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
Friday, October 19, 2007
Present: Iain Black, MLA; Randy Hawes, MLA; Dave S. Hayer, MLA; Richard T. Lee, MLA
Telephone Conference Call: John Horgan, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Bill Bennett, MLA (Chair); Bruce Ralston, MLA (Deputy Chair); Harry Bloy, MLA; Jenny Wai Ching Kwan, MLA; Bob Simpson, MLA
1. The Acting Chair called the Committee to order at 8:59 a.m.
2. Opening statements by Mr. Dave Hayer, Acting Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
|1)||Save Our Northern Seniors Society||
|2)||City of Dawson Creek||Mayor Calvin Kruk|
|3)||South Peace Community Resources Society||
|4)||School District No. 60 (Peace River North)||
|5)||District of Chetwynd||Mayor Evan Saugstad|
|6)||South Peace Community Arts Council||Ellen Corea|
|7)||Peace River Regional District||Karen Goodings
|9)||B.C. Grain Producers Association||
4. The Committee adjourned at 11:49 a.m. to the call of the Chair.
Dave Hayer, MLA
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Issue No. 61
|Chair:||Bill Bennett (East Kootenay L)|
|Deputy Chair:||Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley NDP)|
* Iain Black (Port Moody–Westwood L)
Harry Bloy (Burquitlam L)
* Randy Hawes (Maple Ridge–Mission L)
* Dave S. Hayer (Surrey-Tynehead L)
* Richard T. Lee (Burnaby North L)
* John Horgan (Malahat–Juan de Fuca NDP)
Jenny Wai Ching Kwan (Vancouver–Mount Pleasant NDP)
Bob Simpson (Cariboo North NDP)
* denotes member present
|Committee Staff:||Jacqueline Quesnel (Committees Assistant)|
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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2007
The committee met at 8:59 a.m.
C. James (Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees): This meeting of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services does not have the Chair or the Deputy Chair present. It is incumbent upon the Clerk to the committee to announce that Dave Hayer will be the Chair for this particular public hearing.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
D. Hayer: Good morning. My name is Dave Hayer. I'm the MLA for Surrey-Tynehead. I would like to welcome everyone in the audience and thank you for taking the time to participate in this very important process.
In preparing the estimates for budget 2008, the Minister of Finance is required to release both a financial forecast and a budget consultation paper by September 15 of each year. The consultation paper is required to provide a description of the major economic and policy submissions underlying that fiscal forecast, as well as identifying the key issues that need to be addressed by the public in preparing the next budget.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is charged with carrying out public consultations on the minister's behalf. This all-party committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 26 of this year.
We may also have time near the end of the hearing for an open-mike session, should time permit. Open-mike sessions are to be no longer than five minutes.
I would now ask the members of the Finance Committee, starting with Randy on my right, to introduce themselves.
R. Hawes: I'm Randy Hawes, the MLA for Maple Ridge–Mission.
I. Black: Good morning. I'm Iain Black. I'm the MLA for Port Moody–Westwood.
R. Lee: Good morning. I'm Richard Lee, MLA for Burnaby North.
D. Hayer: Joining us today, I'm pleased to introduce our Committee Clerk, Craig James. Also with us today are Jacqueline Quesnel, who is staffing the registration desk in the back, and staff of Hansard Services, who are preparing the written submission of this meeting.
Also, I will let you know that we are on Hansard on the Internet. Everybody around the world can hear us, and therefore many people are listening to us.
We have apologies from our Chair. Due to a family emergency, he was not able to make it — as well as the Deputy Chair. Two members are also joining us for this morning's public hearing by telephone conference call: Bruce Ralston and John Horgan. Blair Lekstrom, the MLA for this area, was here earlier today. He just left a few minutes ago.
J. Horgan: Dave Hayer, it's John Horgan here.
D. Hayer: How about Bruce Ralston?
J. Horgan: Bruce was calling in from Surrey, I believe.
R. Hawes: Bruce had a thing going until…. I'm not sure he's quite free yet. I think it's going till just after nine.
D. Hayer: Okay.
I will call the first witness, Jean Leahy.
J. Leahy: There are three of us, actually.
D. Hayer: Oh, okay. Each of you will have a total of ten minutes to make a presentation, and then there's five minutes for a question-and-answer period.
Also, could you please state your name for the record once you have been seated. You are presenting for the Save Our Northern Seniors Society?
J. Leahy: Yes. I'm Jean Leahy, and I chair our society, Save Our Northern Seniors. Margaret Little is vice-chair, and Jim Little is a director. Needless to say, our mandate is to advocate for seniors, so that's what our presentation will be about.
Well, you all have copies, so if you're ready for me to start, I will.
D. Hayer: Do you want to state everybody's name for the record?
M. Little: I am Margaret Little, vice-chair of Save Our Northern Seniors Society.
J. Little: Jim Little, director for Save Our Northern Seniors Society.
J. Leahy: As you go through this submission, you'll see what our purpose is: to pursue having more long-term care beds in the North Peace and all avenues of support for our community, such as supportive living, assisted living, intermediate care, extended, special unit, psychogeriatrics, adult day care, home care, physiotherapy, rehab, palliative and emergency.
Basically, it's to raise awareness in the community of what we have and don't have and what we need. We keep learning that people don't look to see what they need until they need it and then find out it's not there.
So we try to do that. This past week we were told that Pouce Coupe Care Home and Peace River Haven will be closed next year when the facilities in Dawson Creek are completed. That is of great concern to us, because the overflow from Fort St. John comes to Peace River Haven and sometimes Rotary Manor in Dawson Creek presently and the care home in Pouce Coupe.
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We are very concerned about what will happen to our people, because even though it's scheduled to have a 40-bed complex care facility built in Fort St. John, we know that it's going to take three years for that, at least, to get built. Plus a new hospital — and that'll be five years, no doubt.
We don't know what's going to happen to our people. Our presentation is actually not much different than the presentation we made in 2006, because not a great deal has been done. But we do have a brand-new 24-bed assisted-living facility, which just opened. We certainly appreciate having that.
We're very concerned, as I said, about the announcement of these closures. We're hoping we can convince somebody that one may have to stay open until our facilities are completed.
We are short of beds, having had our 95-bed facility cut to 85 beds. That's why we have such an overflow. If we still had those ten extra beds that we did have, we wouldn't have so many people lying in the hospital in acute care beds. At present there are approximately seven of our residents at Peace River Haven, and I'm not sure if there's anybody at the care home or not.
We also are concerned about communication. It seems like it's difficult to get information out into the community. There is no pamphlet or leaflet that tells us who to phone. Now, that is fine for those of us that are involved. We can find out, and we can go to the right places until we do find out. But for anybody in the community who has an ill parent all of a sudden, they just don't know where to go, and there's nothing to tell them who to contact first.
Usually, it's the doctor. That's okay if they can get to a doctor, because they can tell them. But other people can't. So we're saying that needs to be solved somehow.
The recent announcement that there were 450 units of social housing to be built. We want to know how many of those are going to be in Fort St. John — or in the Peace, for that matter. Then there's another announcement to say that 550 units of independent living shall be in the Peace. There again, we don't know where we sit, with what we're to get out of those.
Staffing shortages. We're always short. So when it comes to home support in particular, we think that this could be addressed by offering more full-time positions, not part-time; job-sharing and incentives for working in the northeast; increased training of students in Fort St. John. Apprenticeships could be considered so that students can earn some money while training. We also believe it would be possible to have workers from other countries who are willing to come to our area. What about a sponsorship program?
We can't help but wonder, too, at the incentives. Right now McDonald's and A&W have signing bonuses. They start out at 12 bucks an hour and work up to $14 in no time. They get a vacation if they've been there a year. If we can afford to feed people in the community at McDonald's and A&W, we should be able to do something to get home support and nursing in our care homes and hospitals.
There's another issue. We don't know if it's been solved yet. We did bring it forward last year. There are some inequities in the system. Dawson Creek home care workers were being paid both ways for travel, while in Fort St. John they were being paid for one way. That just does not make sense to us. We haven't been able to find out if it's been changed.
Funding. A study that was conducted by Lexicana Consulting in August 2000 revealed that on a per-capita basis, Peace-Liard received $641 per capita while the B.C. average was $1,096. I'm sure there are new figures, but we haven't been able to find out what they are either.
Affordable housing. We're in desperate need of affordable housing. The assisted living units, as I said, certainly helped out. But it appears that the mandate from B.C. Housing has changed. It seems like now they're only building assisted living and subsidized housing.
Prior to, I guess it was five years ago, when Heritage one opened up, which was a supported-housing development…. The rule then was that B.C. Housing said that a third of the residents would pay full rent; the rest of them would be subsidized. Now you cannot get in there if you don't need subsidies. There are people who need wheelchair-accessible units, better facilities to address their needs in their old age — and some not so old. There is no place to go because people that are building apartments are not building them accessible for handicapped people or for seniors.
We're curious if B.C. Housing's mandate cannot be changed to allow them to build supported-housing facilities again, with people that can afford to do it paying full rent.
Assisted living. Well, we're very grateful that we have those units. What is taking place is that the people that are being admitted to it are very near long-term care — if not some of them long-term care. I'll give you a short example. My uncle was in a seniors apartment, which was a terrible place for him to be, in the condition he was in. They moved him into assisted living. He should have been in long-term care. He was there two days — terrified at moving. He was 87 years old. He became ill, went to the hospital, and two days later he died.
You can't blame the long-term care assessors. They're doing the best they can, and they're trying to find the accommodations for people to get them out of some of the situations they're in. But if there had been a care home bed available, that's where he would have been.
There is also a safety issue at Heritage — we call it Heritage two — because there is no staffing on in the evening from 11 at night to seven in the morning. There is no staff at all, so that puts people at risk. They do have their care call, where they have to call the ambulance, but sometimes they're not able to do that. There's nobody checking to see if they're okay or not.
There have been a couple of incidents of people lying on the floor simply because they couldn't get up. If there'd been somebody checking in their rooms, they
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could have helped them up. We're telling everybody that we need 24-7 staff on duty at the assisted living.
D. Hayer: Jean, your first ten minutes are used up. You have five more minutes for question period. You can use it to make a presentation, or we can ask questions, if you'd like.
J. Leahy: I'll use it for presentation, I think, and ask questions at the end.
That's it for the assisted living. If you look through the documents, we've got all kinds of press releases and articles for nighttime reading for you.
The other thing I'd like to say is that there is a formula of a percentage of beds for those over 75 in a long-term care facility. That formula is just simply not working. We have people who are 45 to 75 years old in the care home, three of whom are under 50, but they're MS patients. There is nowhere else for them to go. We're suggesting that that formula better be revised or better be looked at again.
We have been short of care beds in Fort St. John for ten years.
I'll turn it over to Jim. We have some stories to tell you. These two have been through the system. I'm going through it with my mother. We want to tell you about that.
J. Little: I guess what we're going to be doing is just giving you some history of how the system has worked from 1998 till now. Even though we're using our personal examples, we want it understood that we're trying to make an example for all the community and not just our issues.
My mother, in 1998, had to go to Pouce Coupe. She was there because there was no place for her in Fort St. John. She was there a year and a half before she was to return to Fort St. John. We're glad she was able to return for a little over a year and a half, then subsequently had to go to the hospital and stayed in the hospital for about six weeks before she passed away.
But the issue is that for anybody living even in Fort St. John to Pouce Coupe, if you have a normal job, you get to see your parent maybe one day a week if you're lucky. By the time you get there, you've got to match times to when their mealtimes are. You're working around schedules. It sounds like a short distance, but you're looking at, at best, a three-hour turnaround to get from Fort St. John to Pouce, and then you have to match the times to do that. So to do that was fairly stressful for us.
Fortunately, Margaret and I had jobs at the time that were flexible. We were able to go at the proper times. But for anybody working either in the oil patch or in a lot of the jobs up here, it would have been difficult for them to achieve. Many times they don't see their parents or loved ones for up to two weeks or longer when they're sent to Pouce. But on the same basis, that's with the statement that Pouce may be close, as much as…. It's still a safety net for us to have it in the community rather than be sent elsewhere. We would like to see more facilities in Fort St. John based on that, and it is necessary to have that.
I think that what's happening in our area is that we have a lot more people coming to this area now. They're working in the area, and they're bringing their parents and loved ones here. So a lot of the estimates of how many seniors we're going to have in this area don't hold true, because our population is growing, and a lot of the people that follow through are bringing their parents and that with them.
Somehow, especially in a boom area, which we have been — and providing significant revenue to the province — it has to be understood that to maintain that, people bring their families with them so they can live here.
That's sort of from my window.
M. Little: My mom and dad were married for 61 years. They were 87 years old. My father had to go to Rotary Manor, which was a beautiful facility. He subsequently passed away 23 days later.
We tried very hard to have my mother visit him every day. She was unable to drive. All our family worked. It was the most devastating experience that I have ever had, and I do not want to see any other people in our community going through the same situation that we had to.
I want to reiterate that the local staff that helped place my dad in the facility were wonderful. They did the very best that they could do, but it all starts with the government. The government needs to relook at the mandate of providing facilities for people.
My mom is 87 and is having a great deal of difficulty dealing with the issue that my dad spent his last days away from her full-time. She was a full-time caregiver. This is my mom and dad's story.
Right now we have seven people in the care home in Pouce who are in the same condition that my dad was in. They are dying, away from their families.
J. Leahy: My parents homesteaded north of Fort St. John. They went there in 1930, were married in 1934 and homesteaded. That was not easy work. They cleared land with an axe. They dynamited the stumps, broke land with horses and a breaking plow, handpicked roots and raised nine kids. The first five of us were born at home.
Now in her 93rd year, mom's health is failing. She has been in assisted living for the past six weeks, and someone has had to stay with her every night, due to these night incidents and the fact that nobody was there. She's now in hospital, and yesterday they were trying to talk her into going back to assisted living with oxygen to see if she could make it. Well, she can't, and that is not going to happen. I went to see her doctor last night, and that's not happening.
Her reward for costing the health system very little for these 93 years and being independent for this long is now to be referred to as a bed-blocker — most degrading and insensitive. We hear that from bureaucrats
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quite often, about the bed-blockers taking up acute care beds. How do you think that makes them feel?
If you have any questions, I'll try….
D. Hayer: I'm sorry, Jean. We've already gone one minute over the question period, but I wanted to thank you very much for your presentation — a very moving and a very passionate presentation. I think the committee heard it, and in their deliberations, they'll take everything into consideration when they're making the final report. Thank you very much for coming out.
J. Leahy: Well, thank you, and this should use up a billion dollars of that surplus. Caring for our elders is the gauge of our society. We shouldn't forget that.
D. Hayer: Next we have the mayor of Dawson Creek. Whenever you're ready, you can start on that. State your name for the record, please.
C. Kruk: Thank you. I'm Calvin Kruk. I'm the mayor of Dawson Creek. Also in attendance are Councillor Mike Bernier and Councillor Marilyn Belak.
D. Hayer: You probably heard we have ten minutes of presentation and five minutes for a question-and-answer period after that. If you like, once we get to nine minutes, I'll let you know there is one minute left.
C. Kruk: Sure. We'll see if we can make it there.
I've brought some gifts as well. I think the last time we made a presentation to this committee we provided some pens. We have pens and postcards now that are biodegradable.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I understand that your time is valuable and that you've travelled the province far and wide. We feel honoured that the conclusion of your work brings you to our fine community. If you haven't had the opportunity prior to this to enjoy our northern hospitality and charm, I'll extend the invitation right now. We hope to see you again really soon.
We're at a pivotal point in our community's history. Next year we celebrate our 50th anniversary at the same time as the province celebrates its 150th. We're planning for a sustainable, rich and colourful future, as we've enjoyed in the past.
We have the opportunity to ensure our development happens in a healthy, sustainable fashion, and I'm glad to see that the focus of these consultations aligns with our city objectives as well. We adopted a vision statement, mission statement and guiding principles as a city. We work together for innovative social, cultural, economic and environmental vitality. We're demonstrating leadership for a sustainable future.
Our goals are to provide the same or better opportunities here for our children and grandchildren as we enjoy today. That means economic development from a diverse menu, including oil and gas and renewables.
We're proud to be the centre of the energy industry and do what we can to encourage development to meet local and provincial immediate and future needs. From expansion to exploration, from processing and transmission to our local service providers, from wind generation to biodiesel, from geothermal to solar, diversity includes the support and promotion of forestry, agriculture and tourism as Mile Zero of the world-renowned Alaska Highway.
Opportunity for our children means providing top-notch social and recreational amenities for the workforce and for families, for active senior living and for students. Case in point is the community collaboration that is bringing us the South Peace Community Multiplex with the Kenn Borek Aquatic Centre , which is now open. Our Lakota riding arena is actually opening this Sunday, so if you are in town for a couple of extra days, you are welcome to join us there — something else you can get roped into. Excuse the pun.
Also, the EnCana Events Centre is set to open early next year. It includes a running track for healthy, active living, and we do indeed thank the province for the funding support provided for this project.
In addition, we're now embarking on a community centre with a cultural component for our downtown, in the historic building that housed our post office for 50 years. It can revitalize downtown, provide opportunity for the performing arts and community groups, preserve historical archives, allow seniors and youth drop-in activities and day care, just to name a few of the potential uses. It will add to our sense of community, bring people to our downtown and encourage groups to build community while building a community centre.
We also know that we can't afford to do everything at once, which is why the renovation of an existing building allows us to phase in amenities as resources allow. It also saves costs to the landfill and to our environment, as a renovation to an existing building.
Opportunity means quality, affordable housing, smart growth principles and maintaining the quality of life that we enjoy in northern British Columbia. Opportunity is innovative thinking, creativity and drive that will allow British Columbia to go faster, stronger, higher not only at the Olympics but in the development in each of our communities.
We will challenge conventional practice, take advantage of strengths and provide for this community's future. We are asked what choices we would make for a greener future. I think that we're already working on that. The goal of providing opportunity for the future is the main reason for our presentation today — to encourage and help with the process and to respectfully ask for your understanding and, perhaps, assistance.
Our rapid growth and positive attitude has contributed to the province's current surplus. Replacing and enhancing infrastructure like community facilities, our streets and our water services will allow us to continue to contribute our fair share while we maintain a healthy, sustainable and stable city.
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We've engaged in a process with the province to establish energy efficiency as a requirement in the building code and to establish solar readiness in new construction, both as required to cut unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
The provincial task force for 100,000 solar roofs in the province, for which I am the co-chair, is a great initiative that will raise the profile and normalize innovative technology for homes across the province. Incentives for hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles need to be continued and incentives added for solar and energy efficiency in existing infrastructure. Energy audits need to be funded, and the province, in my opinion, should match federal incentives. Incentives can encourage biofuel development for the producer and also at the pump.
We are showing leadership and commitment at the city of Dawson Creek to provide opportunity for the future and are proud of the accomplishments and recognition we have received. The opportunity to demonstrate how every community can get engaged is something that we've taken pride in.
Making presentations at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and now Saskatchewan, from Toronto to Kelowna to last week in Tumbler Ridge, all take resources. I would also like to express our appreciation as being one of the green cities and the award-winner there.
I would also suggest that a disincentive for the purpose of non-efficient, non-work-related vehicles might be something to consider.
We think that the provincial environmental goals are attainable, and we're happy to participate fully in the initiatives such as energy planning, recycling, reducing household waste, regional planning, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, investments in public transit using biodiesel hybrids and investing in rail in the province. This is also in Dawson Creek's best interests.
To be a livable community, we need to improve local service delivery and help meet the needs of a growing population. We need to ensure that protective services, like our RCMP and firefighters, and social agencies have the resources they need to be effective, while maintaining a competitive local tax rate.
More is expected of local government, while our access to revenue is limited. Property tax, as you are aware, is an inefficient mechanism to fund some of the more non-traditional activities or to explore new opportunities.
Health care is, of course, a concern to us all. It's also, however, a great part of our Canadian identity and needs to be protected as fundamental. Dialogue should include investments in research, optional treatments, preventative measures, encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and investments in basic infrastructure, in addition to maintaining incentives for retaining physicians. We will work with you to keep the communications open and to lobby the federal government for further commitments in financing.
We welcome and are very encouraged by the support for housing as part of these budget discussions. For us, it is important that the word "quality" is entered into consideration, that landlords' responsibility includes a commitment to the community and to the individual renting accommodation, that a standard must be realized and that it is no longer acceptable to allow living conditions to be subpar. A resolution endorsed at the Union of B.C. Municipalities included asking the provincial government to ensure that standards are met prior to sending a cheque to any landlord.
We all share a responsibility that children are not subjected to a continuing cycle of living below acceptable standards. We'd like to see community involvement in social or low-income housing resourced from the provincial budget and are working on initiatives to see sweat equity participation in renovating and getting a hand up for our working, low-income families to assist them getting into the housing market.
An investment of a portion of the provincial surplus for sustainability objectives, quality-of-life measures and infrastructure in our community can ensure our community's continued contribution to the provincial economy, our vitality and continued leadership, and our commitment to the future.
Thank you for your time and consideration. As with our last presentation, I invite each of you to stay awhile, enjoy northern hospitality, and please try and make a point of joining us for the opening of our EnCana events centre, which will happen early next year.
R. Hawes: Thanks, Calvin. That's a good presentation.
I have just one quick question. You're suggesting a disincentive for the purchase of non-efficient, non-work-related vehicles.
We have, as you know, decreased the provincial tax or eliminated it for some vehicles, and we raised the amount…. Some people were very critical of that, but we realized that work vehicles, particularly in the north here, cost a great deal more than ordinary vehicles. So we didn't want to punish people who are buying the kinds of vehicles that are required in the north here.
C. Kruk: Exactly.
R. Hawes: Is that level sufficient, or should it be higher? That's the first question.
The second part of that is: if people are buying those more expensive vehicles, how would you suggest that we determine whether they're purchasing for work-related use or not?
C. Kruk: The second part, I guess, first. I think through our insurance we are required to state whether the vehicle is a work-related or pleasure vehicle.
For me, being at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, one of the best examples I can give you is seeing a Hummer — and I've seen other vehicles; I don't want to focus just on Hummers — with low-profile tires. I think Hummers have a valid use; they are a great resource. The bushes around here…. It's wonderful to have a vehicle like that. But when I see it driving
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around downtown Vancouver with the mags and the low-profile tires, I think: are you making a statement that you're so rich you can afford to never take this vehicle off the road and never utilize it to its potential?
I guess what I'd like to see is some sense brought into making vehicle purchases. In the city of Dawson Creek we have initiated a policy that points to what kind of vehicle, and it's based on carbon, fuel efficiency and things like that. I can't expect that everyone in the province is going to adhere to the city of Dawson Creek's policy. However, I do think that there are levers and mechanisms in place where you can select a person who does have a Hummer with low-profile tires and say: "You're flaunting excess. Well, I think you should pay for that."
J. Horgan: I sincerely regret that I'm not able to join you in your beautiful city today.
With all of the energy activity in and around your community, I'm wondering if your city has a position on the proposal to establish another electricity generating project on the river at Site C.
C. Kruk: Officially, the city of Dawson Creek has not discussed this as a council, so we don't have an official city response. In my personal opinion, I believe that it's one resource that can be used with a more intermittent and independent power production that we do see taking place right now.
Does that help or…?
J. Horgan: That's fine, Calvin. Does your council have any plans to discuss this in any public way?
C. Kruk: Oh, I'm pretty sure we will.
R. Lee: You mentioned about sweat equity participation in housing. In Burnaby, in the lower mainland, we have the Progressive Housing Society. We have projects like that with local support, for example, from the lumber companies and service clubs, etc. Do you have that kind of support in this area?
C. Kruk: At this point we don't. It is something that we've seen, best practices from across the country. I think allowing low-income families that are currently in perhaps substandard rental accommodation to actually acquire that through community involvement and their own labour in a project is one way to address some of our shortcomings.
I don't think it's the silver bullet. I do think that we have to come up with a more comprehensive plan, but it is one opportunity that I've seen work successfully across the country. I go directly from this meeting to a meeting to address low-income housing opportunities.
I think it is perhaps time that we also form a housing committee here in the city of Dawson Creek. I believe Councillor Belak…. We were actually just discussing that yesterday. I think the timing is right. I think we're doing what we can to address the crunch, and I think we'll look at any really good ideas.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for your presentation.
One more small question.
R. Hawes: I just have one very small question. If I read this right, Calvin, what you're suggesting is that those who are receiving housing assistance…. Somehow we should be inspecting the houses or the residences they're living in to make sure they meet a standard. If they don't meet the standard, then we don't issue the cheque to the landlord.
But in most cases, I think, we're not issuing the cheque to the landlord. We're giving it directly to the person receiving the subsidy. In many cases, we are. In those cases I'm not sure how we would accomplish that.
C. Kruk: Yeah, that's….
R. Hawes: In some cases we give the cheque to the landlord. In others we don't.
C. Kruk: I guess that we have to approach it in the same way. There is no easy way. There is no "this is the only direction that we can go." But I think that by working together, we can accomplish a lot.
R. Hawes: Are you talking about housing for people, for example, who might be on social assistance? Is that what you're talking about, or are you talking about subsidized housing projects? Are you talking about social housing, or are you talking about people who are perhaps on social assistance and are in market housing?
C. Kruk: Our specific resolution to the UBCM was…. It's specific to where the province is directly providing the cheque to the landlord for providing housing. In some instances that housing is actually fairly questionable as far as a standard.
At the city of Dawson Creek we've been fairly effective recently in saying: "No, it's no longer acceptable to have foundations that need repair, or the landlord to turn a blind eye." I don't think complacency is where we should go. I think that we need more tools, and the province can certainly help in that way.
Does that kind of answer it?
R. Hawes: To a degree, but I think I want to talk to you about it later. I'll either phone you or, if I see you later today….
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, mayor, for coming over.
C. Kruk: Are you kicking me out, Dave?
D. Hayer: No, no, it's your city. I just want to thank you for coming over and making a presentation. Thank you for your pins and postcards. Beautiful city to enjoy.
Next we have South Peace Community Resources Society.
Jane and Diane, can you please state your full names for our record. Also, you have ten minutes to
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make a presentation and five minutes for a question-and-answer period. Once I get to nine minutes, I will let you know that you have one minute left.
J. Harper: I'm Jane Harper, executive director for South Peace Community Resources.
D. Neubauer: I'm Diane Neubauer, manager of finance and admin for South Peace Community Resources.
J. Harper: First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and discuss social services in the northeast.
South Peace Community Resources is a non-profit organization that's been dedicated to meeting the social, educational and personal needs of the communities in the northeast for over 30 years. Our revenue comes from contracts with the Ministries of Children and Family Development, Public Safety and Solicitor General, and Community Services; Community Living B.C.; project grants; donations; and B.C. Gaming.
We've been a member of the provincial Federation of Child and Family Services since its inception. It's our understanding that Jennifer Charlesworth, the executive director of the federation, presented to this committee in Victoria. We want to expand on her presentation and explain how some of those challenges face the north.
We don't have information from the other organizations that were planning to be here with us, but as an example, we'll use our own organization because that's where we have the information.
As you've been made aware by Jennifer Charlesworth, it's been many years since non-profit agencies have had an increase in operational funding in our contracts. It's been at least 14 years since there has been an increase to our operational funding. In fact, we've been asked to make reductions of up to 10 percent in some of our contracts.
The cost of rent has increased dramatically in the north, where oil and gas exploration has driven up costs. But real estate has been the greatest increase for approximately 100 percent of existing properties and new builds over the last four years. Taxes on property that is owned by the society have also increased.
With the increased employment opportunities in our area, we have also experienced increased costs for retention and recruitment. Benefits, such as training, that contribute to the longevity of employees have had to be cut to balance our budgets. This is an important issue, since often we're forced to hire entry-level employees and train them ourselves to fulfil the complex responsibilities of their jobs.
The increases in utilities and groceries have put a burden on our services, especially our residential programs such as our transition house, safe home for women and community living programs supporting adults with developmental delays.
The oil and gas activity is a benefit to provincial revenue, but to the social network in this affected area, it's an added burden with greater demands for our services and higher costs to our business.
Transportation is also a large portion of our contracts. We provide services in Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Fort St. John, Hudson Hope and Fort Nelson. We travel to aboriginal communities and reserves. We deliver resources to child care centres in outlying areas and transport children from foster care throughout the northeast to visits with their family. All of these activities require greater costs for fuel, wear and tear on the vehicle, and winterization costs.
The nature of our business has changed over the past ten years. Non-profit organizations contracting with the B.C. government are being asked to take on more responsibility with less revenue. An example of that is accreditation. That's a concept that we welcome. We were the third organization in the province to become accredited under the Council on Accreditation for children and family services, COA.
The resources required to meet the standards and to submit proof of compliance have come from the organizations. The government's contribution has been the costs paid to the Council of Accreditation for the accreditation fee.
Organizations have been expected to bear these costs. Costs for staff time alone were around $50,000 for our first accreditation and approximately $27,000 every four years since. This cost does not represent the additional time required to maintain our accreditation policies and procedures throughout the year.
Technology improvements are another requirement for agencies. We are required to have information management systems that track demographic information, progress on service recipients and outcomes of service, and to be compatible with the reporting requirements of our funding ministries. South Peace Community Resources has not purchased this technology as of yet due to the cost.
Telephone costs have increased with the necessity of cell phones for most of our employees. Staff work in rural areas, many times alone with high-risk clients, and travel long distances in winter months.
Our audit costs have increased due to new auditing requirements from the federal government. Our insurance costs have doubled in the last few years, driven up by lawsuits in the U.S. and in Canada. Costs for legal advice have doubled due to liability issues and risk management requirements.
We've been told by government representatives that these increased costs are simply the cost of doing business and should be considered when negotiating contracts. We agree with that. That's what we expect when construction or highway maintenance is tendered, but social services are tendered differently. We cannot set the price for our services; we are told what the price will be.
For example, we provide family counselling through a contract, and we receive $47.24 per hour based on the contract amount. But we actually have to purchase counselling for our employees through our employee assistance plan, and the lowest price that we
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can find is $100 an hour. So it doesn't make good business sense.
Even our employee costs are determined by the government through our employers association, CSSEA, who negotiates our collective agreement. There have been times when wage increases have been negotiated, but the increases have not been funded. In the past we've been able to use gaming revenue to assist with some of the additional costs, such as groceries in our transition house, but the new gaming regulations do not allow us to use gaming funds for any service that has a contract with the government. It's only through individual donations that we've been able to provide the services that the government has contracted us to provide.
Our work keeps people from the high costs of incarceration, hospital stays, learning assistance in schools, and children and youth in the care of the government. We ask that contracts be negotiated and that there be an open discussion at the end of each fiscal year.
We're asking that the government increase our contracts to meet the annual average inflation rate of 2.07 per year for the past ten years. This calculation works out to a cost of $20 million for the contracts with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. But it also impacts the contracts with the other ministries. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the estimated increased amounts for those ministries.
We also ask that these increases be consistent with the additional cost-of-living increases that are being faced by non-profits in northern and rural areas of the province. We've included a chart, and Diane can explain that a little bit. As you can see, the increased costs for South Peace Community Resources between 2001 and 2007 in these areas we've listed are 6.46 percent.
This cost would have been much higher, but forethought and planning have allowed us to prepare for the economic changes that we are seeing in the north and to prevent further erosion of our services. We've clustered the living arrangements for our clients with developmental delays, and we've purchased intelligently through partnerships with other agencies, rented out office space when available and taken other cost-saving measures.
Our commitment, as with our ministry colleagues, is to provide well-run, effective and efficient services to our communities. We want to avoid reduction of services as much as possible while we ensure that our contract outcomes are met.
Maybe you can take a look at the chart. Then if you have any questions of us or any comments, we'd be happy to respond.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much. You said Diane was going to say something about the chart.
D. Neubauer: I'll answer any questions. It was just some figures to back up the facts.
R. Hawes: Just for the Children and Families portion is $20 million — right?
J. Harper: Yes, that's provincewide.
R. Hawes: For your organization, I'd be interested to know what your global budget is and which ministries you're receiving your funding from.
D. Neubauer: Our global budget is about $3½ million. The ministries we receive money from are MCFD…
J. Harper: …Public Safety and Solicitor General, Community Services and CLBC.
R. Hawes: You're a provincial organization. I assume you got that $20 million figure from your provincial organization. Is it possible to get that same number, whatever it is, from the different ministries as it would apply provincially, as well as a little bit of a breakdown as to what kind of contracts you have?
J. Harper: Yes, it would be possible.
R. Hawes: I do want to say that I'm in the middle of trying to do something with an organization where I live that has contracts with the health authority, which also contracts the same service that's delivered out of a hospital facility. In the hospital facility they haven't costed in anything for the use of the building.
Where I live, the organization has a building, and they're not giving them any money for the building. All they're doing is giving them money for the professional help — nothing for administration, nothing for building costs — and it's squeezing them out of the whole…. They can't continue to operate unless somebody recognizes…. It's sort of the things you're talking about here. It's pretty comparable.
I think it would be helpful if we had an idea of what the total global budget was.
J. Harper: We have provincial associations for most of those contracts, so I can get in contact with them and make sure that they work on figuring that out.
R. Hawes: I know you can submit that to the Clerk.
D. Hayer: October 26 is the deadline now. It's changed.
J. Harper: Did you want me to go over some of the services that we provide? Are you interested in that?
R. Hawes: Yeah, sure.
J. Harper: We have a transition house for women. This is the 25th anniversary for that in Dawson Creek. We have Victim Services in the police detachment and also community-based Victim Services; family counselling and support; and Choices for Women, which is counselling of women who have been sexually assaulted, physically and sexually abused.
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We have five adults with developmental delays that we provide 24-hour care for. We have the Children Who Witness Abuse counselling group process. We do Violence is Preventable in two of the schools. It was a pilot project, and that program has been highlighted provincially.
We provide women's outreach for women who need to get to transition houses or who have left transition houses and need some support in the community, here and in Chetwynd. We have child care resource and referral, providing resources and referral service to families and child care providers, and supported child development for children with special needs, to support them in typical child care facilities.
Am I missing any?
D. Neubauer: Reconnect.
J. Harper: Reconnect street youth worker — a very underfunded program, that one.
I think that sort of sums it up.
D. Hayer: Which cities do you cover?
J. Harper: We cover Dawson Creek. We have some programs in Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Hudson Hope, Chetwynd and Tumbler.
D. Hayer: Anybody else with a question?
Thank you very much. A very good presentation. We appreciate you coming this morning.
Next is school district 60.
Good morning, Linda and Ernie. Could you please state your name for the record when you sit down. You will have ten minutes for the presentation and five minutes for a question-and-answer period. Once you get to nine minutes, I'll let you know that there's one minute left.
L. Sewell: My name is Linda Sewell. I am a trustee and chair of the finance committee for school district 60, Peace River North. I live in Fort St. John.
E. Inglehart: Good morning. My name is Ernie Inglehart. I'm the secretary-treasurer with school district 60.
L. Sewell: I'll address you first, just for a moment. I'd like to thank you for coming out to our communities like this. We met with you last year as well, and we really appreciate that you are committed to hearing, at a grass-roots level, the needs of our communities. I appreciate the input you have into the direction that our government takes with regards to financing and hearing the needs expressed.
I feel so privileged to be able to be proactive in our society and to be participating in the education of the next generation. We feel good about that.
I'd like to thank you, especially, for the TILMA agreement. That has meant so much to our community, because we have a difficult time attracting qualified teachers in our area. In our pool a lot of our teachers come from Alberta, and it's been very problematic to get qualification in B.C. We see this TILMA agreement as being of great benefit to us in that.
For the rest of the presentation I'll let our secretary-treasurer address those in more detail.
E. Inglehart: We are interested in touching on four subjects. One of them is the province's green position and, respectively, the school district's green position. The point we'd like to make is that we're all interested in a greener society. In particular, our school district has embarked on a program to convert all of our buildings to geothermal. Over the long haul there are significant cost savings.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has a website. We went onto the website. The website itself demonstrates that the cost of gas has risen 15 percent per year each year for the last 15 years. When you extrapolate that out to the next 15 years, there are huge savings for anybody that's interested in just reaching down to pick them up.
The cost of the conversion and the ability to pick up those savings is a bit of a problem. I don't think our position is that we're here asking for more money to do it. I think that we as a province should perhaps look at ministerial direction to rethink our programs and support.
I will say that there is no provincial incentive, as an example, for anybody to convert to geothermal. There is a federal incentive but not a provincial incentive. Again, respective ministerial direction, I think, would help us a lot.
The Ministry of Finance has taken a position that all labour, school district labour in particular, is treated the same. Over time Fort St. John has seen its ups and downs economically. Unfortunately, our labour rates were set during the down period. The current trades rate, as an example, is about $21.50. We're pretty much held at that, whereas many other school districts in the province…. Their trades rate is $28 or $29.
Because the ceiling is held on us, we are not in a position where we can pay our tradespeople more. We're losing a lot of history. Basically, half our tradespeople positions are vacant right now, and there's nothing we can do about it locally.
We wanted to mention the electoral boundaries issue. It was a concern for our board. There was a thought of splitting the riding, basically, at the northern Fort St. John city boundary. We appreciate the position that the government has taken. We're not really sure what's going on behind closed doors, but it appears as though there's some rethinking going on, and we're appreciative of that. Our board believed we were heading down a troublesome road if we had carried on that path.
Chairperson Sewell mentioned the TILMA agreement. It is a huge benefit. The position the government has taken is a huge benefit for our school district. For those of you that aren't aware, most teachers come out of Alberta with a four-year education degree. For those of you that don't know, Alberta actually scores higher than B.C. does on the FSA exams — worldwide standards exams.
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Most teachers come out of colleges or universities in B.C. with five-year degrees. College of Teachers looks at each individual teacher and licenses them. More often than not, those teachers that we're able to recruit from Alberta are made to take courses that don't seem to make any sense. They're paid lower on the level system to start with because of the four-year degree, but they're also forced to take some courses that just don't seem to make any sense at all. So the levelling of the field with the TILMA agreement will be a tremendous help for our system, and we appreciate that.
We have a written submission, and over time you'll have the opportunity to look at that in depth. That is our presentation, I think.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much.
Randy has questions.
R. Hawes: I want to talk about the labour. I didn't realize that it had gone as deep as to freezing trades rates — on an individual basis, it seems like you're saying — for school boards. I would have to completely agree with you. That makes no sense at all.
My real question is probably better for Linda than you, Ernie, because there's maybe a little conflict here. Where I live, they are recruiting senior administrative staff into the big city because they're able to pay them a lot more money on the scales that are set. I'm sure you're probably experiencing that, where you're having at least people coming shopping, looking for your senior executives.
That causes a huge other problem when your superintendents and your secretary-treasurers get recruited out of here into bigger areas because the rates are set higher. You have no autonomy or flexibility even within your own budgets to administer that.
Have you made a presentation along those lines to the government or to BCPSEA?
L. Sewell: I also sit on provincial council, so that comes up at our meetings in Vancouver. We're petitioning the government. What we face is that we train people in the north and put all the investment into developing them, and then they go to the cities.
R. Hawes: So have you made a presentation to BCPSEA or…?
L. Sewell: There have been many presentations made. The last presentation or motion was with regard to retention of teachers and employees in the north. The specifics of it I can't speak on, but perhaps Ernie can, if that's not in conflict for him to speak.
R. Hawes: Ernie might be one of those being headhunted, you know.
E. Inglehart: Actually, with senior staff and even principals and vice-principals, the converse of the trade issue is true in our district.
You take a snapshot in time, and that's what you have to live with, going forward. You're either up or you're down. Tradespeople are down. To be honest about it, our senior staff are probably better off than a lot in other districts. Quite frankly, we've been very fortunate in the calibre of people that we've been able to recruit and retain.
I understand very much what you're speaking about and know that's a real issue in other districts.
R. Hawes: It's not so much for you.
L. Sewell: Not the senior administration, but the administrators. We have a turnover.
Do you know the statistics on how many new principals and vice-principals we have in our district? There are quite a few.
E. Inglehart: About a year ago we turned over about a third.
R. Lee: My question is on the geothermal. I know that for new school construction, a lot are using geothermal. For old schools, do you know the cost differentiation with the new installation? Say, for example, it's starting construction with a new site compared to the old site where we have tools to dig deeper to install that equipment. Do you know the cost differentiation?
E. Inglehart: Yeah. We've had a study done within our district, and we're having some plans drawn right now. It's not cost-prohibitive to do the conversion itself. Probably $500,000 or $600,000 in every site would quite readily do it. The problem is that you have to upgrade your mechanical systems when you do. The board speaks about that here.
There's a huge gap between major capital and the annual facilities grant within the Ministry of Education. The gap is not funded. So assuming you're going to be under the 9½ conversion in each school, including your mechanical upgrades, it has to be funded locally.
Our board has committed to go through with a geothermal conversion. Certainly, over the 15-year haul that I was speaking about, there are huge savings available, but it comes at a short-term cost. That's tough in any political environment, as you folks know.
The annual budget for our district for gas last year was $712,000. If you extrapolate that at its current cost, that'll be $2.8 million 15 years out. There's about $1.5 million annual savings there, which is true for all of us, I think.
R. Hawes: I just have one last question, if I can go back to the labour thing.
Is the lower rate that's set for your school district reflected in your per-student funding, or do you get the same per-student funding as everyone else? In other words, do you have the flexibility within your budget right now if they freed you up to pay the labour rate that you need to pay? Have you got the flexibility within your own budget now, or would you need a lift?
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L. Sewell: I believe that we could. Ernie has the details, but I know that we have petitioned and asked for the ability to give increases within our budget and have been denied that.
E. Inglehart: That's correct. We have the ability, and we have the will, but we're denied.
D. Hayer: What is the total number of students in your school district?
E. Inglehart: We're just shy of 6,000.
D. Hayer: Thank you for your presentation. We really appreciate it.
Next, we have the mayor from the district of Chetwynd. Good morning. Before you start, can you state for the record your full name. Also, you probably heard that you have ten minutes for your presentation and then five minutes for a question-and-answer period. Once you get to nine minutes, I'll let you know.
E. Saugstad: Evan Saugstad, mayor, district of Chetwynd. Good morning. Welcome to the Peace, and more importantly, welcome to my second annual presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance.
This year I'll change the subject a bit, not because your government did what we asked, but more because we have new issues to address. Some of what we asked for last year seemed to come to pass, some were ignored, and some of the same issues are still there.
For the record, last year I talked about the need for changes to industrial taxation, equity in the infrastructure grant programs, understanding how the new police tax would work, funding for low-cost housing, line ministry funding and the abysmal record that B.C. Lands — now the Integrated Land Management Bureau — has when it comes to actually making land transactions occur.
This year I have three subjects: capital tangible assets, rural roads and education.
The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, or the CICA, through the Public Sector Accounting Board, is proposing to dictate new tax policy to local governments. Beginning on January 1, 2009, the PSAB, which is an unelected body, will require local governments to report the depreciation of capital assets. You, the provincial government, will approve this by simply agreeing to follow their principles.
In essence, this change will take away from the ability of elected local governments to regulate the level of taxation and possibly the level of service offered to our taxpayers. All of this will be accomplished because you require local governments to follow PSAB guidelines when it comes to reporting capital tangible assets.
If we don't follow these recommendations, then the CICA auditors will issue qualified audit reports when local government does not adopt their PS-3150 standards. Qualified audits will affect the ability of governments to borrow money, as lending institutions do not wish to see qualified audit reports. The local taxpayer will see the direct financial implication of this change on their annual tax notice and would like to know why a non-elected body can increase the amount of property tax that is payable.
An example. A local government builds a new sewer system to serve 40 properties. The cost is $800,000 with grants reducing the cost to $500,000. Thus, the $500,000 becomes a debenture. Annual debenture payments of $46,800 equates to $1,170 per property. Operating expenses of $15,000 per year would equal $375 per property.
On top of the estimated $1,545 annual payment per property, there will now be a depreciation expense of $500 per property to build a surplus for the future replacement of the system. This would be $800,000 over 40 years, which equals $20,000 per year divided by the 40 properties.
Depending upon the yet-to-be-determined rules, this may actually increase as the replacement cost in 40 years will be substantially higher than the $800,000 presently. For your take-away, you have a number of options. You can fund the extra costs to meet the government's objectives, or you can exempt local governments from this provision, or you can give local governments the exclusive right to property taxation and then require us to build our reserves.
If you don't do anything, then you must ask yourselves: where will this extra money come from — increased taxation, reduction of existing programs or uploading of responsibilities to the province?
One has to remember that business and industry can deduct depreciation expenses against their income, thus reducing the impact. Local government has nothing to deduct these costs against, unless the provincial government would let local government take these extra expenses from property taxes that we collect for the province.
The following is more explanation as to what all this entails, and I will let you read it at your leisure.
Roads. Most of you are aware of the steady pace of industrial expansion in the Peace. New coalmines are being developed, gas and oil keeps growing, and a multitude of wind farms are now on the horizon. All of this increase in traffic takes its toll on our roads, especially our rural roads. All this activity, plus the existing forestry, agricultural and everyday traffic, results in quick and severe degradation of these roads.
Today I will focus on rural roads, mostly those in the agricultural belt. These roads are sometimes called sectional roads and are, for the most part, made from a thin layer of gravel placed over silts and clays. Up till recently they have mostly served the agriculture industry and local residents.
Now gas and oil and, in some cases, wind farms will require the use of these roads for heavy traffic year-round. During our spring season and during periods of rain, many of these roads cannot support heavy industrial equipment or loads.
These roads fall apart. When they do, the department of highways places load restrictions to reduce
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load weight. This results in much of the local industry shutting down until conditions improve. Many of these roads are now in need of upgrading to handle normal heavy industrial traffic. They require more gravel and in some cases strengthening of the sub-base.
This all takes money. On top of all the road moneys we already receive, we need more if we're going to continue to send billions of dollars back to Victoria that our local industries are generating for B.C. Your take-away: increase the spending on our rural roads, and you will continue to increase the royalties and taxes for the province.
Education. The University of Northern B.C. has proposed a new program called NorthLink. This program is about establishing remote teaching sites in all northern communities. These would be linked digitally, with each site being interactive and allowing one another to talk to and see what each other is doing.
Essentially, an instructor at UNBC, or for that matter someone in Toronto or California, could use NorthLink to instruct a class that consists of students from Chetwynd, Atlin, Terrace, Quesnel, Fort St. James or any other linked community. All of these students would be able to attend class without leaving their home community and without the need for additional travelling and living expenses.
These sites would require extensive hard- and software installations to allow this to happen. Each community would be required to have a dedicated site which the entire community can access, including other educational institutions, businesses, local governments and industry.
The estimated cost is about $7 million to get this program up and running. During the upcoming year, pilot programs in health education are proposed for Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, which will cost about $70,000. If we are to continue to teach our northern citizens and meet the Premier's desire to reduce travel and the generation of greenhouse gases, then this worthwhile project should be funded, as it accomplishes a multitude of objectives.
Your take-away is: fund both the upcoming pilots and the development of the entire NorthLink system. Apparently, as this project transcends multiple ministries, it is stuck in purgatory, as no one ministry says: "I can fund that because it makes sense."
R. Hawes: Thank you for your presentation, Evan. I actually have two questions. The first one is going to be about the capital tangible assets. I'll preface that by saying I served for three terms as a mayor and ran into failing infrastructure problems at times, where we struggled to find the money to do the necessary replacement of that infrastructure because over years there hadn't been reserves built up to look after that.
Many cities don't capitalize their investments, so they wind up with no money when the life of the asset is over. Do you not think it's a good idea to have some form of capitalization through a depreciation schedule, or something, to make sure that reserves are being built to look after replacement?
E. Saugstad: I think reserves are a good thing. In many cases, for mobile equipment it is already being done.
R. Hawes: It's forced.
E. Saugstad: Yeah. It's done on a periodic basis.
But what we run into is: where is this money going to come from? If now we switch from not having to, to having to, we have to either reduce services or increase taxes. We have to balance our budgets. We have no choice.
R. Hawes: But the fact is that you have to replace the asset. The people on the system and using the asset have to know that's a part of the cost of that asset. If you have to increase taxes, doesn't it make sense that that's what they would do? They can't just use a sewer system until it's completely worn out and then say: "What now?" They've got to be paying all along for the replacement or upgrade of the system.
E. Saugstad: But I think if I use some of the quotes from the government…. "Dining out on industry," comes to mind. To reduce industrial taxation and reduce business taxation — those are the pressures. It's not a matter that we can simply increase taxes and expect to pay for it. We're caught in the middle.
Yes, we have to do something. But who do we tax? Where does that money come from? For the district of Chetwynd, our taxation that stays in the community is about 34 or 35 percent, and the regional district is another 30 percent. The rest goes to the province.
R. Lee: You mentioned the NorthLink. I think this is a very good project. A few years ago we had the northern region development fund, I think. It was in the order of $100 million. Have you approached that fund to fund this kind of project?
I know that the Ministry of Advanced Education as well as the Ministry of Economic Development are probably interested in that kind of project.
E. Saugstad: You're talking about the Northern Development Initiative Trust?
R. Lee: Yes.
E. Saugstad: I guess that fund is for economic development. It's just economic development, or it's just education.
R. Lee: It's both.
E. Saugstad: There are a lot of pressures on the northern development trust to fund education, infrastructure development, social services. We've been trying — I am part of that, and I sit on one of the regional advisory committees — to focus on economic development.
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No, they have not yet come to the fund to ask for that to be funded.
R. Hawes: Thanks, Evan. Back again to something you've got in here from your stuff from last year. You referred to the abysmal record of B.C. Lands when it comes to actually making land transactions occur. I'm not sure I understand what you're saying there, and I wonder if you could explain that.
E. Saugstad: B.C. Lands owns a number of lands….
R. Hawes: Crown lands.
E. Saugstad: Yes. We're not talking about Crown land. We're talking about lands that have been surveyed but are owned by the province. So they're not part of the provincial forest or whatever. They are lots in a community.
In our case, we had lots there that people wanted to buy. But the price of land was going up, so B.C. Lands said: "No, we're not going to sell them until we reappraise them." But they don't have anybody to reappraise them. They don't send anybody out. There's nobody to do it. They're severely short-staffed. When you have no line ministry personnel in your area to do it, it just doesn't happen.
We've been waiting for a year and a half or two years for one lot to be appraised so it could be offered for sale, with a purchaser at the end. I think they've finally left. They gave up.
R. Hawes: Are there local appraisers in your area?
E. Saugstad: No.
R. Hawes: There are no land appraisers.
E. Saugstad: According to the ministry, yes.
R. Hawes: No, no. Well, can I ask: if I want to buy a house there and I go to the bank to get a mortgage, do they not get an appraisal done by somebody?
E. Saugstad: There are ways to do it, but apparently not for B.C. Lands. It's their property. They don't want to sell it till they reappraise it. They don't sell it because they haven't reappraised it, and it sits. I can't explain it.
R. Hawes: I'll be very interested if you would expand on that slightly, maybe in a couple of paragraphs, and get that in to us. I personally would like to ask some questions about that of B.C. Lands and see if…. That does not seem to me like the kind of problem that would be difficult to fix. And if it is, I'd like to know why.
E. Saugstad: I agree.
R. Hawes: Could you get that in to us?
E. Saugstad: Yes.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Evan. A very good presentation. Thank you very much again for coming over here. If you want to provide any other information, our deadline has been extended to Friday, October 26. It was originally supposed to be this Friday, but they have extended it for one more week.
Next, we have South Peace Community Arts Council.
Good morning. Could you please state your name for our record.
E. Corea: My name is Ellen Corea. I'm a practising artist in the community, having graduated from the Alberta College of Art in 1977. I've also attended a number of other institutions: the Ontario College of Art, the University of Calgary and the Vancouver School of Art, which is now Emily Carr.
In my current position I'm the curator of the Dawson Creek Art Gallery and the executive director of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council. In my volunteer position I'm the president of the South Peace Community Arts Council and also the treasurer of our local performing arts centre.
I came today to talk a little about arts. I know that you've been in a lot of communities throughout B.C., and I'm sure you've had a presentation on the arts in just about every one, I hope.
I'm not going to be able to bring really earthshaking data or statistics to you, but I want to talk a little bit about our community, and about the unique positions that rural and isolated areas find themselves in, in B.C. because of arts funding.
Our community is quite amazing. I moved here in 1977. We stayed here really because of the incredible foundation that we have in the arts and culture sector in our community. We have a 600-seat performance theatre. We have a huge art gallery, a performing arts centre, which is in an abandoned school, and we have a museum and a heritage village, as well as an incredibly well-run library.
This sounds very idyllic, but all these organizations and facilities were really developed by volunteers in our community, and most of them are run mostly by volunteer organizations. They struggle constantly with meeting their budgets, especially with increased living costs and, most notably lately, increased wage costs.
Our wages are quite interesting in the north right now. To keep good people on in these facilities, you have to pay fairly good wages, because they'll be gone. Everybody is looking for staff.
In our particular community, other than gaming funding, our community only receives a total of $12,000 through direct arts and cultural funding from the province. We service a community of 10,000 people. I'm talking about the whole community, every organization all put together. We receive about $8,000 for our arts council, which goes to run programs for 13 different organizations. At the art gallery I received a $5,000 project grant. But that's the only funding that comes into our community through the province through cultural funding.
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I don't think we're unique. I know that in the north there's very little funding. I am probably the only art gallery in the north — north of Prince George — that is funded even to that extent. In looking at other arts councils, the funding is very low. I would like to really encourage this committee to make the recommendation to increase the funding to the B.C. Arts Council.
What's happening now, especially in rural and isolated areas…. When I go out to do a grant for, say, my art gallery, I am told that I am basically in competition with the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The museums are in competition with the B.C. Museum.
So we really are not on a level playing field as far as how our grants…. They only have this finite pot, which hasn't been increased for a number of years. With increased funding to the arts sector, I think it would give them the opportunity to maybe even put a fund aside for rural and isolated areas or northern areas or whatever is happening.
I also think it would really help with certain things that are priorities for the provincial government. One of their statements is that they would like to double the amount of tourism in the province. Well, cultural tourism is the perfect vehicle to do that. Unless we have the ability to do that — the resources to make that happen — then how are we as cultural tourism purveyors going to do that? I think that's a really important one.
On the regional level, our regional arts council has just signed a memorandum of understanding with our tourism board in the region to actually increase cultural tourism in the region. We're also mapping the Alaska Highway, as far as cultural events and facilities. We're actually working very closely with our tourism, but we do need resources to be able to pull that forward.
The other thing I'd like to bring up is a really important one. I've been in the art gallery for 14 years. I used to use a student employment program through the provincial government that was excellent. It has not been available for quite a few years now. It was the best student employment program around. I would really like to encourage the provincial government to reinstate that. I think it has a number of different things that work really well.
First of all, for small museums and art galleries and cultural facilities, it gives them the ability to stay open in the summer and provide services to the community.
It's also the most valuable experience that young students can have. It gives us a chance to mentor young students into our profession. We need to have that succession happening so that we can actually bring young people on to work in the arts and in culture.
Those are the two issues I'd like to bring forward. I know you've probably already heard all the other issues. You might have heard mine before too.
I. Black: I'll take as much of the time as the Chair will indulge me to take. This is a pet area for me. Actually, our Chair, MLA Bill Bennett, and I have spent a lot of time in discussion with various cabinet ministers on this topic. So I want to ask you a couple of questions.
First of all, I want you to clarify for me, if you could, the source of the $5,000 and the $8,000. Was that out of the B.C. Arts Council, or is it out of…?
E. Corea: Yes, B.C. Arts Council.
I. Black: One of the discussions…. You touched on it, and you may have seen me smile when you mentioned it. You mentioned how you find yourself in a competitive position for funding with the Vancouver Art Gallery or art galleries and theatre operations in Victoria or elsewhere in the province.
As one who's an advocate for this area, one of the challenges I run into in conversations is the various ways that the arts are actually funded that don't consolidate through the B.C. Arts Council. The frustrating part for me — and I wanted your perspective on this — is that an answer I get back is: "Yes, but you're forgetting about the money that goes to the Arts Umbrella. You're forgetting the money that goes to the Vancouver Foundation, which is an enormous organization that funds a lot of great artists and art-based activities and programs."
My response back, and the sense I'm getting, is that it would be very beneficial — in order to really understand how we can best support, particularly, rural art programs and communities such as yours — to get some sort of analysis done to get all of this funding analyzed in one area that can then be assessed as to how we best service, especially, our rural and smaller communities.
Would you be supportive of such an analysis being done?
E. Corea: I think it would be excellent. I really do.
I. Black: I think it gives us a starting point, doesn't it?
E. Corea: I think we're all working in little pockets up in the north, in the Kootenays and out on the west coast, and we're all feeling the very same thing. We feel isolated as far as funding goes.
I understand that the B.C. Arts Council has a finite amount of money and that they have these huge facilities and organizations that need the funding. I'm not saying that they don't need the funding and I need the funding. I have to say that in our community, we're incredibly well supported by our city. It's incredible.
I don't close my doors in the summer because I don't have summer students, but I'm sort of speaking for a lot of other communities as well. There are museums that close their doors. There are art galleries that close their doors. There are ones that only have very limited part-time help. For us to actually develop that grass-roots culture that the province needs to move into professional arts, we need to be supported as well.
D. Hayer: A very good presentation. Thank you for coming over this morning.
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Next, Karen Goodings from Peace River regional district.
Karen, when you sit down, could you please state your name into the mike for the record. Also, you will have ten minutes to make a presentation. Then we have a five-minute question-and-answer period. Once we get to nine minutes, I'll let you know.
K. Goodings: I am Karen Goodings, chair of the Peace River regional district. If it would be appropriate, I would like to ask Larry White to sit here with me. Although you won't have a name tag for him, Larry is one of the directors. He's an alternate from Tumbler Ridge, and he may be able to answer some questions.
Good morning, and on behalf of the Peace River regional district board and staff, welcome to the B.C. Peace region. We are pleased to make a short presentation to you for your consideration.
Before I begin my presentation, I have one item that is not in the brief and that I feel needs to be brought forward. I'm sure you are all aware of the positive contributions from this region to the province of British Columbia. I need not remind you that the provincial economy has been bolstered by the oil and gas industry, and it appears that this will continue into the foreseeable future.
We have a strong economy. With a strong economy come certain drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is the ever-increasing concern about drug and alcohol addictions and the lack of facilities and plans for rehabilitation. This is a serious problem.
I've had the pleasure of taking part in the first day of a three-day workshop that is happening right now in Fort St. John. The story behind the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, commonly known as AARC, is a remarkable one. The success rate is 85 percent.
Mr. Allan Markin, who has been a financial sponsor and has committed to the support of families in communities struggling with teen alcohol and drug use, spoke at the banquet. He commented that he was there at the request of our provincial government. I certainly applaud the provincial government for supporting the process of AARC and now hope that they will come through with some matching dollars.
The first topic is the need for additional funding for the Ministry of Environment in order that they can hire sufficient staff so that northeastern British Columbia can have water technicians. We met with the Ministry of Environment staff at UBCM, and we were advised that they have half of what they need in the way of staff.
The manager in Prince George is responsible for the entire north and part of the Cariboo. Northeastern B.C., the Peace region specifically, has no one looking after water-related issues. The Oil and Gas Commission is supposed to have responsibility for water as it relates to oil and gas, but the Environment staff don't believe that they are inspecting or enforcing. There is such a massive development in the northeast, with year-round drilling, coalbed methane proposals, etc., that we are concerned about the severe possible environmental consequences.
People cannot live without water, and we need to protect what we have. We do need water technicians in our area. We need better aquifer mapping and drilling information as well. That information is currently voluntary. When they're drilling for oil or gas, they often drill a water well for their own use. All of that information is just voluntary. It would be really good if we had some of that as part of our mapping.
Topic 2 is the need for funding for an independent agent office to look after landowner surface rights. The regional district has been lobbying since 2002 for the establishment of an independent agent or office in northeastern B.C. Originally we pursued the idea of a farmers advocate patterned after the one in Alberta through the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
In 2003 the Peace River regional board sponsored a resolution through the NCMA to the fall Union of B.C. Municipalities. The resolution requested that NCMA and UBCM aggressively pursue the establishment of an independent rural landowner advocate office that would provide an effective one-window service to assist rural landowners through an informal, non-partisan and non-binding mechanism to help them resolve disputes and gather information on matters of concern.
What we got was a landowner liaison inspector position being created and funded by the Oil and Gas Commission. While everyone agreed that this was a step in the right direction, it is very prescriptive on what the inspector can and cannot do. We firmly believe that it is time to establish and fund an independent rural landowner advocate office in the Peace region.
In 2005 we wrote to the Premier and the various ministers, and I believe you'll find copies of that correspondence in your package.
In 2006 the district of Hudson's Hope put forward a resolution, through NCMA to UBCM, calling for a land surface office to assist landowners with tenures. The resolution was endorsed at the convention. However, the response from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources was that an office independent of them was unnecessary. We do not agree.
Another UBCM conference has come to a close, and another Peace River regional district resolution has been endorsed — resolution B47, landowners' rights. We respectfully request that the committee consider the need for funding an independent agent office to deal with landowners' surface rights, which is separate from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
Our third topic is health care and staffing issues. This topic has been brought up by the district of Tumbler Ridge, which felt that the lack of health care staff was caused by a lack of funding.
We have spoken to Northern Health and have been advised that staffing funding is good. What is needed are bodies. If they are qualified and available, there is work wherever they want to go.
The Treasury Board can assist by identifying funding through Advanced Education to allow our community colleges to provide nursing training and allied
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professional training locally. If people are trained in the Peace, they are likely to stay in the Peace. It is very hard to attract from outside to the Peace.
One other thought related to health issues and the province's support for aging in place would be a provincially funded program targeted at seniors who are able to stay in their own homes but need to make their homes senior-friendly.
A program similar to the federal residential rehabilitation assistance program, or RRAP, should be provided. The RRAP provides financial assistance for capital costs on an as-needed assistance program.
A health assistance program could provide financial assistance for those in need to install a raised toilet, grab bars and safety rails, an elevator or lift to access the second level of a senior's home, or to install a specialized bathtub for those that have mobility problems. If we are going to promote aging in place, we need to come up with ways to provide assistance to allow seniors to do that.
Our fourth topic this morning comes from the district of Hudson's Hope. The regional board would like to take this opportunity to show its continued support for the district of Hudson's Hope when the calculations are made for the 2008 grants for power-generating assets. Hudson's Hope is a B.C. Hydro community facing many challenges due to resource exploration, aging infrastructure and a housing crisis. It should not be penalized due to the size of its population.
Topic 5, the need to increase the number of RCMP officers in the region. What we've done here is just put in an article that was in the Alaska Highway News. At UBCM this year we met with Minister John Les, and he suggested that maybe we should dust off our regional policing model and have another look. We're not sure what that look is going to bring us, but we're certainly willing to do that.
We just want to make sure that we maintain our ability in the small rural areas like Tumbler Ridge and Hudson's Hope to have their detachment remain in place — Chetwynd is another — while we do have that look at it.
That brings me to the end of the presentation.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much. A very good presentation.
Randy, do you have any questions?
R. Hawes: Just one. I'm still kind of confused, I guess, about the land liaison inspector. It was created, but you're looking for an independent agent to look after landowner surface rights. I'm not really clear. As I read your presentation, it says that there's only one other jurisdiction maybe in the world — that's Alberta — that has someone like this.
I'm not really sure what kind of disputes we're talking about and what this person would do. It says that it would be ancillary to all of the other boards, etc. It sounds like it's a person to look after issues that are already being looked after maybe in a disjointed way. It almost reads to me like another layer of bureaucracy, and that really scares me. So I'd like your explanation a little bit.
K. Goodings: Certainly, I can maybe help to clear it up. What we were looking for when we first started speaking to the government was an office independent of the Oil and Gas Commission, oil and gas energy, so that landowners who are faced with a land agent knocking on their door because they want to drill a well on their land….
They need a place where they can go to find out what might be possible, what the going costs are — what people are paying and what people are being paid for that opportunity — and how they deal with problems. Currently we don't feel we have that.
The landowner liaison office is certainly a step in the right direction. However, it is very prescriptive, and it can only deal with basically the regulations. We're looking for something that would be complementary to that and would give the people some place to go with their questions.
There's a lot of concern out there from landowners. I don't know if you've been hearing about it, but there is a lot of concern from landowners about placement of wells, about placement of pipelines on their land, about what they can and cannot do and how restricted they are in the future. Once that pipeline is there and an easement is on their title, it never goes away.
They need some place to go with those concerns.
R. Hawes: Just an ancillary question, if I can. I'll talk about other areas of the province and mining rights, which I'm sort of familiar with. Someone could put a claim on your property — on your farm, for example — to open a mine of some kind. I know what happens when that happens. The landowner generally will immediately consult a lawyer and say: "First, what are my rights?"
I'm just wondering. The people here, who would have an oil company come knocking on their door or whatever…. They know they're going to get paid something. Are there not lawyers here they could consult with, who would give them all the advice they're looking for?
K. Goodings: I don't believe there are.
R. Hawes: So the lawyers here have no idea of what….
K. Goodings: I know that some of the landowners who have had concerns that they've gone to a lawyer with are bringing in a lawyer from Alberta who is allowed to practise under the B.C. board.
You know, it's a case of the landowner being the little guy and the oil company being the big guy. Lots of times lawyers don't want to get in the middle.
R. Hawes: But I'm also quite familiar with the way that the free market system works. If it's a big enough
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problem that there should be a full-time paid person from the government, surely there would be a lawyer somewhere who would say: "You know, I'm going to expand my practice, sharpen up on this and offer that service on a fee-for-service basis. I'll become the expert for everybody here."
Surely in a free market system, there will be a lawyer who would want to build part of his practice around that.
K. Goodings: That's possible. The oil and gas industry is not a free market system from the landowner's point of view. It is very prescriptive in what they are willing to pay. It is not a case of us having the ability, as landowners, to bargain. We are basically told what the going price is. If we don't accept that, then use the mediation and arbitration board.
We should sit down and talk, but we won't have time in the 15 minutes to do that.
R. Hawes: No, and I guess, then, what you're really asking for is relief from that system, not so much a person who can provide advice. If the system itself is what is prescriptive, and that's what you're objecting to, getting advice about a prescriptive system isn't going to solve the problem.
K. Goodings: No, but getting the advice ahead of time would allow landowners to get a better idea of where they need to be in the process. That is lacking here.
R. Lee: My question is on the nursing training. You propose to allow community colleges locally to train nurses. We know that professionally they need a bachelor's degree right now in order to be a nurse. That's why we encourage nurses to train elsewhere, come here, and then their student loans will be forgiven over five years. There may be some merit in sending students to Prince George or UBC Okanagan campus.
The first two years of a bachelor program can be done locally in a community college. Has a college approached UBC or another big university to accept those students in a more flexible way?
K. Goodings: I can't say yes, and I can't say no. It is possible that it has, and I'm not aware of it.
I do know that in working with the UNBC campus out of Prince George, it is certainly a huge step in the right direction. We still aren't necessarily thinking that we're going to get what we need in the north to stay in the north.
R. Hawes: I just have one other question. One of our colleagues, Sindi Hawkins, has expressed her belief that there's a real need in the greater Vancouver area for a facility where families can come and stay when someone from a rural area comes for major health surgery or whatever. They have a huge problem, obviously, in getting accommodation there. Is this something that you hear a lot about here?
K. Goodings: We certainly do hear it. The Northern Health connections bus has helped us travel, but you're right. There is a need, with major surgery, for families to be close by to support the individual, and it is difficult. I would certainly support Sindi in all of her efforts.
D. Hayer: Well, thank you very much for making your presentation. I really appreciate it. If you have any other suggestions or input, we have extended our deadline for submissions until Friday, October 26, because there is a lot of input coming in from British Columbians. So you have an extra week to provide any additional information to the committee.
Thank you both very much for coming in this morning to provide your input.
K. Goodings: That's excellent. I appreciate that extension, because I think there likely will be some further information coming through. Thank you very much for coming.
D. Hayer: We'll have a short ten-minute recess, and then we will start again.
The committee recessed from 10:47 a.m. to 10:55 a.m.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
D. Hayer: Good morning. Thank you very much, again.
If you can please start with stating your name for the record. You will have ten minutes to make a presentation and then we'll have five minutes for a question-and-answer period. Once we get to nine minutes, I'll let you know. That way, you can get the cue.
C. Kux-Kardos: My name is Christabelle Kux-Kardos. I'm the regional literacy co-ordinator for the Northern Lights College region. I am also a municipal councillor in the village of Pouce Coupe, but I'm here on my own behalf — not in an official capacity.
S. Harwood: My name is Sandrina Harwood, and I am the community literacy co-ordinator. I'm also here in my own stead and not supporting or representing anyone else.
C. Kux-Kardos: As the regional literacy co-ordinator I am the liaison for the Ministry of Advanced Education, Literacy B.C. and Literacy Now to the communities in the northeast of British Columbia. I provide leadership, consultation, resources, information, training opportunities and support to literacy practitioners, volunteers, students and community organizations in the region.
S. Harwood: I work directly with local community on the development, support and implementation of literacy initiatives. I try to bring awareness and current literacy research, resources and best practices to the local table. Much of it is about awareness.
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Just a bit of background. The IALS survey, the international adult literacy survey, has determined that two in five, or 40 percent, of British Columbians age 16 and over perform below the level 3 proficiency in prose and document literacy scales. Level 3 is considered the desired level of competency for coping with the increasing skill demands of the emerging knowledge and information economy. At 49 percent, the proportion of the B.C. population aged 16 and over with numeracy scores below level 3 was even more pronounced.
Literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills are essential to function in today's world. They are strongly associated with individual outcomes, and they enable people to participate in their communities, make wise consumer decisions and construct social networks.
The early development instrument results also indicate that one in four children in B.C. is not ready to enter school. These statistics are cited in the document Building on Our Competencies from British Columbia and Early Learning UBC.
Christabelle and I are very aware of what levels of literacy we have in our community, and we were really pleased with the budget consultation paper that was produced and distributed by the government. We were pleased because it was taking the audience into account.
For instance, "Setting the Course for a Greener Future" was written at a grade 8.4 level. I don't know if you were aware of that, but that's a significant attempt to make it accessible to the majority of British Columbians. Your "A Balanced Budget Every Year" portion rose to 10.5, so you would need an education of 10½ in order to access the information in this particular part.
As you get down to the questions — asking the questions of the people of the province — the reading ease, which is something else, drops to a lesser percentage of the population being able to access it. You would need an 11.4 school grade in order to access the information and understand the questions — just to understand them — never mind to respond to them.
But it is a great attempt by the powers that be to bring this document to the most people possible, so thank you for this. This is wonderful.
C. Kux-Kardos: A lot of the recommendations that we are making are looking at how to make this type of information accessible to the largest number of British Columbians, so we didn't answer every question, because some we couldn't figure out how that would fit in and what type of input we could provide you.
For question 1, "What budget choices would you make to help reduce B.C.'s greenhouse gases?" we're saying that if the group of British Columbians who are deemed to be in the lowest literacy level of the IALS survey are to have an appreciative buy-in, to be able to reduce, re-use and recycle and understand the campaigns and be encouraged to continue to expand their efforts to be green, the contribution would be significant.
It is extremely important then, that the material is written at a low-enough literacy level to ensure that the largest population receives the message, as those with high literacy levels appreciate intelligent, to-the-point communication as well.
Some of the suggestions that we have would be a campaign to teach about greenhouse gases, developed specifically to reach the lowest level of measured literacy. It should be implemented not just in formal education but in the home, the workplace and the community as well.
More on the municipal level, a suggestion would be to provide funding for a designated director of sustainability in all municipalities and regional districts. If you want municipalities to be on-board, it is very helpful if they have a designated sustainability position like in the city of Dawson Creek, which is leading the province in their sustainability efforts. They have a designated person for that.
Another suggestion would be to provide funding for municipalities and regional districts for comprehensive curbside recycling.
Another option: funding for environmental initiatives to develop literacy-sensitive materials. The recycling concept is doing an extremely good job of making it very simple and easy to understand. So, the recycling in our community is very, very high because they've made it easy for people to understand and participate in.
On a little bit of a different note, parity for beer bottle returns at recycle depots. It's not related to literacy, but it's a concept that would make it easier.
S. Harwood: Yeah, it would certainly make it easier. Right now there is a discrepancy between what you get back for a beer bottle at the liquor store and what you get back for a beer bottle at the recycle depot. It's less at the recycle depot. If you're a struggling family on low income, you're going to make two stops, but it's going to cost you in gas or something in order to do that.
It would be really nice if somebody could be lobbying for parity in that return. Alberta does it, just so you know. They get the ten cents.
C. Kux-Kardos: On question 2. We found that this question was quite difficult because a large number of British Columbians are not in a financial situation where they could feasibly purchase a hybrid vehicle or use alternative energy sources that are put forward. So this question is not specific to the average Canadian; it's much broader, and I realize that. They will not be motivated around tax incentives, and this is quite a large percentage of our population who don't understand taxes and are not making choices based on their tax incentives or tax reductions. That's more just how we were looking at the question.
Companies with fleets of vehicles could be encouraged with further tax incentives. We would encourage you to find incentives that the average British Columbian can take advantage of, which are simple to access and simple to implement. That's the biggest point here: it has to be simple — not a lot of filling out forms to access it.
We also encourage you to invest in raising awareness about these incentives in an easy-to-understand
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manner. Right now, unless you read the newspaper, you're not going to know about the incentives. It's not out to the masses.
Offer incentives to individuals and companies that retrofit and renovate old buildings, or build green and recycle construction waste. I did want to point out to include that the province could be the leaders in that and model the behaviour and, hopefully, look at some collaboration between the ministries. If an old school is not being used, how can that…? Or health care systems.
Number 4. This one is much more directly related to literacy. We see that all facets of public health and education need to continue with a stronger focus on plain language and preventative health measures. We took an example of something on mental health literacy. You needed 14 years of schooling to be able to read what they were handing out to their mental health patients. Just by changing the wording, it was brought down to a grade 6 level.
This public health…. If you can prevent it by offering information that's very easy for the people to understand, your health costs are going to decrease very, very quickly. This is, of course, extremely important in the growing ranks of seniors accessing health care.
S. Harwood: Should we mention that a large cohort of those who are in level 1 and 2 are seniors? They're aged 55 years and older, and their education experiences have been a lot different than current generations.
We need to address that and deliver information in a way that is respectful, reminding everyone that the conversation about literacy is not a conversation about intelligence. They are not the same thing at all.
C. Kux-Kardos: So funding, again, specifically for literacy-sensitive health information.
Another idea would be providing funding to health authorities to employ a patient advocate in every hospital and clinic to ensure that patients understand the procedures they will be experiencing and to provide support and follow-up to patients, including referral to other services in the community. Right now there is a huge gap in terms of the health care professionals — how they're able to service their patients and not referring them to other services in the community that could help them.
Then, provide funding to health authorities to provide services like dentists, alternative health therapies and home care to our marginalized citizens in ways that teach the importance of personal self-care in a respectful, safe and no-hassle manner. We have in our region only one dentist in Fort St. John who will work on people who are on income assistance. For them to even get to Fort St. John is huge, and it's such a hassle for them to do it. So it plays on the health care system, around and around.
Finally, question 5: "Are there are other housing initiatives you would like us to consider?" Again, easy-to-access sustainable funding for non-profit groups who help the homeless and marginalized individuals in the community. They are all on minimal budgets and relying on volunteers. The burnout is incredible. They're not able to serve the clientele because they're worrying about their dollars.
Support for municipalities to implement requirements for energy-efficient fixtures, appliances and accessible homes, and incentives to include affordable housing within all housing developments.
S. Harwood: We see literacy and education as the common touchpoints in all of these initiatives, in answer to all of the questions. Premier Campbell has identified as one of his goals for British Columbia to be the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent. Many of the plans outlined in the Pacific leaders agenda support this. We also support this goal whole-heartedly.
To achieve this will require increased sustainable funding for the programs and for the individuals hired to see these dreams of a literate, engaged society delivered. Ongoing funding will create a stable, committed team across the province who can see to it that literacy remains at the forefront of all efforts to improve the health, education and environment for all British Columbians.
We also encourage you to look at the Nordic model of education, which has highly subsidized programs for early childhood, post-secondary, workplace training and community literacy. Not only are the literacy levels higher in these countries, the disparity between the rich and poor is substantially less as well. The investments in educating your citizens from birth to the grave will have huge overall economic benefits for the province.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much. A very good presentation.
I. Black: What a phenomenal presentation. That was really, really good. It was so well thought out, it was so focused, and it was obviously key to an area that you're both very passionate about. I just want to congratulate you for that first and foremost. It was very unique. We've been on the road — this is the 15th city that we've hit, I believe — and yours was the only one like this that we've seen. Frankly, it was one of the best ones we've seen. So congratulations to you both, and thank you for the enormous amount of effort that I know you put into it.
This is a touchpoint for our Premier, as you've pointed out. Literacy is his number one pet area in his personal life and whatnot. So I can ensure you, it's well received in that line.
I do have a question, which is this. You touched on a really important balance that's required in order for people to be healthy. I loved the way you touched on the health care component of the questionnaire. In order for people to be healthy and to bring up healthy families, they need to be knowledgable — which is where the literacy connection comes in. You talked also about the housing investment that is required and that people have to be housed in some fashion, through
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their own means or through some supported means. You touched on our contributions there as well.
The one that ties it together, though…. You had a theme throughout this entire presentation where you're talking about the ability to access information, the sensitivity around the reading level of the brochure, through to gaining access to information, etc.
In the world of literacy, how do you find the people who need your help? If they can't read, how do they know to come to you to find that? It's a point of curiosity for me, given that it's such a dominant theme in your recommendations to us. How do people come to you for the help that they need so that they in turn can be more productive and be in a better position to raise families, etc.?
S. Harwood: Part of our goal is to raise the awareness that there is help available. There are groups and services available in the community that can help. A very small percentage of the people who actually need literacy support access those services. Our goal is to increase the awareness of the services and the ease with which people can access them. It is also to make relevant to them the benefits of increasing their literacy levels.
C. Kux-Kardos: If I can just finish, a lot of that is coming out of the Literacy Now community literacy planning initiatives. It's very collaborative. It's bringing service providers together.
In my opinion, the catalysts are people like public health, Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance, Ministry of Children and Families. If they have the information about literacy and literacy issues and know who to refer the people to in their communities, that's how we will reach the people who most need it.
That's what we as literacy practitioners are trying to do, and that's why the funding to keep these positions going is very important. Right now it's on a year-to-year basis, and we're talking $20,000 a year for an individual, so it is being based on volunteers. There needs to be a longer term, because each year most of their time is spent filling in applications and proposals to get that funding, so the work isn't actually being done at the grassroots level.
I. Black: Great answer. Thank you.
R. Hawes: Like Iain, I want to congratulate you on your presentation. I had not thought at all about the 49 percent or the 40 percent that probably aren't receiving the kinds of messages that we're putting out. It's just such a simple thing, and it doesn't occur to us. So thank you very much for that.
I like your presentation, "See and Said." The one thing that I didn't see in here…. I guess I should pre-face it by saying that the provincial government is moving down the climate change, green-the-province route. But the people of the province, I think, are ahead of us in a lot of cases. This is what the public wants, so this isn't a case of the province having to go out and fund things.
I think the key thing I find missing here is the word "partnership." For me, that's the key here. We shouldn't be needing to write cheques to get people to do things. They want to do them, so it's a matter of us working together to make them happen.
I wanted to ask you…. Well, I'll just make a comment about the funding, for example, for a director of sustainability. Dawson Creek has one, you said. They're not receiving funding. I think all cities….
Particularly you, Christabelle — you're an elected official. You know that if the public wants that, you sense what they want, and you try to reflect what the public wants. I would suggest to you that probably in most communities, this is what they would want. Hopefully, most elected officials at the local level would respond.
Providing funding, though, is what I'm particularly…. The patient advocate. There used to be with the local hospital board…. Every community that had a hospital had community volunteers working on a board, and almost all of them had a quality control function to the board's operation.
They were actually the patient advocates. They would go around and ask patients how they were doing. They would direct them to the services. They would talk to them about what's happening with them. These were community volunteers that were tied to the hospital. As I'm sure you know, the local hospital has always been the pride of almost every community. It attracts volunteers like you…. That seems to have ended.
Rather than saying, "Let's hire an advocate," don't you think we should try and promote the community to come back into the hospital and take that kind of a role on and get the community re-engaged in a big way on a volunteer basis?
S. Harwood: In a perfect world, yeah, it would be great.
R. Hawes: Well, we're trying to make a perfect world here.
S. Harwood: Sure, in a perfect world you wouldn't need reminding that 40 percent of the people can't access your documents.
C. Kux-Kardos: I do. Obviously, that would be the ideal. I think that volunteerism has really changed. We're finding in literacy that a lot of our tutors are volunteer tutors, so it would be the same.
They don't necessarily have the skill set. They're doing it because they want to help out, but they may not have the actual skills themselves to teach someone to read. They're being more a friend.
In the hospitals I'd imagine it would be quite similar. Volunteerism is great, but then you need to provide the actual training. The piece missing in a lot of volunteer organizations is the training — the retaining and
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the rewarding and the training. So that would be a great focus, if you want to focus on volunteerism.
R. Lee: We noticed that, for example, in Burnaby we have the Burnaby Hospital Foundation. They also are a volunteer group to help to disseminate that kind of information. But I also have a question on literacy.
You bring up a very good point on literacy and intelligence. Probably there's no correlation or less correlation. In different cultures…. You might be literate in one culture but not in another culture. That's why your point of providing information, basic standard instruction, for services to different groups of people is important. Even in this, our consultation, we have brochures printed in Chinese as well as Punjabi.
Do you think this kind of diverse approach will also help to get information out, for example, to the aboriginal community? Do you support that kind of activity?
C. Kux-Kardos: Excellent, excellent. Literacy B.C. for information — they do provide translation services. If you contact Literacy B.C., and you have a question about literacy resources in any of the communities in the province, they can have a third-party line, and they will have an interpreter to pass that information on.
Again, it's getting the communication out there that these services do exist. I'm very optimistic, and I applaud the B.C. government on what they're doing. Collaboration is changing dramatically, and I'm very optimistic about the possibilities for the future.
At the UBCM I did have an opportunity to speak to the climate action panel and raise the awareness about their campaign and what they're trying to do, in terms of literacy. So the climate action panel did get to hear my little two bits about literacy as well.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much. Very good presentation. Very moving and professional presentation. I can tell you this much: the Premier always tells our caucus members, when you have a brochure done, to keep it simple and use large-size print so people can read it. Easy to read — which goes to the same message you're trying to send.
C. Kux-Kardos: Just for your information, you need 14 years of schooling to understand the one we've presented to you.
D. Hayer: Next we have the B.C. Grain Producers Association. Please come join us. First I will ask you, when you sit down, to state your name for our records. Also, you will have ten minutes to make a presentation, then five minutes for a question-and-answer period. Once we get to nine minutes, I'll let you know so you can try to wrap up. You can start anytime you're ready.
I. Critcher: My name is Irmi Critcher. I'm the president of the B.C. Grain Producers Association. We re-present over 300 grain and oilseed producers in the province of B.C. Some 90 percent of the grain is grown up here. We are actually in the middle of harvest, so prepping for this meeting here was a real hassle. We kind of did it overnight in between combining, so I apologize if we are not as well prepared as we would like to be. There are still a lot of issues which we'd like to address.
G. Berge: Garnet Berge. I'm a director on the B.C. Grain Producers and chair of the biofuels steering committee. We're in the process of putting a plant in Dawson Creek to produce biodiesel — 22 million litres a year. It's progressing right along, thanks to the B.C. government for matching Alberta's production incentive. It went a long way into putting the plant in B.C. versus Alberta.
At the moment it's the feds that are holding us back with the policy on their 20 cents. It would be good if our Ag Ministry or whatever would be pushing the feds to…. They were supposed to have a policy before now, and they still are…. I think it's to do with the election coming up or the problems they got there.
You know, everybody's so green in the political world that there should be some way that they could push this through. They've made the announcement. It's just a matter of the policy side of it now, but that's how politics goes.
There are still inequities between Alberta and B.C. They have a capital cost allowance. It would be about $1½ million to us. However, we're looking at maybe NDI funding and some way around that. There are other pots of money we can work with.
Once the plant gets built, it would be nice for B.C. to have a policy or something that would state that they would buy a B.C. product first, rather than an imported product. We'd match the price, but there should be something where they would use a B.C.-made product ahead of importing a product. I'm not saying we want more money for it, but we'd like to have preferential delivery, if that's possible.
I don't know if that is, if you get into trade issues and stuff like that. I think a B.C.-made product should try to be used in B.C. if it's possible — and maybe not all the way to the lower mainland. I mean, there's a huge amount of coal and oil usage of diesel that could have biodiesel put in it.
That's about it. We've got a handout with the biodiesel. We're following the Bioenergy Association and the Canadian Bioenergy. They've done a proposal too. We've kind of reiterated what they said and added our own stuff.
I. Critcher: We basically are endorsing what the B.C. Biodiesel Association has presented to this committee already. It outlines in that letter — which is our letter of support in regards to the different tax structure and so on — what they are proposing here. We can fully endorse that on behalf of producers of oil seeds, which is the primary stock for biodiesel. Basically, it outlines here what we would like to have endorsed and put in place in B.C.
The other thing is, when Garnet was making reference to the support of the B.C. government, we had
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asked to have parity with Alberta in regards to a production incentive for the production of biodiesel. That's what he was referring to, and that's what, basically, we have — a letter stating that the B.C. government would be willing to do this.
G. Berge: There's huge support locally, with the regional district, the South Peace economic development council and the cities on side. And the farmers are on side. The farmers are looking forward to having something like this.
I. Critcher: Basically, all we want to do is have a viable, made-in-B.C. biodiesel industry. We are the primary feedstock producer for that, so we need to have the policies and incentives in place in order to make that work for B.C.
G. Berge: I guess the other issue is continued support. We don't want to get to the point where everything looks good and we build the plant and get in production, and all of a sudden, stuff goes away — you know, with policy changes. Hopefully, we can keep it viable, and with the mandates and stuff coming on, I think that shouldn't be a problem.
D. Hayer: Would you like to read this letter into the record? It will get recorded into Hansard.
I. Critcher: Yes. That's right, because that's our endorsement of….
G. Berge: Yeah, but we don't want to read it now. It'd take too much time for us to read it. We've got other things that we'd like to….
Have you got a question, though?
R. Hawes: When you finish your presentation.
I. Critcher: Okay. I'm going to go into the agriculture side of it now. This was just the bioenergy part, which is one of the initiatives we are doing as the B.C. Grain Producers. The other thing is that we are primarily farmers, and there are issues with support for the farming industry which the province can address.
We are also a member of the B.C. Agriculture Council. You've had a presentation from them already. We can fully endorse what the B.C. Ag Council has presented to you. In the outline on that piece of paper we have there, there are actually the points they have outlined already, which is funding for the agriculture policy framework, Growing Forward.
We would like the province to basically support the framework and make the contributions. There's a 60-40 cost split with the federal government.
In the past B.C. hasn't always contributed with money. It has contributed with in-kind contributions through the ministry. We need to fully have that supported with physical dollars, not just in-kind support, to trigger the federal funding for certain agricultural programs.
The other thing is that in the past, the budget for the Ministry of Agriculture has been cut back. We would like to have it adequately funded so we can get good use out of the local ministries. Like the extension services and all that — that there are no further cutbacks on that and that it's adequately funded so it's effective. That when there is an agriculture office placed in a region, we can actually access it and it is of use to us. That it's not there just by name, but that it's funded so we can go and access the information it has and the people who are working there.
We don't currently have a grains and oilseed specialist. We used to have one, but that position was cut again too. There's a lot of amalgamation happening all the time, and it's cutting the services short in our area.
The other thing I would like to address…. It's not on the handout here. Last year, for instance, we had a severe drought in the area. We asked the B.C. government to support us financially to get through it. There was no mechanism or anything in place to address the issue of the drought through the province. There was a federal initiative to go and address it, and then it was only addressed in the cattle sector but not in the grain sector. The reason given was that there was no money or programs in place that could address that.
We would like there to be a mechanism and programs in place, so that in the future if things like weather-related or production-related problems happened that are of a disastrous nature, the province of B.C. set some money aside for the agriculture sector to address those issues.
G. Berge: It needs to be a timely thing. They're still working on it. Well, Blair is still trying to work on this drought issue. It's a year later. The money would be great, but we needed it last year. It's a timing thing.
Alberta seems to jump on that stuff. They already topped up their case to cover fuel and fertilizer increases. Just the other day they did it for the livestock industry. And they do it through an existing program like CAIS, so it's not countervailable and it works. They seem to be where they support their grains and their livestock industry.
In B.C., because we're such a small industry up here on the grain side of it — the livestock is huge — we seem to get left out on that side of it. We presented a herd study for three years back, and then we hit a 100-year drought, and there's no help. To top that off, we got a grains and oilseeds payment from the feds, which they considered income for us, which reduced our NISA payment by $1½ million. The B.C. government saved $1½ million on our drought.
They then come back, and they're chasing it around and around within…. I don't know where. In the ministry or somewhere, trying to get some money, and taking it to cabinet and Finance Minister, whatever…. It just seems to get nowhere. It's taken a whole year, and it still isn't resolved. There's no fast mechanism to make things work. When we get a drought like that, we need the help within three or four or six months.
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We presented a case saying that the existing safety net programs don't cover our losses, because they're based on ten-year historical data. Well, in the last ten years our varieties have increased, our expenses…. What has fertilizer and fuel gone up in the last ten years? Yet we're averaging everything out?
That system is not working, and they know that, because they keep changing it. The CAIS program — they're trying to rename it and do something different. They know those programs aren't working, and I think there needs to be a mechanism that when we have a problem like that, it can be addressed.
I. Critcher: I just want to go into the PST issue, the provincial sales tax issue. It's currently under review, and the B.C. Agriculture Council is actually putting a recommendation forward to change it from the system it is right now to a tax input rebate system very similar to the GST system.
The reason it's not working right now is, first of all, there aren't enough exempt items on the list. For instance, when you go and buy a part for a swather, a part for the header of the swather, it would be PST-exempt. But if you're buying a battery or a tire for the same swather, it's not exempt. Even though you can only use the swather on your farm to swath your crop…. You can't go to town and buy groceries with it or anything else. It's solely for that purpose, you know. Yet some components for it are PST-exempt, and some are not.
There are inadequacies there. So we should address that the list gets reviewed, and if you are a bona fide farmer, you can go and access the PST exemptions the same way that you do with the GST.
For instance, when you're doing your bookkeeping, you're already separating it out. You have a total tally and then go on a rebate system. A point-of-sale deduction works to a certain extent, but some businesses, for instance, are not set up for it and can't do that exemption. They just have an excuse. You read the line, "Oh, I want to get the exemption of the PST," and then: "Oh, we're not set up for it."
G. Berge: The other problem is that they do the exemption. Then they get audited by the PST guy, and he comes back and says: "Well, that's not it." Then they've got to pay…. It's too ambiguous in what is, what isn't and how you record it.
I. Critcher: Right now, just to be on the safe side, businesses charge it. "No, just pay it because if we get audited and it was a questionable item, or if anything was questionable about your status or anything like that, let's just charge it." They want to cover their own situation there.
So it's not working. You're not getting the full benefit of all the exemptions. Plus, the way the list is setup right now, like I indicated before, doesn't exempt everything that should be exempted. You're using it for farming purposes only, so why isn't it all exempt? If you are a bona fide farmer, why shouldn't you be exempt on those items?
G. Berge: I guess the last point I'd like to make is that the Ag Ministry, as far as grains and oilseeds go, seems to get really shortchanged. I don't know if it's because we're so far away. Even on this biofuel issue, I thought Minister Bell would have come up and approached us on where it's at, how it's working and what he could do to help us.
It's not only biofuel. There are other issues. He hardly ever seems to be able to get up here. He's saying that because he's Ag and Lands, he's really busy there.
There are a lot of issues on the coast right now — with the livestock issues, the specified risk materials, avian flu and all of that stuff — that have taken a lot of their resources to keep that all going. I don't know how that can be resolved — whether the ministry should be split up or there should be more resources put to the other side of ag sectors. I don't know.
All I know is this biofuel. B.C. is trying to be really green, and there doesn't seem to be much help coming from our Ag Ministry to champion the cause. We had to go through Minister Taylor's office to try and get the incentive. Mr. Bell was there. Pat was there, and he did support it, but he doesn't know the background of what's going on there. Maybe he is too busy to know that, and if that's the case, then it would be nice to have something that is more dedicated to the ag side rather than ag and lands. I don't know if that's possible, but it is an issue.
On the drought issue. I think we tried to explain the GOPP issue, where there's a clawback on $1.5 million. Each time he'd have a different take on it, or his bureaucrats did, not knowing the policies. There's a problem with them not understanding grains and oilseed issues in the Ag Ministry, I think.
I. Critcher: I just want to address one more issue, and that is agriculture-wildlife impacts. We currently don't have a program specifically for the issue of wildlife damages on agricultural land. We've got crop insurance, but all crop insurance addresses are the overall losses on your land. Basically, you always absorb the first percentage of loss yourself anyway.
We need to have a policy in place which addresses the impact of wildlife in the province on agricultural land, where there are compensation programs in place that address those issues so that the farmers actually get compensated for having wildlife live on their land.
It's been an ongoing issue — some years are worse than others — and it has a huge impact. The B.C. Grain Producers are doing a wildlife impact study right now, which is funded through the former green fund. We're trying to determine the actual losses on our lands.
We are into the second year of this study, and we're trying to get some figures together to see what the physical monetary impact on the farms is. I just want to say that Alberta already has a current program in place.
G. Berge: They have a program that is working, and I don't know why B.C. doesn't adopt that and go with it rather than reinvent the wheel.
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I. Critcher: That program has already been established, and it has already been working for a number of years. There are probably figures available on how much it costs the Alberta government. There are some strings attached. You have to allow hunting and all that. There is a program in place in Alberta that could be easily adapted to the B.C. Peace here, because we are encountering exactly the same problems as Alberta. The excuse was always: "Well, there's no money assigned to that."
G. Berge: One quick thing. The environmental farm plan is a great plan. I've done my initial part. With last year's drought, I didn't have the money to carry on with buying fuel tanks, which are double-walled tanks, and some of the other stuff, where this year I have.
But now the program potentially may be ending. I think B.C. has money left over. I know it's part of the federal component, but it would be nice if that would be carried forward another year or two just to finish off the farm plans.
I. Critcher: There's a lot of administrative work that's gone into establishing the environmental farm plan program. It's a federal program, but some provinces have put money towards it to make the best management practices more affordable for farmers.
The province of B.C., if they really want to have environmental farm plans on the farms, should also be supporting them with a targeted approach where they say: "Okay, we want to fix this problem here. We're going to give extra money towards those best management practices from the province — coming out of a different pot other than the federal money — so that the cost share of the farmer isn't such a high burden and the province shares some of that cost share as well."
What I'm saying is put funds in place to carry the environmental farm plan program on and help with some best management practices so that the funding ratio is higher than what the feds are suggesting.
R. Hawes: Thanks very much for the presentation. There's lots of information there.
The first point I want to make is with respect, Garnet, to protecting B.C. with the biodiesel. Through TILMA, that probably isn't going to be possible, but in Alberta they will not be able to protect Alberta either. It will be an equal playing field for both provinces. So there are opportunities that are going to open up in Alberta for British Columbia businesses.
G. Berge: What I was thinking was if we had the first opportunity to match the price or the first chance to deliver — not a preferential thing as far as price goes, but the opportunity to supply B.C. first before you supply from Alberta or offshore. Actually, offshore is probably more competitive than Alberta. The B100 from palm oil coming from offshore is probably more competitive.
R. Hawes: Offshore is not part of the TILMA agreement. I hear you.
G. Berge: No, but I mean B.C. could have a policy saying they would use B.C. product before they would bring in offshore.
R. Hawes: The second one I wanted to ask you about was the PST exemption. We've had a number of presentations, including from the Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, suggesting that we should move towards harmonizing GST and PST and then go to a value-added for a lot of businesses so that you would get a rebate on everything. Would that be something that you would endorse?
I. Critcher: I think other provinces are already doing that.
R. Hawes: I think only one.
I. Critcher: Yeah. I mean from a bookkeeping side, if you're already doing it anyway…. If you're doing double-entry bookkeeping, you're already keeping track of it all. Having it harmonized and doing it through one system, through one entity, would cut down on the administrative work.
R. Hawes: Okay. If it's on a value-added basis, you would have the tax exemption for PST on pretty much everything, but PST then would be added on some things that it is not now on. Some things are PST-exempt but not GST-exempt.
G. Berge: Yeah. The problem I have with PST if they do it on everything is that PST on $200,000 worth of fertilizer is a huge amount of money to have somebody else having till I get it back again. Even on a three-month system and another month to get my money back, somebody has my 7 percent or 6 percent on $200,000 for four months.
I think you still need an exemption list on a $300,000 tractor or a $400,000 combine. If you charge PST on that and I have to wait three months or more to get it back, that's a huge amount of money.
I. Critcher: But on the GST, for instance, there is the in and out where you claim it back at the same…. So you're actually physically laying it out.
G. Berge: Yeah. As long as that system is in there.
I. Critcher: We were asking, I guess, in the recommendations which the B.C. Ag Council put forward on bulk items like fertilizer that there won't be any…. They're GST-exempt so they would be PST-exempt. There should be a harmonization of that, and you could go through the list and say: "Okay." And then surely there will be some items that will pop up that should really go in or shouldn't go in — that kind of thing.
But on any bulk items like your chemicals and fertilizers, which is a huge amount of money laid out by the farmer very early in the year, you're talking hun-
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dreds of thousands of dollars on an average farm our size. Having an extra 6 percent or 7 percent on top of that — that's a huge amount. Then you have to wait for three months to claim it back. So bulk items and big equipment like a $200,000 tractor should be exempt right off the bat.
The GST is actually a good rule to go by.
G. Berge: It seems to work.
I. Critcher: Yeah. Match the PST on it, because we are not paying GST on very many items.
J. Horgan: I was wondering if the meat regulation changes that we've been hearing about in other communities as we've travelled around are being felt in the Peace.
G. Berge: Well, we're grain and oilseed producers. I don't know anything about the livestock industry. Are the cattlemen not presenting?
J. Horgan: I don't believe so. They're not on our list. But we have heard from other agriculturalists in other communities that this is a particular concern. I was wondering if you had any sense of how small or large producers in the Peace are feeling.
I. Critcher: Probably their concerns are echoed up here — what's happening across the province. We're definitely just as much affected by the regulations. I'm not a rancher, but I can echo what the concerns are in the province in regards to the meat regulations.
G. Berge: From what I heard, the issues were that the regulations came in before they had time to get up to speed with their facilities. Now the big thing is they are looking for a break in time or an interim permit or something.
I sit on the investment ag board. We went through Williams Lake and stopped at a couple of the meat places there. The guy had spent a bunch of money, and it still wasn't going to get done in time for the final….
I. Black: So the timing issue….
G. Berge: Yeah, the timing issue is all wrong. They brought all this in with a short deadline and nothing to make it work that quick. That's the only thing I've heard on it.
R. Lee: Our work towards a green province actually creates a lot of opportunity for grain producers — for example, biofuels and bioproducts. For the plan, you know the grain could be used to produce biodiesel or whatever, and the stalk can probably be used for bio-oil — that kind of new technology. I know that, say, in the Peace region they are growing opportunities for agriculture.
Do you see in the future in this region more and more dependence on the energy sector instead of the food sector to consume, for example, the feed for livestock — that kind of thing?
G. Berge: The problem with the cellulose — you're talking about the stalk part — is that the technology is not there yet. The technology is there to produce biodiesel from canola seed but not from the stalks yet. What we see is the biofuel industry filling the gap between now and the time when that other technology comes on stream, and they can work together even after that. This food-for-fuel issue is just a red herring, as far as I'm concerned. We can grow all the grain we need to eat and to produce biofuel.
The thing we can't do is continue to grow food products for the prices we were getting. We will go broke. If we go broke, who's going to produce it? Are we going to bring it in offshore? Then we get into the issues of the wheat that came in from China that was killing pets. We have a real safe system in Canada for food, and I think we want to maintain that.
But we can't produce grain at $1.50 a bushel for wheat and $1 for barley and pay $600 a tonne for fertilizer and $4 a gallon for fuel. That's great, and if you want to do that, then give us a subsidy program to pay for that like you do with…. The dairy industry has supply management, so the consumer is unknowingly paying their subsidy, because they can control their production. We can't do that.
So if you want cheap food, then we need to get paid somehow. We can't produce that food when our inputs keep rising the way they are. If our prices don't rise, we won't be there anymore. But the food-fuel thing is a red herring. We can produce enough.
R. Lee: Canada, on the whole, is very competitive in the wheat production area, and we export a lot to other countries.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for your presentation. It was a very thorough presentation.
That concludes our first part of the presentation. Now it's open mike. Is there anybody who would like to take advantage of the open-mike session?
Please come join us in the front. Now we go into our next session, which is people who didn't register before. They get up to five minutes to make a presentation.
Can you please state your full name for our record. Then you have up to five minutes to speak and make your presentation.
V. Parmar: My name is Vinay Parmar. I'm coming to this committee just as an individual. I'm not sure if this is relevant to the topic we're talking about today, but I just wanted to say one thing.
I've noticed that in Dawson Creek over the past compared to, say, ten years ago it seems like the city is becoming less safe. As a part–business owner I've noticed that customers have become more and more rude to the point of even threatening us sometimes. That is something I hadn't noticed maybe ten years ago.
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I've also noticed an increase in drugs in the city. It seems to me that the nature of the city is changing quite a bit, as compared to when I was growing up, and it affects business people quite a bit.
That's basically the only observation I had that I wanted to talk about. I'm not sure what the solution is, but it seems that it's changed quite a bit.
D. Hayer: Do you have any suggestions for that, Vinay?
V. Parmar: There is nothing you can really do, because I think these things come and go in phases. I can't think of any suggestions, really.
D. Hayer: Thank you, Vinay. You have another few minutes left if you want to say anything more. We're more than happy to have that on the record.
V. Parmar: I can't think of anything right now.
D. Hayer: Vinay, thank you very much for coming over and sharing your thoughts. What type of business do you have — your family?
V. Parmar: My parents own a Sears dealership in town.
D. Hayer: A Sears dealership. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Is there anybody else for the open mike? We just have two people from the media left.
This concludes our public hearing at Dawson Creek. We really want to say thank you, on behalf of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, for allowing us to come over here to listen to your input.
We will be going, after this, into preparing the report part of it. Also, we have extended the deadline for our submission input to October 26.
This year we have visited over 14 communities all over the province, and we have really enjoyed coming and meeting with British Columbians who provide the input into the budget. This is the one chance where you can say what you'd like to see in next year's budget. We really appreciate it.
This committee is a multiparty committee, because you have members from the NDP and the government Liberal side on it.
On behalf of the whole committee, I'm going to say thank you very much for coming over, and thank you to the media. We look forward to seeing you the next time we're here.
The committee adjourned at 11:49 a.m.
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