organizing to benefit people in developing countries.
Good morning, Chairman Bennett, hon. Members and fellow participants. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your committee and offer recommendations for our provincial budget.
I'm going to basically present what I've prepared, so you can listen, or you can read along as you choose.
My professional background includes a little over 20 years in public health, eight years in public education and five years in agriculture. The focus of my work in public health has been on health promotion and prevention. Essentially, that is about helping people in communities to understand the conditions that influence their health and well-being and then helping them to create positive change in those conditions.
I spend half of my time training nurses, physicians and other health professionals in UBC and other universities and about half my time working with a wide range of community groups — aboriginal, rural and urban — to enable them to take charge of the conditions that affect their health and well-being.
I've spoken with this committee about early child development on two previous occasions, but I have worked with various health, environmental and economic issues as well. It is always to build community leadership and organization and to build their capacity to help themselves.
Today I'd like to draw your attention to another critical issue, which is to point to a tremendous opportunity to make a difference through wise action in partnerships, to do with benefiting people in developing countries, and to ask you to consider how our province could catalyze positive action.
I have four points. My first is a contrast that you probably will be familiar with. Although we have our challenges in B.C., from a global perspective we live in one of the best places, if not the best place, on earth.
On average, our environment, water, food and housing are excellent. Our systems of transportation, communication, health care and education are among the finest in the world. We have sufficient resources to give our children a bright future and keep life expectancy high if we maintain the current social spending at the level that we had about five or six years ago compared to our provincial economy.
Life is still challenging for people in poverty, those living with family dysfunctions and those who move into lifestyles that place them at risk. I will trust you to address this in the upcoming budget, though, and keep the future looking bright for our citizens.
Meanwhile, millions of people struggle under conditions too horrible for most of us to imagine. In the world's lowest-income countries millions of people earn the equivalent of a dollar a day and pay 50 of those dollars for a child to attend school for a year.
Zambia is a typical low-income country and one that I travelled and worked in last summer. Over the last generation the life expectancy of Zambians has plummeted from 55 years to 37 years. If we in this room were Zambians, chances are that most of us would not be alive today.
Most people there do not suffer and die from the things that we do, which are illnesses of old age — heart and lung problems, diabetes-related, cancers and addictions. In Zambia people suffer and die from
[ Page 1424 ]
other easily preventable conditions — malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria, childbirth, infections and various tropical afflictions.
Out of a population of 11 million there are currently 1.2 million that have HIV/AIDS. There are another 600,000 that are orphans. In the words of Stephen Lewis, it's a race against time for these people.
Setting the scene for suffering in low-income countries like Zambia is similar to countries everywhere. The key determinants of health. Large numbers of people are in poverty. There are gender inequalities, poor early child development, severely limited education and extreme shortage of health services. The national and local economies are too tiny to support services to overcome these challenges.
International policy isn't helpful either. It makes things worse by capping the wages of health professionals and teachers, and forces them to leave Zambia as fast as they can be trained.
In short, while we in B.C. enjoy living in the best place in the world, preventable conditions in low-income countries result in tremendous suffering and death. Unless something changes, there's little hope in sight.
My second point is that it doesn't have to be this way. We've learned a lot from the mistakes of the past. We know how to apply resources effectively to help countries, communities and groups build their capacity to solve their own problems. We know how to come alongside in partnership rather than be another boss, another oppressor in the system. We know how to give a hand up and not just a handout.
We know that the more direct and personal we can connect people, the more helpful and sustainable our assistance will be. We know that we benefit a lot from the process of giving a hand up to others. We see all around us how helping our neighbour causes our people's hearts to grow and to set their lives in broader perspective and perhaps sense a broader purpose.
My third point is that a little support goes a very long way in assisting individuals and communities to create positive change. But what's often missing, and what we really need, is the little. A little, wisely applied, can lever a lot of resources and enable people in countries like Zambia to address the conditions that affect their health and their future.
Just three quick examples of a little going a long way, ones that we worked directly with and uncovered and developed this summer and will continue working with this fall. As little as $150 wisely applied changes the life course of widows or orphans, enabling them to support themselves, educate their children or get an education themselves.
A hundred volunteer community health workers in Zambia can be trained and sustained by a Zambian NGO, a Rotary club and a nursing college. With a rural population of Kelowna's size — about 150,000 — we did an investigation of high rates of malaria, which led to a new approach to distributing mosquito nets. This will help thousands of people avoid the tremendous burden of that illness this year and save many hundreds from dying from a mosquito bite in the coming six months' rainy season.
In short, the equation from my perspective goes like this: wise application of proven principles plus minimal resources plus appropriate partnerships equals multiplied resources and effective action for helping Africans to help themselves.
I give a recap. I won't read it. It's for your interest.
Fourth, I believe that today we have the ability and opportunity and a responsibility in this province to show the world an example of how to provide the little. Early in life my parents helped me to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. Your parents probably did too.
Six years ago I made the decision to shift the focus of my time and energy to building capacity of people in low-income countries. Among other things, my search has led me to promote and create broad-scale partnerships for development focused on two models.
The first is partnerships between Canadian and African districts or cities across all sectors. We have as an example in Kelowna, the Kelowna and Senanga partnership. The second is partnerships between Canadian universities across all faculties. We're developing the UBC and the University of Zambia partnership.
Let us consider the emerging UBC–University of Zambia partnership as an example for a moment. Working with this are our AVP Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, our dean of health and social development Dr. Joan Bottorff, and my brother in spirit Dr. Bill Nelems.
It will take $40,000 to $100,000 of seed funding to lever $4 million to $10 million for collaboration over ten years. We begin with the health sciences and eventually include all faculties. If the province were to embrace the role of seed funder, for example, it could catalyze a movement that could result in a tremendous shift of brainpower and financial resources to tackle complex challenges faced by people in low-income countries.
It could also lead by example with other provinces and states. B.C. could be credited with playing a key role in achieving the outcomes in terms of improved health and quality of life for others, but could also draw benefits to B.C. learners and residents.
Our faculty will gain direct experience working with Zambians in training and research initiatives and in linking minds across faculties and across continents to address complex problems. Many of our students will be able to engage directly as well, but thousands more will have the benefits of insights into becoming global citizens through the interactions with their instructors and other students.
In closing, a final link to our Olympics in 2010. In preparation for this event, I have worked with groups to design and implement approaches to assist B.C. residents to become the healthiest population in the world, to be the most active, eat the most fruits and veggies and have the lowest smoking rates. I believe that we can catalyze a movement to develop the strongest global citizenship minds and hearts on the planet.
I'd very much appreciate an opportunity to speak further with you and others that you might direct me
[ Page 1425 ]
to about seed funding for partnership initiatives, ones that would engage our citizens, lever and multiply resources and build capacity of people in low-income countries to influence the conditions that affect their health and life.
I welcome any questions you might have, and I thank you very much for your attention this morning.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, sir.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I'm just wondering if you could explain why you've chosen Zambia. Is that a personal connection there, or is there some compelling reason that, out of the countries, you've chosen Zambia?
E. Krupa: It's a relatively peaceful African country, first of all. It's not a Darfur or a Sierra Leone that's at war and thereby would be a risky place to send people and to work. There was an openness for a variety of reasons. There was a local group that had made a connection — this group that eventually resulted in the Kelowna-Zambia partnership — the Senanga partnership.
Then my brother in spirit Bill Nelems, born in South Africa and raised in Zambia, in his retirement years wanted to give back to that country — so the fortunate convergence of a number of factors.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much — a very good presentation. I noticed the Rotary club in here. I know many other Rotary clubs and Lions clubs and churches are also involved in doing this similar type of school. Have you tried to apply to some of the local Rotary clubs and Lions clubs and ask them if they can help out with this?
E. Krupa: Yep. For example, when working in Bwafwano, an urban impoverished district in Lusaka…. The Rotary club there was sponsoring a microenterprise type of venture to support a hundred community health workers there. I brought that idea here, and now the Rotary groups are partnering in this way. They're also supporting Bill's initiative, which is to train surgeons in Zambia. There'll be a fundraiser in about a week's time.
B. Bennett (Chair): Dr. Krupa, do you have any other documentation, specifically on how you would lever the relatively small amount of funding you've suggested here into the relatively large amount — laying out exactly how that would work?
E. Krupa: Yes. We have a five-page sort of strategic plan that maps out ten years' worth, which includes the major funds. One of the major funds, of course, is our own CIDA organization, our national government-sponsored group. They have a million dollars for university partnership and then a subsequent $3 million that you can apply once you're off and running. But it takes a lot of work to put that application together — probably about six months of time.
While putting that together, we can also put other applications together, and private foundations hold quite a lot of promise as well. We've had some initial discussions with some of the larger foundations. I could send that to you if that's interesting to you.
B. Bennett (Chair): We'd appreciate it if you would send that to us. You can check with Jacqueline, in the back, in terms of what address to send it to. Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate it.
Is Krystal Smith here this morning?
K. Smith: Yes.
B. Bennett (Chair): Krystal, come on up and have a seat.
Krystal is with the University of B.C. Students Union, Okanagan campus.
K. Smith: Good morning. My name is Krystal Smith. I sit on the UBC Students Union Okanagan board of directors as a financial coordinator and executive chair. I also sit as the Okanagan students representative to the UBC board of governors. I have been elected to represent 4,800 students at UBC Okanagan.
To address the concerns of our members, here are four concrete steps that the B.C. government can take to the budget process. We'd like to see (1) a reduction in tuition fees by 10 percent for the 2008-2009 academic year, (2) an implementation of a system of non-repayable grants in B.C. that provides upfront funding and accessibility for full-time and part-time students, (3) elimination of interest on all B.C. student loans and (4) increased funding for the B.C. post-secondary education system and accounting for inflationary funding.
Today tuition and ancillary fees remain the most significant barrier to acquiring a post-secondary education in B.C. The average student pays nearly $5,000 in tuition fees and ancillary fees while college and university institutes pay, on average, $3,400.
Sorry, I get a little choked up, because when I entered my education, I didn't realize the debt load that I would be carrying.
The current tuition fee policy which caps annual increases to 2 percent has done nothing to reduce the cost of post-secondary education studies and instead has sent a message to families and students that post-secondary education will remain out of reach.
Students at B.C. public post-secondary institutions will pay $963 million in tuition fees this year, of which $18 million are a result of the 2-percent increase in tuition fees. The government should feel confident in adopting a policy to reduce tuition fees for post-secondary education. The policy continues to receive widespread support, with public opinion polling showing 80 percent of British Columbians in support of a reduction in tuition fees.
While it is known that students in B.C. face the second-highest student debt level in the country, a lesser-known fact is that student debt statistics leave out the interest paid on those loans. The B.C. govern-
[ Page 1426 ]
ment charges students between 3.5 percent and 6 percent more interest than its own cost of borrowing. If borrowing at a floating rate, students currently pay 8.5 percent per annum on floating loans and 11 percent per annum on fixed-rate loans. Incidentally, the interest on student loans is compounded daily.
For a student with average student debt upon graduation, they are expected to pay nearly $400 per month for up to about nine and half years before they will be able to pay off their student debt load. Of the amount repaid, for example, more than $15,000 of the cost of borrowing will be interest on the principal loan.
I'm sorry that I'm getting choked up in front of you guys. It's something that is really dear to my heart, because I'm the first person in my family to actually graduate from high school and enter a post-secondary education. I look at graduation as a very exciting time in my life and a very scary time, with looking at the debt load that I will be paying back.
We also know from the B.C. government's own numbers that as tuition fees have risen, fewer and fewer British Columbians are now applying for student loans. It is important for the government to send a signal to the lower- and middle-income British Columbians that our colleges and universities are not restricted to wealthy British Columbians. In a poll conducted in August 2007 by the widely regarded Mustel Research Group, 92 percent of British Columbians feel that student loan interest rates are too high. Of particular note, 39 percent of all British Columbians favour the complete elimination of interest on student loans.
In addition to a reduction in tuition fees and a non-repayable system of grants, we request that the B.C. government eliminate all interest on student loans.
Finally, we have a couple of points which speak to the Minister of Finance's budget 2008 consultation paper, which focuses on greening British Columbia. Despite broad-based public support, concrete government initiatives to promote responsible and sustainable practices are lacking. The Kyoto protocol remains unimplemented at the federal level. Public transportation is funded by all levels of government. Profit-driven resource extraction occurs at an unsustainable rate, and personal consumption habits continue to favour immediate convenience and waste over conservation and sustainability.
Many initiative programs currently favoured by the B.C. government focus on consumer power to reduce climate change. For example, programs that encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles send a message that by selectively exercising our individual purchasing power, British Columbians will make a positive reduction in carbon emissions.
For students who have a tightly restrictive budget coupled with a very limited disposable income, our ability to participate in consumer-driven change is extremely limited, bordering on non-existent. Instead, we see government policy as a stronger and more persuasive tool for addressing climate change. It is in this vein that we propose four strategies for a greener British Columbia.
Firstly, we request that the B.C. government adopt official policy on green building standards for all new public buildings, subject all public buildings to an energy audit and adopt long-term policy for regular scheduled upgrades of efficiency standards to ultimately achieve carbon neutrality in all public buildings, including colleges and universities.
This is a really exciting thing. At my institution, UBC Okanagan, by 2010 we will be 100 percent emission-free — and that's actually thanks to all of your help — except for the cars that will be driving onto campus.
Secondly, we recommend that a system of initiatives, including service expansion and fare reduction, be put in place to encourage and expand the use of public transit and curb reliance on personal automobiles.
Thirdly, we request creation of a provincial sustainable building fund to be used to provide financial support for proposals to environmentally retrofit public buildings including colleges and universities.
Finally, we request that the B.C. government officially endorse the Kyoto protocol and commit to a strategy to progressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On behalf of 4,800 members, thank you for your time.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Krystal. You got through that very nicely, and we appreciate your sincerity and how passionately you feel about the issues.
J. Kwan: Thank you, Krystal. I'd like to ask some questions around the grants program that the government has in place now where it back-end loads any grants for students and how, from your perspective, that impacts students. Is it actually useful for students in the system?
We've heard presentations where people are calling for the government to revamp the program and ensure that first-year students, for example, when they enter the system, can access the grant program. Maybe you can tell us, from your experience, what you think about the grant program and what should be done to make it effective for students.
K. Smith: Right now we have the back-end grant program, as you just said. I believe it's under the millennium scholarship.
I remember first coming to school. I actually took a year off in the middle to pay off my first student loan. I had a grant, which was the B.C. grant system at the time, and it came as the second half of my student loan. When I found out I didn't have to pay it back, I was ecstatic. Knowing that beforehand, I would probably be more interested in going and enrolling in school knowing that I wouldn't have to pay back this money and that B.C. was investing in me.
What if something happened, like a medical issue or a student having a baby? If you don't complete those courses, then you won't actually get the reduction. For people who have an aversion to debt, I would say that the old system is a lot better. I'm not going to discount that students do get money, and that is a positive thing.
[ Page 1427 ]
B. Bennett (Chair): Krystal, are you in school right now?
K. Smith: I am.
B. Bennett (Chair): What are you taking?
K. Smith: I'm a major in creative writing and a minor in sociology.
B. Bennett (Chair): How far from graduation are you?
K. Smith: I will graduate in 2009.
B. Bennett (Chair): And the $64,000 question: what will be your debt when you graduate, based on what you know now about cost?
K. Smith: I will probably be around $45,000 into debt, including credit card, what I owe my family and student loans.
B. Bennett (Chair): What do you want to do after your education when you're done?
K. Smith: I've had much experience in the student movement, and I would actually like to work on political campaigns.
B. Bennett (Chair): That's great. Thank you very much for coming this morning and presenting to us. We appreciate it.
K. Smith: Thank you for having me and coming to Kelowna, for sure. I know you guys come every year, and it must be stressful sometimes, going all over the province and hearing all these stories. Have a good day.
B. Bennett (Chair): Our 8:20 witness, the B.C. Food Processors Association, has arrived. If we could call them forward, we could do that now.
A. Toth: It's a pleasure once again to appear before this committee. This year you'll notice in our brief — I don't know if it's been handed out to you — that we've been able to fully focus on your committee's theme of the green challenge.
We didn't exactly plan it this way, but our industry has really snapped to and come to the fore on issues of conservation, health, biodegradable packaging and organic foods. While our board of directors has taken a leadership role in tugging along this incredibly competitive $8.5-billion-a-year B.C. food-processing industry, the truth is that it has been the CEOs that are ahead of us. They've realized the economic common sense of good, safe food and biodegradable packaging and all that sort of stuff.
When I started collating information that I would want to present to you, it kind of came together very quickly. I guess the bottom line is that our suggestion is for other industries to come together like this, because a remake of an industry is not easy. But if industry wants to remake itself — and it apparently is — then it's an object lesson that we'd be happy to discuss with other groups if they're interested.
The first new thing that we're doing is instituting an energy management program in partnership with B.C. Hydro's Power Smart program. This is a situation where we will be selecting some large and medium and small food processors. As you can imagine, the food-processing industry is extremely dependent on energy, whether it's gas or electricity. We need it for cooling and sawing and heating and washing and all that kind of stuff. So we're big consumers of electricity.
What we're going to do, in partnership with B.C. Hydro's consultants, is benchmark the industry, find out how much we're using, produce a handbook of best practices, measure our progress and then see if we can reduce energy consumption. Actually, what will happen is that as the industry grows, the benefit will be that we'll use less than what we otherwise would have, because the food-processing industry is really set to blossom.
The energy management program is something that we definitely look forward to. We have been supporting the B.C. Bioproducts Association and them doing a full assessment of what biowastes are available for a proposed series of large biodigesters These biodigesters can produce a great deal of gas, as well as fertilizer, at the end of it.
We look at it as enlightened self-interest because, first of all, our waste is their input. We can probably get rid of our waste cheaper to them than we would by shipping it off for processing in Calgary or some place, which is what we have to do now. So it's enlightened self-interest, but it'll help by improving the competitiveness of the industry.
One area that I spoke to extensively last year — and I know some of you committee members weren't here last year — was the issue of a B.C. food technology development centre. Every jurisdiction in North America has at least one food technology…. It's a commercialization centre where local food producers go and test their products. They get business advice and all that sort of stuff.
Guess what. Alberta has two. P.E.I. has two. Newfoundland has two. Quebec has two. B.C. has zero. That is one of the prime reasons why our industry is as anemic as it is, because our industry has to go to the other provinces at great cost and competitive disadvantage to get the commercialization services that they could well do here.
Anyway, through the funding of the Investment Ag Foundation, we have done a feasibility study, and we've found that the technology development centre is eminently feasible. In fact, it's so feasible that, unlike all of the other food technology development centres, it will not have to be government-subsidized after two or three years.
That fits well, because industry doesn't want to have anything to do with lack of confidentiality and
[ Page 1428 ]
the bureaucracy of government in a commercialization centre. That's not a knock on government. Those are research results that we found in industries' reaction to the commercialization centres in other provinces.
One of the areas, incidentally, that people desperately need…. There's an area called "soft business services," where industry wants help, and energy management is at the top of the list. So this technology centre, if it comes about, will be another way to improve our energy performance.
The second-to-last item that I want to bring to your attention is a meat transition assistance program. We have worked like dogs to get as many applications in hand for the implementation of a meat inspection regulation on September 30. I'm pleased to report that we have some 66 applications in the pipe. They're not all built. Cabinet has given us a little bit of leeway with the change in the OIC that gives leeway over…. So things don't just stop dead on September 30.
It's an incredibly positive experience we've had with most places. I have to tell you that some communities are really incredibly stupid. I can say that. I'm not a politician. When a community sits there and piddles all over itself in negativity when there's a $100,000 solution available for them if they'll only investigate it, and they don't do it and they don't do it — even though we've gone in there ten, 12, 13 times — that community just deserves to go down.
I'll single them out. We have tried to go into the community of Nanaimo to get some interest in coming to a solution — nothing. Terrace — nothing. Grand Forks — there was a problem, but they've come around. Now we've got three community solutions arising out of Grand Forks, and they're moving ahead lickety-split.
The communities are either stupid or smart, based on their leadership. Where they find leadership to take up the task and really go after the development, they go forward. If they've got negative leadership, then they go down the tubes. It seems to me that simple.
One of the things that has also been very gratifying is…. The Ministry of Environment brought in new waste discharge regulations for the poultry slaughter industries. I tell you it was tough working with the regulators to get a regulatory system that made sense, and we worked with them to implement it at the plant level.
You know what? It was a scary thing. It scared the poop out of most plant owners, including us, and it came off very well. We are so proud. We've got a proper waste discharge regulation system in British Columbia, and it came about with relatively little hue and cry.
The last item is in the area of safety. We had always wanted to establish a B.C. Food Processors Association safety institute. The reason for that is that injury frequencies in our subclasses and injury durations were more than two and a half times as high as the average. If you care about workers, if you are enlightened and if you care about labour force development strategy, you want to take care of the safety issue first.
I'm absolutely delighted that we got more than 50-percent industry support and now further delighted that the senior executive committee of WorkSafe B.C. has approved it. Our safety institute will be in full swing probably in two or three months.
I'd be happy to answer other questions about budget surpluses, labour force development and so on, but I figured that it would be good to focus on your committee's primary agenda. I hope we've done that, and I'm really pleased to be able to bring some fairly good news about the industry for a change.
B. Simpson: Thank you, Mr. Toth. Other than stupidity, what are some of the other reasons that the communities who haven't bought into the meat regulations program indicated didn't get involved in the program? What can we do to assist those regions to be able to have the capacity that's now required?
A. Toth: You know, I apologize. I can take the lyrical route and call it stupidity, but it's more than stupidity. It's a dysfunctionality. When you've got community leaders that dissuade….
Let me put it another way. Grand Forks is a good example. In order for us to get a community solution going there, you've got to have community support. That's what happened at a meeting I attended. We had the investor. We had the guy who had the slaughter knowledge.
I said: "Look, I don't mind going towards a community solution, but here's a community right here. You ask them whether they will support you."
"Well, we have no choice. We can't send our stuff to Slocan. It's too far."
Then someone else said: "Well, I'll go to the regional district and get them to change their waste discharge at the landfill regulations." All of a sudden, instead of having all this nitpicking — you know, no help — there were 12 people helping the two proponents come forward, and it is coming together.
The answer to your question…. Nanaimo is a good example. There's one person out there who comes out: "Blah, blah, blah. I can't afford it. Blah, blah, blah." Nanaimo is a wonderful place to do a community solution because there are buildings available that can be turned into a good abattoir and all that. But there isn't the cohesive leadership like what was generated in Grand Forks.
Does that answer your question?
B. Simpson: I mean, there are a number of people…. I have an area that we tried to get a Community Solutions for. I know work was done in Terrace. I know work was done in other parts of the Island. I think couching it as stupidity is really unfortunate, because there are huge stumbling blocks for people who for generations have provided healthy food to their own customers — who they were able to eyeball — who are now being forced to meet the regulations for large, commercial-scale abattoirs.
So there is a push-back from the community that I think couching as stupidity really minimizes the concerns that processors have about these regulations.
[ Page 1429 ]
Again, I wouldn't mind understanding how we can better facilitate leadership than couching it that way.
A. Toth: That's who I was hoping you would go to, because the Community Solutions program is still open. You're in Quesnel, or someplace near there anyway. There is a possibility of doing something in Quesnel. You just need that magic of ten or 12 people in a community to come together, and the dysfunctionality disappears.
I know there's a solution there. Just because the deadline of September 30 hasn't been met, it doesn't mean people should stop expressing interest. If you as MLA are helping your committee, tell them to call us one more time. You know, I've got a help desk of some 14 people. It's amazing, when they're kicked into gear, how much work they can get done to advance things forward.
I agree with you. It would be a real shame to let local food production capacity just flit away. That's why I get frustrated, and I call it stupidity. It's really dysfunctionality, and it doesn't need to happen.
H. Bloy: Nice to see you, Tony. Thanks for your presentation.
The technology development. How can government help in that? How much has the industry put forward in partnership?
A. Toth: One of the problems with these things is that you cut little deals that have to be secret until they're published, so it can be a little mysterious. How can government help? We have told both the federal and provincial governments that we will need up to $20 million outlay upfront to do the bricks and mortar.
One little tale out of school I can tell you, without identifying it. After we put that number forward, a gentleman just sidled up to me one day in a meeting and offered us land. It's a huge chunk of very valuable, incredibly strategically located land. That changes the numbers, so we'll need less.
It would be a colossal shame if the provincial government and the federal government didn't do their usual 60-40 split to kick-start the food-processing industry in B.C., which really does need a kick-start for absorbing some of the capacity that we're now not bringing on the inspection system. Once it's brought on inspection system, it'll have better commercial value. People, particularly local producers, will need commercialization assistance.
B. Bennett (Chair): Tony, thank you very much for presenting to us today. We appreciate it.
Our next witness is Okanagan College. I think we have two presenters, Lance and Jim.
Morning, gentlemen. Welcome to our committee. Welcome to our world.
J. Hamilton: My name is Jim Hamilton. I'm the president of Okanagan College. I'm accompanied this morning by Lance Kayfish, who is one of our board members. We'll split our brief presentation between the two of us.
First of all, thank you for allowing us this opportunity to address the committee. One of the focal points for the consultation you're conducting is: what choices would you make for a greener future? I'd like to start there.
I'm pleased to be able to report to you that Okanagan College is doing its part in providing better stewardship of our environment and has great plans for the future. Further, I'd like to suggest that post-secondary institutions can play key roles both as models of environmental citizenship and as educators of the public.
I'll give you a snapshot of what's happening at Okanagan College. We're anticipating significant construction to accommodate our growing student population. Our enrolments this year are up 10 percent over what they were last year. Our first major building project is going to break ground this fall. Like all of our new facilities, it will be built to a LEED gold standard. This is in keeping with our history of environmental responsibility.
For example, at our Kelowna campus much of our heating is supplied by a unique system that reclaims heat from the water coming out of the adjacent municipal wastewater treatment plant. We save about $300,000 a year in heating costs by capturing the heat from that process, significantly reducing our carbon footprint.
I'm told that the project is the equivalent of having planted about 418 acres of trees or equal to taking 166 cars off the road. Every time somebody flushes their toilet in Kelowna, they are in fact helping to heat our campus. Our planned expansions at the Kelowna campus will continue to take advantage of that technology.
Our programs, as well, reflect a growing focus on the environment. For example, we have a well-established water quality technology program. We are also developing a conservation technician program in partnership with our aboriginal communities.
I'm sure you will agree that real long-term improvements in our environmental performance will be the result of awareness of the issues we face and people with the tools and creativity to address those issues on the environmental, social and financial fronts. Institutions such as ours foster the thinking and the skills that B.C. needs to make the right choices for a greener future. That is part of the return on investment that public officials, taxpayers and students ought to expect from institutions such as ours.
That provides me a perfect bridge into the economic impact of Okanagan College. I know you've heard from other institutions throughout B.C., colleges in particular, about how the colleges represent a good return on government and student investment. I thought I'd just give you some local information.
Okanagan College, its students and the graduates of the past 40-plus years of our history represent one of the most significant economic contributors to this region's economy. A recent independent analysis concluded that Okanagan College has a regional economic impact of $542.6 million annually, which is equal to about 4.4 percent of the total income of the regional
[ Page 1430 ]
economy. That's our portion of the estimated $7.7 billion contributed by our sector to the provincial economy annually.
I want to deviate from the facts and figures for a moment and tell you a human story that I think characterizes some of the things we're doing as we seek to help bridge the skills gap that is very important to us. In January of this year Michael Patterson, who is one of our business professors, wondered why we weren't attracting more students from his country of birth, Jamaica. Connecting with the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, Michael Patterson also posed the question about attracting skilled workers from Jamaica to our valley to help meet what has become a very real skills shortage.
That was January. In May I travelled to Jamaica, where our delegation of college staff and prospective employers met with several cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister and signed agreements with the Jamaican government and several individual colleges. By July the Jamaican Minister of Labour and officials from several agencies were in the Okanagan. In August the Jamaican government opened a liaison office in Kelowna, the first established in Canada outside of Toronto. In September the first 11 Jamaican workers and 12 students arrived here. The Jamaican liaison office has already processed several hundred requests for workers.
The students have come to study at our college. The workers are employed on the William R. Bennett bridge project and a project in Osoyoos. In just a few days seven employers from our region, representatives of our economic development commission and representatives of our college will be back in Jamaica to attend a job fair focused on the Okanagan. The liaison office in Kelowna will be going to the fair with requests from area employers to find approximately 500 workers. We'll be meeting in Jamaica with the new Jamaican Prime Minister and several of his ministers to talk about how his project can grow and develop further.
To me this story illustrates how Okanagan College works with employers, business and government to further the economic development in our region. The study I referenced earlier reported that the government's return on investment in our institution is about 11 percent annually. For every tax dollar you spend on post-secondary education in this region, you are getting back the equivalent of about $1.11.
As you plan this coming year's budget, please consider how continued and even increased support for colleges such as ours will pay dividends.
I'd now like to introduce Lance Kayfish.
L. Kayfish: I would like to echo our president's thanks for being able to make this presentation to your committee today.
Jim's suggestion about spending money on post-secondary education may be direct, but from a board perspective and from a taxpayer perspective I see it as worthy of your consideration. Over the past three years I have watched, as a member of this community, Okanagan College blossom in the wake of the decision to turn the former OUC into two institutions.
The college has done an excellent job of answering the needs of the communities we serve — a community of over 400,000 people — and meeting their expectations with dramatic increases in trades and health training and improved access to programs throughout the region.
As the college serving different areas throughout the interior, we think in terms of serving four regions of equal value. That means we strive to support each of the communities we serve according to their needs. We understand that the needs will differ and that we will be faced with difficult resourcing challenges, but the college's commitment to each community remains equal.
I mention this because the province is faced with a similar challenge — serving various regions with varying needs. As the Okanagan continues to grow and develop, our province is served by diversifying its economic infrastructure. I believe that one of the best ways to diversify this province's economic infrastructure is by investing in the college sector in the Okanagan.
Last year the Okanagan College provided education and training to the equivalent of 5,826 full-time students. That is 112 percent of the goal set by the provincial government. That speaks to the capacity of institutions such as ours to achieve provincial policy goals and, as well and more importantly, to address regional and individual needs. It is also an indicator that demand is greater than we can supply in some areas.
The question we have as board members is whether the growth we are experiencing is sustainable. The answer we get from Jim and his team is: "Yes, if we get the funding."
As with many organizations in our sector, we are coming up against constraints. One of the biggest constraints we face at Okanagan College is space. We need the provincial government to continue its commitment to fund infrastructure development in the post-secondary education sector. I want to make a special plea for our college.
I was heartened to see the largest piece of infrastructure funding in the 2006-2007 budget go to the post-secondary education sector. But from the local perspective the job isn't done yet. If government provides the funds, we will find ways to ensure that those are maximized through innovative partnerships, engendering community support and delivering programs that serve B.C. learners and, in doing so, using all the efficiencies we can possibly find.
As you contemplate how to expand resources in the coming years, remember that better-educated and -trained citizens have less need of social services and contribute more tax dollars over the course of their working lives.
If it sounds like we're asking for money, we are. As an institution and a part of the post-secondary education sector, we have demonstrated that we can help the province achieve many of its goals, from being the
[ Page 1431 ]
best-educated and -trained province in Canada to being one of the greenest.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks very much, Jim and Lance. It's okay to come here and ask for money. We're used to that.
Committee members, questions?
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): I'm looking forward to the cultural exchange side of the Jamaican partnership. I'm sure that'll liven up the music scene here in Kelowna.
You mentioned your expansion in trades and health and science–related employment. What percentage of your student body is in the university transfer program? Secondly, what's your relationship, in administering that program, with the University of British Columbia Okanagan?
J. Hamilton: About 20 percent of our students are in university transfer programs. It's a shifting target, because the two areas of biggest growth, not surprisingly, have been in trades training. We've gone from training approximately 700 apprentices two years ago. This year it will be over 2,100. We're the fastest-growing trades-training institution in the province.
Health care. We tripled the number of spaces we are delivering in home support and resident care this budget year alone — doubled our health care delivery.
Surprisingly, to your point, one of the biggest areas of increase for us has been in our university transfer programming. I attribute that to a number of things, not the least of which, I think, is our growing partnership with our colleague institution up the highway, UBC Okanagan.
We continue to work with UBC Okanagan to explore ways in which we not only can link our students from program to program but also share services. For example, we now share library service. We share sports teams. We have a number of similar kinds of initiatives going with UBC Okanagan.
I should say that we also have partnerships with about a dozen other universities around the world, and in other parts of Canada, too, and continue to explore those kinds of avenues as ways of delivering more service to the people in this region at a lower cost to government.
Yes, university transfer is alive and well at Okanagan College, and our partnership with UBCO is also alive and well.
B. Simpson: Thanks for the presentation. With respect to the work you're doing with Jamaica in bringing both workers and students in, I think that's an interesting model to look at. There are other regions of the province that are having difficulty.
One of the issues that was raised for us here last year by the chamber of commerce — and it is an issue that's been raised by taking that approach and bringing immigrant workers in — is the question of affordable housing. How does that part of the equation work here with the program you have with Jamaica? Is that an issue for you? If so, how are you addressing it?
J. Hamilton: That is an issue, certainly, in the case of anybody who moves here, whether they're coming from Jamaica or anywhere else — not to mention the fact that our students and our new employees also face the issue of affordable housing.
Lance may want to comment further on it, but one of the things we've done with the Jamaican initiative, in concert with the economic development commission, is have a settlement committee, which is providing on-the-ground support.
The Jamaican liaison office is a really good resource for our incoming workers and students alike. We've put in place, then, as a community — not just as a college, but as a community — a number of supports for the incoming workers.
I guess, really, when you asked the question about Jamaica…. Right now we can certainly handle the small numbers we have. What will happen if our employers are successful in securing hundreds of workers?
Remember, these are skilled workers that are coming to the community. There's an expectation that over time those who choose to stay and are able to stay will be integrated into the community and that they will have a standard of living that will allow them to access housing. But there is a very big issue that confronts all of our communities around affordable housing.
I don't have a magic bullet answer for you on that one. We continue to be innovative and seek ways to work with our communities to address those circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
In terms of an institution, one of the projects we're working on right now is to increase our residence capacity considerably. In fact, we are expecting our feasibility study to be finalized and reported to us this month, which will see a significant increase in residence capacity at our various campuses.
Did you want to add to that, Lance?
L. Kayfish: I would just say that I agree with Jim. I think the key to being successful with bringing people in is the fact that a lot of work is being done to make sure that a whole support network is set up. It's not just a matter of bringing people but of making sure that they have the appropriate support and resources once they get here.
H. Bloy: Quick question. What's the size of your foreign student population? Are you working on growing it?
J. Hamilton: Yes. We have a significant and growing student population. It's gone up by 17.7 percent this year alone. Those are students who are coming in on exchange programs, as well as people who are coming to study as fee-paying international students.
At the moment we have approximately 400 to 500 international students. I can't give you an exact number because we're still counting. We're approaching roughly 10 percent of our student population.
[ Page 1432 ]
B. Bennett (Chair): Gentlemen, thank you very much for your submission here this morning. Appreciate it.
[B. Ralston in the chair.]
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): If I could call upon the next witness, Dr. Allan Cahoon of Royal Roads University.
Good morning, sir.
A. Cahoon: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. This is my first opportunity. I took over as president of Royal Roads in April of this year. I've never had a chance to make a presentation to the committee, so I appreciate that.
Why would we be in the Okanagan? I can tell you that we have 97 learners who are part of our Leading the Way program at Royal Roads. We have 37 from the Okanagan region in other programs. It's important that we see ourselves as a provincial institution. We are uniquely a market-driven institution. That defines us distinctly in British Columbia and Canada.
What I wanted to do is talk a little bit about what Royal Roads is, first of all. Second, how are we partners with the government on the initiatives that are important to you? Third, what kind of advice could I give you with respect to the budget?
As I said, we are uniquely a market-driven institution. Students and learners have to come to us from some other institution. They make a choice because of the nature of our programs, because of the perceived value of the learning exercise or because of the convenience. That is, we are focused strictly on people who are actually working in the workplace.
We offer a program for what we call blended learning, in which people come for very short periods of time, and most of the learning is on-line. We are oriented towards people who are mature students or who are at distance, etc. So we have to attract them, and we have to maintain them.
We were established by the government of British Columbia in 1995. We're located on a national historic site, on property owned by the Department of National Defence. That gives us a unique opportunity to have a space that can help us inform and allows us to do something different.
We are focused around the world of work, as we like to describe it, differentiating us from traditional universities. Typically in universities, teaching and research is driven by the academics and staff. It's what people who have interests do, and that's what defines their teaching interests.
Royal Roads. We were created by the community. We were defined in terms of industry advisory groups, and we use a lot of what we call associate faculty or scholar research practitioners — people who are actually in the workplace. The result is that we offer programs and undertake research that our community tells us we should engage in and that is needed.
We tend to focus on current leaders and change agents, rather than on preparing people for future careers. Our average age is 39, so people make a choice to come back to us specifically.
We use the idea of a cohort model. People stay together. They come and spend three weeks together at the beginning and then take their courses on line.
We have some of the partnerships with the government of British Columbia. How do we add value to things that you're doing? We have a close collaboration with the Public Service Agency.
One of the programs I referred to, Leading the Way, is a program to assist public servants gain the skills required to take on senior management roles with government. I think that's relevant in terms of the demographics in the province and the need for increased professionalization.
We offer programs that are not available elsewhere, such as bachelors of arts in international hotel management, environmental management and entrepreneurial management and graduate degrees in things like disaster and emergency management, leadership, executive management, human security and peace-building in conflict.
Our research centres. For example, we have the Centre for Health Leadership and Research, focused on preparing health leaders, and the Centre for Non-Timber Resources, which is relevant to using research for things that are not typically associated with timber but are very important to us.
We have over 4,300 students. Of those, 950 are undergraduate completion degrees. We don't accept students until after their second year. In their third year they have to make a choice to come. They can complete their final two years in 12 months of intensive education or on line. We offer degrees and programs that I think are relevant to the community, and we're trying to be responsive in that area.
With respect to specific partnerships with government, as I said, we're trying to assist in the great goal of helping to make B.C. the most literate and well-educated jurisdiction in North America. With respect to Campus 2020, for example — it came out this spring — we're committed to assisting in the implementation.
We've offered to act as a bridge with some of the private institutions to provide our expertise developed on distance, remote and aboriginal learners to advocate for technology-enhanced learning. And we have an innovative proposal to do a first applied doctor of social sciences, which will be consistent with our blended model.
In terms of defining our programs, we've developed, based on what our community says, a sector strategy dealing with health care, education and public service, and we're targeting climate change in our research and teaching engagement.
As I've said, we are on 556 acres of a national historic site. This is a great living laboratory. We use it as a catalyst for teaching, for research and for community engagement, and we're interested in defining it for a focus on sustainability, heritage and culture, and innovation.
All of our students take a course in sustainability and then have the opportunity to apply that back in the
[ Page 1433 ]
workplace. We have the Canadian Centre for Environmental Education, which is providing accreditation for Canadians across the country to come and get accredited towards environmental education.
Other initiatives are related to the government's focus on climate change in the prebudget consultation paper. We've appointed a vice-president who has a specific responsibility for sustainability — to ensure that sustainability and environmental issues are an integral part of the executive decision-making. We are committed to making the campus carbon-neutral by 2015.
We intend to be a catalyst for LEED standards for heritage buildings. LEED talks about new buildings. We have eight heritage buildings, including a castle, that we wouldn't like to take down. We'd like to work on how you make those environmentally leading.
We have old growth, and we'd like to use that as part of our living laboratory, using our first nations partners. We have some community partnerships, including some concepts around eco-villages. In the one with Dockside Green, for example, we can use sustainability as a catalyst for research, teaching and community engagement.
The most exciting thing is the Robert Bateman environmental education centre, a tangible example and catalyst for how sustainability can be applied. It will be a LEED platinum or a living building concept, and it will be Canada's first, in an opportunity to get us to use that as a catalyst for discussion about sustainability.
We will look for other kinds of policies, etc. The Pacific green university concept is something that we believe in, and we support the initiative of using LEED gold standards for public sector–building.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
We've worked with the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and the Arts in the area of development of curriculum for our faculty of tourism and hotel management. This is important to doubling tourism revenues by 2015.
We're also actively involved in the Asia-Pacific. We have programs in China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Bangladesh. We have over 1,500 MBA students currently and 5,000 alumni, including many senior, high net worth industry and government leaders.
We'll open an office in Hong Kong in November and will therefore participate in the Pacific leadership agenda as an educational link, using our contacts to facilitate the visit of the Premier to Hong Kong and to India as part of that.
With respect to budget considerations, in answer to question 1 of the prebudget consultation paper, we can play our part in reducing greenhouse gases by actualizing the living, sustainable campus, in partnership with the provincial government.
Under question 1 of the prebudget consultation paper, we would recommend that the government review closely the way it uses capital budgets to encourage and demand improved sustainability principles by the use of a designated minimum LEED standard on new buildings. We support that.
We also think another idea would be the use of life-cycle costing as part of the consideration, the idea that projects should be evaluated not just specifically on their initial costs but on the costs of operating over time.
The fuel, the energy and the labour and replacement components should be an integral part of considering the cost of the building. The economies that are achieved from that can then be used to support operations and buildings in the longer term.
We think that we can be — and have been — partners with the government of British Columbia and would like to participate and continue to do that. I'm open for questions and advice. I'm not here to ask for more money.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, sir. We do have some questions for you.
J. Horgan: Thank you, Dr. Cahoon, for representing the best university close to my constituency. I know that if anyone can create a carbon-neutral castle, it will be the people at Royal Roads.
There are two areas that I wanted to touch on. Well, there were going to be two, but then you touched upon life-cycle costing. I'm sure Bob or someone else on the committee will dive on that as part of a multiple account evaluation process. I'll leave that hanging, and if no one asks, you can throw it in at the end.
I wanted to focus instead on the Pacific leadership potential of Royal Roads and how you envision your institution, unique among institutions in British Columbia, playing a role in bridging the gateway or in being the gateway to advanced education or to new opportunities and how, if at all, the federal government is participating, beyond wanting to tear away part of your landscape for revenue.
A. Cahoon: I was in China two weeks ago and had a chance to meet with some of our alumni over there. The model is the same here. It's for people who are actually working in the workforce, who see coming to Royal Roads as an opportunity to advance their careers and to establish credibility.
One thing that they have established very well is the networking possibilities. Rather than bring students here and train them and then try to resettle them back in their countries or keep them here…. I've been part of that model.
This model says that you take them, you give them a Royal Roads — a Canadian — degree and you bring them here for graduation. We do further programming or classes with them so that they maintain that contact, and they are very much networked. They're there, on the site, and we kick-start the connection that we have, the investment opportunity and the business partnership, by 20 years.
Historically, many universities have invested in future countries by bringing young people, training them in North America, sending them back. They took a while until they became significant leaders.
[ Page 1434 ]
These people are currently the leaders. Some of them that we met with are very important and significant, and they are already extremely aligned, loyal and sensitive. So we're using them as a contact point of suggestions about how we can establish better cooperation.
With respect to the federal government, I had the pleasure of discovering that the high commissioner in Hong Kong was a former schoolmate of mine in high school. I was asking him what kinds of things could be helpful. He did provide some advice and some support for things that we could be doing, but by and large, they're not doing a lot in terms of promoting education or exchange.
I think universities are great openers to business cooperation. We're not seen as having a particular agenda, so we can open doors easier and in other ways, perhaps, than other organizations.
B. Simpson: Royal Roads is almost my alma mater. I did the MALT program there, when it was called that.
A. Cahoon: That makes it your alma mater, then.
B. Simpson: Yeah. I almost completed it, with the exception that I got elected and couldn't finish the final project.
The non-timber resources component. The Centre for Non-Timber Resources group has also helped Quesnel with some of the work we're doing around agritourism. It's a really good partnership for us, and that's what I'd like to key in on.
You've offered some advice here to government. I'm wondering: can you articulate for us a bit more the role that universities might play, if enabled, to help at the community level to respond to climate change? I think it's ultimately going to end up as a community response. How can we foster that relationship?
You've indicated that communities tend to be more neutral and that they can come to the table with different resources and different skill sets. How can we advance that?
A. Cahoon: I think that's critical for universities. We need to be partners with government and policy-makers to get the education and the application out there. The Bateman centre is the classic example. It will attract people into Royal Roads, and we'll have a chance to walk them through about sustainability issues. It'll be a living laboratory, with trails they can take, that explains in an active way.
Bob Bateman is concerned that a lot of young people spend a lot of time in front of computers and no longer engage in the environment — don't have that sensitivity. How can we make it attractive to them to actually stay, come, visit and look at things that are technologically delivered but also hands-on and touch?
We'll be connecting with the first nations, who can explain some of the woods in the forest and the plants in the areas there. So it's partly working by using the site as the laboratory, but it's also going out in partnership with the communities.
I think one of the things that we get very strongly is the importance that our value comes by offering our teaching, our researchers, our facilities and ideas to help the communities be more effective.
Climate change is something that we can be a catalyst about. We can be the laboratory. We can see how we're working. We've developed a partnership with some of the first nations communities to do the same thing: to help them apply the learning in their community. We're well suited to do that, given the learning and research model.
B. Bennett (Chair): Dr. Cahoon, thank you very much for presenting to us. We appreciate it very much.
A. Cahoon: Thank you, and good luck in your deliberations.
B. Bennett (Chair): Our next witness is the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, Joe Sardinha.
J. Sardinha: Good morning. Don't mind the props. I'm like one of those bingo players that have to take their good-luck kewpie dolls or bobbleheads and whatnot with them. I've chosen to bring apples, of course, because I am an apple grower.
B. Bennett (Chair): You're joined by Glen Lucas, I see.
J. Sardinha: Yes. Good morning, everyone. This is, of course, another opportunity for the B.C. Fruit Growers to participate in the consultation. It is our sixth time. We've participated since 2002, and it's a real pleasure to do so.
Our association represents 1,008 commercial apple growers in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston valleys, where over 99 percent of the tree fruit in this province is located. Our members' farms are small businesses, which is really important to take into consideration with our economy.
This year's theme with the budget is, of course, the environment, which is appropriate to agriculture. Agriculture both sustains and is sustained by the land and water resources of B.C. Addressing the impacts of climate change, having access to affordable water and keeping the farmland viable are key elements of the B.C. government fiscal response for agriculture and the environment.
We would also be remiss if we did not report to you a spectacular failing of the provincial government, and that's the B.C. government's budgetary commitment to agriculture. It not only rates as poor, but it is the worst in Canada, and Canada is among the worst of the industrialized nations in supporting its agriculture.
For that, we have provided you with two charts: one showing other apple-growing provinces of this
[ Page 1435 ]
country where, of course, the tree fruit industry is part of the agriculture support; and the other showing how agriculture support compares for B.C. among the other provinces.
Having said this, there are positive elements of the current provincial agriculture policy and programming. The BCFGA is very encouraged by this committee's recommendation to promote British Columbia's agricultural products in line with the government's commitments to promote healthier lifestyles and to support domestic food. Agriculture is actively working on a program to support this recommendation in partnership with the provincial government, which involves an exciting new initiative.
The tree fruit industry, including apples, continues to implement a strategy based on being a world leader in horticultural technology and new varieties. In January 2007 we adopted and began implementing an industry strategic plan based on marketing, quality, labour, new varieties and the restructuring of our cooperative packinghouses.
I'm pleased to report that we have made significant progress in this area. As of this Friday we will be having a formal accord-signing of the eight industry organizations, further ratifying our industry's strategic plan and carrying that forward.
Provincial and federal matching funding was received this year for the cattle industry, drought relief and management of the central interior and Peace River, as well as the provincial allotment for one year of replant funding for the tree fruit industry.
I may remark that it was a recommendation from this committee as of last year to support the cattle and tree fruit industries, and I'm very pleased that that has happened. This financial assistance will provide much needed disaster relief funds to drought-affected areas, as well as provide interim funding for the tree fruit replant program.
Of the expenditures that the government has made on the tree fruit industry over the many years, one of the most prudent investments has been the commitment to the replant program. The funding has changed our industry into a world leader of new variety development and horticultural practices. The replant program has focused the industry on environmental, productivity and quality improvements.
By the end of October we will present to the Minister of Agriculture and Lands a detailed proposal to complete the last phase of the orchard replant program, which currently stands at about 60 percent of the valley acreage renewed or replanted.
A refocusing on health and nutrition at the individual level may be happening faster than we anticipated. The USDA, for example, has had a preliminary estimate of U.S. consumption of apple products. In their 2006 per-capita consumption figures they were 49.65 pounds per capita. This is up 4.58 pounds in a single year. I do believe that a focus on healthier eating in this province and various programs will do the same within our province.
With this background, the BCFGA would like to offer suggestions on the questions posed by the Minister of Finance in the 2008 budgetary process.
Question 1: what would we do to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 33 percent below current levels by 2010? In our industry a grant from the agriculture environment partnership initiative has enabled regional districts to employ stump grinders to reduce the burning of wood removed from orchards as part of the retooling of our industry as we shift from larger trees to smaller trees on dwarfing rootstocks. A small amount of funding has gone a long way to reducing emissions from wood-debris fires, also enhancing the air quality in the valley itself.
The environmental farm plan program has encouraged significant improvements in environmental conservation on participating farms. Uptake of this program is strong and continues to grow. Some interesting stats on this program. For every dollar the province allocates to the EFP program, the federal government contributes $1.50. For every $2.50 contributed by the provincial and federal governments, growers commit $7 of their own funds. The EFP program provides leverage of almost 9 to 1 for the province's contribution to environmental improvement. This is a very high return on investment, and it is investment worth making in the environment.
We would ensure that the AEPI and the environmental farm plan programs have the funds to continue their vital roles of partnering with agriculture and communities to conserve the environment.
Secondly, we would continue to encourage farming as a key method of sequestering carbon into the soil. To do this, agriculture needs assured access to affordable water as part of maintaining economic viability and environmental benefits for the province. As a side note, we practise conservation through our replant program because of high-efficiency irrigation systems, so we are having an impact on the environment in terms of water usage as well. We need to encourage farming through improved government support.
Thirdly, we would establish a north-south public transportation system in the Okanagan. This express bus system would assist our transient workers in moving throughout the Okanagan during the harvest season. In general, a bus service will reduce congestion in CO2 emissions by increasing transportation efficiency within the valley.
Question 2, regarding tax incentives. The proposed PST tax exemption system for agriculture — a refund system is also being proposed — will encourage farm improvements in all areas, including the environment. The BCFGA strongly endorses the Finance and Government Services Committee to support the new, more administratively efficient PST exemption and refund system for agriculture.
Question 3: what tax changes would we make to discourage British Columbians from activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions? We have seen a much better response to rewards than penalties, as indicated, of course, in the alternative fuel vehicles. We have seen that in the agriculture industry as well,
[ Page 1436 ]
which often feels assailed by urban outlooks and interests. Penalties often provoke conflict rather than focusing on encouraging and signalling appropriate change through rewards, so therefore, the reward system is, in our minds, definitely the appropriate manner of addressing this case.
What budget choices would we make to sustain health care while balancing the need to invest in other areas like education and community programs? One very important aspect of health care, of course, is disease prevention. If we can prevent disease, we will also lessen the need to increase health care budgets dramatically in the future. Disease prevention programs, especially something as simple as nutrition programs, are very effective in reducing the future need for expensive health care interventions. This is one area where the province has really shone lately.
I do believe that the school fruit and vegetable snack program is essential in preventing disease and encouraging a healthier population. The positive reports from this program are overwhelming. The excitement, the educational opportunity to encourage youth to take responsibility for nutritional choices and the behavioural change to good eating habits are incredible success stories, although we understand that the future funding of this program is still not entirely in place.
We would set specific protected funding for disease prevention as a percentage of disease treatment costs to encourage the health care system to bring a fixed focus on disease prevention. This will enable the expansion of successful disease prevention programs such as those under the ActNow initiative.
Question 5: Balanced Budget 2007 provided an additional $476 million over four years towards housing supports for everyone. In this situation we would ask that current housing needs in rural areas be addressed. For our industry we are asking for provincial support for a worker housing program similar to Washington State. In fact, for all of agriculture in B.C., with labour being a critical situation, housing is becoming more and more critical and another aspect that is challenging the viability of farms.
In terms of a balanced budget for 2008, recent government surpluses have been directed towards reducing debt. Debt reduction is prudent but should not be the exclusive approach. Now that the province's credit ratings are extremely good, there is perhaps an opportunity to refocus.
We feel that rebalancing towards economic development programs should start now. To strengthen the resilience of business sectors, productivity and competitiveness need to re-enter the budget lexicon. Growth of our business sector will provide the added tax base needed for health care and education programs and will also defuse the economic situation should we have a downturn.
I do have a summary for you on the last page, which I am not going to deal with because of the questions. I would like to say, just before I entertain questions, that I am shamelessly promoting our product today here. I have brought a box of Gala apples for the committee to enjoy.
I can see no better image than our young people in our schools crunching on an apple, a cucumber, a tomato that's grown in B.C. It's promoting B.C. product. It's educating a new generation of healthy eaters and supporters of what B.C. has to offer. I think that this is a wonderful program, and it needs to be supported to the full extent of involving all our schools in the province.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thanks very much, Joe.
J. Horgan: Thanks, Joe. That was great. I can't get enough apples, so I'm glad you brought a box. If we can displace the McIntoshes that they're giving away in the lobby there with some Galas, that would be even better.
There are two issues that I wanted to touch upon in your presentation. It goes back to an earlier presentation we had this morning. One is that you talked about reward/penalty. We heard from some presenters that a carbon tax may well be…. Certainly, other jurisdictions are discussing and some have imposed a carbon tax as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I wonder if you could comment on that and how that would potentially affect your sector.
The other is that a presenter we had this morning talked about incentives similar to those that governments, both federal and provincial, have put in place to encourage hybrid automobile purchases and to increase upgrading of farm machinery that has less harmful impact with respect to greenhouse gases. So more incentives for updated and enhanced and improved farm equipment versus a carbon tax and what impact that would have on your sector.
J. Sardinha: I do believe that the carrot is better than the stick in this situation, and I do believe also that the federal and provincial initiatives to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles and better fuel-rated vehicles are positive steps. I would also say that for our industry, if high-efficiency equipment — new tractor technology, for instance — is developed, incentives in that area would also be very positive.
In terms of the carbon tax, we would actually like someone to develop the concept of exactly how much carbon we sequester in agriculture, in what we do. We know that living plants are the cleaners of the air that we breathe. Therefore, we would like to see what the offset is of what we sequester versus what we actually emit.
I know that for various sectors…. The greenhouse industry, for instance, might have different issues there, but in our sector I think we would definitely come out on the positive side. In terms of a carbon tax I'd actually like to see a carbon tax credit, if in fact agriculture is sequestering more carbon than it emits, to have a positive influence there instead.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): You mentioned, Joe — and I'm familiar with this statistic about the B.C.
[ Page 1437 ]
government — that as a percentage of agricultural GDP, it has the lowest support for agriculture in Canada. What specific programs would you advocate if there were to be an expansion in funding?
It's one thing to be the lowest, but you need to provide the leadership, I guess, as to where the money might go. I know extension is one that's traditionally discussed, but what other programs would you advocate, if the committee decided to recommend closing that gap?
J. Sardinha: For instance, in our industry and in other sectors in the province food safety is becoming a very, very big issue, and there is a lot of dollars involved in the actual on-farm, in-processing-plant implementation of those programs.
Federally, under the current agricultural policy framework, that funding for on-farm implementation is grossly deficient. The maximum it provides is $1,000 per producer, when a producer can, in effect, spend thousands of dollars coming up to the standards that are demanded of the marketplace. So food safety programming is one area.
We talked about the need to fully fund the environmental farm plan program, which is integral. Actually, it integrates very well with food safety as well. Those are two areas.
We also need to have enough funding in the agricultural budget to prevent the last-minute scrambles. When there is a disaster of a certain kind, we need to refocus and say that yes, agriculture, this sector, is in a crisis. We need to fully fund those business risk management programs and have the funding available to fully fund them, as opposed to trying to search around for credits and just obtain funding from the federal government. We need to step up to the plate and have our 40-percent dollars for all programming, whether it's provincial or federal or cost-shared.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Thanks. If there's anything further that you or Glen might want to add to that upon reflection, then I would, for one, and I know that other members of the committee would probably appreciate that input.
J. Sardinha: I think we alluded to approaching the minister later this month to fund the continuation of the replant program so that we can reach our goals and our targets. That's one area. I've pointed out very well that this has been one of the most prudent investments the province has ever made in our industry, because the dollars that have been generated in the local economy as a result of growers taking the initiative and becoming innovators and world leaders in what we do. In effect, the economic benefit has also been transferred to the communities of the Okanagan. Like I said, it has been a very prudent investment.
That's one area where the province, through agricultural programs, can also look at different sectors and invest strategically, as has been the case with the tree fruit industry. Strategic investment is critical, and it also is very prudent, because it's not a handout. It's really encouraging industry to better itself and become viable.
B. Bennett (Chair): Joe, Glen, thank you very much for your presentation. There's a lot of interest amongst committee members in your submission. Unfortunately, we're out of time.
Ladies and gentlemen, I notice that local MLA Al Horning, Kelowna–Lake Country, joined us a while back.
Al, thank you very much for coming out today.
Our next witness is the Federation of Child and Family Services of B.C., John Belfie.
J. Belfie: If you have a copy of my presentation in front of you, you'll see it's quite brief.
I'd like to thank the Chair and the committee members for this opportunity to present to you today. I'm John Belfie, the executive director of North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society in Vernon. I'm a representative of the social services — mostly Ministry of Children and Families, and Health and Solicitor General's services — in the province.
Previously, as you mentioned, you've heard from my colleagues Jennifer Charlesworth and Ralph Hembruff, Jennifer being the chair of the federation and Ralph being the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Victoria. Their presentations closely parallel the points I am about to make, and I endorse their positions fully. I was a contributor to a recent study conducted by the federation and the Ministry of Children and Families related to operational funding for contracted agencies.
This topic has been a concern for me since 1993. I've been tracking those costs, and I've actually brought an ancillary document that I can leave with you, if you're interested, that chronicles the costs we've been tracking since that time. However, a lot of these costs are not infrastructure capital costs but a variety of different factors.
I have to commend the contractors in the valley — recognize that MCFD has made many positive steps to improve the service we provide in the region. They've added 290 social workers to the positions. It will take a while to fill those. They've increased the Ministry of Children and Families budget by 6 percent, and they've made a commitment to regionalize those services to make them more effective. The deputy minister and the minister have received a copy of our recently conducted survey and jointly support the action to resolve the issues identified in the document.
The impact. In response to question 4 of the budget consultation, it's the belief of contracted agency personnel with whom I've consulted that the cumulative impact of not addressing operational costs over many years has reached a critical point. The annual inflation rate compounded since 1997 is 22.7 percent.
This is how the agencies in the Okanagan region are coping with this situation. Many agencies have reached their limits in belt-tightening, creative problem-solving, fundraising and reorganization to
[ Page 1438 ]
maintain financial viability. At this juncture, reduction in direct service seems to be the only alternative for many, as cost pressures and deficits continue to rise without budgetary relief.
Here are some samples of solutions that are presently being resorted to by regional contractors. One contractor has reduced their service by 20 percent in the disabled services field. One contractor is charging for services they previously provided free of charge, and that's to assist families that are marginalized, experiencing marital distress and needing support to stay together.
There's been a delay of major maintenance projects, compounding future expense and the possibility of creating a structural crisis resulting in closure or interruption of service. Many contractors are running deficits on a short-term basis in hope of recovering lost revenue. I think you heard that in Victoria with the Boys and Girls Club.
Overloading administrative and supervision responsibilities to free up funds to keep the lights on and offices heated is quite a common strategy, severely restricting the training required to maintain accreditation standards, thus threatening the very goal of quality service described in the ministry's action plan.
Many of us are at the point where solutions are impacting access or causing a reduction of services to the persons we have traditionally served on behalf of the Ministry of Children and Families and our communities. We feel that the work we do, the services we provide and the persons we serve all contribute to making our communities stronger, healthier and more functional. We are the contracted agencies the ministry uses in order to help achieve some of their objectives, as laid out in the ministry's service plan.
In answering question 4, the agencies around B.C. have assisted the federation in quantifying the current operational budget shortfall.
We're not going to be shy. We're going to ask for $20 million to be placed in the MCFD budget to be specifically addressed to cost pressures created by inflation and a lack of operational increases over at least the past ten years.
I'm respectfully submitting this request to you. I'd be very happy to answer questions with regard to this.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, John.
Committee members, any questions?
As you mentioned yourself, we have been hearing similar submissions across the province, and I think the committee has heard them loud and clear. The fact that there are no questions is not a reflection on your submission. I think we're going to have to wrestle with this one as a committee.
J. Belfie: I just wanted to give you the regional. That's why it's repetition. You've heard what's going on in this region and the Okanagan Valley. I've talked widely with contractors up and down the valley, from Salmon Arm right through to Osoyoos and into the East Kootenays. I think you'll hear the voice again.
The one point that's not in this document and that I'm thinking I should have added is that the government of the day, I recognize, has done a lot in this sector. They do invest hundreds of millions of dollars. I think it's the third-largest ministry in your government, some $300 million or $400 million in contracted services. By not addressing the operational side of the contracting costs, it's hampering the major investment you're making. We're asking that that be resolved.
B. Bennett (Chair): Jenny Kwan has a question for you.
J. Kwan: I do have a question. I wonder if you could refresh certainly my memory, if not the committee's memory, on the funding for the Ministry of Children and Family Development overall. The 6-percent increase that you referenced in your document…. Given the cuts that have taken place since 2002 and with the increases that took place subsequently, where are we at? Have they brought us back?
J. Belfie: I'm sorry. Where…?
J. Kwan: With the overall funding with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, where are we at? With that increase, have we caught up on the funding cuts that have actually taken place, or are we still behind? Can you just refresh my memory on that?
J. Belfie: You're talking about the ministry itself, not my business of providing service to government. Is that correct?
J. Kwan: The Ministry of Children and Family Development overall.
J. Belfie: I would say that when you factor in inflation, you're still far behind. But I don't know how that compares with other ministries. It's across the board. I know there were cuts in the Ministry of Children and Families. When you factor in inflation and even add the 6 percent…. I remember having conversations with management. This barely, if at all, addresses the inflationary issue itself for the ministry.
B. Bennett (Chair): Bob Simpson has a question.
B. Simpson: John, it's actually a request, if you would, because we have had the presentation. As the Chair indicated, this is something that we'll end up struggling with. I guess what I struggle with is that the $20 million ask looks like we're covering a cost as opposed to seeing it as an investment.
I'm wondering if it's possible for the organizations that are doing these presentations…. Most of the presentations have indicated to us, as yours has, that the belt-tightening and the reductions have been done. There's not much more room there. It hasn't really given us a sense of what we stand to lose in our communities.
[ Page 1439 ]
Failure to invest this $20 million would end up looking like what? I think that's the piece that may be missing, that we need to get our heads around a little bit better. You've said, for example, that not maximizing the contribution to MCFD is one potential negative impact of not investing this $20 million.
If it's possible to have some of the associations put some thought to that and submit, through the process, some thinking around what we stand to lose if we don't make the investment, that also gives us a stronger case to argue on your behalf.
J. Belfie: Sure, I understand that. We are going to make a summary presentation through the federation, and I'll make sure they address that issue.
B. Simpson: Perfect. It's more of the business case argument — right? That would be great.
B. Bennett (Chair): Committee members, I'm going to make an executive decision to push ahead here. All of the witnesses are here, so we'll just skip over this empty slot and go right to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
M. Bader: My name is Maureen Bader. I am the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. On behalf of our members, I'd like to thank you very much for taking time out to listen to our concerns
My presentation will probably be fairly different from most of the others you've heard and will hear, as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is urging you to lower debt, lower taxes and spend less, not more.
Tax and spend — that's what governments do. If they do it well, the economy flourishes, standards of living rise, and people become better off. If done poorly, the economy stagnates, standards of living fall, and we become worse off. B.C. is booming now because of the decisions made in 2001. More recent spending and taxing decisions, however, have left us with a difficult question: will the politics of redistribution take priority over the economics of growth?
Today we have a consensus in support of balanced budgets, spending discipline and debt reduction. It is time for politicians to learn to live within the means of taxpayers. Otherwise, we'll be challenged to continue delivering the economic gains we've experienced so far.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation's number one priority for Budget 2008 is a legislated debt reduction plan. B.C. taxpayers are currently funding interest payments of $6 million per day to service the debt. B.C.'s large and unanticipated surpluses have opened the window of opportunity to pay down the debt and reduce these interest payments.
However, without a commitment to debt reduction similar to the commitment to balanced budgets, politicians will continue to be distracted by politically motivated spending priorities. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the government adopt a legislated debt reduction plan, applying 2.5 percent of own-source revenue to the provincial debt.
The second most crucial challenge today is to develop a tax system that is competitive, predictable and transparent and that does not lend itself to manipulation by tax professionals or other heavy-handed bureaucrats. Central to this year's recommendation is a call for a comprehensive public review of corporate and personal taxes, with the aim of streamlining and simplifying the tax code not only to reduce administrative costs but also to enhance compliance and competitiveness.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the establishment of a public tax review committee to examine corporate and personal income taxes. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation supports the shift to a simpler, lower and flatter income tax system.
Governments have yet to come up with a spending program more wasteful than corporate welfare. Although subsidy programs channelling funds to individual businesses were eliminated in 2002, today we see funds channelled to industries such as tourism and arts. More specifically, targeted tax cuts have replaced direct subsidies as a method of channelling funds to profit-making businesses. Governments must eliminate subsidies to businesses in all their forms, not simply repackage them. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the government end corporate welfare by eliminating subsidies and targeted tax cuts to businesses and industries.
Reform in a wide variety of sectors will increase consumer choice and reduce government spending. Health and education, the two areas of greatest spending, are also in the greatest need of reform. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends reform in the areas of health and education to ensure that patients, parents and students have the right to control their health and educational outcomes.
For health, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the repeal of section 45(1) of the Medicare Protection Act that prohibits the purchase and sale of private medical insurance.
For education, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the introduction of scholarship certificates for parents to fund their children's education at the school of their choice.
Olympic expenditures promise to leave the province with a legacy of debt if spending is not brought under control and if VANOC is not made more transparent. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends a commitment to no new Olympic funding and reining in projects to reduce the spectre of continued cost overruns. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the government enact an Olympic transparency plan to direct all related and/or trademarked taxpayer Olympic spending in addition to previously committed capital spending.
Public sector employment in B.C. fell in 2006 for the first time in 17 years. This decrease was likely due to people leaving the public sector for private-sector opportunities because of the booming B.C. economy, not a concerted effort on the part of the government to achieve efficiencies in the public sector.
[ Page 1440 ]
What hasn't fallen, however, is the wage bill. Even though public sector employment dropped by 1.5 percent in 2006, the total wage bill rose by 7.6 percent. Although wages in many sectors of the economy are increasing to compete for scarce labour, the government should not be competing with the private sector for labour through higher wages.
People create wealth; governments redistribute it. If the government competes for labour with the private sector, less wealth is generated, wage rates are forced upward, and the stage is set for lower growth and development in the province in the future.
To make government more accountable and efficient and reduce competition for labour from the public sector, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends the amalgamation and/or elimination of ministries and the transfer of required services to other ministries.
Now, what you've all been waiting for. B.C.'s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent from current levels by 2020. With 95 percent of B.C.'s energy coming from green-friendly hydroelectric plants, any significant greenhouse gas emission reduction will have to come from the transportation sector, not the electricity sector.
However, what we have seen so far is a confused set of policies, including a tax on hydro power, which is almost essentially green; the possibility of yet another gas tax; subsidies to alternative energy projects; government megadams in northern B.C.; and an ill-conceived push for energy self-sufficiency. Given B.C.'s already low greenhouse gas level, the road to lower greenhouse gases is paved with tax hikes, subsidies and lower economic activity.
We all care about the environment, but technological advance comes with economic growth, and that leads to a cleaner environment, not unfettered spending on ill-conceived projects. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends striving towards a cleaner, healthier environment by focusing on economic growth, not greenhouse gas reduction.
There have been countless polls and surveys that show that British Columbians want to have choice in their auto insurance needs. The 2006 Canadian Taxpayers Federation supporter survey showed that 81 percent of Canadian Taxpayers Federation supporters are in favour of an end to the ICBC monopoly. In light of rising premiums, rising costs and executive bonus levels, large profits and falling customer satisfaction levels, it's time to end the ICBC monopoly.
Monopolies often provide inferior service and have management and oversight problems such as those found in 2007 at the British Columbia Lottery Corp. Instead of patching over those problems, we recommend the privatization of the B.C. Lottery Corp. to induce competition and eliminate the possibility of future taxpayer-funded executive severance packages.
Private sector involvement in B.C. liquor stores would result in hundreds of new entrepreneurs; hundreds of new jobs; an increased demand for store space, business supplies and services, computer software — the whole thing.
Lastly, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends giving consumers choice in a free marketplace through greater competition in the provision of auto insurance, lottery and liquor sales.
Today the government is increasingly sidetracked by politically motivated spending increases, a reliance on debt reduction by accident, and backdoor corporate welfare schemes. B.C. is now off the equalization dole and back to have-province status.
The focus on balanced budgets and tax reduction helped to bring B.C.'s economy back on track. A back-to-basics budget will help B.C. continue on its current path of economic growth and development.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you, Maureen.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): Next week the Legislature goes back into session, and one of the things we're going to be doing is debating the Tsawwassen treaty. That discussion will be led by the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, among others.
I notice in your submission here, on page 14, you recommend completely eliminating that ministry. I notice you didn't have a chance to go into that recommendation, so can you explain your reasoning there?
M. Bader: Yes. The federal government spends $8 billion per year for Indians on reserves. We have been engaging in a treaty process that has been going on for 15 years, and we spent about a billion dollars in various ways getting to this point. It only indicates that the treaty process, as a whole, has been a very efficient process to bring justice to aboriginals on reserves. We have a $100 million new relationship fund that we have yet to see any results from.
Indians on reserves are a federal responsibility. We don't really need to be spending additional provincial money in this particular area, and that's the rationale behind that.
B. Bennett (Chair): Maureen, in your key recommendations, I don't think you've mentioned the one that you talked about in regard to government not competing with the private sector for labour and driving up labour costs, and so forth.
How do you square that one with the need for government to have the very best people it can find working within the various Crown agencies and ministries?
M. Bader: If you have fewer bureaucrats, you can spend more on the ones you have, basically.
Chile is an interesting country. They've got a population of about nine million. They've got a bureaucracy of about 100,000. That's for the entire country. It runs very smoothly. It's got quite a good economy.
The problem with too many government bureaucrats is that they all need to be continuously finding things to do. That is one of the things that can lead to additional programs that just waste taxpayers' dollars.
[ Page 1441 ]
B. Bennett (Chair): On the recommendation from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation with regard to greenhouse gas reduction, does the federation have a position on causes of climate change? Does that position lead you to this particular recommendation, or is this just a recommendation based on where you think government would get the biggest bang for expenditure?
M. Bader: Yes, we do have a position. It's on our website, www.taxpayer.com.
That essentially is that climate change is something that's going on. It's been going on forever. That's the nature of the world. In the 1970s we were worried about having another ice age. Now we're worried about cataclysmic global warming.
The thing is that there isn't really anything we can do specifically. In fact, the things that we have been doing so far have had no positive result at all. Instead of spending money on a problem that we can't really solve, why don't we spend money — in the case of the environment — on pollution measures that will help to improve human health?
In this province we still have the occasional boil-water advisory. Spending billions of dollars on greenhouse gas reduction initiatives will do nothing for that.
B. Bennett (Chair): It's more than occasional. It is regular.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Maureen. I've just got a question. Does the private sector pay severance packages when they let go…?
I was involved with the B.C. chamber before. I was president of the Surrey Chamber of Commerce. I'm just trying to find out from your perspective: does the private sector, when they let go or if there's a dispute involving management…? Is there any severance paid or not, from your perspective?
M. Bader: I've had lots of different jobs over the years. When I was let go from the Royal Bank, I had quite a good severance package. It was nine months' salary, retraining. I mean, we have labour laws, and they have things that they have to do.
Generally speaking, in a non-union environment, if you feel that you've been poorly done by, you just go to a labour lawyer.
D. Hayer: Do they pay less than the severance packages you see in government? Are they more or about the same? Have you done any analysis on that for the same type of positions in private sector versus in government?
M. Bader: No, we've never done any analysis on that. But the private sector goes with the law of the land, which generally tends to be quite fair.
That's not to say that there aren't bad employers in the private sector. Again, if you have a problem with your employer, you do have recourse to the law.
R. Hawes: Maureen, just a quick question about ICBC. The government did take a look a few years ago at opening up insurance. What we determined was that by opening up the public liability portion, private companies would basically cherry-pick. They would take the best drivers, leaving ICBC with the worst drivers, of course.
Does that matter to the federation?
M. Bader: Of course it does, because that's going to be….
R. Hawes: How would you suggest that bad drivers be apportioned?
M. Bader: In provinces that have complete private provision, what happens is that the insurance companies will set up pools for particularly bad drivers. Of course, another, more basic question is: if the driver is really that bad, should they be driving?
R. Hawes: I guess instead of "bad drivers" I'll say "higher-risk drivers," which could include seniors; it could include young drivers. There is a great deal of discrimination based on age in the insurance industry where the private sector is completely involved.
M. Bader: One of the issues with government provision of auto insurance in this case is that because you can't get basic insurance anywhere else, the government Crown corporation must insure you, which means that we get stuck with high-risk drivers.
Now, even in the optional insurance side of the business, ICBC will refuse to insure people. That's not just in the private sector.
B. Bennett (Chair): We're out of time. Maureen, thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate it.
Committee members, I'm going to call a four- or five-minute recess, if that's okay, just for myself. I'll be right back.
The committee recessed from 11:07 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
[B. Bennett in the chair.]
B. Bennett (Chair): Our next witness is the University Presidents Council of British Columbia. We have Don Avison and Christine Massey with us this morning.
Good morning, and welcome.
D. Avison: Members of the committee, I'm joined today by my colleague Christine Massey, who will speak very quickly in delivering the presentation of the University Presidents Council, and will then endeavour to answer any questions that you might have.
C. Massey: I'm very pleased to be here today with the opportunity to represent the province's six public
[ Page 1442 ]
universities. In the short time that I have to speak to you today, my comments will focus on two key areas that universities would like the committee to consider as you prepare recommendations for the next provincial budget.
First, we will urge you to support the key recommendations of the Campus 2020 report that was prepared for government by Mr. Geoff Plant earlier this year. Secondly, we will invite your consideration of our proposals to address the environmental and climate action challenges that lie ahead of us.
But before discussing these areas, I would like to first take a few minutes just to acknowledge some of the tremendous accomplishments of recent years. We have truly been building a solid foundation for post-secondary education in B.C., and opportunities for students have been significantly expanded. This has been important progress, largely as a result of a very successful partnership between government, universities and other post-secondary institutions.
For example, the initiative to create 25,000 new student spaces announced in 2003 to address growing population and high university entrance requirements has been successful in making post-secondary education accessible for many more students.
Earlier this year the provincial government announced the addition of 2,500 new graduate student spaces, a new provincial scholarship program and expanded internship opportunities. These initiatives will be critical to support the next generation of innovators for our province.
An example relevant to the community that we find ourselves in today — the medical school expansion. Eight years ago this was just a good idea. Today the buildings have been constructed, the programs are in place, and only days ago we marked the full doubling of the first-year medical class, to 256 students. Now we look forward to the next phase of that initiative, which will happen right here in the Okanagan.
I would also like to acknowledge a number of research investments that have been made in the province, including the B.C. knowledge development fund, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Genome B.C. and others.
These investments have supported the facilities needed in which to carry out leading-edge research as well as the people who are responsible for creating new knowledge and innovation. We should certainly be proud of what we have accomplished in recent years. However, we cannot be complacent, and we believe there are further opportunities to make greater progress.
We do not need to look very far for some guidance on how to proceed. Earlier this year Geoff Plant presented his Campus 2020 report, the first comprehensive plan for post-secondary education in 45 years.
Mr. Plant recognized that B.C. has an excellent post-secondary system today, but if properly supported, we have the potential to be truly outstanding. Mr. Plant identified two key priorities for B.C.'s post-secondary education system: access and excellence. To these priorities we would add the sustainability of our core operations.
On the question of access, Campus 2020 provides us with concrete measurable targets that would result in B.C. leading Canada in per-capita participation rates and post-secondary credentials.
We are also challenged to improve access for underrepresented groups, including low-income students and aboriginal students. We know that an ever-increasing number of jobs will require post-secondary training. Raising the educational aspirations of more British Columbians will directly contribute to our province's productivity and prosperity and, just as importantly, will further strengthen our civil society.
We only have to look to the city that we are in today to see the impact that a university has had on this community. This year UBC Okanagan welcomed over 1,200 new first-year students, and its overall enrolment grew by 17 percent. An increasing number of these students are coming from this very region, almost 40 percent of this year's incoming class.
Much the same story has emerged at SFU's Surrey campus, where this fall's enrolment is up 37 percent over last year. Most significantly, 61 percent of new students are from the South Fraser region, up from 32 percent in 2005. Our challenge in Surrey now is to sustain the growth of that campus to match the demand from the growing South Fraser region.
In Kamloops, Thompson Rivers University has been embraced by its community. It's a city that was truly ready to seize upon the opportunity presented to it by having a university located there. However, we must now ensure that TRU has the resources necessary to be successful, and in particular, that it has the support necessary to carry out its unique open learning mandate in a way that meets the needs of the entire province.
Mr. Plant recognized that access alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by commitment to excellence. Both will be necessary if B.C. is to be a leader in the knowledge-based global society. B.C.'s universities have already identified quality of teaching and learning as a high priority. As an example, UBC recently recruited a Nobel prize–winning physicist, Dr. Carl Wieman, to lead a five-year initiative to reform and improve science education.
However, these initiatives cannot have a real impact without the needed improvements to institutional funding. Over the last few years B.C.'s post-secondary system has emphasized growth and increased capacity. This was a welcome expansion and needed. However, rapid expansion combined with resource constraints raises important issues of quality. We must ensure that today's students are assured of the same standards of quality and access to professors as earlier generations.
We cannot afford to risk the quality of our institutions. Our universities are being judged by global standards. Already our universities compete for faculty in an international market, are actively engaged in international research consortia and attract an increasing number of international students.
[ Page 1443 ]
The reality is that insufficient recognition of growing inflationary pressures together with the costs associated with capital inflation have placed a strain on the core operating grant. We have to ask ourselves, as the grant is forced to absorb an increasing number of pressures, what the impact has been on quality.
I would like to turn to another focus of the Campus 2020 report: research excellence. Indeed, Campus 2020's most ambitious targets concern research — to make B.C. one of the top three provinces in Canada for support for university-based research by 2010. This target is inseparable from another target of enrolling more graduate students per capita than any other province.
These targets recognize the critical role that knowledge plays in advancing our social and economic development. The good news is that B.C. has already made a number of important investments of research, some of which I've already mentioned. The graduate student initiative will make a significant contribution.
We have a solid platform on which to build as we strive to accelerate knowledge creation and innovation. Acting on the Campus 2020 targets provides us with an opportunity to make forward-looking strategic investments that will have a lasting impact on the province. For example, B.C. can and should create a centres of excellence program in areas of provincial and global strategic importance. Support for the direct and indirect costs of critical infrastructure required for world-class research will contribute to B.C.'s competitiveness.
We have an opportunity to make further improvements to our commercialization strategies to ensure that our research produces the greatest benefit for our economy and society.
Finally, I would like to address how universities can contribute to the environmental challenges ahead of us. For years B.C.'s universities have been actively engaged in modelling best practices in environmental stewardship of their campuses and in reducing the impact of our collective activities on the environment. UBC, for example, is regularly cited as a leader in the greening of Canadian campuses. You heard earlier from Royal Roads University around their initiatives.
Many of the scientists who have contributed to the state of our knowledge today of a global climate change have come from our institutions. UVic, for example, is the home of five of the eight Canadian lead authors of the stunning IPCC report on climate change that was released earlier this year.
We are pleased to support the current efforts by the provincial government to set firm targets for greenhouse gas reductions and to identify real solutions to global warming. Accordingly, we recommend that the provincial government implement a two-pronged university-based climate change action agenda.
The first aspect of the initiative is a Pacific green universities initiative, designed to meet government's stated commitments on climate action. Investments would be made in on-campus activities and initiatives such as hybrid vehicles, energy conservation, energy-efficient building renewal and other strategies that would contribute to our greenhouse gas goals.
The second aspect of the initiative would be a multi-year investment in a research-based network to advance climate change solutions. The network would build on the strong foundation of expertise in our universities now to support leading-edge research in areas such as clean energy technology, ocean systems monitoring, mitigation, examining economic impacts and commercialization strategies to transfer technologies to industry.
This is undoubtedly an exciting time in B.C. We have accomplished much in extending the opportunity of post-secondary education throughout the province, and we've come a long way in strengthening the foundation of research and innovation that will drive the economy of our province for years to come.
We have now been challenged by the Campus 2020 report to continue our work and to seek higher degrees of access and excellence. It is our responsibility to rise to meet that challenge and to devote the resources and effort necessary to achieve our collective goals. Anything less, in this competitive, knowledge-based world, risks taking us backwards.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much. Thanks for your very concise recommendations.
B. Ralston (Deputy Chair): One of the aspects of Geoff Plant's report that you didn't have an opportunity to address was the relationship in the future between the college system and the university system.
I think there's less than complete satisfaction with some of Mr. Plant's recommendations about the future of the college system. Certainly, the pressure on the existing colleges to transform themselves, at least in name, to universities — with some of the accompanying university goals that they maybe don't address now — seems to be immense.
I'm wondering. From your perspective, could you comment on Mr. Plant's recommendations and how you see the future relationship of the college system and the university system? As you know, in the past it was very clearly defined. It does seem to be in flux.
D. Avison: Well, I'll endeavour to answer that question as fulsomely as I can.
I think it would be fair to say that, over its history, the relationship between B.C. colleges and universities has, frankly, been very good. I would cite the experience with the credit transfer system in British Columbia that is essentially unrivalled.
You can only find something similar in Alberta, which is essentially modelled on what has happened here in British Columbia, and you won't find the same degree of cooperation and collaboration between colleges and universities in other jurisdictions.
For example, in Ontario a student who enters a college will have a very difficult time transferring credits to a university — something that's really taken for granted here in British Columbia. You heard Mr.
[ Page 1444 ]
Hamilton today speaking directly from the experience of the college in this community about its relationship with the University of British Columbia here in the Okanagan. I think that stands as a very direct example of the kind of cooperation that exists.
I won't suggest to you that there aren't some tensions that are beginning to emerge. I think, frankly, it results from some absence of clarity in relation to what the relative roles and responsibilities are. That is an issue that Mr. Plant endeavoured to address in his report.
I think one has to acknowledge that within a very short period of time the most controversial of those recommendations, in relation to the degree-granting status of colleges, was addressed by government. It was indicated that that matter would not be considered further, that we would continue to move forward with degree-granting status across a number of institutions in this province.
Now, I can't sit here and say to you that I don't think that is an issue. I think it is. There is a fundamental issue of public policy in British Columbia about how many degree-granting institutions the province can actually sustain, if we're serious about quality and excellence. So there is an issue there that we have elected, perhaps, to put aside for a period of time.
But inevitably, I think there is an issue about whether British Columbia is choosing to be excellent in relation to those areas that we can be or whether we're all about everything to everyone.
I don't know if that helps to address the question. It is producing some tensions, but universities, I think, would take the position that a greater degree of clarity in respect of our relative responsibilities and mandates would be a useful thing.
J. Kwan: In the presentation you mentioned that the Campus 2020 document challenges us to improve access for underrepresented groups, including low-income students and aboriginal students.
Earlier today and, in fact, throughout our travels year after year, we have presentations from the student body coming forward with recommendations for the Finance Committee. I think you were both here to hear the earlier presentations.
D. Avison: Yeah.
J. Kwan: I wonder whether or not you can comment on their request and on whether or not you think their recommendations to the Finance Committee are a sound approach to improving access for underrepresented groups, including low-income and aboriginal students.
D. Avison: Well, permit me first to say that this is an issue that we've identified as a significant one for a number of years. I think the most important part that comes out of the Plant report is the recommendation for a comprehensive review of student financial assistance.
We've seen that same recommendation from a number of other provincial inquiries or reports that have looked into these issues. They have identified that there are real issues in relation to student financial assistance and that the system has perhaps not evolved adequately — not just in this jurisdiction but elsewhere as well — to meet the needs of some groups of students in the way that perhaps would be most effective in addressing the overall goal of increasing the success of students who may be faced with financial challenges.
The issue that I think you're asking me is whether the recommendation for a 10-percent tuition level would be the appropriate and most effective response to this. My answer to that question is no.
J. Kwan: Sorry, no. Actually, their recommendations were severalfold. The 10-percent reduction is a component piece. Debt forgiveness for their student loans is another. A grant system, in terms of revamping the grant system, is also another piece that they had advanced, and interest rates — zero interest rate — was the fourth piece.
D. Avison: There are several elements, you're quite right, that were put on the table here this morning and, I think, have been at other presentations — several elements that warrant consideration. Our answer to that would be: "Absolutely. We need to have a look at all of these."
I couldn't help, sitting and listening to the presenter this morning, wondering if we shouldn't be more fulsome in relation to the full range of the options that should be considered.
For example, income-contingent loan remission programs weren't mentioned this morning. They're another aspect that might be relevant to finding a better solution or a better approach to address the issue of student financial assistance in an environment where the costs of post-secondary education are indeed very significant.
I think, however, we also need to look at more targeted strategies at addressing the needs of the students who are challenged the most and, therefore, a more targeted focus, a more specific focus in relation to the needs of first generation learners — those from families like the student you had before you today who is the first in her family to attend a post-secondary institution.
We know there are barriers there that call out for some attention. That's an area that I think universities, university colleges, colleges and other institutes have been identifying for some period of time as one where we would wish to focus attention.
First nations learners and other aboriginal learners are another. We know our numbers are very low and, in the development of effective human capital strategies into the future — and, more importantly than that, simply doing the right thing to make sure that all elements of our population are engaged in post-secondary education — call out for more specific and more targeted strategies in that area.
At the university level — and I dare say that this is likely the case in the university colleges and the colleges as well — we've been doing our part with the assistance of students, frankly, in increasing signifi-
[ Page 1445 ]
cantly the opportunities that are available to students through student financial assistance.
I can say to the committee today that we would welcome the more comprehensive review on student financial assistance that has been recommended by Mr. Plant.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for your presentation. A very good presentation.
One of the questions I constantly get asked from my constituents, especially in Surrey, is: are the universities like UBC and SFU working very closely? Lots of students go from Surrey to UBC since SFU has a very successful campus there. Is it possible, if they have enough students going from Surrey to attend some classes at UBC, that they can take the same classes at the SFU campus using the new technology? That will help us with environmental challenges. It will make it easier for students.
Some of the courses I can understand they'd have to go to UBC campus to attend. Maybe the other ones…. Can they have some cooperation among the universities to look at it? Can those classes be taken in Surrey, especially if you have enough students based there?
D. Avison: I'm going to come back to an answer that's very similar to the one I gave to the first question about the value of that British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer and the capacity to transfer credits within this jurisdiction.
Again, unlike almost no other jurisdiction, the opportunities for students to be able to transfer those credits from one institution to the next are extremely good. I'll have to leave it to Dr. Stevenson and Professor Toope to address whether there's room for more specific collaborations, but I would point out to the committee that they're already engaged in several others.
My colleague Ms. Massey mentioned earlier what happened in relation to the medical school. I think sometimes we take these things for granted. What's happened here is frankly revolutionary, where you could have one degree offered by three universities at three different locations — soon to be four.
I would also point out the collaboration that does in fact exist at the Great Northern Way campus on the world digital media master's program, which involves delivery by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, UBC and SFU. So we already have an example of where SFU and UBC are working to develop collaborative programming that provides the student with a credential that in that case will be signed off by all four institutions.
I think the reality is that we have a very strong foundation upon which to build in British Columbia where we can and should expect further collaboration and further success.
J. Horgan: Thank you very much for your presentation.
Christine, at the front end you make reference to enrolment growth in two institutions. What we've heard from other witnesses at the college level and in some faculty presentations is that there is, perhaps, a flattening or decline in enrolment in some institutions.
I'm wondering if, in light of the prosperity we're currently experiencing — young people having an opportunity to go into the workforce without acquiring any accreditation…. Is that having an impact today? Have you been doing work to look forward five to ten years to what the impact would be on your institutions and the value of the spaces that were created if no one's filling them?
C. Massey: Well, we certainly have been seeing some softening of demand. Although, in some of our new campuses in the regions where we have…. In Surrey there was all sorts of unmet demand and continues to be unmet demand. There'll be need for continued growth in that region. When you ask the students in the region of Surrey about what made them decide to go to university, the proximity of that institution was a major driver of their choice. Those students may have elected not to go in the past.
When we look out in the future, our national organization, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, has done some projections of scenarios for future enrolment in universities in years out. Even with a modest increase in participation rates over what we are seeing today…. I have to note that while Campus 2020 has challenged us to be a leader in Canada in participation rates, Canada is not a leader internationally. So we have considerable room to grow in increasing our participation rates in universities.
When we apply that on a national scale, even with a modest participation rate, we do see significant enrolment increases in years out. We're cognizant of the boom in the economy right now and the effect that that has on young people and the opportunities they have in front of them. They may make some short-term choices. But in the long term we need to continue to build that capacity in B.C. to ensure our future prosperity.
D. Avison: I think it's been the reality of British Columbia for quite some period of time that when things are booming on the economic side, particularly in the resource extraction industry, that does result in a number of people that move into the economy to work for a period of time. I think that's probably more significant at the college level, for reasons that are likely very obvious. That is placing some significant economic strains on the colleges as a result.
The simple reality is that if you have to mount a class, if the numbers of students aren't there but you still have some significant demand, then that does drive up the cost ratio. But this is not new. This has happened a number of times before.
If anything, at the university level I think we've been struck this year by the increases in enrolment. We mentioned SFU Surrey and what's happened at Thompson Rivers University and here at UBC Okanagan, but at other institutions — at UBC and at Simon Fraser at its main Burnaby campus — we've also
[ Page 1446 ]
seen significant year-over-year increases. We're seeing some significant variations in the way that those pressures are playing out from one region to the next.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Don and Christine. We appreciate your coming up to Kelowna to present to us.
That concludes the formal portion of our hearing today. We now go into our open-mike segment. We have two folks who have signed up to present to us. Our first presenter is Richard Hogg.
We're in a different segment of the hearing. The rules are a bit different. You get five minutes to make your submission, and we don't normally do questions and answers in our open-mike segment.
R. Hogg: I'd like to thank the committee for coming to Kelowna on this matter of finances. I didn't really intend to make a presentation. I thought I'd just be an observer and a listener, but I decided I'd make a brief submission.
I'd like to talk about reduction of the corporate tax in capital gains. I understand that the province is reducing the debt. That is a good thing, and I hope they will continue to do so.
I just read the other day that the federal government had reduced its debt by a hundred billion dollars from the previous high. I'm very concerned about the debt. If we do not eliminate it, it can eventually cause bankruptcy and poverty and also dissension and terror in the streets. A lot of people seem to think that debt doesn't mean anything, but I continually remember our ancestors saying that money doesn't grow on trees.
Talking about the capital gains tax very briefly, I think that if we were to reduce that and eliminate it, there would be a lot of foreign capital that would come into the province and be very beneficial and good for the welfare of the province in general.
I'm going to conclude my address now and know that you will probably sense my lack of knowledge and limitation on this very immense subject.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much, Richard. No, I didn't pick up any lack of knowledge at all and appreciate your presentation.
Our second presenter is Murray Klingbeil.
M. Klingbeil: I apologize, gentlemen, for my lack of preparation. The local newspaper article that I read…. I was just going to make a brief presentation with regard to the environment. I had a document that I wondered if you guys would like to look at.
B. Bennett (Chair): Okay.
M. Klingbeil: My name is Murray Klingbeil. I am a local operator of the AmeriSpec Home Inspection franchise here in the Central Okanagan. AmeriSpec is a government service provider for the ecoEnergy program coast to coast, and we were also the largest provider of the EnerGuide program — which was, of course, under the Liberal government.
All I'm trying to do this morning is make a presentation comparing the funding that's available for homeowners in B.C. versus the rest of Canada. I guess I'm just trying to make you fellows aware that a lot of the other provinces are stepping up to the plate, as it were, a lot more for their population than we are here in B.C.
It's quite surprising that some of the eastern provinces are doubling and even tripling what we're doing here in B.C. If we really want to get serious about the climate change situation, which we can't open a paper without seeing in every second article, we should maybe….
Somebody that's in the trenches, like myself…. I get calls daily from our clients, who are seriously interested in making retrofits to their houses to improve our environmental situation and lower greenhouse gases. By the time I am perfectly frank with them on what they can expect back from the government, many times it's not enough for them to take the step to make the necessary upgrades to their homes.
In a nutshell, all I'm saying is that maybe we should research the impact that this is having on B.C. versus other provinces. If you ask seven out of ten Canadians what the greenest province in the country is, most of them will tell you that it's British Columbia. But I think the document you have in front of you will show that, in fact, that's not the case.
To wrap it up, I just wanted to bring that to everybody's attention. It's something that maybe we can allow a little more funding for in the next provincial budget, for the homeowners. That's all I had to say.
B. Bennett (Chair): Thank you very much. Appreciate it. This is an interesting list. We appreciate the time it took to put it together.
M. Klingbeil: Well, it was quick. It was only this morning that I heard about it.
B. Bennett (Chair): Committee members, I think that wraps it up for the Kelowna hearing. We are adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 11:41 a.m.
[ Return to: Finance and Government Services Committee Home Page ]
Hansard Services publishes transcripts both in print and on the Internet.
Chamber debates are broadcast on television and webcast on the Internet.
Question Period podcasts are available on the Internet.
Copyright © 2007: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada