2002 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2002
Volume 6, Number 14
|Introductions by Members||2997|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||2998|
|Long-term care beds and transition for seniors
Hon. K. Whittred
Strathcona adult day care centre
Hon. K. Whittred
Hon. K. Whittred
West Coast Express contract with CP Rail
Hon. J. Reid
Freedom-of-information request to Health Services ministry
Hon. C. Hansen
BCTF directive to teachers
Hon. C. Clark
|Property Assessment Appeal Board, annual report, 2001-02|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||3002|
|Supply Act, 2002-2003 (Bill 33)
Hon. G. Collins
|Second Reading of Bills||3002|
|Supply Act, 2002-2003 (Bill 33)
Hon. G. Collins
|Committee of the Whole House||3002|
|Supply Act, 2002-2003 (Bill 33)|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||3003|
|Supply Act, 2002-2003 (Bill 33)
Hon. G. Collins
|Second Reading of Bills||3003|
|Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 11)
Hon. G. Collins
School Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 34)
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. G. Halsey-Brandt
Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act (Bill 27) (continued)
Hon. M. Coell
Degree Authorization Act (Bill 15) (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
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MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2002
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Clark: Before Yugoslavia held its first democratic elections in 13 years two years ago, members of an all-female organization called Voice of Difference knocked on 45,000 doors to convince women to vote. Some of them were even arrested and thrown into jail overnight for putting up posters promoting that message. The results were astonishing: 70 percent of the voters who turned out in that election were women, 40 percent of whom had never cast a vote in a democratic election before.
We have three of the ten founding members of Voice of Difference with us today. They're here in town and attending the Women's Campaign School in Vancouver. I'm delighted to be able to welcome them. We have with us Milica Panic, Alexandra Petrovic Graonic and Mirajna Kovacevic. I hope the House will make them very, very welcome.
J. Bray: I have the privilege of introducing two very dedicated and special people who are visiting me in the Legislature today. Mike Demers and Dianne Clement are my constituency assistants. The office is having some repairs done to it today, and they're joining me here, but they'll be back at the office and available to the community tomorrow. I'd ask that the House please make both of them very welcome.
Hon. S. Hawkins: Two friends of my executive assistant, Jennifer Erickson, are visiting in the gallery today: Andrew Osterloh and Donna Leung. Andrew is from Kamloops, and Donna is visiting from Australia. Would the House please join me in making them welcome.
D. MacKay: Today up in the gallery I have a visitor from Smithers. Bonnie McCreary is down visiting today. She's down with the B.C. and Yukon Hotels Association. Bonnie is also a member of our northern health authority board. I would like the House to please make her welcome.
H. Bloy: It's with real pleasure that I would like to introduce in the House today 21 students from the second-largest club at Simon Fraser University. We have in the gallery the Simon Fraser University B.C. Young Liberals led by their president, Chad Pederson. They have done a great job up there and have been very supportive. I've met with them on a number of occasions.
I would like to introduce some members from my riding of Burquitlam. We have Chris Ferronato, Allan Spence, Christopher Steinbach and Woosang Lee. We also have Francesca Godwin and David Yau from Surrey-Newton, and from Vancouver–Point Grey we have Miles Lunn and Dan Traczynski. If the House would please make them welcome.
D. Hayer: It gives me great pleasure to introduce two groups visiting from Pacific Academy School in my constituency of Surrey-Tynehead. First, we have 12 grade 9 students with their teachers, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Cann. Secondly, we have 27 grade 5 students visiting with their teacher, Mrs. Douglas, and their parents. Would the House please make them very welcome.
S. Brice: Along with the Simon Fraser delegation is a member from my riding, Dom Kapac. I ask the House to make him welcome.
P. Sahota: I also would like to welcome all the students from SFU that are here today. In particular, I would like to welcome Brock Stephenson, who lives in my riding. Would the House please make him welcome.
K. Manhas: I'd also like to welcome all the members here from SFU. I have the honour of rising to introduce a very special one here today. Past president as of this afternoon, Chad Pederson is here today leading the group of students from SFU in his last official duty as president of the Simon Fraser University B.C. Young Liberals club. Chad has worked hard at building the club through each and every year attending SFU. When he began his role as president some time ago, the club was just getting to its feet. The SFU BCYL now stands as one of the largest clubs on campus, thanks in great part to Chad's good work and tireless effort.
Chad has also been very involved with the Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain riding association and has been of tremendous assistance to me in my riding and my work. As my director of communications, he has shown tireless energy, effort and dedication. I have become accustomed to receiving many e-mails from him sent to me at one or two in the morning. I and the riding have benefited greatly from Chad's involvement, which I know will no doubt continue.
I'd like to wish Chad my congratulations on graduating from Simon Fraser University's fine commerce program and for all his fine work. Would the House now join me in extending a very warm welcome to an exemplary Port Coquitlam citizen, Mr. Chad Pederson.
Hon. C. Hansen: Joining the SFU delegation is a constituent from Vancouver-Quilchena. I hope the House will join me in welcoming Jessica Fuchs. Thanks very much.
R. Stewart: Also in the SFU delegation are three of my constituents: Rick Sousa, Bishnu Bhattacharyya and Mike Easton.
J. Kwan: Paula Gunn is the opposition's superb, committed researcher. She will be going on her six-
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month maternity leave after today. My colleague the Leader of the Opposition and myself appreciate her work so much. In fact, she has actually taken on our call to rebuild the party and rebuild the progressive forces for the future so much that she is going to have another baby for us in the future. I would like to ask all members of the House to wish Paula and her family well. We look forward to seeing her new baby when she rejoins us after the maternity leave.
B. Locke: I also would like to welcome some SFU students today. Three people that are important to me and have supported me in the House are Brandon Langhjelm, Adam Picotte and David Yau. David is also graduating. Welcome, and thank you.
V. Anderson: Also in the SFU group here is a very inquisitive student, I have no doubt, and I would ask the House to welcome with me Andrew Haskell.
R. Lee: I'm pleased to introduce Leah Muirhead from Burnaby North. She is part of the SFU delegation. I also see Dom Kapac there. He has really helped me in my office for four months. I would like the House to make them welcome.
J. Bray: It's my pleasure this afternoon to introduce one of our research officers, Jamie Gillies, into the House on this, his twenty-fourth birthday. Please join me in giving him a very warm welcome and wishing him the best on this beautiful April afternoon.
D. Chutter: On behalf of the member for Cariboo South, I would like to welcome Jesse Eyer from Clinton. Jesse has just completed an honours bachelor of science degree in physics from the University of Victoria. He has had many exciting co-op terms such as working at the National Research Council in Ottawa, the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii and the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal. He's off on full scholarship to do his master's degree in aerospace engineering. Would the House please make him welcome.
B. Bennett: I rise to offer my congratulations in the House today to the Kootenay Ice Hockey Club. They will be the western representatives in the WHL finals against either Red Deer or Brandon, Manitoba.
I would also, in rising, like to offer my condolences to the member for Prince George North and the member for Kelowna-Mission, whose teams we defeated not long ago.
Hon. G. Bruce: I don't actually have a hockey story, but I could share a few of my past former glories on the ice. I used to play in the NHL.
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Hon. G. Bruce: Another time.
Mr. Speaker, in the House today are eight of the ten friends I have. The other two are my wife and my father. Anyway, these people are here today because they are great British Columbians, and they're real team players in helping to build a community such as those in the Cowichan and Chemainus valleys: Charlie and Jeannie Saunders, John and Virginia Porter and the Davis family — Howie, Colleen, Randy and Kelly.
Not only are they great entrepreneurs and people who want to make things happen in the province, but they stayed with it after ten years. They're still here looking forward to a very bright future in British Columbia, here to have dinner with us all this evening downstairs in the restaurant. I hope you would all make them feel welcome, knowing that you have people just like these good people in your constituency as well.
(Standing Order 25b)
B. Belsey: Today, Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise the awareness of British Columbians about the plight of the travel agents across our province. A few short weeks ago travel agents throughout this province were instructed to collect an airport security tax of $24 per round trip. This security tax has increased financial pressures and anxiety of travellers from the north. Few, if any, security changes can be seen by most rural airports, and we are not likely to see any of these changes. In some short-haul flights these increases represent a 25 percent fare increase.
Starting last Monday travel agents will now receive no commission for tickets they sell on Air Canada, our largest Canadian air carrier. When I was first made aware of this situation, I phoned travel agents around the province and discussed the impact of this loss on the base commission to their business. All indicated that they are now faced with three options: to charge a fee to offset the $28 commission they've lost, to cut overhead by laying off staff or to close down their business. The people of British Columbia should not accept any of these options. Travellers know they can contact carriers directly or they can book electronic tickets over the Internet. Bypassing travel agencies will have a simple, painful result: the loss of these businesses.
My solution is to raise the awareness of the difficulties of this industry and for my colleagues and the people of the province to support our travel agencies. Until a long-term solution can be found, I encourage everyone to support their travel agent, to contact them and let them know they have your support and your business.
J. Bray: Today I wish to speak about one of the most important facets of being an MLA — that is, being
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accessible to your constituents. As you may be aware, an incident occurred at my office last week. This incident closed my community office, and it is still closed while repairs are being completed.
My staff, Mike and Diane, pride themselves on being available to all in my community who need the assistance of the MLA's office. The community office is where constituents who need help with WCB, income assistance, MSP or any other provincial agency can receive assistance. The staff that work in all 79 constituency offices are employed by the MLAs, not governments or political parties. The community offices are non-political; there are no political brochures or banners in the MLA's office. The office is there to serve the public. It is where constituents who wish to bring to the MLA's attention issues of concern can write, e-mail, fax, phone or drop in and provide that feedback directly to the MLA. The community office is where we meet individuals and groups and where we deal with local issues such as inner-city school funding or community health.
It is also a place where individuals can engage in a dialogue on issues involving the provincial government. That dialogue is vital to a parliamentary democracy. It is where local issues can be brought to the attention of the elected representatives. It's where politicians can provide information to people in the community one person at a time. More importantly, it is where the public can provide information to the MLA one on one. The community office is where government and community meet and connect. It is vital that we strive to maintain the community office as a place of dialogue, problem-solving, service, accountability and, yes, legal protests.
I am honoured to work with two people who are dedicated to the service of our community and who believe that accessibility is the cornerstone of that service. My community office's doors will be open, as always, tomorrow at 10 a.m. to serve any and all in my community.
B. Bennett: There are key actions taken by generations of Canadians that are critical to the success of our economies. Such actions in Canada would be the construction of the trans-Canada railway and, in the city of Vancouver, the construction of the port facilities and the international airport. For the province to gain the benefits from an Olympics, it would be the investment in better transportation to Whistler. These are investments, not subsidies.
In my region of the East Kootenay we also have a key action on which the further growth of our region depends. That is the airport that serves all the East Kootenay and much of the West Kootenay. The recent closure of the Sullivan mine in Kimberley and the current softwood crisis in B.C. are final proof to the people in our region that we can no longer have our economic eggs in the resource sector basket. We must diversify. No pun intended.
Tourism development is a natural in our beautiful area. The Kootenays have developed world-class tourist destinations. CNN ranked Fernie the third-best ski hill in North America in 2002. This winter Fernie had more skier visits than Lake Louise. Who would have thought this possible only a few years ago?
The concept of direct charters from the U.S. and Europe to the East Kootenay is not at all far-fetched. This sort of direct charter is already taking place at the Whitehorse regional airport with six flights a week during the summer of 2001.
Tourists want to fly non-stop from major U.S. and European destinations to the Kootenays. The cost of expanding the airport in Cranbrook is a relatively small amount. It's $13 million, which just happens to be 1/35 of what the former government wasted on fast ferries. In the first year $13 million in new taxes will flow to the federal, provincial and municipal governments. All it will take to make this key project happen is recognition by the federal and provincial governments that investment in the Cranbrook Airport will provide a full return with interest in not more than two years and a continuing return for generations and the recognition that the Kootenays want to play a role in the resurgence of British Columbia as the economic engine in Canada it is destined to be.
LONG-TERM CARE BEDS
AND TRANSITION FOR SENIORS
J. Kwan: In the New Era document the Premier promised seniors that he would build an additional 5,000 new long-term care beds. Senior citizens believed their Premier. Now, after being caught not telling the truth, the government says it will build assisted living spaces. Assisted living spaces don't provide the same level of care to seniors who require around-the-clock long-term care.
To the Minister of State for Long Term Care: will she finally just admit that her government was not telling the truth and has betrayed seniors by closing thousands of long-term care beds?
Hon. K. Whittred: This government will provide the very best care for our family members in the most appropriate setting. Our government will provide this care at a level that is appropriate to the patients' needs. We are offering more options and a wider spectrum of care for our seniors. If a person needs extended care, they will receive extended care. If an assisted living facility is appropriate for their needs, they will receive that level of care.
Now, I know that some seniors will welcome this change. I know that some will find it difficult. That is why I have insisted, and the cabinet has agreed, that the health authorities must have transition plans in place. Health authorities are required to meet with families that are affected and to outline plans for care
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that will be appropriate for the affected family member.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: There is an enormous credibility gap between what this government says and what it does. Last week, after bungling the health care announcement, the Premier promised seniors that they would not be forced to move from long-term care facilities until they were fully consulted. Today we see again that seniors are being forced to leave their homes without having any idea where they will end up. It is cruel to treat seniors this way, and it shows that the government has lost…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. Kwan: …quite frankly, its moral compass.
Again, to the Minister of State for Long Term Care: why are seniors being forced to leave their homes when the Premier promised them that they would be fully consulted? Will the minister provide and promise that seniors will not be treated in the nightmarish way that this government is treating them right now?
Hon. K. Whittred: I am committed, as I said before, that every senior in this province who may be affected by this change will be thoroughly consulted. Plans will be discussed not only with the senior but with that person's family, and there will be much notice in advance that an appropriate care solution is in place. This government is committed to building 5,000 additional intermediate and long-term care beds. We are on track with that commitment to meet our target in 2006. The health authorities have their three-year budget plans, and we are working with non-profit agencies and the private sector to deliver on this commitment. There are many organizations in this province who want to be part of this solution, and we are going to make that happen.
STRATHCONA ADULT DAY CARE CENTRE
J. Kwan: This government has flipped and flopped all over the map on the long-term care issue. The minister says…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. Kwan: …that assisted living and community-based supports will be there for seniors, but the fact is that the government is cutting these services. In my own community the government is closing the Strathcona Adult Day Care Centre tomorrow. This centre is the only one that serves the Chinese-speaking community, but instead of supporting them this government is sentencing them to spend their days in isolation and alone in their homes. Will the Minister of State for Long Term Care step in today and make sure this centre stays open so that these seniors will have a place to go after tomorrow?
Hon. K. Whittred: This member is well aware that the society which ran that organization no longer wishes to continue with it. She is also well aware that the Vancouver coastal health authority is actively engaged in trying to find another provider for that service. I agree with the member that this is a valuable service. I agree that adult day that is culturally appropriate is very necessary, and the issue is in the hands of the Vancouver coastal health authority, whose obligation it is to provide the service.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: The minister ought to know it was the health authority that approached the society and asked them if they would be prepared to give up their funding to another society to provide for that service. When the society dissolved their association with the understanding that the money would be offered to another organization, that money was not offered to the other organization. Now the centre is shutting down.
I hope this minister goes out and makes sure this service is provided to the community, because this government has taken away the money and they have flip-flopped on their commitment to seniors. It is clear that this government does not care about seniors or understand their needs. They have broken promise after promise. Every day they're causing pain, hardship and uncertainty.
Mr. Speaker, will the Minister for Long Term Care admit her government has got it wrong, go back to the drawing board and consult with seniors and their families before she makes this disastrous situation even worse?
Hon. K. Whittred: This government is the first government anywhere in Canada that I am aware of which has the courage to put forth a long-range plan that will ultimately address the needs of our growing seniors population. We are committed to putting more options in place to create a wider spectrum of services of care for our seniors. We will meet that long-term plan by the year 2006.
B. Suffredine: This morning on CBC radio it was reported that at Nakusp, seniors who reside in the Halcyon Home were told that it's closing and they have to move. They have not been told about alternatives, and in fact there are no other facilities at Nakusp. Understandably, they and their families are worried. Can the
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Minister of State for Intermediate, Long Term and Home Care give any assurance to residents of the Halcyon and other seniors in the province that they will be cared for?
Hon. K. Whittred: I would like to say right off the top of my answer that we are all concerned about the anxiety that has been created amongst the seniors homes, and I find it most regretful. However, this government is committed to providing the very best care we can in the most appropriate setting for our senior members. While I know that the members in the Halcyon home are finding this announcement difficult, I can assure them and their families that the interior health authority will be meeting with them, that they will be discussing what is the appropriate level of care and the appropriate options and that no change will take place until those discussions have taken place.
It's also my understanding that these changes will take place well down the road, I believe, in something like 24 months.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Nelson-Creston has a supplementary question.
B. Suffredine: The families of seniors living in the Halcyon Home are very concerned that they have not been and are not being consulted on the changes. Can the Minister of State for Intermediate, Long Term and Home Care tell us what steps she's taking to ensure that family members will be included in any plans to move residents of Halcyon into their new homes?
Hon. K. Whittred: Last Monday during open cabinet I announced that health authorities must submit comprehensive transition plans about the way they are going to implement the new-era commitments to home and community care. The health authorities understand that must be done, and they will be complying with that.
I want to make it very clear to the public, to our seniors and to their families that no facility will be closed until the health authority has developed a plan of care for the individuals affected by this change. As my colleague said so eloquently the other day, no door will be closed until another door opens.
WEST COAST EXPRESS CONTRACT
WITH CP RAIL
R. Hawes: A Supreme Court ruling has finally allowed the public to look at a badly negotiated contract with CP Rail, a 20-year contract that's costing the taxpayers of this province an absolute fortune. Taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars that West Coast Express has to pay to CP Rail for the use of its tracks and its crews. In fact, news reports quote a member of the TransLink board as stating that $4 out of every $4.50 ticket goes to CP Rail.
Can the Minister of Transportation tell my constituents how we got into this ridiculous mess?
Hon. J. Reid: I'm sorry, I really can't enlighten the member about the rationale behind this, other than to say that the minister responsible at the time was Glen Clark.
This deal, being a 20-year deal without the opportunity to renegotiate the contract, is onerous, is difficult for TransLink and is obviously a problem in being able to provide cost-effective transit services.
R. Hawes: My constituents rely heavily on the West Coast Express. It has now reached capacity and needs to expand, but this contract is getting in the way of expansion.
Can the minister tell my constituents if she's able to offer anything to West Coast Express to ensure that it continues to be viable?
Hon. J. Reid: This deal is under federal jurisdiction because of federal legislation, so the appeal has been to the federal government to allow this to be examined. TransLink has been spearheading that effort quite effectively. Certainly, we have joined in to request the federal government — I've spoken to the federal minister responsible — to indeed look at this deal.
TO HEALTH SERVICES MINISTRY
J. Kwan: My office has made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a list of communications contracts let by the combined Health ministries. This request was due on March 28. It is now April 29. Calls by my office over the last few weeks have resulted in the repeated response that it is in sign-off stage.
To the Minister of Health Services: now that he has thrown the health care system into chaos, is he now afraid to release the amount of money spent on spin doctors? Can I have a commitment from this minister that the materials will be released today?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'll take the question on notice.
BCTF DIRECTIVE TO TEACHERS
J. Les: My question is to the Minister of Education. There are media reports that indicate that the B.C. Teachers Federation is encouraging teachers to read a statement that discredits foundation skills assessments before they distribute the tests to students. In the statement it states that the FSA tests are not designed to test all that you have learned. They are not designed to help your teachers know how to help you to learn.
To the Minister of Education: what is her response to these disruptive and juvenile tactics?
Hon. C. Clark: The member's got it right on. They are disruptive. They're not just disruptive; they're irresponsible, quite frankly. It's irresponsible for the union
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to be counselling its members to undermine children's education in the classroom. I know the BCTF has a political campaign they're embarking on. They've decided they want to try and defeat the government over the next five years. They are a political organization. That is their right, but they have absolutely no right when they undertake that campaign to start undermining children's education in the classroom.
We send our children to schools in British Columbia hoping that they will get the best education that they can. Politics has no place in the classrooms of this province, and I would suggest to the BCTF that it's time that we drew the line. It's time that they drew the line that says no, they're not going to disrupt those kids' education. Every child in British Columbia certainly deserves better than that.
[End of question period.]
Hon. S. Hagen: I seek leave to table an annual report.
Hon. S. Hagen: I'm pleased to present to the House today the annual report of the Property Assessment Appeal Board for the year 2001-02.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call consideration of report of the resolutions from Committee of Supply. I move that the reports of resolutions from the Committee of Supply on March 6, 7, 11, 25, 27, and April 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 11 and 17 be now received, taken as read and agreed to.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the sum of $25,197,517,000. This sum includes that authorized to be paid under section 1 of the Supply Act (No. 1), 2002 and is granted by Her Majesty towards defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the sum of $1,403,004,000. This sum includes that authorized to be paid under section 2 of the Supply Act (No. 1), 2002 and is granted by Her Majesty towards defraying the capital, loans, investments and other financing requirements of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003.
First Reading of Bills
SUPPLY ACT, 2002-2003
Hon. G. Collins presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Supply Act, 2002-2003.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Collins: This supply bill is introduced to provide supply for the operation of government programs for the 2002-03 fiscal year. The amount requested is that resolved by the Committee of Supply after consideration of the estimates. The House has already received, taken as read and agreed to the report of resolutions from the Committee of Supply and, in addition, has resolved that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the necessary funds toward defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003.
Mr. Speaker, it's the intention of the government to proceed with all stages of the supply bill this day.
Bill 33 introduced, read a first a first time and ordered to proceed to second reading forthwith.
Second Reading of Bills
SUPPLY ACT, 2002-2003
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, in keeping with the practice of this House, the final supply bill will be permitted to advance through all stages in one sitting.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be now referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Bill 33, Supply Act, 2002-2003, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
SUPPLY ACT, 2002-2003
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 33; H. Long in the chair.
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The committee met at 2:55 p.m.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
Schedules 1 and 2 approved.
Hon. G. Collins: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 2:56 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 33, Supply Act, 2002-2003, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 11.
Second Reading of Bills
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
The repeal of the Access to Education Act will return autonomy to the boards of public post-secondary institutions to set tuition fees and mandatory ancillary fees. This will enable institutions working with students to determine what level of fees is reasonable, fair and affordable. It will also enable institutions to meet the demand for increased student access and improved quality of education.
This bill contains a housekeeping amendment to the Assessment Act that will clarify that towers used for broadcasting and rebroadcasting are assessable improvements. As a result of the change in regulation requested by the B.C. Association of Broadcasters, these improvements are now assessed in a lower property tax class. They are no longer defined as telecommunications improvements. This legislative amendment is required to ensure that they are, however, still defined as improvements.
The Family Relations Act will be amended to repeal a section which has been held to discriminate against unmarried mothers and their children. Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, contained a consequential amendment to the Health Authorities Act, restoring separate bargaining units for community health and health facilities workers. The amendment in this bill identifies the correct Labour Relations Board decision that the Labour Relations Board must now reference and extends the time period available to the Labour Relations Board from 30 days to 90 days to give effect to the restoration of the separate units.
The amendment to the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Act will provide for the appointment of a one-person transitional board to wind up the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission, ITAC. The core services review of ITAC led government to the conclusion that it should be phased out and a new approach to industry training and apprenticeship be developed. New legislation will be introduced in a future session to implement a new approach to industry training and apprenticeship for British Columbia.
The amendments to the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No. 3) and the Vancouver Charter will transfer legal authority for the Gastown and Chinatown provincial heritage designations made in 1971 to the city of Vancouver and will provide the city the authority to create heritage conservation areas, a power already available to all other local governments.
The amendment to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act will delete the following four parts from the schedules under the act: (1) Beaumont Marine Park, (2) D'Arcy Island Marine Park, (3) Princess Margaret Marine Park and (4) Sidney Spit Marine Park. These parks are being deleted from the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act in order to enable their transfer to Canada for inclusion in a new national park reserve in the southern Gulf Islands.
These deletions will come into effect by regulation to coincide with the national park establishment agreement to be signed later this year.
Deputy ministers currently earn 1.5 years of pensionable service for each year of service as a deputy minister. The amendment to the Public Service Act will reduce it to one year of pensionable service for each year of service as a deputy minister. This is necessary to ensure that deputy ministers' pensions are consistent with other public service employees and deputy ministers in other Canadian jurisdictions.
Bill 11 also amends the Strata Property Act to reinstate the superintendent of real estate's role in approving changes to schedules of unit entitlement and voting rights. These amendments are necessary to protect strata property owners from inadvertent errors where a strata plan has been amended. This bill also amends the Strata Property Act to provide Nisga'a government bodies with the authority to make decisions on land use with respect to strata property developments on Nisga'a lands.
Bill 11 also amends the Taxation (Rural Area) Act to recognize a longstanding administrative practice. The Ministry of Provincial Revenue issues copy taxation notices to rural property taxpayers who report by the tax due date that they have not received their annual tax notice. This practice, which extends the penalty-free time for payment in these institutions, reflects the government's new-era commitment to help maximize revenue collection within the principles of fairness and equity.
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In closing, the Vancouver Charter investment authority amendments will broaden the investment powers of the city of Vancouver, providing it with authorities to invest its moneys that are more equivalent to those currently available to all other B.C. municipalities and to the Municipal Finance Authority. The amendment responds to requests for this change from the city of Vancouver.
I move second reading.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Burnaby North.
R. Lee: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
R. Lee: I am pleased to introduce some students and their teacher in the House today. They are from St. Helen's School, which is located in Burnaby North. Twenty-nine students and their teacher, Ms. Natola, are having a tour of the Legislature. Would the House please make them welcome.
Mr. Speaker: The question is second reading of Bill 11.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 11, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 34.
[H. Long in the chair.]
SCHOOL AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. C. Clark: This act introduces a number of broad reforms to the School Act. All of them are about our number one priority, and that's improving student achievement.
We want to create a top-notch public education system for young people in British Columbia: a system that recognizes the importance of parental involvement and gives parents a more meaningful voice in how our schools are run, a system that gives students more choice about the school they attend and the educational program they follow, a system that provides school boards with greater financial flexibility and enables them to become more entrepreneurial and, above all, a system that's focused at every level on improving student performance.
I've spoken many times about the importance of parental involvement and its clear link to student achievement. It cannot be ignored, and it is paramount in this legislation. Students do better when their parents are actively involved in their education. The most important determinant of student success is parental involvement. Schools do better when they have parental support, and satisfaction levels increase across the entire school community.
But parents don't always have the opportunity to be true partners at the school level. All too often parents and parent advisory councils, they tell me, are seen primarily as the folks who organize the bake sale. They feel like they're given little or no input into discussion or decision-making around the big issues that affect their children's education. In fact, much of the criticism of the school system comes from parents who feel they've been ignored or patronized or pushed aside.
It's time we welcomed them back. It's time we let them know we value their energy. We want their enthusiasm, and we are prepared to harness their creativity.
Today's legislation will give parents at every school a meaningful voice in how our schools are run. The legislation will see a school planning council established in every single public school in British Columbia. Each school will have five members: the principal, who will lead the council; a teacher, who will be elected by other teachers at the school; and three parents, who will be elected by the parent advisory council from among its members. I'm sure you, hon. Speaker, and all members of this House know that every parent whose child attends a school is automatically a member of that school's PAC.
Together, the school planning council will be responsible for drawing up an annual plan that identifies the school's strengths and weaknesses, sets goals for improvements and monitors their progress towards getting there. The school plan is in essence a mini–accountability contract. It will serve the same purpose. It's part of the accountability cycle that will be centred on the goal of improving student achievement, but this time the council will focus it at the school level. The new accountability cycle incorporates some of the best elements of the former accreditation process. It ensures that parents have continuous involvement in what happens at their children's school every single year, not just every six years.
Councils will submit their annual plans to their board for approval, and the board will be able to ask for revisions if they feel that the plan is not sufficiently focused on student achievement. Once approved, school plans will become the basis of the boards' accountability contracts.
School planning councils will not replace parent advisory councils, which have long been an important part of our education system. Rather, councils will en-
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hance the work of PACs and give them a stronger voice. They'll be able to advise councils on any matter relating to the school. If requested, PACs will be able to assist councils in carrying out their functions as well. Refocusing public education at the school level will encourage local responsibility and accountability and help public schools reconnect with their communities.
Then there's the issue of choice. Everywhere I go, parents talk to me about choice, because they want to choose the school and the educational program that are right for their child. Students in our system are someone's children. When we send our children to school, we're asking professionals to take care of something that we may not know how to do as well, but that doesn't mean that we give up the right to make decisions about how we'd like it done.
This legislation provides choice. School boards will now be required to establish catchment areas, and subject to space availability, students will be able to attend schools in any catchment area anywhere across B.C.
I know many students will continue to attend their neighbourhood school, but now we're ensuring the additional opportunity for children to go to other schools, as well, so that individual children can access the educational program that's best for them. If every child is different, then why should every school be the same? We need to allow parents to choose the school for their children, because they know what's best for their children.
If a school isn't performing, as long as parents are required to send their children to a local school and that school has a guaranteed customer base, there is very little incentive for the district to improve that school. We want to change the incentives in the system by providing choice. It's that simple.
We want to give school boards more freedom and flexibility. They've told us they need it to bring about improvements in their districts, and we're delivering. Board powers will be increased by this legislation. It will allow boards to do a number of things.
First, to open or close a school without the approval of the Minister of Education. Those most affected by those decisions should be the final decision-makers, not the folks in Victoria. It will allow them to share administrative services with other boards, municipalities or corporate entities, thereby lowering administrative costs. We need to make sure that we can find every saving that we can in administration across the province so we can redirect every dollar back into the classroom.
It will allow districts to share in the financial gain from the sale of surplus capital assets, proportionate to their share of the purchase. This returns local funds to school boards for capital projects, and it reduces the need to reallocate scarce operating funds to capital purposes. It will allow them to create separate entities through which they can engage in a variety of entrepreneurial activities — something school boards have been asking for, for many, many years.
That might mean school boards could offer consulting services, or they could develop and provide administrative or educational expertise. It might mean offshore schools. One for-profit school is already operating in China, and the money we are making there we are bringing back to British Columbia to support students here.
We have, thanks to the staff at the Ministry of Education, the best curriculum on offer in the world. We should be maximizing that benefit for B.C. students. We have made a huge investment, as taxpayers, in creating that curriculum. Let's maximize our investment. Let's export our intellectual capital. Let's go overseas and market our curriculum to people who don't have access to it so that they can benefit too. Then let's bring the benefits home for kids in our schools in British Columbia.
When we created these corporate entities in the legislation, we also did it to make sure school districts, when they engage in entrepreneurial activities, do not become liable for debts, obligations or the acts of the company they create. The liabilities of these corporate entities will be confined to the separate entity and not the school board, and it won't put taxpayers' assets at risk.
We're fulfilling here a commitment to develop a new funding allocation system, one that gives school boards much more flexibility. The new funding formula, as I've said a number of times in this House, unties many of the strings that were previously attached to education dollars, and it allows districts to allocate more resources based on the needs in their local community. They are locally elected; they know what's going on in their local communities; they should be making the decisions that meet the needs of the children in those communities.
I've also talked a lot in the past about the importance of accountability in our school system, and I'm pleased to say that this legislation addresses accountability in a number of ways. It requires school boards, for the first time, to complete accountability contracts to hold every board publicly accountable for student achievement, and it allows the appointment of special advisers to review the progress of boards in improving student achievement. It also allows an official trustee to replace the board of student achievement if a district is at risk and if it is in the public interest to do so.
It changes the title of administrative officer to principal, vice-principal or director of instruction to recognize that principals are not just paper-shufflers. They are leaders in our schools. We are counting on them to provide leadership in the school planning councils. We are counting on them to provide the vision and to build the team behind them that will ensure that every single school will see increased success every year.
The legislation requires that a certified teacher assess and evaluate the progress of every enrolled student, including those receiving their education via distributed electronic learning. It requires a francophone education authority to employ a chief financial officer
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to ensure separate representation of financial and educational issues at the board of director levels.
This legislation is a reflection of our government's vision for a new era in education. The amendments will guarantee parents more opportunity to have meaningful input in their children's education. It lets students and parents choose the schools that best meet their needs. It restores legislative recognition that principals and vice-principals are indeed leaders in our schools. It gives school boards more autonomy to make decisions based on the needs of their local communities, and it allows them to be more entrepreneurial. Most importantly, this legislation puts student achievement firmly at the forefront of our priorities.
With these legislated amendments to the School Act, the public education system in British Columbia will do what it should do: serve our children, who are the future of our province. I move that the bill now be read a second time.
R. Harris: I'd also like to speak in support of this bill today. I'm really, really excited by the opportunity this bill is going to present to all the schools in this province and to parents and to students. During the election last year, certainly one of the areas that excited me the most to talk about was in fact our new-era commitments around education — the fact that we were going to bring an education system into place in this province that actually did reflect the local values and priorities of the communities we live in. That really is important.
I know, having three sons go through the education system myself and having been an active member of a lot of the PACs, certainly the frustration that…. When I meet with parents, what I hear today is that there's hardly any attendance at these PACs. There's good reason for it. These PACs have been frustrated. They've never really had any real input into the education system. They have been treated for the most part as fundraisers, and their views have been trivialized. It's little wonder today that we get so few people turning out at PAC meetings. But there's no doubt that the parent is the most important component of a child's education. If we want to bring parents back into the education system, we have to give them real meaning and real input, and we have to give them real participation.
With this bill, every part of it is excellent. It really is, and it answers it all. I could probably stay here and talk to every one, but I'm going to concentrate a bit on a few of the items. I think the school planning council is where it really begins in terms of generating parent participation in the education system. We really have to give parents a real choice. We have to give them real input and allow them to be a part of what's going on in the day-to-day activities of their school.
It's also a double-edged sword in that it helps educators and teachers educate parents on the issues they face every day in that school. That's how we build an education system that actually provides for our children and provides for their future. As we all learn of the challenges we each face, it allows us to put a better plan together. The school planning council will, in fact, act as a great instrument for that.
I said earlier that the input and influence of parents is a big part of it. Where school planning councils will become more effective, I think, in the future is as we move to developing the more charter systems of schools and how schools become…. The minister just said: "If every child is different, why should every school be the same?" It'll actually help them lay out the groundwork for how we develop the schools in our communities and how they will look in the future. That really is critical for moving forward and developing a system that's going to work for parents, children and teachers.
I want to talk a bit about accountability, because I think this is the part of the puzzle that's always been missing in our education system. I am excited by the aspect of having the province be able to appoint a special adviser — finally having a school and education system that has accountability not just for financial matters but also for student achievement. The fact that we'll have an education system where we're going to design and measure student achievement by each student…. We do have that capacity in our education system. That is where it links this whole accountability together so we actually start to get results. School boards are not looking just at numbers; they're actually looking at outcomes. It is, in fact, outcomes that we're concerned about. I know it was outcomes that I followed through my life with my children in school. I think that is what all of us put our kids in there for: to make sure they get the best education they can. Measuring the outcomes on an individual student basis rather than a total school outcome will, at the end of the day, provide a much better system for us.
I'm actually excited by the fact that as a province, as a ministry, we have an opportunity to use a special adviser. Historically, what had to be done was removal of the whole board if in fact the financial numbers weren't met. We now have an opportunity to get involved with school boards before it ever reaches that point and to make sure they're providing the service and getting the outcomes that are in part of their school accountability contracts. Certainly, the accountability contracts are the basis on which everything will work. Knowing and reviewing the one we have in the riding of Skeena, I'm certainly encouraged that we're actually starting to look at the right things.
I want to talk a bit about financial flexibility. It's nice to say that we're going to make school boards accountable for academics and financially, but if we're going to wrap the whole puzzle together, it's really critical that we also give them the tools they need in terms of financial flexibility to meet those outcomes and to meet those goals. I think this bill finalizes the part of the puzzle that actually provides the tools that school boards are going to need down the road and in the future as they design a school district and as they design schools and an education system that fit our
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local communities, fit the profile and the culture of the places we live in.
You know, this is exciting, and it is innovative times in education in this province. I know that every time I've talked to people about education and what we're doing with it. There has been a lot of confusion about how it's been communicated, but every time I sit down and talk with another group, at the end of it people are actually excited about it. When you start to finally wrap your head around the cultural changes we're making in education, the fact that we're giving people real input and giving them choices and allowing them to design a curriculum, a timetable, that actually fits our communities….
I know that in the north, parents have always said to me: "How come we have the kids off at spring break and then all the loggers are off work during breakup? Why can't we have spring break with breakup at the same time?" They're excited by the fact that once they start to wrap their head around that aspect, they realize there's a whole bunch of other opportunities from year-round schooling, extended times…. This is, in fact, a great time for education in the province. In order to get to that point, we've got to start to tap into the creative spirits of people that live in those communities.
You know, it was interesting. I heard on CBC the other day that Port Simpson was announcing that they're going to be going to a private school system model. When the reporter asked them why they would look at doing that, the response was quite interesting. He mentioned the fact that they can't get their elders involved with the school. The system and the curriculum don't jibe and line up with the cultural seasons that they have, whether it's herring roe or whatever other issues they face in terms of their scheduling. They can't bring the parents into the school system, and the school system wasn't reflecting their values.
All they wanted to do was have more meaningful input into what was happening today. Those comments are being echoed all over this province. I think this is the kind of stuff that in fact is going to bring people back to the public education system. It's actually going to make it the first choice where you want to send your child. The people who are critics that say people are going to leave our system and move to the private education system…. This in fact solves that problem, because — you know what, Mr. Speaker? — they've been going there for a while.
This is how we're going to move it forward. It takes a whole community to raise a child, and I think this legislation makes that quite possible. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, minister, for advancing this legislation.
W. McMahon: It is a privilege to rise in the House today to speak to Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002. We all know that education is the cornerstone of our society. Two weeks ago my colleague from Delta North commented on the Select Standing Committee on Education's report, A Future for Learners: A Vision for Renewal of Education in British Columbia, the first report from this committee since 1971. It is important to share what we heard from British Columbians as we brought the public back into discussion about the state of the education system and how it should serve the needs of students as well as the province's employment needs.
The report noted that "with respect to local involvement, parents of students in the K-12 system wish to be involved, not necessarily in active governance matters, but in a meaningful advisory capacity. Unfortunately, for a significant number of parents, the current role of parent advisory councils and opportunities for parent input into significant decisions affecting their children are not seen to be as comprehensive or effective as they could be."
Parental involvement is a key indicator for improved student achievement. Under Bill 34 school planning councils will be established in every public school in British Columbia this year. Parents will have an opportunity to provide real and meaningful input at the local level. The council has the ability to become directly involved in the goal of helping to improve student achievement on a continuous basis by developing an annual school plan. The school plan will form the basis of the board's accountability contract.
The minister has stated that the accountability contract will reflect the different needs and the different goals of each district. As the Education Committee travelled, we certainly heard about accountability. Accountability for performance with a focus on improving student achievement is, as it should be, the number one priority. We heard from many parents about parent involvement and what it means to them. They want to have greater participation, they want opportunities to give input, and they wish to have more access to information that will enable them to make better choices on behalf of their children.
It was interesting to note that there has been an amendment to ease financial restrictions that have tied the hands of school boards to allow them to share administrative services with other boards, municipalities or corporate entities. I was for many years employed by a rural school district in the administration office. The concept of shared services was discussed years ago. It was discussed but not implemented. If school districts had been allowed to share administrative services within their own communities, what a difference it would have made. Whether it was administrative offices or payroll services, the opportunities were many. It was the ability to effect the change, to find cost efficiencies, that was limited.
With creative thinking, this new legislation offers so many opportunities for districts. Through these opportunities, districts will be able to put students first, which is what education is all about. The legislation will stop the confusion about the term "administrative officer." We will again have principals and vice-principals. They are leaders in their schools and should be recognized as such. I noted my colleague from Delta North was the first to lead the applause when this was
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announced. As a former teacher and principal, he understands.
The Select Standing Committee on Education recognized that the system tends to be focused on the means of education without sufficient attention to the outcomes. The system is often seen to be driven by the interests of the system or the service providers rather than by the interests of the learners and the public. This legislation addresses some of these concerns.
I was reviewing some of the submissions the committee received, and I noted with interest the presentation made by the B.C. School Trustees Association on October 6, 2001, entitled Improving Flexibility, Choice, Access and Quality in Education: Principles and Issues. In their presentation, they proposed nine general principles for the committee's consideration. The first two formed the foundation on which the other seven principles were built.
Their first principle was that school boards are responsible for balancing flexibility, choice, access and quality in education programs and services, and, secondly, that flexibility, choice, access and quality are linked. As they went on to talk about addressing the issues of flexibility, choice, access and quality, they say that flexibility is the ability to respond to the needs and changing circumstances.
They stated that if school boards were to get the enhanced flexibility they seek, we would see school boards with more authority to go along with the responsibilities they already have; school boards with more and tougher choices to make around the allocation of resources; school boards working even harder to build community understanding of tough issues, to understand community perspectives on these issues and to forge community support around school board decisions; increased expectations and school boards being held to a higher standard of accountability by students, parents, the community and the provincial government for the directions they set and for the results they achieve; increased opportunities and enhanced potential to improve achievement for all students, to address community priorities and expectations, to support educators in their work, focus resources in more effective ways and become more responsible to local needs and changing circumstances.
I personally feel that autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. The accountability contracts that the minister has introduced will allow government to work with districts on student achievement together.
They talked about many things in the report, and I noticed that some of the things they wanted to see are actually going to be happening. When they talked about choice and the array of educational programs and services available, they stated that increasing choice can be understood differently. It could include enhancing program and service options, reducing or eliminating school boundaries and enhancing parent influence in the classroom. This bill is what this is all about — exactly what they were asking.
Access. School boards address access — the ability to take advantage of available choices in a number of ways, including balancing program offerings across schools, allowing students to register outside catchment areas and offering programs in alternate settings. I think that this new legislation is simply what they wanted, so it's good news for school boards.
In conclusion to their report, they talk about how school boards' efforts to understand and improve quality also dovetail with provincial initiatives around assessment and accountability, including an improved accreditation process for schools and, most recently, the establishment of ministry school board accountability contracts. While there is still a great deal of room for improving these mechanisms for understanding and monitoring improvements in student achievement, they represent significant steps in this direction.
They conclude by saying: "To govern is to choose, to make decisions. School boards must constantly make decisions about the programs and services they will offer and about the trade-offs that they, like every level of government, must make in the public interest within the resources provided by the public. Through it all, school boards remain focused on their key work: improving student achievement."
Let me also share with you an e-mail received from an individual in Vancouver who had made a presentation to the committee when we were there. Her e-mail states:
Mr. Speaker, I am using these examples to show that British Columbians will embrace the changes the minister has introduced. This is about putting students first. This is what is important to British Columbians. Here's a quote from one of our presentations: "Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe the way they worked yesterday is the way to work tomorrow."
We are changing yesterday — and for the right reasons: the students. We are changing yesterday to ensure students have the education they need to ensure their success. This is why I will be supporting Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002.
J. Kwan: The minister seems to believe that Bill 34 will fix all of the problems that currently exist in the K-to-12 education system. In reality, this bill does not address the principal reason for the rapid deterioration of the quality of education and the capacity of educators to perform their jobs provincially under the funding from this minister.
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This bill is also based on an assumption that the parents aren't already very involved in their schools, and what is unfortunate is that many parents, especially those in my riding, are. They're so involved in trying to save important programs in our community. One example, which I know the minister knows, would be the inner-city school funding. After much lobbying of the government, finally this government committed this week that they would fund inner-city school kids and provide for the funding. Parents have spent so much time and effort in lobbying this government and showing this government the worthiness of this program, and up until now this ministry, this government, ignored them.
I remember when I asked the Minister of Education in the estimates process earlier on if the government would reinstate the inner-city school funding. The minister said no. The minister actually went down to a school in Vancouver-Burrard and told parents point-blank that she would not reinstate the funding. The parents, to their credit, redoubled their effort and did not give up. They did not give up their fight. Then to that end they were able to get the government finally to admit that they were wrong, that they were wrong in cutting the inner-city school funding.
J. Kwan: The Minister of Education is sitting there, just going: "Yeah, yeah. We listened. We listened." I wish the minister would actually listen some more to what the parents have to say, because I have a long list of areas where parents are calling on this government to make sure that education programs are adequately funded by this government.
The Minister of Education says: "Well, we listen. We always listen. That's the kind of government we are." You know what? A group called Save Our Schools, SOS, were down in the community in Vancouver in front of the cabinet offices. They had over 15,000 signatures on a petition calling on the government to support educational programs and to fund education adequately. You know what? Nobody on the government's side even bothered to show up, to listen to the parents, to receive their petition.
Shame on the government to claim they actually listen when, in fact, they don't. They only listen to the people that, I would submit, fund their campaign. Those are the people, quite frankly, that they listen to. They don't listen to the parents, the SOS. Fifteen thousand names on the petition calling on the government to support education programs, and they ignore them.
The minister is sitting there belittling the people who are involved with SOS, with the Save Our Schools committee. And she's saying: "Isn't so-and-so somebody who's involved with the communications firm, etc.…?" You know what? Those individuals are parents too, and they have every right. I have spoken with some of the parents with SOS. They're not politically active. Many of them are actually from the Premier's riding, who came forward and asked for the minister, asked for this Liberal government that promised they would fund education adequately. In fact, they have broken that promise once again.
Many parents contribute much of their time, as much time as they can in their children's education system. They do; there's no doubt about it. But many parents have a difficult time contributing time, not because they don't care about their child's education or what happens with the school system, but because it is a struggle for them to balance work and home life. It is a very difficult task for them, especially for parents who are low income, especially parents from my riding who face multiple barriers. They have a very difficult time sometimes to be involved on a day-by-day basis.
Some parents have a difficult time getting involved because of language barriers. Those are some of the reasons why people find it difficult to participate. Parents who work shift work — that, too, creates a problem for them. Children who have elderly parents that face health challenges…. Those create additional hurdles for parents' participation. I think it is important to recognize that not all families are able to contribute to their children's schools as much as they would like.
Many of those that are now are so busy trying to lobby the government to fund education adequately, they barely have time to look at some of the other creative solutions. I spoke with about 40 parents just this last week when we were home. Parents are just exhausted trying to hold this government accountable on the issue around education funding.
The government had promised they would protect education when in fact what they have done is bring forward a three-year funding freeze in education that results in severe funding cuts, severe program cuts all throughout British Columbia in the educational system.
This reality is, of course, borne out by the fact that fully one-third of the schools in B.C. do not currently have parent advisory councils. This raises concerns about the downloading of the responsibility by this government to parents through PACs and through the new planning council. The minister laughs, and she thinks it's funny when one-third of the school system doesn't have PACs because parents are too busy. They have too many challenges in their lives to be involved. It does raise a question: what happens to that one-third of the school system where they won't see individuals elected to form the school planning councils? It does raise a serious question, and the minister just laughs as though somehow it's funny, as though some of the schools, some of the children…. Their education is somehow less important, less relevant.
The issue around accreditation. Despite all of the minister's fine words about increasing parent involvement, there's one key tool for parent involvement from the current School Act, and that appears to have disappeared completely. What has happened to the accreditation process? This bill replaces the very binding accreditation process, which was strongly supported by
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parents and parent advisory councils, with school planning councils. Here's a quote from a June 15, 2000, news release from the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils: "Parents continue to firmly believe that accreditation is essential for both school improvement and accountability within the public school system."
At BCCPAC's recent annual general meeting, delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution supporting accreditation and the critical role of parent advisory councils in accreditation. September 27, 2000, BCCPAC update: "…accreditation is essential for both school improvement and accountability within the school system; the new process is both meaningful and manageable while fulfilling the goals of accreditation…." The question must be raised: have parents and the PACs gained, or have they actually lost in our schools in terms of input as a result of losing the accreditation process, with this new bill? That question has to be raised in this House.
This government, quite frankly, is causing conflict and chaos in yet another area of our most important public services. Health is one of them. Now we see this in our public school system. There is a real concern amongst parents that this downloading of responsibility of the government's cuts to education…. What it will do is set parent against parent, school against school.
If schools were receiving the funding they require, they wouldn't need to allocate the time and energy of the boards and school staff towards working on educational projects that could be sold to schools in other provinces and other countries. If schools were receiving adequate funding, boards would not need Bill 34 to give them more power to sell off property and other assets to make up for the revenue shortfalls.
Let me just go into the record, because I know this Minister of Education is very proud of the damage that this government has done in the education system. She goes and brags about how they've protected education. Let's just measure those words in reality. Let's just do a reality check in terms of what's happening in our education system today as a result of this minister's and this government's cuts to education funding.
Gordon Comeau, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, said that the province's education budget has been cut by about $300 million over the next three years because the government has piled extra costs on school districts, including $150 million for the teachers' wage hike. The minister is saying that he's wrong. This is what Gordon Comeau had to say: "Protected is not an accurate reflection — it's just a play on words. Cuts are happening, and they're happening in the classroom. Schools are going down." This is a recent quote: April 28 in the Vancouver Province.
Let's just look and see what's happened in Port Alberni in terms of what this government is doing in the area of education: a $2 million shortfall. I don't hear the MLA from Port Alberni rising up in this House speaking and advocating for the students in her own community. I don't hear that at all. A $2 million shortfall. What are the proposed cuts? Teachers — fewer teachers in the education system so that there will be higher classroom ratios. Everybody acknowledges that classroom size makes a difference. It does make a difference in the educational outcomes for students.
Teacher assistants are now being eliminated — up to 20 teacher assistants in Port Alberni. What do teacher assistants do? They help in the classrooms, particularly children who have special needs perhaps, so that they can integrate into the classroom and learn with other students, and make sure that the other students who don't have special needs have adequate quality time in the classroom as well. The teachers and the children need the special needs assistants, and they're now going to be gone.
Maintenance workers who are just keeping the school clean, as an example — that is going to be on the chopping block as well. Clerical positions. Changes to the bus drivers' job descriptions. Non-enrolling teachers such as librarians will also have their hours cut. Librarians add to the learning outcomes of students — absolutely. There's no refuting that. With a $2 million shortfall in Alberni, these programs will now have to be reduced. The children and their educational opportunities will be hurt by the action of this minister.
Let's just go to Burnaby for one minute, to a Burnaby school trustee: a $7.5 million shortfall. What are they faced with in terms of proposed cuts? Eighty teaching positions, including classroom teachers, ESL teachers and librarians. Burnaby is not my riding. There are members here who represent the city of Burnaby. They ought to be rising up and asking this minister the questions.
How would this bill help in the classroom to restore the teachers, the ESL teachers and the librarians? Counsellors will be lost in the Burnaby school district. Again, janitorial positions. Cuts to school supplies, impacting the children. Career programs. The list goes on, and that's in the area of Burnaby.
In Coquitlam, a $6.9 million funding shortfall. Proposed cuts? Curriculum experts, groundskeepers, resource staff — all of the extras that make the school run. The minister is making sure that funding is not available for many of the school districts, with the rhetoric about protecting education when in fact she isn't. Bill 34 does not adequately address these issues, and the effects of the cuts to education are going to be felt by students and parents throughout British Columbia.
Kootenay-Columbia school district. What's the proposed cut there? Closure of eight schools. Maybe the minister can sit there and say that is good for education and that Bill 34 is going to address it. Bill 34 is going to address the closure of eight schools in the Kootenay-Columbia school district. Parents, instead of perhaps trying to think about how they could be creative in terms of bringing in additional programs, will be stuck with trying to figure out how they're going to make up for the shortfall. How are they going to lobby government so that the government would listen to them and
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put money into the education system that would assist the learning outcomes for students?
Langley school district. What is the proposed shortfall there? It's $6.5 million. This is what the school trustee, Diane Pona, has to say: "This particular government I don't believe has a clue about what education is." That's the Province, April 25, 2002.
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district. A $7 million shortfall. Proposed cuts? What are those? Forty-five teaching positions, 11 support staff, four administrative staff, increased class sizes between grades 4 and 12, impacting once again directly in the classroom and the opportunities for children to learn.
In New Westminster, a $2.3 million shortfall. Proposed cuts? Charge students and staff for parking at the school. Eliminate 24 teaching positions and a community education night school program. Eliminate some or all of the crossing guards. Postpone or even cancel an early French immersion program that was meant to start during the upcoming school year.
This is what New West is faced with: $2.3 million worth of shortfall. Ending the education night school program. Eliminating crossing guards. The minister can maybe sit here with a straight face and say: "We're protecting education." Tell that to the students, the teachers and the parents in New Westminster to see what they have to say, because that, in my definition of protection, is not protection.
It is absolutely an affront to the people who advocate for the education system, who asked the government — and the government had promised — to fund and protect education. In fact, what this minister is doing is cutting educational programs. Make no mistake about it.
North Vancouver school district, a $6.7 million shortfall. The proposed cuts? Increased class sizes in grades 4 to 7 and increased fees for band programs, outdoor school and summer school programs. Aging furniture and equipment won't be replaced.
This government says on the one hand: "Hurray for us. We gave you a tax break." Guess what. This government giveth, and this government taketh. You know what? They have cut education in terms of the support for the educational system.
They have increased tremendous pressures in the area of health care and taken away health care services. We've talked about that at other places in this Legislature during the estimates, during question period and even today. This government is not fulfilling its commitment on long-term care facilities for seniors. In my own community they're shutting down an adult day care for seniors.
This is what this government is doing in the area around education. They're going to increase fees for band programs, outdoor school and summer school programs.
Prince George school district, $9.2 million worth of shortfall. Proposed cuts: 160 teaching positions this year with an additional 57 next year. There will be 12 school closures, including these rural schools: Mcleod, Mcleod Lake, Hixon, Bear Lake and Blackburn Jr. Secondary School.
I'd like the minister to get up and tell the parents, students and educators in Prince George how Bill 34 will help them. How would freezing the education budget over the next three years, increasing pressures in terms of cost of education, and the government not funding those increased pressures, help the school district of Prince George?
Quesnel school district, $1 million worth of shortfall. Proposed cuts? Two elementary school closures. "To help address a budget shortfall of more than $1 million, the Quesnel school district board of trustees has decided to proceed with plans to close Wells Barkerville and Rich Bar elementary schools in September. Students from Wells Barkerville Elementary School will be bused 77 kilometres one way from Wells to Barlow Creek Elementary School," said Ed Napier, the school district 28 superintendent. Barlow Creek Elementary is 11 kilometres northeast of Quesnel on the Barkerville Highway.
Other impacts in the Quesnel area: 12 teaching positions and reductions in the number of trustees from seven to five.
Saanich, $1.5 million worth of shortfall. Proposed cuts? Three special needs education assistants and 22 full-time teaching positions. Support staff: 20 non-unionized support staff and four administrators. The McTavish and Sansbury Elementary Schools will have to share one principal. That's what Saanich is faced with. Special needs education assistants make a difference in the classroom. Saanich is going to lose three of them, three that I know they cannot afford to lose.
Sooke, $3 million worth of shortfall. Proposed cuts: 26 classroom teachers, four behavioral specialists, two teacher-librarians, ten teaching assistant positions and one youth and family counsellor; closure of two special education offices; increased class sizes between grades four and 12. Sooke is faced with a major impact as a result of this minister's lack of commitment in supporting education for British Columbians and this government's broken promise of protecting education. This is what the district of Sooke is going to be faced with.
Surrey school district, $17 million worth of shortfall. Proposed cut: special education. Once again the children who are most vulnerable, who need supports in the school system, are not going to get it.
The minister sits there and yawns loudly when I talk about special needs and the $17 million cut in the Surrey school district. Shame on her.
Tell it to the parents that maybe it's boring to her when the issue of special needs and the pressures being faced by the Surrey school district are being brought up. When their classrooms are being cut, tell them it's boring, unimportant and worthy of a loud yawn from the Minister of Education sitting in her chair when this matter is being raised.
Richmond, $9.6 million of funding shortfall. Proposed cuts: 156 teaching positions including ESL teachers and learning assistants. You know, the Minister of
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Education and the member sitting behind me are heckling me and trying to imply that my discussion is because I don't want to focus on the bill. This is exactly related to the bill because the minister says she wants to make sure there are more educational opportunities for students.
I fail to see in this bill, with these cuts, how parents will be better able to participate and how the outcomes for students will be better as a result of these cuts. Maybe these members don't care, or maybe they don't want to admit or be held accountable, because this government has cut education severely. Who's going to pay for that? The children in British Columbia are going to pay for that.
Maybe the government MLAs and the minister don't want the opposition talking about what the cuts are in the education system as a result of this government's direction, policy and priorities. But you know what? I am going to raise these issues because they do impact the educational outcomes for every single child in British Columbia. They are important.
If this minister says she will be open, accountable and consultative, well, then talk to the people who are faced with these cuts and reinstate the moneys so that they can provide the funding for these programs.
The Vancouver school district, my own community — a $25.5 million shortfall; 200 teachers will no longer be in the classrooms, 121 other full-time positions, 9.5 multicultural home-school workers, and a raise in fees in the school system. That's what the Vancouver school board will be faced with: the largest deficit in the history of British Columbia, and this is only for year one.
The Liberal government has committed to a three-year funding freeze in education. There will be additional cuts in programs next year and the year after as a result of this government's lack of priority in funding education.
The greater Victoria school district, $6.4 million shortfall. Proposed cuts: 58 full-time teaching positions, $50,000 cut to the gifted program, 6.4 special education teachers, 20 elementary school staff positions, 20 secondary school staff positions, increased class sizes between grades 4 and 8. And management positions will also be eliminated.
This is just a glimpse into what this government is doing in the area of education for this year — just a glimpse into some of the school districts in terms of what this government is doing. And next year? Let me just take one example in terms of what will happen next year. The school districts are going to be faced with increased pressures — additional pressures to what they face now in terms of the cuts. Those cuts next year will escalate and therefore further compound what this government is doing to British Columbians in the area of education.
The minister may be thinking: "Well, you know, it's just the opposition that's saying these things." Maybe she's proud of her education cuts. Maybe that's the mark she wants to leave as the Minister of Education. You know, it's interesting to me because when I look at other comments from other people…. I look to the media, for example, to see what they have to say about the actions of this government. After all, the media is supposed to be independent, and they offer an independent voice. Here's what Michael Smyth had to say on Voice of B.C. most recently, April 17, when Bill 34 was introduced.
That is a comment from Michael Smyth on Voice of B.C.
Keith Baldrey has another comment relating to this bill. "She" — again, meaning the Minister of Education — "can send a special adviser into a school district. The school district has to pick up the salary and the expenses of that special adviser. So you've got this person from Victoria, from the minister's office, sitting there looking."
Vaughn Palmer then interjects and says: "Kind of a spy for Christy Clark." Then Keith Baldrey goes on to say:
Keith Baldrey on Voice of B.C. You know, hon. Speaker, that says it in terms of what this government is doing. This government is cutting the education program left and right.
Deputy Speaker: Member, your time has expired for speaking.
J. Kwan: I am the designated speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Proceed.
J. Kwan: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
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You know, the impacts of the cuts by this government are severe. The opposition knows it. Teachers know it. Parents know it; children know it. Commentators from the media, as they observe this government, know it as well. The only people who seem not to know this government is hurting education by their so-called freeze of the education budget…. The minister has created a new meaning for the word "protection." That's what she calls it: protection for education. What it really translates into is cuts in education programs throughout British Columbia. She, the Minister of Education, is the only one who doesn't know that she's hurting the children. This government are the only people that don't know they are hurting the children in British Columbia.
The school boards are already saying there's not enough money to run current school programs, never mind the minister's much-bandied-around notion of magnet schools. Vancouver school board chair Barbara Buchanan, asked to comment about the possibility of bringing in magnet schools, told CBC radio: "Without more money from the province, she'll be focused on making cuts, not delivering new programs." That was Barbara Buchanan, April 17, 2002.
I wonder how the minister feels about that. She says Bill 34 gives them all kinds of opportunities to create better education systems. You know what? Trustees themselves will be frantic just in trying to figure out how they're going to deal with all these cuts in the school system, never mind looking at delivering new programs.
To the extent that there is funding, school districts are already providing choice to parents. Witness the Vancouver school board opening of the fine arts school at Nootka Elementary School just recently. This is prior to any changes to the School Act. Choice is already being offered in the school system. The Nootka School of Fine Arts has nothing to do with this minister's or this government's efforts — or the bill, for that matter.
The minister's idea of expanding school choice, in particular magnet schools and intra-district mobility, seems entirely dependent on the ability of parents to get their kids to those non-local schools. It is important to recognize that choice in some jurisdictions has meant additional options for some families and far fewer for others. Without addressing this, the minister's plan will benefit only one segment of the children in British Columbia: perhaps the children who have the socioeconomic resources to make and exercise this choice. Those are the kids who have mobility and whose parents will have the energy and the resources and the time and the expertise to do the shopping around for the programs. They will be able to access this choice.
However, there will be children who will be left out if parents don't have the ability to drive their children from one school district to another to attend the school of their choice. Will the minister be providing support to those children so they can access and exercise that right to choose? No, I don't think so. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I don't see anywhere in the bill that addresses that issue.
In fact, one Vancouver-area school basketball coach is warning that the whole idea of magnet schools will lead to a free-for-all in sports with all the top players migrating to a handful of teams. I quote: "This will be real good for a handful of kids but real bad for most. We're heading towards all-star basketball. I think you're going to have three or four or five schools that win all the time, and nobody else will have a chance." This is from a longtime Maple Ridge boys basketball coach, Ken Dockendorf, who was quoted on April 18, 2002.
This isn't just a problem with so much of the B.C. Liberal government's vision for British Columbia. This isn't just the one problem — policies that are good for a handful and terrible for everyone else — where a small number of people in B.C. society get to be the ones winning all the time. That seems to be the mandate of this government. That seems to be the approach they have adopted in almost every single policy area.
If our goal is to provide choice for families, we need to make sure they're accessible choices for all students and that all B.C. families can benefit. That is equity — true equity. Every child will have equal access, not just for some but for all. That's fairness. I don't see the bill that's being introduced, which is being debated right now in the Legislature, addressing this issue.
Maintaining the accessibility of education is especially critical in a time of cutbacks. It's crucial that providing more choices doesn't take away money from the regular programs the majority of kids are going to be part of. That is essential. We've seen that in the current climate of massive cuts to education. School boards are saying they can't even consider providing more choice. This raises the question of how the minister will use her new powers — the special adviser — with school boards that right now have to be more concerned with maintaining programs than pursuing the minister's magnet school concept.
Other areas of concern. The special adviser. The new powers given to the minister to send in a special adviser to interfere in the workings of a democratically elected school board and to make the school board pay the costs of that adviser fly in the face of the minister's rhetoric about increasing the autonomy of school boards. Here's what the minister likes to say about the democracy and autonomy of school boards: "They're accountable for their local communities. They're locally elected. They know better what goes on in their local communities than I do in Victoria, so we've complied with their requests. We've given them the autonomy they've been asking for. I truly believe that most schools around this province are more than capable of making decisions that we're asking them to do."
That was reported by Keith Baldrey on Global B.C. — by the minister on April 15, 2002. Yet despite this fine rhetoric, she has created, through this legislation, this new position of special adviser that allows the government and this minister to send in a non-elected
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person to impose the government's will on school boards.
Gordon Comeau of the B.C. School Trustees Association thinks this new position is unnecessary and should be removed from the legislation. Here's what he had to say about the special adviser.
This was a comment by Gordon Comeau of the B.C. School Trustees Association. In fact, he has urged the opposition to explore, in committee stage, the conditions under which the minister will feel it is necessary to send in a special adviser which the minister can force the school board to pay for themselves.
Another area for exploration: the expansion of grounds for intervention of official trustees. The minister has made much of the fact that the government is broadening the reason for intervention from mainly financial mismanagement to school achievement, but the current act already contains provisions for the government to intervene in such cases. It raises the question of whether, like the special adviser, this is just another government hammer for interfering with school boards whose policies it doesn't agree with. We'll be exploring this area, also, during committee stage.
Another area we will want to explore in detail in committee stage is the introduction of accountability contracts. These contracts aren't defined in legislation, and it's not clear what form they'll take, how they'll work or how they or the annual school plans that the accountability contracts have replaced work or don't work — and the annual reports that the current School Act mandates.
The issues raised by the members of the public, by parents and by educators are important. They are significant. The opposition will continue to question the minister during committee stage around these areas.
Before I yield the floor to other members for their comments, I just want to provide some information to the House with respect to some of the changes around the school system in Alberta. The reason why I want to raise this issue is, of course, that the deputy who is now here in British Columbia is the same deputy who made the changes in Alberta, so we can look to Alberta to see at least some of the issues they're faced with and look to see what will happen in British Columbia.
One of the most important issues, as I mentioned earlier, is around class size. We know that class size impacts the learning outcomes for students. In fact, in talking with a government member, I asked what the optimal class size is for children. A former educator in the system, the member for Delta North tells me the optimal class size is 17. If my memory serves me correctly, that was the conversation we had — that the optimal class size is 17. Instead of moving toward lowering class sizes, what we see now is increases in class sizes. I read off earlier just some of the school districts in terms of what they're faced with. The majority of them are going to see an increase in class sizes. Instead of moving in a direction that would enhance the classroom environment for both students and educators, we're moving in the other direction.
What's happened in Alberta? Let's just take a look. A recent government survey found that the average class size for grades 1 to 3 is 23 students per class. This is, of course, significantly above the ideal, which is 17 students per class. The same survey found that approximately 41 percent of the classes in Alberta have 25 or more students. Further, 71 percent of classes have an average of four students with special needs. How can students receive the sort of individualized attention they need and deserve, when they're being packed into the classrooms this way?
Does Bill 34 address that issue? No, it doesn't, hon. Speaker. What the government has done is creating a worsening of the learning environment in British Columbia. This has just been reviewed in Alberta, I believe, as recently as February 2002. The class-size issue is a growing concern for the people in Alberta. In fact, other information around class size in Alberta…. Over half of the grade 1 students in the schools are in classes with over 17 students. Many of these classes range upward between 25 and 30 students. These are the challenges they're faced with.
The other issue that has been raised, of course, is the controversial issue of bringing business, because for this government their operation for everything ought to be utilized under a business model, inclusive of schools. What the government wants to do is look at the public school system as though it was a business. You know, there are some issues that one needs to be concerned about in our public education system. Students in schools…. We ought to be concerned that they would become a captive audience and should not be subjected to advertising and corporate promotional programs, as an example.
Let's have a closer look at what's happened in other jurisdictions that value the notion of a business model in the school system. Some businesses are supporting schooling as part of their commitment to the community in which they operate. Others see long-term benefits in placing products in schools and creating brand awareness among students. Still others seek to sell their services and products directly in, to or through schools.
When entering into a business partnership or deciding to contract out services, schools should note the following. Partners' expectations must be clearly defined at the outset. The goals of public education must not be compromised. Teacher and student participation must be voluntary. The partnership must not exploit students or their families. Business partners must not
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promote specific products to students, determine curricula or influence education policies.
Dependency on corporate support undermines the independence of schools and allows the government to evade its responsibility to appropriately fund public education. I do fear that this is what the government is going to do.
On the issue around accountability and these accountability contracts, I'm particularly concerned about the accountability or lack of accountability from this Minister of Education and from this government. Whether or not the minister will rise in the House and say, "You know what? If Johnny or Mary in a particular school is not getting the education program they need because of cuts in the special needs area, in special needs assistants, counsellors or ESL support…" Will the minister make sure that support is there for the children in British Columbia? Will this bill address that issue to ensure that this government, this minister, will be held accountable?
This minister has brought forward significant cuts in our school system and forced the school boards to make these cuts. She has threatened and strengthened that threat in the legislation. If the school board trustees do not bring forward a balanced budget or run into financial difficulties, the minister may well fire them. Yet we see record deficits for school boards throughout British Columbia.
The issue around choice, as I mention again, in the Alberta system…. One of the issues that people were concerned about, which has been raised, is that school choice tends to favour the advantaged students in our society, if you will, and fragments public education by creating have and have-not schools and programs. There will be two-tier education opportunities even in the public school system.
The other issue around a market-driven reform approach — others have looked at the Alberta system and raised these concerns — is that the market-driven approach to reform creates and puts emphasis on competition, which then increases the inequities between the have and the have-not schools.
In fact, there was an extensive review of the research on the impact of school choice in England, Wales, the United States, New Zealand and Sweden. It was documented in Devolution and Choice in Education: the School, the State and the Market, Open University Press 1998. The British researchers concluded that the market-oriented approach led to good schools choosing good students, usually those who are academically and socially advantaged, while failing schools were thrown into a steady decline. That's the risk British Columbia could well face now as a result of the actions of this government.
Finally, I'd like to put on record a letter from a teacher in Saanich. It's a letter to the editor written on April 24. It headlines: "Never Before in B.C. Has Teachers' Morale Been So Low."
Earlier I mentioned that I thought the optimal class size was 17. The member for Delta North has just sent me a note, and he says, in fact, the optimal class size is 16. I'm just trying to understand the note here. I'm sure he will speak to the issue.
The optimal class size question. I want to go back to this just for one moment — whether it's 16 or 17. Maybe I'm off by one. Maybe I misremembered the conversation that I had with the member for Delta North, but when I had a conversation with him about what the optimal class size is, it was understood, as I remember it, to be 17. Maybe it's 16.
The fact is this. This is the point. The government is moving in the other direction. This gets more complex for classrooms where there's split classes, as an example, where sometimes you would have a couple of different grades, sometimes even three.
I was just visiting in different communities over the weekend in Prince Rupert and speaking with parents and educators there. What they told me was that class sizes do make a difference for students. They do make a difference. One educator advised me that she has three different grades within her class. That, compounded with special needs and with the reduced assistance that she's going to get…. She is unsure how she is going to deliver quality education to the students. She's very worried about it.
Yet the government is going to plow along with the cuts in education. The government believes that this piece of legislation, which is being introduced, will fix all of the ills that they have caused as a result of the cuts to education programs.
I don't believe that it will fix all of the ills. I worry very much that it's going to create inequitable systems within our education system, that it will create have
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and have-not schools and that it will further jeopardize the parents who don't have the resources to participate. For the schools that don't have a PAC already, as it were…. Who will be representing them? Those voices will likely be from the school trustees, because they will appoint someone. That does not create a strong voice for the parents in the school system at all.
I will have more to say with respect to this bill in relation to the different clauses that exist in the bill and questions for the minister. I will be raising my concerns with the minister and asking my questions during committee stage.
B. Locke: First of all, I'm going to put the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant's mind at ease. Perhaps she should get her facts right. In fact, Surrey school district, the largest school district in the province, because of the tools provided by this minister, has balanced its budget, and there will be not one more child in a classroom. We'll be using the same class formula as we did last year. I'm very sorry to disappoint her, but there's no story for her in Surrey, and she should probably pay attention to her own riding.
It's my pleasure to rise and speak in favour of the School Amendment Act, 2002. As a mother of two school-aged daughters, the changes to the School Act come close to home. The changes will give me, as a parent, more meaningful involvement in my children's education. Parents are crucial to a child's education. It has been proven time and time again that kids do better when their parents are involved in their learning, when they provide a source of motivation and inspiration.
The legislation brought forward by our Minister of Education addresses this. It realizes that when parents are involved in their children's learning, we are creating a win-win situation. The School Amendment Act has created school planning councils which are made up of a principal, a teacher and three parents elected by the PAC. The school planning council has an important mandate. It is responsible for setting goals for student performance and developing an annual plan to achieve those goals.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
This is the first time that parents have been included at this level of educational planning. Previously, PACs were the main method through which parents could make their voices heard, but parent advisory councils had no teeth. Too often parent participation and PAC participation was relegated to raising money for playground equipment or computers. Too often PACs didn't even have the opportunity to direct where those funds should go.
There was nothing in legislation stating that schools must listen to parents. The newly formed school planning councils give parent advisory councils some weight in determining the direction of education for their children. As they're elected to school planning councils by the parent advisory, the three parent representatives will be accountable to the parents and will represent issues that they feel are important.
The School Amendment Act, 2002 will also make district parent advisory councils mandatory in school districts. In the past, parent advisory councils developed from a need for parents to have more input in the school system. Presently they exist throughout school districts in various forms — some more active than others. Not all school districts necessarily have a PAC.
With this act, we are bringing some uniformity to parent advisory councils by ensuring that they do exist in every school district. Parents need a venue to express their ideas about education for their children. By ensuring that parent advisory councils exist, we are making that happen.
The act also lifts restrictions on school catchment areas so that students are no longer forced to attend the public school in their catchment area. They can now decide which school they want to attend. I am sure everyone is familiar with stories of children who, for whatever reason, cannot attend their neighbourhood school. This system simply did not meet the needs of students or families.
As schools develop areas of specialization, such as the fine arts school at White Rock Elementary or trades training that's offered at Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey and so many other Surrey senior secondary schools…. In fact, school district 36, while having only 10 percent of the provincial student body, graduates 20 percent of the high school apprenticeships — a tremendous achievement, thanks to the work of the Surrey school trustees, the superintendent and outstanding staff.
What a great concept: to allow, encourage and create areas of specialization — be it the music department at North Surrey Secondary or chefs training programs at Queen Elizabeth Senior Secondary and L A Matheson Secondary, or the fabulous inner-city school programs offered at Betty Huff Elementary. Boards want these opportunities, but so do teachers, parents and principals.
The new legislation will mean that students and their parents can decide which school they want to attend and eliminate problems associated with catchment areas. This act also gives school boards the power to engage in entrepreneurial activities, which will help save administrative costs and improve delivery of services.
This bill looks forward to the future of education in the province. The face of education is changing, and it's changing to meet the needs of students who are increasingly making use of new technologies and requiring new skills in today's job market.
As a member of the Select Standing Committee on Education, I believe it is time for some fundamental changes to the delivery of educational services in our province. I'm very proud of this new legislation which increases choice for students and participation opportunities for parents.
Hon. G. Halsey-Brandt: This afternoon it gives me great pleasure to speak in favour and on behalf of Bill
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34, the School Amendment Act, 2002. I believe this legislation will help us open up our schools, rebalance the education system and, I think, unleash a lot of energy that our parents and school trustees have.
As the previous speaker was talking, she mentioned that she was the parent of a couple of children who had been through the public system. I was just making some calculations. I've got four children. It spanned a period of over 21 years when I had children in school. I think that certainly gives me some experience in working with them and working with the school boards.
I'm very, very proud of the public education system that we have in British Columbia, but we can always improve. We can always do better. I think that by allowing the parents a greater role in the school, by allowing greater choice for the students and by allowing greater freedom and flexibility for the school boards, we can move that whole process along.
In terms of school involvement by the parents, I can remember the days when perhaps I drove some of the students somewhere or took them to the local swimming pool or took them on a field trip. Perhaps I participated in their sports day or acted as a chaperon or perhaps attended a bake sale to raise some money. In those days it was to buy computers for the schools. That was sort of where the parents fit into the overall scheme of things.
I'm very, very pleased to see in this legislation we'll now have real, meaningful input for the parents through the school planning council, which includes not only the principal but a teacher chosen by their peers and three parents elected from the parent advisory council. I do agree with one of the comments earlier that we don't have enough parent advisory councils in schools around British Columbia. I think this legislation, by giving parents a greater say in their schools, will in fact encourage the growth of PACs in all our schools.
It will enable the parents to have a look at the school plan, to participate in looking at targets. When you think that our children are usually seven years plus kindergarten in elementary school and five years in secondary school, surely there should be a school plan and a target of where this school is going. I know that as responsible parents, we want to participate in that to see what growth is going to take place with our children during their 12 or 13 years at school. That accountability contract, I think, will help measure our schools as well and give us pride as parents in the growth of our schools and the targets they have achieved, so that they can stack up to schools anywhere in the world.
The second point is really around choice. As the previous speaker mentioned, all our schools, in fact, are really quite different today. This will, I think, create an even greater sense of choice for the students. Whether some schools excel in certain types of sports, whether it's fine arts or perhaps they're lucky enough to have a theatre right in the school and have classes built around that, whether it's science, whether it's a food program, whether it's a traditional school…. Now children from anywhere in British Columbia can attend that school, subject to availability.
The third point, as the minister mentioned in her speech on second reading, was around freedom and flexibility to open or close schools without provincial approval and to share in the capital assets of sales of that property. Some members who may have been around British Columbia as long as I have, from the Penticton area or from North Delta, may remember that in those days school boards could actually tax the residents and the commercial industry not only for operational purposes but for capital as well. We used to have to go to referendum in our communities to build new schools. Many of those assets are owned by those school districts, and now they will have the ability to recover those assets and to use them as they see fit in that school district.
Another area of flexibility is shared services. Whether it be around things like landscaping or maintenance, payroll or purchasing, they can then share those resources and the efficiencies that might stem therefrom with other school districts and with municipalities that they may be coterminous with. I know in the community that I represent, the city of Richmond, the geographical boundary of the city is exactly the same as the school district, so I think ideas like that could be fostered between the school district and the city.
The legislation also opens up the opportunity to export our curriculum and to talk about offshore schools. Again, if I could refer to Richmond, our community is just slightly more than 50 percent a community of visible minorities, where other languages are in fact almost the dominant languages in our community. Therefore, in terms of students and new immigrants who have English as a second language, our school board has worked hard on developing curriculum to tune into and address these particular students. I know they have contacts, certainly in the Far East, and they probably would be very interested in exporting that curriculum.
Finally, just a comment about pride. I know we have called our principals and vice-principals "administrators" and other words like that, but these are key individuals. These men and women in our schools are really key with their management skills, their ability to work with students and parents and teachers and district staff. We have a lot of pride in those individuals. They offer leadership in those schools, and I think that by calling them what everyone in British Columbia calls them — principals and vice-principals — we'll help to restore that pride to the school districts across British Columbia.
In conclusion, I just would like to say that I think this School Amendment Act, 2002 is, in fact, a great step in the right direction to open up our schools for the parents, for the students, for the school trustees and for the staff and principals, to allow them to make our
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schools the best they can in the world and to allow their expertise to come forward.
R. Masi: I'm very pleased to rise today to participate in this debate on Bill 34, the School Amendment Act, 2002. This bill marks yet another significant milestone in our government's ongoing commitment to educational reform in British Columbia. As someone who spent 35 years as an educator, I can inform members of this Legislature that many of these changes are not only long overdue, but they are welcomed.
Our students, their parents and the education staff have been waiting for a new direction in educational policy in this province. They've been waiting for a new approach, a new era in how we design and deliver education that prepares our children for the demands of an ever-changing world.
This government is the first government in a very long time to take up that challenge and deliver on its promise to the people of our province. I'm proud to be a member of this government, just as I am proud to have been an educator to countless students over my career. From my experience as a teacher and a principal, I can tell this Legislature that parents care deeply about the quality of education their children receive, and I can say that parents have an excellent appreciation of the specific needs of their children.
We need to listen to parents, to provide them with a venue for ensuring their ideas are heard and acted upon in our schools. Educational policy must not and cannot be the exclusive purview of the B.C. Teachers Federation and its collective agreement. This government recognizes that fact. More importantly, it's acting upon the fact that there are three major partners in education: those who pay for the system, the taxpayers; those who are the clients of the system, the students and the parents; and those who deliver the system, the teachers and administrators.
For too long parents have been left standing at the doors of our schools. They certainly weren't provided the legislative authority to become directly involved in determining school policy. Our students went to the school the government told them to go to, not necessarily the one that would help them meet their educational, career and life goals.
Our school boards were hamstrung when it came to managing their precious financial resources with the rigid one-size-fits-all policy approach of the previous government. As well, school boards were not encouraged to be more entrepreneurial in their outlook — indeed, this notion was not only discouraged, it was simply not allowed — nor were school boards encouraged to explore means to save administrative dollars through the sharing of these resources with other boards and agencies.
Accountability within the education system was a subject taught largely in education classes at university — not an important relationship between the school, the school board and the public in their respective districts, one that provides easily understood and achievable targets to better education. Indeed, this issue of accountability has been raised to the next level in this bill with the legislative commitment to the creation of a new accountability cycle with a focus on the continuous improvements in student achievement.
Excellence in all aspects of education should always be our goal. I would like to emphasize that student achievement in British Columbia stacks up very well in international competition. We do very well in academic areas. However, we are not as successful in providing for the needs of those who do not attend post-secondary institutions.
The old School Act, which this legislation will significantly amend in approach and philosophy, was rigid, archaic and indicative of a top-down mentality that was the hallmark of the previous administration. This is an important piece of legislation, one which will have a profound impact on the quality and delivery of education here in British Columbia for years to come.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker and the members of this chamber, that the elements of this bill were heard time and time again in the public hearings and submissions that the Select Standing Committee on Education heard last fall. In fact, our report tabled here in the Legislature about a month ago, entitled A Future for Learners: A Vision for Renewal of Education in British Columbia, recognizes and recommends many of the components of this bill. Specifically, the committee's findings focused on the following five goals essential to the attainment of a world-class educational system and learning opportunities for all British Columbians.
These findings are a renewed focus on learning, on meeting the needs of learners and on serving the interests of both the local community and the province; setting high standards and continuously pursuing excellent performance; improving access and success for all learners by offering greater variety, flexibility and choice and by becoming seamless; extending autonomy and enhancing accountability by decentralizing authority and responsibility; and making more effective use of financial, physical and human resources to increase choice at all levels.
You know, I look at these five goals that the committee identified as essential to the success of our education system, and then I review this bill, and I find remarkable similarities. It clearly demonstrates to me that this government is listening to legislators and to the people and, more importantly, that this government has the interests of our students at heart with this legislation. At long last we have a piece of legislation that recognizes that parents have a critical role in ensuring that their children derive the maximum benefit from their educational opportunities.
For the first time ever in this province we will have school planning councils giving parents the authority to have real input and influence in their child's school. These councils will be in place in each and every school across British Columbia later this year. They will be made up of three parents chosen by the parent advisory council, plus the principal and one teacher. Their mandate is to examine how well the students of their
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school are performing. They will also be charged with the responsibility of developing an annual plan that includes goals and outcomes for improvement. Local school boards will be required to consult with the parent advisory councils in their districts when considering issues such as the allocation of resources, matters in the board's accountability contract, and educational services and programs in the school.
Equally important, local school boards will utilize these plans written by the parent advisory council when drawing up their own annual accountability contracts. Accountability contracts are important. As James Belasco, a U.S. academic and author of the book Teaching the Elephant to Dance, noted: "Evaluate what you want — because what gets measured, gets produced."
It makes no sense for us to sit down and say that we are going to accomplish this and do that. We need to agree on what we want to achieve and formulate the goals that will guide our progress.
As well, the School Act will be amended such that district parent advisory councils will be officially recognized as a legitimate avenue for parent participation in the education system in their respective districts. Up until now there was no legislative requirement for district parent advisory councils, although in practical terms they do exist in many districts across the province. DPACs may advise their local school boards on any matter relating to education within the district.
These amendments providing parents with the ability to help direct education in their schools and their districts mark a watershed in the delivery of education in British Columbia. This is what we on the government side of the Legislature campaigned on last spring.
Consider what Reggi Balabanov, of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, stated in her written submission to the select standing committee. She said: "We feel so often that PACs are expected to be reactive rather than proactive. They're not given an opportunity to actually participate in the decision-making process but, rather, are too often expected to react to a decision already made and possibly even rubber-stamp it. That, we believe, is a lack of genuine partnership." The sad reality is that the frustration echoed by Ms. Balabanov underscores the whole approach to educational policy under the previous government, policy that can be summed up in two words: window dressing.
During our public hearings last fall, the Select Standing Committee on Education heard loud and clear the desire from students and parents for the need for increased choice in the educational system locally. This bill answers the request for increased choice for our students and parents, for the first ever giving a student the ability to attend any public school in the province, providing there is space available. It requires local boards to establish a catchment area for each school in their respective districts, thus ensuring that students will be able to attend their local school.
As a result of this bill, we expect schools will be more responsive to student and parent needs through the improvement of student choice in the school or the creation of a magnet school which meets a specific demand in a community. These two are significant amendments to the School Act and free the way for students to finally chart their own future based on their needs and goals.
School boards themselves have additional flexibility in the way they manage their financial resources, and that's important. Time and time again, as an educator and as an MLA in the previous parliament, I heard from my local school district that they needed additional flexibility in the way they were able to manage their financial resources. Furthermore, they wanted and needed additional certainty in the level of funding they were going to receive to deliver the education programs and services. That refrain was not just limited to my school district. School districts across the province were universal in their demands for this additional authority.
I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that once again, this government not only listened to the needs of school districts across B.C., but it is delivering on its promise. As members know, the government has already delivered on its promise to provide three-year funding envelopes so that our school districts can plan with certainty for the needs of their students. This bill takes that commitment to building a better educational system one step further by both simplifying the funding formula which is used to determine the level of funding at the district level and by allowing school boards to determine how those funds are spent, based on student needs, not based on some restrictive target decided by Victoria.
For the first time ever generally accepted accounting principles will be implemented for school boards, bringing them in line with the requirements of the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act and in keeping with our government's new-era commitment to the people of British Columbia. As well, school boards are being given new latitude to explore entrepreneurial activities such as offshore schools, or offering educational or administrative expertise or consulting services. We have designed the provisions of the act governing these new entities so that any debts, obligations or acts of the new company would not become liabilities of the school board or the taxpayer.
School boards will be able to share administrative services with another board, municipality or corporate entity, thus providing boards with an opportunity to save precious tax dollars and reinvest them in direct educational programs or services. As well, boards are to be provided with an enhanced ability to manage their local capital decisions such as spending for annual capital projects, opening or closing schools or property disposal. Where a board has contributed a portion of the capital finance to the construction of an asset, the board will now be able to share in the proceeds, thus providing them with an incentive to dispose of unneeded assets.
These amendments make sense. They give our school boards the ability to make the financial deci-
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sions locally that will benefit their students, and I expect that these decisions are going to be reached much more quickly and be of real tangible value to their local communities. Frankly, they should have been made a long time ago. The fact that they weren't only serves to underscore the previous government's policy of benign neglect when it came to our students.
At the same time, we are moving forward to ensure that our school boards are more accountable to the people they serve — students and parents alike. As I mentioned earlier, school boards will be utilizing the annual plans created by the parent advisory councils in each school within their district to develop their accountability contracts. This is an important step in developing the partnership of accountability that must exist in school districts if we are to move forward and develop educational programs that meet the needs of our students.
This legislation provides the Minister of Education the authority to appoint a special adviser to assist a school board which is having difficulties resolving problems such as financial or educational issues. In my opinion, this is a significant and wise section of the legislation. It provides meaningful assistance and consultation without the concern of replacing the board. The legislation also expands the power of the Lieutenant-Governor to appoint an official trustee to replace the school board to include instances where there is a serious risk to student needs in the district.
The last amendment in this area that I'm going to address today is one that is very near and dear to my heart. As members of this Legislature know, I was a principal in my former life. I've always thought of myself and others holding this position as educational leaders and not administrative officers, so I can't tell you how pleased I am to note that this bill addresses that anomaly and calls principals and vice-principals what they really are and always have been: principals and vice-principals.
Throughout the course of my remarks today I've referenced the issue of accountability a number of times as it pertains to this bill. Accountability is the core of what we're striving to achieve as a government. It's not a buzzword; it's our watchword, our guiding principle to the people of British Columbia. You know, Dr. Stephen Covey, author of a number of bestselling books, including Principle-Centered Leadership, noted in his book that accountability breeds responsibility — the ability to respond in an open, transparent and timely manner to the needs of the people. It's what we're doing as a government and what we expect other public bodies in this province to provide all British Columbians.
To make accountability truly effective, we need to constantly strive to review and modify as necessary. This bill's overarching feature is its creation of a new accountability cycle designed to be a continuous process aimed at raising the level of student achievement throughout the K-to-12 system. Operating on an annual basis, this accountability cycle will function on a school, district and ministry basis. It's the final element of ensuring that our schools and our education system are focused on one goal: improving student achievement.
Our children deserve no less. They deserve the very best education we can provide them. They deserve an education that gives them choice and flexibility, one that challenges them and prepares them for the rigorous demands of a fast-paced, ever-changing world. It's a promise this government is delivering on today and will continue to deliver on throughout the course of this mandate and those to follow.
J. MacPhail: I rise to discuss the School Amendment Act, 2002, Bill 34. My colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has put much of our position on record, but let me just add a few comments based on my being out in the communities throughout the province last week and discussing the School Amendment Act. I also had the opportunity to meet with the B.C. School Trustees Association, who were in their annual general meeting over the weekend as well.
There is a lot of turmoil in many communities throughout this province not only on the issue of education but on the social safety net issues, health, environmental deregulation, forest policy, the softwood lumber dispute. Even given the massive amount of radical, extreme change that's taking place in the province right now, people are very concerned about the changes in the School Amendment Act, 2002. One can't separate out the legislative changes with the budget changes that have occurred as well. In fact, communities are linking the two directly. Actually, here's what people said, regardless of whom I talked to, whether they be a trustee…. I talked to some principals. I talked to some teachers, lots of parents and even the students themselves.
Here is the list of concerns that I heard. One is that it's all very well and good to be designated and delegated responsibility for bringing about change in the system, but if one also has to make drastic cuts at the same time, then one is pretty limited in one's flexibility. In fact, one could say that our hands are tied behind our back in terms of making any change. So while the Liberal government suggests there's greater flexibility now legislated through Bill 34, that greater flexibility is rendered meaningless by having to make huge cuts for which they were given no option.
Now, I know that the government likes to say that the school boards and the stakeholders have greater opportunity and that the cuts in funding shouldn't matter because enrolment is declining. Well, you know what the sum total of declining enrolment is this year? It's between 500 and 1,000 students, total, across the province on a student population base of about 600,000.
So even though this Liberal government has changed its position from when they were in opposition and now says you don't need as many resources if you've got fewer students…. They said something dif-
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ferent in opposition, particularly the chair of the Liberal caucus, the member for Cariboo North. When there was even discussion of school closures in his riding, when he was in opposition he went crazy, saying how the school is the heart of the community and how can we dare think about taking the heart of the community out. Of course, the previous government used the ministerial power not to have those schools closed.
But here we have a total of a thousand students fewer on a base of 600,000 across the province, and this government is saying: "Oh, school boards have to deliver far fewer services, so surely they can have the flexibility to manage those cuts." Well, everyone I heard from said: "Sorry, we don't." That checkmark of what everybody thinks is a great part of the School Amendment Act is rendered meaningless by the budget cuts.
I also have had a great deal of discussion around the concept of the school planning council. This is very interesting, because I thought there would be debate on the school planning council. Who can object to parent participation? Not I, being a parent of a child in the public school system. You bet I want parent participation. I thought there may be some who would object to the school planning councils, and others would support it. Well, I haven't found anyone yet, and that was after quite a bit of time in various communities in this province, and here's why: people feel it's a step backward from the current system.
The school planning council is less democratic than the current parent advisory council system. There is much less opportunity for broad-based representation amongst different parent groups within a school. What do I mean by that? Well, I heard, for instance, from the school district in Richmond that they have a huge multiculturally diverse parent group and that the parent advisory councils, the district parent advisory council and the school trustees themselves had been working extremely hard to integrate participation amongst parents who first language is not English at the parent advisory council level. How they've done that is to broaden the participation amongst their PACs to include certain meetings that are in one language and other meetings that are in other languages. Then they have an integrated process. What they said was: "With three representatives on the school planning council, how do we possibly have that integration? How do we possibly have that integration in the school planning council?" That was the concern of the parents from Richmond, for instance.
I also had received information from several district parent advisory councils across the province who have voted democratically to say: "This is a step backward — the school planning council model. The district parent advisory council model is a much more democratic model." I know that information has been passed onto the Liberal government as well, so it will be interesting to see how the government responds to that.
I also heard from many, many people who were very concerned about the fact that accreditation is gone. This, of course, is the best-kept secret of this legislation — that accreditation will no longer be there, which was a very democratic process. Accreditation didn't occur every year — that's true. But it was surely a very rigorous process that the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils fully supported against the teachers, and the previous government of the day persisted over the teachers' objections to accreditation. Now that's gone. Accreditation is gone. The school planning councils are very…. It will be an interesting job to see what replaces the accreditation process. It's interesting to see why that had to be removed.
The annual report that districts are required to file each year with very detailed information is gone. The annual accountability report of each district perhaps just fills that void by removing the annual report.
People are trying to figure out what they've gained in this legislation other than now having downloaded, not only onto the school boards but onto the parents, the responsibility for cutting programs for our children. I think those are extremely valid questions.
I also note that the Liberal government is saying: "Isn't this wonderful? We now are giving parents choice about where to send their children. Now, if the spaces are available, a child can go to any school in her district. If they're available outside of the district, they can go to a school outside of the district."
Again, this has mainly been from parents asking this question. They're saying: "What have we gained?" In so many districts the district-wide programs have been cut completely — gone. Gee, isn't that great? I can send my child anywhere I want, but many, many of the current specialty choice programs have had to be cut.
As people would say in communities like Nelson, Kimberley, Chase, Prince George, Keremeos, Trail, Castlegar, Victoria and Saanich…. Where those districts are closing schools, parents might think it's a pyrrhic victory to have choice when schools are closing. They said: "Isn't that interesting? Never before have we had to face the choice forced upon us of choosing another school far away from our home because our neighbourhood school was closing down." That's the Hobson's choice that parents now have to face in the province.
Then the government says….
Deputy Speaker: Pardon me, member. The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill.
J. Bray: Just a point of order. My understanding from school district 61 is that there are no schools being closed as of this year. So for clarification of the House, there aren't any school closures in Victoria.
Deputy Speaker: Member, that's not a point of order.
Leader of the Opposition, you have the floor.
J. MacPhail: It is unbelievable that with 76 MLAs and all the free time they have available, they can't learn the rules of the House. It's the second time that
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member has botched the rules of the House, much to his discredit. But it allows me to make the point that Victoria will be closing schools.
He knows full well that Victoria will be closing schools, because this government, under the guise of being wonderful people about giving the school board a three-year budget…. The three-year budget has zero money, and they've got tens of millions of dollars of extra costs foisted upon them by the Liberal government, so they will be closing schools. If the Victoria parents are lucky enough that it won't be this year, it will be the year after and the year after, and that member knows full well. Maybe he should go back while he's learning the rules of parliamentary procedure.
He should also learn when he should put his foot in his mouth or not, because the people of Victoria will now rise up again and say: "Does my MLA know anything?" That's a question they're asking on a regular basis, particularly for that member. It's just magnified once again.
The Liberal backbench thinks…. No, I guess today it's the front bench or maybe the semi-bench. Who knows? And they think it's funny. You know what? The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill is embarrassing in his lack of resolve around defending his own community. That's a perfect example of it — a perfect example. Everybody else is out there worried about the future of education in their ridings, and that member stands up and gives some silly little comment that schools won't be closing when he knows full well they will.
Here's what's happened around choice. We have the concept of choice where parents are suddenly free to choose what school they go to. You know what parents in my riding are worried about? They're worried about the fact that, given the inequities in sustaining schools in poor neighbourhoods, we'll make it so that nobody will choose Macdonald Elementary Community School or Hastings Community School or Tillicum Elementary School as a magnet school, because the parents won't be able to fundraise to provide all the attractions of a magnet school. That's exactly what's going to happen.
This government isn't funding our education system, so parents, in between having to choose what programs to cut, are going to have to fund the extras in order to attract and keep students in their own neighbourhood. Schools in poor neighbourhoods throughout this province are worried about that. Now, I happen to think that the parent advisory councils in my riding are among the best, and they fundraise as hard as they can. They are in those classrooms every day volunteering. They have set up wonderful community programs to deliver for everybody in our community before, during and after school.
Now what they tell me is that their energies are merely going to holding this government accountable for the cuts. An example…. I'm sorry. I was away, so I may be repeating what my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant said. The parent advisory councils on the east side of Vancouver had to join with some other parent advisory councils to just merely maintain the social equity envelope — the inner-city school funding. They've been spending months doing that since late last year — six months through exhausting fighting back, just to hold even on inner-city school funding.
They were victorious. Congratulations to them. Congratulations for the hard work. Oh, these are the current parent advisory councils. These are the parent advisory councils that this government's doing away with, by the way, and legislating out of existence. They fought like crazy to keep the social equity envelope funding which gives schools in inner cities a fighting chance to be a magnet school. You know what they said over the weekend? "Some victory." They're very proud of themselves, but all they did was hold even, and now they have to meet with the school board and figure out what cuts to impose on a districtwide basis — not much gain.
I thought it was interesting that the Province newspaper had a…. It wasn't part of our regular clipping service that we as MLAs get, because it was part of the sports section in the Province. What this sports commentator was saying was that magnet schools are bad. They're bad for kids whose connection to school is sports. The commentator said that if you have magnet schools that are based on attracting people because of the…. This isn't me, Mr. Speaker. I'm a soccer mom and a baseball mom, but I claim absolutely no expertise in this area. This commentator said that in other systems where there's been magnet schools — schools of choice — where those schools try to draw parents and students through an accelerated sports program, they invariably, literally, tilt the playing field so that a few benefit at the expense of the entire sports program across a district or a jurisdiction. I think it was a male. It may have been a female commentator, but I think it was a male. He said this is a step backward for where we want our children, across the board, to have equitable access to a good, solid sports program. I thought that was very interesting.
The other point I would make is it's my experience with the public education system in British Columbia that there's a heck of a lot of choice — a heck of a lot of choice before these drastic changes were made. You have to fund the choices; that's correct. It is incumbent upon a provincial government to make sure that the funding is adequate so that those choices are available. Now, under the guise of greater flexibility, under the ruse of greater choice, this government is saying to parents: "You decide what's going to be cut out of our system." Not much of a choice.
I know that the Minister of Education was at the School Trustees Association's annual general meeting over the last few days, as was I. There were some very, very pointed questions raised by the School Trustees Association both with the minister and with me. I will be raising all of those questions, as will my colleague, during the committee debate, but let me outline for the viewers and the public what the overriding concerns were.
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It started from a point of view of a high anxiety level around not even being able to maintain all of the wonderful advances of the last ten, 15, 20 years in modernizing our education system and really upgrading student achievement. The student outcomes have improved dramatically over the last years. That's No. 1.
No. 2, the school trustees reflected a widespread concern about the lack of recognition of how much stakeholder involvement there is currently in our education system. By stakeholder we mean parents. We mean teachers. We mean principals. We mean the community itself. Now all of that is being put into question with the new structure that this government has decided it will impose on British Columbians.
I think it's fair to say that because the trustees are an elected body and are very close to their communities, they are going to do their best to try to implement these changes without being the front person or having to be the henchman for the bad news that this government has given to students in our education system. They are going to try to do their best job, but I didn't hear one single voice over the course of the last ten days saying that they had any real hope of being successful.
I know that many, many districts are expecting class sizes to grow inexorably. Many jurisdictions are having to lay off their librarians. Many jurisdictions are having to lay off their counsellors.
Virtually every jurisdiction will be cutting back on how our schools are maintained — such an important aspect of healthiness. It's interesting. We talk about reforms to the health care system, and one of the best preventative health care measures is raising our children in a hygienic environment. Those of us who have worked in a big kid environment — whether that be a child care centre, a school or even a Sunday school — know that hygienic maintenance is extremely important to prevent the spread of infections, viruses and diseases. All of that is at risk now virtually across this province, because of the school cuts. Who knows what pressure that may put on our health care system?
I expect that the nature of the questioning during committee stage will be rather intense because virtually every school district and every parent advisory council has many, many questions about how this will work. I hope it won't be like other legislation that this government is currently ramming through the Legislature, where they say to everyone who raises very deep-seated concerns: "Don't worry. We'll fix that problem in regulation." That's not what democracy is about. That gives no comfort to those who are affected by the legislation. It's just simply too open to manipulation by a government, to say that all concerns will be addressed through regulation. I look forward to that debate and expect it will be rather intense.
Deputy Speaker: Closing debate on second reading of Bill 34, the Minister of Education.
Hon. C. Clark: It's always enlightening to hear members of the Legislature speak about their views about legislation that has been introduced. This time is the same as always — very informative, very interesting — although it's always sort of frightening to hear the opposition stand up and talk about legislation they clearly don't understand and make statements about it that are absolutely not true.
One worries that perhaps if people are watching on TV or flicking channels and don't stick around to hear the response, they might continue to be misled by those comments. I'll take this opportunity to correct some of the comments that the members of the opposition have made and also to thank everyone for their comments in the debate, particularly the members of the Select Standing Committee on Education.
They travelled the province for the first time in decades to talk about education to the public. The views they're able to offer here today as a result of the consultation they did are incredibly valuable. One of the things we certainly saw during that consultation was the huge public appetite to be involved in our education system, to have a say about how it works, to make their mark.
We certainly heard from a lot of parents. We heard from a lot of teachers. We heard from principals and vice-principals. We heard from trustees. We heard from the business community. We heard from general members of the community. All of them feel they have a very strong personal stake in our education system. I don't think, though, it would be wrong to say that out of the group, there is no one who has a greater stake in our education system than parents.
A child is the biggest investment a parent will ever have in their life. When we give up our children to the public education system from nine to three every day, we're trusting that the system is going to offer them something we can't offer them at home. That takes a lot of trust, and it takes a lot of commitment from a lot of people to deliver on that trust.
We have an obligation as a government to ensure that our system is living up to the expectations of all those parents who are trusting their children with us, and that's a pretty big obligation, so thank you to the members of the select standing committee who spoke. Thank you to all the members who spoke and offered their comments, including the opposition members.
Before I close debate, I do want to make a few comments about some of the issues that were raised. First, one of the members criticized the government's intent to offer choice in school districts, saying that if a parent can't afford to transport their child, how much choice is that?
Equally, I would offer this: if a parent can't afford to live next to the best school in the district, does that mean they shouldn't have a right to be able to send their child to that school? If you can't afford to live in the neighbourhood that's got a great school, why should your child be forced to go to a school that perhaps doesn't meet that child's needs? Why shouldn't they have the same opportunity as the children who live in the wealthy neighbourhood might have?
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Equally, I'd offer this. If the school is challenged and we can create some consumer demand in the system, then for the first time we will have a new incentive for school districts to address the problem, to sit down and try to understand why parents don't want to send their child to that school. In jurisdictions where they have pursued choice, when they've had a problem at a particular school and where there have been real challenges, you know what they've done? They've made those schools the magnet schools. They've created the ballet schools there, the fine arts schools there, the hockey schools there or whatever specialty it is that's going to attract students from across the district.
That's where they create the choice. What happens in that situation is that a school that was once underprivileged, a school that was challenged, a school that perhaps nobody really wanted to attend unless they were forced to by the government was suddenly attracting kids from all over the district — kids from wealthy neighbourhoods, kids from less-wealthy neighbourhoods, kids whose families have a lot of education, kids whose families don't have a lot of education.
Suddenly those children who may be in a part of the district that isn't doing as well are rubbing shoulders for the first time with kids they may never, ever have gotten to know. Talk about opening up experiences for those kids, ensuring that those schools have the same opportunity. Those children who, as the member said, maybe can't afford to travel to another school have opportunities they've never had before.
In Edmonton, where they do have choice, 60 percent of the kids who live in that district do not attend their neighbourhood school even though they're guaranteed the right to, because 60 percent of those students have decided there's an educational program somewhere else that better meets their needs. What that tells me is that before they had choice in Edmonton, perhaps it was true that 60 percent of the children were going to schools that didn't do as good a job of meeting their needs.
Isn't that what we should be working toward in British Columbia — ensuring we have a system where kids can get their needs met? As I often say, every child is different, so why should every school be the same?
The members opposite talked at length about how parents were getting less say in the education system under this legislation. It is hard for me to think of anything else they said that was more bizarre than that, because this legislation does exactly the opposite.
The member stands up and says that we're getting rid of PACs with this legislation. I know she's busy, but if she reads the legislation, she'll see that, no, what we're doing is strengthening PACs. We're giving the PAC a direct and guaranteed role in providing real, meaningful input for their children's education at every single school in British Columbia. How can she argue that's not good?
The school planning council will have to be elected from the PAC. One member of the school planning council will have to be on the executive of the PAC. The school planning council will be required to consult with the PAC. So when she stands up and suggests that somehow we're getting rid of PACs, all I can imagine is that she's trying to do the same thing in education that she's trying to do in health care — trying to scare people, trying to concoct outcomes that clearly aren't there.
When she takes a moment to actually read the legislation, she will see that we are doing more to empower parents than any previous government has done in a long time in British Columbia. Not only are we recognizing PACs and giving them required input into planning for their children's future, but for the very first time we're recognizing in legislation district parent advisory councils.
It used to be that the DPAC existed at the will of the school district. Now, if the parents and the district want a district parent advisory council, they get one. They're recognized in legislation for the very first time. This is something that the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils has been bugging government about for years, so we listened. Absolutely, PACs should be recognized.
PACs shouldn't exist at the will and the whim of the school district. They should be there if parents want them, and that's what this legislation is about. The member did say, and I concur with this, that DPACs do a lot of good work — absolutely they do. That's why we're making sure they're recognized in legislation.
She talked about how accreditation is gone under this legislation. Well, based on my discussions with parents, accreditation was something that happened every six years and that allowed parental input but might not necessarily have been taken seriously. Parents said they were happy to have accreditation because it was the best they ever had. Sometimes it was the most input that they ever got into how schools were run. If they had to wait until their child was in grade 6 and then until their child graduated from high school in grade 12 to have a say, parents had such an appetite to have a say that they were delighted about accreditation.
With this legislation, we are bringing in what is really an improved accreditation process every single year. It won't just be at one period a year; it'll be continuous throughout the year. Parents will have input every day of every year, not just every six years. That's got to be an improvement on what we had before.
They talked about the special advisers, and I know districts have been talking about special advisers as well. I'd like to say this about special advisers. First, we are introducing the concept of special advisers into this legislation because we recognize that the tools the ministry had to assist a board were pretty limited in the past. The ministry could write a letter or could fire the board. That doesn't leave a whole lot of leeway in there.
I think that if a board looks like it's having trouble and is starting to have trouble, the ministry should be able to send in a special adviser to assist the board and
[ Page 3025 ]
make recommendations about how they can improve things so that we never get to that final step.
We have, in the past year and in this legislation, given school districts an unprecedented amount of autonomy. School districts have never had as much autonomy as we are giving them in this legislation. As I've always said, they are no less elected than we are. They are elected to be able to decide what goes on in their school districts. They're elected to decide how they will prioritize their budgets, how they will staff their schools, so let's let them do that. That's one of the important elements of this legislation.
At the same time, you can't have autonomy without accountability. That's why we put in the opportunity for a special adviser, and that's why we've expanded the potential for appointing an official trustee.
I did hear talk, as well, about Alberta. I've mentioned Alberta too. I've mentioned Edmonton specifically in the context of school planning councils. One of the members was talking about: "Gosh, wouldn't it be terrible if we had a system like Alberta's?" Well, I've got news for the members opposite. Alberta has the best learning outcomes of any jurisdiction not just in Canada but in the world.
Now, my goal is not just to have learning outcomes as good as Alberta's; my goal is to have learning outcomes that are better than Alberta's. We should be working every single day to improve student achievement in every classroom, in every school, in every district, in every part of this province. That's the only way we will ensure that we outstrip our neighbours to the east. Until we do that, until we get there, I'm going to be calling on parents, trustees, principals and vice-principals, students, members of the community and every member of this Legislature to roll up their sleeves and get to work on improving our education system.
Yes, we have a great system, but it can be better. We can improve our graduation rate from 75 percent; we can improve the graduation rate for first nations kids from 39 percent. We can improve the outcomes for children who have special needs — and English as a second language. We can improve outcomes for every single child in our community. All we have to do is focus on our goals. That means measuring our success, setting goals for improvement and measuring ourselves against those goals every single year.
That's what we're doing with this legislation. We're creating an accountability cycle where we can always be sure that we're working to do better. The most important part of that accountability cycle is parents. Parents trust us with their children. They trust that we're going to be doing better every single year. With this legislation we are saying to parents: "You know what? We don't want you to just trust us; we want you to help us."
With that, I move second reading of Bill 34.
Hon. C. Clark: I move to refer the bill to committee at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. C. Clark: I call second reading of Bill 27.
EMPLOYMENT AND ASSISTANCE
FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Deputy Speaker: Closing debate, the Leader of the Opposition.
On the amendment (continued).
J. MacPhail: My gosh, it was very important that we had a week to go out and talk to people in British Columbia. It makes a lot of sense with the reforms in the House — a lot of sense — to be able to go around into our own constituencies or just meet with British Columbians directly.
The fact of the matter is that there are two aspects of Bill 27 — and, I might say, the accompanying piece of cuts legislation under Bill 26 — that have people greatly concerned. One is the absolutely draconian nature of Bill 27 — and Bill 26 as well. That's the one concern. The other is the absolute lack of notice these incredibly draconian conditions impose on British Columbians.
Let me just give you a couple of examples of the kind of consultation I was able to do on the matter of the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities legislation over the last ten days. My first meeting was oh such a wonderful meeting. It was about ten days ago, and it was with a group of self-advocates. It was at the Burnaby developmental disabilities association, and they wanted to discuss the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act.
Now, who are self-advocates? Well, I knew some of them from my time when I had the honour to have the portfolio of what was then the Minister of Social Services. Some of them were old friends, and some of them were new people that I met with, but they're people with disabilities who advocate for themselves. One young man had Down syndrome. He was in his first year of college. Another young woman had cerebral palsy. She was in her late twenties. Another woman was physically disabled and prominently blind. Her dad was with her. Another was a young man who was severely emotionally disabled, and his mom was with him. Then there were others who had a range of disabilities, both visible and invisible.
I spent some time, not a lot of time, explaining to them the intent of Bill 27. I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, I was very generous to the government in my explanation of Bill 27, because I didn't want to provoke greater anxiety amongst a group whose lives were di-
[ Page 3026 ]
rectly changed by Bill 27. I tried to give them hope that they would not be negatively affected by Bill 27.
Here's what happened. They thanked me, and then they said: "Joy, you're a bit out of touch. Thank you very much for trying to reassure us, but here's what we think is going to happen. We think that each and every one of us will be directly and negatively impacted by this legislation that we didn't ask for and which is unnecessary." They said: "Where we can find work, we're working. Does someone think we want to stay at home?" They weren't feeling ashamed or in any way intimidated by this minister's accusation that people who are not working should go out and work. That's how they interpreted it. "Why did he have to change the legislation?" They felt for sure he was accusing them of being slackers. How else could they interpret it?
I know it's hard for the government to hear these things. These aren't my words. I went out and met with these people. These are their words.
I know it's hard, particularly for the Minister of Education. If the Minister of Education is accusing me of lying, please stand up and say so, because I am doing my level best to accurately reflect a debate in which I did my level best to not exacerbate the level of anxiety — my level best. The Minister of Education accuses anyone who in some way suggests that the government's path is wrong of being a fearmonger. Let me just say that what I am saying into the record is exactly what this group of self-advocates, people with disabilities, said to me.
It is unbelievable that when this government goes out…. Some of them go out into the communities; others hide their faces. They hear exactly the same concerns I'm reflecting. Somehow the government sits there and says that those raising these concerns are fearmongering, when every single person sitting on that side of the chamber knows full well that they have exactly the same information I do.
Anyway, the group of self-advocates said to me: "It's all very well and good that you're trying to reassure us, but we're not reassured. We're doing everything we possibly can to get jobs, and it's tough to get a job." Others said: "Who will I be competing with to get a job?" They were concerned about the changes in the earnings exemptions. Many of them had figured out the changes would mean a net loss in the income they would be taking per month.
This was the most incredible discussion — two comments. One young woman said: "I have to go each year to be reassessed. I hope they find a cure. I can hardly wait to be reassessed. But, she said, "For as long as my illness has been publicly diagnosed, over a hundred years, there has been no cure" — a severely debilitating physical illness. She was wondering what the real intent of forcing her to go in for a reassessment every year was. That's No. 1.
No. 2 was the young man with Down syndrome. His concerns were much more broadly based. He was concerned about his grandmother having to pay her Pharmacare costs. It had nothing to do with him. Here he was in college, and he was concerned about his grandmother and the cuts to Pharmacare that were directly affecting him. He was also concerned about the changes to education that were affecting some of his classmates.
There we have the most wonderful group of people sitting around deeply concerned about the changes. That's why my colleague and I have moved this amendment saying that this bill shouldn't proceed because of the harm that will be brought to people who are least capable of making any greater change in their life that's necessary with this legislation.
As I travelled the province, I ran into the same concerns. I was in the city of Nelson, and I parked the car and popped in for a cup of coffee at a fabulous coffee bar on Baker Street. As I was crossing the street, a man stopped me and identified me and said: "Hey, what about this legislation — Bill 27?" I was a bit taken aback, because it's not as if we're top of mind, this Legislature and everything that's occurring here, even though the changes are so fundamental and so profound. He knew the legislation, and he'd actually read it. Why? Because he's a person with a disability. He's got a mental illness, and he was deeply concerned. He could receive no comfort, none whatsoever, from his front-line worker, because — it wasn't their fault — they couldn't give him comfort that he would be protected against these changes.
Then I met with some community people in the town of Creston. A woman with a disability — multiple sclerosis, I believe; I hope I remember it correctly — was wheelchair-bound, and her son, a business person in the town, was having to take over her care because of the cuts in home support. She was in such a state of high anxiety about these profound changes. She said: "Just one small change that's going to affect my life very negatively, when I now have to…." First of all, the Human Resources office has been shut down in her town, and she'll have to go to Cranbrook for any support, and her son's going to have to do that. Her son, who is a small business person, is also going to have to take her for her yearly assessments. She was one of several who I met with in Creston who were deeply concerned about this.
Mr. Speaker, I have much more to say. I'm about to read from a fairly long document. Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to recess, so I move that we recess until 6:35 p.m.
The House recessed from 5:52 p.m. to 6:37 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Mr. Speaker: Resumed debate on the amendment to Bill 27.
On the amendment (continued).
[ Page 3027 ]
J. MacPhail: Just before I recessed debate, I was articulating some of the concerns of people with disabilities that my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I had gathered up while we were out in the community.
The purpose of this amendment is to bring to the attention of hon. members just how large the concerns are around this issue and to say: "Let's not proceed with this legislation." Perhaps the government could actually consult with the communities throughout the province themselves and then bring back legislation that makes more sense.
Let me just read what the community has had to say about Bill 27, Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act. The B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities — that's a group of very, very strong, totally community-based activists. They're advocates for themselves. They're people with disabilities advocating on behalf of everybody with a disability. This is what they had to say about this legislation:
That makes perfect sense, and that's all the tabled amendment is about. That's the amendment I made. Sorry, it's the amendment that I introduced. That's all it's asking for.
Let me read you this. This was a letter sent to the Premier, to the Minister of Human Resources and to me. It's from Heidi Werman of the Golden Women's Resource Centre — the town of Golden:
Here's another one. These letters have all been received since the last time we were sitting here in the Legislature. They all came last week.
This is a letter sent to the Premier, to the Minister of Human Resources and to me. It's from Margaret Leitner, executive administrator of the Powell River Employment Program Society:
Another letter sent to the Premier and to my colleague the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. It's from Stacy Chappel of the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group:
Here's a press release from the B.C. Association for Community Living: "Government tightens the screws on people with disabilities and their families."
They're not a special interest group. They're the very people who will be directly affected by this bill. That press release goes on:
The act places much greater emphasis on requiring applicants to have an employment plan and to comply with that plan in order to continue receiving benefits.
[ Page 3028 ]
Here's a press release from the B.C. Federation of Labour, a group the government likes to write off as a special interest group, someone who merely has vested interests. Here's what the social advocates in the B.C. Federation of Labour had to say on behalf of people who don't belong to unions. Some may, but the vast, vast majority of them don't belong to unions. Here's what they have to say on behalf of people with disabilities. I quote from a news release:
I want to pause from reading about what the community thinks about this legislation to describe an event I was at this morning. It was a summit called by the Premier of this province to talk about the softwood lumber dispute. It was an interesting conversation. There were lots of business people in the room and federal and provincial politicians of all political parties. The union, the IWA, was there, and mayors of forest-dependent communities.
In the course of this discussion about what we should do with the softwood lumber dispute, it became apparent from reports of mayors of towns particularly hard hit by the softwood lumber dispute and from Mr. Haggard, the national president of IWA-Canada, that forest workers were moving onto income assistance. They had already run out of their EI benefits, and they were, for the first time in their lives, having to apply for social assistance — income assistance. I knew intellectually that was a looming possibility, but when the mayors of these towns, so hard hit, described the circumstances that their constituents were facing, and when the IWA president described how his members were now having to apply for social assistance, it was like being kicked in the gut about the circumstances that these families are facing.
The changes to welfare under Bill 26 are stunning for these forest-worker families. I'll make it relevant to Bill 27 in just a moment. In fact, it's relevant now. These workers who had never, ever collected social assistance before and had never dreamed they would need the social safety net are today being harmed by the draconian changes under Bill 26. Here's a government that professes to care about forest-dependent communities. Here's a government that says: "Yes, we care about the rural economy." Yet, as they speak out of that side of their mouth, out of the other side of their mouth they're saying to forest-dependent communities: "Your workers do not deserve the social safety net." That's what the IWA workers are facing and the CEP workers and the PPWC workers are facing.
Why is this relevant to Bill 27? Because in those very same communities where the unemployment is at 15, 25, 35 or 50 percent, this Liberal government is saying: "Well, if you've got a disability, you've got to go out and find work. Get going. Gear up." These people with disabilities are now competing directly head on, with no greater resources to help them, with forest workers who are also facing the incredibly difficult challenge of earning a decent paycheque for their families.
The mayors that I talked to privately and many of them that went public on record, as well, said the cuts imposed on their community by the huge cuts to the social safety net by this Liberal government are the most harmful they've seen in their political life. We have a situation here where the government seems to think this is a good thing. The government seems to think this is exactly the right time to tell people with disabilities: "Off you go. Off you go, and get a job." People with disabilities are saying: "Of course we want to work. Of course we do, but it's getting increasingly difficult for us to find work, with the unemployment in our communities."
[ Page 3029 ]
I heard a comment from someone…. Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker. I'm forgetting. This comment came at the summit today, the summit called by the Premier to discuss the softwood lumber dispute, where one person said the fear and anxiety about the future can cause as great harm as the future itself, whether or not that future be as bad as one anticipated. Already there are people out there in a state of such high anxiety worried about the detrimental effects of these changes that the harm is already being foisted upon them in an extremely negative way.
People are asking: why now? Why is it that a government who knew full well the detrimental impacts of the softwood lumber dispute would choose this time to make such draconian cuts? Was it because they messed up so badly on their very first day of assuming power? Why is it that person after person, business person after business person, community leader after community leader, is saying: "How did they get it so wrong?" How is it that this government is so poorly advised that at the very time that forest-dependent communities and their families need a stronger social safety net, this government is ripping asunder giant holes in that social safety net? What caused them to be so mean-spirited?
Then someone says: "Maybe they're not mean-spirited. Maybe they're just inept." There's the choice for people in this province. They have a government in charge with a huge majority, where one has to decide: are they inept, or are they mean-spirited? Those are the two choices. Then the saddest of all situations…. Well, I don't know. Is it the saddest of all? It joins a well of sadness, where there's a forest worker who's disabled for the first time in his life, and he is having to go through these draconian measures. He's lost his benefits through the company, and he's having to go through these draconian measures to prove his disability. It's with a great deal of shame that he comes and faces his family.
That's all this amendment says. All this amendment says is stop, take time, put this bill aside, figure out what the strategy is to support rural communities, figure out what the strategy is to support our most vulnerable in this province at a time when the economy is so fragile. Don't make those most vulnerable pay for an ever-increasing fragility in the economy.
Mr. Speaker, I will read to you from a group of people who have put forward a proclamation. It's a proclamation about Bills 26 and 27. They have asked the opposition to read this proclamation into the record during second reading of Bill 27. There are thousands who are signing this proclamation. It's available on the Internet. It's available in communities. When I was in the Kootenays, people were signing the proclamation. Here's what people are signing — they call it a proclamation:
Here are some of the people who have signed the proclamation. There are 77 signatures from Nelson through the Kootenay Cuts; there are 279 signatures from Moberly Manor in Revelstoke; there are 27 signatures from Vancouver-Burrard — oh, I'm sorry, another 15 signatures from Vancouver-Burrard. There are 14 signatures from Coast Foundation. This is just the beginning.
There's the West Coast Wilderness Committee, West Coast LEAF Association, the Veridian Ecological Consulting Society, the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group, the Urban Planning…. There are people from the University of Victoria, people from the University of British Columbia. There's an organization, Together Against Poverty, here in Victoria. There's the Teddy Bear Daycare. There's a manager from the Stepping Up program. There's Allen Blakey, a school trustee from Vancouver; the coordinator, Queen Charlotte Islands Women's Society. There's a signature collected at the Park Home residential care facility; a person from
[ Page 3030 ]
Victoria who works at the McPherson Library. There's a person who works at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, people from the First United Church, people from First Call!!, a professor of educational studies and women's studies at UBC. There's an assistant professor of anthropology at UBC; a person who works at the Delta child care resource and referral program; care centres — the Capilano Care Centre — many people signed from there; Carl Rosenberg from the Canadian Jewish Outlook. There are people from the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres; people from the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Group; Marian Poliankoff — she's a member of the Jewish Community Poverty Coalition. There are dozens of signatures from the B.C. Association of Social Workers. They go on and on and on.
You might note, Mr. Speaker, that these aren't people who are directly harmed or benefited by this legislation, not by any stretch — all of them. They're people who care about a social safety net during a very, very difficult time.
There's another letter I want to read into the record. It's a long letter, so we're going to have a take a moment. I know there's lots of activity going on by government members, but I hope they can stop long enough to hear this letter. It's written to Prof. Virginia Dandan. She's the chairperson of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. It's written by a group of British Columbians I will tell you about at the end, who are very concerned about the changes.
That was in December of 1998.
On income assistance — what this bill directly affects — here is what the committee has written to Professor Dandan at the UN human rights committee:
[ Page 3031 ]
For those of us who are just joining this debate, I'm reading from a letter from a group of British Columbians sent to the chairperson of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
[ Page 3032 ]
That's from the Legal Services Society Act.
It's also a violation of the right to work that is freely chosen — that's article 6 — and to just and favourable conditions of work, article 7.
Another violation is to the right of special measures of protection and assistance to children and young persons without discrimination based on parentage or other conditions. That's article 10(3).
[ Page 3033 ]
This submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights concludes with this. I continue:
It's signed on behalf of the Federated Anti-Poverty Groups of B.C., End Legislated Poverty, United Native Nations, B.C. Human Rights Coalition, B.C. Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, Seniors Network of B.C., Alliance for the Rights of Children, Justice for Girls, B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres, Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., Working Group on Poverty and West Coast LEAF Association.
I read that document into the record because I don't think British Columbians understand the status to which we are being relegated. It's not their fault. British Columbians were promised a new era that certainly didn't in any way suggest that any of these allegations outlined in this submission to the UN Commission on Human Rights could even be a possibility.
British Columbians had no idea of the circumstances in which our most vulnerable in British Columbia would be forced to live as a result of this legislation. It's not surprising, with the constant mantra of this Liberal government of how awful things were in the past and what a mess they inherited and they've had no choice but to do this, that British Columbians are lulled into a sense — a false sense, a fraudulent sense — that all of these draconian cuts outlined in this submission to the UN commission are necessary.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
What this legislation does is put us on the world map with a big black mark on our jurisdiction. We are relegated as a province to being charged with such violations of the international covenants agreed to by our country that it is humiliating, shameful, mean-spirited, wrong and completely unnecessary — completely unnecessary.
Whenever my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I go out, we're inundated with British Columbians who want us to explain the actions of this Liberal government. It's a little bit ironic that they're asking us, but the fact of the matter is that they can't get answers from their own Liberal MLAs. They can't get to talk to their own Liberal MLAs about these matters, and they're desperate for an explanation about why this government is so mean-spirited and why this government is targeting the poorest and the most disabled.
We don't have an explanation. We cannot plumb the depths of any discussion we had with this government that would have predicted this mean-spiritedness. Nobody — nobody — was in any way forewarned about these draconian cuts to the most vulnerable. We have no explanation. We cannot offer a justification, not even a cynical one, because we cannot possibly understand what the government is trying to achieve here.
Let me just read out a letter that my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant received very recently. It's from a woman who lives in Prince Rupert. I'm reading from this letter. I won't read her name into the record, but she does sign it: "My 22-year-old son was committed to our local hospital on April 14, 2002, with a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is suffering from a severe psychotic episode and has been committed under the Mental Health Act. It is still undetermined when he will be released from hospital and how long after that until he is able to return to work."
Apparently her son had been suffering from psychoses for about two months prior to his being hospitalized. Because of this, he had not been working on a regular basis. His employer has since told us that he was only making it to work a couple of days a week.
[ Page 3034 ]
Along with other bizarre behaviour, he had barely slept for the last two months.
He has filed for EI, but when he eventually receives a payment, it will be based on his part-time earnings, so it won't be much at all, and he will not be receiving any money from them for the next few weeks. Shortly after her son entered the hospital, she inquired about temporary assistance for him from the B.C. Ministry of Human Resources.
My colleague received this yesterday. This woman, on behalf of her son, isn't reacting to rumour and innuendo. She's fully aware of all of the consequences up to and including this very moment.
Let me read you one more letter. It's from the Powell River Employment Program Society. It's to the Premier and the minister, and it's about Bill 26, the Employment and Assistance Act, and Bill 27, Employment and Assistance for Persons With Disabilities Act.
There are dozens and dozens of this kind of correspondence coming in to us. We stand here and read this correspondence into the record, and what we get from the government benches is that we're fearmongering. It's shocking when we hear the Deputy Premier yell at us that we're misleading the public and fearmongering. It's shocking when my colleague and I go into communities who have invited us but are represented by Liberal MLAs. We get stopped at every turn and have dozens and dozens, hundreds of people turning out to community forums with us, who cannot get the ear of their own government. They wish to express outrage at these changes. It is not what they wanted. It is not what they voted for. It's people who voted for this government who are saying that to us.
I wonder why it is that the Liberal MLAs cannot understand. If they can't consider any other view, it is in their political vested interest to stop this legislation. From a purely crass political point of view, it's in their vested interest, because by attacking the most vulnerable, by attacking those least able to stand up and push back, this government is alienating the able-bodied and the well-off as well.
My colleague and I are merely giving this government the opportunity to have a sober second look at foisting upon British Columbians draconian cuts that no one wanted, no one expected and no one supports — no one except the Liberal MLAs in this chamber. Virtually no one else supports this, and if they do, stand up and read it into the record. Stand up and read it into the record where they're getting correspondence from their constituents saying: "Hey, that's great that you're forcing people with disabilities to be reassessed every year. That's great that you're cutting the welfare rates for people with disabilities. That's great that you're kicking people off the disability pension because you don't agree. Their definition of disability doesn't fit into your category of disability." Stand up and read it into the record.
This legislation, above all else, cannot proceed. Gosh knows that there is a long list of legislation brought in by this government that British Columbians disagree with, but this is the one piece of legislation that simply cannot be on the books of British Columbia because it will be a black mark on this province like we have never seen before.
My colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I will do nothing but celebrate this government when they support us in this amendment. We will recognize the strength and the wisdom of sober second thought if this government supports this amendment. Much of the collateral damage done to British Columbians by this government can be reversed by the simple support of this amendment, which stops this legislation.
Deputy Speaker: Members, the motion before you is that the motion for second reading of Bill 27, intituled Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act, be amended by striking out the words after "that" and inserting "this House declines to give second reading to Bill 27, intituled Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act, for the
[ Page 3035 ]
reason that the bill in principle puts at risk the lives of people with disabilities who have no other means of support or assistance."
Amendment negatived on the following division:
YEAS — 2
NAYS — 54
On the main motion.
Deputy Speaker: The Minister of Human Resources, concluding debate on second reading of Bill 27.
Hon. M. Coell: In closing, I would like to thank members for their contributions to the debate on Bill 27, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act. This bill is about assistance for people with disabilities, about an opportunity to lead a better life and about greater independence.
By developing a separate act for people with disabilities, we are recognizing their distinct needs in terms of income support and in overcoming barriers for independence. This bill is all about people — people who face very real challenges in their daily living because of their disabilities, people who may be restricted in their ability to participate in our communities, people who must overcome sometimes significant barriers to employment. In developing this legislation, we always considered the people who come to us for assistance. We know that every one of them is unique; we know that their personal circumstances are unique. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn't work. That's why the B.C. employment and assistance program is designed to be flexible and responsive to individuals' unique abilities and needs.
We will offer a broad range of supports for people with disabilities — support in the form of income assistance for those who are in temporary need or those who are not expected to gain independence through work and require long-term assistance. This disability assistance will continue at the highest rate of income assistance available from this ministry. There will also be further support for continued medical benefits. There will be support for people with disabilities to become more integrated into their communities — for example, through volunteering. There will also be supports for employment for those who are able to work, including job placement, job training, earning exemptions, technical aids, special workplace accommodations and follow-up services to help employees adjust in the workplace. There will be support for those who move off disability assistance but, because of their disability, are unable to continue to be employed. This support includes rapid reinstatement of disability status.
These supports have been outlined in our employment strategy for persons with disabilities, which I released last week. For the first time in British Columbia we have a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. We are increasing spending on employment programs for people with disabilities by $5.5 million. That's a 40 percent increase. We will begin implementing this strategy for employment this fall.
This bill is the foundation of our programs to assist people with disabilities. It provides the security of income assistance while maintaining a focus on employment for those who are able to work. It ensures that people with disabilities are not left out of the programs designed to help British Columbians back into the workforce.
Since this bill was introduced, we have seen and heard a great deal of misinformation, and I would like an opportunity to correct some of that. It is simply not true that thousands of people will have their disability benefits cut off, as claimed in some reports. We will, on an ongoing basis, be reviewing client files against the new disability criteria. While some clients will be reviewed periodically, individuals with unchanging or deteriorating medical circumstances will not need their files reviewed. In many cases the ministry has significant information on individuals to determine their continued eligibility.
The disability criteria will continue to include people with mental or physical impairments that significantly restrict their ability to perform daily activities. In fact, the criteria will specifically address people with episodic illnesses such as mental health disorders in the definition of disability. That means that under this act, there is a greater certainty for people with mental disorders. The disability criteria will focus on functional limitations rather than medical cost,
[ Page 3036 ]
which is in line with the definition of disability under human rights case law.
The disability designation will not be permanent, because not all disabilities are permanent. Conditions improve, medical treatments improve, and assistive technologies improve. However, if a person's condition remains the same, their designation will remain the same. In short, the criteria will be inclusive. No eligible person with a disability will lose their assistance.
We are not ending earnings exemptions for people with disabilities. We are increasing exemptions from $200 to $300 a month. People with disabilities will not face limits to the length of time they can receive assistance. The assistance will be continued for those who are eligible. They will not be subject to a two-year financial independence test that will apply to non-disabled clients. The use of guide dogs will be considered as a qualifying…for an individual for disability assistance.
People with disabilities who are able to work will have a workplan. That plan will set out employment goals and a range of adaptive services available through the ministry. Adaptive services may include specialized job training, job placement, technical equipment, physical accommodation and follow-up in the workplace.
I want to emphasize that the client will continue to receive disability assistance as they participate in all of these programs. Shelter and support will continue. The earning exemptions of $300 a month will be in place. Enhanced medical benefits will also be available. That includes dental and optical as well as the medical supplies and equipment that they may need.
If the individuals with disabilities leave assistance for employment, they will also keep their disability designation and maintain their medical assistance. As I stated earlier, if an individual should be unable to continue working because of the disability, they will have their assistance reinstated immediately.
I thank you for an opportunity to clarify our position. Our ultimate goal is greater independence for people with disabilities including security of income, enhanced well-being and participation in their communities. I believe this legislation will lead us towards that goal.
I thank you, and I move second reading.
Second reading of Bill 27 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 52
NAYS — 3
Hon. M. Coell: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 27, Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Abbott: I call second reading debate on Bill 15.
DEGREE AUTHORIZATION ACT
K. Krueger: I support what this legislation sets out to do. I seek in making my remarks today, to focus government's attention on something which I, my constituents and my colleagues' constituents from the region we serve — and I know my colleagues themselves also — request. That request is that the University College of the Cariboo, our university, receive the very same opportunity through this legislation which the government is providing to private institutions.
You see, my constituents' problem and mine is not with what the bill does but with what it does not do. In her remarks in opening second reading debate, the minister explained how this legislation will protect students from being taken advantage of or misled through anyone inappropriately using the word "university." I will briefly quote the minister, who said: "The bill will also protect students from being misled about the nature of an institution by ensuring the appropriate use of the word 'university.' The bill will do this by limiting the use of the word 'university' to those institutions that have legislative authority or that have gone through the quality assessment process and have obtained consent to use the word 'uni-
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versity' in their names. Transparent criteria will be developed to guide this process as well."
With respect, the University College of the Cariboo has gone through the quality assessment process to represent itself and conduct itself as a university, but it does not have the consent to use that word on a stand-alone basis. Yet it is in fact a university, and a very good one. It issues 40 degrees or variations of degrees, and hundreds of graduates proudly display those degrees in workplaces where they practise the professions for which UCC qualified them.
One of those graduates is my own beloved wife, Debbie Krueger, who teaches grade 1 children in Chase, B.C. Her classes are largely aboriginal children. They come to her as grade 1 children. They leave her class reading, on average, at grade 3 level. She has a unique capacity for reaching aboriginal children and helping them learn to read. I am so proud of the boost she gives them in heading into life with that ability to read.
She was called to the Comox school district to conduct a professional development day for teachers there. Recently she conducted another one for teachers in Kamloops.
A little boy came to her recently and said: "Mrs. Krueger, I used to suck at this, and now I'm really good at it." She comes home with endorsements like that all the time — and UCC trained her.
We had made a decision, as young parents, that one of us would remain home with our own children till they were ready to be pretty much independent, and she did that. For 15 years she was out of the workforce. When she was ready to go back, it was UCC that she went to for her qualifications and credentials. They did us proud, and they did our region proud in training her and many others like her.
UCC is a wonderful institution — its administration, its faculty, its new board and, I will say, past boards as well. Throughout the NDP years, the dark decade of the 1990s, UCC was a shining light, a success story in an otherwise dismal regional economy. During that time we lost 4,000 school children — or we will have shortly — from the 18,000 that used to attend K-to-12 in our school district, but UCC was a beacon of education, of prosperity. It drew people from all around, and the institution is full. We want to keep it that way.
My whole family has attended UCC at one time or another, and we want to continue making it an attractive institution to young people not only from our region but also from around the province, across the country, throughout the continent and around the world. It's a tremendously successful institution at attracting international students. It has, I believe, 950 of them this year.
The British Columbia economy is coming roaring back to life, but we're seeing that primarily in urban settings thus far, and the farther you are from a big urban centre, the longer it's taking to recover from the dark decade of the 1990s. Urban communities are benefiting far more, and rural communities and the smaller cities of the interior are still wounded by the experiences of the 1990s. This government is doing many things to make sure those wounds aren't mortal. Allowing UCC to call itself a university would be one of those things that this government could do.
Our university, the University College of the Cariboo, is tremendously entrepreneurial. It adapts all sorts of programs to the particular needs of students from the interior. It has pioneered a full degree program in journalism. It has a bachelor of science in natural resource management which is unique and uniquely qualifies graduates, who often come out with four and five job offers.
It always struck me that the NDP was something of a pied piper in the way it ushered young families and their children out of this province. Of course, the real pied piper — or the one in the fable, at any rate — at least went with the people that he lured away, but the NDP stuck around. In all of that time, while we were going through all of that heartache, this institution served Kamloops and our region well.
We always said in opposition, and we meant it, that government should get out of the way of entrepreneurs, that government should dispense with unnecessary rules and those things that hold back entrepreneurial endeavours. Let's not hobble UCC, Kamloops's regional university, from competing in an international marketplace, competing for students. They already have the tools. They've proven that. They're bursting at the seams, but they could do even more. They just need permission to use the tools they have — to fully use them.
One aspect to consider is that branding — meaning the use of the term "university" as a brand — is a tremendously important credential, a tremendously important asset. We have students going to Gonzaga University. We have an organization calling itself eBay University that was established in British Columbia just this month, as I understand it — various private institutions, already using the term "university." Yes, this act sets out to regulate how they go about that, but that will be if they confer degrees. As I understand it, it won't be illegal to use the term "university" if they're not purporting to grant degrees.
Yet that word "university" is tremendously important all around the world. University college is not a designation unique to British Columbia. It is actually used in a number of countries around the world. In those countries it means that the university college is a junior institution granting someone else's degrees, so international students do not hold institutions by that name in the same regard as they do institutions that are called universities.
I know that the government is concerned that if the term "university college" changes to simply "university," the commitment to skills training will slip. I am assured that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I'm assured that the same concern existed back when the university college was first arguing to be called a university college. Indeed, skills
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training and that whole side of the university college have remained a vibrant component of the whole operation.
Our university wants to remain a teaching undergraduate university. It is not looking to compete for research and development with the large institutions of British Columbia: UBC, University of Victoria, Simon Fraser. It wants to enhance its ability to attract international students and recruit them, and it wants, frankly, the ability to generate more revenue in doing so, because international students will gladly pay a larger tuition if they're attending a university rather than a university college.
Frankly, the major universities of this province have not served rural students from British Columbia as well as urban students. There are many bars to students from outside the urban centres to come down and get their education at a UBC, a University of Victoria or a Simon Fraser University. There's the cost of living, for example. They don't get to live with their parents who remain up in the interior or throughout the northern Island. There are the selection processes which, however inadvertently, I think tend to be biased against students from outside the urban centres.
An example is medical school, but it's only one example. I'm proud that our government has recently doubled the access to medical schools for students in British Columbia and expanded outside the lower mainland. Recently a Canadian study was released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which says that students from wealthy urban backgrounds still have by far the edge in getting access to medical education in Canada.
It says that doctors usually come from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. It says that the researchers found that Canadian medical students are not representative of the Canadian population, that little has changed since the mid-1960s and that the magnitude of the socioeconomic difference between medical students and the general Canadian population has changed so little that it is very disappointing.
It says that Canadians hold the belief, and I believe this is a legitimate belief, that children of doctors are overrepresented among medical students, and they believe that is more so today than it was 35 years ago. In fact, in 1965 to 1966, 11.6 percent of medical students had a physician parent. Today that figure is 15.6 percent.
The study says that most troubling to rural patients is the shortage of medical students coming from rural areas. While only 10 percent of students come from rural areas, 22 percent of Canada's population resides outside urban centres. It says medical students from rural backgrounds are more likely than students from urban backgrounds to practise in rural areas. This is something that, if governments and universities had addressed it long ago, might have dealt with our shortage of doctors in rural areas.
The report says that Canada is confronting a looming shortage of doctors that is particularly acute in rural areas. It goes on to say, quoting Dr. John Turner, a member of the board of the B.C. Medical Association: "Doctors should come from as wide a background as possible, and students shouldn't be shut out of the medical profession because of costs and their background."
The study went on to note that in UBC's 52-year history as a medical school, only six aboriginal students have ever graduated. Another quote from the study is that "people feel more comfortable going to physicians who speak their language and understand their culture. It's a matter of patient comfort, and we know that the health of the aboriginal community on average is worse than the overall population."
I submit to this House that it isn't just medical school that this pertains to. There's a disadvantage to students from outside the large urban areas not to have access to full universities closer to home — out in the interior, up in the North Island, out where the people come from, out where they want to live.
I make these points to make it clear that UCC, our university, has no interest in trying to compete with the major universities for research dollars. It's perfectly willing to see the government legislatively set in stone that it will not receive additional funding as a result of being considered a university. It fully intends to maintain student access to its skills training programs and that whole side of the institution, but UCC needs to be unshackled by being allowed to call itself a university, just as private institutions that become credentialled through the process established by this legislation will be able to call themselves universities.
A community leader wrote me a lengthy paper on this subject. I will quote only briefly from it. He says:
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This leader says that the act perhaps underestimates the power of branding. It says nothing about private businesses that use the word "university" as a branding tool and offer courses in B.C. without degrees. For example, eBay University has come to Vancouver in April to offer courses on on-line commerce.
This person concludes:
It is a finite student population, and UCC needs to be allowed to use the tools it has already developed to compete within that finite student population market. This government invests $40 million per year in UCC in our region, and certainly we as MLAs are very grateful for that, but this legislation is argued to cause our catchment pool to shrink. We plead for the chance to go out there and compete, to raise funds and to compete with all the other institutions.
UCC already meets all the qualifications, and UCC petitions…. I have a resolution from the new board of directors asking for the government to allow UCC to use the term "university." I won't read the whole thing. I'll provide it to the minister later. It includes a number of whereases.
The motion is: "It is moved that the University College of the Cariboo board of governors write a letter to the Minister of Advanced Education and to the Premier of British Columbia requesting to change the name of UCC immediately to that of a university."
The university college presidents of this province wrote a paper about why this need is so pressing. They point out, for example, that they think MLAs made 22 incorrect references to university colleges during our debate on Bill 28. They point out that, ironically in their view, the B.C. government is considering legislation which will allow private post-secondary institutions from out of province to offer degrees as universities subject to a quality assessment. The B.C. university colleges have already passed that quality assessment but are being denied a brand that will be approved to out-of-province institutions. As well, any private business not governed by ministry legislation can use the word "university" as a brand. Again, they use the eBay University as an example.
I don't want to belabour this point, but I do want to make the point that there is a strong feeling in my region that the legislation misses the boat, with respect, in that it is going to advantage these other institutions by allowing them to do something which university colleges will remain prohibited from doing.
Robert H.T. Smith, a former president pro tem and vice-president academic of the University of British Columbia, wrote in a report called Reflections on the Terms 'University College' and 'University' that "genuine university colleges are not independent — a significant feature that is powerful in shaping the way they are perceived by potential clients and stakeholders nationally and internationally."
There would be many positive impacts of allowing our university college to use the word "university" instead. For students, a regional university would help attract more of the top students from the region. By completing their degrees in the region, they incur less debt, require less tax subsidy and are more likely to find good jobs in the regional economy. They have greater exposure to research and the applications of it in the local context. Graduates from a regional university would benefit from the enhanced credibility attached to the university label by professional associations, graduate schools in other post-secondary
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jurisdictions and major employers. Students would be willing to pay a higher tuition. The additional benefit of receiving their credentials from a university would more than compensate for this extra investment.
There is a high demand for specialized postgraduate certificate programs in professional areas such as business, health and education. Again, professionals in these fields would welcome the opportunity to invest in career and skill enhancement at market costs with the major advantage of being able to study near their homes and near their jobs.
The economy would also benefit. Changing the name from "university college" to "university" would dramatically increase the economic potential of the institution at no additional cost to the taxpayer. This simple change would stimulate economic development and generate major revenue opportunities for the institution, our communities and our region. International students are eager to invest heavily in post-secondary education from universities, a brand that is easily recognized around the world. Our business partners understand the value of brand recognition. They also know that a university helps attract new businesses and highly skilled employees.
Federal funding for research flows to accredited universities. In UCC's case, simply changing the name would make it much easier to gain access to major research funding for projects directly related to our regional economy.
The community would benefit also in increased attractiveness as a strategic alliance partner with business and industry; an increased ability to offer revenue-generating executive education programs; an increased ability to attract industrial research funding; the added credibility of having a university as an attraction and incentive to prospective investors, developers, employers and residents. Regional businesses benefit from the presence of a university in their community as an attraction for high-calibre employees who look to a university to educate their families and for the social and cultural advantages.
The institution would benefit. Faculty recruitment and retention would be more competitive and effective. This will be critical to maintaining quality instruction in the next few years. It would have increased attractiveness as a philanthropic beneficiary. It would have increased competitiveness in the international contract market. It would have increased competitiveness in the international student market. It would have increased ability to service new facility construction through public-private partnerships. It would have increased ability to offer revenue-generating professional degrees. It would have increased ability to compete for federal research grants. Federal research funding agencies that clearly give preference to institutions with the university designation include CANARIE Inc., community futures development corporation, Technology Partnerships Canada, PRE-Competitive Advanced Research Network Incorporated, the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Also, the status of being called a university would have benefits to post-secondary quality and access. Many universities offer certificate and diploma programs. The fact that these come from a university adds real value to these credentials.
Universities have access to opportunities for cost savings and special corporate deals such as greatly reduced cost for software packages or for library resources and other institutional supplies and services. For example, there are a number of licensing opportunities for electronic journals that the universities can gain access to through being a member of these consortia.
A regional university could offer specialized graduate programs at market value, dramatically reducing the flow of B.C. taxpayer funds to the United States or out of province. Becoming a university would open the door to the development of new undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate programs in high-demand, high-cost specialized programs.
Opportunities exist for fee-for-services provided by universities in highly specialized areas such as aptitude and educational assessments for insurance and corporate clients. Various companies promote themselves in part by encouraging the use of their products in educational institutions. Some high-tech industries restrict their support to universities.
Being a university makes it possible to offer advanced programs at a reduced cost. For example, Altera Corporation produces a series of Nios development tools for electrical engineering designs that retail for $15,000 but are available to universities for only about $1,000. University status may make it possible to offer higher-quality high-tech instruction at reduced cost.
I've asked the University College of the Cariboo board, faculty and administration whether there would be drift away from the trades and other college-level programming, and they promised me there would not. They answered that several countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. have universities that offer everything from trades to doctoral programs. No drift has occurred. In fact, they see their ability to combine college and university level programs as a distinct competitive advantage in our local, provincial, national and international markets. Moreover, the boards of governors have the power to prevent any drift and pledge that they would encourage the provincial government to enshrine our comprehensiveness in legislation.
The question is also asked whether a change in name to university would diminish the meaning of the word. The answer is emphatically no. No one confuses Boise State University with Harvard, or Middlesex University with Oxford. In most of North America, university describes both large research institutions like UBC and UC Berkeley, and smaller teaching institutions like Brandon and Boise State.
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To the public, university denotes a degree-granting institution. MacLean's magazine includes the B.C. university colleges in its specialty universities section.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I see that my time is running out, but I hope I've made the point to the government. This is pleasing legislation. This is a good step forward to enhance opportunities and widen the field of options for students in British Columbia. We sincerely ask that the government extend the same provision to University College of the Cariboo and allow it to call itself a university to compete head to head, to continue to prosper and grow and be the leading light in the regional economy that it has been for many years now. Thank you.
K. Manhas: I'm pleased to rise in support of Bill 15, the Degree Authorization Act. Why? Because access to educational opportunities is, in my opinion, one of the biggest challenges we face in the system. We must strive towards increasing access to post-secondary education in British Columbia for more British Columbians. We must strive towards increasing higher education participation in British Columbians so we can increase the number and scope of undergraduate degrees, trades diplomas and vocational programs that are offered at all levels across the province.
We must strive towards the better deployment of finite resources and focus the resources on programs for students. I see that the Minister of Advanced Education has been striving towards doing that and has been doing that throughout our first year in government in British Columbia.
It has been my honour to participate as a member of the Select Standing Committee on Education over this last couple of sessions in parliament. Throughout our hearings, what we heard was that participation and access are limited by the capacity in the system.
The last great innovation in our post-secondary system came through the creation of the university college concept. Since then, the participation in British Columbia's post-secondary system has increased from 65 percent of the Canadian average to 80 percent of the Canadian average.
In our hearings of the Select Standing Committee on Education we heard from a number of people. I'd like to quote Don Avison, who's the president of the University Presidents Council. He says: "Is there a need for enhanced capacity in the university college part of the system? Absolutely."
Members have spoken about that.
He goes on to say:
It's clear we have a significant way to go to increase capacity and opportunities for students in British Columbia.
I'd also like to quote Scott MacInnis, who reported to the committee. He's director of research and accountability services for the Centre for Education Information.
I believe this bill endeavours to begin addressing that issue. I think we're at a critical crossroads in our system of higher education program delivery in British Columbia. Our education system, and especially our advanced education system, is ripe for renewal, reorganization and reform. Through this and other legislation, this government is recognizing the powers and possibilities for innovation that the advanced education sector has to provide a foundation for future success in this province.
I think we must recognize our strengths, our weaknesses and the ideal vision for the future of our system. We must recognize our universities, because they have excellent facilities and excellent delivery of programming, but we must also acknowledge that universities were not intended to be a job prerequisite. They have a very important role in society: to expand and further knowledge, to continue the advancement of knowledge by entrusting and encouraging the discovery of new knowledge. They have a role as independent centres of thought and debate that is not only healthy but, I think, obligatory to a well-functioning society.
We must also acknowledge that not everyone needs to go through university. We must recognize the value of instructional focus delivery, vocational focus delivery and applied programming delivery. In British Columbia we desperately need to expand the use and capability of comprehensive primarily instruction-based, instruction-focused institutions —
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ones that offer career, technical, skills training, continuing education, undergraduate degrees, applied degrees, applied graduate degrees, developmental trades, university transfer and vocational programs.
These are all programs that this bill is focused on increasing and allowing public institutions to bolster and continue to grow so more British Columbians can access them, and also programs that private universities are in a great position to capitalize on. Private universities have a market where students who are focused on looking for educational opportunities that provide career development or career opportunities can go to provide themselves with the educational requirements they need to get into that position.
I think we need to increase in our scope of importance these programs and these institutions — the institutions that are responsive to their local and regional areas, that are universally accessible, that are accessible to more citizens, that focus on student-centred instruction, that focus on instruction as their primary mandate, that have strong connections with industry, that are market-driven, that offer some applied graduate programming and research, and that share their programming across the system.
This bill allows those important system institutions — our colleges, university colleges and institutions — to do those things that allow them to focus on their strengths. Greg Lee, the president of Capilano College, had some interesting things to say about the role that colleges may take in British Columbia. He says:
Essentially, what he's saying is that colleges inherently have the ability and the name to be able to offer the degrees. In a sense, colleges should be bolstered so that the respect we have for colleges and what they do is increased. We don't simply need educational terminology to determine the degree of respect we have for an institution. He goes on to say:
He goes on to say:
That is exactly what this bill has been put forward to do: to allow those colleges to capitalize on what it is that is their specialty, so they can continue to develop centres of excellence around the specialties they're good at. Private institutions, on the other hand…. B.C. has a longstanding history of private education. In my area we have many institutions like Coquitlam College Inc., Barkel Business School Ltd., the CDI College of Business and Technology, Sprott-Shaw Community College Ltd., Hot Soul Music, the Academy of Learning. We have more in the area: IIT, the University of Phoenix, the Vancouver Film School.
All have tremendous reputations for what they do teach, for the opportunities they are able to offer citizens and students in their programs. There's no reason to be ashamed of what they offer. Despite the fact that a great many British Columbians have significantly benefited from increased life opportunities because of private educational institutions, there's still a fear among a few of fly-by-night private colleges.
To those people, I believe this bill will better safeguard against fly-by-nights by ensuring institutions that are able to offer degrees have certain requirements, that only bona fide post-secondary institutions will be able to grant or confer degrees in British Columbia and that they will need to go through stringent quality assessment processes. The act allows the minister to establish security requirements which are satisfactory to the minister, such as an irrevocable letter of credit or bond or more. There are requirements that ensure student access to transcripts, and the degree must be approved by the minister.
I believe this bill doesn't shackle universities, either, from offering whatever they choose or deem appropriate. What it does is allow applied programming to be developed, focused on and retained at colleges, university colleges, institutes and private institutions. These are the institutions that focus on applied instruction opportunities. By applied, we mean knowledge applied to practical fields.
The purpose of applied degrees is to prepare students for employment upon graduation and to provide a way to respond to evolving, industry-driven, career preparation needs as the demand for advanced knowledge and technical skills grows. Applied degree programs will be closely linked to a specific labour market need and combine theory and hands-on practice in a
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specific technical or career area while addressing the need to develop generic skills such as analytical and critical approaches to problem-solving.
Applied programs can run in fields from aerospace to tourism, the key being that the field utilizes existing knowledge and applies it to some practical use. That is often the focus of colleges, university colleges and institutes. What this bill now allows is for those institutions to retain that field and the bright minds in it to think about advancing that field and constructively working to find solutions to problems of interest in that field in their area. That, in turn, ensures that we move forward on fields of local interest by retaining bright minds as well as creating centres of excellence in particular fields, adding to and enhancing local economies.
As the president of the Okanagan University College, Katy Bindon, put it:
Mr. Speaker, they can now.
To quote Roger Barnsley, president of the University College of the Cariboo:
I'm pleased that the government and the Minister of Advanced Education have put a bill forward that has allowed them to do exactly what they want to offer for the students of their area.
To wrap up, I believe that to ensure that B.C. has a strong and sustainable economy in an increasingly competitive global economy, it is necessary to rethink the traditional structures of education and find ways to make our education system more competitive and efficient. I believe that with each passing day, week and month, this government is allowing British Columbia to do just that.
Mr. Speaker: Second reading of Bill 15. The Minister of Advanced Education closes debate.
Hon. S. Bond: I am very pleased to bring some very brief closing comments, recognizing the lateness of the hour. I want to thank very much my colleagues for their passionate expression of interest in this particular piece of legislation.
This bill is all about access. It is all about providing opportunity for students in British Columbia. It's about increasing choice, and it's about thinking of new and innovative ways to do that. We believe — and it has been pointed out by a number of members — that there are already private providers in the province giving opportunities for students. We believe that there's opportunity to enhance how we work together. We think the system we have and the variety of models that are in place are an advantage and a benefit to the students of this province.
I am very pleased with the opportunity we have given to both the existing institutions and other private providers to provide for them opportunity to bring choice, more access and flexibility for students of British Columbia. Access will be a challenge in this province over the next number of years as we are one of the provinces in Canada that will continue to experience growth in the cohort of students that want to attend post-secondary education.
As a government we believe in the importance of post-secondary education. We think this is one way to increase opportunity, to expand access. We've demonstrated our commitment to post-secondary education, and I believe that this piece of legislation will simply help us as we help to meet the needs of students in the province.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 15, Degree Authorization Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Abbott moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 8:57 p.m.
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2002: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada