2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Volume 26, Number 8
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 12 — Teachers Act
Hon. G. Abbott
Bill 8 — Community, Sport and Cultural Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. I. Chong
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown Coats for Kids campaign
150th anniversary of New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services
Women’s History Month
Compensation for former Woodlands School residents
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. S. Bond
Government settlement with Boss Power Corp.
Hon. R. Coleman
Services for mothers of newborns
Hon. M. de Jong
Orders of the Day
Point of Privilege (Reservation of Right)
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011 (continued)
Hon. S. Thomson
Bill 9 — Natural Resource Compliance Act
Hon. S. Thomson
Hon. T. Lake
Hon. S. Thomson
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2011
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
A. Dix: It's an honour for me today to introduce members of the We Survived Woodlands group in this House. They met with MLAs earlier in the Ned DeBeck room, members on both sides of the House.
I'm very honoured to introduce Gregg Schiller; Arlene Schouten; Mark Chandler; Richard McDonald; Fay Sherlock; Gary Hill; Bill McArthur; Leonard Zimmer; Charles Stanyet; Marillia Neto; Barb Westfield; Shauna Carson, who is Barb's care attendant; Ken Milne; Sujit Mandell, who is Ken's care attendant; and Shauna Tucker, who's a lawyer representing Klein Lyons. I'd like the House to make all of our guests welcome.
If I may, I'd also like to introduce John and Cathy Howard from Hornby Island, who are joining us in the gallery today. They're the parents of my chief of staff, Stephen Howard.
Hon. G. Abbott: It's a great honour for me to introduce today three exceptional leaders in the educational community in British Columbia here today. They are here to witness the introduction of a bill, very shortly, which will have some impact on that educational community.
They are Steve Cardwell, who is the president of the B.C. School Superintendents Association as well as being the superintendent for the Vancouver school district; Michael McEvoy, the president of the B.C. School Trustees Association as well as being a trustee for the Victoria school district; and Sherri Moore-Arbour, the director of communication for the B.C. School Trustees Association. I'd like not only for the House to make them welcome but to thank them for their exceptional service and leadership in the province of British Columbia.
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today are the constituency assistants of the official opposition. Our assistants are here in town on their annual convention to learn more about the precinct, learn more about what we do in this place, and I think it's appropriate that we recognize that we are represented by hard-working men and women from Castlegar; Golden; Nelson; Vancouver; Burnaby; Surrey; Prince Rupert; Terrace; Smithers; virtually all of Vancouver Island, I have to say; and many, many other points in British Columbia.
Our CAs do a lot of hard work on both sides of this House. Without them, we couldn't do the job of representing the people of British Columbia. Would the House please make our CAs very, very welcome.
Hon. I. Chong: Today I'm very pleased to introduce His Worship Mayor Frank Leonard from the district of Saanich. Mayor Leonard has always put the interests of farmers on the south Island at the forefront of his vision for a strong and healthy agriculture community in Saanich and beyond. I know he is concerned about local food security. His advocacy and hard work will help solve some of the crises that farmers were faced with recently.
On behalf of government, I want to convey my appreciation for his efforts while he co-chaired, along with the member for Nechako Lakes, the farm assessment review panel, a panel that included elected local government officials and a cross-section of representation from B.C.'s agriculture community. I know he's here this afternoon to see the introduction of a bill. With that, I ask the House to please make him very welcome.
D. Black: I'd like to join with the Leader of the Official Opposition to welcome the Woodlands survivor group here to the Legislature. We had a lovely lunch with them today, and some very interesting stories were told. In fact, one of the very first all-candidates debates I attended as a candidate was at Woodlands school in New Westminster, and I've remained friends with many of those people these some 20 years later.
I would like to particularly mention Richard McDonald, who's featured on the front page of the Royal City Record this week, and also Ken Young, who's part of the L'Arche community. I've known him for over 20 years as well. Would everyone please join in making them welcome at the Legislature today.
R. Lee: In the gallery today we have Betty Xu from North Burnaby; John Bal, director of Vancouver Chinatown BIA; Jifeng Zhao, director of Agrokin, from Langley. Also, we have Nianxi Liang and Yuxin Guo from Tianjin Fuyen Century Biomass Technology, who are taking a business trip in B.C. exploring the feasibility of developing biomass energy with their patented technology in B.C. So may the House join me to welcome them.
G. Coons: I would like to recognize a constituent, a friend and a survivor of Woodlands. Shelly Starr from Prince Rupert was front and centre at the Woodlands demolition last week and is a strong and forceful advocate for justice and inclusion of all former residents of Woodlands School. So can the House and the hon. Speaker acknowledge my good friend Shelly Starr.
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P. Pimm: This has been a great week for me. Not only did my daughter Jennifer Pimm get engaged this week…. Certainly, I'm looking forward to some grandchildren to match up with the member for Chilliwack soon.
P. Pimm: It's going to take a little while, and I understand that, but that's all right.
I had a niece that was born yesterday. I'd like to welcome Elizabeth Lori Krahn into this world. In keeping with the House, we've got to talk about the different weights of these children, and this one definitely comes in at as lightweight at five pounds.
M. Elmore: I'd like to welcome and introduce a constituent from Vancouver-Kensington. In the gallery joining us today is a good friend and the former MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, David Chudnovsky. I ask everybody to please give him a warm welcome.
Hon. C. Clark: I have the pleasure today of introducing a Canadian political legend. He was the founder of the Reform Party of Canada, and he became the leader of Canada's official opposition in 1997. He served as a Member of Parliament for eight years, and he truly helped to reshape the political landscape in Canada with his strong focus on fiscal responsibility and on open government. He changed the debate in our country.
It is difficult to think of many people who have made as much of a difference and had as much an impact on the national debate that we've had over the last 50 years as Preston Manning has. But when he left elected office, fortunately for us, he didn't leave public life all together. He released a book entitled Think Big describing his use of the tools and the institutions of democracy to change Canada's national agenda.
He is the president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, where he continues to play a major role in ensuring government is connected to the citizens who elect us.
Mr. Speaker, would the House please give a big welcome to a man who has changed our country in more ways than we can count — Preston Manning. [Applause.]
B. Bennett: It's my pleasure to introduce to the House the mayor of the best place on earth, the city of Cranbrook in my riding, Scott Manjak, who is here today with his beautiful wife, Raeleen, and, I think, Christopher. Christopher is not here today, but let's make Mayor Manjak and his wife, Raeleen, welcome.
N. Simons: Since Ken Milne was already introduced, I don't need to introduce him, but I'm glad he's here. He's a friend of mine from Powell River who lives in Burnaby now. I'm not allowed to introduce my CA, Maggie, either, but she's here. Just in the interest of time, we don't.
But there is a constituent from Powell River who I'd like the House to join me in welcoming, and that's Don Krompocker. Welcome to the precinct.
Mr. Speaker: I think, Member, you can deal with your Whip.
First Reading of Bills
Bill 12 — Teachers Act
Hon. G. Abbott presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Teachers Act.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Abbott: I am pleased to introduce the Teachers Act, which will bring in a new system to certify, regulate and discipline teachers through shared responsibility between government and the education sector. The new act repeals the Teaching Profession Act and dissolves the B.C. College of Teachers.
The Teachers Act creates a new B.C. Teachers Council which will set standards for teacher certification, conduct and competence. It also sets up a new disciplinary and professional conduct board to investigate complaints against teachers and assign board members to conduct discipline hearings where appropriate. These responsibilities were formerly held by the B.C. College of Teachers.
I believe this legislation will raise the stature of the teaching profession, increase public confidence in the profession's disciplinary processes and strengthen accountability and transparency. Above all, these changes will ensure student safety. This must be, on both sides of this assembly, our overriding concern, and this legislation today gives voice to that objective.
I move the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 12, Teachers Act, 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.
Bill 8 — Community, Sport and
Cultural Development Statutes
Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. I. Chong presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Community,
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Sport and Cultural Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Hon. I. Chong: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. I. Chong: I am pleased to present the Community, Sport and Cultural Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2011. Bill 8 addresses two areas within the ministry's responsibilities: the recommendations of the farm assessment review panel, and minor housekeeping and streamlining amendments on the local government side.
Bill 8 will implement two recommendations of the farm assessment review panel. It will also streamline and clarify regional district service review and withdrawal processes and make minor housekeeping amendments to ensure the legislation is up to date.
I move that Bill 8, the Community, Sport and Cultural Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 8, Community, Sport and Cultural Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, 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)
D. Hayer: In gurdwaras, in temples and in churches across the world Hindus, Sikhs and many other cultural groups, especially today and this week, will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, lighting of diyas. In British Columbia Diwali is especially celebrated by the people of South Asian origin because it signifies and celebrates differences as well as similarities.
For many, it celebrates Rama's homecoming from exile after 14 years and his coronation as king. The Sikh community also celebrates Diwali in the memory of Sikh Guru Hargobind Ji's contribution in the releasing of 52 Indian kings from the prison of Mughal emperor Jahangir.
This festival also honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. For everyone, however, it signifies the renewal of light and the lighting of lamps. Diwali teaches us to end the ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away the darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge, thus the term "festival of light."
Diwali symbolizes goodness, victory, enlightenment and justice. It projects the rich and glorious path of humankind and teaches us to uphold the true values of life, which are peace, harmony and understanding. Such is the way it is celebrated in my city of Surrey, where Diwali has always been much more than a religious festival.
Throughout the world and in Surrey many businesses, community organizations, non-profit societies, Sikh temples, gurdwaras and many other groups come together to celebrate Diwali. The festival is truly people-oriented, where differences are forgotten and families and friends join together to celebrate Diwali. Diwali also brings together varying cultures and customs, making Diwali a happy occasion for all British Columbians.
I ask all members in the House and all British Columbians to join me in celebrating the wonderful and shining festival of lights, Diwali. Happy Diwali to everyone.
H. Bains: As always, I stand here today to say how proud I am to live in a city and province where we embrace cultural diversity. Every year in B.C., especially in Surrey, we celebrate many cultural events, beliefs and customs of the communities that make B.C. their home. In my constituency, Surrey-Newton, we celebrate Vaisakhi, Christmas, Dussehra, Diwali, Eid, lunar new year and many more. For the past four years my colleague from Surrey-Whalley and I have jointly hosted Eid and Diwali celebrations.
Today is a celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. While rooted in the culture of India, Diwali is now widely celebrated and has become part of the diverse cultural fabric in British Columbia. Diwali provides with us with important lessons from the past such as celebrating the victory of virtue and truth over the dark forces of evil and ignorance. Education has been an essential link for the younger generation to maintain and preserve our customs, cultures and heritage.
My colleague the member for Saanich South has brought the celebration of Diwali into this House by wearing a very beautiful Indian suit today. I say thank you, Member.
These celebrations provide opportunities for us to come together in the spirit of peace and friendship and help us find unity in diversity. If you are in Surrey, Mr. Speaker or any member, this Friday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. please stop by my office at 3780 King George Boulevard, where the member from Whalley and myself are hosting Diwali celebrations with our constituents. Happy Diwali to all.
ROTARY CLUB OF BURNABY METROTOWN
COATS FOR KIDS CAMPAIGN
R. Lee: I am sure we are all familiar with Rotary International, an organization of service clubs which
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bring people together to serve their communities. Rotary International has more than 1.2 million members worldwide and nearly 34,000 local chapters or clubs. In Burnaby we have the Rotary Club of Burnaby, the Rotary Club of Deer Lake and the Rotary Club of Metrotown.
These clubs are famous for their community service and the help they provide. Today I would like to highlight an initiative that the Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown is undertaking now and which runs until December 31.
With winter approaching, Rotary has kicked off their annual Coats for Kids campaign. Burnaby residents are being encouraged to donate new or gently used waterproof, hooded winter coats to help out Burnaby children and youth in need. Cash donations are also gratefully accepted. This winter is forecast to be one of the coldest in many years, and I am sure that the people of Burnaby will do what they can to help.
Coats can be dropped off to any Burnaby public library location, any Burnaby MP's office or any Burnaby MLA's office, including my own, as well as at some local businesses. Donations by cash or cheque can be dropped off at the South Burnaby Neighbourhood House or mailed to Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown, whose website is www.burnabymetrotownrotary.org.
I ask the members of this House to join me in thanking the Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown for their great campaign.
150th ANNIVERSARY OF
FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICES
D. Black: Mr. Speaker, I've commented in this House on several occasions that New Westminster is a city rich in history and in heritage. This is again confirmed when we consider the proud history of the New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
When Hyack Company No. 1, as it was originally named, was formed on July 24, 1861, it was one of the first formalized brigades in western Canada. Its name is very appropriate because hyack means to hurry up in the Chinook language. The first fire hall was built the following year, and its company of 58 firefighters served 1,800 people living in the city.
Their first fire wagon, aptly named the Fire King, came from San Francisco in 1863 and cost $2,600. Imagine that this wagon was human-powered until 1898, when horses were brought in to help the hyacks get to fires faster.
The New Westminster fire department's first and perhaps biggest ever test occurred in the same year when the great fire swept through downtown and along the waterfront on September 10. It was a catastrophic event that is commemorated by old photos and plaques around the city to this day.
During the following centuries modern technology has transformed firefighters into professionals wearing the latest gear and using computerized equipment. As well as battling blazes they rescue victims from car crashes, administer first aid and deal with toxic spills. And they give back to our community through their charitable society, which raises funds to support many worthwhile causes.
On behalf of this House I am pleased to send congratulations to Fire Chief Tim Armstrong and all the men and women who make up the New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services. They have much to be proud of as they celebrate their 150th anniversary.
B. Bennett: What does it take to be a good mayor? I have never been a mayor, personally, but I've worked the last three years very, very closely….
B. Bennett: The members say that I wouldn't cut it, Mr. Speaker.
I have worked closely with a very, very effective mayor for the past three years, and he happens to be in the gallery today.
Before becoming the mayor of Cranbrook in 2008, Scott Manjak was a forest worker who lost his job in the 1990s as a result of actions by a former government that I'm not permitted to explain under the rules of these short statements. I could be talking about the Socreds.
Rather than despairing in his fortunes, Scott got himself educated, found a very good job in Cranbrook, raised a family, sat on the regional district of East Kootenay board, chaired the East Kootenay Regional Hospital board and served as a city councillor.
For three terms on council Scott watched, listened, participated and learned before he took on the job of mayor. Scott inherited several big issues, not the least of which was an aging sewage treatment system under intense scrutiny by the provincial Ministry of Environment. Thanks to Scott's leadership, the city of Cranbrook is just now finishing a $17 million upgrade to an already innovative system.
We would not have expanded our emergency room at our new hospital in Cranbrook, our new diagnostic centre, our new ambulatory care centre if it wasn't for Scott Manjak's leadership as chair of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital board.
I have no doubt that Scott could get himself elected as mayor again. However, he has decided to move on to Sparwood with his wonderful wife, Raeleen, because
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she's embarking on a career change of her own. I'm certain that the next chapter of Scott's life will include more time with his two grown children, Christopher and Moraya, and also Raeleen.
On behalf of all of my constituents in Kootenay East, particularly the citizens of our hometown of Cranbrook, but also on behalf of all the members of this assembly, thank you, Mr. Mayor, for all your efforts, all your sacrifice and all your commitment to the citizens of Cranbrook.
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
K. Corrigan: October is Women's History Month. The month was designated in 1992 by the government of Canada after a successful lobby by three residents of Victoria. They led a movement which sought the establishment of a women's history month in Canada to encourage greater appreciation of the notable contributions of women to Canadian history, contributions to the quality of our lives today.
This year's annual theme is "Women in Canadian Military Forces: A Proud Legacy," which recognizes women's invaluable contributions to the military in Canada over the years.
Whether as serving members of the armed forces or as civilians, women have worked on every front — on the battlefield, in the air and on the sea — as pilots and peacekeepers, nurses and physicians, war artists and war correspondents, in espionage and in engineering.
It is interesting that when you talk about women's history, often the cited milestones are progress in the long and often difficult fight for women's equality — reduction of working hours for women, forming of trade unions, achieving the right to vote, being recognized as a person. Many legislative changes have come after and I think are the result of increased women's voices in legislatures and parliament, which demonstrates the ongoing importance of greater female presence in government.
My hope for the future is that our understanding of women's history and history in general broadens to include a different and more holistic view of the world; that when we speak of history, we speak not just of landmarks, of war, of conflict or the fight for women's rights, but also that it includes a richer narrative about the often unheralded, sometimes unrecognized but equally important quiet achievements of women in shaping their communities and, thus, history.
Introductions by Members
Hon. D. McRae: Today we have a tireless agricultural advocate visiting the Legislature. Garnet Etsell owns and operates a turkey farm in Abbotsford with his wife, Debbie, and two sons, Andrew and Nathan. The family has just started to venture into B.C.'s exciting wine industry by planting its first block of grapevines.
Garnet is actively involved in representing agricultural interests both provincially and federally. He's chair of the B.C. Ag Council, director of the B.C. Poultry Association, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the B.C. Bioenergy Network. Garnet also sat on the B.C. Small Business Roundtable and the farm assessment review panel and is past president of the B.C. Turkey Growers Association. Would this House please welcome Garnet, Debbie, Andrew and Nathan to these chambers.
COMPENSATION FOR FORMER
WOODLANDS SCHOOL RESIDENTS
A. Dix: The Premier will know that hundreds of Woodlands survivors are being denied access to the government's compensation offer because they were at Woodlands prior to August 1, 1974. Essentially, the government is using a legal technicality to stop these people, who ought to be eligible for this compensation, who suffered greatly at the institution…. They're using a legal technicality to deny them access to the just compensation they deserve.
Does the Premier agree with me that all survivors of Woodlands should be treated equally and that all survivors of Woodlands should have access to the government's compensation package?
Hon. C. Clark: First, let me say this. One cannot fail to be moved by the stories of many residents of Woodlands. We all in British Columbia have heard them loud and clear, and we have all been profoundly moved by the stories we've heard coming out of people who lived in Woodlands for many, many years. Government has a duty to address that.
We reached the settlement process with the group of individuals who were eligible to receive compensation. That eligibility was set by the government in 1974 by then Attorney General Alex Macdonald. That eligibility has since been confirmed by the Court of Appeal in British Columbia.
We are proceeding to find a settlement, and a fair settlement, for the individuals who were harmed at Woodlands, some of them irreparably, as expeditiously as we possibly can. We're doing it on the basis of the law.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Surely the Premier is aware that in 1974 what the government did was give people and recognize their
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fundamental right to sue their government. It was an historic change. It was a remarkable change, one worthy of admiration. That's what happened in 1974.
There has been, since 2001…. The Premier talks about expeditious. In 2001 there was a report of the government of British Columbia by former Ombudsman Dulcie McCallum that said there was systemic abuse at Woodlands. In 2003 the government tried to stop Woodlands survivors from being recognized as a class. In 2005 the government here in this Legislature refused to offer and to deal with the We Survived Woodlands group when they offered to settle this out of court and ensure that everyone received compensation.
Two hundred and twenty-two community groups in B.C. supported them. The government said no. The government said: "Go to court." They wasted a lot of time and a lot of money on lawyers. I know a lot of these people. A lot of people in the class have died in the intervening period.
This has not been dealt with expeditiously. We need change. We need the government to treat everyone the same, to treat everyone fairly. Surely that's what this House is about. I ask the Premier to change the position of the government and to give compensation to all survivors of Woodlands School.
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, certainly, former residents of Woodlands have incredible stories, painful stories, to tell. They have been heard loud and clear by the government. That is why my predecessor issued an apology on behalf of the government, the first apology that they had ever received from the government, as a result of the harm that many of them endured at Woodlands. So I'll just say that.
Then let me say this. We are proceeding as expeditiously as we can to try and make sure that anyone who was eligible for compensation and was harmed is provided with compensation for that. But let me say this. I mean, for the member opposite to stand up and talk about how that was a historic moment in the House and then today to say, "But it was wrong," just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
We are proceeding on the basis of the law that was set by then Attorney General Alex Macdonald in 1974, a law that was confirmed by the court in 2005. We want to make sure that we provide compensation to people who were harmed, and we want to make sure that we do that as expeditiously as possible, because they deserve that.
Mr. Speaker: There's a further supplemental.
A. Dix: The people of British Columbia…. The members of this House have the power to offer compensation to all people that were harmed. The Premier talks about people's stories. Well, here's a story. Bill McArthur is here in the Legislature as well. Bill McArthur was at Woodlands School. Bill McArthur suffered, amongst other things, repeatedly being pushed down into cold water — for years, repeatedly. He left Woodlands School ten days before August 1, 1974. The decision by the government then to offer rights to citizens in the province didn't have anything to do with that.
Can the Premier honestly say in this House she agrees with the decision to deny Mr. McArthur access to compensation? Will she not change these rules today? Change them so that he and people like him have access to fair compensation from the government — a power that she has in her hands today.
Hon. C. Clark: Well, I am pleased that we have reached a settlement process with eligible former residents who are participating in that class action proceeding. We do need to make sure that everyone eligible who was harmed as a result of their experience at Woodlands is properly compensated for the harm that they endured. Government has that duty. But I hear the member stand up and defend on one hand what the government did in 1974, when they were the ones who limited the liability period for the Crown Proceeding Act.
Our government is proceeding based on the law that was made in 1974 by then Attorney General Alex Macdonald. That law was confirmed in 2005 by the appeal court of British Columbia. We are proceeding with this. We want to make sure that anyone who was harmed, who was eligible for compensation, gets it as quickly as they can. We want to make sure we do that because those people deserve compensation.
C. Trevena: Gary Hill is also in the gallery. During his five years in Woodlands in the '60s he survived horrors — mental abuse, physical abuse — and trials that no one, let alone an 11-year-old boy, should face. He had his teeth pulled because he bit someone who was trying to abuse him.
This Liberal government says Mr. Hill isn't eligible for compensation because he suffered these abuses in the '60s. But if the Premier has heard — as she said she's heard, loud and clear — these stories, will she end this injustice? Will she extend to Mr. Hill, to Mr. McArthur and to all Woodlands survivors the right to compensation?
Hon. S. Bond: As has been stated in this very Legislature, in 1974 the government of the day had a discussion about liability and about open-ended liability and about who should be compensated. In fact, in that discussion the then Attorney General proposed that 1974 be the year for the first time that people could actually hold claims against the government. In fact, on that day there was a discussion by the opposition that said: "Let's consider a period of time before 1974."
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Led by the then Attorney General and based on the principle of trying to find balance in those decisions, the then government of the day said no, the year would be 1974. That is the principle on which this government made the decision to enter a process of settlement for hundreds of residents of Woodlands.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. Trevena: A government has the ability to change the law. The government of 2011 can change the law that was set in 1974.
I'd like to go back to the stories, the reasons why this law should be changed. Mr. Hill, who is listening to us today, didn't get an education. He was forced to work in jobs that we wouldn't contemplate. He's now learning to read and write, and the government's continued refusal to recognize and respond to these injustices places it as party to one of the darkest chapters in our province's history.
There is a motion in this Legislature, in this House, that all survivors have the right to compensation. So will the Premier finally do the right thing? Will she accept this motion and allow all the survivors of Woodlands to apply for compensation?
Hon. S. Bond: The Leader of the Opposition cites a series of dates but didn't tell the entire story. In 2003 this government stood on this side of the House and issued the first apology to the survivors of Woodlands that had happened in decades — the first apology. There were plenty of opportunities for the Leader of the Opposition in the 1990s to make that apology, and that did not occur.
These stories are beyond our ability to be able to respond to in terms of the profound impact that these lives have had as a result of the consequences at Woodlands, but there is also an inherent responsibility in terms of legislators in this building to look at unending liability issues. We clearly are looking at the principles laid down in this Legislature and supported by the Court of Appeal. It is a principled decision based on the history of that day in 1974, led by the government of that day.
WITH BOSS POWER CORP.
J. Horgan: For the past two days we have seen the minister do a fairly extraordinary tap dance on the Boss Power boondoggle that has put us out $30 million, jeopardized the careers of public servants and, in fact, destroyed the career of one public servant.
The government in court documents admitted that they broke the law. The minister in the hallway yesterday admitted that his government botched the implementation of a moratorium on uranium exploration.
Will the minister today table the evaluations of the value of that claim so that the people of B.C. know just how much they lost because of your incompetence?
Hon. R. Coleman: In last couple of days I've confirmed for the member that there was a lawsuit, that we actually settled a lawsuit, that we take responsibility as a government for the decision to get out of uranium mining in British Columbia, which was a tough decision at the time. The decision was made. We knew at the time that there may be some liabilities. That's why Finance booked $50 million in the fiscal plan to deal with any legal liabilities that may come out of that decision.
Over a period of the last few years we've been negotiating with Boss Power. We came to a settlement. The settlement was $30 million, and that was the end of the case with regards to Boss.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: It's interesting, on this day, that we would hear that the government is prepared to compensate some classes of citizens and not others. The government is prepared to break the law to ensure that they can avoid an embarrassing situation for the former Minister of Mines, but when it comes to telling the public how they arrived on the courthouse steps to shut down yet another court case, just as they did with B.C. Rail…. That's reprehensible.
The government has in their possession two independent evaluations of the value of the claims from Boss Power. Will the minister do the right thing and demonstrate to the public the embarrassment of the difference between what they should have paid and what they ended up paying by tabling those documents in this House today?
Hon. R. Coleman: The member opposite uses the word "reprehensible," so let me try and explain reprehensible to him on the Carrier Lumber deal, where millions of dollars…. Actually, I don't think I'll try. I think what I'll do…. We have to remember….
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. R. Coleman: It was the NDP government of the day that did the thing to Carrier Lumber. But let's go to former NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh's comment on the Carrier lawsuit in the Vancouver Sun of February 8, 2001. Let's remember that there was a family that owned this company that had invested in British Columbia for decades and created jobs — good, family-supporting jobs — in B.C.
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This is what he said: "It looks absolutely horrible. There's no question about that. I feel absolutely horrible about what has happened to this family."
That was as a result of you guys not being able to negotiate any deals, a deal in good faith with people, which we did. We negotiated with somebody in good faith. We came to a settlement. The settlement was agreed to by both parties — that, by the way, is what happens in lawsuits, hon. Member — and we settled.
L. Krog: Pretty clear that this government is afraid of hearing the truth. Obviously, they wanted to keep the facts in this case hidden. That's why they settled on the courthouse steps for $30 million, avoiding the sordid details coming out in court.
Yesterday the minister defended the $30 million settlement and said: "…we actually have pretty exceptional lawyers in the Attorney General's department that actually do that work for us." So will the minister, will the Attorney General let the sun shine in on this settlement and make that advice public?
Hon. R. Coleman: Even I as a layman understand lawyer-client privilege with regards to information on the law and lawsuits and decisions. I'm quite shocked at the question coming from the member opposite, who would have much more of an education on this particular type of thing than I would.
Let's remind the members opposite that in the 1990s two mines closed for every one that opened. The policies of the government of the day almost actually destroyed mining in British Columbia, to the point where the amount of money being invested in exploration at the end of the 1990s was under $30 million a year. Today the money in exploration is over $300 million a year.
You lost 5,000 mining jobs in the 1990s under the former government. We are actually building the mining industry in B.C. While we did that, we felt it was important, when we decided that we would let people.... What could be mined…. They did not have the gumption in the 1990s to stand up with regards to uranium. We did. We were prepared to pay the settlement in order to do that for British Columbians, and we did it.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: If the government has got nothing to hide…. They know full well that taxpayers paid for the opinion. The taxpayers paid for this $30 million boondoggle. The B.C. Liberals have admitted in court documents that they broke the law. They've admitted to botching the implementation. They've admitted that it took 11 months to get the OIC and the paperwork out.
British Columbians deserve to know how much this cost them. They paid for the settlement. They paid for the legal opinion. So will the Attorney General or the Minister of Energy and Mines release the legal opinion and prove to British Columbians that they got a deal for their $30-million fiasco?
Hon. R. Coleman: For $30 million we bought back a tenure on uranium in order to protect the fact that we're not going to mine uranium in British Columbia.
As a friend of mine in the Okanagan said to me last night, "It's about time somebody stepped up and did this and made sure this happened so that people would understand that we're not going to mine uranium in my back yard" — where he lives. He says that it is environmentally scary to them up there. He thinks it was the right thing to do, to actually ban uranium. He also thought it was the right thing to do — if we had to buy tenure back because somebody had a legal tenure — that maybe the government should step up and settle the lawsuit, take the tenure back and pay for it. And that's what we did.
B. Ralston: Yesterday I asked the Premier if she would support my motion, which was on the order paper yesterday, to table this whole sordid mess and send it off to the Auditor General. Taxpayers deserve to know what happened to that $30 million of their money. The point is that there's a difference between what would have legitimately been paid to Boss energy and what the premium was that was paid to cover up B.C. Liberal mistakes.
Having the benefit of reflecting for 24 hours, will the Premier now agree to refer this matter to the Auditor General so that he can get at the truth for the citizens of British Columbia?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don't know whether the member opposite or the member for Nanaimo, in any of their dealings in the law, ever actually settled a case before it went to court or whether they went to trial every single time they had a case in their previous lives. I would suspect that most of the time they settled the case before it went to the expensive cost of trial and all the litigation piece that goes with it — that at some point in time in negotiations, the two parties decided that maybe they would talk. In this particular case, the point came. The offers were made. The settlement was done. It was agreed to by both parties, and it was dealt with.
SERVICES FOR MOTHERS OF NEWBORNS
M. Farnworth: Mr. Speaker….
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Member.
M. Farnworth: Actually, a moment ago the Minister of Health raised a question about the gumption defi-
[ Page 8405 ]
cit. So I'll see if he's got the gumption to answer this question.
This past week we saw that the Liberal government has decided to cut home visits for mothers with newborns — more evidence that the families-first agenda of this government is just straight rhetoric.
Mothers and parents need this service. It provides vital information to mothers and vital information to doctors, and it's a great support to families. If families really do come first with this government, then why is cutting this decades-old program good for families?
Hon. M. de Jong: There isn't a binder deficit in this ministry. That's for sure.
I appreciate the question, because the member has made some comment publicly, I think. The healthy start program is a reflection of this government's desire to ensure that every single child gets the best start possible. It's why we've allocated the $23 million to ensure that the support is there, actually from the time before the child is born.
There is a change, however. The change is this. And I hope that members opposite will accept this as a fact. There are mothers who have an extensive support network. They have relatives. They have midwives. They have family physicians who are there for them on a regular basis. But there are others who do not, and we are not going to apologize. I am proud of the fact that healthy start is about focusing on those mothers and those families who don't have that support, and we are going to make sure that that support is there for them.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: All mothers deserve supports — all mothers. Families-first starts with newborns. That's why the government's changes have drawn criticism from health care professionals, from midwives, from nurses, from physicians — right across the spectrum. They recognize what this government doesn't — that many mothers don't have those supports.
These cuts — and that's exactly what they are — will impact mothers right across this province. What this government fails to realize is that issues such as postpartum depression, such as jaundice, are not just restricted to one socioeconomic group but can affect mothers and children right across the spectrum.
Will the minister have the gumption to stand up, tell the Premier that these changes are not family-first and restore the home care visits to every single mother that needs one in this province?
Mr. Speaker: Minister.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. de Jong: I hope that amidst the political rhetoric that often characterizes these debates, the member and the opposition are not suggesting that there aren't mothers, that there aren't families who don't need a little more. They actually need a little bit more support than one visit. There are other families, other mothers, for whom the contact that they will receive…. They'll receive a contact. They'll certainly get a phone call. They don't require the same level of support.
Mr. Speaker, let me just say this. Hearing the members opposite purport, as they are today, to come rushing to the defence of a program that they spoke against, to hear them purport to care about this when they spoke against healthy start…. They spoke against StrongStart. They spoke against all-day kindergarten. They have spoken against every single initiative this government has taken to make sure that there is early intervention for families in British Columbia.
We're going to make sure that there's support there for the families that need it and for the families that want it. And the families that need it are going to get it.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
S. Hammell: Not only does this risk the health of newborns and isolate moms, but from a fiscal perspective, it's just plain foolish. The head of the B.C. Medical Association, Dr. Nasir Jetha, says: "Doctors will just keep mothers and newborns in the hospital longer." He says: "If that baby or the mother stays another couple of days in the hospital, that is a tremendous cost to the system."
It's bad for mothers, it's bad for babies, it's bad for families, and it will end up costing British Columbians more money. How can the Liberal government possibly justify such an appallingly bad decision?
Hon. M. de Jong: Here's the answer: because there are women and families for whom one visit isn't enough. They need more support.
The member wants to be held hostage and wants the government to hold itself hostage and, ultimately, wants women who need additional help held hostage to her ideological argument that everyone is the same. They are not the same.
If the member expects the government or the minister to be defensive about recognizing the fact that there are families who need more support we and are going to see to it that they get the support, she is going to keep on waiting. We are not going to apologize, and we are not going to be defensive, because it is precisely the right thing to do.
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[End of question period.]
L. Popham: I rise to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
L. Popham: I present this petition on behalf of the residents of Saanich in regards to fill dumping on agricultural land — in particular, Babe's Honey Farm — and the lack of leadership by the municipality of Saanich and the provincial government in protecting Saanich food security.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: We will continue second reading this afternoon of Bill 6, intituled Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011. Should we finish with that bill, we'll move on to Bill 9, which is intituled Natural Resource Compliance Act. Should we finish that, we will then move on to second reading, intituled Offence Amendment Act. If we get there, we'll get then to Bill 5, intituled the Personal Property Security Amendment Act.
Point of Privilege
(Reservation of Right)
K. Corrigan: I'd like to reserve my right on a point of personal privilege, please. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker: Yes.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural
Resource Operations Statutes
Amendment Act, 2011
L. Krog: We're ready to continue, hon. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
L. Krog: As I was discussing the other day, this government engaged in the great giveaway of the Jordan River lands. When this government came into power, it essentially gutted the forest land reserve, another opportunity for government to preserve land for forestry purposes, to ensure sustainable jobs, long-term jobs, jobs where children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren could look forward to working in the forest industry.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Instead, this government chose to step back, give benefits to the big forest companies, the large private land owners and ensure they could use the land for development purposes, not for forestry purposes, notwithstanding that for decades they had received significant tax breaks that came out of the pockets of British Columbians year after year, decade after decade, enabling them to keep those lands with a very low rate of taxation.
It was a shameful episode, just as the giving away of the Jordan River lands was as well. Allowing those lands to come out of a tree farm licence was nothing short of awful. We know that there has never been a satisfactory explanation as to why that was important. The truth is that we didn't create jobs. We didn't do anything for the environment. We didn't do anything for forestry.
What the government is proposing to do today with Bill 6 is enable the alienation of further private lands from tree farm licences at the discretion, essentially, of the government. Now, the reason we have law in our society is to ensure that governments don't get to exercise their discretion willy-nilly, that governments don't get to exercise their discretion without regard to due process, to fairness, to transparency, to openness, to principles that govern behaviour in our society.
My concern with this bill…. I understand the purpose of it from the point of view of the Federation of B.C. Woodlot Associations. The purpose of this bill is to allow the alienation of lands that are covered by woodlots now to deal with situations involving divorce, for instance. Now, one can be sympathetic to that. One can understand that. Chances are this session that we'll be discussing a new family law that will have significant ramifications for property held by couples, whether they be common-law or married.
What the government is saying and what we've been assured…. The ministry is saying: "Look, it will be our policy not to allow the removal of lands, unless they've been part of the woodlot licence for at least ten years." I want to emphasize the word "policy."
Now, we know that governments can change regulation in a matter of minutes in a meeting of the executive council. We know that governments, if they wish and have a majority, can drive a bill in this House through in a matter of hours and days. At least if it comes before the Legislature, there is an opportunity for Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to raise questions. With an order-in-council the opposition doesn't get to participate, but at least the government does. There is even less scrutiny when it comes to a matter of policy issues.
Why should the opposition believe for a moment that this policy will in fact govern the government's behaviour when it comes to withdrawal of these lands?
It is readily apparent to anyone who reads, who pays attention to media, that around the planet forests
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are being decimated in a dramatic way in parts of the planet that have before remained pristine. We know that significant portions of the Amazon rainforest are disappearing. We know that in what was part of the former Soviet Union they are attacking their forests with a vigour that is creating real problems in terms of competition for nations that have based substantial portions of their economic activity on forestry.
British Columbia, notwithstanding decades of overcutting and often buccaneer politics and policy, still has significant forestry, significant vast tracts of forest lands. But we understand and we acknowledge that subject to us disappearing from the face of the planet, and that's not likely to happen unless you believe Armageddon is around the corner, once forest land goes out of forest production, it is gone. We are not going to be returning subdivisions to forestry. We're not going to be tearing up roads to grow trees.
So every time we take forest land out of production, if we allow it to be alienated for other purposes, we are reducing, firstly, one of the great carbon sinks of the world, and we are also eliminating the potential jobs and the economic activity that would flow sustainably from that year after year after year.
Why would we wish to believe that the government is going to do the right thing — if that is indeed, as I've described it, the public interest? Now, surely the public interest is based not just on present economic activity; it's based on future economic activity, and it's based on environmental considerations.
It was the public interest, supposedly, that the Minister of Forests, now the Minister of Energy, was supposed to have given when he allowed Western Forest Products to remove 28,000 hectares of tree farm licence lands near Jordan River. Where was the public interest when it counted? Why would British Columbians trust this government to exercise policy in a way that respects the public interest? Frankly, I guess it's one of the problems you face when you've been in power such a long time. Your credibility starts to wear pretty thin.
We have a tired, old government. It has run out of gas. Instead of a bill before us that would give some stimulus to the forest industry, that would give some assurance to all those mill owners that we want to preserve forest land so that we've got fibre for your mill in the future, instead of doing something dramatic like that, the best this government can come up with is a bill that in essence makes some technical changes and allows private forest lands to be removed from small woodlot licences at the minister's discretion.
It's kind of like the kid at Christmas who is expecting a real present, and somebody comes home and says: "You know what? We've decided we're going to give you a candy." A little candy, not a present, not something you could be excited about, not something that might even be useful. I mean, the value of this is to a limited number of woodlot owners.
I want to show no disrespect in my remarks for those woodlot owners. I think they are contributing in an enormously beneficial way to British Columbia. Indeed, most of the people in this chamber will have heard of the name Merv Wilkinson.
Now, Merv Wilkinson wasn't one of my constituents, even when my riding boundaries were somewhat different, but Merv Wilkinson, decade after decade, was able to take the same amount of timber off his woodlot, year after year, in a sustainable way. Indeed, when Merv, in an act of gracious public charity, transferred his land to the conservancy, there was more fibre on that piece of property than when Merv had started, literally close to 60, 70 years prior. So the woodlot owners of this province contribute enormously to sustainability, to good forest practice.
I come back to my point about this bill. Why can't the government put it in legislation — very clear — instead of affording more discretion to the minister, and indeed, defending this by saying that it will be our policy to ensure that the land has to be in the woodlot for at least ten years? There's a joke in the legal profession: an oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.
What we have here is another empty promise. After all, it was this very government, going into the 2001 election, that promised: "Oh, my goodness, we would never sell B.C. Rail." Oh, what happened? They promised the Hospital Employees Union contract was sacrosanct. Oh, my goodness, what happened?
It was this government, going into the 2009 election: a $495 million deficit and not a penny more. Oh, my goodness, what happened? So forgive me. It's not a reflection of age; it's a reflection of experience that I've developed a tiny bit of cynicism when it comes to talking about the B.C. Liberal government.
Now I'm not saying they're incapable of salvation. Particularly after the fiasco at Jordan River, I'm not saying they're not capable of salvation, but I think the chances grow slimmer and slimmer each day they're in office, each month that passes, each year that passes, and public policy and the public interest — good public policy — get sidelined again.
Where are we with this bill? Is this really going to be in the public interest? Is this really so important? When there are so many problems to address in the province of British Columbia, is it really so important that we proceed with this bill? Is the smallish number of people who will perhaps see some potential benefit from here — those poor woodlot owners whose marriages fall apart, those folks who pass on earlier than they anticipated and have to deal with the issue of winding up estates…? Is that really a priority for government? I suspect it has to be a priority for this government. Well, they've introduced the bill.
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I come back to my point. It's pretty clear they must have run out of gas, because that's what we're debating today. We're not debating new forest policy. We're not debating a bill that would see British Columbia's forest industry get a good kick-start. All we've heard from this government on forestry is: "Thank God for China." If it wasn't for China, we'd be in the soup — if it wasn't for China buying our raw logs.
I've got to tell you that in representing the city of Nanaimo as I do, and proud to do so, when I see those massive vessels loaded with raw logs headed for China — not even going south to Washington State anymore, although we're sending enough down there — and I see my own community with its high unemployment rates, I have to ask myself if this government is exercising what we used to refer to, and a word that doesn't get used very often: good stewardship.
Is this government exercising good stewardship over the public lands, particularly when here we are dealing with that wonderful historical mix of private and public lands being placed under a government regime? The scheme and purpose was designed to ensure employment.
I'm not satisfied, having looked through this bill, that I'm hearing any guarantees about employment. After all, isn't this government's agenda all about jobs and families first and giving people jobs to work so they can support their families? Is it in here? Maybe it is for a small number of families. But if the government, as I say, wished really to assure British Columbians their interests were being protected, we wouldn't be talking about policy and we wouldn't be talking about the further authority to make regulation.
I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. And don't jump in, hon. Members. Please, be kind. I'm beginning to sound a bit like a broken record, because I have said in this chamber over and over again that if ever there was a government that was guilty of putting more and more authority in cabinet and the power to make regulation instead of dealing with things in an upfront way in legislation that the average person could read and understand, it is this government.
You want to talk about openness and transparency? You know what? If they'd kept to their promise…. Oh, another small promise, not as big as B.C. Rail, of course, or the HEU contract or the deficit. But do you remember their promise of open cabinet meetings? That was really going to open up government in British Columbia.
Open cabinet meetings. Now, there's a pony that's trotted out of the barn and disappeared into the tall grass. You can't find that one anymore. It's just hiding out there in the political hay.
H. Lali: And gaming.
L. Krog: Oh, my friend the member for Fraser-Nicola mentions gaming. There's no need for me to bring up gaming. After all, we really don't want to raise the issue of gaming with this government, because we've seen such an incredible expansion of gambling in our communities, from a party….
I remember the member for Kamloops–South Thompson talking about the horrific things that would happen if there was an expansion of gambling. They went on, and they went on, and they went on, and as soon as they got into office, there we go. We've got expanded gaming across this province. We've got slot machines that make some of our communities look like a cheap Vegas North, without the warm sunshine.
Why should we trust this government? They want to reserve more and more regulatory power to the closed confines of the west annex. That is not the way government in British Columbia should operate. If you want to be open and transparent, don't try and fool us with that ridiculous fiasco. As I say, the pony that is out there in the hay, in the tall grass now, about open cabinet meetings.
Put the legislation in front of this House, and let us debate it. Let it be clear. But don't keep reserving more and more regulatory power to cabinet, where there is no public debate, unless the B.C. Liberals honestly think they represent British Columbia as a whole instead of the narrow interests of Howe Street, who seem to fund their campaigns. After all, you only have to look at the public record to know where the money comes from.
It isn't coming from working people. It isn't coming from the folks in Fraser-Nicola. It's not coming from the folks in Golden. It's not coming from the folks in Port Coquitlam. It is coming from the people who have real money in this province. It's coming from major corporations, and boy, if you look at the Jordan River mess, you can sure see that money talks when it comes to donations and forest policy in the province of British Columbia.
What I want to say here is this. If this is the best this government can do, if this is the best they can manage after ten years in office….
J. Horgan: Heaven help us.
L. Krog: My friend from Juan de Fuca says: "Heaven help us." If I thought prayer would help this government, I would pray for them. But I don't think prayer could help this government.
The fact that we're debating this bill, the fact that we're not debating or even talking about a commission to study forestry or a round table to sit down with folks across the board, top to bottom — workers on the shop floor, the mill floor, up to the heads of the major corporations — talking to union pension funds, getting people together to talk about how to revitalize forestry to develop a true provincial or national policy around forestry….
[ Page 8409 ]
Even a motion from this government on the order paper that said to the federal government: "Look, the sale of raw logs off private lands and the coastal lands of British Columbia is a real problem." It contributes enormously to the destruction of our forest economy. It means that mills are shut that would otherwise be running. It means the big success story, indeed one of the only success stories of the last years, which is Harmac, wouldn't have to go begging for fibre week after week.
I want to give credit to the executive at Harmac. I'd hate to be the guy in charge of ensuring that fibre was there, available week after week to keep those two lines running, because right now in British Columbia there is not much of a hope that those lines can keep running in perpetuity unless this government does something significant about forest policy. Today, before us, I don't see anything that is significant, anything that is going to really benefit us.
I see a bill that harmonizes some forestry licences around gas and mining activities — good thing, fairly positive, can't complain about that. Some powers to the B.C. association of professional foresters — not a big deal. Removing some lands from small woodlot licences at the minister's discretion, giving more regulatory power to the cabinet. Is this the best we can do? Ten years in power. Is this the best we can do?
As I said, when I see those incredibly large vessels…. If you haven't had the privilege of seeing one, you should. It is shocking, the volume of timber that is leaving the Port of Nanaimo.
An Hon. Member: Millions of cubic metres.
L. Krog: Millions and millions and millions of cubic metres disappearing across the waters to fuel the Chinese economy. Now, I don't blame them for being smart and buying our timber. But I can sure blame a government that won't go to Ottawa and pound on the Prime Minister's table, even if it's just for a photo op.
They won't go to the Prime Minister's table and pound on it and say: "Look, you've got to do something about policy that allows lands, private lands, and the trees on them to be dealt with in this way, that allows the shipping of significant portions of coastal forest production to disappear in ships across the water instead of providing jobs for the very people whose lands they were until a government decided they would alienate them privately to build a railway up and down Vancouver Island."
It was a public patrimony that allowed for the building of the E&N Railway, and the promise was a railway in perpetuity. We really don't have that anymore, but the private lands were gone. Public policy and jurisdictional legalities mean that unless this government demands of the federal government to do the right thing, we will continue to see millions and millions upon millions of cubic metres of coastal forest wood disappear in the form of raw logs across the Pacific.
It is shameful, utterly shameful. There are people in my community who are willing, ready and able to work, who have the skills, who would like to work. Harmac would love to be able to open up a third line. But with their fibre issues, can they risk that? Does anyone want to put money into a sawmill on the coast when its fibre supply can't be guaranteed? It is shameful.
So I want to say to this government today: "Step aside. Step aside, folks. You've had your opportunity. You've had ten years. This is the best you can do? Forget it. It's not good enough." It's not good enough for my constituents. It's not good enough for the constituents of North Island. It's not good enough for the constituents of Nanaimo–North Cowichan. It's not good enough for the constituents of Cowichan. "If this is the best you can do, step aside, because this will benefit some small woodlot owners, but it speaks volumes about a government that simply has lost its energy, its interests and its ability to govern."
The problems are too big. They can hide away in a closeted chamber and pretend they are in charge, but the fact is they are out of control. They have no control. They have no ability to address the serious problems in the forest industry. They have no plan. They have no scheme, and they don't have the guts to demand the federal government do the right thing. Let them step aside, because there is an opportunity that is being lost.
We have the great patrimony of the forests of British Columbia. We should be using them wisely, not just for ourselves and our present generation but for the children and grandchildren who follow us — and indeed for the planet. Let us do the wise thing here.
But this government is incapable of doing so. I just wish there was an election on the horizon. The Premier has already chickened out on one. We know we're not going to have one until May of 2013. Too bad for the people of British Columbia, and too bad for the forests.
M. Sather: I rise today to join the debate — I should have looked around to see if any of my colleagues opposite were getting up, but obviously they weren't — on Bill 6, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Members of the public have seen a lot of changes in names of various ministries in this government and may not be familiar with this one. But it is, in fact, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations under which this statute is being launched.
The previous speaker or speakers have pointed out that in the past we always had a ministry solely devoted to forestry. Now we see it lumped in with a whole lot of things, including environmental issues, hunting regulations, even some fisheries management. So it's a grab-bag of responsibilities that I'm afraid is reflective of the state
[ Page 8410 ]
of forests in this province today. That's of concern to all of us, I think, certainly on this side of the House.
I remember in the '90s, the favourite decade of members opposite, when I was assisting the then MLA for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows and hearing the then members of the opposition say that when they got into power they were going to show British Columbians how forestry should be run in British Columbia. They didn't add the word "down" at the end or "out of business" at the end, but that is how it has been as we have seen the destruction of our forest industry under this government.
We have seen the demise of a once proud ministry, where it's relegated now to part of a grab-bag of responsibilities of government, and that's truly dismaying, I think, for all British Columbians.
Not seeing forestry even highlighted in the throne speech, again, speaks volumes to, I think, the fact that the government has given up on the forest industry, other than to act as an agent for exporting increased numbers of logs to China.
That's not a job strategy that has any merit, in my view, and one that a lot of folks in the forest industry — currently and previously, those out of work that used to have jobs — would, I think, agree on. They would like to see jobs for their families here in British Columbia.
We know that when we have manufacturing…. Of course, manufacturing is disappearing from the developed world as we move through the wonders of free trade. Well, it's not free for the workers in British Columbia. It's costing the workers in British Columbia a lot, whereas we just ship off our resources and we don't make any effort to get the maximum amount of manufacturing dollar out of those resources here in our province. It's a real shame.
I want to focus most of my remarks on this bill around one particular part of it, one that a number of speakers before me have addressed, and that's the issue of the removal of private lands from woodlots in British Columbia. The woodlots that we have in British Columbia grew out of the farm woodlots that previously came into place in 1948, which I want members to know was a very good year. Under those, farmers were able to acquire the use of forest lands adjacent to their farms, or they could go out and cut down wood for fence posts or building a barn or maybe helping to build a new home or the home.
That has evolved, until in the 1970s the Pearse commission did a voluminous report on forestry. The evolution of woodlots as we know them now arose from then. I had the pleasure of speaking to a former colleague the other day with regard to this — one Corky Evans, who some members will recall. Corky made submissions to that commission because he has a background working in small-scale forestry.
I see there are some members in the House that weren't here when the estimable Mr. Evans was in the House. They missed one of the finest speakers, I think, that has graced these halls and a person that I will always remember for having blown the lights of the Legislature out. That happened in an all-night debate we were having in these chambers. Corky was up waxing eloquent and actually singing a Woody Guthrie song about how some people will kill you with a pistol and others with a fountain pen. And boom! The lights went out. To me, it spoke to the spiritual power of the man and his connectedness. Even the electrons were paying attention.
So there has been a lot of input into the woodlot issue. Just a bit of facts and figures on woodlots: 65 percent of woodlot licences are held by individuals and partnerships, 25 percent by corporations and 6 percent by First Nations. So there's a very large…. It's really, basically, a family-based forestry operation, although there are others that have a stake in it as well. But it's family-based, it's community-based, and it's a very good program, which everyone on both sides of this House, I'm sure, supports.
Woodlots were seen to be particularly valuable in areas near civilization, where there would be increased emphasis on sustainable management.
You know, if you fly over the province in an airplane you can see sometimes some very large clearcuts that bring howls of protest from some quarters. That could have included me at times. But when you are in close to communities, there's more scrutiny. There are more people watching out for what's going on in the forests next to their homes and next to their communities or in their communities.
So the woodlot licence program is a very good way of having a smaller-scale, oftentimes family-based operation where there's a strong emphasis on sustainability, including environmental sustainability, and that made it a very supportable program. I certainly do support the woodlot program in our province.
The woodlots require annual allowable cut in a management plan by which they operate, not that larger tenures don't have that as well, but just to be clear, they are managed and regulated in that respect. It's not that they just go out and do whatever they want — quite the opposite.
Harvest on woodlots increased from 1.1 million cubic metres in the year 2000 to 2.4 million cubic metres in 2006. That's attributed, in considerable measure as I understand it, to the increased harvest opportunities for beetle-killed wood, which obviously is a two-edged sword for all of us. A lot of our forests died and still are dying in some quarters as a result of the beetle kill. There are a lot more folks out there harvesting that timber.
But the other side of it is that the long-term viability of your woodlot is completely changed from what you…. You know, it's not a matter of harvesting 1 per-
[ Page 8411 ]
cent annual allowable cut or anything like that, because the trees are all dead in front of you — at least all the pine trees are — and they are falling down. There's lots of wind in some of these areas in the Interior, and they get blown down fairly quickly. So you're looking at a whole different ballgame.
The woodlot licence owners in many areas are very aware of that and concerned that the viability, or at least the…. For the next 40 years or so, it's just entirely different — what they are dealing with — than what they had before. So that may, in fact, have something to do with the genesis of this legislation.
Woodlots utilize 1.5 percent of the province's total annual allowable cut. That's not a large amount, but as I say, it's dedicated to handsawn resource management. So it's a really valuable tool. It's a really special deal, if you will, an opportunity for a very sustainable resource management in the forest industry.
There were 811 woodlot licences in 2003 and 826 in 2007, but the previous size limits were doubled to 800 hectares on the coast and 1,200 hectares inland. When you read Peter Pearse's report back in the 1970s, I think there were 30-some, and he was decrying the fact that it was very difficult to get people involved in these licences, these opportunities, and hoping for more. Well, certainly, we've seen a change in that regard, and a very positive change insofar as that goes.
There are now 875 woodlot licences today, and 85 percent of those licences of those woodlots — that's nearly 700 in total — in B.C. contain private land. It's about 130 hectares of private land on average, per woodlot, and 18 percent of the woodlot land is private. So the vast majority of them have private land attached, but the woodlot itself…. A lot of it is Crown land. The vast majority of it is Crown land.
What we're looking at is smaller chunks of private land but significant parts of the whole process, as has been talked about in this House and that I will add a few more words about.
The private lands. Certainly, in parts of the province that are mountainous — which, as we know, is a large part of our province — the private lands tend to be in valley bottoms, which are flatter, obviously, and more productive. The soils are better in valley bottoms than up on the hillsides or, certainly, in subalpine areas, so they're very desirable places on which to have a woodlot. I also want to mention that they tend to grow about twice as much forest per hectare as Crown land — again, very productive.
Prior to the woodlots there was no annual allowable cut or a management plan for a lot of this high-quality forest land. What would happen is that people would come in and high-grade — take out the most valuable trees and generally degrade the site, sometimes clearcutting it and leaving the forest depleted for many years as a source of wood and local income. The woodlot licence program is really valuable in order to allow for far greater sustainability in forest practices, which we all strive for.
Crown land is often approved as part of the woodlot in return for putting private land in the woodlot. Bill 6 frees up the private land for development while allowing owners to keep the Crown land lease.
We're not talking about the buildings where the person lives. If they had a forest on their property that was private, that becomes part of the woodlot, along with, normally, a much larger part of Crown land. That changes the dynamic of a woodlot entirely, with this legislation, because once the private land is removed, as I think the member previously mentioned, it's not tending to go back into forestry.
According to the website of the Federation of British Columbia Woodlot Associations, the woodlot licences are "a form of area-based tenure which is unique to British Columbia. In effect, they are partnerships between the licence holder and the province of British Columbia to manage public land and private forest lands."
That puts it very well. It's a partnership — a public-private partnership of the type that our side can fully support, a very healthy relationship. This legislation is going to upset the balance of that healthy relationship. What we're saying is that, yes — and I'll get into it in a minute — there are obviously reasons why some woodlot owners…. I don't know the exact numbers, perhaps the majority. The minister, I'm sure, does have a better idea of that. Some want their land removed, but we have to look at the public interest.
There are good personal reasons why they want to do that, but we have to look at the interests of the public at large. This is a model that's working. It's a "not broke, don't try to fix it" kind of thing.
I think that the government would be wise to reflect on that. They've got a good model. We have a good model here in the province for many years. Why mess with it when it's working well?
In 2007 the government allowed large forest companies to remove their private lands from forest licences and sell them. We've seen a bit of this on a bigger scale already. Now, I'm not talking about woodlots. I'm talking about larger tenures held by forest companies. But the principle is much the same.
On southern Vancouver Island, for example, 28,000 hectares of private land were removed from tree farm licences by Western Forest Products with the approval of the government. Of course, that land is not destined for future forestry. That's taken out of the collective forests that we have in the province for residential or other kinds of resort development.
So we're looking at a history of seeing the government move to privatization of forest lands, which is not
[ Page 8412 ]
surprising. Privatization is, of course, one of the themes of this government. And we're seeing a different ramification with the woodlot licence. But nonetheless, it's a removal from the public good into what is seen, at least by some of the owners, as a private good. Though I think we can all sympathize and understand the problems of succession and so on, of handing on your work to other members of your family, perhaps, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, as the saying goes.
So the working forest, which has been spoken about over the years a lot in this province, has been seen as part of a social contract between private industry and the public lands that we're so blessed with in this province of having in abundance, and we want to keep it that way.
Those same forest companies — I do recall some of those same forest companies, anyway — very much were supportive of that social contract when it came to alienation of forest lands by the formation of parks. But now the shoe is on the other foot. It's not only southern Vancouver Island. It's happened in the Interior as well with the working forests. So we need to keep that forest working such that when we decide that maybe shipping all our logs, or more and more of our logs, to China is not the best jobs policy in the world, we can have that working forest intact to continue to actually provide jobs for British Columbians in an industry that's synonymous with British Columbia — the forest industry.
With regard to the removal from tree farm licences, the Auditor General said that it wasn't in the public interest to do that. He said that at the time. We think the same principle applies now. What we're seeing in the Kootenays, in the north, for example, is that…. Another issue with the woodlot licence — woodlots and other than woodlots — is that individuals from outside the province sometimes, oftentimes, are buying large tracts like ranches for private hunting reserves. We don't want to see the taking over of woodlots in this way for other purposes.
I'm not a hunter now. I was a hunter. I hunted a lot when I was younger. I thought it was great. But I don't now. Nonetheless, I don't want to see our forest lands become private reserves, in effect. Peter Pearse, way back in the 1970s, talked about that as an issue we had to be aware of, that we couldn't let happen — that we need to keep our forest lands for forestry and not have them being used for other purposes in broad measure.
We're saying, I think, that the woodlots — certainly, we are — should stay under the current positive sustainable management requirements that we have. I have no doubt that members of the woodlot association want to proceed with this in a respectful way, because they're doing great, great work and always have done.
The assurances that the minister makes and that the woodlot association has talked about, such as that before any land be taken out of a woodlot, private land be taken out; it would be advertised locally and public comment invited…. That's all well and good, but I don't see anything in there that would change the outcome, once the government gives the go-ahead to take their private land out of a woodlot. It's great the communities will be notified, but I don't see any sense that the outcome would be affected.
The other thing is that it's being said — the minister, I think, has also said this — that you'd have to have had your woodlot ten years before you could take the private part out. You know, that's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Eventually it's going to end up in the same way for those that want to remove the private portion of their woodlot.
The issue, though, of a family needing, like anyone, to have recompense for their assets — if they want to give it to their kids, for example, to carry on with — is a real one, and it's a problem, obviously, with agriculture as well. There are programs federally that assist young farmers in being able to borrow the money they need to help with that transition.
Maybe we need to be seeing — if the government is going to proceed with this, and I presume they will — if there isn't some kind of funding arrangements that could be made in this instance as well. It wouldn't actually have to be…. In fact, it could negate, if it worked, the necessity for — and we don't think it's necessary to do this — or the actuality of what Bill 6 contemplates.
Again, this is a similar, common theme that happens with agricultural lands. In Maple Ridge, for sure, we have a lot of smaller parcels in the agricultural land reserve. I hear, not uncommonly, from some of my constituents who own these lands, that they want them out of the agricultural land reserve so that they can sell them.
But this is a contract, the agricultural land reserve, that we've had from the '80s, many decades now, that governments of all political stripes have recognized as being in the broader social interest to maintain. So that's the understanding. There are some costs, obviously, with maintaining that social contract, but it's valuable, we believe, to do so. We are hoping that the government will reconsider it in this regard as well.
Another issue that I just want to bring up briefly that's come to my attention has similarities to this as well, in my view. In Bridge Lake — which is not far from 100 Mile House, between 100 Mile and Highway 5 on the other side — there's a land swap that's being contemplated where land that was set aside way back in 1945 for the enjoyment of the public…. It's waterfront, and that's valuable property up there. The idea is to cut a big chunk out of the middle of it and swap that for a piece of land on the island.
Of course, a piece of land on the island is much more difficult to develop. How do you get there, to your cabin, etc.? But it speaks again to the willingness of this government to go ahead with alienation of lands that are
[ Page 8413 ]
there for the public good in exchange for private interests. In all of these cases I think they are misguided, and I'm hoping that the government will see fit to reconsider. That, of course, is our purpose in having these debates.
With that, I thank you very much for the opportunity to respond, and I will pass the mike on to the next speaker.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member and recognize the member for Fraser-Nicola.
H. Lali: Thank you, hon. Speaker. It's great to see you back in the Chair again.
I rise and take my place on Bill 6, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
H. Lali: I see the members are already heckling, and I haven't even started yet. Maybe what we need are some Liberals to actually stand up and defend this bill for a change. We haven't seen them do that, because there are not too many of the Liberals over there who actually believe in it. But as with everything else, those backbenchers over there — when the Premier says we're going to do something, they are going to shove it down everybody's throats. That's why they are all sitting there quietly and nobody wants to get up and defend themselves. So the member protests too much, and I haven't even started yet.
Anyway, this bill that is before the House is about private lands in the small woodlots. Woodlot licences are going to be removed at the minister's discretion. This is the power that the minister wants to grab on to, just like almost every other minister in the Liberal benches over the last almost 11 years has taken the opportunity in their respective ministries to grab on to more power.
We know they had a Premier in place, obviously, for ten years. He had a real big thirst for power — Gordon Campbell. I can say his name. He's not a member of the House anymore.
Gordon Campbell had this huge thirst for power. He concentrated so much power in his hands. He concentrated so much power into the hands of the people that worked around him in the Premier's office. I think he went from, in 2001, a budget of about $2½ million, and about 20 staff. Then he went up to — what was it? — almost $14 million and over 200, almost 300, staff, because he wanted to concentrate all of that kind of power.
H. Lali: The former Minister of Finance — I hear him. Finally he has woken up in this Legislature. I'm sorry I disturbed his slumber that he was in, but he has finally woken up.
That's what happened: the concentration of power, more and more power into the hands of all sorts of Liberal cabinet ministers. The Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — a new name here; boy, what a mouthful. He's now in lineup to grab more power into his hands. We've got minister after minister lining up, taking power away from the public servants or taking power away from the elected House of the people of British Columbia.
You know, it wasn't enough that out of the nearly 70 million cubic metres of wood that this province has historically cut for a number of decades, that the amount of concentration into the hands of corporations…. All of that and this former minister…. He's a former minister now. The small amount of wood in the land that's in these small, family-run operations, these woodlot licences…. The minister just couldn't keep his greedy little hands off that. He wants more power to be able to actually have the authority to take land out.
Well, you know, when the former Premier and the cabinet wanted to do all sorts of things, they said they were going to come in…. Forestry changes. As you know, every decade there's a cyclical industry. All governments of all stripes want to make certain changes to improve the way forestry is done, improve the public service, create a few more jobs, bring in some new programs, etc.
That's standard fare for governments to be able to do that. You make sure that companies are in existence, workers are working, communities have workers living in the communities, paying taxes for water, sewer and garbage and building sidewalks and roads. That's all part of life and also part of the economic life of British Columbia, especially in small-town, rural British Columbia.
The Liberals said: "Well, we want to make some changes." They said: "We have to do certain things." But one thing that was standing in the way was this Forest Act. I think it was in 2002. They had a whole bunch of things they wanted to do, because their buddies, the ones who financed their elections, those corporate buddies, wanted to have certain changes.
They weren't happy with the fact that they had 80 percent of the timber in their hands. They wanted it all. But this thing called the Forest Act, which had been there for decades before that, was standing in the way. It was standing in the way, so this Liberal government said, "Hey, that's okay. We're going to help you. What we're going to do is we're going to make changes to that Forest Act," which they did. They made changes.
They made changes, and here we are today. For the last decade and then some what we've seen is the destruction of the forest industry and forestry-dependent towns in this province under that Liberal government as
[ Page 8414 ]
a result of those changes they made. We have seen not only the privatization of our forests and forest land, but we have also seen the politicization of the Forest Service under the B.C. Liberals.
We've seen the corporatization of our resource. Eighty percent of the lands and the wood that was in the hands of corporations wasn't enough. They wanted it all. That's what they wanted to do.
There are a whole lot of other things as a result of the changes in the Forest Act, things that stood in the way — regs and legs that stood in the way. That's regulations and legislation that stood in the way, that protected the public interest, that protected the land base, the forest. It helped create jobs. All of those things that stood in the way, and they had to get them out of the way. They couldn't do that unless they made those changes.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Here we are. We're talking about woodlots, as well, as a result of all of this and the changes that they're making. They got rid of — oh yes, they were going to try to save some money; that was their deal — the job protection commissioner. There is many a mill, many operations in this province over a period of decades that were saved, and jobs were saved because of the great work the job protection commissioner did.
There was a social contract. The company wanted timber. Well, yeah, it was in a neighbourhood of a community or a region or an area of this province. Great, you got access to the timber. You supplied the mill with the timber. You created jobs. You have workers that worked in communities, and they paid their taxes in communities. Mayors and councillors and regional districts and First Nations were all happy because they had workers working as a result of the social contact.
You want the timber? You create the jobs, and you kept the jobs, basically, within the timber supply area or within the community or even within the region to serve the greater good of the people. That's what the social contract was, but it was getting in the way of their master plan. That was happening. That was what was happening.
I talked a little earlier that it was about 20 percent of the wood that was going into the hands of the family-run operations, the small business forest enterprise program. That was there before the NDP got there, brought in under the Social Credit. You had small-scale salvage operations as well. They've been there for a long time, creating jobs. There's a whole lot of value-added remanufacturing. I know the Social Credit, when they were government, started promoting and started talking about it. We picked up the gauntlet from them and drove it during the 1990s.
The amount of wood that was in the hands of these small, family-run operations went from less than 10 percent to 20 percent within a period of ten years, and everybody was happy. Even the large corporations were happy, because they got credits for giving the kind of wood that the small operators needed, and they got credits when they applied for a forest licence anywhere in the province in subsequent years.
It worked well, and it created jobs all throughout the province. It kept people working in communities, even kept the folks who have the small woodlots happy as well.
We had all this, but it was all standing in the way of their master plan that they wanted. Here we are over ten years later and what have we got under the changes that they made to the Forest Act? Under this government 80 sawmills and pulp mills have closed by deliberate Liberal policy in this government, all under the guise of rationalization. It's a nice little word. Basically, it's corporate concentration. Shut down mills in small communities. Take the timber away wherever they wanted.
They could take it to Timbuktu if they wanted to, and that's basically what's happening. Right in the neighbourhood of Timbuktu our timber is going right now, creating jobs over there. As a result of this….
H. Lali: Timbuktu is in the same Eurasian-African land mass. I imagine the member needs a little bit of a geography lesson as to where it is.
Hon. Speaker, 42,500 jobs were eliminated, decimated, destroyed, kaput, gone up in smoke as a result of the master plan of this B.C. Liberal government. Those jobs are never coming back. They're never coming back under this Liberal government. As a result of this, there's the corporate concentration; there's the abandonment of small communities.
The policy now, as it exists under this B.C. Liberal government…. Through deliberate policy the forest policies of this province are written in the boardrooms of the forestry giants in this province. Well, some of them have their corporate boardrooms outside of this province, in other parts of the world. They dictate policy to these guys.
What is it? Is it lemmings that kind of walk over the cliff in mass numbers?
H. Lali: Thank you very much.
Like lemmings, these Liberals — without question, without questioning what is happening here in British Columbia or the kinds of regulations and legislation that are being spoon-fed to them by the Premier's office — go over that cliff. They just get up in numbers and say: "Yeah, we're going to vote for it."
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Over 80 sawmills and pulp mills lost and 42,500 permanent, decent, family-supporting jobs on the coast and in rural B.C. lost as a result of their policy, and not a single Liberal on that side of the House has the gumption to stand up and question their own cabinet as to what it is they're doing and why they are forced to stand up one by one in this House, actually stand up and vote to support the destruction of the forest industry in this province. That's what's happening.
I'd like to ask how many of them actually do any research into the kinds of bills that come forward from their government when they're supporting yea to pass those bills — what it really means in terms of the impact it's going to have on families in British Columbia and workers in all of our communities across B.C.
We have a minister — not the present; the former Minister of Forests, the gentleman from Prince George. I forget his riding. But in any case, we all know. He's gone out for a number of years. He's gone out there, and he says: "Everything is fine in British Columbia's forest industry. It's in the best shape it's ever been."
He goes around and talks about how they've started up 27 mills, yet they won't produce the list of any of the mills that have started up, in this House. They just won't. I guess he's talking about the 27 sawmills they've started up in China because of all the raw logs that they're shipping off to China and to the United States and other parts of the world.
You know what we've had under the B.C. Liberals in this province? You've had sawmills that have closed in British Columbia as a result of neglect and the deliberate policy of the Liberals in this province. Business people from China and other parts of the world have come into B.C. and have bought up the steel — lock, stock and barrel — for sawmills.
Up in Terrace is a prime example. The last sawmill in the northwest was put into a container and shipped off — just like that — to China, where that disassembled steel that was in the box…. They opened the box when they got to China, and they took those pieces of steel — bolts and screws and whatever else — and they put it all together, and sure enough, the ship that was coming behind it was full of the raw logs from British Columbia that they are processing over there in China. Our mills shipped to China. Our logs shipped to China. Jobs for the people in China, but not for the people in British Columbia.
The former Minister of Forests, the member from the Prince George area, says that everything is great in this province. He says: "Look, the vast majority of our timber in this province is milled here." You know what he calls vast majority? Sixty percent of our timber. So he admits that 40 percent of our timber is going in the raw form and with the jobs.
He says: "Oh, it's creating jobs in B.C. It's keeping all sorts of…."
An Hon. Member: Nonsense.
H. Lali: The member says: "Nonsense." He's right. It's not creating jobs in B.C. Thank you very much. We have a member of the House who finally admits that the Liberals' forest policy is a sham and that the member from Prince George, the former Minister of Forests, is not creating the jobs. Finally, we have a member from the Liberals….
He's exporting 1,200 jobs in logging; 40 percent of timber goes elsewhere, outside of British Columbia, in raw form.
But you know, there are operations in my riding, and I know in other ridings all across the province, who are dying for that timber. They're dying to get their hands on that timber that is put up in these huge ships and taken off to China and Oregon and wherever else. They want that timber to create jobs here.
If you left that timber in B.C., and if this government would put that timber that they're shipping off in the form of raw logs elsewhere into the hands of British Columbian operators, we wouldn't have 1,200 jobs. We'd have 12,000 jobs that would be created in B.C. But these guys, these Liberals, are shipping off all of this timber in the form of logs. I wonder what the former Minister of Forests, the member from Prince George…. I think he is lost sometimes.
There used to be a television show when we were growing up as kids. It was about a family. Their ship broke down somewhere in outer space, and they were on this planet somewhere. They kept sort of wandering and wandering and wandering, senselessly wandering all over the place. They didn't have a goal in mind. They didn't know where they were going. They didn't know where they were coming from, and they didn't know what they were going to do tomorrow, but they kept wandering and wandering.
I think the show was called Lost in Space. That's what that member from Prince George reminds me of when he makes these kinds of statements. I think sometimes he is lost in space when he talks about that.
But in any case, the woodlots…. This minister wants more power. There are some families, obviously…. When a divorce happens in the family or somebody dies before they actually get old and they need to be able to settle the estate, obviously there are some issues.
Instead of dealing with the issues and putting up a system in which there's a proper succession that takes place for that woodlot, what this Liberal government wants to do is to be able to take the timber out of the woodlots, just as they did with Western Forest Products on Vancouver Island and many other places around the province.
We have that as a part of the social contract in this province, where companies that own private lands had
[ Page 8416 ]
timber that had value, that was great for the environment. We made a deal as a provincial government a long time ago, decades ago, and said: "Look, we'll give you access to the Crown timber, the people's timber in this province, so you can create jobs locally within your locale and keep those mills and pulp mills going for generations. Just protect the private land because it's got environmental and ecological values, but we'll give you access to the Crown timber, the public's timber, to be able to do that."
With the stroke of a pen, a decision was made by cabinet without any input from the people of British Columbia, no consultation with the people in communities or the workers that it was going to affect in that locale. With the stroke of a pen, the minister allowed the operations of Western Forest Products to close and allowed that forest company that created jobs from that timber by milling that timber locally….
He said to them: "You know what you can do with the private land? It's all yours now. The social contract is all ripped up. Instead of growing trees on your private lands, you can go ahead and grow condominiums and subdivisions."
So they turned forest companies that actually created lumber and furniture and jobs, etc., into development companies, and it's basically just a blank cheque for them to be able to subdivide, divide and build condominiums instead of creating jobs here in British Columbia.
That's what they did, but that wasn't good enough. For the benefit of the member yacking away over there….
H. Lali: The member from Timbuktu. Thank you for reminding me of that.
That wasn't good enough. If you look at woodlots and the amount of forest land and timber that comes out of there compared to the tens of millions of cubic metres cut in this province today, it's not even a drop in the bucket.
But it wasn't enough to take almost all of the timber out of public hands and try to privatize it. They want to get at the small woodlots as well by taking the power away from the people and putting it into the hands of one person — the minister. It is the minister who will say: "Oh yeah, that's okay, because we're saying to the woodlot operators, 'Once you've got a woodlot, you can't take land out of there for ten years.'" That's it. Ten years.
You're penalized for ten years, but after ten years it's a free go. Guess what. The minister makes that determination rather than the people of British Columbia by bringing that forward in this House where it can be debated. That's how policy is made under this Liberal government, and they just won't admit it, in every one of these instances. We're supposed to sit here and trust the Minister of Forests to uphold the public interest, hon. Speaker? We're supposed to trust the Liberal Minister of Forests to uphold the public interests?
Well, I'll tell you how much of a good job the B.C. Liberals have done holding up the public interest in the 11 years they've been in office. Hon. Speaker, I want to remind you and people in British Columbia whether they can really trust this Liberal minister or any one of the Liberals.
When they were running for election in 1996 and 2001 they made all sorts of promises. They said: "Oh yeah, we're going to sit there, and we're going to cut waste out of the system. No, we're not going to eliminate any jobs. We're not going to fire any people. We're not going to close any of the services that the province of British Columbia delivers on behalf of the people of B.C."
They said that they weren't going to do that. They were not going to touch HEU contracts, and they were not going to actually cut health services as well. Well, we know that didn't hold water, because they ripped up the contract for the HEU workers and actually laid off the largest number of women in the history of this country in one shot — over 9,000 employees, the majority of them women, the majority of them of visible minority background. They did that.
They've cut hospitals across the province, eliminated hospitals. They've turned them into diagnostic treatment centres, and they haven't appropriately funded health care in the regional hospitals as well. As a result, we have got these huge wait-lists.
They said they weren't going to touch schools or class sizes. We know what's happened with class sizes. They have gone way up again. They've closed over 200 schools in this province. They promised they wouldn't, but they did.
Then take a look at B.C. Rail. Oh, it's like taking an oath on their holy book. "We're not going to touch B.C. Rail. We're not going to privatize." Guess what. They sold B.C. Rail.
They said they were going to have open cabinet meetings. I know the member for Nanaimo talked about it. Well, whatever happened to open cabinet meetings? I haven't seen one. Where did they go? They went up into thin air just like that.
On gambling. When there was a modest increase in gaming and an NDP government in the 1990s, they howled, every one of them. The member for Vancouver-Quilchena and the member for Kamloops–North Thompson at the time…. I guess he's South Thompson now. I remember that member for Kamloops–South Thompson standing up inside and outside of the Legislature, saying: "Oh, the NDP policy is a massive expansion of gambling, and there's going to be blood in the streets." He went on and on.
You know what happened after they got into office, the B.C. Liberals? They have expanded gambling in this
[ Page 8417 ]
province by 125 percent. They're addicted to gambling revenue in this province.
H. Lali: You know, I'm glad the member from Quilchena is heckling again, because he was getting a little upset that I wasn't talking about him. These next two points, I'm going to talk about the member.
He was the Minister of Finance just prior to the 2009 election. He stood up in a seat that was over there in the cabinet. Now he's outside the cabinet, but when he was sitting over there he said: "Our deficit is going to be $495 million and not a penny more." That's what he said. Not a penny more. That's what he said.
Well, guess what. Everybody in this House — on this side of the House, the NDP side of the House — and folks out there all knew that there was just no way that figure was going to hold water. Guess what. After the election — $3.7 billion.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I want to remind that you we're debating Bill 6.
H. Lali: Thank you.
We're talking about woodlots and whether we can trust the Minister of Forests to be able to actually say what he's going to do. We're supposed to actually believe that.
This is why I was bringing in the Minister of Finance's assertion when the budget deficit went up to — what? — $3.6 billion, just like that. It was the same minister — we're talking about woodlots and making the comparison — who, when asked during the election in 2009, "Are you going to bring in the HST?" the answer was: "No, it's not on our radar." Well, either they knew something, the Liberals, and they didn't tell the people of British Columbia that they knew it, or their radar was telling them lies. It must have been the radar — right?
This is the record of this Liberal government. They cannot be trusted to keep a promise to stand up on behalf of the public interest in this province. We've seen that over and over again. Western Forest Products. We saw what happened at Jordan River there, and now they want to bring it into the woodlots as well.
The bottom line is they've destroyed the forest industry in this province. We saw the new Premier say there was going to be a new way of doing things, and she was going to make some major changes. She made an announcement about creating jobs, even though forestry was not even in the plan.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
There was ample opportunity to come into this House and, instead of bringing in this wimpy little bill here, to actually bring in a bigger, better, more improved bill for doing forestry in this province — some major policy changes. But we're not seeing major policy changes in this Bill 6.
You'd think they might actually present a real plan for forestry in this House, where the people's representatives for both sides, including the members on the back bench on the other side, could fully debate that and see how we're going to create jobs, because she's talking about a so-called jobs agenda, but the Premier hasn't put forward any sort of a plan in this House for forestry's revitalization, its rejuvenation, after the destruction that they've wreaked on the province of B.C. in the last 11 years.
So 88 sawmills and pulp mills closed and 42,500 permanent forestry jobs, and they still don't have a jobs plan in the forest industry. I recall, I think it might have been the year 2007 or 2008…. It was 2008. You know, after working on a certain…. There was supposed to be a green paper, and then there was a white paper, and then there was going to be a policy paper, and then it was going to be delayed. It went on and on.
It started with the member for Fort Langley–Aldergrove, I think it was, who was the Minister of Forests, and then it went on to the member from Prince George who became the Minister of Forests. They took seven years to produce a plan, and when it was finally introduced in the House and out to the public, guess how long it was, hon. Speaker. It was a grand total of — what? — seven pages. That was their panacea for forestry.
It took them seven years to do a seven-page plan. What a remarkable accomplishment. It took them a year to do one page, and for seven years they produced seven pages which basically said nothing — just to continue on the same destructive policies that were started by the massive changes that the B.C. Liberals made to the Forest Act in 2002.
Until this day all they've had to present since then, really, is this Bill 6 to take more land out of the public lands, more land out of the small woodlot operations, take them out of there under the guise of having to fix a problem. I feel badly for folks. You know, they end up getting divorced, or people prematurely die; they don't live to an old age.
Something has to be done, but this not the way to do it. This is not helping the people of British Columbia. It's not helping forest-dependent communities in rural B.C., which have been decimated by the Liberal government in terms of all the jobs lost and the dozens and dozens of sawmills in rural B.C. and on the coast that are lost.
All we've seen out of this Liberal government are raw logs being exported in order to support 1,200 jobs. That's it. But if those logs were kept in British Columbia and given to all of those family-run operations that want those logs, we'd create about 12,000 jobs.
Again, I would say that these folks have run out of gas and need to bring in a real forest policy.
[ Page 8418 ]
D. Routley: I appreciate the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill 6, although it is unfortunate that I have to add yet more voice to the dismal and failed record of B.C. Liberal forest policy. It is an absolute tragedy.
[D. Black in the chair.]
From 2001 to 2005 we saw a bulldozer approach to the infrastructure and relationships in an industry that had been developed over centuries. What we saw was highly intricate and complicated relationships in the harvesting, manufacturing and exporting arms of our industry just wiped out and replaced with 8½-by-11 sheets of paper that said: "Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."
The people of Vancouver Island, where I come from — I represent Nanaimo–North Cowichan — know well that they can't trust the promises of the B.C. Liberal government when it comes to forest policy or anything else, for that matter. This bill asks for that trust yet again.
This bill provides the means for yet more forest land to be removed from TFL oversight and further reduces our capacity to recover a once proud industry, which should still be the most sustainable industry that this province can offer to its people and to the world. That is an absolute tragedy. It's an absolute tragedy.
This is a time when this province needs leadership in forestry. What we see is a tinkering. What we see are the small details around the edges being tweaked and more and more of that industry, and the oversight and the capacity to direct it to the benefit of British Columbians, reduced yet again. That is a tragedy.
What we see here is the B.C. Liberal government asking for trust once again — a government that has seen the loss of at least 35,000 jobs in the forest industry since 2001. They can blame the American economy now. But from 2005 to 2008, before the bubble burst in the American housing market, while the housing starts were at record highs…. This B.C. Liberal government oversaw the loss of over 17,000 jobs in that period. It was a tragedy.
It was a tragedy not only because of the jobs lost, but it had a human cost as well. The number of fatalities in the industry…. As it struggled to respond to the disruptive policies of the B.C. Liberals' deregulation, it cost lives — over 50 forest workers killed in one year alone.
I was in the courtroom for the coroner's inquest into the death of faller Ted Gramlich in 2007. I sat through that inquest, and I heard the conclusion.
Ted Gramlich was a logger, a faller. He came from a family of loggers. He came from a community of forest workers, a community asked to trust previous B.C. Liberal forest policies just like Bill 6.
Ted Gramlich died because of deregulation. That was the conclusion of the coroner. The coroner said that the deregulation and the lack of proper oversight and the breaking of the safety chain in the industry due to the deregulation policies of the B.C. Liberal government were contributing causes to Ted Gramlich's death. That is the definition of tragedy. That is the definition of how badly public policy can impact the lives not only of a whole community or a whole province but of individual people.
I spoke to Ted's widow outside the courtroom, who cried and said that what she would miss was dancing with Ted. That's the real human cost of what happens when a government refuses to listen and simply follows the dictates of an industry that it is beholden to and grants them whatever policies they want, without considering the outcomes, without considering what it really means in people's lives. That is what happened in this province.
Now we have not only a crisis in the forest industry in terms of manufacturing. The human tragedy and the community tragedy are obvious. The manufacturing-based tragedy is obvious. We've lost between 55 and 70 mills, depending on what you call a mill. That is unbelievable.
Also, our forest health. This government has no idea what the state of the forest health is. The revenue that comes into the province now from forestry is less than what it costs to operate the Forests Ministry. So they are cutting back on the very jobs that would tell us exactly what we need to do to recover this industry. It has been reduced to a land swap.
What we saw on Vancouver Island the Auditor General described as a failure to protect and guard the public interest. What other purpose is there for this House? This House is meant to balance the many interests in our province, to find fairness, to find equitable solutions — not to favour one sector of our society over another the way that this Liberal government did with their previous forest policies and now will only augment.
Madam Speaker, this is more of the same. This is more of the same breaking down of relationships that have been structured and developed over decades, generations — in fact, centuries now. This bill seeks to restructure relationships that have been in place for over 60 years that originally started with farmers who had access to forest lands adjacent to their farms to be used for farm purposes. That developed over the years into these agreements on woodlots. Woodlots are meant to be sustainably managed and would continue to contribute to the forest industry production and resource of this province.
What we see here, I would suggest, is a deliberate dismantling of that. It's a deliberate abandonment of what this province can offer to this world — a proud, sustainable, vibrant industry that can support the kinds of programs that we need to deliver to British Columbians, the kinds of programs that the Premier and her caucus
[ Page 8419 ]
were laughing about in question periods recently, as we talked about the developmentally disabled people in this province who can't get services. They were laughing at the questions. That's how dismissive they are of the interests we're meant to protect in this House. This bill is a continuation of that absolutely abject failure to balance the interests of our society.
On Vancouver Island we know all too well what that means. We know. We see 40 percent of the logs from our constituencies exported to China as raw logs for production and processing in China or elsewhere. That is a failure. This bill does nothing to address that core problem. This bill, as the critic said, tinkers at the edge of the problem and offers no ideas, no solutions.
This is a tragedy that is only worsening. We now understand that raw log exports are increasing even more. So if it was 40 percent in 2010, what has it been in 2011? What will it be in 2012? What did this bill do to address that crisis in our communities?
I represent the community of Nanaimo, and in my constituency is Harmac pulp mill, formerly owned by Pope and Talbot, which went into bankruptcy. It was rescued from that bankruptcy by the workers, by the Sampson family and a few other private investors. It was a cooperative effort that now is turning a profit.
Do you know, Madam Speaker, that in its third year of operation it's about to pay a dividend to all those workers who invested? That is a fantastic display. In a terrible market circumstance, they have done it, and they've done it without the help of this government. I'll tell you, these kinds of policies represented in Bill 6 are exactly the same kinds of policies that have led to the fact that…. You know what? The breakdown of that intricate relationship….
Pope and Talbot, before bankruptcy, also owned a sawmill right beside Harmac pulp mill. It operated, cut wood and exported lumber, provided jobs in the community, and the by-products of sawmilling were used in the pulp mill to create paper and more jobs and more benefit for British Columbians. Well, the sawmill wasn't as lucky as the pulp mill. It was dismantled. It's gone. It's a bare lot.
Harmac is separated from that lot by a chain-link fence. Across that chain-link fence are mountains of raw logs that are being loaded onto freighters and exported to China, while Harmac, despite its profitability, despite its provision of benefit to our communities and our province, struggles every day to have enough fibre to maintain its operations.
They have to import fibre from the north on barges. They have to pay for the chipping of logs, far distant and shipped at extra cost, to keep their operation running. Even so, they make a profit. Even so, they keep providing jobs, even in spite of all the policies that this B.C. Liberal government has brought that would ruin that. And what do they see across that chain-link fence? The logs that should be providing jobs in Nanaimo being shipped overseas.
It's a lot more than a chain-link fence that separates the workers at Harmac from that resource. It's failed B.C. Liberal forest policy, just like Bill 6 threatens to be again. If we provide more opportunity for private forest lands to be removed from TFL oversight, which is what this bill does, we are paving the road towards further loss. That is an absolute tragedy.
We heard the critic speak of the fact that 50 percent of the logs harvested in B.C. are taken at minimum stumpage, the salvage stumpage which was introduced in order to encourage use of pine beetle–killed wood. This was brought into context for people who don't perhaps understand exactly what a cubic metre of wood looks like: 25 cents per cubic metre means 25 cents for a telephone pole worth of lumber — a log the size of a telephone pole. A truckload of logs the size of a telephone pole at 25 cents each, as so eloquently described by the critic, provides this province no more than the price of a latte at Starbucks.
Now, I mean, if that is the best we can do, we ought to just close this place down and make it a tourist attraction every year, all year long, which is kind what they try to do. You know, shut down the Legislature like you do. Four days in 16 months they had us sitting here during this crisis.
D. Routley: The member from Prince George over here heckles, but will he stand up and speak to this bill on forestry? No, he won't be allowed to do that. He won't do that. He won't defend the industry that built his community, because it would be against the interests of this B.C. Liberal government to face the truth. The truth is that we are in a terrible crisis in forestry, despite the pleadings of the Premier, who came to Nanaimo to stand with Western Forest Products and brag about $200 million of investment. No one could say where that investment is going, and it really only means $20 million of regular routine maintenance. It's the only specific announcement that's been made.
Remember that the $200 million is promised by the same group of people and the same government that promised a billion dollars of investment on Vancouver Island if we gave them all the policy amendments that they wanted — private land giveaways, whatever it took — and not a penny ended up being spent. So the forest workers on Vancouver Island and in Nanaimo have a jaundiced view of whether or not they can trust this government and that Premier. They have a bitter experience that has informed them of exactly the degree of credibility worthy to the B.C. Liberal government.
Now that creditless government asks us to trust this request. They say: "Well, trust us. We'll let them take out
[ Page 8420 ]
these private lands, and that's good" — and I know that has been requested by several woodlot owners — "and they will benefit, just as Western Forest Products benefited." According to the Attorney General, they benefited probably in the order of $200 million at the expense of public interest. That's the problem.
This place is meant to balance public interest, protect public interest. That government failed. They failed, not in my words but in the words of the Auditor General. They failed to guard the public interest. So what do they do? They pick a fight with the Auditor General, and now they introduce a bill that basically mimics the policy again. It's outrageous. It really speaks to a government that has completely run out of ideas. They have not anything to offer to the thousands of workers.
Do you know, Madam Speaker, that until very recently Nanaimo had the highest unemployment rate in this province? It switches back and forth between my hometown, Duncan, 40 kilometres south. Forest-dependent communities suffering under the yoke of failed B.C. Liberal forest policies. It's not a coincidence; it's a symptom of a failed strategy. This government, as tired as they are, as disinterested as they are, as dismissive as they are of such big issues…. It's time for them to just step aside. It's time.
I'm sure they came here intending to do the right thing for their communities. Even the member from Prince George — who probably won't have a word to say about forestry policy, from a community completely dependent and built on the forest industry — won't say a word, because they're out of ideas.
This bill only proves it further. This bill is another vacancy of purpose, unless, of course, the purpose is to further decimate an industry. Well, we have been calling for more inspired leadership. We have been calling for policies that would bring more creative use of the fibre.
The government for years has campaigned on a set of principles and ideas that say government doesn't create jobs; the private sector does. It's kind of interesting that they're celebrating $8 billion of shipbuilding contracts from taxpayers and calling that job creation. I think it's government creating jobs there. It kind of blows their whole ideology. In any case, this is a government that campaigned on those principles.
Therefore, they said: "We have to step out of way. If the industry says, 'It's easier for us not to invest all that capital in that troublesome task of managing manufacturing facilities,' let them deregulate. Let them disinvest their capital in our mills and our jobs. Let them just have the right to cut down our trees, ship them to the highest bidder, and that will be good for the economy somehow." Well, that's, I guess, an argument that can be put forward and was put forward by this government.
Now we have the benefit of hindsight. Now we have the unfortunate consequence of hindsight. We have the tragic outcome of how bad a failure that has, indeed, proven to be.
Forest Research Associates is a research and advisory consultancy from Seattle that focuses on forestry management, sustainability issues and forestry investment around the globe. Peter Collins, an analyst at Forest Research Associates, has said: "It's vital that Canadian governments take measures to safeguard the future of the B.C. forest industry for generations to come." That's what he said. He also said: "Forest Research Associates is backing the workers" — in B.C. fighting against raw log exports — "all the way on this issue. The processing of timber needs to be done in Canada, rather than outsourced to China, to ensure forestry workers have jobs."
Well, there we have an expert saying what is obvious to the most lay person in the province watching this disaster unfold. We need to do more to create jobs in British Columbia and trade finished products to our friends in China.
D. Routley: Yes, that's exactly what we need to do.
Unfortunately, as we've called for some kind of job protection legislation, as we've made commitments that the NDP would move to protect the jobs in British Columbia rather than the conduct, the plan, offered by this government and the member from Prince George, who is uncomfortable with this kind of criticism, and who ought to be standing up and defending the forest industry…. If he believes in this bill, I hope he stands up and speaks to it. I doubt he will.
We need imaginative, creative leadership to protect jobs rather than just letting 35,000 jobs go uncontested. It is a disgrace, Madam Speaker. This NDP government that is in waiting and hoping to be able to deliver on the commitments that we've made, would do that. This NDP opposition that you see here is pushing this government to do the right thing, and you know what? If they do it, we'll celebrate that. But in the meantime what we're offered is Bill 6 — more of the same.
It's a well-worn phrase that when things are failing, to do more of the same becomes the definition of insanity, because the outcome is the same. To expect a different outcome from the same policies is to demand failure.
D. Routley: Well, I guess as long as the policies continue to be the same failed policies, then we'll have to bring the same criticisms — as tired as that becomes for the member from Prince George, who I believe will never speak up for the forest industry.
We heard the Premier boasting about 27 new mills that have opened, and I know our Forests critic has
[ Page 8421 ]
looked into that and looked at the media reports in that period of time and can find evidence of 24 mills that have reopened. But at the same time, five have closed permanently, and 18 have closed at least temporarily. So 23 have closed; 24 have opened. It's a net gain of one.
Even when you look at the net gain…. Take my constituency, for example. That boast that was made in Nanaimo by the Premier, standing with the chair of the board from Western Forest Products, about the reopening of mills…. Well, the mill in Ladysmith that would have employed between 150 and 200 people now employs a dozen and a half, a couple dozen. It's a skeleton crew that they've brought in because if that mill had remained closed any longer, it would reach the two-year closure point and the company would have to pay millions in severance to its workers. And the government boasts about that as a success.
It's one thing to be in the political back-and-forth of this House and the heckling, like the heckling from the member from Prince George, who I think ought to be standing up here and protecting, standing up for the industry that built his community, that his family have been major participants in. It's one thing for that to happen in here and the back-and-forth partisan fighting that goes on, but we have to go home. When we go home the people come into our constituency offices, and we see the human carnage of what it means to lose a core industry in a community dependent on that.
We see people come in with all manner of problems, and they may not be forest workers anymore, but their fathers were, their brothers were, their cousins were. They're all still connected, and they all know that what's happened to their lives can be traced right back to those seats over there and the decisions that were made — decisions like the decision that cost Ted Gramlich his life. That's how serious it is.
It's not a matter of heckling back and forth. It's not simply a partisan struggle. It's a real life, life-and-death struggle. I, for the life of me, can't believe that this government can be as dismissive as it is of its role.
You know, it creates a kind of a cynicism — the gap between promises and unfulfilled deed. That's the cynicism that we deal with when we see a lack of political participation. People go: "I can't believe it anymore. I've been lied to. I've been told untruths so many times, I can't believe it."
Every piece of legislation the government brings forward is an exercise in trust, and it's being met by people who have grown to hold a rightful and deep cynicism. But they still have hope. They're still proud people. They're still ready to rebuild this province if they can find a government that has the vision and the spirit that can match theirs.
We will offer that, but what they're meeting right now is a Premier who boasts about…. Just one example: 60 new jobs for Western Forest Products in Nanaimo. Sounds good, doesn't it, Madam Speaker? You know what it was? It was the reduced staff that had been moved with the head office from Duncan to Nanaimo — some of the jobs that rescued Nanaimo from having the worst unemployment rate in the province and handed that title over to Duncan, which now has the worst unemployment rate in B.C.
What a loser's shell game. Not only is the shell disappearing; the pea is getting smaller. Even the staff that were moved from Duncan to Nanaimo were reduced, and this government, as hungry as it is for a photo op, shows up in Nanaimo to brag about that. I can't believe that people don't see through that.
I certainly know that the people in Duncan see through it. I know that the people in Nanaimo see well through it, as they see freighter after freighter of raw logs leave our province and leave our community.
You know, we hope. When we see the Forests Minister stand up — or whatever we call the Forests Minister now, in its reduced role in our province — and introduce a bill like this that purports to deal with their problems, it just brings up a little more hope. It's not all cynicism yet. There's a little more hope. But again, that hope is dashed against the rocks of despair when we look deeper into this and we find out that it's just more of the same. It's more of the same kinds of policies that have led us to this disastrous place.
I would beg the members opposite, particularly from forest-dependent communities like Prince George, to take a deep and solemn look at what they're endorsing in their own government and its policies and to consider that they don't have to support this, that no big hammer will fall from the sky if they decide that they just can't vote for this bill, and make an expression that there's no more. We'll take no more. We need better.
This side of the House is waiting to deliver better. Having the bar set as low as it has been by this government will make that a lot easier, but we've got a terrible mess to clean up, and it starts, for me, in the communities on Vancouver Island so badly decimated by this failure of public policy.
Deputy Speaker: The minister will close debate.
Hon. S. Thomson: It's a pleasure to stand and close debate on this bill. Firstly, I want to say that I appreciate the debate and the comments, but I want to make one point very clear. We heard a lot of debate and a lot of comments that weren't in direct reference to the bill. It was a lot of comments about policy but not specific to Bill 6.
I think it's important to recognize that Bill 6 is a package of measures that help reduce cost to industry and help streamline operations within our ministry. They are important changes. They recognize the legitimate
[ Page 8422 ]
needs of woodlot owners brought forward by the woodlot association. I look forward, in committee stage, to dealing with the specifics of the bill.
I think that the main thing I want to comment on…. There have been a number of comments. Firstly, the members opposite have made a lot of assertions that forestry is not important within the ministry, within our broader Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and that is the farthest thing from the truth.
Forestry, we recognize, is an important and critical industry for this province, building jobs and economic activity throughout the province. I just want to state here on the record that as the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, I take that responsibility seriously. Forestry is a very significant component of our ministry and will continue to have the focus and the attention that this very, very important industry deserves.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I also wanted to say that there are many policy issues that were raised that we are engaged on with industry and we are working on. This industry has come through one of the most significant downturns, one of the most significant challenges that the industry has had in many, many years. That was acknowledged by the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke in his comments. He talked about the very, very significant challenges and recognized that these are complex, challenging issues to deal with, and we are engaged with industry in addressing those issues.
I have stated publicly in the House here before that we are reviewing the log export policy. We recognize that we need to have the appropriate balance in that policy. We are engaged with industry. We are engaged with stakeholders. We are engaged with communities. We are engaged with union members across all parts of the sector to look at that policy to make sure that we have the appropriate balance in that policy.
Even today, the chair of the wood council for the United Steelworkers says: "Well, we're not sure the ban is an actual remedy here. We think, as a strategic tool, log exports can be used on a basis if they support employment." It's recognized that log export policy does support employment. We've seen that in terms of the additional jobs that are being created. That is keeping people working.
It's part of the balanced policy. It's not carte blanche in terms of the policy. There's a surplus test. There are processes that we need to go through before the majority of logs are exported. It forms part of the balance and part of the equation of an economic viability and an economic future for the industry. But we recognize that we need to continue to work with industry to find that appropriate balance, and that process is underway.
There were some comments about the significant challenges related to potential downturns or a potential reduction in AAC as a result of the mountain pine beetle process, as we come out of the harvesting, and the upturn in the AAC dealing with the current challenges in the mountain pine beetle issue. We are working with that in terms of working with industry to determine how we address midterm timber supply review.
Those processes are underway. So for the members opposite to say that this bill does not address those issues and that we're not working on those issues and that we don't take those seriously is the farthest thing from reality and the farthest thing from what is actually happening currently as we're working with the industry.
We continue to work to address our competitiveness. We're continuing to work in building diversified markets. We're continuing to work on building value-added to industry, dealing with increased utilization on waste, supporting work in the bioenergy industry, and we'll continue to do that. We will continue to work with the industry on all of those, and we're seeing successes as we address those issues. We have seen investments. We've seen new projects underway in many communities in the province in those areas.
The members opposite have said that there is a failure or a crisis in the industry. I would like them to go into communities like Midway, where Midway has said that we have worked together very effectively as a ministry and as a community, in partnership, to be able to reopen that mill, to bring back employment and that with Boundary Sawmill; to go into Vavenby and look at the investment that's been put in the mill in Vavenby, putting 140 workers back to work in Vavenby with that investment.
That's an example of when we work in partnership and when we work together. We can find those successes, and we can continue to help this industry recover from the very significant downturn and challenges that the industry has come through, and we're going to continue to do that.
Bill 6 addresses some very important steps to help us be more efficient, to help us to reduce costs to industry and to government as we deliver the services. That's what the purpose of this bill is.
On the broader public policy issues with respect to forestry, we are working on those and are continuing to work on them. We'll continue to engage all of our partners in the industry as we do that.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the committee stage of the debate, when we will get into the specifics of Bill 6, so I move second reading of the bill.
[ Page 8423 ]
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting after today.
Bill 6, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, 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. M. McNeil: I am pleased to call second reading of Bill 9, intituled Natural Resource Compliance Act.
Bill 9 — natural resource
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the Natural Resource Compliance Act be read a second time.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is committed to integrating government's approach to land-based management. The natural resource sector compliance act builds on this vision by streamlining natural resource compliance and enforcement processes. By designating compliance and enforcement staff as natural resource officers, which is the direction of this bill, we are broadening our scope of enforcement across resource ministries.
The act will resolve the inherent inefficiencies of enforcing compliance of multiple pieces of legislation across our natural resource sector. The act also provides a common identity for staff responsible for compliance and enforcement, simplifying their work and their interactions with the public and clients.
If an infraction spans more than one natural resource act, one natural resource officer can respond instead of the three or four that may currently be required. Ultimately, simplifying compliance and enforcement processes will improve our ability to hold accountable those people found in contravention of natural resource legislation and mitigate any resulting environmental damage.
Now, we recognize, in moving forward with this bill, that there will be important work that needs to be done in our ministry in terms of ensuring that the staff who are designated as natural resource officers will have the appropriate training and skills to be able to take on those additional responsibilities. That work will be done, and as we move forward, following passage of this bill and providing those designations, we will make sure that those natural resource officers have that training and skill sets to be able to take on the increased level of responsibilities, with other enforcement and compliance responsibilities that may be under other statutes.
This integration and the ability to be able to do this, in terms of delegating those responsibilities, will do two things. It will increase our efficiency and integration in terms of being able to do it. It will reduce costs, and it will enhance our compliance and enforcement activities.
It will mean that when we have those people in the field and those boots on the ground out in those communities and they see infractions that may previously have been in another part of our ministry, where we would have to get somebody else to be able to do that, they will be able to take on that responsibility and make sure that we can deal with any infractions in a much more efficient and timely manner.
I look forward to the comments of the members opposite and others on this bill. I'll listen intently to the debate and the information provided.
N. Macdonald: I want to just comment on…. [Applause.] It's an afternoon. That was a good attempt. Thank you.
I just want to comment on some of the things that took place as we wrapped up the last bill and as we move into this one. First off, with estimates and in this process, I think we've seen from the minister a very good example of what debate can be like. The minister was present throughout hours and hours of debate. In his comments as he wrapped up the last debate, he reflected some of the concerns that were put forward and responded to them in a really respectful way.
I think that's what British Columbians expect. Nevertheless, when it happens, it's something that needs to be encouraged.
With that bill and with this one….
Mr. Speaker: I just want to remind the member that you shouldn't make comments about whether a member is in or out of the House.
N. Macdonald: Exactly, and I apologize for that. Nevertheless, I think the minister understands the sentiment that's expressed.
The trouble with the last bill and with this one is that much of the meat will come in the committee stage. I think that I also want to comment again on where the Legislature can go wrong. In the past two years too often we have skipped committee stage, and it's an important part. We are going to move into it with Bill 6. That's absolutely essential, and we're going to move into it with Bill 9.
Whenever we miss that stage, we do a tremendous disservice to this institution, and we fell into that habit. I'm glad to see that we're back sitting and that we're back passing laws properly. I think that that has to happen.
Bill 9, the Natural Resource Compliance Act, as the minister has said, is a new act. It contains only six sections, and as the minister has conceded, it's a work in progress. So what we need to find out in the committee stage is where the government is actually going with this, because the act represents a concept rather than any-
[ Page 8424 ]
thing really concrete. I think the minister would agree, and others that are going to comment on this bill will agree, that it really is only a concept.
In terms of a concept, just like having a ministry like the one that we have, a ministry as broad as Natural Resources, a concept can make sense. But as I think all members here will agree, in terms of the detail, in terms of implementation, it has been a tremendous struggle. This minister is working to try to pull it all together, but we have gone through an extended period where we have had one ministry put together fairly arbitrarily without the work that needed to be done, and it has created chaos for an extended period of time.
[D. Black in the chair.]
I recognize the government is trying to pull things back together, but the same thing can happen with what is proposed here. I mean, the idea is a fairly basic one. If you have people on the ground, is it not possible that they do many jobs at the same time? We have really cut back on the number of people that we actually have in what are called the dirt ministries, doing the important work on the ground.
In rural areas, in particular, we are deeply aware of those cuts, because these are people that we played hockey with or whose children we taught. They were friends and neighbours who have lost their jobs, and we know that many of them were doing important jobs.
We know that there is a shortage of people out there. The danger with this bill is that it tries to deal with that shortage in a way that doesn't actually address the real needs for our public lands, which is to make sure that they are properly looked after.
The concept, as the minister has laid it out, is one where if you currently have someone on the land doing forestry work — for instance, one of the many compliance and enforcement jobs that forestry service compliance and enforcement personnel would often do — while they are out there, they might also be doing something else.
In statements related to the introduction of this bill, it talks about having them enforce the Wildlife Act or the Wildfire Act or the Water Act, other pieces of legislation, while they are on the land. This bill also leaves open the opportunity to eventually include mining, oil and gas. These could be all added by order-in-council.
I think what the public needs to understand is that that concept is not new, has been talked about for a long time. I think people within the civil service knew that the government wanted to head in that direction, obviously, if they were going to set up a ministry like they have set up.
Last year, I was in Castlegar just meeting with public servants who were talking about some of their experiences. A gentleman who was within forestry….
This compliance and enforcement member, of course, in having to look after his responsibilities to the Ministry of Forests, is a highly trained individual who has tremendous specific skills. He talked about some of the testing of the new system that was going on, and he had been asked, while he was out there, to also do some work like a conservation officer would do. His problem was that, of course, it sort of degrades what a conservation officer actually does if you are not training properly.
N. Macdonald: Well, not in ours.
That actually breaks my perfect record, I just want to say. I'm like the Lady Byng of not being fined. I'm always on time. That's my teachers. But this is a big one.
Anyway, the point is that the skill set that the conservation officer needs is something that you cannot just teach in an afternoon. This was early stages, but basically they had gone through an afternoon briefing.
But conservation officers are people who need to have expertise in firearms. They need to be familiar with them. They need to have expertise in the legislation that is in place that they are being asked to enforce. They would need to have expertise as well in interacting with people that are armed. All of these are very specific skills.
We had, for a time, in Golden two conservation officers. We then lost both of them, and we were in a place where we did not have that skill set within the community. What you come to realize is that that specific skill set is something that's very valuable and that others don't have. So if you're dealing with a problem bear, and you think an RCMP officer can simply just go and do the same thing, the fact is that they are not trained to do what conservation officers do.
So this bill is one where the concept is not necessarily one that you would argue against. It can make sense. But all of it comes down to the detail. All of it comes down to implementation. How are you going to do this? Is the training going to be in place? Is the training going to be adequate?
If it's intended as a cost-saving measure, then it will fail. If it does not have the implementation that is dramatically better than we have seen with the ministry that is currently in place for natural resources, it's going to fail.
Now, we are asked to essentially trust that the government is going to do this properly. I have to say that we've had precious little experience that would lead us to have confidence that it's going to be done properly.
So when we look at the actual bill, it is what we would call here, essentially, an enabling act. Now, sometimes
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there is an enabling act and everything has been figured out. This is an enabling act where nothing has been figured out. I mean, the minister concedes that it is a work in progress. If it is going to be done properly, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done with the personnel that are on the ground.
I'll just read some of the parts here. This is one of the smallest acts that you could have. I mean, you have six sections. The first section is a definition with two terms defined.
One is the ministry, and here there is such ambiguity that it doesn't even name this ministry. It talks about "the minister responsible for the administration" of this particular act, because we have changed ministries so often that they don't even bother to put it into acts anymore because it could change the next day. So that's section 1.
Section 2 basically gives the minister the ability to do whatever he wants with the designation that's being described here, so it's wide open. Now, I don't doubt for a second the minister's good intentions on this. I don't doubt for a minute the minister's ability.
But what we do have is everything being handed over to the minister and to the cabinet to do this properly. What we have seen is that it has not, over the past number of years, been done properly.
There are not many things that the member for Kootenay East and I agree on, and we regularly go after each other, but we both understand — and I think anybody from a rural area understands — that we do not have enough people on the ground. The resources that provide incredible wealth for all of the province, we have taken for granted.
One part, and an important part, of looking after our most valuable asset — which is the land, the flora and the fauna, that we collectively are asked to manage — is that you have to make sure there are sensible rules. You have to make sure you have people on the ground that are enforcing them.
To simply take somebody who has expertise in one area and put them into a position where they are asked to enforce a whole broad area will not work. The expertise needs to be there for all of the areas they are responsible for.
I think that if there is a presumption that this is going to be a way of saving money, that is absolutely the wrong approach for a government to take. If they are serious about looking after the land, then they will have to make the investments that are needed.
We don't have the details. We are asked to basically hand over to the minister the work of putting this together in a sensible way. So the transparency is not there for us. It is all going to be done by regulation. We have seen that as a pattern, and I think, a pattern that is problematic.
When it comes to actually voting for the bill, what we will do is go through the committee stage, see where the minister is with the particulars of this initiative, and see if the minister can make the case that we should have confidence going forward that this is a sensible way to go.
The government often will describe themselves as good managers, and I think there's a real conceit to that. You don't simply become good managers by saying that you are. There needs to be evidence. There needs to be evidence.
K. Krueger: Well, you can look at results.
N. Macdonald: The member for Kamloops–South Thompson talks about the results, and I think for any government that is going to be mixed. But certainly, if we are going to be somewhat kind and simply talk about the changes to the Ministry of Forests and what it has evolved into, I think all members would realize that it could have been done better, that it should have been done better, and that it needs to be done better.
The onus will be on this minister to make the case that they're actually going to be able to competently manage what is going to be a fairly complex transition. The Liberal government has, in my view, and I think in the view of many British Columbians, a fairly horrible record in looking after our public lands, which is 94 percent of British Columbia.
I have said, and it's a fact, that our public lands are our most valuable asset — conservative estimates of up to a trillion dollars as the value of that land. You would be foolish to not look after it properly. I think we simply haven't recognized its value and looked after it the way that we have to.
I just want to speak about some of the cuts that have been made over the past decade. It is easy, and I will put it on this government, because they're decisions this government made. But I also understand the pressures. There are pressures in Health, pressures in Education. People vote to have taxes cut, and you end up in a place where inevitably, important investments are simply not being made. This is one of those areas.
In 2000-2001, inspections carried out by compliance and enforcement stood at about 31,109. Well, not about — that was the exact number. Now, these are important inspections. It's what allows you to protect fish-bearing streams. It's where you make sure that the valuable resource that you have there, the trees, are not being wasted. It's where you make sure that the stumpage that is supposed to be paid is actually being paid. It makes sure the roads are being built differently. It's important work. It protects the land, essentially.
By 2005, after 304 positions were cut, the inspections were half of that. There were 16,651.
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Very often in this House we'll be talking about what happened in 2007-2008, where a bubble in the States collapsed. That bubble was at its peak in 2005. There was lots going on, but we were not there with people on the ground in that period — half the inspections. There is no way that you could have the quality of compliance and enforcement that you need.
Since then there've been more cuts. I think the minister — and I hope I'm quoting him correctly — in his initial speeches was talking about 11,000 inspections, which means it's down again — which is not surprising. We've cut more people.
The fact of the matter is that we do not know what is happening on the land in the way that we need to know. We simply don't. Three-quarters of our inventory is 25 years or more out of date. The "not satisfactorily restocked" area is open to debate, and I think the Forest Practices Board is actually looking to try to get an accurate number. But there's no question that even if we go with the lowest estimate, it is a huge number and an area that needs to be dealt with. There are waste issues.
I guess where we are at is that the bill lays out a concept. There is no detail. We look, as a background, to the fact that there is, in our view, a pretty terrible record about looking after the land, and we need to ask, really, if there is anything in the government record that suggests that the management skills needed to do this properly are there?
Like I say, the minister…. There's nobody here who doubts his sincerity or his work — the amount of work he's putting into it. But in third reading a convincing case will have to be made that this is thought through to the extent that it's going to be successful and that the process that needs to be in place — talking to the people on the ground who actually do this work and are very knowledgable — is one that's going to be both respectful of that local expertise and the knowledge of the individuals who do this work, but that it's also done competently and that we will move at a speed that ensures changes that are thought through and are going to work; and secondly, that the minister's cabinet colleagues and caucus understand that if this is a further cutting of funding, you not only do the minister a great disservice, but more broadly, you do all British Columbians and future generations a great disservice.
This is a beautiful land. We have an obligation that is beyond our partisan goals to look after it properly. It has not happened. The cuts have had an effect. As other members have said, there are not enough boots on the ground. If this is the direction that we're going, the concept is not unsound, but it is all in the detail. That's what we're going to be looking for.
We have said again and again that there are crises that need to be dealt with, and I was heartened by some of the comments from the minister in terms of some of the things that we've been talking about. There is a recognition that the raw log issue is one that needs to be dealt with, that the balance isn't right. We will continue to push on that, but I want to say that we're heartened that the minister recognizes it and is working on it.
Secondly, the minister gave the example of working with Midway to get a mill going. In the past there has been a job protection commissioner. My personal experience with that as mayor of Golden is that it was an office and a piece of legislation that enabled you to do good work.
Members opposite will often point to examples where it didn't work. There are, no doubt, examples of any piece of legislation or any initiative where it doesn't work, but overall, government can play a role in finding solutions so that the jobs are retained and communities remain whole.
There is certainly a willingness on the part of people in the communities, workers, people who've invested in mills, to make it work, and I think government has a role there. They have to play that intelligently and with wise use of resources.
But when the minister talked about Midway and the government's role, it did remind me that we used to have a process that was far more efficient. If you actually looked at what was accomplished, there were an awful lot of successes. While it was there for the NDP years, it was a Social Credit idea, and one that worked well.
The other thing is, of course, forest health, which is again an area where there is a crisis and where one element of looking after the land properly is what this bill deals with, which is around compliance and enforcement.
I'm not going to use up more of the House's time. My co-critic is also going to be speaking. I understand there will be a number of government members speaking as well, which I think is important. I think that these debates need to have full participation from both sides. It is a big area to look at. As I say, the meat of this will be in third reading.
I thank, as always, the House for the opportunity, and again I thank the minister for the way he participates in these debates.
B. Bennett: I would like to just join with the previous speaker in commending the minister responsible for the legislation, not only for this legislation but for the approach that he takes to this job. I know I can't refer to him having been in the House for any period of time or anything, but the approach that he takes to his job is commendable. So I'm happy to hear a member of the opposition recognizing that as well.
I'm actually excited to talk about this piece of legislation, the Natural Resource Compliance Act. I'm very positive about it, very optimistic about the potential for this legislation. Compliance and enforcement has been
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an issue generally, and where I come from, on the land, that has always needed, I think for many years, through many, many governments, to be addressed.
Certainly, resources are part of that. Boots on the ground are part of that. My own sense of it is that what we're doing with this piece of legislation is actually quite smart, and I applaud the minister and his staff for coming up with it. I don't agree that this is just a concept. I don't agree that, to quote the former speaker, there's nothing concrete here. In fact, I think there are some very specific, concrete and important ideas that are enshrined in this legislation.
I just want to take a couple of minutes and talk about the actual legislation. The act deals with two things. It deals with designation of natural resource officers. They can carry out enforcement duties, and they can carry out enforcement duties throughout the legislation, the multitude of acts and regulations that this ministry is responsible for. And certainly, if those people that receive that designation require extra training to enable them to be able to do these enforcement activities more effectively and appropriately, they'll get that training.
The other piece of the act deals with delegation by the minister, so that officials within the ministry, as I understand it, can actually discharge or execute duties that the minister might otherwise be responsible for. That again, I think, is working smart.
This side of the House has tried to design legislation and regulations over the years that allow us to get more out of existing resources as opposed to just piling on new money after new money. We have a responsibility to do things as efficiently and to use public money as efficiently and as effectively as we can. I think that's really what this piece of legislation is about.
In terms of the kind of designation that can be made, these natural resource officers can be designated in terms of individuals. The minister could designate an individual to go out and do a particular job, or the minister could designate classes of persons. The minister might say, for example, that he's going to take all of his tourism officers and designate them for some enforcement role around, perhaps, the use of off-road vehicles or something like that — a very useful and sensible approach, and very concrete and specific.
The minister can name someone personally, by title, by position, by class. The minister can circumscribe the duties of that person or that class and basically define what it is that that designation covers.
The minister can also attach a time limit. So if there was a…. I don't know. Let's say there was a big rock concert coming up someplace in the province and the minister felt that because it was either on or adjacent to Crown land, the minister needed some additional enforcement people out there. You could actually designate a class or even some specific individuals to go out there for that weekend and look after that situation — and make it time-limited. A very practical, useful sort of idea, and I commend the minister for it.
In terms of a delegation — I think, another good idea — the minister is responsible for probably too many things, so the capacity for this minister to be able to delegate the authority very specifically, to very specific individuals or groups, to get that work done in a more timely way is a good idea. It's working smarter. It's a clever thing to do, a positive thing to do.
I mentioned earlier that the whole compliance and enforcement file has been quite relevant to me over my ten years as an MLA, and I know it is to the previous speaker as well and to any MLA from rural areas. I want to tell the House just one story in particular, and if I have time, I'll tell two.
We have a lake or a reservoir that's in my riding called Koocanusa. It stands for Kootenay, Canada, U.S.A. The Kootenay River is dammed up down in Libby, Montana. It creates a lake or a reservoir, and it's our primary recreational resource. Of course, our proximity to Alberta means that every long weekend we have hundreds, if not thousands, of Albertans driving into the East Kootenay with their trucks and boats and off-road vehicles and motorcycles and coolers. It's pretty interesting for the people in charge of compliance and enforcement on those weekends.
We had a particularly bad weekend on the long weekend in May. There were a lot of complaints from my constituents and people that like to recreate with their families at this particular lake, so when we were approaching the July weekend, I met with the minister's staff in Cranbrook, and we talked about what sort of extra compliance and enforcement we could put on for that long weekend.
Just to give the House and perhaps MLAs who are not from rural areas some sense of what these compliance and enforcement officers actually put up with on a weekend like that, I brought the summary by the head of compliance and enforcement in our region. I'm not going to read it or anything, but I'm just going to give you some sense of the scale of what goes on in a place like the East Kootenay when the Albertans come over en masse for a long weekend.
There were 13 different patrols, separate patrols, out over a three-day weekend on the July long weekend. They logged, between the officers who were involved, 3,400 kilometres. This is just around one lake over that three-day period. They made contact with over 1,200 people. These folks went out, and some of them are…. There's men. There's women. There's young people. There's middle-aged people. There's small people. There's big people.
They don't carry guns, except for the conservation officers. They went out. They talked to 1,200 people. They
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logged 3,400 kilometres. They focused on education. They tried to assist people in understanding what their responsibilities are in terms of campfires, camping etiquette, respect for others, site cleanup — all that sort of thing.
On the May long weekend, after the campers from Alberta left, we cleaned up two tonnes of garbage that they left. Clearly, that's not something that the public should have to pay for. That didn't happen on the July long weekend because there was appropriate enforcement there at Koocanusa.
In any case, this is something that is important in rural B.C. I agree with the previous speaker that government has to find ways to make sure that we have enough people out on the land to watch over what's happening there. You can't be in every valley, and you can't be on every mountain, but there should be enough people out there to have a presence. I think that what this legislation does is enable government to have enough people out there so that, for example….
Another example from Kootenay East. We have a lot of folks from Alberta and even from the States who love to come and recreate in our area and bring their off-road vehicles. These are quads and off-road motorbikes. Right now there's only a certain class of enforcement official who is able to deal with that — to stop those folks, to read them the riot act and, in some cases, to ticket them.
Under this legislation the minister would be able to designate other classes of government employees who would be able to do the same thing — who would be able to be out there on long weekends and educate, first of all, the people who come into the province who want to spend money there and enjoy our beautiful countryside in the East Kootenay, but also to enforce the rules.
We've got access rules. We've got places where you're not supposed to go with off-road vehicles. You've got riparian areas that are important to stay out of. You've got alpine areas that we don't want off-road vehicles going into and other areas, like grasslands, that we really need people to stay out of.
This legislation would enable the minister to designate folks who can help us monitor that situation, educate people and, where necessary, actually enforce the law and ticket people.
Generally, I think that it's a good piece of legislation. I'm not criticizing the former speaker, but one of his criticisms was that it was too short. As a lawyer and somebody who has to read long, long documents on a regular basis, I commend the minister for how short it is. I think you can do lots of things with legislation and in law with only a few words, so I think it's long enough.
I agree that it will show its value over a period of time. I think that's probably what the minister means by saying that it's a work in progress. It will manifest itself in how we use it. I agree that it's not in replacement of new resources — it never is — but it gives us the opportunity to make sure that we are utilizing public servants to the absolute maximum benefit out on the land.
In that regard, I think that…. I will sit down, but just to say that I'm very pleased to see this. This has actually been a long time coming, and I'm very happy to see it on the floor of the House.
B. Routley: Yeah, I think it's been an interesting discussion so far. I want to say about this natural resource officer position that…. I've actually been involved in the past in what they call job-combining, where we actually took two different operations — an A mill and a B mill — and combined jobs. It was a complicated process, but it required a lot of training and that kind of thing.
One of the concerns that I've had, as my friend talked about the concerns that we have with this bill…. The devil really is in the details, at the end of the day, as to whether this can work or not.
Notionally, if at the end of the day we're asking people to do more with less…. We've already cut in half the compliance and enforcement staff in the province of British Columbia.
The Liberals cut the compliance and enforcement, and the land base didn't shrink. At the end of the day, the work was still there to be done — a larger area to cover. There is still the same number of operations out there. Yes, there are some down, but in terms of logging operations, there's a very large land base in which to do the compliance and enforcement.
I want to remind people of the original concept. I always think in terms of context. You should look back a little bit and say: "What were we trying to do?"
Well, originally…. I've got my News Leader here from April 16, 2003, where this Liberal government took out a full-page ad. They said: "B.C. is leading the way in scientific sustainable forest management. The new Forest and Range Practices Act establishes strong environmental standards and tough new penalties for non-compliance." They were going to get tough. "Companies must achieve measurable and enforceable results set out in forest stewardship. We're going to have serious fines up to a million dollars and jail time."
These guys were real…. It was scary. I'm sure there were forest companies and people just shuddering in their boots with this news that they were going to get so tough. And then they discovered…. Oh, what…? They're saying this, and then we went to 304 positions cut out. We're down to 155 people that actually do inspections and investigations.
Here again, we say one thing, but what do we actually do? It's again this whole notion, at the end of the day, of having the foxes in charge of the chicken coop.
I know the compliance and enforcement branch are trying to do their best, and I want to go into some detail
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about what they actually do. Again, in framing something, I think you need to start with a little history to have that context, but then you need to talk about what these people actually do.
What exactly do they do when they do an inspection? I want you to understand that they're now adding…. So the people that used to just do compliance and enforcement in forests are now going to have, we were told, water, wildlife, wildfire and even mines. That's what we were told when we went into our….
They did talk that the permitting bit was going to be different. They were going to spend money on permitting, but there was no forthcoming news about any extra money for this endeavour. Obviously, there has to be some money.
I phoned the workers to find out if they'd heard anything about this — if they got a full briefing. I'm sad to report no meeting. They didn't bring the workers' representatives in and say: "Here's the plan. Here's what we're up to."
In fact, the fellow I got on the phone said that they were actually doing a freedom of information to try and find out what on earth is going on with this permitting business. They want to know. They had a simple question. They asked: "What is the backlog?" They want to know what the backlog is to deal with issues. I'm sure that there are some issues that they're trying to get at with this compliance and enforcement.
I also wonder if there's a backlog of compliance and enforcement in all of these new areas of water, wildlife, wildfire, forests and mines. Are we falling behind? Well, I think we know. We've got a bit of a peek at what's really going on in terms of falling behind. We've fallen dramatically. It's about a third. We're down to something like 11,000 actual investigations and inspections on the ground. That's pretty dramatic.
These inspections. What do they do? These "inspections or site visits are conducted to determine whether or not" — this was when they were just dealing with the forest and range — "the forest and range activities are in compliance with the forest and range legislation. Because it is not possible to inspect every forest and range activity, the C and E staff evaluate the risk associated with sites and activities. They focus inspections and activities on higher social and economic or environmental risk."
They have to sit down and say: "What are the priorities? We're not going to be able to do everything, so what are the priorities?" And the type of inspections that these C and E officials talk about — they have seven primary types of inspections. They have general inspections. That's one option. They have harvest inspections. They have road inspections, silviculture inspections, range inspections, recreation inspections and recreation patrols.
To that we're now going to add water and wildlife protection. So if somebody comes over the hill and they've got an elk…. Or if they come over the hill, I guess, up in the north and they've got a moose and it's the wrong season for them to have that kind of moose, then we're going to…. I don't know whether they're going to get a gun too. I don't know what the minister has in mind in terms of training.
You can see that they already are conducting and focusing on seven different items. I know we asked the question about training. We were told that there was going to be some level of training. Again, one of the first things that you would do…. What I was accustomed to in all my years was if an employer was a good employer, they would sit down with the workers' representative. They would say: "This is what we would like to do. Can we talk about a plan to work together on how to accomplish this and how to best have a rollout strategy that works for the workers on the job?"
Again, on the very notion that things can work, that's why we need to ask a whole bunch of questions. I'll give you an example. At the Chemainus mill years ago I still remember when management…. They were a very enlightened management. They had team concept, working together.
At first I was a tad bit skeptical about all of this, but at the end of the day, I became a real believer in it. If the workers are happy to work there, if they feel good about what their employer was doing…. This was back in MacMillan Bloedel days. The crews genuinely enjoyed going to work at the Chemainus mill. Why? Because they were part of the team.
Management shared everything with them. They gave them all of the records — just the opposite to what we see here. The difference was they brought them in. There was full transparency. They talked about how the business was going, and they shared business information with the workers.
They brought us in one day, and they said: "Bill, we'd like to have the opportunity to take our tradesmen and do a little cross-training. We're not asking them to actually learn how to do each other's trades. We're not asking a millwright to do what an electrician does and vice versa. What we're asking is the opportunity to take an electrician, have him just follow around with another trade to find out what they do."
For example, the sawfitters and the pipefitters and all of the electricians and the millwrights, even the heavy-duty mechanics that were on site, actually paid…. At first I said: "What on earth do you want to do that for?" And they said: "Well, we believe that there are going to be some efficiencies come out of this of some understanding and partnering." So they ended up paying the workers. They offered us a $1.04 more an hour.
How often do you go in to see the employer…? We weren't even in bargaining season, and they were talking
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to me about: "We want to pay $1.04 an hour." You know, you could have picked me up off the floor.
I said: "Well, I think that's a fine idea, and I'm prepared to talk to people about how we could work with you on that." So at the end of the day, they went and spent a few weeks with each other.
A year later I asked the question, and the answer that came back was…. I said: "Look, you're paying all this extra money. What did you get out of having Joe spend time with Fred — you know, to have the electrician go and spend some time with the saw filers, etc.?"
It was fascinating — the answer. The answer was that they had a 10 percent reduction in the maintenance cost and downtime to that mill. Think of the value of that. That's huge dollars. He said it way more than paid for itself.
What does that have to do with this? Well, we're talking about a whole variety of different ministries, and we're asking staff to do all this extra work.
I still remember one of the workers. When I presented this plan of people merging or dovetailing and doing additional work, I remember the worker who stood up and said: "Look, I am only one. I can't do three jobs at a time." I said: "That's right. We're only going to be asking you to do one job at a time and become familiar with that job and, certainly, do it in a safe and effective manner. We want to make sure that we provide the training to do that."
That's the kind of question we're going to have for the minister. Is there going to be sufficient training? I'm concerned, number one, about the safety impact. I mean, you start thinking about somebody going up to…. I actually used that example with staff and said: "If somebody came over the hill with an elk, what are you going to do?" I mean, are they going to be able to tick that off? They talked about one person ticking off four different statutes, so they could actually deal with four different areas.
Notionally, I'm not absolutely opposed to that if it makes sense and if you pay a little extra money for that or whatever. Obviously, this government has no hesitation to pay extra money for when they get extra value to management, so I'm sure they've got that on their mind. They must have it on their mind. I can't imagine anything but that they are going to want to cough up some extra dollars to sit down with the workers and work something out, just as we used to do in the past. Notionally, you sit down and you work these things out, because you know what?
B. Routley: I hear some barking over there, so that actually brought this story on. That barking reminded me of a time…. This is actually quite a good story. You can learn something, really, about labour relations. You could actually have an entirely successful career just from this one story alone.
It was that here I was, a young Bill Routley. I was down there running the pond saw in the veneer plant. We were all a young crew. We're talking about back in the '70s. I still remember this well.
We're talking about what we need to do to have people get along, to make this bill work — okay? — and what we discovered from having a manager that didn't know how to work with people. I'll just call his name Raven, because it's got nothing to do with the real name.
At the time we had this young crew, and there were labour relations problems with his approach. I found out firsthand. He came down to me and barked at me and told me: "Why are you leaving this great big piece of slab on the end of the log? Why are you doing that and sending that up the jack ladder?" I said: "Because if I cut off all of those things, they're going to sink to the bottom, and then we're going to have to bring the tug in." He said: "I don't care. You cut them off." So I started cutting them off.
To make a long story short, in a few weeks we had such a pile that guess what. We couldn't move a log, and we had to call the tug. The whole veneer plant was down for a period of time over that. I hope that he got a bit of a lesson out of that.
He had that kind of approach through the whole place. Young people that he was trying to work with — he was barking at them and telling them what to do and blah, blah, blah. Things just went downhill. It was terrible. And suddenly, things got so bad that upper management said: "Look, we're done. The production is down the tube. Labour relations are at an all-time low." This guy moved on.
I would have never believed it if I hadn't experienced it myself. The change that one person…. The minister, I hope, is paying attention, because I think one person can make a huge difference. I believe that this minister is here listening. I know that I'm not supposed to say that. Sorry. But anyway, I have respect for people that have…. I mean, he could be in the other room watching, or he could be here. But he's paying attention to what's going on, and that's good. That's a good thing.
I remember they brought this guy, and he was a wonderful guy. I will mention his name because he has now passed away. He was such a wonderful guy that I want to mention his name for the record. It was Hoddy Hodson. Hoddy Hodson was in the air force. He was a hero in the Second World War. He came to the mill. He was hired in here to come and deal with this rabble-rousing bunch of young people and see if he could turn things around.
I still remember that he came down and put his arm over my shoulder, and he said: "I've got to tell you: I don't know a thing about the booms, and I don't know a thing
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about your job." And he says: "But I'm hoping you're going to help me." He told me a joke and went on his way. I thought: "You know, this is an okay guy." He started to work that magic in the next couple of days.
He came down to me — I still remember — the next day, and he used a powerful word. He came in and said to me: "You know what? The guys upstairs are telling me that if we had the small logs and the big logs kind of…. If you had them staggered just the right way, we wouldn't have…. If you just send up big logs and then a whole bunch of small logs, it's a problem. If you can kind of stagger it just the right way, it'll make for smoother production, and the guys on the lathe tell me that they would really appreciate that." He says: "I don't know if what I'm asking for is even possible."
I remember, you know, there he was, down there telling me a joke, and his powerful word was: "Do you think you could help me?" I still remember that today because the feeling that I had as an employee changed. I had somebody there that was man enough to stand up and say: "I don't know everything. I need a little help to run this business." Inside of all of us….
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I've told young people this story over and over again because I think that we need to encourage people to reach out. Sometimes when we say, "Could you help?" that's a powerful thing to do because it makes the person feel like they're really a part of the team. They're part of the job. I remember that I went out that day and worked hard and did a lot of extra work. Why? Just because Hoddy was the kind of guy that worked with people. So that was a wonderful experience. He turned the whole place around.
To make the long story short, we had tremendous productivity. The crew was happy. At the end of the day, when that veneer plant did shut down, it was years later due to terrible market conditions. It had nothing to do with labour relations. I always took that life experience with me wherever I went.
I always encourage people to get together. In fact, my first statement to every new manager was: "Look, you've got a job to do. I've got a job to do representing the workers. We can either get along and look at it as we've got a role…. My role is to try and work out problems. You've got different problems, but if we can work together on sorting them out, things are going to work out better."
That's my hope with this minister. You know, we're trying to be hopeful. We want to encourage the minister to work, sit down with the workers and sort out what kinds of things we could do to make this work much better.
Turning back to the folks that are involved in this bill, the compliance and enforcement staff, and under the heading of "Compliance," the kinds of things that they do: "During the course of an inspection the C-and-E official may find incidents of possible non-compliance with forests and range legislation." Now it will be all these other boxes to tick off. "Incidents of possible non-compliance or contraventions involve any individual or company that has been found to have acted in a manner that's violated the law."
We're going to potentially have four different statutes that these individuals will be responsible for. Again, I want to camp there and talk about the safety issue.
I talked about the guy coming over the hill with an elk or a moose or something. Those folks have guns, so I would want to be sure that…. It takes a fair amount of training and skill to deal with wildlife. I would venture to say it takes a lot of time and training and particularly what I just talked about — the interpersonal skills to learn how to deal with people in a way that's friendly and somewhat compassionate and at the same time gets the job done and is effective in dealing with it. How are you going to do that if you don't have sufficient training?
Again, I know from experience that people get hurt when they don't have proper experience and training, so I'm going to be asking the minister some questions on what kind of level of training…. The very fact that I phoned the BCGEU. They had no idea what….
I would encourage the minister to correct that problem. Take the time. Call the workers in. They shouldn't have to do freedom-of-information requests to get information. The minister should open the door and say: "Look, you're a key stakeholder in making this all work." I believe that if you ask people to come in and work this out and talk about how this could be more effective, it will be more effective.
That's part of the new hopeful package that we are on today, and moving forward, we're trying to be optimistic. We're trying to offer up real solutions, and here we are today doing that again. There are only going to be glimpses, I want you to know. We don't want to get too carried away. Our job is to hold you to account, so we can't be too friendly with these things.
Notionally, when we're talking about workers and safety and combining work, it simply makes sense to talk about these things and how we can do it better and work on this happening. Obviously, you're going to do this. You've got the power to do it, so it's in our interest to see those workers given the special training that they need to keep them safe and make sure the work gets done effectively.
The kind of enforcement that happens is: "Enforcement actions are used when an official determines legislation has been contravened." They talk about examples. Such things do damage to the environment. Now, that's what they were already dealing with — issues like damage to the environment, social or economic values of a site.
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They had the right to do stop-work orders. Obviously, that would have to be taken in light of the economic situation that they were putting someone in, and it wouldn't be taken lightly. It would be requiring a whole lot of training.
I looked at the 2008…. The last one that I have available is the report on compliance that I was actually sent by the former minister when we had questions about compliance and enforcement. I was stunned to see the significant drop in the impact of what was happening with compliance and enforcement.
Remember what I talked about at the start of my little talk here — the million-dollar fines and the jail? Well, you can be assured that the new monetary policies in this report are significantly lower than that.
They're reporting here that out of the entire group of options, there was only one penalty — one. It was between $10,000 and $19,999 — kind of a bargain basement deal. It has gone from $1 million…. "Come on down. You can get in on the real deal." No matter how bad the penalty is…. You could literally have a culvert blow out, the whole road wash away and all of the gravel go over the bank. You've got one person in that particular year who got a fine of less than $20,000. There were 68 companies that had a summary penalty of 500 bucks or less. So the so-called tough compliance seems to have gone out the window along with the number of staff that we have reduced, and that is not a good thing.
I worry about our environment. I worry about the enforcement and compliance. Again, that is not a good situation. I remember talking to truck drivers just before I ran for politics in 2009. I remember talking to some workers on the job who said that they had had a road blow out. Literally what happened was that the culvert got plugged. So when a blowout happens in the road, the culvert gets plugged, and literally the force of the water washes the culvert and the debris right through the middle of the road.
The guys got on the walkie-talkie there, phoned in and said: "What are we supposed to do?" They were told, "Just drive through it," so they did. Under the old Forest Practices Code you could be sure they wouldn't be doing that because there would have been fines. If the bank had sloughed it down and there was huge environmental impact, there would have been serious action taken. But sadly, we have slipped. There's been quite a bit of slippage at the end of the day, and I am very concerned about where that's going.
Part of the new requirement is going to be dealing with wildfire. I want to talk for a minute about that. That's a huge responsibility in and of itself. You think about the wildfire impacts that we've had here in British Columbia just in the last, certainly, ten years, but since 2003. In 2003 one major fire…. There were 334 homes that were either burned to the ground or serious damage. There were 45,000 people near Kelowna forced to leave their homes. In 2009 we had tens of thousands of British Columbians near Lillooet and Kelowna forced to move as a fire was out of control.
These are huge and impactful issues. Any of us that have been hearing from the insurance people in the last little while have been talking about the serious impacts that we're having here in British Columbia as a result of climate change. Everything from the pine beetle, of course, is a huge problem, but they were more focused on issues like earthquakes and the work that we need to do to prepare for those kinds of things. But fire is another serious matter that we have to take into account.
These compliance and enforcement officers are going to be responsible for dealing with wildfire issues as well. Exactly how that's going to work and all of the complexities that come with that, I'm not sure.
I see I'm running short of time. I don't intend to carry on, although…. No, I shouldn't. Anyway, it's been fun. We'll see you next time. Bye for now.
Hon. T. Lake: It's a great pleasure to stand up and speak in favour of Bill 9, the Natural Resource Compliance Act.
I guess I won't speak for too long on this act, because I think even the opposition members are finding it very difficult to find fault with a very commonsense approach to compliance and enforcement. Simply put, we are enabling the people who work the forest and other natural resource ministries to have a broader range of powers, to make better use of their abilities and their time to enforce various acts that the province deems very valuable in terms of protecting our natural environment.
As Minister of Environment I can tell you that this is a huge issue for many members of the public.
As an MLA who represents a part of the province with a large rural component and in fact many lovely provincial parks, we know that there are often conflicts on the land base. There are more people out there these days enjoying snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle use, heli-skiing, cross-country skiing. There are all kinds of opportunities for people to be out on the land base. We want to encourage them to do that, but we want to make sure that the small number of people using the land base that are in contravention of our acts don't ruin that opportunity for the vast majority of British Columbians that enjoy it in a responsible manner.
When I was co-chair of the Ranching Task Force last year I had the opportunity to visit the Cranbrook area with the member for Kootenay East and was taken on a tour of some of the areas of that member's riding, where we saw irresponsible use of the outdoors, where ATVers were destroying Crown land that was used for range for the ranchers in the area. That not only, of course, destroys the actual grass that's growing but is very im-
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portant in the spread of noxious weeds, which then make that range even less valuable.
Having the ability to have our natural resource officers go out and have a broader range of actions, to be able to force those people using the land base to follow the rules, I think will be a great advantage to our ranching community in the East Kootenays and all over the province.
I recently had the opportunity to do a tour with the Southern Interior Weed Management Committee in Kamloops, and we did a tour of Lac du Bois provincial park, which is an iconic grasslands park. In that park there are many red-listed species. It's an important area for conservation values. It's an important area for recreation values as well. But we did see that there are areas of concern in terms of waste disposal, where people will dispose of things rather than taking them to the landfill.
Our compliance and enforcement officers — our conservation officers and other members of compliance and enforcement for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — have been doing an excellent job in terms of making sure that there's vigilance on the land base and all kinds of innovative techniques to try and reduce the amount of waste that is ending up in our grasslands parks. But it certainly will be a lot easier if one person is capable of doing a wide range of activities to ensure that there is compliance and enforcement to deter those types of activities that lead to a decrease in the conservation values and, in fact, a decrease in the recreation values of the land base like Lac du Bois.
The member for Cowichan Valley, I think, had some good words about the value of cross-training, and we see cross-training being employed in many sectors — not just government but the private sector as well.
In Kamloops at the Domtar mill, for instance, the members, a unionized workforce there, have worked with management to allow cross-training to allow them to become more efficient. They enjoy their jobs more. The company is doing better. Those 450 jobs at Domtar are kept safe, and the 450 families that depend on those jobs can relax, knowing that that company and their workforce are working together to ensure that they provide value and that they do things in an efficient way.
We only have to look at firefighters as an example of cross-training and how effective that has been. Firefighters don't just go and put out fires. They are trained in all different types of techniques, whether it's high-angle rescue or first-aid techniques.
Recently I had the experience on the soccer field where firefighters came to the aid of a soccer player that had had a cardiac arrest. Players were employing CPR to keep their friend alive, and the firefighter showed up with an automatic defibrillator and, in fact, applied it before the paramedics were able to get there, saving that man's life, because the firefighters had been cross-trained.
I think it goes without saying that giving people the ability to learn more skills…. As the speaker recognized, the training has to be there in order to ensure that they are capable of doing that job. I have met many of the people that work for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations as well as people in my Ministry of Environment, and I know these are extremely capable people who will have no difficulty whatsoever in taking to the training that will be provided and doing an excellent job.
There are so many examples of people in our ministries that are just exemplary in the work that they perform. I was fortunate to be at Strathcona Provincial Park earlier this year, celebrating 100 years of B.C. Parks. Of course, Strathcona Park was the very first park in March of 1911.
At Strathcona Park I met some of the people who work for the Ministry of Environment and B.C. Parks. Andy, the regional manager, and Gemma, the park ranger in Strathcona, were just excellent examples of people who dedicate their lives to the outdoors and making sure that that experience is enjoyable for every one of our park visitors. I know they both would look forward to the ability that, in their duties as park rangers and area managers, if they see something else happening on the land that they are responsible for, they are able to do something about it.
Whether it is an infringement of the Wildfire Act…. That would be the most logical and probably one of the more common concerns that they would have — coming across people using the park that would be putting other people, as well as the park itself, in danger with irresponsible use of a campfire when it has been banned, for instance. So giving park rangers that ability to enforce more than one act as a designated natural resource officer just makes so much sense.
This act will build on our commitment to have a more integrated approach to managing the land base. It's certainly well known that British Columbians love to get outdoors. As that activity grows and grows with population growth and with people taking up that activity more and more as they take their holidays closer to home, there are going to be pressures on the land base.
Having this integrated approach to compliance and enforcement matches and mirrors the same kind of approach we have had to the front end of that process, where people are trying to access opportunities on the land base. So this is the natural complement to the integration of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations that we have seen happen over the last year and complements the work that the Ministry of Environment does with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
It builds on our commitment to integrate our government's approach to land base management. It will streamline natural resource compliance and enforce-
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ment processes. I think taxpayers expect government to use their tax dollars in the very best way possible. One way to do that is through allowing the people who are dedicated employees of the province of British Columbia that are out there, that know the land so well, a broader range of duties with appropriate training to be able to enforce the laws that are there to protect the land base and to protect British Columbians.
Ultimately, simplifying compliance and enforcement processes will improve our ability to hold accountable those people who are in contravention of natural resource legislation, and it will mitigate any further environmental damage, something that I think all members of this House will support.
It will make better use of our staff and, therefore, as I mentioned, make better use of the public purse. We all know that as health and education continue to grow as a percentage of the provincial budget, we need to use scarce resources in the best way possible. This isn't about doing less with more. This is about doing more with the resources that we have.
These are very capable people. These are people who want to have the opportunity to protect the land base and to protect the British Columbians they serve.
At the moment more than 11,000 inspections are completed each year, covering a variety of provisions within the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations mandate — 11,000 inspections. So while all these people are out doing those inspections, if they see a case of an infraction on one of the other acts that we rely upon to keep the landscape safe and keep other people safe — such as the Forest and Range Practices Act, the Forest Act, the Wildfire Act, the Wildlife Act or the Water Act — it simply makes sense for us to give them the ability to take action while they're out there.
So often we hear that government isn't using resources in the best way possible, and the people on the ground would like the ability to do more with the skills they have. I think this is an example of innovation, an example of using the tremendous people that we have working for the B.C. public service in the very best way possible. I think all members of this House would say that that is the right thing to do.
I look forward to the details, as the members opposite have said, and I know that under the minister we have in this Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry…. I know his character, and I know that his work ethic will make sure that this ability given to natural resource officers will be used in the very best way possible and that British Columbians will get great value for money with this act when it passes.
I encourage everyone to vote in favour of this bill. It's something I think British Columbians will applaud as a way of governments using their money in the very best way possible. I think the people who work for the B.C. government in the natural resource ministries will also welcome this, giving them the ability to use the tremendous skills they have in a much more efficient and better way to serve all British Columbians.
With that, I'll take my place and encourage others to support this bill.
B. Simpson: I had indicated to the minister earlier that I was going to take some time to badmouth him because he's getting so many kudos in here, but I have to say that my own relationship with the minister has been very good. I echo the words of the Minister of Environment that he is someone who's got a very difficult file, a very substantive file, and in any dealings that I've had with the minister he is treating it with the seriousness that it deserves. I empathize with his workload.
I also want to make a comment about the compliance and enforcement staff. I do believe that this addresses some of the frustrations they have had of being a single-statute compliance and enforcement officer. I've heard that from the staff on many occasions, so it does address that. And I want to send thanks on behalf of the elected officials here to our compliance and enforcement staff. They have a very difficult job. I know it's a very demanding job, and any of the comments that I have about some of the weaknesses in the compliance and enforcement regulatory framework have nothing to do with what those folks do on a daily basis. They have my thanks.
At a macro level this bill is what I would consider a best practice. I do think it should be supported. I do think it is the right thing to do.
In my first few years elected, as the NDP's Forests critic I toured the province extensively and heard loud and clear that the government needed to move in the direction of a more integrated approach to the land base. In fact, Bruce Fraser, who just retired from the Forest Practices Board, wrote a lot about the fact that you have one landowner and you should have one set of rules, one set of statutes relative to that land. You couldn't talk about things like tenure reform and forestry, for example, without talking about how mining interests access a land base or how ranching uses the land base, etc. It is something, I think, that we needed to move in the direction of.
When I was talking with folks about how you go about doing that, one of the things they indicated — and it's unfortunate, because the government has jumped into this with both feet — is: "Go slow and do the work around the statutes, the regulations. Go and take a look at that to make sure that you actually build a regulatory framework, a legislative framework, in the background so that when you decide to integrate, you actually have an integrated legislative and regulatory framework that supports what you're trying to do."
Unfortunately, because of the way that Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations came into existence, that didn't happen.
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They said that that may take a couple of years to do that work. "Signal you're going in that direction, and take the time to do the backroom work that you needed to do. Then bring it into play, and you'll have the most success."
The second thing they said to me was that one of the best things you can do if you integrate at the top is to integrate at the bottom. "Integrate your compliance and enforcement team, because they are your eyes and ears on the ground."
My hope is just that we have people out there that can actually apply different statutes in situations and write up people in different statutes, but that they can also give advice to government and that that advice will be heard about where we have contradictory legislation and contradictory regulations.
If they're on a piece of Crown land and there's some mining activity occurring, there's some water interference that's occurring, there's some forestry work occurring, and they have these statutes that they can apply from the perspective of compliance and enforcement, they actually can come back and say: "Well, hang on a second here. We have regulations that are at cross-purposes to each other."
I would say that that's writ large up in the oil and gas patch, up in the Peace, where we have oil and gas regulations that are actually in contravention to forest stewardship objectives, water conservation objectives, etc.
So one rule that I would like to see as this evolves is that this group, these natural resource operations compliance officers who can apply multiple statutes, can also give advice to government on how to rationalize and make those statutes make sense so that we are truly stewarding the land.
I don't want to take a lot of time on this. There are some key points that I want to make, because there are some other speakers here. I know the minister has been listening to a lot, between Bill 6 and Bill 9.
First and foremost, again, I have to reiterate what I said last night. It would be nice to have the parliamentary secretary's advice to government on where they're going with this integrated natural resource operations. Again, we're being asked to accept at face value a bill that is furthering that integration without the work that was done to take a look at where the government is on that integration, where it ought to go with it. That's a context piece that's missing.
Secondly, I think we need to understand, either from that or from the Premier or from the minister, what the focus is of the work that is going to be done in compliance. Is it a stewardship focus, or is it a permitting and access-to-the-resources focus? I still think that's something that British Columbians have a right to understand.
The original reason for the integration was to facilitate and permit natural resource activities on the Crown land base. The government has indicated that they're going to put $24 million towards addressing a backlog in permits, but the fundamental issue that we have in British Columbia and that Crown resource is: are we stewarding it properly?
My preference would be to have a compliance and enforcement team who are worried more about stewardship of the resource than they are about whether or not we're fast-tracking permitting and fast-tracking access and have major projects on the go, etc. That, to me, is the value that they bring to the Crown. So we're missing context here, and I think it is very important context.
The piece I want to speak to more directly, though, is that…. You can integrate — you can deputize, if you will — your compliance officers under different statutes so they can do multiple things when they're on the land base, but if there are no regulations existing, there are not things that they can enforce. That's the fundamental problem that we have.
What I want to show is that the government actually promised, in the transition from a Forest Practices Code to a results-based forestry code, that compliance and enforcement will be ramped up but that we would have clear ability to hold — I'm talking in the forestry domain now — forest licensees to account.
From the forest revitalization strategy document itself, under the section "Compliance and enforcement," it says: "As part of forest stewardship plans approved by government, companies must outline how they will meet environmental standards. In this way, they can be held accountable for achieving the results they promise. A team of specialized staff at the Ministry of Forests will conduct thousands of inspections every year." Then they state that the Forest Practices Board will provide "objective, independent investigations on forest practices" and that that board will be listened to as well.
The Forest Practices Board did respond to the government on the early forest stewardship plans, and not much changed. What the Forest Practices Board said is that while the early forest stewardship plans that they reviewed fully complied with the legislation…. So that's important. Nobody was out of compliance. If you have a compliance and enforcement officer on the ground, there is nothing they can hold the company to account for, for breaking the law or breaking the regulations. They fully complied with the legislation.
However, the Forest Practices Board pointed out that those forest stewardship plans have little detail about where cutting is going to occur and various other things. That's a huge problem for us right now in terms of landscape-level planning. They had "complex legal language that made it difficult for the public to understand and comment on." More importantly for today's debate, most forest stewardship plans "do not make commitments to measurable results or outcomes.
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Except for default practices required by legislation, the commitments in the forest stewardship plans tend to be vague and non-measurable and will be challenging for government staff to enforce."
Deputizing enforcement officers to do more under different statutes does not address the issue that if you have a set of plans governing forest activity that are not enforceable, they're still not enforceable. If they are written by lawyers to meet default regulations, then it doesn't help us to understand what we're seeing on the ground in terms of results. The Forest Practices Board was named in the forest revitalization strategy as an agency that ought to be listened to by government. Government committed that it would listen to it, and quite frankly, in this case, it has not happened.
The forest stewardship plans have been approved. They are now in action on the ground, and I hear the same from enforcement officers, which was echoed by the forest stewardship branch. They have nothing to enforce. They have the minimalistic regulations that exist, but in terms of enforcing the forest stewardship plans written mostly by lawyers — not forest practitioners, which was the intent — you have an enforcement problem. So that's No. 1: deregulating actually negates compliance and enforcement.
We have another bill in front of the House, where ministers are going to have to fess up as to how much they have further deregulated their various ministries. Deputizing natural resource operations compliance officers does nothing if there is nothing to force people to comply to. That's a fundamental issue I have with the ideology of the current government.
The second piece that I want to point out is there was an explicit promise in the forest revitalization strategy that we would have thousands of inspections on the ground. The reality is that since 2001 we have seen a 54 percent drop in field inspections. That's a function of two things: one, the year-over-year cuts to the dirt ministries as pointed out by members of that side when this integration was announced, but two, a restructuring of the staff so that they are often homebound. Part of that is two elections now where we have had spring budgets not pass.
Now, how does that relate to getting people on the ground? You don't pass the spring budget. The letters do not go out to the ministries of what their line-function spending is going to be. They just tell everybody: "Stay out of your trucks. Stay in the offices. We do not have a budget."
So as it stands just now, every four years these new compliance officers, or the old ones, are basically told not to go out into the field, because they don't have budgets passed. That's a problem we can fix by changing the election date.
Secondly, we're not even getting reports anymore out of the compliance and enforcement officers. We used to get annualized compliance and enforcement reports from Ministry of Forests. The last one was posted in 2009, and 2010 is missing. We're well into 2011. It should have been posted around June. It's not there. Again, there's a public component to this that needs to be fixed.
I would like to know, as we get into the bill, whether or not we're going to reinstitute reporting to the public what's happening on compliance and enforcement. The number has been reduced, and you are not reporting it to the public.
The Ministry of Environment used to report quarterly on its compliance efforts — quarterly. You used to get it in a timely fashion. Last year that stopped. We have not had a quarterly report from the Minister of Environment on compliance and enforcement.
The minister is looking at me quizzically. He might want to look at his own webpage, where it stops at the final quarterly report for 2010. There have been no quarterly reports for 2011.
If we're not going to report out to the public, that is a problem as well, because it means, then, all of the compliance and enforcement efforts are being done in the background, and there isn't that additional transparency of reporting to the public.
If there are no regulations, there's nothing to enforce. If the regulatory group is cut to the bone, there are not enough bodies on the ground, not enough eyes and ears on the ground.
It's a thing called risk management. You go after what you think are highest risks. Everybody knows you are going after the highest risk, so low-risk behaviour quickly becomes a high-risk behaviour because they know that it's not going to be looked at. It's not going to be examined.
Thirdly, we need to get back to publicly reporting what's going on in the compliance and enforcement field so that the public who are paying attention to this…. There are people out there, believe it or not, who do pay attention to this stuff, who look for those reports to see what government is doing, to hold government to account. If that's ended, too, then there's a bigger issue at stake here.
What I would like to see happen in conjunction with this…. I would hope — I know that the minister takes these things at face value — that in the reporting from his ministry, in conjunction with deputizing people across statutes, we get more robust reporting out of how many bodies are involved and what the budget is associated with this; that we get back to reporting out on compliance and enforcement efforts; that we do make sure, as others have pointed out, that this process involves robust training; and that some of that $24 million that's going to fast-track permitting actually be directed to making sure that the direction that we're taking here not only is best practice in theory but becomes best practice in practice.
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I look forward to the clause-by-clause debate. Even though it's a short bill, there are still some questions that need to be asked of the minister.
D. Donaldson: I'm pleased to take my place for the second reading debate of Bill 9, Natural Resource Compliance Act.
One of the main features of this proposed bill is the designation of a natural resource officer, giving the minister broad discretionary powers to allow officers to enforce a broader range of legislation across the natural resource sector. I agree. This could make sense, but it only makes sense if there's trust in the government around these broad discretionary powers.
I'm going to talk a little bit here in the second reading about the lack of trust that the public has in this bill and in the government to make this bill right, and also little faith from industry, specifically the mining sector, that what we're talking about here is going to address their concerns.
First, with the industry concerns, the former Mines Minister, the MLA for Kootenay East, pointed out about a year ago around staffing not being to the levels in the Ministry of Energy and Mines and other ministries to get the permits out the door in an efficient manner. This was what he said on the record about a year ago.
This bill seems like it is an attempt to address that by creating the natural resource officer title and allowing one person to do many things. The concerns are that it is about doing more with less and that the skills and the knowledge that are necessary for people to perform other roles just aren't there as far as the lack of training in that aspect.
It's not just me that says this. I brought this up during budget estimates about six months ago with the current Minister of Energy and Mines. I relayed concerns that I had heard from the mining sector about the reorganization of the so-called dirt ministries. He related to me in that concern that I expressed coming from the mining sector: "Don't worry; people coming over from forestry or other jurisdictions are also being trained to be able to do the mining permits," which gets at the point of the former Energy minister — being trained to do mining permits.
Very recently, just a couple of weeks ago, we had appearing before us at the Finance Committee John McManus, who is the chairman of the Mining Association of B.C. He's also CEO of Taseko Mines. I asked him about this concern and about staff within the government ministries perhaps not having the necessary knowledge and skills. I'll read a quote about how he answered that question.
This is John McManus, the chairman of the Mining Association of B.C., and he said:
"One of the issues of moving into forestry personnel trying to manage the Mines Act and the mines code — not just permitting but operationally…. It's a big transition."
He went on to say:
"The people in forestry who are the inspectors that are doing that type of work are very good at what we do. No question of that at all, but there are things which are specific to mining. It's a big engineering project. Usually you've got high stresses, big equipment. You're in one spot for a long time, which is quite different than what happens in the forest industry. So I think if there was an attempt to do that, the transition period could be very difficult, and there would be things that would happen that wouldn't be of benefit to the province or the people or the industry or anybody."
That's the chairman of the Mining Association of B.C. — "that wouldn't be of benefit to the province or the people or the industry or anybody."
He's putting a pretty fine point on the fact that if you are creating a natural resource officer designation, you better have the training in place. The current minister said the training was going on six months ago. Here's two weeks ago the chairman of the Mining Association of B.C. saying it is still of grave concern to them. Again, well-respected people within the mining industry have concerns about what the government is trying to attempt here.
This is another presentation we had in front of us with the Finance Committee. One of the vice-presidents of Imperial Metals presented to us in Cranbrook. His name is Byng Giraud. There was a very good question from the MLA for Peace River North, one of the MLAs on the government side.
He asked the vice-president of Imperial Metals: "What do you see as the number one barrier in the permitting process that makes it take so long to get it through the process?" It's exactly what the MLA for Kootenay East is concerned about — and what I'm concerned about, too — for a rural area and an important sector that we depend on for resource revenues and jobs, the mining sector.
This was his answer to that, the biggest barrier to the permitting process: "Qualified staff." That is a well-respected person in the mining industry, Byng Giraud, vice-president of Imperial Metals. When he said it, he said it like that, "Qualified staff," and he just stopped.
Then he went on to say: "…we need people who understand our sector and have been on the job long enough that they understand how to move a permit along." That's again from Byng Giraud, vice-president of Imperial Metals.
"We've had some significant turnover in some of our big projects in terms of civil servants responsible. The people who are responsible for us now are excellent people, but they're inexperienced or new, or they're coming from another sector."
We asked him a little further to elaborate. I asked him about this potential new mine expansion in B.C. We all know we need a couple of new mines opening up. The number 8 popped up in the Premier's job plan. We're not sure where that number came from. Industry doesn't know where it came from, and you would have thought
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they would have been consulted before the Premier came up with a proclamation like that.
Anyway, when we asked Byng Giraud about that, he said that unless staffing and permitting issues that he's talked about were addressed, that was going to be a very, very ambitious goal. Again, it's tough to know how this bill and this natural resource officer designation are actually going to address the permitting concerns, actually how they're going to address the concerns of the mineral industry, especially about permitting.
I'd like to move on to another part of this bill. It's not just the staff to get the permits out the door. Also, public trust is involved — faith that the government can do a good job, the necessary analysis, monitoring and enforcement over five acts. This bill covers five acts.
You know, there is cause for concern. I think the member for Kootenay East really defined what the danger and the cause for concern are. Earlier, when he stood up to talk about this bill, he talked about tourism staff becoming responsible for law enforcement.
He went on to describe a couple of situations. A long weekend and people camping on long weekends — it can get out of control. I know what it is like camping on long weekends. He talked about tourism staff stopping people, reading them the riot act and ticketing them on long weekends. This is tourism staff he's talking about. Or people on ATVs — having tourism staff enforce the law and ticket people.
Now, these are dangerous situations. I don't know if the member for Kootenay East has actually been in a popular camping area on a long weekend, but it can be a very, very dangerous situation.
I just wanted to read into the record. This is from budget estimates, and this is under "Tourism." This is what tourism people are trained to do. Tourism people are trained to promote growth and development of tourism industry. They are trained for and tasked with increasing demand for British Columbia "as a preferred travel destination in key geographic markets." They're responsible for:
"implementation of integrated planning and marketing programs through regional city, community and sectoral partnership programs, including British Columbia Magazine; connecting the consumer with tourism products and information through various distribution channels, including visitor centres, 1-800-HELLO BC and hellobc.com website; and developing provincial plans and policies for sustainable development of tourism and undertaking tourism market and trend research."
So undertaking research, working on websites.
The member for Kootenay East is giving an example of…. These are the people that could be tasked with chasing down people who are breaking the law in campgrounds on long weekends.
That is what we're talking about when there's a lack of trust, of the proper kind of training and the situations that could result from giving the minister such broad discretionary powers that this bill outlines.
Before I move on around this, I wanted to talk about the compliance and enforcement aspect that some of the people that have been involved with jobs that are going to be redesignated as natural resource officers under this bill do.
There was $24 million announced recently by the Premier to address a permitting backlog. None of it was designated for compliance and enforcement. Before I get into that a little bit, I want to point out that the $24 million announcement…. That's what it is — an announcement. It hasn't been rolled out yet.
An organization, the BCGEU, presented to the Finance Committee that they've had to do freedom of information on the backlog of the permits just to find out where this money is going to be spent. They've written to the freedom-of-information office to say: "We are writing to request the number of authorizations which constitute the backlog referred to in this announcement." So the government wouldn't even supply the BCGEU with what kind of backlog this $24 million is going to address.
We actually asked for that as well, as members of the Finance Committee, in order to deliberate with more information around that and have still not been supplied with that information either.
So it's unknown how this $24 million is going to be divvied up. We've had to go…. Under the new open government that we've heard about, the BCGEU has actually had to have a freedom-of-information request on the backlog to find out which ministries are involved. So that's unfortunate.
But what I want to talk about is the compliance and enforcement aspect. That $24 million, again, has not been designated for compliance and enforcement. So we look at forestry and the cuts in forestry. We know that when this government came to power, there were 31,109 compliance and enforcement staff field inspections. Four years later, under this government, that number had been halved to 16,651 inspections. It's gotten worse since then. Last year under the further cuts, 22 positions in compliance and enforcement were cut.
It's incredible what's going on in the forest industry. I have been briefed up in my area, in the northwest. I have pictures that show the kinds of practices that are going on at certain logging sites. It's the kinds of practices that you saw 30 years ago. You had 50 metres of wood stacked up on top of streams, where you could actually walk on top of this wood and never see the water in the streams. This is the kind of thing that, if we had compliance enforcement officers on the land looking out for the public interest and the public good, wouldn't be happening.
The amount of waste that compliance enforcement officers could be inspecting is another matter. They're going to have burning piles of wood — good wood fibre. So 3,600 piles of wood are going to be burned in the central part of the northern zone this fall. People from
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other countries come, and they say: "What are you guys doing?" This is good fibre that could be put to other uses, and it's going to be burned. So this kind of thing.
When you don't have good compliance and enforcement, it erodes the public confidence in the government to be able to do its job. It's not just in forestry but in mining as well — another area that I have great interest in and one area that I'll question the current Minister of Mines about during the budget process in the spring.
There are positions called reclamation inspectors, and these are important positions. Reclamation is essential for early mitigation of environmental impacts from mines in operation and mines that have shut down.
In 2000 the reclamation inspection staff numbered ten in the province. That was a high. By 2007 under this government it had been reduced to three. There was a removal of reclamation inspectors in Cranbrook, in Kamloops, in Prince George and in Smithers.
Guess where the final two reclamation inspectors are now situated in the province? In the great mining centre of Victoria. There is not a mine within the municipal boundaries of Victoria, as far as I can tell, but that's where the two remaining reclamation inspectors are situated.
Again, it's an erosion of the public confidence around the ability to do compliance and enforcement activities that needs to be addressed.
I'm going to wrap up here so another one of my colleagues can speak to the second reading of this bill. You can create new names, which is being attempted in this bill. You can create new names for positions and amalgamate positions. But what does it really matter if the staff aren't there to do the work?
I think what I've outlined here is that staff aren't there to do the work, no matter if you call it a natural resource officer designation or not. You can try to attempt to have staff do more things, and the permitting question is one that has been trying to be addressed through this. But then there's a big question mark from industry about if there's qualified staff. If it's not, then you're not addressing the problem. We saw that with the presentation I described to the Finance Committee, where qualified staff was the major, major delay and impediment identified around the permitting process.
We look forward, and I look forward, to the committee stage on this bill. Then perhaps we can get some detailed answers from the minister, and from the deputy ministers who accompany him, to that part of the bill so that we can really understand if this bill is going to address the concerns of industry and the concerns of the public. Then we can see if there's going to be enough trust in the bill to get the job done that it supposedly is intended to.
M. Sather: It is my pleasure to rise to debate Bill 9, Natural Resource Compliance Act. This bill will allow the minister to designate natural resource officers. This is a new designation that is supposed to cure all the ills of the world, a catch-all kind of person that's going to be doing all those wonderful things out there, according to the government.
Let's make no mistake about what's going on here. The government talks about these natural resource officers being able to do more than one thing. They go out there because they've got more powers. And there is, no doubt, some truth in that.
There is always a kernel of truth in the agenda that this government is always pushing, which has not that much to do, actually, with the intent of their legislation, because the intent of their legislation is unidirectional. It has been since 2001, and it continues to be today.
Let's make no mistake about this. This is more of the B.C. Liberals' deregulation agenda, plain and simple. Whether it's the getting rid of the regulations themselves or whether it's handicapping the people that are in the field that are trying to enforce the nonexistent regulations, it's the same agenda. It's a worn-out agenda, and it's a tired agenda, and it's a methodology that brought us the great recession of 2008.
The government just plows ahead, nonetheless, doing the same things that brought the mess we had in the United States — all the jiggery-pokery, as the member for Cowichan Valley says. And what else could you call it? The collateral debt obligations, the credit default swaps, the phony credit rating, the bailouts for the investment banks, the whole nine yards — all of that jiggery-pokery was brought about because the government deregulated, because the government said that regulations are bad. "They're," as this government says, "a bunch of red tape, and you've got to get rid of it." That's what brought on the mess that we're still dealing with today and are going to be continuing to deal with in the years to come. But that's the line of action, the modus operandi, of this government that they continue to pursue, and this is yet another example of it.
The Premier has rededicated the government, as though we might have thought that they were actually going to change directions. When she has come on the scene now as the Premier, she's rededicated, you know, to the same agenda.
Vilified as cutting red tape…. You know, nobody likes red tape. "We're just cutting red tape." But in fact they're destroying the supports that make for a civil society and certainly destroying the public interest in the process. Thank goodness we had Jean Chrétien. I'm going to praise a real Liberal for a change, who actually kept some regulations in place. That allows us in Canada to say, "Well, you know what? We're not as messed up as they are in some of the rest of the parts of world" — because of the thing that this government hates with a passion: regulations.
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Madam Speaker, it's more of the same, you know. If you look at the name of the bill itself, it's the Natural Resource Compliance Act. And we go around talking about compliance and enforcement officers. There's nothing in that bill, really, about…. They just conveniently left out the enforcement part. Just a slight mistake.
Compliance. It's all about compliance, so how does this government construe the rules so that everybody can be compliant?
M. Sather: Well, first of all, the member from Kamloops is doing his boombox tricks again, Madam Speaker. He's doing his boombox tricks again.
The fact of the matter is that this government brought in a Forest Practices Code, as was referred to earlier, that is results-based — results-based, which means, in fact, simply that there's nothing there that those now disappearing compliance and enforcement officers can actually go out there and enforce, because there are just some vaguely worded and also a lot more jiggery-pokery to make language such that people don't understand what these so-called rules are. Then they go and say to the compliance and enforcement officers: "Oh well, make them compliant with that."
And they go, "Well, what is it? What am I supposed to be making them compliant with?" You know, it's all part of a plan, and it's a sad plan. It's a sad plan that is not current with what we need in this province today. It's not current with what we need in forestry. So….
M. Sather: Thank you very much, Member.
We know that the resources have been slashed by this government — 229 full-time equivalents in 2009, down from 292 in 2008, and 245 more cut in 2010.
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, Members. The members who are not in their seats and joining the debate shall cease.
M. Sather: Over 1,000 jobs lost in the ministry since 2001. They get rid of all the jobs. They get rid of everybody that's supposed to be doing the compliance and enforcement. Then guess what. The actual reports of people being out of compliance are lessened. Well, isn't that convenient? Because the minister has said, the Premier has said: "The highest priority here is to get approvals of our projects. That's the number one thing we're going to do."
We're going to have to make a few changes to do that. We've still got a few of those civil servants running around out there trying to protect the province. But you know what? That's a little bit getting away with getting all these approvals. It's all about approvals. "Approvals now," the Premier says, "right now."
She talks about Taseko Mines and says: "Oh, you know the environmental assessment process isn't…. People think it's not robust." Well it isn't robust. How can it be robust when you haven't got anybody out there in the field doing the work?
There's no one out there protecting the public interest. That's the way this government wants it. That's exactly the way they want it. They want to make it very, very difficult for any of us, for any of our civil servants to do their job, and they're not going to…. All of these forest resource officers, natural resource officers, may be able to do a couple of extra things, but by and large, what they're going to be doing is running around trying to do ten jobs at a time, and they are not going to be able to do it.
But that's just fine with this government because they don't want them out there regulating anybody anyway. So it all works really well. It really works well for this government. You slash and burn, you get rid of the compliance enforcement, you get rid of the good civil servants doing the work in droves, by the way, and then you say: "Gee whiz, isn't this working good for us? We're not getting many complaints."
You're not getting many complaints, because you don't want any complaints. But the environment's not being protected. Forestry is not being protected. The public good is not being protected by this government, and it's a shame.
Three-quarters of the province forest lands have inventories that are 25 or more years out of date — 25 years or more out of date — and 240,000 hectares of not sufficiently restocked forest lands. But it could be ten times greater than that. We don't know because they don't keep track. And why don't they keep track? Because it's in their interest not to keep track. They've done their job, and their job is to pull the wool over the eyes of the citizens of this province as best they can.
You know what, Madam Speaker? People are getting wise to this government. They see what they've done. They see where they're heading. They see the disparity, the inequality that's being created by the agenda of this government, and they're getting fed up with it, and I think they're going to do something about it. I really do.
Compliance and enforcement inspections — there's a dirty word — dropped 50 percent between '01 and '04. That's when the government was really, really taking the heavy stick to all of those inspectors out there. The people are out there, ensuring that fish-bearing streams are protected, that stumpage fees and timber-cutting-right fees are being paid, that logs that are cut are marked. What's happened to them?
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There's not a lot of concern about that with this government because — you know what? — they think it gets in the way of business. I don't think so. I think they're wrong. I think a positive business environment needs a good regulatory framework as well. Yes, there are always some regulations that need to be eliminated or adjusted, no doubt. But this government is way overboard, because it's an entire agenda that they're pursuing. It's not a positive agenda.
The Sierra Club — that's a friend of the government — has outlined a decline in tickets and convictions from 3,600 in 1995 to 1,400 in 2009 — way under half as many tickets and convictions. Speaking of convictions, they're getting rarer and rarer with this government.
We had an incident in Maple Ridge, where something that might be somewhat familiar to some members of the government, Aquilini Investment corporation, decided to divert, without a permit or approval, water from the Alouette River for their operations. Because of a lot of good community groups in Maple Ridge and individuals who said, "This is wrong," they brought it forward to the government, and it has resulted in charges being laid.
We wait with bated breath to see whether there will be any convictions, because there don't tend to be a lot of convictions under this government. I'm not saying that there's any reason in particular why there shouldn't be in this case, but we still wait to see.
This results-based enforcement. There has to be some baseline data by which our civil servants can actually do their job in enforcing and seeing that it's done, but the government is not keeping track out there. I think it's not by accident. I think it's actually purposeful, because it helps to get those desired approvals through quicker. Never mind the public interest.
It's just more of the same agenda, this bill. There may be some good. I hope there's some good. I know the minister is going to do his best, with what he has got here, to make it work, but I don't see it as anything more than the continuation of the same destructive practices that this government has brought upon the heads of British Columbians for years and years.
The B.C. Government Employees Union, more friends of the government, did some good work, though, recently. They did a report based on some community dialogue in forest-dependent communities, and that was this year. These were some of the recommendations that they came up with.
Number 1: "Strengthen public oversight and accountability. Establish a public commission of inquiry on forests." We certainly need that, and we know that we need it in a number of areas, including the mining area, Community Living B.C., all kinds of areas that the government is — shall we say, charitably — struggling with. They definitely could use some of that.
"Establish a public commission of inquiry on forests to provide an independent assessment of the state of B.C.'s forest sector" — we need that, because clearly the government is not telling us what the true state of B.C. forests is — "and the effectiveness of our current laws and practices." That was the first recommendation.
The second was: "Recommit to good forest stewardship." Now, there's a very good idea. It's certainly time that the government thought about that. It's maybe past the possibility of turning the ship around if they did want to, which I'm quite convinced they don't. But it says: "Restore staff and funding to the B.C. Forest Service."
You know, expert foresters, even the chief forester, have talked about how the agenda of this government and the cutbacks are not working. The deregulation is not working. The forest industry is in chaos. So we would hope that the government is going to do something, but we're not holding our breath.
"Provide enhanced funding for key programs including compliance and enforcement" — and enforcement, Madam Speaker — "forest inventory, research and reforestation."
There's a lot of work that the government could be doing, but the best bill they can come up with is a couple of them, where one was just changing the name of forest resource officer. It's a new designation. That's not going to cut it. That's not what's called for today. That's not what's needed. There's needed a little more than that, something a little more substantial. We're looking forward towards actually turning this ship around, but I don't see it with this government. I don't think they really intend to.
The third recommendation that government members will definitely want to hear, of course, is this. "Reconnect communities with their forests. Review and reform B.C.'s forest tenure system to provide more local participation in managing local forest lands" and address the rights and interests of aboriginal communities — the last of which I think the government has pretty well given up on. But that's another sorry state of this government.
Finally, No. 4: "Generate more value from B.C.'s forests. Implement strategies to support greater diversification and more value-added enterprises in B.C.'s forest sector, including tightening restrictions on raw log exports."
Now, I hear the minister saying that the government is going to look at that. That is good. I hope that there's actually some action that comes forth. I think one of the members opposite — well, it might even have been the minister — was talking about jobs being created by raw log exports. Well, yeah, there are some jobs being created. But it's like if you have your home, you go and rip out all the furniture, and you go and take all of the fancy dishes out and sell them and say: "Look at that. I made some money. Look at that. Isn't that a good thing?" Well, yeah, but you haven't got any home anymore, really, to live in.
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What we have done here…. This government is ripping out our forest industry, the core of our forest industry, and shipping the jobs over to China. It's a Chinese job creation program, primarily, and that's not…. Again, that's another part of the failed agenda of this government — the contracting out.
You call that free trade? What it is, in fact, is not free for the workers in British Columbia. That's for sure. They're paying the price. I guess somebody is continuing to make some money by liquidating our resources, but is that the way that British Columbians want to see our forest resources dealt with? I don't think so.
So there are a lot of improvement that this government has to do. They've got tons of work that they could be dedicating themselves to. I don't think this bill quite cuts it. It's not what we really need in terms of renewing the forest industry.
M. Sather: But the Environment Minister, who has been designated to very little…. The superministry has got everything, including half of what should be his ministry, but still he's crying out in protest, and I don't blame him.
I would suggest that the government get back to work and come up with some solutions that really speak to the needs of British Columbians and the needs of our forest industry.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. S. Thomson: I'm pleased to rise to close debate on the bill. It has been pretty interesting. Obviously, a lot of latitude has been taken with the debate on the bill. I heard in the beginning the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke and even the member for Cowichan Valley supporting the intent of the bill and what we're trying to achieve here, recognizing that this is a smart move, this is good legislation and this is about making more effective use of our resources.
It was a little hard to tell, towards the end of the debate, with some of the comments there, whether they were supportive or not of this legislation and whether they were supportive of what their own members were saying. I think that just goes to show that there's an agenda on the other side that is a lot different than wanting to have good, effective legislation and good, effective delivery of programs and services.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I just do want to comment on a couple things. The member from Cowichan mentioned that we hadn't engaged staff on this. I think that's not correct. I had the opportunity this summer…. I spent a lot of the summer travelling around the province, meeting with industry and stakeholders all around the province. I took the opportunity at every occasion to meet with staff in our offices — staff who are doing the compliance and enforcement.
What is being suggested here in this legislation is exactly what staff were asking for. These people are professionals. They take their job very seriously, and they get frustrated when they see activities happening that they don't have the ability to be able to deal with when they're out on the ground. This is something that they have asked for. This is something that they have wanted, and we're responding in terms of being able to provide an effective approach to be able to do that.
The member for Cowichan Valley also said that we want to make sure that we don't put staff at risk by making sure that they have the training and the skill set to be able to do the job. Clearly, that's what we'll do. Certainly there's no intent on my part to put staff….
One of the things I asked when we were going through this was: "Could I designate myself as a natural resource officer?" We have some property in Kelowna, some rangeland that is subject to vandalism, subject to fence-cutting. I certainly, at times, would like to be a natural resource officer and be able to deal with those, but clearly, I probably don't have the skills to do that, and it probably wouldn't be very appropriate to designate myself as a natural resource officer.
But what we do want to do is make sure that we provide the staff in the field out there with the tools and the resources to be able to deal with the compliance and the enforcement, to be able to deal with the job that they want to do, and that's what this legislation does.
I'm pleased to close debate and pleased to have this bill moved to committee stage, and I look forward to the discussion then.
I move second reading.
Hon. S. Thomson: I move the act be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 9, Natural Resource Compliance Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:51 p.m.
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