2002 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MAY 13, 2002
Volume 7, Number 12
|Introductions by Members||3377|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||3377|
|Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 42)
Hon. G. Bruce
Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 48)
Hon. G. Bruce
Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 49)
Hon. G. Bruce
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||3378|
|Recognition of work of police officers
Volunteer marine rescue organizations
Education system advocates
|Mental health services for persons with schizophrenia
Hon. G. Cheema
Mental health services for Sunshine Coast
Hon. G. Cheema
Citizens' assembly on electoral reform
Hon. G. Plant
Death of Frank Joseph Paul
Hon. R. Coleman
Grizzly bear protection
Hon. J. Murray
|Draft letter pertaining to the Vancouver coastal health authority
Map regarding bear habitation
Judicial Compensation Committee report, 2002
B.C. Assessment Authority financial statements report, 2000
First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council, annual report, 2000-01
|Committee of the Whole House||3382|
|Protected Areas Forests Compensation Act (Bill 39)
Hon. M. de Jong
|Reporting of Bills||3383|
|Protected Areas Forests Compensation Act (Bill 39)|
|Third Reading of Bills||3383|
|Protected Areas Forests Compensation Act (Bill 39)|
|Committee of the Whole House||3383|
|Forests Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 40)|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||3383|
|Forests Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 40)|
|Committee of the Whole House||3383|
Forest (First Nations Development) Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 41)
Hon. M. de Jong
|Reporting of Bills||3384|
|Forest (First Nations Development) Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 41)|
|Third Reading of Bills||3384|
|Forest (First Nations Development) Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 41)|
|Second Reading of Bills||3384|
|Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 50)
Hon. S. Bond
Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 51)
Hon. R. Coleman
|Committee of the Whole House||3389|
|School Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 34) (continued)
Hon. C. Clark
|Reporting of Bills||3407|
|School Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 34)|
|Third Reading of Bills||3407|
|School Amendment Act, 2002 (Bill 34)|
|Committee of the Whole House||3407|
|Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act (Bill 27)
Hon. M. Coell
[ Page 3377 ]
MONDAY, MAY 13, 2002
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. L. Reid: I have the enormous pleasure and privilege today to introduce individuals representing the Salvation Army. We have commissioners Luttrell, Bill and Gwen, CEOs for both Canada and Bermuda, and the Copples, who are based in Vancouver. They're the CEOs for British Columbia South. They do amazing work in our province and across this country, and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to introduce them to this Legislature today. I would ask the House to please make them extremely welcome.
R. Harris: Since I've been elected, in Victoria I've had the pleasure, as a lot of members have, of meeting and working with a number of young people who work down here in the Legislature. Today we're joined in the House by Lisa Oldham from the east annex. Would the House make her feel welcome, please.
P. Nettleton: I'd like members to join me in welcoming, all the way from the lovely community of Fort St. James, Mayor Jim Togyi and his wife Ellen Togyi, as well as residents Walter and Del Dagenais.
J. Bray: I have a couple of introductions. First, it's my pleasure to introduce to the House Andrew Clark and Christine Harvey. Andrew and Christine maintain a residence here in Victoria. They also pursue some business interests in Sacramento, but they feel and know that Victoria is their true home. I ask that the House please make them very welcome.
I also notice up in the gallery somebody from my riding who worked extremely hard on my campaign and has become a wonderful friend. She also works here in the Legislature. I would ask the House to please give an enthusiastic welcome to Rosie Debretzy.
Hon. G. Halsey-Brandt: It's indeed a pleasure this afternoon to introduce Nick Loenen, who was an MLA serving in the Legislature in the 1980s and early 1990s. I know he's active as a writer and a teacher, a contributor in terms of voting structure across Canada and in British Columbia. May the House make him welcome this afternoon.
Hon. S. Bond: I am very pleased today to welcome a special guest to the precinct, Mr. Speaker. On your behalf, I want to welcome Dr. Martha Salcudean. Dr. Salcudean is the professor emeritus and Weyerhaeuser chair at the University of British Columbia, where she served as head of the department of mechanical engineering and associate vice-president of research. She's an amazing person. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, a recipient of the Isaac Walton Killam Memorial Prize in engineering and a member of the Order of British Columbia. In addition, she has been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Ottawa and the University of British Columbia. I'm very pleased to introduce Dr. Salcudean today because she has also agreed to serve as the chair of the new Leading Edge Endowment Fund society. I know she's going to do a fabulous job. Please help make her welcome to the precinct today.
W. McMahon: It's a pleasure today to introduce Jeevan Atwal, an assistant legislative assistant working with us in the east annex. I ask the House to please make her welcome.
R. Stewart: I'm very pleased today to be able to recognize my very special daughter, Vanessa, who is here today. She is writing a report for school. Would the House please make Vanessa very welcome.
Hon. G. Bruce: I, too, have an introduction today, although she actually isn't one that needs to be introduced to the House, because she spends as much time down here as I do. In the gallery today is my wife, Anneke. With her is one of my daughters, Tanya, and one of my sons, Ryan. I would ask the House that you encourage them with a robust round of applause.
I. Chong: Today I am pleased to welcome a grade 5 class from Glenlyon-Norfolk School who are here having a tour of the Legislature. I will be meeting with them shortly after question period, and I know they'll pose a number of questions. They're here today with their teacher, Ms. Davidson, and I ask the House to please make them very welcome.
First Reading of Bills
LABOUR RELATIONS CODE
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. G. Bruce presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2002.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move that Bill 42 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bruce: Today I'm pleased to introduce Bill 42, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2002.
Bill 42 strengthens the existing purposes section of the code to ensure that the Labour Relations Board will base its decisions on the actual purposes of the legislation. Fundamental to these purposes is the development of economically viable businesses from which employment and the right to trade union representation arises.
[ Page 3378 ]
It also adds a clear recognition of the substantive rights and obligations of employers, trade unions and employees. The bill clarifies the existing right to communicate and balances that right with specific protection from intimidation or coercion.
These changes provide a framework in British Columbia for workers who can choose union representation and employers to build healthy enterprises that can compete on a world scale in the twenty-first century.
In addition to this bill, we will also be undertaking further consultation to find ways to modernize labour relations in B.C., as many of the different and various labour unions have asked me to do. We're encouraging employees and employers to develop healthy workplace relationships that lead to good, sustainable jobs.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 42 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. G. Bruce presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2002.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move that Bill 48 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm pleased to introduce Bill 48, the Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2002.
Modernizing employment standards is an important part of our government's overall goal of encouraging employees and employers to develop healthy workplace relationships that lead to good, sustainable jobs. I am very pleased that this bill will help us accomplish just that.
The changes in this bill follow through on commitments made before the 2001 election in the New Era document, in which we promised to give workers and employers greater flexibility in employment standards to negotiate mutually beneficial relationships that help them compete and prosper.
This bill gives employees and employers the flexibility to create hours-of-work agreements that suit their needs, guided by the model of the 40-hour work week.
It increases protection for vulnerable workers through focused enforcement of employment standards rules and stiffer penalties for employers who would break the law.
It makes employment standards easier to understand, so employees know their rights, and employers properly apply the rules.
This bill balances safeguards for working people while giving flexibility for employees and employers to succeed in a competitive economy.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 48 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. G. Bruce presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2002.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move that Bill 49 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm pleased to introduce Bill 49, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2002.
This bill amends the Workers Compensation Act to introduce a number of changes to workers compensation benefits and establish a new board-of-directors structure for the WCB.
It introduces a new method for calculating workers compensation benefits using 90 percent of average net earnings as the basis of these calculations.
The bill provides for wage replacement benefits to be provided to age 65, at which point a lump sum retirement benefit is paid to permanently injured workers. It alters the method of calculating inflation adjustments to wage replacement benefits and adjusts benefits in cases where an injured worker is also receiving a Canada Pension Plan disability pension.
This bill clarifies coverage for mental stress, explicitly stating that coverage will only be provided for mental stress when it is an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event or the result of an injury or disease for which the worker is entitled to compensation. This bill establishes a new governance structure for the Workers Compensation Board.
I move that the Workers Compensation Amendment Act be read a first time now.
Bill 49 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25b)
RECOGNITION OF WORK
OF POLICE OFFICERS
D. Hayer: It is with both pride and honour that I rise to address this House — honour that I can recognize and congratulate police officers who have served above and beyond the call of duty and pride, because
[ Page 3379 ]
many years ago, before I was elected MLA to represent Surrey-Tynehead, as the president of the Surrey Chamber of Commerce, I initiated the program that is the subject of this statement.
Wednesday night, my Surrey MLA colleagues from Surrey-Cloverdale, Surrey–Green Timbers, Surrey-Whalley and I, along with the Solicitor General, who was the featured guest speaker, had the pleasure of attending the sixth annual Surrey Chamber of Commerce Police Officer of the Year Awards. For six years Surrey Chamber, the city of Surrey and certainly the many constituents of my riding of Surrey-Tynehead have recognized these police officers who have served and have given far beyond what is required.
The Surrey RCMP officer who was nominated by the community at large as the police officer of the year for 2002 is Constable Mike Wilson. I ask this House to congratulate Constable Wilson's achievement by giving an extra-long round of applause at the end of this statement.
Also, I want to recognize Constable Mike Petrilli, who was named officer of the year by his fellow officers, volunteers and the staff of Surrey RCMP detachment. There is no form of praise greater than that of one's peers.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, others recognized at the awards ceremony in my riding of Surrey-Tynehead were Staff Sgt. Richard Deets, who received the community policing initiative award; Langley Chrysler for the business partnership award; Margaret Pattyson for the volunteer of the year award; and Janice Spraggs for the employee of the year award. I would ask all members to join me in congratulating these fine officers and citizens. Thank you.
R. Sultan: Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell you today about two organizations that maintain British Columbia's proud tradition of volunteer life-saving on the water. The first is the Canadian Lifeboat Institution, which operates two 44-foot lifeboats, Steveston and Deltaport. These heavy-duty twin diesel, self-righting vessels can make 18 knots and survive heavy weather.
About 100 volunteers purchase, operate and maintain these rescue vessels at no cost to the government. They are good insurance against a 747 landing short at the Vancouver runway or a possible cruise ship fire. The Lifeboat Institution also deals with other confusions of marine life. For example, member John Horton contributes his former admiral's barge, Artist's Life. Last year he was asked by the Coast Guard to check out a vessel showing up on their radar doing 360-degree turns in Active Pass. He found an inexperienced boater, using a Petro-Canada highway map, trying to find the exit in the fog.
The second, much larger organization locally is the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. The auxiliary is, again, self-supporting unpaid volunteers operating with non-government funding, although the Coast Guard does pay for their fuel. The auxiliary provides a maximum 30-minute dispatch time, something like a volunteer fire brigade in smaller communities. They purchase, with their own money and local contribution, rigid-hull inflatables which can be driven up to 50 knots by twin outboards. These small, fast, shallow-draft vessels are based in Point Roberts, Crescent Beach, Steveston, the north arm of the Fraser, Deep Cove, Gibsons and Fishermans Cove in Port Moody, merely to cite those on the lower mainland.
Our marine environment is hostile. Fall overboard, and you have about 20 minutes before hypothermia gets you. Each year the several hundred volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and of Canadian Lifeboat rescue many mariners in distress. Those of us who enjoy the water are deeply indebted to these unsung, unpaid, largely unrecognized volunteers, and they deserve our thanks.
EDUCATION SYSTEM ADVOCATES
R. Stewart: I stand today to recognize those people who support and advocate for our school system. Of course, that doesn't narrow it down much, since there are many groups that support and advocate for education. There are parents, who in a very real way have a stake in what happens in our schools. There are students, who more and more are hoping to have a voice in the type of education they receive. There are school trustees entrusted by taxpayers in each community with the responsibility to run our school system. There is society in general, for whom the education system holds the economic and social future of its citizens.
There certainly are the professional teachers. The teaching profession is the cornerstone of the school system, and professional teachers should be valued and respected for the enormous responsibility they hold and for the professionalism with which they tackle their responsibilities. Each of us, I suspect, has fond memories of a special teacher — a teacher who went out of his or her way to reach a child, to instil both knowledge and wisdom, to develop the natural thirst for knowledge in his or her students.
I know of teachers who arrive at 7:30 a.m. or who are still at the school in the evenings, teachers who have spent weekends away from home at sports tournaments or band concerts or other field trips, teachers who stay up until midnight marking exams or writing reports or planning the next day's lessons, teachers who recognize that parental involvement has an enormous influence on a student's success, teachers who welcome parents into the classroom and into school life. In fact, I'm married to one such teacher.
Teachers are important, but teachers tell me how important parents are too. I believe it's entirely appropriate that we have given parents a stronger voice in our school system, and I believe that professional
[ Page 3380 ]
teachers would concur. The role of parents is to raise their children and to advocate for their children. It is very important that we listen to these voices and pay heed to the wisdom behind them. Therefore, I salute the professional teachers and the parents of our school system, with the hope that they will continue to work together for our students.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
FOR PERSONS WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA
J. MacPhail: The week before last we asked the Minister of State for Mental Health about the funding cut to the North Shore schizophrenia society. The minister was very clear. He told the House that the Vancouver coastal health authority had been put on notice and that cuts like this will not be tolerated. He said it would not be tolerated. It's been almost two weeks. The North Shore schizophrenia society still doesn't have its funding.
To the Minister of State for Mental Health: when is he going to keep his promise to mental health patients on the North Shore and order the health authority to reinstate funding to the North Shore schizophrenia society?
Hon. G. Cheema: During last week's question period I made it very clear that we have given clear guidelines and that those guidelines must be met. Those expectations are very important for mental health patients, and we expect that they will be met. In the meantime, I have been in touch with the health authorities, and I'm waiting for a positive reply.
Our main focus is patients and their families. Mental health, which has been ignored in the past, will not be ignored. This member knows better than that.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition with a supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: Gosh, I wonder what kind of advocate that is when a phone call still isn't delivering, and in fact, the cuts are getting worse. Patients are actually wondering why they're still seeing their services disappear.
It's not only the North Shore schizophrenia society that has been cut. The schizophrenia society in Sechelt has lost funding for its eight-hour-a-week staff position as well as funding for its respite worker.
How does the Minister of State for Mental Health feel about these cuts? Does he need to make another phone call? Does he think that they should be tolerated? If not, when is he going to stop just begging the coastal health authority to change its mind? Why doesn't he order the health authority to backtrack, reverse the cuts and fund the schizophrenia societies?
Hon. G. Cheema: During the campaign we made a commitment to fully fund and implement the mental health plan. Not only are we funding a $125 million mental health plan, but we are also funding an additional $138 million.
We don't need to have a lecture from the NDP. Let me just read from one article. This is from a Vancouver Sun article of April 1, 2000. The headline was "Mental Health Policy: Another Bogus NDP Policy." "The announcement in the provincial capital two years ago was a classic example of the NDP party's style of policy-making: big, brassy and ultimately bogus." The member opposite was Minister of Health. She admitted that they were not doing enough.
We made a commitment, and we are fulfilling that promise. In one year we have done more than the NDP government did in the last ten years.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a further supplementary.
J. MacPhail: Gosh, let's see how that works. The programs for the mentally ill and their families that have been in place for years are being cut, and this Minister of State for Mental Health stands up and somehow thinks he's an advocate?
Not only has his government cut funding to the schizophrenia society in Sechelt, but they've also chopped the number of mental health outreach workers in the community in half. Those outreach workers are a critical part of providing care to patients and families that are suffering from mental illness. They provide support, education and advice to families and patients who are in crisis, helping them navigate through a very difficult health time.
Let's see. These programs have been in place and fully funded for years; now they're being cut. Again, the minister said he wouldn't tolerate cuts to mental health programs. Was that just more spin from the minister, or could he actually stand up and say: "I meant what I said"?
Hon. G. Cheema: If this member thinks that spending $125 million is a cut for Mental Health, then she's wrong. If this member thinks that spending $1.1 billion more on health care this year is a cut, then this member is wrong. We are spending…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Cheema: …close to $10.3 billion for health care in this province, and Mental Health is getting a fair share of the funding. We are investing in health care which will have a long-term impact on mental health in this province.
We wish they had done that. She's fearful because we'll be successful. She's not fearful because patients will suffer.
[ Page 3381 ]
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
FOR SUNSHINE COAST
J. Kwan: All the minister has to do is ensure that the funding is in place for these programs. It seems this government is intentionally trying to make life miserable for mental health patients on the Sunshine Coast.
The Minister of State for Mental Health has also eliminated funding for the Arrowhead drop-in centre for mental health patients in Sechelt. It's going to have to close its doors at the end of June. The Arrowhead mental health drop-in centre provides an invaluable service to the community. It provides meals and activities, it coordinates a larger volunteer program, it operates a greenhouse, and it employs an advocate. Mental health patients in Sechelt are devastated by the closure of their drop-in centre. They don't know where to turn now that their $51,000 grant has been eliminated by this government.
Again, to the Minister of State for Mental Health: would the minister like to explain to the patients why they have to tolerate the closure of their centre when the minister promised them that he wouldn't?
Hon. G. Cheema: Mr. Speaker, during that campaign a promise was made. A promise was made to fully fund and implement the mental health plan. We have done that. We are not only spending $125 million extra; we will be spending $138 million extra. What has to be done…. This member must understand that we have given them clear guidelines, and those guidelines must be met. We should not be micromanaging the health care system. This is important for patients and their families, and all the advocacy groups in this province are working with us, unlike the NDP. They were not working with them.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: Let's just recap. The Minister of State for Mental Health told mental health patients and their families that he won't tolerate cuts to mental health services, but in the community of Sechelt mental health services are being wiped out. They've lost their outreach workers. They've lost their respite worker. They've lost their part-time outreach coordinator. Now they've lost their mental health drop-in centre. That's just in Sechelt. These are the cuts that are being replicated throughout the province.
Either the minister wasn't being truthful when he said that cuts won't be tolerated, or someone is disobeying his orders. To the minister: will he today get out his pen and paper and write a letter to the Vancouver health authority ordering them to follow up his directive and reinstate funding for all of these mental health services in Sechelt? If it would help, I have already drafted a letter for the minister. All he has to do is sign it.
J. MacPhail: Hear, hear. Just sign the letter.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Cheema: Any development for the mental health policy in this province must be done in consultation with the health care providers, advocacy groups, the families and the patients. For the last ten months I have met with many groups, and the policies are being developed in consultation with all of them. The main objective is to serve the patients and their families. The health authorities are working with us, and we are ensuring that they will meet those standards. For the first time in any part of this country we have certain goals, and those objectives must be met. They will only improve the patients and their health in this province.
ON ELECTORAL REFORM
J. Bray: My question is to the Attorney General. Today the three-year vote campaign has been launched to push for the implementation of a proportional representation system to elect MLAs. This is an issue of great interest in my constituency. In the New Era document the government committed to appointing a citizens' assembly on electoral reform to assess all possible models for electing MLAs. Could the Attorney General tell us when this commitment will be fulfilled?
Hon. G. Plant: Well, yes. Prior to the last election we recognized that there was growing public interest in the subject of electoral reform, and we said that if elected, we would create a citizens' assembly that would consider proposals for electoral reform. We intend to keep that commitment. It was a commitment made in the New Era document, and we are certainly beginning the work to implement that citizen's assembly. I look forward to completing that work in the months ahead.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has a supplementary question.
J. Bray: Well, a number of forums have been held throughout the province advocating the need for a move towards proportional representation, and I attended a large one here in Victoria. Could the Attorney General tell us whether the government supports proportional representation?
Hon. G. Plant: There are many ideas for electoral reform. Proportional representation is one of them. Of course, there is also the possibility that a group of citizens examining all the alternatives might determine that our system, the current system, for all of its features and sometimes its flaws, is the best.
We as a government believe that the best way to advance the discussion of electoral reform is to ask a group of citizens to consider it, and we will not have a
[ Page 3382 ]
position on proportional representation or any other model. That is exactly why we have decided that we should have a citizens' assembly: to ask a group of citizens those very important questions. We intend to keep that promise.
DEATH OF FRANK JOSEPH PAUL
T. Bhullar: My question is to the Solicitor General. Over the past weeks I've had numerous correspondence with internal affairs of the Vancouver police department and the police complaint commissioner concerning the death of Frank Joseph Paul, a homeless person. This correspondence indicates that the Solicitor's office was satisfied that there was no serious wrongdoing in this matter, and the file was closed. Would the Solicitor General please tell the House the precise nature of the review by his office in this matter?
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, I don't comment on an independent office of the Legislature in any investigation it may be conducting, but I will clarify for the member that we did have a request from the commissioner with regards to a coroner's inquest. We advised that a coroner's inquest was not warranted in this case. In the Paul case a coroner's inquiry was held, and the coroner's file was closed. A report with recommendations was published.
After a file has been closed, a formal coroner's inquest can be ordered only if (a) the coroner neglects to hold an inquest or (b) an inquest has been held, and it's in the interests of justice to hold another inquest. In my opinion, neither of these conditions applies.
A coroner's inquest is not the forum to assign blame for deaths or to conduct cross-examination of witnesses. In fact, the Coroners Act prohibits findings of fault or blame. The coroner is there to determine whether a death is natural and, if not, give recommendations to help prevent future deaths. The coroner performed his duty by identifying Mr. Paul, the approximate time, date and place of his death and the cause of death. Four recommendations were made to the Vancouver city police. It is our expectation that they be acted upon. I understand that they have been, to help prevent any future or similar deaths in the future.
GRIZZLY BEAR PROTECTION
J. Kwan: The Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection constantly defends her scientifically based approach to environmental management, but when it comes to grizzly bears, it's shoot first because the science doesn't matter. Just today her ministry has issued a press release extending the grizzly bear hunt on Vancouver Island throughout this fall.
Mr. Speaker, there are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island, nor have there ever been any. This has been confirmed by the minister's own website. Just how much faith can British Columbians have in the judgment of a minister tasked with protecting grizzlies and their habitats when she doesn't even know where they are?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. J. Murray: The NDP imposed a blanket moratorium on grizzly bear hunting contrary to the advice of the wildlife biologists and scientists in the ministry. When we were elected, we listened to the scientists in the ministry, and we lifted the blanket moratorium, because we are committed to make these decisions based on science, not based on politics.
[End of question period.]
J. Kwan: I seek leave to table documents.
J. Kwan: I rise to table two documents. The first one is a draft letter that I've prepared for the signature of the Minister of State for Mental Health to direct the Vancouver coastal health authority to not make any cuts in the area of mental health.
The second document is a map arising out of the Minister for Water, Land and Air Protection's website, and it highlights where the bears inhabit British Columbia. It shows that, in fact, there have never been bears inhabiting Vancouver Island.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, just for the benefit of members, you can ask leave to table a document, but you cannot read from the document.
Hon. G. Plant: Pursuant to section 32.1(11) of the Provincial Court Act, I wish to table before the Legislative Assembly the 2002 Judicial Justice Compensation Committee report and commend to all members the provisions of section 32.1 and the procedure established therein.
Hon. S. Hagen: I wish to table a report from the B.C. Assessment Authority on the financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2000.
Hon. G. Abbott: I have the honour to table the 2000-01 annual report of the First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call committee stage of Bill 39.
Committee of the Whole House
PROTECTED AREAS FORESTS
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 39; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
[ Page 3383 ]
The committee met at 2:43 p.m.
Sections 1 to 10 inclusive approved.
Hon. M. de Jong: I wonder if we might go to section 7 of the bill, Mr. Chairman.
On section 7.
Hon. M. de Jong: I have an amendment that I'll table with the Chair.
The Chair: I'll just call for this again.
Sections 1 to 6 inclusive approved.
Section 7 as amended approved.
Sections 8 to 10 inclusive approved.
Hon. M. de Jong: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 2:44 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
Bill 39, Protected Areas Forests Compensation Act, reported complete with amendment.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. M. de Jong: With leave, now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 39, Protected Areas Forests Compensation Act, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call committee to consider Bill 40.
Committee of the Whole House
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 40; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:46 p.m.
Sections 1 to 17 inclusive approved.
Hon. M. de Jong: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 2:47 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 40, Forests Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call the committee to consider Bill 41.
Committee of the Whole House
FOREST (FIRST NATIONS DEVELOPMENT)
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 41; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:48 p.m.
Sections 1 to 5 inclusive approved.
On section 6.
Hon. M. de Jong: I move the amendment on section 6 presented to the Table.
Section 6 as amended approved.
Sections 7 to 11 inclusive approved.
[ Page 3384 ]
Hon. M. de Jong: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 2:49 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
Bill 41, Forest (First Nations Development) Amendment Act, 2002, reported complete with amendment.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. M. de Jong: With leave, now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 41, Forest (First Nations Development) Amendment Act, 2002, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 50.
Second Reading of Bills
ADVANCED EDUCATION STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 50, Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, be now read a second time.
This bill amends the Engineers and Geoscientists Act and the Technical University of British Columbia Act. I would like to speak to the amendments. First, the Engineers and Geoscientists Act. These amendments will authorize the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. to make bylaws requiring that members of the association carry primary and secondary liability insurance.
In addition, the amendments will authorize the association to establish insurance fees and other fees either by bylaw or under the authority of a bylaw. These amendments will allow the association to participate in a national secondary-liability insurance program established by the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers. The amendments will also enable the association to make bylaws establishing the circumstances under which its members are required to hold primary liability insurance.
Additionally, the amendments will authorize the association to establish insurance fees either by bylaw or under the authority of a bylaw. This will provide the association with the flexibility to adjust fees in response to changes in the insurance market. For consistency, the amendments will also authorize council to establish other fees either by bylaw or under the authority of a bylaw.
By authorizing the association to require members to maintain insurance, this legislation will help to improve liability coverage for engineers and geoscientists in the province and increase consumer protection.
I would also like to comment on the amendments to the Technical University of British Columbia Act. This bill will amend the Technical University of British Columbia Act so that the government can appoint a transition administrator to wind up the Technical University of British Columbia. The amendments will also provide for transfer of the university's assets and liabilities and for repeal of the Technical University of British Columbia Act.
Continued operation of the Technical University of British Columbia in its current form is simply not feasible. Since it was established in 1997, the Technical University of British Columbia has consistently failed to meet its original mandate in terms of enrolment, operating costs, funding and industry partnerships. Government has increased funding for the Technical University of British Columbia several times and has repeatedly adjusted enrolment targets downward.
Government has worked with the Technical University of British Columbia to try to find a solution to keep the university going in its present form. However, we have not been able to find a solution that assures certainty for students and is fiscally responsible.
We want to ensure a smooth transition for all stakeholders, and this legislation will help to ensure that happens. In particular, student needs have been this government's top priority in making decisions around the future of the Technical University of British Columbia. In winding up the Technical University, this commitment will continue. The amendments to the Technical University of British Columbia Act will allow for a transition administrator to oversee the winding up of the university and to transfer the rights, property and assets of the university.
I'm very pleased to say that the Technical University of British Columbia's assets will be transferred to Simon Fraser University, which has agreed to accommodate existing Technical University of British Columbia students and to continue the same range of program offerings as the Technical University of British Columbia. Simon Fraser University will also be accommodating as many Technical University of British Columbia faculty and staff as possible.
Simon Fraser University has agreed to maintain a presence in Surrey and has also committed to expanding enrolment in Surrey. This will benefit students, faculty and staff of the Technical University of British Columbia. The city of Surrey and Surrey residents will also benefit from having a satellite campus of a major university located in the city.
Government has also taken steps to ensure that current Technical University of British Columbia students do not face any disruption to their education
[ Page 3385 ]
during the transition period. Current students will be able to complete their year at the university and will be offered the possibility of earning a degree from Simon Fraser University.
Not only is the Simon Fraser University proposal good for students, it is also fiscally responsible. In fact, the Simon Fraser University proposal will cost $22.4 million less over three years than the continued operation of the Technical University of British Columbia under its most recent business plan.
This legislation demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that British Columbia has a top-notch advanced education system with sound financial management. It will ensure that the needs of students are met and that public post-secondary education in this province is delivered in a fiscally responsible manner that benefits all British Columbians.
J. Kwan: Bill 50 marks a substantive setback to education in this province, as the majority of the provisions in this bill have the purpose of eliminating the Technical University of British Columbia.
Tech B.C. is an innovative and dynamic organization that delivers high-quality high-tech training to the people of British Columbia. Tech B.C. is the only university-industry hybrid in Canada. At Tech B.C. learning takes place in the classroom, the real world and the virtual world, giving students the right mix of theory, hands-on practice and workplace skills in a high-tech environment. Research happens in interdisciplinary teams, addressing such areas as design management, on-line learning systems, human-computer interfaces and computer games systems.
Tech B.C. is an initiative that should be supported and encouraged, yet this government has chosen to hinder this innovative organization by eliminating the governing board of the university and making Tech B.C. a satellite campus of Simon Fraser University.
The New Era document outlines the goals this government has for advanced education in British Columbia. Among the many goals listed in the document are: "Double the number of graduates in computer science and electrical and computer engineering within five years," and "Strengthen our network of colleges, institutes and on-line learning throughout the province." That's a direct quote from the New Era document. While the government expresses these sentiments in the New Era document, the government's policies towards Tech B.C. hinder the realization of these two goals. Tech B.C. provided an innovative model for assisting and furthering these two goals. Eliminating Tech B.C. is a serious setback to these goals.
In a press release issued by the government on February 7, 2002, the minister stated the plan to make Tech B.C. a satellite of SFU: "It's a solution that meets the needs of students and provides certainty." In my estimation, a great deal of uncertainty remains for students interested in studying technology in this province.
One issue of concern is the lack of support that this government has provided to the institutions that provide on-line and other alternative learning methods. Tech B.C. is a leader in this field. Tom Calvert, the vice-president of research and external affairs for Tech B.C., is the co-creator of Virtual U software, a well-respected telelearning program. According to Mr. Calvert: "Our goal at Tech B.C. is to use telelearning to the greatest extent that's sensible, and this is partly because we think you can do good teaching but also to increase access." That was from the Vancouver Sun, November 12, 1998.
Tech B.C. is a centre that attracts faculty and students who are leaders in the field of on-line learning because it is the only university of its kind in the country. Amalgamating Tech B.C. with SFU, I believe, will diminish the capacity of this program to attract the best and the brightest in on-line learning innovation, because Tech B.C.'s unique university model will be lost when Tech B.C. integrates into the existing SFU structure.
The uncertainty regarding this government's commitment to distance learning is also evident in the government's approach to the Open Learning Agency. The Open Learning Agency has also played a significant role in advanced education in this province; 22,000 people take Open Learning Agency courses each year. The Open Learning Agency has provided the people of this province with a way to access advanced educational training through distance education. The minister fired the board in February of 2002 and has still not yet announced what will become of the agency and its students. Clearly, innovation in non-traditional learning methods is not a priority for this government.
Another source of uncertainty regarding the situation of Tech B.C. relates to the location. Tech B.C. is currently located in Surrey, the fastest-growing community in our province. This government has repeatedly criticized the building where Tech B.C. is currently located for being too expensive and being too impractical.
I think Surrey is a good location for Tech B.C., and this government's criticism of the physical structure of the building should not interfere with the vision of the project. I am concerned about the location of Tech B.C. and its change and potential change, which may be jeopardized as a result of its amalgamation with SFU. Tech B.C. has had an annual budget of $23 million, and it is estimated that the university pumps $150 million into the local economy each year. This was derived from the Tech B.C. general information. In my estimation, Tech B.C. is based upon a sound vision, and the issues surrounding the building it's located in do not discredit the importance of this vision.
I recall that when I was on the Education Committee, there were individuals who came forward and spoke on the Tech B.C. issue. They tried to advocate that the government keep Tech B.C., keep its location, understand its uniqueness and the innovation within it, understand that it's not only a learning environment but also the leading edge of the wedge of technologies in British Columbia.
[ Page 3386 ]
I remember this committee, actually, because when the matter was brought up, the Chair of the committee tried to tell the individuals who came to make those submissions to take their concerns elsewhere, not to this committee. In spite of that, people came forward and made their submissions in any event, and we listened to those submissions.
Although Vancouver–Mount Pleasant is not where the Tech B.C. site is located — it is located in Surrey — I as an MLA have received correspondence from British Columbians urging the government and urging me as the opposition to raise the issue with government around the importance of Tech B.C. and its innovation, urging the government to keep Tech B.C. intact.
So far we have seen a half-earnest, half-hearted approach to Tech B.C. from the government in the amalgamation of Tech B.C. with SFU. Much of its future is still uncertain, particularly in relation to its location.
There is also the other issue. It's been surfacing particularly in the newspapers over the last couple of weeks, although we've known about this challenge for some time now. In the years to come there will be a lack of people who are trained in various different fields to come forward into the skilled labour environment. There are grave concerns in this area.
So far we have not seen any plans whatsoever from this Minister of Advanced Education in terms of preparing British Columbia for the future, in terms of making sure there are people who are trained in the various different trades to make sure the employment needs are going to be met in the future, to make sure the technical needs will be met in the future, to make sure the trades needs will be met in the future. We have yet to see a plan from this government, from this minister, on this issue.
What we have seen so far, though, is elimination of the tuition fee freeze that allowed individuals throughout British Columbia to get access to post-secondary education, particularly those who are faced with socioeconomic barriers and challenges. What we've seen, quite frankly, is this government attacking students on that front, making it more and more difficult for students to access post-secondary education.
I wonder where the Surrey MLAs are and whether or not they'll actually rise up in this House to speak on behalf of their own constituents, to speak on behalf of Tech B.C. and to advocate for the protection of Tech B.C. from the chopping block of this government. So far we haven't heard any Liberal MLAs come up and raise this issue. They have been particularly silent, like on so many issues. Tech B.C. is another one of those that the Liberal MLAs are being silent on, and there is no exception to that.
If you look at the bill, there is one area of grave concern, and that is the issue in relation to the demise of Tech B.C. and its ultimate future. As we know, not only does it provide an educational opportunity for students and innovation for the people who teach at the university, it is also an economic generator for Surrey. The community would have spinoff in terms of economic activities that Tech B.C. would bring to it. The certainty of that location is now being questioned and is unanswered, as of yet, by this government. The ramification for Surrey, one of the fastest-growing communities in the lower mainland, is that it's going to have to grapple with the fallout of the government's decision. This bill deals with the attack on Tech B.C.
J. Kwan: One of the members raises the issue about the past government's decision around Tech B.C. The past government actually recognized the innovation around Tech B.C. and the value of Tech B.C. to British Columbians and understood that it provided tremendous opportunities in the area of technology in this field, both for students and for the people who work in that space. Tech B.C. became a vision from that perspective. Now all of that is being undermined, and there is a potential that this government will simply do away with Tech B.C. in its current location. That would, I think, undermine the progress Tech B.C. was intended to do. It would undermine the future for British Columbia in terms of training people in the various different trades and technologies in preparation for the shortages of these skilled individuals in the future.
This is the major section of the bill that I wish to speak to. I just want to recognize the role of Tech B.C. and its importance and urge the government to keep its current location in Surrey so that it would benefit not only the students and those who are involved with the institution but also Surrey as a whole.
B. Locke: I want to thank the Minister of Advanced Education for her vision and this government for making the SFU campus in Surrey a reality. I want to tell you that the people of Surrey are excited. They support the concept of SFU in Surrey in place of Tech B.C. We have support from the mayor and council, from the chamber of commerce and, most importantly, from the students. It was only that vision which saved that school and saved those students. I want to tell you, the fallout that the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant…. It was a fallout indeed. It was a fallout from an unsustainable, ill-conceived plan — no business plan, in fact — that put students, teachers, faculty and workers in jeopardy. It was just an appalling display of management.
I am just thrilled to support this bill. I am pleased with the direction the minister has gone in recognizing Surrey and the needs of the South Fraser. I want to applaud the bill, and I look forward to supporting it.
Mr. Speaker: Second reading of Bill 50. The Minister of Advanced Education closes debate.
[ Page 3387 ]
Hon. S. Bond: I want to suggest that the reason we require this piece of legislation is because the previous government decided that in order to protect the needs of students, they needed to attach it to a piece of real estate that was too expensive and unsustainable. We simply decided we wanted to keep what was best and most important about Tech B.C.
I want to suggest that when we involved Simon Fraser University, they said to us that they wanted to look at trying to maintain an innovative program, trying to keep as many staff members as possible and, most importantly, ensuring that the students who began at Tech B.C., whose future was in jeopardy because of the fiscal mismanagement around this project…. They said: "We want to make sure those students don't lose their opportunities, and we're going to even try to provide them with a degree." We think that makes great sense and is really good news for the city of Surrey and the people who live there.
The fabulous news, the great news, is that….
Hon. S. Bond: Yes. In fact, you know what? The member opposite asked the question: where were the Surrey MLAs? I want to tell you where the Surrey MLAs were.
The Surrey MLAs were working hard to make sure this government paid attention to the students who attended Tech B.C. and make sure that we were held accountable for ensuring a presence in Surrey. They worked very hard. They did an excellent job, and I'm pleased to see that two of them are in the House today as we bring this bill forward.
Let's talk about our commitment to double the number of graduates. The fantastic news is that we will double the number of graduates. In fact, some of the students at the campus at Surrey will contribute to doubling the number of graduates as we said we will.
In addition, we're working on an on-line strategy for the first time in this province, where we're going to look at expanding access to students who live in every corner of this province. We're looking at not only a comprehensive strategy but one that's innovative and exciting.
We want to reiterate the fact that Simon Fraser University has agreed to look at a presence in Surrey. They have said they're going to keep what's best about Tech B.C. We're excited about that. We believe we want to maintain as many of the staff as possible there. Simon Fraser University has said we're going to look not only at those programs but at the possibility of expanding the kinds of opportunities and access for students. We think that's a great news story, and this piece of legislation is the technical piece that we need to take care of. But you know what? The vision is expressed by Simon Fraser University working with the city of Surrey, working with the MLAs in that area, to provide even more opportunities for students in that region of the province.
On a final note, I do want to just make a comment on the reference: "We haven't seen a plan for skills and trades training in this province." I'm interested to be able to point out that the reason we haven't seen a plan is because we don't believe the way to create great plans is to sit in an office in Victoria and cook them up. As a matter of fact, we're working right now with industry across this province. I met and spoke to the B.C. Business Council on Friday and issued a challenge to industry to say: together we need to figure out how best to deliver the trades and training that are necessary in this province. They're going to step up to the plate and work with us, and we think that's a far better solution than government one-size-fits-all solutions.
With that I would move second reading.
Mr. Speaker: The question is second reading.
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 50, Advanced Education 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. R. Coleman: I call second reading of Bill 51.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
Hon. R. Coleman: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
The Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, amends sections of the Crime Victim Assistance Act, the Criminal Records Review Act and the Motion Picture Act. These changes will clarify new benefits for victims of crime, protect B.C.'s criminal-record check program and streamline how films are classified.
The Crime Victim Assistance Act will replace the Criminal Injury Compensation Act this summer, transferring this program from the Workers Compensation Board to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. The new crime victim assistance program will have a faster, less onerous application process and give crime victims benefits like medical and dental care, rehabilitation, income support, counselling, home security and relocation expenses.
Today's amendments will clarify the benefits for victims, families and witnesses and how those benefits will be provided. Changes will also ensure that victims receive benefits under this act as long as they are not eligible for the same benefits from another source, such as an employee health benefit plan. We want to eliminate the potential for double benefits
[ Page 3388 ]
without preventing victims from receiving benefits to which they are rightfully entitled.
Changes will also give the crime victim assistance program authority to obtain documents, evidence and sworn testimony in order to adjudicate a claim. They will also clarify how claims and appeals in process under the Criminal Injury Compensation Act will be handled when the new program comes into force.
The Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2002 also changes the Criminal Records Review Act. This statute helps protect children from physical and sexual abuse by requiring everyone who works with children or who has unsupervised access to children through their work and is employed, licensed or funded by the government to undergo a criminal-record check.
The program conducts about 60,000 checks per year for positions such as teachers, doctors, nurses, physical massage therapists, licensed child care providers and school and hospital staff. If no relevant offence is found, the employer is notified in writing that the employee is cleared to work with children. The act lists 56 offences that are considered relevant for potential to harm children.
Confirmation of a current charge or provision or a previous conviction for a relevant offence triggers an adjudication to determine if a person poses a risk to children. Currently, if an adjudicator determines someone poses a risk, the individual has 14 days to provide the registrar with written notice of their intent to appeal. An appeal panel considers the adjudicator's decision and can either confirm or overturn it.
Since 1996 there have been about 2,800 adjudications, 25 of which resulted in findings of risk. The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has appointed three adjudicators to make these determinations. Today's amendments will eliminate the adjudicator position and refer people with a relevant criminal record to the deputy registrar, who will determine whether they present a risk to children. The deputy registrar will apply the same criteria and guidelines used by the current adjudicators.
As the vast majority of cases are straightforward, this change will allow decisions to be made in an informal, timely, fair and impartial way. Complex files may require external specialization consultation. Currently, the adjudicator's decision can be appealed through an appeal panel. Since 1996 there have been only nine appeals. The most recent was in 1998.
Today's amendments will change the appeals process. Reviews of the determination of risk made by the deputy registrar will be referred to the registrar. People will have 30 days to request a review. The number of appeals is expected to continue to be minimal, and judicial review will still be available to anyone wishing to dispute a determination of risk.
A final amendment to the Criminal Records Review Act will introduce cost recoveries to the program. This is consistent with other cost recovery practices in government and cost recovery fees charged for criminal-record checks done through police for private sector employees and community volunteers.
I believe employers, parents and the community want the reassurance of a criminal-record check for those who work with children. Checks are a complement to other employment screening and supervisory methods so that children can live and grow without fear of harm from those who are entrusted with their care. The changes to the act will help to make sure the program is sustainable for the future.
The final set of amendments made by this bill is to the Motion Picture Act. The Motion Picture Act authorizes the activities of the B.C. film classification office, which classifies films, videos and new media and oversees licensing and compliance of retailers and distributors. The amendments will allow the office to adopt a rating for a motion picture already given by another provincial or industry classification organization. This will enable us to eliminate duplication and lessen repetitive submissions by film distributors.
The director of the film classification office will be given the authority to delegate duties, functions and decisions about licensing, classification and enforcement. The film classification office makes thousands of classifications, licensing and enforcement decisions each year, but fewer than ten are appealed. The amendments will eliminate the Motion Picture Appeal Board, which reviews film classification decisions. The amendments include a new decision-making process that gives the director of the film classification office the power to reconsider decisions regarding licensing, classification and enforcement. If there is still a dispute about the decision, a judicial review will continue to be available.
J. Kwan: This bill incorporates a number of different areas, one of which is the Crime Victim Assistance Act. I know in the act that it would no longer require the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to consult with the privacy commissioner before enacting regulations related to information-sharing agreements. The opposition will be canvassing this area during third reading with respect to privacy issues and whether or not the privacy commissioner has commented on this bill and what his thoughts are around that in terms of privacy protection.
The other area which this bill canvasses is around the Criminal Records Review Act. This is a change particularly in relation to criminal-record checks, which will no longer be paid for by the ministry. The person requesting the criminal-record check will now pay for it. The government currently pays, as I understand, $1.2 million on the criminal-record check program. Record checks are required for anyone who will be working in the child care support program area. This, of course, includes child care providers.
The press release announcing this bill states: "The fee will be set by regulation and will be in line with the fees currently charged by police departments." In
[ Page 3389 ]
Victoria a criminal-record check will cost that child care provider $50. It is not uncommon for a child care provider to apply for a criminal-record check numerous times, as the criminal-record check is not child care provider–specific but rather facility-specific. This means that if a child care provider is working part-time at one facility and applies to another facility to work a couple of extra days a week, he or she would need to apply again for a criminal-record check, meaning that another $50 will be taken out of their pocket. Requiring the person applying for a criminal-record check to shoulder the costs will create, I believe, added financial responsibilities for the person who provides a very necessary profession. Child care providers are not highly paid. They're generally paid approximately $10 to $15 an hour.
The child care sector has been hard-hit by many of the cuts being implemented by this government. Particularly, the previous government had brought forward a universal child care program, and this government, under the Liberal government's leadership, will no longer be proceeding with a universal child care program.
The cost recovery fee, I believe, will further hurt those engaged in one of the most valuable professions, and that is, of course, caring for children. Given that the cost is not just a one-time cost on a check on the profession — that is, child care provider–specific — but rather that it is facility-specific, every time you went to work with a different facility, a criminal-record check would be done, and you would have to pay for the cost of that.
That, it seems to me, goes contrary to the government's notion of cutting red tape. One would have thought the government would have brought forward a criminal-record check on a profession-specific basis — that is to say, if you're a child care worker, you've been cleared by that criminal-record check to be a child care worker. You would be able to utilize that for different facilities.
That is not the case here. This is a facility-specific piece of legislation that asks for the person to pay for a record check every time they go to work at a different facility. That, in my mind, is not only a burden for the individual, but it is also a burden on red tape in terms of the amount of record checks that the person needs to go through, and it goes contrary to the government's purported agenda of cutting red tape.
During committee stage the opposition will particularly be canvassing this area and our concerns around this area, and we'll have more to say by way of questions to the government on this matter.
Hon. R. Coleman: I look forward to those discussions in committee, and I think we can actually deal with most of the member's concerns relative to this particular piece of legislation. I've heard the Victoria argument already, but we, in regulation, can set the fees from a government standpoint relative to our criminal-record checks. There are some concerns in and around that, which the member mentioned just briefly. I'm sure we can deal with it, again, in committee. Relative to whether it be site-specific or not, one of the concerns as we went through this debate was identifying the concern we had with people that were actually changing their names in the province and running from criminal-record checks, in a loophole that we closed there — that we would actually not have somebody transitioning from one facility to another in the midst of criminal activity and not having to be actually reidentified, whether they had at some point during the period of time from one facility to another, been involved in some activity involving children that was illegal. That we will discuss in committee.
I believe that it's important that employers and employees in the public sector, where they are funded by government, recognize that they have the same responsibility as people in the private sector relative to criminal-record checks for their employees. I think that's the reason we want to go to cost recovery so that we can make this a sustainable system.
I look forward to committee stage, and I'm sure we can deal with the member's issues.
Hon. R. Coleman: 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 51, Public Safety and Solicitor General 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. R. Coleman: I call committee stage of Bill 34.
Committee of the Whole House
SCHOOL AMENDMENT ACT, 2002
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 34; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 3:27 p.m.
On section 36 (continued.)
J. Kwan: Reflecting on our debate from the previous days on this matter, section 36 is of course relating to the funding formula that school boards receive.
The minister had suggested that the funding formula does not change. She insists the funding formula and what the minister is doing in the area of education is that she is protecting education, but more and more we're learning that this is in fact not the case. People, school trustees, individual parents are sending in information challenging the minister at every step with respect to her comment on this.
[ Page 3390 ]
In fact, there is yet another letter that was sent in by an individual regarding school district 20. Let me just put the letter on the record, Mr. Chair.
The letter is dated May 12, 2002, and it reads as follows:
This is from an individual from Fruitvale. I wonder what the minister has to say to this individual with respect to her notion of flexibility, given that the reality of this flexibility yields funding cuts, and the funding formula yields cuts to educational programs.
Hon. C. Clark: The member is confusing the issue of funding with the funding formula. This section of the act deals with the funding formula. If she'd like to raise any questions with respect to that, I'd be happy to answer them.
J. Kwan: The minister says everybody else is wrong except her. This letter was written by an individual from Fruitvale. If the minister was listening, she would have noted that the letter mentions the notion of the funding formula, which the minister purports provides for the same amount of funding and that it protects education for British Columbians. The individual is saying otherwise. That is, in fact, not the case. To the minister again:
Hon. C. Clark: We had a technical advisory group that worked on building the formula. That was how we brought it together. We certainly believe it's a simpler, fairer way to allocate funds.
J. Kwan: The reality is such that it yields educational program cuts for many districts throughout British Columbia. This individual from Fruitvale is raising the same issues. In spite of that, the minister says: "Well, it's not the funding formula. Yes, it is the funding, but we're protecting education." What people are seeing all throughout B.C. are cuts in education programs.
Let me just review for the House some of the schools that are going to be shut and that are threatened with school closures as a result of the government's approach to education. It does deal with the funding issue — make no mistake about it — and behind the funding issue, of course, it's tied into the funding formula concept.
The southeast Kootenay area is faced with a budget shortfall of $2.8 million, and there are four schools faced with potential closure: C.L. Salvador Elementary
[ Page 3391 ]
School, Muriel Baxter Elementary School, Elkford Elementary School and Rocky Mountain Elementary School.
These are in the area of Kimberley, Windermere and Golden. They are faced with a host of potential closures — two, four, six, eight schools in total in terms of the threats — Blarchmont Elementary, Meadowbrook Elementary School, Wasa Elementary, Canal Flats Junior Secondary, Radium Elementary, Field Elementary, Edelweiss Elementary and Columbia Valley Elementary.
In Revelstoke they are faced with the potential closure of Big Eddy Elementary School.
The Kootenay-Columbia district is faced with the potential closures of two, four, six schools: Montrose Elementary, Sunningdale Elementary, Tarrys Elementary, Valley Vista Elementary, Blueberry Creek Community School and Cook Avenue Elementary.
In the Central Okanagan there are three potential school closures: Bellevue Creek Elementary, George Pringle Secondary and Peachland Elementary School.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin area is faced with two school closures: Forest Grove Elementary and Chimney Creek Elementary.
Quesnel is potentially faced with the closure of Rich Bar Elementary School and the Wells Barkerville Elementary School.
In Vancouver the Shannon Park Annex is potentially faced with closure.
In Burnaby the Canada Way Education Centre is potentially faced with closure.
In Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, Thornhill Primary is faced with potential closure.
Prince George has two, four, six, eight, ten, 12 potential closures: Bear Lake Elementary, Haldi Road Elementary, Hart Highlands Elementary, Hixon Elementary, Gladstone Elementary, King George V Elementary, Mcleod Lake Elementary, Mountain View Elementary, Nechako North Elementary, Seymour Elementary, Springwood Elementary and Blackburn Junior Secondary.
The Peace River South area is faced with potential closure of the Kelly Lake Elementary–Junior Secondary School.
Peace River North potential closure is Upper Halfway Elementary–Junior Secondary.
Campbell River potential closures are Maple Elementary, Central Elementary and Surge Narrows Elementary.
In Gold Trail, there's Riverview Elementary.
The Fraser-Cascade region is faced with McAffrey Alternate School closure.
Cowichan Valley is faced with three potential school closures: Honeymoon Bay Elementary, Mount Brenton Elementary and Sahtlam elementary.
In the Coast Mountains, which is the Kitimat-Terrace area, there are two unspecified schools and three others in the Terrace area, respectively.
Finally, in the Nechako Lakes area — that's Burns Lake and Nechako school districts 55 and 56, respectively — they are faced with potential closures of Babine Elementary-Secondary and Mapes Elementary.
These are the schools, 57 in total, as a result of the funding — or the lack of funding, if you will — and the new funding formula that the minister insists is protecting education. What we see are 57 schools being threatened with potential closures.
We see on the FTE side that 1,957 teaching positions are being threatened with a budget pressure, a budget shortfall, of $204.8 million.
Maybe the minister can explain, because I fail to understand — and so, too, do many parents and the public, educators and the public, school trustees and the public fail to understand — how it is that the minister can claim that she is in fact protecting education when all of this is going, and this is only year one. The worst years are yet to come, the next two years. Because this is a three-year frozen budget of educational cuts, the worst is yet to come.
Hon. C. Clark: For the last time, I will repeat my comments.
The member is confused. She is mixing the issue of the funding formula, which is what we're supposed to be discussing, with the issue of funding.
If she wants to have a debate about funding, the appropriate place to do that is in the budget estimates. I believe we had an extensive debate about that. If she has any further questions, I'd refer her to the Hansard from those debates. In the meantime, unless she is prepared to ask questions about the relevant section of the bill that we are discussing here today, I suggest we move on.
J. Kwan: The minister wants to move on. Of course she wants to move on because, in my view, she doesn't want people to know how she is hurting education. The minister keeps on saying: "Well, it's the funding formula." The funding formula yields the funds that end up in school districts, so those two things are interrelated. For the minister to suggest that they're completely separate is, in my view, a false representation of the impacts on education and the funding needs of British Columbians.
It's not just me who's saying that on these issues. The information that I've brought forward to the House is coming from the public. The public are concerned about education, even if the minister doesn't care, even if she says everybody else is wrong except for her — that she is the person who knows what is best for education. She and her colleagues from the Liberal bench are the only persons in this entire universe who say that education and its funding are being protected. Everybody else is saying something different. Maybe everybody else is wrong, with the exception of the minister. Maybe that's the perspective of the minister.
Let me just look and see what the BCSTA, the B.C. School Trustees Association, has to say. This was a press release that they sent out on April 29, so it's
[ Page 3392 ]
recent. The quote that I'm going to put on the record is as follows:
That's from the B.C. School Trustees Association.
There's no denying that the funding formula that the minister is now putting in legislation results in less money for school boards and for educational programs throughout the different districts and schools. As a result of that, some 57 schools are now going to have to close. Close to 2,000 teaching positions are going to be eliminated in the school system. School trustees and school boards throughout B.C. are faced with a total of over $200 million in shortfall in terms of funding. That's derived from the funding formula. There is no denying that. The impacts are grave.
I know the minister doesn't want to talk about it, but we need to talk about it. The minister needs to come clean with what the issues are that school boards, teachers, parents and children are faced with.
The Liberal MLAs may not want to raise these issues. They've been silent, quite frankly. They haven't spoken to this issue, raised the matters in this House and challenged the minister on this front. They have all just thumped their desks and agreed, saying: "Hey, hey, hurray — yay for the minister. Good on you for making these cuts to education, and we'll all pretend that somehow it is protecting education."
The reality is that the public knows the difference. I'm raising some of the issues that they have brought to my attention as matters to be raised in the House.
This was actually from a retired teacher-librarian, someone who is not in the system anymore but who still cares very much about the education system. The letter actually was a letter to the editor and was published in the Times Colonist. Let me just put this on the record, Mr. Chair. "School Libraries are Worth Fighting For" is the headline:
That's what Donald Hamilton, a retired education librarian and a trustee for the Greater Victoria Public Library, had to say.
[ Page 3393 ]
The cuts come from the funding formula — make no mistake about it. The minister may not care, because when I was reading this article into the record the minister was busy talking to other members in the House. She couldn't be bothered to listen to what a trustee — a retired librarian and, I suspect, probably a parent as well — has to say. For the minister, only she knows best. Nobody else knows what is important in the school system. Only the minister knows best, and she couldn't be bothered to pay attention to the words of Donald Hamilton.
Section 36 of the bill, which also touches on section 106.2, requires the minister to establish and announce the amount of funding to be paid to boards in the next fiscal year by February 1. There is no mention of what the formula will be and what will be used to make this determination. The minister consistently says that the formula works and is an equitable distribution. Could the minister please break down, then, how the minister arrived at this funding formula — in detail?
Hon. C. Clark: On February 1 we announced the block that's available to the ministry for dispersion to school districts, and then we broke that down by the formula we used. We had an extensive debate and discussion about the formula in our estimates debate — the actual formula, which is not a part of this piece of legislation.
If the member is having difficulty recollecting that discussion, I can give her a quick rundown here, although if she wants any further detail I'd suggest she go back and have a look at the Hansard. It's $5,308 per student. There is an additional allocation of $1,100 for each ESL student, an additional allocation of $950 for first nations students and $30,000, $10,000 or $6,000 for special needs students. There is special recognition given for districts that have unique geographical needs, transportation, salary differential, and then there is the formula buffer grant that's built in.
J. Kwan: Maybe the minister can provide this information to the House. I recollect the estimates of that debate very well, and in fact at that time we received early information from the Vancouver school board, which outlined their $25.5 million shortfall. Then we listed the items where they were faced with that shortfall. The minister emphatically denied that there was such a thing as a shortfall and that it was all funded, and so on and so forth. Subsequent to the estimates debate, my colleague the member for Vancouver-Hastings and I had met with the Vancouver school board. They advised us we were dead-on the money with respect to the shortfall that is caused by the funding formula, by the funding the government has introduced. That's a $25.5 million shortfall.
Subsequent to that meeting, we brought the matter back to the House. When I first brought the matter to the House in estimates, asking the minister about the shortfall that the city of Vancouver was faced with, the minister said she wasn't privy to that information and that she needed to talk to the Vancouver school board around that. Well, it's a long time since, and quite frankly, the script from the Vancouver school board has not changed. They're still faced with a $25.5 million shortfall. Irrespective of what the minister said in terms of how they're fully funding education, the fact of the matter is that there are huge incremental costs. The minister is bobbing her head as if to make light of the matter.
Maybe for her this is all very funny. Maybe for her this is all irrelevant: so what if education funding is being cut? So what if education programs are being cut? She is maintaining her mantra no matter what happens, as she's protecting education. The reality is — and school trustees know this — that they're faced with educational cuts. They're caused by this minister. They're caused by this minister; make no mistake about it. It is a result of the new funding formula and the freeze on educational funding that the minister has imposed on British Columbians.
The educational funding and the pressures are not being funded. Let's just be clear. There are educational pressures in the education system that are not being funded. No matter what the minister says about the $5,308 funding formula and how it covers everything, that $5,308 comes short when there are increased costs in the education system — whether they be MSP premiums, the teacher contract, increments for non-teacher salary raises, maintenance costs, and so on and so forth. Those are the pressures school trustees are faced with, and as a result of those pressures, school programs are being cut and schools are being closed.
Section 36 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 60
[ Page 3394 ]
NAYS — 2
Sections 37 and 38 approved.
On section 39.
J. Kwan: I just want to confirm that in section 39 this amendment essentially moves the provisions that were previously under section 113(2) to section 112.1. Am I correct in reading that?
Hon. C. Clark: Basically, this is status quo. We had to add this because we removed another reference to when the budgets have to come in, and the surveyor of taxes requires an April 27 date in order to have the information he or she needs.
Sections 39 and 40 approved.
On section 41.
J. Kwan: Section 41 is section 114 of the original act, which is being repealed and replaced with the wording that's before us now. As I understand it, the new section differs from the original section as it includes section 114(4), which states that if the minister gives a school district more than the board was meant to receive, the Minister of Finance can deduct the overpayment from next year's grant to the school board.
Could the minister please advise how that differs from previously? In the previous act, if there's such a case, there's no provision for the government to reclaim dollars that were given to the school board. Now this allows them to do so.
Hon. C. Clark: This is to address an issue that arises when the ministry does an audit that reveals there is money owing to the ministry. Right now, if there's an audit and money is found to be owing, the only option the ministry has is to claw the money back in this fiscal year. Because we do our audits around this time in the year, that leaves very little time for the district to be able to accommodate that.
What they end up doing then is amending their budget to run a deficit. It's either that, or they claw the money out, and it causes some serious dislocation in the district and could compromise educational outcomes. What this does is allow the district to choose to do it the way we currently do it or to postpone the payment of it, if you will, so that it comes out of the following year's budget, and they have an opportunity to plan better.
J. Kwan: Is this related at all to the mid-year school count in terms of enrolment? It's perhaps not at mid-year but at any time when the minister decides there ought to be another school count with respect to enrolment. Is there any relationship?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, this is primarily to address issues arising out of audits that the ministry undertakes.
Sections 41 and 42 approved.
On section 43.
J. Kwan: This amendment, as I understand it, creates a new targeted grant called the annual capital grant. This grant is meant to be used by school boards for capital projects to maintain sites and buildings owned or leased by the board. I wonder if the minister can explain the idea of creating the new targeted grants. It appears to me that it contradicts the ministry's commitment to providing the board with greater autonomy and flexibility regarding how they spend money. If that's the case, why are the minister and the ministry specifying particular uses for the money the schools boards receive from the ministry, if the new era's meant to provide boards with the flexibility and autonomy to make their own decisions?
Hon. C. Clark: We have, as I've said in previous debates, separated capital from operating very clearly. I don't think it serves anyone's interests to mix those two, so we've ensured, with these changes in the act, that we're respecting that intent.
J. Kwan: The B.C. School Trustees Association passed a resolution at their most recent AGM held in Vancouver April 25-28. One of the resolutions was related to capital maintenance funding, and the BCSTA urged the Minister of Education to continue use of recognized space and age of facilities as the basis for allocating capital maintenance funding to districts. Could the minister first advise whether or not she would agree with the motion that was carried at the AGM of the BCSTA? Secondly, could the minister please advise if that's related to the annual capital grant?
Hon. C. Clark: This section of section 43 is there to recognize something that we currently do in the ministry and have done for a number of years, but which wasn't reflected in the act. Really, what we're doing is giving after-the-fact legislative permission for something that the ministry has done for quite a while. It's unrelated to the question the member has raised.
J. Kwan: Well, could the minister then just answer this question which was raised by the BCSTA, and
[ Page 3395 ]
that is for the ministry to continue the use of recognized space and age of facilities as the basis for allocating capital maintenance funding to districts?
Hon. C. Clark: I will respond to that in another context. However, the context we're engaged in now is to examine and debate section 43 of this act, and I'd advise the member that it's probably wise to stay relevant at this stage.
J. Kwan: In my view, it is relevant, because the section we're talking about is the annual capital grant, and the capital maintenance funding that the school districts are referencing is in relation to capital funding for, and the basis for allocating the capital maintenance funding to, various school districts. In my view, there is a relationship in terms of the capital funding dollars and how they are being allocated to the various different school districts.
I wonder why the minister wouldn't want to answer the question. It's a straightforward question from the B.C. School Trustees Association. It was passed at the association's AGM. If the minister wants to share that information with the trustees from the minister's perspective, I am sure they would welcome it.
Sections 43 to 51 inclusive approved.
On section 52.
J. Kwan: Section 52 deals with repealing the power of the minister to use regulations to change deadlines, for the minister to establish the preliminary and final amount of provincial funding, and for the minister to provide each board with an estimate of the board's debt service expenses.
It also allows for the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to determine the rates that would be levied on land improvements, for the board to submit its budget estimate and for the board to follow up if they call a referendum regarding increasing revenue and, finally, for the board to adopt its budgets.
These changes mean that the minister and boards must follow the deadlines outlined in the legislation, as the minister no longer has the ability to change these deadlines through regulation. What happens if those deadlines are not met?
Hon. C. Clark: The thing that would happen is the same thing that would happen with any other piece of legislation. School boards are required to abide by the law. They do abide by the law, and this will become part of the law of British Columbia.
J. Kwan: Yes, that's what the legislation says — that they must meet these deadlines. I'm asking the minister: should there be an instance where those deadlines are not met, what is the recourse to the school board, to the school trustees? What action would the minister take?
Hon. C. Clark: We'll have a discussion with them. We'll remind them about the law — encourage them to respect to law. Certainly, school boards are filled with committed, dedicated people who are trying to do what's best for their communities. All of them certainly want to live within the rules that they're elected under.
J. Kwan: I assume that people will try to do that, but there may well be situations where, for a variety of reasons, they are unable to do so. In that situation the minister says she will endeavour to talk with the board. What other actions would the minister take?
Hon. C. Clark: I've answered that question.
J. Kwan: Does that mean to say that's all the minister will do then — just endeavour to talk to the boards? I'm just trying to get clarity here in terms of what the minister's intent is.
The Chair: Shall section 52 pass?
J. Kwan: Good God, Mr. Chair. The minister is just unprepared to provide answers to these questions. These are questions that some members of the public and some of the school trustees are wondering in terms of what will happen if these deadlines are missed. Is this minister just not prepared to share that information, or does she not know what the intentions are?
The Chair: Shall section 52 pass?
J. Kwan: The minister doesn't even attempt to answer the question any further. One can only assume, on the basis of the questions that I'm asking here today and the response she's given…. She's given a wink to the member for Vancouver-Burrard, and she's smiling. You know, this has been the attitude throughout this debate — as though somehow the questions that are asked by the opposition are irrelevant, something that the minister mocks and makes light of. Somehow the parents who have spoken on the issues with respect to the cuts in educational programs they're faced with are something that is just unimportant.
Everybody else is wrong, with the exception of this minister, who says education is being protected. She's uninterested — in this supposedly open, transparent Liberal government and the new-era agenda — in providing any answers at all.
Is the minister just saying that nothing will happen if the deadlines are not met? There's no recourse other than the minister will try and talk to them. Is that what she's saying? She has not answered the question.
[ Page 3396 ]
The Chair: Shall section 52 pass?
J. Kwan: On the same section. I was engaging in this debate, questions to the minister. I know there's an eagerness all the way around for people to move forward, to just sort of rush through the bill. That's been the approach of this government: ram through their bills and these huge changes with respect to impacts for British Columbia. I know there's a big rush to do that. But you know what? There is a need for questions to be answered. There is that need, no matter how big the majority is on the government's side, no matter that you have 76 seats on the government side.
The Chair: Member, I just remind you to keep relevant to the section, please — section 52.
J. Kwan: Yes, I am keeping relevant to the section.
The Chair: There is a question in this, I hope.
J. Kwan: Yes, absolutely, there's a question to this.
I've been trying to ask questions of the minister, to which I've been unable to get an answer. There's been no cooperation from the minister with respect to this. I know there's a big rush to get through all this stuff, and I know the government thinks there's a big majority so they can just ram stuff through without answering questions. But you know what? There is a place for questions to be asked and for answers to be provided, and some of that takes place in this Legislature. That's what we're doing right now with respect to debate on Bill 34 and this section.
This section deals with deadlines that have to be met by school trustees in a range of different areas, whether it be the board submitting its budget estimates within the prescribed time line, the board adopting its budget within its prescribed time line, the board providing the information to the public in a timely manner, the government meeting its own time line and so on.
The question is asked: what happens when those time lines are not met? Why is it a question the minister will not answer? What is she trying to hide? Or does she not know what the intentions of this government are with respect to this section of the bill?
Hon. C. Clark: This section deals with the Lieutenant-Governor's ability to vary dates — period. It corrects an outdated reference in the bill — period. That's it. If the member would like to restrict her questions to parts of the bill we're discussing, I'd be happy to answer her questions.
J. Kwan: Section 52 repeals the power of the minister to use regulations to change deadlines for the minister to establish the preliminary amount of provincial funding, to change the deadline for the minister to establish the final amount of provincial funding, to change the deadline for the minister to provide each board with an estimate of the board's debt service expenses, to change the deadline for the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to determine the rates that will be levied on land improvements, to change the deadline for the board to submit its budget estimates, to change the deadline for the board to follow if they call a referendum regarding increasing revenues and to change the deadline for the board to adopt its budget.
It's not as minor as the minister would like to make it sound. These are the changes, as I understand it, under section 52. Why the minister won't answer the question in terms of what happens if these deadlines are not met is beyond me. I simply have to say that I don't know what it is the minister is trying to hide.
Sections 52 and 53 approved.
On section 54.
J. Kwan: Section 54 deals with authorizing the boards to spend money on a joint capital project. Could the minister please advise if joint capital projects are public-private partnerships?
Hon. C. Clark: Perhaps the member could ask the question again. I'm sorry; I missed it.
J. Kwan: Are joint capital projects public-private partnerships?
Hon. C. Clark: I suppose it could be. Typically, a joint capital project is between a school board and a municipality, but I suppose it could be a public-private partnership.
J. Kwan: Could the minister give some examples?
Hon. C. Clark: There are lots of examples of school projects that have community elements in them. There are gym additions, for example, that have local government support for them. Parkland exchanges — there's a whole number of examples of that, lots of them, around British Columbia already.
J. Kwan: The examples that the minister used centre around municipality involvement, park board involvement and the like. Are there other partners that one should be anticipating as a result of this change?
Hon. C. Clark: I don't know. We'll see when school districts put their creative thinking caps on and come forward with creative proposals.
J. Kwan: What role will the minister have in approving and monitoring joint capital projects?
Hon. C. Clark: Just to ensure that the member is clear, the annual capital grant refers to maintenance only as opposed to project funding. Currently, we require that if money comes out of the capital grant fund, it requires approval of the ministry. If any money for a project comes out of that, that will continue to be the case.
[ Page 3397 ]
J. Kwan: What role will the minister have in approving and monitoring joint capital projects then?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said…. Maybe I didn't say it; I should have. If it comes out of the capital grant fund, it requires ministerial approval. That is the case currently, and it won't change.
J. Kwan: Well, I'm just looking at the section 54 notes. The explanatory notes state as follows: "…removes the requirement for the minister's approval to spend money for an annual capital project; allows a board to spend money on a joint capital project." It clearly states in the explanatory note within the bill that it removes the requirement for the minister's approval to spend money for an annual capital project.
The minister just said, in the same breath, that nothing has changed, but in the explanatory note it actually says it removes the requirement for the minister's approval, so something has changed. Could the minister please advise what role the minister will be playing around approval and monitoring?
Hon. C. Clark: Yeah, as I said, the member is confusing the issue of the annual capital grant with joint use projects. The annual capital grant is not for joint use projects. It is for maintenance, and those are typically not joint use projects. Joint use projects are not maintenance; they're new projects. She shouldn't confuse the two things.
J. Kwan: The act actually doesn't speak to annual grants. It speaks to annual capital projects. If it's meant to be directed at capital grants, why doesn't it say that? Why does it say capital projects?
Hon. C. Clark: If the member goes back in the bill and has a look at the definitions, she'll see that annual capital project is defined as something that is funded through the annual capital plan. A capital plan project is funded out of the capital reserve fund. That's probably not the exact term. If she goes back and has a look at the definitions, she'll see that each one of them is carefully defined, and that's what separates the two.
J. Kwan: I am just looking at the definitions because I anticipated that the minister might say something like that. Maybe it's just not clear in the bill, in the way it is describing the effects and the changes.
The section that we're talking about, section 54, references two things: annual capital projects and joint capital projects. When you look at the definitions section, you'll find that…. In fact, I don't see a definition for annual capital project. What I do see is annual capital expenses. In annual capital expenses there is a change of terminology from "annual capital allowance" to "annual capital grant." That's the only reference with respect to that. Then, when you look at the other definition which is for joint capital project, it simply defines it by saying it "means a capital project that consists of a capital plan project and a local capital project." It doesn't make any reference to the issues or the distinctions that the minister had mentioned, even in the definitions section.
Hon. C. Clark: If she goes to look at section 1(e), she'll see that it says that "annual capital grant" replaces "annual capital allowance." It's a language change. It still refers to maintenance, and it still doesn't refer to joint use projects.
J. Kwan: The section 1(e) that the minister just read out was what I just finished talking about. "Annual capital expense" is being struck out, and "annual capital allowance" is also being struck out to be substituted with the words "annual capital grant." If you go to the other definition, joint capital project "means a capital project that consists of a capital plan project and a local capital project." When you look at section 54 in the explanatory note: "Section 54 removes the requirement for the minister's approval to spend money for an annual capital project; allows a board to spend money on a joint capital project." That's what it says.
You know, Mr. Chair, I'll take the minister's word for it, but quite frankly, the act and the explanatory notes are unclear. For me to look at both of these with the minister's explanation, it doesn't tell you anything different. The words are not defined in the act. Even though the minister may want to say that it does, the fact is that it doesn't. If you look in the act, that definition is not there. It doesn't tell you clearly that joint capital projects have nothing to do with capital project initiatives but rather just maintenance initiatives. It doesn't say that in the definition section of the act either.
Section 54 approved.
On section 55.
J. Kwan: Section 55. The amendment exempts joint capital projects from preparing a capital plan under section 142 of the act. Again, is this just maintenance? I want to double-check, because the act is not explicit in saying that. If it's just maintenance, that's one thing, but if it is not, then I would like to know why boards don't have to create capital plans for joint capital projects.
Hon. C. Clark: As I said earlier in the debate, if it's a capital plan project, if it includes any money from the capital plan, it does require ministerial approval.
J. Kwan: I don't think that was my question at all. What I was asking the minister was: is this still related just to maintenance issues?
Hon. C. Clark: No. As I said — and I think I've said this a couple of times — capital plan projects are not maintenance projects.
J. Kwan: Could the minister please advise why it is the case, then, that the boards would not have to establish a capital plan for these joint capital projects?
[ Page 3398 ]
Hon. C. Clark: Okay, this is the last time I'm going to say this. They do, if it requires money from the capital plan fund.
J. Kwan: Only if they require money from the capital plan fund. If they generate their own revenues elsewhere, then they are not required to create a capital plan.
Hon. C. Clark: I'm prepared to answer every question twice, but twice only, so I'll do this one more time. Currently, if a project is funded locally and doesn't require money out of the capital plan, it doesn't require ministerial approval. That will not change.
J. Kwan: I don't know what it is with the minister; I really don't. The issue here is this: the minister says that these projects would have to be approved by the minister.
On initiatives, I'm asking the minister…. Given that the entire bill allows school boards to generate moneys elsewhere, to generate revenues through other sources, those provisions allow the school boards to make money, to create revenue. In the instance where capital projects are initiated by the trustees and they don't use moneys — grants — from the government, I'm asking the question: will they still be able to just proceed without any approval whatsoever from the minister? As well, would they be required to create a capital plan?
The minister said: "Well, I answered that question."
Why wouldn't they have to create a plan for the public to see? Why wouldn't that be an accountability measure that needs to be in place?
Sections 55 to 74 inclusive approved.
On section 75.
J. Kwan: Section 75, as I understand it, enables the minister to appoint a special adviser to a francophone school district. Could the minister please expand on the section and the intent behind the section?
Hon. C. Clark: The member knows we've given school districts an unprecedented amount of local autonomy since we took government 11 months ago, and school districts have welcomed that with open arms. They're delighted to be able to have the flexibility they need to be able to make decisions that they are locally elected and empowered to make.
We have built into this act, though, accountability as well, because you can't have autonomy without accountability. Certainly, we respect local school boards and the fact that they are elected locally, but ultimately, when school boards find themselves in difficulty, the only remedies available to the government are to write a letter suggesting they do differently or to fire them all. That doesn't leave any middle ground.
This legislation is attempting to create a middle ground to allow the government to provide a special adviser to a district that is in difficulty to support them through difficult times and ensure they can get back on track and do the thing we're all working toward, which is improving student achievement for every student in their district.
J. Kwan: This section refers to the francophone school district only. I don't know the information that the minister was spouting out. I'm not sure if that actually relates to section 83 rather than this section. Maybe the minister was just trying to clarify….
Per the act: this section, in terms of the special adviser, relates to the francophone school district only. I have more to say with respect to the appointment of special advisers relative to the other school districts under section 83. Is the minister referring to the francophone school district only, or is she making a broad statement that applies to all school districts?
Hon. C. Clark: If the member has a look through the current act, she will see that the francophone school district is dealt with differently from all other school districts in the province, partly because they have issues with respect to the way they elect officers in their district. It's an unusual district; it's provincewide. It doesn't have a specific piece of geography attached to it. This section parallels the changes for school districts 1 to 59 across the province and applies them equally to the francophone school district.
J. Kwan: Yes, I've seen the previous School Act, and I understand that the francophone school district does have different circumstances in which they're operating. Given that the minister stated it's a broad matter which applies not just to the francophone school district but rather, on the whole, to all the other school districts as well, there are some concerns that I want to raise with respect to this.
The B.C. School Trustees Association itself has raised concerns to the minister. Again, they have passed a motion at their AGM to urge the Minister of Education to honour the government's commitment to board autonomy and added flexibility by deleting sections of Bill 34 that establish special advisers with the authority to act in districts at the minister's request and to expand the minister's authority to remove school boards for educational reasons in addition to financial mismanagement.
These are the concerns that the B.C. School Trustees Association has raised because it's contrary, on the one hand, for the minister to say they respect the autonomy of the school trustees, and at the same time the minister has the authority not only to appoint an adviser at the minister's will but also to actually make the school board pay for the expenses of the adviser for which the school board may not have asked.
In the view of the BCSTA, that is a violation of their independence and, of course, their autonomy. They
[ Page 3399 ]
have passed a motion accordingly, calling on the government to withdraw and delete the sections of Bill 34 that establish these special advisers with the authority to act in districts at the minister's request and to expand the minister's authority to remove school boards for educational reasons in addition to financial mismanagement.
I'd like to get the minister's comment on the BCSTA's motion.
Hon. C. Clark: When the member raises questions from the BCSTA, she knows that they represent districts 1 through 59. The letter that she's addressing isn't specific to the Francophone Education Authority. Those issues that she wants to debate are covered under section 83. I'd be happy to debate that with her.
When we get to that debate, I will certainly be happy to ask her when she started caring about autonomy of school boards. She spent ten years in government eroding the autonomy of school boards. She spent ten years in government making secret deals in the Premier's office and supporting them in this House, when school boards didn't even know about them. She was the member who stood here and supported every act of this previous government that did so much to erode the responsibilities and the rights of school districts across this province.
For ten years, as a result of her decisions, school boards asked her government and our government to change that — to give them back more autonomy. So that's what we've done. We have given them back their autonomy. As I said, you don't get autonomy without accountability, but it is a little rich to hear this member stand up and go to bat for more autonomy for school boards, because, frankly, it's too little too late. She had ten years to start showing that she cared about it. Instead, all she did was stand up and trample every single opportunity she had: the rights of school boards to be autonomous and the rights they should have to represent the needs of the people in their local communities. [Applause.]
J. Kwan: The seals are back.
You know, I want to get into this debate. I was going to save it for section 83, but I won't. That's why I asked the minister the question around the relevance of this issue in terms of special advisers and its application, and the minister got up in this House to say that it's not just restricted to the francophone district, but rather, it's broadly speaking. She opened it up. She opened it up for debate. That's why I brought the matter up in terms of the B.C. School Trustees Association's motion.
For this minister to be sitting there saying that they want to give their school trustees autonomy, flexibility and all of those words that the minister now so likes to use, which are all attached with double meaning…. What the community is saying — with this minister's approach and, quite frankly, this government's approach — is that they engage in doubletalk. The minister likes to say: "Well, gee, you guys didn't do this. You guys didn't do that in the previous government." But you know what the previous government did in the area of education? When there was an increase in wages, as an example, the government fully funded those increments. That's what the government did.
On educational programs, yes, there wasn't enough money. I will admit to that and take criticism for that. But you know what? For the minister to suggest for even one moment that she's protecting education and providing autonomy and flexibility to the school trustees, in the light of what she's doing right now…. It's creating enormous pressures for the school trustees — over $200 million worth of pressures that this government has caused.
This government, this minister, said that they were going to fund the moneys for the teachers' increases. They legislated the teachers' increases. Then what did this minister do? They did not fund the teachers' increases. What is the school trustees association saying? Because of this government's action, they are unable to sustain the educational programs for British Columbians, for their students.
On the one hand, this minister is saying: "Well, we gave you more powers. We gave you flexibility. We gave you autonomy." On the other hand, this minister is taking away the ability of the school trustees to be autonomous and creative, because they're so busy trying to figure out how to fill the holes that were dug by this government as a result of the educational program funding cuts.
The minister can say whatever she wants to say. The reality is different. I know the minister would like to say that it's just the opposition going "waah, waah, waah." But you know what? It isn't what the opposition is saying; it's what the B.C. School Trustees Association is saying. This minister would like to say: "I'm listening to them. I'm all ears." Well, here's what they have to say with respect to this issue. Why won't the minister directly answer their question, their motion, which was actually tabled and actually carried — that is, for the government to delete from this section of Bill 34 the special advisers with the authority to act in districts at the minister's request and to expand the minister's authority to remove school boards for educational reasons, in addition to financial mismanagement? This is what the B.C. School Trustees Association is asking for. This is what they say the ministry should do if they really respect their notion of autonomy.
You know, in the press release that was sent by the B.C. School Trustees Association, here's what they had to say around the government's action on this front.
[ Page 3400 ]
That's what this government is doing, and those are the impacts that are being felt by the school trustees. More than that, those are the impacts that are being felt by the parents and the students throughout British Columbia. That's what this government is doing: intervening where they don't need to be intervening and not funding education where they should be funding education. No, for this minister, all is just well. For them to intervene where they shouldn't be intervening is just fine. Whereas the minister should be funding education, the minister is cutting educational funding, and that, too, is fine by the minister. Well, it's not to the School Trustees Association, not to the parents and not to the students in British Columbia.
Sections 75 to 78 inclusive approved.
On section 79.
J. Kwan: Section 79 deals with the expanded jurisdiction for the minister. As I understand it, the four new provisions to section 168(c) allow the minister to make decisions regarding the opening and closing of schools; the form and content of accountability contracts; the appointment, remuneration and duties of special advisers; and paying the cost of a person to attend an educational institution outside of British Columbia. Am I reading this section of the act correctly?
The Chair: Shall section 79 pass?
J. Kwan: Can't even be bothered to get up to answer.
I would assume I'm reading this section correctly, not through the help of the minister but rather through the explanatory notes that are attached to this bill, which reads that it provides for the minister's orders respecting accountability contracts, special advisers, the opening and closing of schools and the payment of the cost for a person to attend an educational institution outside of British Columbia. That's the explanatory notes, so I would assume that my comments stand.
On the issue around the appointment, remuneration and duties of special advisers, could the minister please explain what kind of remuneration the minister is expecting for special advisers? What kind of duties will special advisers be asked to undertake?
Hon. C. Clark: Well, the price will depend, obviously, on market rates for the individuals involved. We want the best deal for taxpayers in this ministry, as we do in every other ministry across government, which I must say is a dramatic change over the last 12 months in government. At the same time, certainly, we also want to have very qualified individuals who are capable of doing the job in a way that provides real, new information for the public and for the district.
The duties of the special adviser will very much depend on the circumstances into which the special adviser is sent. It will depend on the specific issues in the district, the length of the contract and the severity and depth of the issues in a district as well.
J. Kwan: Well, it pretty well just opens it up to whatever the minister wants to do, however much it costs. That's up to the minister's determination. You know what? The School Trustees Association would have no say in that matter. More to the point, the School Trustees Association and the school boards will be asked to pay for this special adviser. There are no parameters whatsoever associated with remuneration. That's a problem in an already cash-strapped situation as a result of the funding cuts that this minister is imposing in the area of education.
She is potentially going to appoint special advisers to engage in a variety of duties. I suspect the advisers would not be asked to look and see how this government has cut the funding in education and therefore caused the problems that the schools trustees and school boards might be faced with, but rather to somehow find a way to blame the school boards if they're unable to meet the budget.
It just adds insult to injury. The government and the minister are causing a lot of the problems that school trustees are faced with today. Many of the challenges they are faced with today are a result of this minister's and this government's action.
Now the government is putting in a special adviser provision for them to be appointed at the whim of this minister, at her discretion, at a cost that this minister is unable to identify in terms of what the parameters are for the special advisers to undertake their work. Then for the minister to have the authority and opportunity to tell the school boards that they have to pay for it themselves…. It completely undermines the school boards' notions of autonomy and of school boards being responsible.
You know what? The only group that's not being held accountable here, quite frankly, is the minister's action.
Section 79 approved on division.
Sections 80 to 82 inclusive approved.
On section 83.
J. Kwan: This section relates to the section we just debated — section 79. Here it explicitly spells out that the minister may appoint a special adviser to a school district; that the length of the special adviser's appointment is to be determined by the minister; that the special adviser may review any matters that the minister directs them to review, help the board with educational, financial or community matters, appoint a deputy or other employees, hire consultants and specialists, and determine the salaries of the people that the
[ Page 3401 ]
adviser hires. The minister can also require the board to pay the salaries and expenses of the special adviser and those that the adviser hires.
I want to know from the minister: why would the cash-strapped boards be expected to pay for the special advisers' salaries and costs?
Hon. C. Clark: A special adviser is going in to assist the district. That's why the district is paying for the special adviser. We don't hold back a big slush fund of money in reserve to pay for things that just arise. We put as much money out the door to school districts as we possibly can out of the money that's allocated to us by the Minister of Finance. This year that's over $3.7 billion. That's the allocation to school districts. The funding for the special adviser, who goes out to assist school districts, comes from that allocation.
J. Kwan: The special advisers are not being put in at the request of the school boards. They're being put in through the minister's decision. They're not there to help the board from the board's perspective. It's up to the minister to appoint and put these boards in.
Why would the minister create the special adviser's position if the Ministry of Education already has an efficiency and effectiveness team? As I understand it, they already have an efficiency and effectiveness team that can provide assistance at the request of boards.
Hon. C. Clark: They are actually called efficiency advisory teams. The district may request those. There is no ability for the ministry to send an efficiency advisory team into a district without a request. This special adviser is different in that the special adviser can be appointed whether or not the special adviser is requested.
J. Kwan: Well, that's precisely the point, given that the board already has access to an efficiency effectiveness team within the ministry if they want to seek advice from the ministry. They already have an opportunity to do that, so for the board to require any assistance the vehicle is already there, and it doesn't cost the board, which is already cash-strapped at this point, to have to pay for it.
This special adviser is completely at the discretion of the minister, for the minister to appoint someone no matter how much it costs, whether or not the board wants it or not. That, to me, speaks contrarily to the B.C. School Trustees Association. In fact, I think it was Michael Smyth in the Province who spoke very well about this issue on Voice of B.C. In his view, he actually suggested that what the minister was doing was putting a spy into the school boards so that they could review and get information to relate back to the minister.
The minister is laughing. She thinks it's kind of funny, because the commentator had made a comment and I'm referencing it in this House. From time to time in this House I reference all comments from a variety of different columnists. This is one which, yes, Michael Smyth did make a comment about. You know what? It's not too farfetched. It's not farfetched at all that this is an adviser the minister can appoint at her own discretion at any time she wants for whatever purpose she wants, which is not clearly stipulated in the act. The board has no ability to say no. Then, to top it off, the board has to pay for it. The board has to pay for it, and that's what the section of the act speaks to.
I think, quite frankly, it's an outrageous abuse of power by the minister, because formerly when the boards ran into problems there was a team that could go in to look at the issues, to work with the board at the board's request. That already existed, and there was no charge to the boards on that. The ministry's costs cover this special team of people who would go in and provide that advice to the various boards. That, in my view, respects the autonomy of the board. At the same time, it provides needed advice when that advice is necessary.
I think it's completely contrary to the government's notion of recognizing the School Trustees Association, the school boards, their autonomy and their role in making these decisions for students in British Columbia.
[H. Long in the chair.]
Hon. C. Clark: Well, I was only chuckling because it's a new thing for this member to stand up and start quoting certain columnists. I hope she'll delve back into some of his works in the past. She can quote him on fast ferries for us, or perhaps she can quote him on Skeena Cellulose for us. Or perhaps she can quote him on the fudge-it budgets. Or perhaps she can quote him on any of the litany of things that he certainly had comment to make. I suspect she'll be quite selective in her comments.
When she stands up and says it's an outrageous abuse of power, I'd remind her of my previous comments. They are this: you don't get autonomy without accountability, and we have given school districts unprecedented autonomy since this government took over — something they asked for and something we have given them in spades — because we recognize that they're locally elected and we recognize that they need to be able to reflect the needs of their local community.
Yes, we have also built in some new accountabilities, but those accountabilities aren't tools the government will use regularly. If she thinks this is an outrageous abuse of government power, what did she think of the agreement-in-committee that the Premier made with the BCTF in the back rooms of government in 1998? What did she think of that? What did she think of the previous government when they went in time and again and overrode local school districts' ability to make decisions after they had gone through tough, difficult consultation processes — just like that? What did she think every year when the previous govern-
[ Page 3402 ]
ment came out and changed the funding formula because it didn't fit exactly what they wanted to tell school districts to do? For her to stand up here and start lecturing….
The Chair: Order. Order, members. Order, member. The minister has the floor.
Hon. C. Clark: My point is simply this. For her to stand up as some kind of advocate for the autonomy of school boards is a little rich. She had ten years to do it, and all she did every time she had the opportunity….
The Chair: Order, member. Order. Will the member please come to order. The minister does have the floor.
Hon. C. Clark: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I promise I will cede my place in the speaking order in just a moment so that the member can get up and say whatever it is she likes. For the moment, I will conclude by saying this.
When she had the opportunity to stand up for the autonomy of school boards, she failed every single time. In fact, what she did in ten years of power was do nothing year after year but further erode the autonomy of school boards. If she had her way in government, school boards would have ultimately ended up to be nothing more than puppets of the provincial government.
We have chosen a different road. We have chosen a road that says school districts should have the right to be able to manage their own budgets. They should have the right to be able to decide who staffs their schools, not just the union. That is a new road. It is a new level of autonomy. It is something that school boards have asked for. It is something that they welcome. It is a change in a new era for British Columbia for every student no matter where they live in this province.
J. Kwan: The minister is so full of it, it's absolutely unbelievable.
Pardon me. Pardon me, Mr. Chair. I get carried away, and I withdraw my comment.
But you know what? The minister is so full of her rhetoric that it is absolutely unbelievable. And you know what? It's not just the minister who's full of the rhetoric. Every single Liberal MLA is full of the rhetoric from the minister. They've actually bought it all, three bags full. They think: "Oh yes, cutting educational funding is a good thing for the people of British Columbia; cutting educational programs is a good thing for the people of British Columbia; school closures are a good thing for the people of British Columbia."
You know what? The minister says she respects the B.C. School Trustees Association, that she respects the trustees. Well, here's what the trustees are calling on the minister to do: to fully fund the teachers contract imposed by legislation by this minister, which this minister said she would do and has not done to date. They're asking for this minister to restore the funding. It's $50 million in provincial public education operational funds that the province had moved out of school districts' operating allocations to pay down government capital debt.
The Chair: Order for a moment. Member, I'd like to know how this relates to the section.
J. Kwan: Oh, absolutely, it relates to the special advisers. You know why, Mr. Chair? When the funding is not there to support the educational programs that need to be funded by government, the minister can appoint special advisers at her own discretion, not at the request of the board, and then make the board pay for them.
You know what? The minister can save the board the money to appoint the special advisers. All the minister has to do is (a) fully fund the teachers contract imposed by the legislation, (b) restore the $50 million in provincial public education operating funds that the province moved out of school districts' operating allocations to pay down the government capital debt and (c) fully fund any of the contracts imposed on school boards through a provincial process, including relevant CUPE agreements, MSP premiums, Workers Compensation Board premiums and Canada Pension Plan costs. That's what the minister can do.
If the minister does what the BCSTA asks the minister to do, then there is no need for a special adviser. There is no need for the minister to put a secret spy into the operation of the school boards to see what they're doing. There's no need for the minister to impose that additional cost onto the school boards. The minister can just say: "Hey, you know what? We will be held accountable too. Do you know how we'll held accountable? We will actually listen to the School Trustees Association, to their request to fully fund education." The minister knows very well she has not fully funded education.
The minister would like to say that under the previous government, there were imposed contracts. When there were imposed contracts, Mr. Chair, it was fully funded by the government. With this government, imposed contracts came with no dollars attached even though the minister said she would fully fund it. You know what? The minister didn't make good on her words. She actually backtracked, and she's not funding contracts accordingly. Now in this legislation under Bill 34, what have we got? We've got the minister, by her own admission, now going to impose, potentially, special advisers on school boards to tell school boards what they should do — at her own request, not at the request of the boards — and then telling the boards they have to pay for it.
[ Page 3403 ]
The minister says she hasn't got the money. Well, the boards don't have the money either. They barely have enough money — in fact, they don't have enough money — to keep schools open. They don't have enough money to keep the teacher-librarians in the school system. They don't have enough money to keep the special needs assistants in place. They don't have the money to not close schools. Those are just some of the pressures they're faced with as a result of this minister's action.
You know what she said? "Don't worry, because you know what we can do? We're going to appoint a special adviser in there. When they don't meet the budget we have foisted on them, that we've forced on them in spite of the increase in funding pressures school boards are faced with, we're going to put a special adviser on those boards, and we're going to tell them exactly what they have to do, whether they like it or not."
This is the minister who was saying: "Oh, gee, we respect school boards and school trustees and their words. We actually respect their autonomy; we respect their perspective." Well, you know what? The reality tells you something different. The actions of this government tell you something different. The school boards, the School Trustees Association, have pointed out how this minister is not respecting their autonomy, how this minister is not respecting their ability to make those decisions and how this minister is causing the problems that school boards are now faced with today.
She's further contributing to it, along with all the Liberal MLAs who've been silent on this issue and who want to make believe that somehow education is being protected, when the reality says the opposite. When school boards are faced with these pressures and have to make those tough decisions, if they're unable to do so and if they say that making these cuts in the education system will actually harm the educational outcomes for students and will harm student achievement, the minister will say: "I have a solution for that. If you don't do my bidding, I am going to appoint a special adviser in there, and you're going to do exactly what I want you to do. Then in addition to that, you're going to pay for it as well, out of the budget, taking program dollars away from students."
Section 83 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 58
NAYS — 2
On section 84.
J. Kwan: Section 84. This amendment adds to the reasons the minister can use to justify the firing of a board and the appointing of an official trustee in the board's place. The bill enables the minister to replace the board if there is a risk to student achievement in the district.
The existing legislation already gave the minister a wide range of reasons for firing a board. This amendment doesn't substantively enhance the power of the minister, save and except that it allows the minister to claim that she is really concerned about academic achievement and that her concern is so significant that she's willing to dismiss a board if academic achievement goals are not met.
The problem with this section of the bill is that it does not provide for accountability of this minister and her actions. What the boards are going to be faced with are cuts to educational programs which we now see rippling throughout British Columbia. And you know what? That's going to impact the achievement of students, not necessarily because of the actions of the boards but because of the actions of this government. This section of the bill does not address that at all. It allows for the minister to blame the school trustees, as though somehow they are at fault when, in fact, they may not be at fault at all; in fact, it may well be the minister's fault.
Could the minister tell the House: are there any discrepancies right now that exist between rural and urban school districts in terms of school achievement?
Hon. C. Clark: There are differences between every district.
J. Kwan: Does the minister have the information on how they differ?
Hon. C. Clark: We've made a commitment to making as much information public as we can, and if the
[ Page 3404 ]
member would like to do a little bit of homework tonight when she gets home, she can go to the Web, look up the accountability contracts, and she will find a whole lot of information contained therein. We are going to continue to provide that information to the public.
J. Kwan: Every night when I leave this House…. We will rise tonight sometime around 9 o'clock. Every night when we leave this House, my colleague and I do homework — whether it be reading about a bill that has just been introduced in case the government calls second reading…. They have done this in the past in this section, where we've been forced to come back into the House within less than 24 hours of the debate. We do engage in doing our homework in that way.
The minister says: "Well, gee, did you ever do that?" No, actually. No, there was never a situation, as far as I can recollect, where 24 hours' notice was given for second reading on a bill, as an example. The minimum, I think, that was given was one week of time allowed. Even then, the Minister of Finance, the current House Leader, complained about the previous government. What this government is now doing is trying to ram bills through the House with less than 24 hours of notice. That's what this government is doing.
Yes, I'll be going home and will absolutely be doing my homework and researching the materials.
You know what? We have already looked at the accountability contracts, and the information that's provided in the accountability contracts does not provide for this information that the minister would like to pretend is there. Maybe the minister can take a look at her own website to see what information is provided under the accountability contract. Maybe she can do some homework, unlike the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, who didn't even know when she put out a press release to say no grizzly hunting on Vancouver Island that there are no grizzlies at all on Vancouver Island — didn't even know what the website said, and yet here we have the minister who's protecting the environment. The same thing, I think, is happening right here, right now, with the Minister of Education. She probably doesn't even know what is going on in terms of the area of education that's being put forward in her own website, and she's saying: "Well, go and take a look at it."
The information is not there. Yes, I would be interested in getting information in terms of school student achievement on a district-by-district basis, because what I understand is this: in rural communities, the school districts have different achievement levels. In the rural communities versus the urban centres, there are differences — make no mistake about it. Even in urban centres, there are differences. I know, as an example, in my own riding, where there are tremendous pressures, challenges and barriers that many students are faced with because of the challenges that inner-city school kids are faced with today…. That exists, and as a result of that, there are impacts on the school student achievement for each of these students. It varies from district to district. Yes, I'd be interested in getting that information, because I want to set a base measure against what the impacts are in the educational system as a result of the cuts caused by this minister, as a result of the cuts imposed by this minister in the area of education.
The accountability that needs to be in place and the measurements that need to be in place for school boards is that when they lose the educational programs, when they lose the special needs assistants in the classroom, when they lose the multicultural outreach workers in the school system, when they lose the counsellors in the school system that assist children to stay in the schools, when they lose all of those kinds of supports, you'd better believe that student achievement is going to be impacted. It wouldn't be because the school board had made a mistake. It would be because this minister had made a mistake by causing the cuts that school boards are faced with today.
Would the minister commit to providing that information on a district-by-district breakdown with respect to student achievement?
The Chair: Shall section 84 pass?
J. Kwan: The arrogance of the minister is absolutely astounding. It is quite stunning; it really is. For the opposition to ask the minister to be held accountable on the issue around student achievement and to provide information so that the information is set so that one could use that as a baseline for measurement….
The minister doesn't even bother to get up to answer the question on this request. It is absolutely stunning, you know, for this minister. I know she thinks that she has a huge government majority, she doesn't have to listen to the opposition, and she doesn't even have to answer questions. That's what this minister thinks — that she doesn't even have to answer questions in this House when questions are asked around her bill and how she will be held accountable. This is in a government that campaigned on openness and accountability and all of those things. When anybody tries to hold this government accountable, do you know what they do? They adopt the notion of "don't blame me; blame somebody else."
This is exactly what this section of the bill is doing. It allows the government to fire a school board when they say that the student achievement is not being met, that it's not satisfactory. Yet, it does not address the issue of school achievement results that are being impacted as a result of the educational program cuts that are caused by this minister and this government. It does not allow that accountability to flow through not only to the school trustees but also to this minister.
What this section of the bill does is allow the minister to say, "Don't blame me; blame the school board," and then, also, for the minister to fire the school board when school student achievement is being compromised.
[ Page 3405 ]
The minister knows very well and ought to know very well that the school student achievement goals are being set, and what makes a difference for the students is around funding supports. Those two things go hand in hand. You cannot deny that they do not go hand in hand. You cannot deny that the achievement issue is solely an issue related to the school trustees. It is an issue related to resources, and when you have funding cuts caused by this government, those resources will not be there to support the students so that they will enhance their educational outcomes.
That is the problem here, and I'll ask the minister one more time. Maybe she'll check herself with her arrogance, and she'll get up and answer the question. Will she provide the opposition with the district-by-district breakdown in terms of student achievement results now?
The Chair: Shall section 84 pass?
J. Kwan: It is absolutely stunning and absolutely unbelievable. The minister is so arrogant that she cannot be bothered to get up to answer a question. She cannot be bothered to get up in this House to answer the question.
Hon. C. Clark: Do you not use the Internet? Something called the Internet?
J. Kwan: The minister thinks she is being funny, as she always is, when concerns around education are being raised and when someone is trying to hold her accountable. She just went, "the Internet?" and she sort of made a face, and she thought she was being funny. I just told this House that I've actually just looked at the Internet, both myself and the member for Vancouver-Hastings, and looked at the accountability contracts, and it provides no such information. The minister knows that very well. Oh well, actually, maybe not. Maybe the minister never even looked at her own Internet on this issue.
We have already demonstrated in question period today that the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection had no idea what goes on that Internet. She just sent out a press release saying, "No grizzly bear hunting on Vancouver Island." No, sorry. She sent out a press release that said: "Go ahead and hunt grizzly bears on Vancouver Island." It was the former government that put the moratorium on the grizzly bear hunt, and the minister even has no idea that there are no grizzly bears in the Vancouver Island area. In fact, there never were, and there are no habitats for grizzly bears. Nonetheless, she sent out a press release saying: "Go ahead and hunt." I don't know what she's thinking. Maybe she's thinking that one should go to the zoo and start shooting down grizzly bears in the zoos or something.
I wonder if this minister has even taken a look at her act. She's saying: "Go and look at the act and look at the website and look at the accountability contracts." The accountability contracts do not speak to student achievements.
The minister is saying: "Are we on section 84 and Bill 34?" Of course we are on section 84, Mr. Chair. The minister will not be held accountable on this issue. The minister will not admit to the fact that she has no base on which to go in terms of student achievements. Maybe she does have the base, but she is not prepared to provide that information to the opposition.
The minister knows very well that it may well not be the school trustees that should be blamed for students not reaching the educational outcomes that they desire — the achievement outcomes that are being desired. Rather, it is the minister who should be blamed for that because when those resources are being eliminated in the school system, it is the students who will suffer, and it is their achievements and their educational outcomes that would be impacted. The person to blame, quite frankly, is not the trustee. It's not the trustees, but rather the person to blame is this Liberal government, this Minister of Education.
When she is making these cuts in the area of education and forcing the school boards to go forward with it because if they don't, she will appoint a special adviser in there to tell them what to do and then make them pay for it and that if they don't do it, now here we are in section 84, where it says: "We could fire you. We could fire you on the basis of student achievements in the district and when there's a risk." All along, the biggest risk for students who are faced with their achievement outcomes are the risks being caused by this minister and by this government as a result of their cuts in the area of education.
You know, Mr. Speaker, you can cast it in any light you want. Those are the realities that students are faced with today. Where in section 84 does it hold this minister accountable? Who can fire this minister under section 84, when she's putting the student achievement at risk? Who can hold this government accountable? What measure within this act will be utilized to hold this minister accountable?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, accountability contracts will be made public. The ministry is in regular consultation with school districts. We have set out a three-year service plan, and we are held accountable on that.
We're always accountable in this House as well. Each of our MLAs is locally accountable to their communities. They're home in their communities on weekends, and they're speaking to them.
We are accountable in this government, in fact, in more ways than any government has been in recent history. This is the most transparent, accountable government we have had in British Columbia in a long time. The Ministry of Education is just as much a part of that transparency and that accountability as any other ministry in this government.
J. Kwan: Well, within section 84 of this act there is nowhere that would allow school boards to hold this
[ Page 3406 ]
government accountable when they put student achievement at risk in school districts. What do you call it when you have school districts faced with loss of teacher assistants, loss of teacher-librarians and loss of teachers in the school system in general? We are faced with a situation whereby close to 2,000 teaching positions would be lost as a result of this minister's action.
This minister, I would submit, is putting student achievement at risk. That's what she's doing. The minister is creating a budgeting shortfall for schools to the tune of $204.8 million. The minister calls this pressure in the school system. It's over $200 million worth of pressure, whereby so many, many individuals that would assist the students to achieve and reach their educational outcomes are being lost.
How does section 84 hold this government accountable? How does section 84 hold this minister accountable? There's nowhere in there. All it does is pass the responsibility, shift the blame. Blame it on the school boards. It allows the government to fire the school boards, to put the trustees in place when they deem that there are risks to student achievement in this school district. It does not speak to the risks that this minister…. She has put student achievement at risk. It does not speak to that at all.
It is particularly confounding for this minister to sit there and say: "Oh well, each MLA will go back to their riding."
MLAs in their respective ridings…. I know the member for Nelson-Creston. The community there is saying: "Where's the MLA?" They use the MLA's name, but they're saying: "Where's the MLA?" The MLA is nowhere to be found. The week that we were supposed to be off, talking to our constituents and meeting with people, the MLA is not there. The MLA is vacationing — the member for Nelson-Creston, as an example.
How will the MLAs be held accountable when they're nowhere to be found? How will section 84 hold this government and this minister accountable?
The Chair: Member, how does this relate to section 84?
J. Kwan: Oh, Mr. Chair, absolutely, it is relevant. The section of the act talks about how the government can fire a board and put a trustee in place when "there is a risk to student achievement in the district and it is in the public interest to do so."
I want to ask the question, then, of this minister: how will the public hold this government accountable when it is not the school trustees who have put student achievement at risk, but rather it is this minister? That's what's happening. That's what flows from the funding cuts. That's what flows in terms of the elimination of close to 2,000 teaching positions in the school districts.
There's over $200 million of school funding pressure that's causing the school trustees to cut multicultural workers, cut ESL support staff, cut gifted programs, cut special needs assistants and close schools. That's how it's relevant. One cannot just blame the school trustees for having to make these cuts which may compromise students' achievement. You have to look beyond that to ask who the author is who's behind the cuts, the person who is causing these cuts. The person causing these cuts is the Minister of Education. It is the Liberal government. That's what's causing these cuts.
I want to know how, under section 84, the government will be held accountable themselves. Who will hold the government, the minister, accountable, and what provisions within section 84 will allow for that?
We have not heard one word from any of the backbench MLAs — or the frontbench, for that matter — around this issue. None of them have spoken on this issue and asked the minister questions. None of them are concerned about the minister firing the school trustees. This provision allows the minister to fire the school trustees and appoint a board in its place when it is deemed that there is a risk to student achievement in the district and that it is in the best interests of the public to do so.
The government fails to understand or they're pretending they fail to understand that there's a linkage with cuts in educational programs which could compromise student achievement and outcomes. The minister, who professes to understand education and have a vision for education…. It surprises and shocks me indeed that the minister sees no link. When the resources are not there in the classroom for students, students' educational outcomes could be compromised, and their achievement goals could also be compromised. There's no link whatsoever? The minister fails to see that link, and I'm trying to establish that link for the minister so that she clearly understands the responsibility of herself and this government.
It's not good enough for the minister just to say, "Blame it on the school trustees," and pass the buck. "It's not my responsibility; it's somebody else's." You know why? It is this minister's responsibility. She is the Minister of Education. She is causing these cuts that are taking place throughout British Columbia. These cuts will compromise and put at risk students' achievement goals and educational outcomes. The school trustees should not be blamed for that. It should be this minister who should be held accountable. There should be a provision in here that the school trustees can challenge this minister on her accountability, on her putting students' achievement outcomes and goals at risk. That's what should be in place here. That's what we're debating under Bill 34, section 84.
If the government is true to its word on the issue around accountability, this minister will amend this act to ensure that she will be held accountable, and the minister will actually listen to the requests of the B.C. School Trustees Association to fully fund the school teachers contract and all the other contracts associated with it, to fully fund the debt-servicing that is now in place, to fully fund MSP premiums so that school boards won't have to cut essential programs that impact students' achievement outcomes. To do otherwise, the minister is being hypocritical.
[ Page 3407 ]
More than that, the minister is being irresponsible. She's passing the buck so that someone else will be blamed. The first person who will blame the school trustees if student achievements are not reached…. The school trustees themselves will be blamed by this minister. The minister will be the first person to blame someone else, when all along it is the minister's responsibility. It is the minister who will be at fault in causing students to not achieve the outcomes desired by the broader public.
Hon. Chair, I would have grave difficulties in supporting this section of the bill. All this does is for the minister to pass the buck and say it's somebody else's responsibility and then, more than that, for the minister to fire them. There's nothing within the act that provides for the minister to be held accountable, that the minister needs to be recognized for her responsibility, and for the minister to recognize that when she cuts educational funding, when she cuts educational programs, she herself is putting at risk the student achievement outcomes throughout the different districts in British Columbia.
Section 84 approved on division.
Sections 85 to 93 inclusive approved.
Hon. C. Clark: In the course of this debate we've had, certainly some interesting and enlightening comments. This act represents a major new move by this government. Most importantly, it is a move that will mean school districts have more autonomy — promises and commitments that we made during the election and promises and commitments that we are living up to today. Requests for more autonomy were something that districts asked us for and something we've delivered on.
In addition to that, something that I think all of us in this House should be very, very proud of is our move to give parents more say in their children's education, which we are doing through this act. I think history will note that this act will mean for many parents a guarantee of involvement in their children's education that wasn't there before. It's a statement by this government about how much we value every parent's involvement in their children's education. We know that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the better their children do in school.
With that, Mr. Chair, I move that the committee rise, report the bill complete with amendment and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:48 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002, reported complete with amendment.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. C. Clark: With leave, now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the House stand recessed until 6:30.
The House recessed from 5:50 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Committee of the Whole House. For the information of members, we will be debating Bill 27 at committee stage.
Committee of the Whole House
EMPLOYMENT AND ASSISTANCE FOR
PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 27; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 6:34 p.m.
On section 2 as amended (continued).
J. MacPhail: We are here debating Bill 27, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act. We're on section 2. It's a fairly important section, because it talks about how people are determined to be eligible for disability benefits.
I just note for the record that many sections of this act overlap with Bill 26, the Employment and Assistance Act. Section 2 is key to this because it sets out a different set of parameters for people to meet in order to qualify for what one might say is enhanced support from the state, but really we're talking about $800 per month for a single individual who has a disability.
I feel compelled to tell the minister, almost with a note of sympathy, that over the weekend we received a lot more information from people who are affected by the changes to this legislation — people with disabili-
[ Page 3408 ]
ties, let's be clear — and wish us to raise these questions.
I think it's fair for me to comment on behalf of the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and myself that the debate has been at least engaging. The minister is doing his level best to answer the questions, but there is still a lot of deep-seated worry out there not only amongst people who are calling in to us after watching the debate but, more importantly, from those who are actually trying to find out from within the system how they will be treated under this legislation. For those who think that it may be just that to watch television is to see fearmongering, in fact the information we've received has been from people who are actually going within the system trying to find answers and still can't.
Let me just start, if I may, with this message that was sent to the member for Vancouver-Langara. It's from the Action Committee of People with Disabilities. They're writing to the member for Vancouver-Langara, and on the definition of disability it says:
They mean the people who are part of the Action Committee of People with Disabilities. They are, as self-described, an action committee, and they all have disabilities, and they have concerns. I'll just read this, and it's directly on point of the definition of how one is eligible for a disability pension:
This is what they say would make a good definition of a person with a disability, and they say: "'By reason of disability' would include all people with disabilities who due to the functional impact of their disability are unable to achieve 'continuous financial independence.'" They state: "This is also intended to grandparent employment history as a determining factor." They suggest: "This would capture people from all three categories." They go on to say:
That's a very different interpretation to what the minister has suggested as a functional test. The minister has suggested that a functional test is whether one can clothe or feed oneself, bathe or do the laundry. I wondering whether the minister could comment on this definition of what a functional impact might be.
Hon. M. Coell: That sounds like an employment test for persons with disabilities. We believe the test for disability is in some restriction in your ability to perform daily activities, and the advantages of not linking it to employment make it less restrictive.
J. MacPhail: Perhaps what I should do, then, is just describe all three tests that this group is putting forward. It perhaps was unfair of me to have the minister comment just on it because the three are to be taken as a package. My apologies. The minister's comments are fair for just the first part of that.
The next part of the…. I'll just start again. "A person will qualify for continuous assistance at the maximum benefit level where he/she, by reason of disability or disability-related accommodation…." Here's what disability-related accommodation is. It's a term which often "refers to employment or educational accommodation but for purposes of definition can be applied to any person requiring any type of disability-related accommodation including adaptive equipment or technology or home support as well as employment and education/training and who, without the appropriate accommodation, would be unable to achieve 'continuous financial independence.'"
That's the second definition that is a disability-related accommodation that impedes continuous financial independence.
I continue to read here.
[ Page 3409 ]
I thought this was very important. One, it was sent to the member for Vancouver-Langara. They were good enough to send a copy to us. As I understand it, what they're saying is that we start from the premise of recognizing that every person wants to work — and then what is necessary to ensure that a person with a disability who wants to work is able to do so. If the barriers to work or to employment are not of the person's own making, then the person should qualify for continuous assistance. The reason of disability meant that they couldn't achieve continuous financial independence; that's one definition. Then, secondly, they have a disability-related accommodation that either leads to employment or prevents employment. Those should be the two assessments.
It does seem to me to more readily match the minister's words rather than the legislation's intent. The minister stands up here and says: "We think it important that people with disabilities be able to work." This says exactly the same thing, but instead of somehow suggesting that the disability cannot be counted as a factor in determining employment, they do exactly the opposite. They say: "Here's what needs to be accommodated in order to encourage employment."
Is the minister familiar with these two definitions?
Hon. M. Coell: No, I haven't seen them.
J. MacPhail: Perhaps these two factors, in terms of levelling the playing field, have been recognized elsewhere.
Let me ask this of the minister: if a disability can't lead to continuous financial independence or if there's a disability-related accommodation that can't be met by an employer, where in the legislation does that guarantee that a person with a disability will continue to get assistance and not just be told to look for work with other employers?
Hon. M. Coell: I guess this, again, is back to the definition. It is not based on employment. A person with a disability who is seeking work will not be cut off, nor will a person with a disability who is not able to achieve independence through work be cut off. We believe, obviously, that the definition included in the bill is the right one.
A person with a disability does not have a reduction if they're employable. Suggestions seem to be based on a belief that "a person with a disability" is only for someone who is unemployable. We have no intention of penalizing people with disabilities. In fact, we will support them, as we've outlined in the employment strategy for a person with a disability.
If I could just touch base a little bit on that for the member, there are tens of thousands of people with disabilities who work in British Columbia. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice what it is for people who do not have disabilities, so what we're trying to say is that we want to assist people who have disabilities and who would like to be able to work. To that end, we're going to spend $55.5 million over three years on B.C. employment and assistance for persons with disabilities.
What I think is the basis of levelling the playing field are the supports you give people with disabilities who've had a difficult time achieving employment. That's having an earning exemption so they can keep the money that's from the government and at the same time have an earning exemption of $300 per month. If they can work part-time, they can enhance their income. If someone is able to work full-time, they would continue with the same medical benefits they had when they were on income assistance.
We would go out into the community with employers of people with disabilities and look at being able to develop the technical aids, the workplace accommodations, the follow-up supports in the workplace for someone with a disability. The likelihood that they would be able to stay employed and stay in the workplace would be greater than without all of these new support mechanisms.
I realize, too, that many people with disabilities will find that their disability is cyclical in nature, or they may find they're only able to work a few months of the year. What we want to do is be able to have them rapidly reinstated back onto income assistance. They would keep their designation and wouldn't have to reapply and go through the process. They would just say they wished to come back on, and that would be available to them.
There's a whole range of things that if we can encourage and help with — from volunteer work to part-time to intermittent employment to being potentially independent from income assistance to full-time employment — I think that is, from what I've heard from people with disabilities in my lifetime as well as by being in government, the sort of support they need. I think the criteria we've set out and this program will enhance the lives of people with disabilities in British Columbia.
J. MacPhail: The feedback we're getting from this debate is that the minister's words are good and very
[ Page 3410 ]
supportive, but they're not backed up by the legislation. You know, things change. Things change in the public service, and things change in the cabinet, so all people can rely on are the words in the legislation. The words in the legislation are a dramatic change in who qualifies for continuous assistance as a person with a disability.
All of the terms and conditions for helping people with disabilities that the minister just outlined were in place before — were absolutely in place before — and every person who was able to take advantage of training programs did so, clamoured for it. But now we see a very, very much tougher test being applied to people with disabilities about whether they qualify or not.
People out there are desperate for us to get to the bottom of why the government has changed the definition of disability. What is their real intent here? I have to confess that my colleague and I have failed. We tried to put the minister's words to the test — his suggestion that nothing had changed for people with disabilities. We tried to put it to the test — to say that the previous definition should apply. No. It was turned down 76 to 2. There has to be some intention behind the change.
All the words of supporting people with disabilities were there beforehand. All of the programs were there. In fact, there's no new money going into employment programs for people with disabilities. If indeed there's one new cent going into it, it comes out of other employment programs for people on income assistance who don't have disabilities. This minister has no overall new money for training.
Let me just read this concern that came in around the definition and why the change. It's from the Kamloops Brain Injury Association. The person is the executive director. It's sent to the minister. It says:
That's signed by the executive director of the Kamloops Brain Injury Association.
I raise this point because at the end of the last week while my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I were raising all of these issues, there were taunts in the Legislature that we were fearmongering. There were taunts that somehow if we would just sit down and allow this to pass, all of the issues we raised would be shown to be fearmongering.
What we're trying to do is rely on those out in the field who deal with these issues each and every day. This person from the Kamloops Brain Injury Association has pointed out that the changes to the definition will have a deleterious effect on people with brain injuries. Has the minister met with people from the brain injury community?
Hon. M. Coell: I have met twice, I believe, with the Victoria brain injury group, prior to actually becoming minister as well.
J. MacPhail: Then the minister knows full well the wonderful work they do. In effect, they are a group of medical experts, community experts, family members and the brain injured themselves that copes with very little resources with the effects of brain injury.
I must say that the executive director of the Kamloops Brain Injury Association makes some very good
[ Page 3411 ]
points. I raise the points she makes in the context of the previous proposal for a change in the definition that says if the disability of the person doesn't permit continuous financial independence or if there is a disability-related accommodation that is needed but can't be met by an employer, then those two factors should automatically qualify a person for continuous assistance.
In this case, it would sure seem to me that the person who knows to turn a faucet on but doesn't have the brain capability because of an injury to remember to turn the faucet off has a disability-related accommodation that very few employers could meet. That's why I relate the two.
Let's just go with perhaps knowing that the minister to date has been unwilling, along with his colleagues, to modify the definition of who is eligible, in what form — ever. What comfort can the minister give — on the basis of the legislation, not his words of policy — to the director of the Kamloops Brain Injury Association on the issues that she raised?
Hon. M. Coell: Certainly, the definition for activities of daily living will encompass the type of disability that you have cited. An individual who doesn't have the ability to judge the timing of a faucet so that they prevent injury would absolutely be included. The individual who takes four hours to dress also would be included in the definition. The issue of whether the individual has supervision but rather may be deemed to require it is something we've touched on before. Because of that person's desire to be independent and requires significantly less time to dress, this person would absolutely be included.
J. MacPhail: Give them comfort. They've read the legislation. They're still asking the questions. Point to the legislation, please, where it says that.
Hon. M. Coell: Actually, the regulations will have that definition in them.
J. MacPhail: Well, you know, I guess that's why people are listening to the debate and are writing these letters. These letters are coming in after we've had a fulsome debate on these issues, and they're saying: "What regulations?"
It is not allowed to make regulations that completely reverse the legislation; regulations can only clarify legislation. If all of a sudden there's going to be a set of clarifying regulations that completely change the intent of the bill, why don't we have the regulations before us? Why is it that people with disabilities are having to rely only on the legislation when the minister's source of comfort to their questions is: "Don't worry. It's in the regulation"?
Who's seen the regulation? How will the regulations be debated? You can't have regulations contrary to legislation. Every time we, on behalf of people with disabilities, say, "Point to it in the legislation," the minister responds with: "It'll be in the regulation." How is that any way to run or to make a social safety net for people with disabilities?
Hon. M. Coell: I wouldn't want to quote the hon. member, but I remember the Medicare Protection Act, and her response to a question similar to mine was that the regulation would be ready within a year.
J. Kwan: You know, it's not good enough for the minister to say that. If you look at the issue at hand, which is that we're dealing with people with disabilities who are seeking government assistance, the previous act stated clearly under what conditions a person would be eligible and how a person would be defined as a person with disabilities. Those provisions have now been taken out under Bill 27. At every turn, when a question is asked of the minister about people's eligibility, whether it be on the basis of medical conditions….
Last week, before we adjourned the House, I had a list that was sent to me from the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities. It was a thick list around medical conditions for which people received disability assistance under the former act. That list, as I understand it, was sent to the minister, and it was asked of the minister to respond and advise whether or not people with this set of medical conditions would continue to receive disability benefits under Bill 27. That same list was also sent to the deputy minister. No response was provided to the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, so we brought the list to this House to ask these questions.
You know what? The minister would not comment on any of those medical conditions. Then, just now, my colleague from Vancouver-Hastings asked the minister about the issue that's been raised by the community which heard the debate today and read Hansard today, and the letters continue to come in to get clarity from the government around who is eligible. The minister's response was to say: "Well, gee, it's in the regulations." When my colleague says, "It's not good enough to suggest that," the minister brings up some obscure act, some other act that is not relevant, quite frankly, to this debate.
In this debate here we're talking about the issues in relation to people with disabilities and their eligibility for it. Under Bill 27, the government has taken away the clarity that needed to be in legislation around defining who should be eligible for disability. Quite frankly, the minister's answer is not good enough.
Let me just take another letter. These letters, I have to emphasize, came in after the debate in the House around these issues. In spite of the many questions my colleague and I have asked and in spite of the minister's attempt at the answers, there is still a lot of confusion in the broader public. People are still writing in wanting clarity from this government, wanting to be clear around who is going to be eligible and who is not.
[ Page 3412 ]
The impacts for people with disabilities are enormous. Perhaps none of us will ever know unless we have been in their shoes. I pray that none of us will experience that. I don't wish anybody ill — to suggest that maybe they'll face a disability at some point in time, whether it be a brain injury caused by some accident that will render them in a situation where they're unable to work and may require assistance and so forth. I don't wish that on anybody.
None of us really knows what that feels like until we have been there, and the people who are writing in are the people who have been there. They are there now, and they want clarity from this government on this issue because it impacts their lives directly. When the government says they are there for you and want to protect the people who are most disadvantaged — and they are the most disadvantaged that we're talking about….
Let us be clear so that the confusion, the anxiety, could be dispelled in the broader community. Let that fearmongering that the minister keeps on accusing the opposition of doing be cast aside. Answer these questions in a forthright manner. Bring it into legislation so that there are no more questions on this front. Then we can move on to another section of the bill.
Let me just raise the issue now from the Penticton and District Society for Community Living. They have written to the minister on this issue. Let me just read the letter into the record.
In fact, the letter is signed by the entire board, it appears to me. The vice-president, the treasurer and parent, the director and parent, another director and parent, a director and self-advocate, two directors and then a couple more directors and parents sign the letter.
What is the minister's response to the Penticton and District Society for Community Living?
Hon. M. Coell: Firstly, with regard to the previous letter that the member quoted from, we have no record of receiving it either in my office here, my constituency office or the ministry. We haven't received it. However, I think we've provided more clarity that will make sure that persons with disability receive the assistance they require.
With regard to the question the member asks re discretion, rescinding is discretionary. As minister, I would do it only if their case had been reviewed through due process. In other words, it can't be arbitrarily tied to the facts of the case as they are related to eligibility criteria. The client could then reapply through the normal process.
L. Mayencourt: I have a few questions that are really a compilation of questions from community groups and individuals in my community, and I just want to ask these questions of the minister.
Part of the criteria under the old BC Benefits Act for establishing someone's disability status was unusual and continuous costs. Those have been removed from the definition. I wonder if the minister would please tell us why they have been removed and how the new act addresses those issues.
Hon. M. Coell: I think I've addressed this before, but I'd be pleased to do it again, because I have addressed a number of questions more than once.
The definition under the new legislation now focuses on functional limitations that restrict an individual's ability to perform daily living activities. Where assistance is needed for a functional limitation, there will generally be associated costs. By focusing on a functional limitation rather than medical costs, the ministry is bringing the definition of disability more in line with human rights case law.
L. Mayencourt: Thank you to the minister. I'm sure that many of these questions have been canvassed, and I appreciate his indulgence in answering them. I did make a commitment to my community, which I intend to keep, to raise these questions so that the minister will have an opportunity to answer them.
[ Page 3413 ]
L. Mayencourt: I'm sorry if the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant objects to me asking the questions, but I will ask them in any event.
I have a question for the minister. In order to qualify for disability benefits, applicants will have to be directly and significantly restricted in their ability to perform daily living activities. My question is: will a person be required to show that they need help with these specific activities?
Hon. M. Coell: Basically, the health professional will determine the activities. The operative test is whether, as a result of the restrictions, the individual requires help to perform daily activities. Help is defined as a requirement for an assistive device or for help or supervision of a person and is simply meant to clarify the means by which a person requires the help they need.
As I said, daily living activities will be defined by regulation, and assessment tools will assist in interpreting how direct and significant a restriction must be. The regulations will specify the activities of daily living that will be considered for the restriction. The length of time required to carry out activities is implied to be in the definition and would be one of the factors considered by the health professional. The ministry expects people with AIDS currently on disability assistance to remain eligible under the new legislation.
L. Mayencourt: What is the difference between significant assistance and extensive assistance, and could you please explain the rationale behind that change and how the regulations will reflect that change?
Hon. M. Coell: The ministry does not distinguish between the use of "significant" or "extensive." In and of itself, the choice of the word "significant" is not intended to imply either a more or less restrictive criterion. It was simply the choice of words the drafter used. The overall definition now provides greater clarity to ensure applicants are designated consistently and fairly.
L. Mayencourt: My next question has to do with schedule C and the monthly nutritional supplement, which a number of individuals living on disability 2 have been awarded either through tribunal or through some other process within the ministry. Will those individuals continue to receive that full amount awarded to them either through the tribunals or through previous policy established with the Ministry of Human Resources?
Hon. M. Coell: The short answer is yes. Under the new legislation, the monthly nutritional supplement will continue to be available for people with disabilities, including those with grandparented appeal awards.
L. Mayencourt: Will there be any changes in the criteria a doctor must consider when recommending that a patient is disabled and should be provided disability benefits? Will a person be required by the ministry to see a doctor other than his or her own for any reasons?
Hon. M. Coell: Simply, the doctor or the health professional is the choice of the individual applying.
L. Mayencourt: Since we're moving to a designation of continuous assistance, can a person who's receiving disability assistance under that category reasonably expect that if they return to work and later become too ill to continue the work after a period of time, they'll be entitled to regain their disability assistance, including schedule C or monthly nutritional supplements or what have you, within a reasonable time frame? Also, would there be interim assistance while the person is waiting for reinstatement to full disability assistance?
Hon. M. Coell: There is no interim assistance, as they maintain their designation. They would be fully and rapidly reinstated, with the benefits, to full assistance.
L. Mayencourt: Is there any assessment that takes place at the time the individual goes back to their financial aid worker and says, "I'm back, and I need to reactivate my disability file," or whatever it happens to be called? Is there any form of assessment that takes place at that point?
Hon. M. Coell: There would only be the financial test at that point.
L. Mayencourt: Just to clarify, it would be an assessment based on their financial eligibility to receive benefits but not any other.
Hon. M. Coell: That's correct.
L. Mayencourt: I've had a number of letters written to me by very wonderful groups: the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, the B.C. Persons with AIDS Society, AIDS Vancouver. A recurring theme through that is that they're unsure about why the regulations weren't brought in with this. Is it common practice — this is my first term here — for legislation to be introduced with all of the policies and regulations attached to it?
Hon. M. Coell: We've been through that a couple of times with a couple of other members. I would say it has always been the case that regulations are not debated in the Legislature, and it's a parliamentary tradition that has served us well. Regulations generally take between six months and a year to be implemented. We have had other comments, and we're
[ Page 3414 ]
endeavouring to get the regulations completed by the end of June and to be able to move forward as quickly as possible on them.
L. Mayencourt: Another theme that seems to run through these is the process of consultation. I know the minister consulted with a number of community groups such as the ones I mentioned, and he spoke just a moment ago about the group from Kamloops and others in the questioning on this bill and the debate on this particular section.
The theme seems to be this now: as we enter the phase where regulations and policies are going to be developed, can those groups be reasonably assured they will be consulted with by the minister and his staff as those regulations are put into the books?
Hon. M. Coell: I know my deputy and assistant deputy met today, as a matter of fact, with the British Columbia Association for Community Living and the B.C. mental health association to discuss these very things.
L. Mayencourt: And that process will continue?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, it will. Most definitely.
L. Mayencourt: One community group has made a recommendation, and I just wonder if the minister can comment on it, based on some of the conversations we've had. Their recommendation is — and this has to do with people living with HIV/AIDS — that a lifetime disability designation should remain for persons with HIV/AIDS and that perhaps other disability groups should be considered for such a designation as well. Do you contemplate any group having permanent disability designation through the regulations?
Hon. M. Coell: No. We don't intend to, but we will not ask individuals to reapply if there is no change in the medical circumstances — no changing or deteriorating.
J. Kwan: You know, it is very interesting for the member for Vancouver-Burrard to come into the House at least a week too late in raising these questions on behalf of his constituency group.
The Chair: Member, I find that comment really inappropriate. Would you carry on with the question of section 2 as amended.
J. Kwan: Well, the member for Vancouver-Burrard was asked by his constituency group to raise these issues, these concerns, in this House.
The Chair: Member, I just remind you that I find those comments inappropriate. Would you please carry on.
J. Kwan: I am going to relate the matter to what we're discussing today. I was just looking over Hansard, Mr. Chair, on these questions that the member for Vancouver-Burrard is asking now, which had already been raised by myself and the member for Vancouver-Hastings last week. It is very interesting to note about the answers of the minister on these issues that to date, there has been no clarity whatsoever in the answers from the minister.
Actually, quite frankly, it didn't matter whether or not I, the member for Vancouver-Hastings or the member for Vancouver-Burrard asked the questions. None of the answers clarify the issues. I actually have Hansard right in front of me, hon. Chair, and I do raise the matter in terms of the questions raised by the member for Vancouver-Burrard. They are questions that I know many community groups are very concerned about and have asked the member to raise in this House. Until now, they weren't raised. So last week I raised them in this House. The member for Vancouver-Burrard did not raise these issues until now, and those questions, quite frankly, had been asked.
But having been asked again and again, the answers from the minister remain unclear. I just want to recanvass this issue, because there seems to be a lot of confusion around this. Let's just go back and recanvass this issue. The member for Vancouver-Burrard seems to not have received the answers from the minister when those issues were raised in the House last week, and he feels compelled to come into the House and ask these questions again. Well, I feel compelled to get clarity once again, then, from the minister, because it is unclear as to what the position is around the eligibility criteria for people with HIV and AIDS.
There are lots of issues that people have raised. These were all the questions the community asked the member for Vancouver-Burrard, to raise these concerns in the House. He didn't do it last week, so I raised them. Now, today, he's raised some of the issues.
Let me just go back, then, to the issues the community has asked to be raised in this House with respect to eligibility for people with HIV and AIDS, relating to Bill 27. This is from a group called PAN, the Pacific AIDS Network. This letter was actually addressed to the member for Vancouver-Burrard and dated way back on April 17. Let me just raise these issues in this House again.
Having said that, here is a list of questions from PAN.
[ Page 3415 ]
[H. Long in the chair.]
This is the list of questions that PAN had asked, but they weren't the only ones. There was a series of other questions as well. People with AIDS had also come forward with a variety of other issues that had been raised, particularly where we engaged in debate with this minister last week. There was a lot of confusion around it, around the notion that the minister said: "Don't worry. Be happy with the regulations. All of that will unfold, and those who now qualify will continue to qualify."
When asked a question around the issue around qualification — what will be used to determine eligibility? — the minister went right back to the act, not on what he thinks is going to come forward in regulation. He went back to the act to say that the person must meet the criteria on the medical condition and, as well, demonstrate that the individual needs assistance in performing daily living activities. On that basis, the issue with PWAs was raised because some PWAs may not necessarily be able to demonstrate the criteria in terms of the need to have assistance to perform daily living activities, but they would be able to demonstrate the increased costs associated with the disability. Well, that provision of demonstrating additional costs is now gone from this act.
The minister gave no reassurance whatsoever to PWAs on the issue around eligibility. The same thing has happened now. I don't think that the member for Vancouver-Burrard asked these questions as clearly and succinctly as being asked by his constituency groups to this minister, because the language in which the member for Vancouver-Burrard cast the questions is much softer. They're puffball questions. They don't go right to the heart of the issue around eligibility.
You know what? Since that time, new questions have come in. New questions have come in, and maybe the member for Vancouver-Burrard will keep pace and make sure he raises the questions on behalf of his constituency base. AIDS Vancouver Island actually sent in a series of questions to the minister around eligibility on this front. Let me just ask these questions of the minister and put it on record. I would be very interested to hear the minister's response.
The letter is addressed to the minister from AIDS Vancouver Island regarding Bills 26 and 27.
New questions that have come in from AIDS Vancouver Island….
Maybe the minister can start off by answering this question: how will the new definition of disability ac-
[ Page 3416 ]
knowledge that people with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C have specific expenses to maintain adequate health?
Hon. M. Coell: I listened carefully to the questions. I think the answer to that is: people with HIV/AIDS will meet the criteria and will get the support they need.
J. Kwan: Well, I'm going to go back to Hansard, because the minister's answer on this issue is as clear as mud. I've raised the issue particularly on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS and also people with hepatitis C.
Here's what the minister said when I first asked this question last week: "The first is the health assessment, and the second is the assessment for daily activities." This is related to eligibility.
Then, the point that I made was:
At that point I was interrupted by the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services suggesting that I was out of order and that I wasn't talking about the section under discussion. He raised that matter. I challenged the minister to actually take a moment to look at the bill and realize that I was talking exactly about section 2 around eligibility for individuals.
Let me then just go on, skipping over that portion of the interruption by the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. I went on to suggest this:
Then the minister said this: "I guess, simply, the applicant will not have to show higher expenses to qualify with this definition."
I went on to ask the minister on the same issue around the ability to perform daily living activities. I wanted the minister to clarify eligibility criteria. The minister went on to say: "They would have to show the need for assistance with daily living, as does everyone in the definition of a person with disabilities." Then, the minister went on to say this:
Then, on a question to the minister around further clarification on this matter, here's what the minister said: "I believe this definition will enable people with HIV/AIDS to qualify for disability benefits continuously."
The minister went on to say: "The two years the member comments on — that's tied to the physical impairment and recognizes that physical conditions can change."
The minister, in one breath of the sitting, when asked about eligibility for people with AIDS — who's eligible and what conditions they have to meet — changed his position time and time again.
First, it was just that they have to meet the criteria of a medical condition. Then it was added that they have to qualify by the need for "…significantly restricts the person's ability to perform daily living activities…." When pushed further on it, particularly on the understanding that people with AIDS would be given assurance that they will continue to receive disability under Bill 27 and that nobody would be cut off, then the minister said yes, people with HIV/AIDS would be qualified. When asked whether or not they would they still qualify if they had extra expenses but didn't meet the criteria of continuous need for…daily living activities, then the answer again by the minister — a change…. It continually changes.
The information that was provided to people with AIDS varied as well. What they understood was that those people who need assistance from government would continue to receive it under Bill 27. In what the minister said last week in this debate, he has changed his mind several times around who is eligible and who is not eligible. At the end of the debate it was determined that the people that the minister's staff had provided confidence to, the individuals they had spoken with on this issue…. They in fact would not be impacted, and that people would not be cut off turned out to be false — false.
That was in last week's debate. This week the member for Vancouver-Burrard has brought the issue
[ Page 3417 ]
back up, and again there is no clarity on this issue. Nobody knows which it is. Again the minister says: "Don't worry. It's all in regulations." Well, with all due respect, there is a lot of worry.
L. Mayencourt: It's pretty clear to me.
J. Kwan: The member for Vancouver-Burrard says: "It's pretty clear to me." It's not clear to the people who asked the member for Vancouver-Burrard to raise the questions. It's not clear to the member for Vancouver-Hastings or myself. In force, it is so unclear that AIDS Vancouver Island sent out another letter to the minister around eligibility. There was a list of questions associated with this. The minister has not answered the questions that I've asked in this House.
How will the bill ensure that when a person requires significant help from time to time to perform daily living activities, they will qualify for disability benefits?
Hon. M. Coell: I haven't been here longer than six years, but I've never heard a member read their own comments back into Hansard. That will probably confuse future generations, I would think.
With the legislation and the criteria, we simply expect that people with HIV/AIDS will continue to qualify.
J. Kwan: The minister says that in his history of being here, he hasn't heard members quoting themselves back into Hansard. In the period in which I have been here, I have never seen a minister flip-flop so many times on an issue, on questions that were raised by members of the House.
The reason why it's being quoted back to the minister is to illustrate exactly that point — how he's been all over the map. Even now he just said that people with HIV/AIDS will qualify. I'll remember this. I ask the minister, then: what are the qualifiers, the conditions, attached to that eligibility? Maybe the minister can put that on record now.
Hon. M. Coell: There has been no flip-flop on the part of this minister. I have answered the member's questions repeatedly, and they've canvassed this section thoroughly. I think the member should probably find some questions she hasn't asked or hasn't read, asked and re-entered into Hansard.
J. Kwan: You know what? The person who actually asks exactly the same questions that I've asked would be the member for Vancouver-Burrard. The questions that he raised in this House at this time were the same questions that were raised last week — the same questions. The member for Vancouver-Burrard neglected to raise the issues on behalf of his constituents. Then he rises in the House to say, "Oh, gee, I'm asking these questions now," when all of the questions had already been asked by myself and the member for Vancouver-Hastings.
Given the answers from the minister, it does not give any clarity whatsoever on the notion of eligibility. The questions that are coming in, and this set here that I just read into the record from AIDS Vancouver Island, came in after the debate from last week. They didn't come in before people had listened to the minister's response. They came in after, and people are still confused as to what the minister is doing on this issue of eligibility.
You know what? AIDS Vancouver Island is not the only group. They're not the only people who are asking these questions. There are others who are asking these questions — many other people who are asking these questions. The Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre — another set of questions. They relate to people with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, brain injuries, MS — a whole variety of disabilities. Here's what the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre has to say, and it's a letter written to the minister:
The letter goes on to say: "We urge you to reconsider this act so that it may truly reflect the realities of living with disabilities so that it may reflect a social contract based upon care for those who truly require it." The letter was signed by the epilepsy program coordinator, Isa Milman, and Maureen Matthew, the Parkinson's program coordinator.
The eligibility requirements per the act under 27, as identified by the writers of the letter, make it more difficult for people to be eligible for benefits and reduce the opportunities for people with disabilities for functional living. How does the minister respond to this question that's been raised by the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre?
Hon. M. Coell: I'll say again: I believe we've got the right designation for persons with disabilities who need assistance and will have the security and comfort that they need.
[ Page 3418 ]
J. MacPhail: I'm not quite sure why the minister is so frustrated by all of these questions. He stands up here and somehow suggests that to reiterate a question when two answers have been given is inappropriate, and he's supported by his colleagues to somehow suggest that this debate is illegitimate, but one knows in the parliamentary business that what is written on the paper of legislation is what counts. Everything else flows from that. Regulations that somehow have absolutely nothing to do with the legislation don't stand up in the courts. One cannot make regulations that are contrary to the legislation.
Now, one would normally interpret that to mean a regulation that is worse than the legislation would be out of order, but because it's becoming clear that the minister's legislation is poorly thought out and the ineptness of the legislation leads to it having a very draconian application, the minister is trying to make up for that ineptness by saying: "Oh, I'll introduce regulations that are better than the legislation." We're all supposed to be content with that. Well, an improper regulation is an improper regulation. If it's contrary to the intent of the legislation, it's out of order.
Secondly, the minister suggests that it's somehow completely normal for regulations to flow well after the fact of legislation. In some circumstances the minister is correct, but in circumstances where the legislation immediately affects the daily living circumstances of tens of thousands of individuals, there is no excuse for not having the regulations debated in the context of this legislation.
Even the Minister of Health Services, bringing in the most draconian legislation changing the contract for working people, had the regulations available that we could discuss simultaneously. Well, this is breaking a contract with people with disabilities. This is breaking it, or they seem to think it is, anyway. That's why the letters are flowing in. You'll note our pile of letters isn't getting smaller. It's getting bigger because this legislation breaks a contract with people with disabilities. It's the contract that sustains them. It's their financial sustenance, the disability pension, and they feel this breaks the contract.
The minister stands up and says: "Oh no, this change in definition means pretty much nothing. As far as I can tell, everything's going to stay the same."
Well, here's something — we'll be discussing this later on as well as now — from the AIDS Resource Centre, Okanagan and region. We received it this morning. It's very relevant to a question that the member for Vancouver-Burrard stood up and asked in kind of a softball thing like: "Oh, will all of the benefits under schedule C remain, and will they have to reapply if their illness takes an episodic downturn?" The minister stood up and said: "Oh yes, absolutely."
Point of Order
L. Mayencourt: Point of order.
The Chair: The member for Vancouver-Burrard on a point of order.
L. Mayencourt: The member for Vancouver-Hastings suggests that my question on schedule C was a softball question, a puffball question or something like that. I consider that a very improper statement. I consider my work in the disabled community over the past ten years to be significant. I understand schedule C, and I understand what her government put members of my community through for the past decade in providing that.
The Chair: Order, member. Order for a moment.
The member for Vancouver-Burrard on his point of order.
L. Mayencourt: I ask that the member for Vancouver-Hastings please withdraw that comment. I asked that question because I am firmly committed to the people in the community who live under schedule C.
J. Kwan: I was trying to draw to your attention, Mr. Chair, that the issue the member for Vancouver-Burrard is raising is not a point of order.
The Chair: It's not a point of order, possibly, but I think the member felt impugned, and he was just asking if you would withdraw those remarks.
J. MacPhail: It's interesting that the member for Vancouver-Burrard takes offence at the word "puffball." Let me just be clear that when the member for Vancouver-Burrard gets up and asks a question that his community was wanting him to ask weeks ago and he puts it in a context to the minister where the minister actually doesn't answer the concerns the way the community would wish and then he goes, "Oh" — well, actually he says nothing — that's my definition of a puffball question. I'm telling you that maybe there are other definitions of puffball that don't represent what the member for Vancouver-Burrard just did.
J. MacPhail: You're right, and I welcome any member of the Legislature to stand up and suggest another definition for puffball rather than the one the member for Vancouver-Burrard just did.
The Chair: Order, member. Back to the section, please.
J. MacPhail: I just wanted to say, before I was interrupted, that there are concerns completely missed by the member for Vancouver-Burrard in his attempt to
[ Page 3419 ]
get to the heart of some very serious matters facing his constituents.
Later on there's a section in the legislation that allows the minister, completely on his own, to do away with any benefits awarded under a tribunal or an appeal board. So for the minister to stand up and say that schedule C benefits continue is simply wrong. We'll debate that more thoroughly under section 31, where the minister, at the snap of his fingers, can do away with any tribunal award or appeal award — like that. That's exactly why we're completely taken aback by the inability to pursue those matters vigorously with the minister when the minister gives a flip-flop of an answer as well.
Let's be clear. It is completely wrong for the minister to rely on regulation to define anything further under this act, and it is completely wrong for the minister to somehow suggest, "Oh, the fact that we've put in a primary test of having to perform daily living tasks will all be nicely taken care of in the regulations," is completely wrong as well. In fact, there is no way that the minister can put words in the regulations that will take care of the concerns of the community of people with disabilities around daily living tasks being a primary test of having a disability. There's absolutely no way. We've already raised it under the auspices of the Brain Injury Association.
By the way, just for the minister's edification…. He said he hadn't received this. Maybe they got his e-mail address wrong. That would be the minister's firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Hon. Member: We received that one.
J. MacPhail: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't suggest that the previous one had been sent to the minister. I said it was sent to the member for Vancouver-Langara, if the minister might recall.
Good. We've got all those issues cleared up in just a few short evenings.
You know, I just want to say that if indeed there's any confusion once again, just like an Escher picture, we may have to go at it again. Let's just try to stay on track here.
Let me offer, then…. If somehow the minister thinks the daily living tasks definition will work, let me read from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Again, this is to the minister.
This was written April 23, 2002. They have not yet received a reply to their letter.
Here we have the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada saying that the previous definition, which understood the difference between temporary and continuous disabilities, is now being changed in this legislation. Yet the minister will probably stand up and say to people with multiple sclerosis: "Oh, don't worry. Nothing's going to change for you. Oh, we've got a regulation to take care of it."
Here's the community themselves asking these questions. I guess the minister's standard answers may not apply, so what help or hope does he have for the MS Society?
Hon. M. Coell: I think, simply, that the episodic nature of many impairments is why the phrase "periodically or for extended periods" is in the definition for persons with a disability.
J. MacPhail: Yes, the minister knows full well that this society understands that the language is there and replaces previous language that was very clear on permitting episodic periods of illness and not in any way affecting their ability to be declared a person with a disability.
I don't know. Is the minister planning on meeting with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada?
Hon. M. Coell: If they asked, I'd certainly look forward to that.
Just looking at the Disability Benefits Program Act, there is no wording in here at all about episodic nature of impairments, so our definition broadens it.
J. MacPhail: The definition. Oh gosh, are we back to that? Honestly. Let me ask, then: why bother changing the definition once again? What's going to change
[ Page 3420 ]
for people? The minister stands up, and he couldn't give the fact that they'll define it in the regulations. He couldn't say, "Oh, don't worry; nothing is going to change," so he chose a different tack, saying: "Nothing was there before."
The people from the Multiple Sclerosis Society say the previous definition worked. Come on. Just come clean. Mr. Chair, why doesn't the minister just come clean? What's the intent of the legislation? If nothing is going to change, if you're going to patch up everybody's concern with regulations, if the previous definition wasn't as good as people are saying it is, what's the intent?
Hon. M. Coell: I think one of the many good reasons to change the legislation is that we now reflect the phrase "periodically or for extended periods" for persons with a disability.
J. Kwan: If you look at the act, which is what defines the person, whether or not the individual has a disability, under Bill 27 the only provision that addresses the notion of permanency is stated in section 2(a). It reads as follows:
Then it goes on to talk about the other requirements that the individual must demonstrate.
In the previous act, there was an option. There was an option that deals with the issue around the two-year requirement and also the option to deal with the likely continuation of that impairment for at least one year and its likely recurrence. Let me just read onto the record the exact wording of the previous act:
On that basis of that definition in the previous act, it allows for individuals who may be faced with episodic or cyclical kinds of disabilities that may reoccur from time to time to be recognized.
In this act, it has taken away the provision that says it's likely to continue for at least one year and is likely to recur, so the only provision for a person to be recognized in Bill 27 for disability is that you must have the disability and for it to continue for at least two years. It does not address the notion of cyclical and episodic incidence. It does not. That's what the act says.
If the minister doesn't understand the difference, he'd better go back and ask his staff for clarity on this issue. Other people understand it, and people have concern about it.
Again, I go back to Persons with AIDS, who also asked the member for Vancouver-Burrard to ask this question, which he has not done to date. Let me ask this question and put it on the record, then:
You know what? The change of this act does not allow that recognition to take place. The major concern and question remains whether or not, if so, the degree to which these principles will be implemented in the regulations. There's a big question mark about who qualifies and who doesn't qualify. The minister continuously says: "Don't worry. The regulations will clarify all of that." Well, the previous act said it. It was in the bill. It was established in the bill. It wasn't dependent on the regulation. Now the government, this minister, has changed that provision by eliminating the provision that would allow for recognition of a person with disabilities if it should recur and only lasts for a year. If it's likely to recur after the first year, you'd be recognized for disability benefits. This act, Bill 27, does not provide that provision.
Why won't the minister change the act we're now debating and make sure recognition is in place so the notion of permanency…? Even though it may only show that the person has a disability for one year, if it's likely to recur, that will be recognized as a form of disability, cyclical and episodic. Why won't the minister recognize that?
Hon. M. Coell: I guess to begin with, the previous act did not make status permanent. It was silent on the issue, if anything. The reason why we have changed the act is to give greater clarity. Terms in previous definitions were undefined. It includes a person with a mental disorder, it makes PWD a designation, it includes the concept of episodic, and it allows for designation to be rescinded if the situation improves.
J. MacPhail: I'm not sure whether the minister understands that it's to the broader public that he's supposed to be explaining these issues and to the people who are directly affected by it. He somehow thinks that for him to undermine a piece of legislation that had worked substantially effectively for people with disabilities for several years…. To somehow attack that as justification for his lessening the benefits for people with disabilities simply won't work. It simply won't wash. It does seem a little bit ridiculous that the minister explains his own legislation in the context of: "Hey, we're just doing the status quo" or "Hey, we're carrying on the weaknesses of the previous legislation."
[ Page 3421 ]
I will say to the minister that exactly as my colleague has interpreted the new legislation is how the public is interpreting the legislation and how people with disabilities are interpreting the legislation. Whatever clarity the minister is relying on is so elusive that those whose lives are directly impacted by this legislation cannot find that clarity.
Let me read a letter that was sent to the minister. It's from a person who deals with people with mental illness. Again, it's on this very definition about the daily living tasks that are now the only requirement to determine…. The performance of daily living tasks — the functional definition, as the minister likes to call it. How well can you perform daily living tasks? That's the main thrust of how it will be determined about whether they qualify for disability coverage.
This woman is a psychiatric nurse, and her area of psychiatry was dual diagnosis and community-based services.
Now, I just want to point out that we received this letter late last week, and the letter writer had read the letter in the Times Colonist from the minister and had followed the debate.
Yes, the minister did write a letter that got published in the Times Colonist.
So there's a person who seems to think that the daily living activities test is unfair for people with mental illness. She doesn't think that the section that specifically deals with people with a mental health disorder will assist in any way whatsoever. She's very concerned.
I might also add that we have not received one letter from anybody, as far as I know, who has said: "This legislation makes sense, and here's how it will work better." Now, that may be because we're opposition, but I doubt it, because on other matters of people supporting the government we get copies of letters sent to us outlining their support for government. I think we've had one, maybe two.
However, in this particular piece of legislation there is nothing but a high state of anxiety. Here's a person who's an expert in dealing with mental health disorders, and she claims to say the legislation is cloudy, ambiguous and inappropriate at best.
Hon. M. Coell: I don't want to belabour this point, because we have gone over it before. Persons with a mental disorder are specifically included in section 3(a). The intent is clear that a mental disorder is included. With regard to activities of daily living, they will be determined by a health professional. The assessment tool is under development by the ministry with health professionals and the Ministry of Health Services.
J. MacPhail: Again, though, people who deliver services to people with mental illness or who are mentally ill themselves say the daily living activity test still applies to them. Can the minister walk me through the legislation where it says: "Oh, people with mental illness are excluded from the daily living activity functional test"?
It says here, for the purposes of subsection (2), which is where people are designated eligible…. The legislation reads: "A person who has a severe mental impairment includes a person with a mental disorder," and "the person requires help in relation to a daily living activity…." It's an "and" test. It's both.
[ Page 3422 ]
Hon. M. Coell: We have been over this before. Daily living activities will include those with mental disorders taking medication and medication management. That would include personal care, bathing, dressing, cooking, preparation of meals, banking, shopping, transportation, mobility inside and outside the house and basic housework.
I want to go back just to emphasize that the management of medication and people with a mental disorder is a major issue, and that will, with the daily living activities, be included.
J. MacPhail: Again, the minister is relying, I assume, on…. These aren't the scribblings of the minister while he's been sitting here in the chamber. I assume he's relying on some regulation that's coming forward. Is he?
Hon. M. Coell: Those comments are being reflected in regulation, and discussions with groups are underway.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Again, the minister may not be aware that regulations cannot reflect something that's different from the legislation. They can't expand the legislation. They can't detract from the legislation.
My gosh, talk about an open and accountable government. People with disabilities are going to have to rely on orders-in-council and regulations from this government. God forbid if they miss one of those open cabinet meetings. I'll tell you, you're at your own peril if you miss one of those open cabinet meetings.
Here we are. The government is going to rest the future of people with disabilities on a series of regulations that aren't even available yet. Well, sorry. There's nothing open and accountable about that. It isn't the way a compassionate government develops a legislated-based social safety net. It isn't the way it does that. Frankly, we've seen what this government's done already under the regulation changes it's made to the Disability Benefits Program Act through regulation. It's no comfort.
I think I'll read another letter received. It's from the West End, from Vancouver-Burrard. It says: "There seems to be an equation set up in this legislation between the ability to live independently, on one hand, and the ability to get and hold a job, on the other hand. I submit that this equation is false."
As an aside, this is where I started the debate with the minister that the whole premise of the ability to get a job is wrong.
The writer carries on:
He goes on to say: "Read literally, the act implies very clearly that everyone who can live independently can work." That's what he's saying here: read literally, the act implies very clearly that everyone who can live independently can work. "Please think about it for a moment," the writer goes on.
In fact, just as an aside, we saw the government introduce labour legislation today that says economic activity has to be a primary consideration in an employer-employee relationship.
This person thinks the act can be very clearly read to say: "You live independently; you don't qualify."
Hon. M. Coell: Just to clarify again for the member, BC Benefits was passed in 1996. It was brought into force March 31, 1997, with the regulations almost a year later.
Daily living activity has the prescribed meaning, which means there will be a regulation. As you know, there are many fine drafters in the Ministry of Attorney General. I know the regulation will be clear and will address the people with disabilities.
I've said this many, many times, but I'd like to say it again if the member needs it. An individual who takes four hours to dress himself or herself would be included in the definition.
J. MacPhail: My point about the regulation is this: the minister is relying on regulation to expand the legislation. The regulations under the Disability Benefits Program Act didn't change the legislation. They didn't expand it or retract it, so stop trying to look as if you're doing exactly what the previous government did, which is an interesting standard set by the minister anyway, given their complete distaste for anything that happened in the past.
I will tell you that the regulations the minister is planning to rely on are completely different from the previous regulations. He wants to use the regulations as a guise to fix up an inept piece of legislation.
Hon. M. Coell: That's incorrect.
J. Kwan: I want to ask the minister this question. He has continuously said that the purpose of the defi-
[ Page 3423 ]
nition in redefining people with disabilities is not to cut individuals off income assistance. Let me ask the minister this question. How many people now are eligible for disability under the previous act, the Disability Benefits Program Act?
Hon. M. Coell: Approximately 45,000.
J. Kwan: The minister says 45,000. Can the minister please advise how many people he anticipates would be qualified for disability under Bill 27's definition?
Hon. M. Coell: We have not calculated the number who will qualify under the new bill. We are writing the definitions so persons with disabilities will be receiving assistance, and it is speculative until we actually go through a review. We are confident that people with disabilities will be protected and have the resources they need under this act.
J. Kwan: Of the $600 million that the minister has to find in terms of savings from his ministry in this area, how much has he costed in savings for the people with disabilities on the issue of eligibility?
Hon. M. Coell: I think the question is quite irrelevant to the discussion of this legislation, but I can say we've done everything to safeguard people with disabilities to make sure they get the support they need.
J. MacPhail: Here's how it's relevant, if the minister can't figure it out. There are about 250,000 people collecting income assistance now, and 17 or 18 percent of those people are people with disabilities. The minister has to find $600 million in savings over the next three years out of his budget — cuts. The only reason why we're asking this is we're trying to figure out what's driving this change. The minister says that nothing is actually going to change. In fact, every example we bring up, it's like: "Oh no, that couldn't possibly happen. That person will qualify. Oh no, that couldn't possibly happen. That person is going to qualify." These are real-life examples we're giving of people who are now eligible for continuous assistance. In the $600 million of cuts the minister has to find in income assistance, is the 18 percent or so in disability benefits carved out?
Hon. M. Coell: Simply, this legislation is about assistance, opportunity and independence. It's about employment, something my friends on the other side of the House don't understand. The savings made in this ministry are made by putting people back to work, by spending $300 million on employment programs, by putting the employment programs out for people with disabilities. The aim of the game here is to help people get off income assistance and get employment.
Now, the members should know that they started down that road, and they had some success. We're going to have a lot more success with the training programs and the employment placement programs. The people who have talked to us and have said they want to work — we're going to give an opportunity for those people to work.
Maybe the members just don't understand that a lot of people in British Columbia want to work. A lot of people on income assistance want to work. They need the training, the employment programs, the strategies to help them work. I think the member probably just doesn't understand the tenor of the new legislation and the tenor of the new government, which is to create jobs and opportunities in British Columbia, not like the last ten years, where we saw a flat line of everything.
Hon. M. Coell: No, I won't mention the fast ferries, hon. member. I just won't. It's been used far too much.
The Chair: Order, member. The minister has the floor.
Hon. M. Coell: The members obviously don't understand that the direction of this legislation is to help people to help themselves.
J. Kwan: Well, with all due respect to the minister, let's just talk about the premise of this bill. The minister suggests that the premise of the bill is to assist individuals with disabilities to get off income assistance to go look for work and that the minister will provide the assistance for these individuals to find work and be retrained. Now, at the beginning of this discussion I raised the matter with the minister — that is, on the issue around the premise of understanding that people with disabilities actually do want to work. Where they can, they do, and where they can't, they're not able to. Even if they're not able to, they're able to continue to receive assistance from government. The previous act provided for that.
I thought the minister said that he supports the notion that people who can work will work and are working. I thought the minister understood and took that assumption. It appears, though, that he's now backtracking on that — yet another flip-flop. He's now saying, perhaps, that people who can work are not working, and therefore government needs to get in there to get them out working. These are people with disabilities.
That's one issue. The other issue I want to raise is this. The minister would like to say that they're going to provide employment training to individuals who need the training to get back into the workforce. Well, let me just point this out to the minister. This is a person who is on disability 2. She would like to get off disability 2, so this individual is doing her GED at Vancouver Community College. The person has a disability, and Vancouver Community College provided a
[ Page 3424 ]
tutor under the IEPA, the individualized education program for adults. That tutor is being laid off with all the cuts to Vancouver Community College. This person will not be able to pass her GED without that tutor.
She does not understand how laying off the tutors fits into the government's goal of getting people into the workforce. She called the Premier's office, and they told her to phone her MLA. This is a cut the government has made in another arm of government, in the Ministry of Advanced Education, where they're cutting programs for persons with disabilities who are trying to get retrained so that they can enter the workforce. Given that this is a reality — and this person actually phoned in her case to advise us of her actual situation, so it's not a made-up, hypothetical situation; it's a real-life situation — how does it match with the minister's supposed goal of getting people with disabilities retrained and into the workforce when in fact training programs throughout government are being eliminated and cut?
Hon. M. Coell: This ministry has increased its budget for training and support for people with disabilities from $13 million a year to $18.5 million a year. That's $55.5 million over three years that this ministry is setting aside for training for persons with disabilities.
J. Kwan: What the government has done is rob Peter to pay Paul so that the minister can rise up in this House with an increased budget for training in the Ministry of Human Resources. All the government has done is take that money from the Ministry of Advanced Education. They've simply cut the funding in the Ministry of Advanced Education so that the minister can say: "We're going to put more money into retraining."
What the minister doesn't realize is that cutting programs, allowing the Advanced Education ministryto cut programs supporting people with disabilities so that they can indeed get work, does not actually assist the minister's goal in helping people with disabilities to move off income assistance into the workforce. It doesn't help those individuals at all.
The case I have highlighted is actually a case in point in a real-life situation. This individual will not now get a tutor so that she can complete her programming. It's contrary to the minister's objective. It's absolutely contrary to it, and it makes no sense whatsoever.
The minister's and the government's contradictory approach will, I suspect, simply create further hardship for people. In the meantime, all the minister is saying is, "Go and find work," when in fact the retraining that people are already engaging in to assist them in getting off income assistance is being eliminated by the government.
Mr. Chair, noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:55 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. de Jong moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 8:56 p.m.
[ Return to: Legislative Assembly Home Page ]
2002: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada