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, November 16, 2011
Volume 28, Number 1
Introductions by Members
Office of the Ombudsperson, Annual Report 2010-11
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Heart of Richmond AIDS Society
Victoria Car Share Co-Op
Samuel Brighouse Elementary School
Bhangra music and dance exhibit
Rally for microfinance awareness
National Child Day and rights of children
Auditor General report on environmental assessment process and permit backlog
Hon. T. Lake
Hon. S. Thomson
Drinking water protection and legislation
Hon. T. Lake
Grant’s law and protection for workers
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Government brochure on marketing businesses in China
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. P. Bell
Auditor General access to information in B.C. Rail court case
Hon. S. Bond
British Columbia Utilities Commission, annual report, 2010-11
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 13 — Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 13 — Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 19 — Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011
Hon. S. Bond
Withdrawal of comments
Hon. S. Bond
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 19 — Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011 (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
[ Page 8801 ]
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2011
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
J. Les: I have a number of introductions today. I will start with the consul general for the United States of America, who is based in Vancouver, Ann Callaghan. She is joined today by the deputy consul general, Sigrid Emrich. The consul general is in Victoria for various meetings, including one I had with her earlier today, and she is also here to take part in the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region 2011 winter meeting, which is taking place here in Victoria this week.
As you know, we in British Columbia greatly value our close relationship with the United States, and we look forward to working with Ms. Callaghan during her time here in our province. Would the House please join me in making Ms. Callaghan and Ms. Emrich feel very welcome.
I've already referred to the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region winter meeting that's happening here in Victoria in the coming days. On the floor of the House we have a number of the delegates who are here in that regard. I will introduce them to the House, and if we could hold our applause until they've all been introduced.
Starting with Linden Bateman, who's a representative of the Idaho State House; Max Black, who is an Idaho State legislator; Deborah Boone, state representative from the Oregon Legislative Assembly; Lawerence Denney, Speaker of the House from the State of Idaho; Dennis Egan, Alaska State senator; Karen Fraser, Washington State senator; Phil Hart, representative of the state of Idaho; Bob Herron, representative from the Alaska State Legislature; Jim Honeyford, Washington State senator; Charlie Huggins, Alaska State senator; Jim Peterson, president of the Montana State Senate; Gary Stevens, Senate president of the Alaska State Legislature; Jeff Thompson, state representative from the Idaho House of Representatives; Elliott Werk, senator from the Idaho State Senate; Mike Schaufler, representative from Oregon State and PNWER president; and Don Toff, the Speaker of the Saskatchewan Legislature. These guests are joining us today on the floor of the House.
As well, there are numerous other PNWER delegates who have joined us and will be joining us in the precincts over the next several days. As I said, they're here for the PNWER winter meetings, and I would like to ask the House to extend a warm welcome to all PNWER delegates.
J. Horgan: On behalf of the official opposition, I want to welcome all of the delegates from jurisdictions in and around British Columbia. It is a pleasure to have you here in the most civilized Legislature in the Dominion of Canada, where order is always in play and pleasantness is the order of the day. Thank you for coming, and we'll see how it goes over the next half-hour.
R. Hawes: Joining us in the precincts today are Dr. Chris McBride, executive director of the B.C. Paraplegic Association, and Linda Annis, director of marketing and development and public relations for the paraplegic association. Could the House please make them both welcome.
C. James: I have two guests in the gallery today — a constituent of mine, Alan Thompson, who is here to watch question period, and he's joined by his friend, a constituent from my colleague from Saanich South, Jonathan Rainer. Would the House please make them both very welcome.
Hon. M. McNeil: Today it's my pleasure to introduce two special young people in the gallery today. Josiane Houngbo-Anthony and Diego Cardona recently helped organize the Champions for Children and Youth Summit, titled "Fresh Voices from Long Journeys: Insights of Immigrant and Refugee Youth."
Last month more than 120 immigrant and refugee youth gathered for the summit in Vancouver with the Representative for Children and Youth to discuss issues and barriers they face as they build new futures in British Columbia. This afternoon Josiane and Diego will be sharing their insights and recommendations that came out of the summit with the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth.
Accompanying Josiane and Diego is Vi Nguyen, program coordinator from the Vancouver Foundation. Also joining us today is John Greschner, associate deputy representative. Please join me in helping them feel welcome in the House.
K. Corrigan: I am very pleased that we have in the House today Gordie Larkin, a long-time friend. He was a CLC rep for years — highly respected in this work. He's worked with the United Way labour campaign, and he is also been a director of the B.C. Ferry Corporation. Despite that, he continues to be a very good friend and neighbour, and nobody leads Solidarity Forever better than my good friend Gordie Larkin. Would you make him feel welcome, please.
Hon. S. Cadieux: In the House today is a good friend. Bill Brooks is an employee of the Tim Horton's Children Foundation and does a lot of good work through that.
[ Page 8802 ]
He's also a constituent. I would like the House to make him welcome.
C. Trevena: I'd like to join the Minister of Children and Families in welcoming the two young people from the summit who helped to organize the summit — Diego Cardona and Josiane Houngbo-Anthony. They had some very powerful stories to tell to the summit, and I that hope people will listen to those stories.
Also, I would like to welcome Vi Nguyen from the Vancouver Foundation as well. She helped make this summit work. I hope the House will make sure that these people are made very welcome and that their stories are heard and acted upon.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I want to welcome a number of guests who have been here meeting with the members from both sides of the House today on issues that are important to all of us.
I'd like to welcome the officers from the B.C. federation: Jim Sinclair, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour; Irene Lanzinger, the secretary treasurer; Reid Johnson, who is the president of the Health Sciences Association of British Columbia; Bob Jackson, the regional executive vice-president for British Columbia for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; David Black, the president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378; Brenda Brown, the vice-president of the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union; Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Trades Council; Ken Robinson, president of the Hospitals Employees Union; Ray Keen, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1003.
I had the opportunity to meet with some of these distinguished guests this morning. I very much appreciated the conversation that we had, and I would ask everyone to make them feel warmly welcome.
S. Chandra Herbert: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Don Harder to this Legislature. He's a multiple Grammy Award winner, a Juno Award winner and a proud representative of the Little Mountain Brass Band. His son Derek Harder works in research here — very ably — and he is very proud of him. Will the House please make Don feel very welcome.
Hon. D. McRae: I'm sorry, but the member for Chilliwack made an omission in his introductions. A long-time friend of mine, Mike Cuffe, is the state representative from the great state of Montana. Would the House please make him welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. D. McRae: I've known Mr. Cuffe for at least seven minutes.
B. Penner: Like my colleague the member from Chilliwack as well as the Minister of Agriculture, I would like to recognize a couple people who weren't mentioned earlier as being here as part of the delegation from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. We met a few minutes ago in the Ned DeBeck Lounge, where my long-time friend and legislative colleague from Washington State Jeff Morris was attempting to explain the differences between the U.S. and Canadian parliamentary or legislative systems.
Also attending is George Eskridge, a representative from Idaho, and his wife. They're taking part in a further ongoing discussion that's happening right now down the hallway in the Douglas Fir Room, further exploring the differences between the Canadian and U.S. Systems.
In preparing them for what some of the members will see here in question period today, I was telling them that it's a form of theatre. The member for North Coast described it as good theatre. I'm not sure that I fully subscribe to that view. It's certainly theatre. Whether it's good is another matter.
Also there were the members for Richmond-Steveston and Abbotsford South.
Generally, we were trying to prepare them for what they're about to see during question period, and the heckling we're now hearing from the gallery, from a very rambunctious individual is indicative, I think, of what you'll see during question period.
My daughter and my wife are contributing to that, so I'd like to also introduce the two leading ladies in my life, two very beautiful young women: Daris LaPointe and Fintry Penner.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsperson, 2010-2011.
(Standing Order 25B)
HEART OF RICHMOND AIDS SOCIETY
L. Reid: I rise today to dedicate my remarks to two amazing Richmond residents, because in the words of k.d. lang, Joanna and Brian Wardley beautifully combine. They have been the heart and soul of the Richmond AIDS Society since its inception.
After 14 years of operation the Heart of Richmond AIDS Society continues to address HIV/AIDS in the community of Richmond by supporting the needs of HIV-positive persons and their family and friends. The creation of the Gilwest Clinic at Richmond Hospital — which provides access to specialists, nurses, pharmacists, counsellors, social workers and a dietician
[ Page 8803 ]
— is a critical achievement which continues to build awareness.
Their prevention education program moved into its fourth year of operation in 2011 and continues to reach young people throughout the Richmond school district. The program also continues to be well received by youth and school staff alike.
Supporting persons with HIV/AIDS and their families and loved ones continues to be a central focus of the society. This past year this support program experienced another solid year of service provision in the areas of counselling, group support, advocacy and food and health care. They have maintained a range of material supports offered to their clients, while their relationships with other health professionals and service providers have deepened.
These connections continue to play an integral role in providing support services to their clients. I have attended their monthly dinners and know how important this outreach is in our community.
The services of the Heart of Richmond endeavour to respond in the most effective manner possible to the impact that HIV and AIDS have on the members of our community. I would like to extend special thanks to everyone who's involved and in particular to the volunteer board member staff for their ongoing dedication to providing these services.
It was my pleasure to attend their gala in November and reconnect with lovely souls who believe in this work.
My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you.
VICTORIA CAR SHARE CO-OP
C. James: It all started with a few friends and one vehicle. Fifteen years ago they came together with a bright idea and started the first car-share co-op in North America. Before long other co-ops were popping up in cities across the continent.
Now the Victoria Car Share Co-op is proudly celebrating its 15th anniversary. It operates a fleet of 22 vehicles shared by more than 500 members around Victoria. All operational costs are paid from vehicle usage revenues and administration fees.
Victorians have embraced car-sharing as a practical and convenient transportation solution. Car-sharing offers the benefits of owning a vehicle without the cost. Car-sharing spreads that cost among many people instead of just one or two.
Belonging to the co-op is cost-effective, convenient and environmentally friendly. Research has shown that car-sharing can significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the road and, in doing so, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Households that share vehicles tend to cycle, walk and take transit more often. People also drive smarter when they're sharing a car because they do their errands all at once rather than several trips to the store, and those who choose car-sharing prefer more fuel-efficient vehicles, like hybrids and Smart cars.
In the last two years the Victoria Car Share Co-op has grown by more than 30 percent, and members of the co-op also have access to other car-share networks in Canada, including Vancouver, the Kootenays and Smithers.
We learned it as children, and the lesson holds. Sharing is a good thing.
I hope all members will join me in congratulating the Victoria Car Share Co-op on its 15th anniversary and thank its members for doing their part to make our air cleaner and our community a better place to live and get around.
SAMUEL BRIGHOUSE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
R. Howard: I recently had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new school in my riding, the new and much improved Samuel Brighouse Elementary. I also had the pleasure of being a student at the old Samuel Brighouse Elementary in the '60s, when the old school was still brand-new.
It's amazing to reflect back on those years and the then new school. Back then the new was represented by classroom seats that were not joined by a wooden rail, and the new seats were made out of some kind of composite. The outside windows had these newfangled roll of shutters. It was all pretty advanced stuff. The landscaping back then consisted of grass and a crushed gravel parking lot.
We fast-forward to 2011, when the landscape and buildings themselves have become teaching tools. Community gardens, green roofs, solar panels, rainwater catchment, pine beetle wood, a smart heating and ventilating system. The list is seemingly endless.
However, the most impressive feature of this new school is that it is designed as a neighbourhood learning centre. The building is designed to be used by the entire community, and the design process was kicked off by asking the students what they wanted their new school to look like. You can see their thoughts reflected in this new school.
I would like to congratulate the board of education past chair Linda McPhail, current chair Donna Sargent and the rest of the Richmond school trustees, as well as the school principal, Mr. Adam Heeney, vice-principal Denise Chambers and their whole team, for creating a place where I am sure that people will want to be for many years to come.
BHANGRA MUSIC AND DANCE EXHIBIT
R. Chouhan: Let's talk about bhangra today. I am sure that all members in this House have seen bhangra and
[ Page 8804 ]
have danced with the performers. Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab. It reflects the long and often tumultuous history of that region. While bhangra began as a part of the harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and new year celebrations. Moreover, during the last many years bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide.
Today I rise to acknowledge the first museum exhibition on South Asian Canadian history, Vancouver's Bhangra Story. It is co-produced by the Museum of Vancouver and the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society and co-curated by Naveen Girn and Viviane Gosselin.
I had the pleasure of visiting this interactive exhibit this summer. It connects Vancouver's unique bhangra music and dance with politics, identity and diasporic life. This important exhibit reflects the stories of South Asians living in Canada, using culture as a lens to see the history of labour movements, gender roles, transnational sound and identity. As a young activist in the South Asian community, my colleagues and I used bhangra as a tool to educate, organize and mobilize the farmworkers. We used bhangra as a storytelling tool to teach people about the value of their labour.
I am proud to be part of this important exhibit. Because of its popularity it has been extended to January 2012. I encourage you all to experience the rich cultural history of bhangra. Visit this interactive exhibit to play instruments, read about bhangra's connection to social protest or dance in the performance lounge.
RALLY FOR MICROFINANCE AWARENESS
D. Horne: Starting this Saturday from November 19 to 28, my former boss and longtime friend Dr. Steven Funk will lead his Race4Change Team in three custom-built classic Porsches in the East African Safari Classic Rally. This gruelling 5,000 kilometre race over treacherous terrain tests both drivers and vehicles. However, the race is only a backdrop for Funk's vision, which is to raise awareness for microfinance.
Microfinance provides small amounts of critical startup money at very low interest to impoverished persons wanting to establish a fruit stand, farm, sewing business, repair shop or other entrepreneurial endeavour. It gives recipients a hand up instead of a handout.
Microfinance allows individuals to receive the money needed to realize their dreams. Repayment is higher than 95 percent, much higher than what we see here in North America oftentimes. Race4Change empowers women in Kenya and helps them feed, clothe and care for their children. Race4Change and other providers of microfinance offer dignity to the poor, break the poverty cycle by providing the latest model that allows people to help themselves.
His vision began when he completed in the 2009 safari in his Peugot 504 coupe while supporting Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ingrid Munro and her Jamii Bora microfinance association.
In 2011, Race4Change has grown larger, attracting such other sponsors as Tuthill Porsche, the Sager Foundation, bugbam.com, support from President Clinton's foundation — all groups giving their resources and support to the very good and ambitious campaign.
I wish Steven Funk's Race4Change team, consisting of Björn Waldegård, Fabrizia Pons, Travis Pastrana, Ian Duncan and Patrick Njiru, all the best. I urge you to find out more at www.race4change.org. All donations go directly to the microfinance loans, and nothing goes to the rally.
NATIONAL CHILD DAY
AND RIGHTS OF CHILDREN
C. Trevena: It's perhaps appropriate that I mark National Child Day today, a few days early, while we have in the gallery some exceptional young people, people who are active in designing and implementing the children and youth summit, by and for immigrant and refugee youth. These young people work for months to develop the two-day conference which left all participants inspired and engaged.
National Child Day is actually on the 20th of November. It marks the adoption of two significant UN documents, the convention on the rights of the child and the declaration of the rights of the child. The young people in the gallery are well aware of these UN declarations and referred to them often during their conference.
We in this House should take note of them also, not just when we mark Child Day, for our record is not good, either in Canada nor in B.C. I'd like to highlight just a couple areas: child poverty and child labour.
On this side of the House we regularly cite the appalling level of child poverty in this province. Allowing children to languish in such poverty is in direct contravention of the United Nations declaration of which we are signatories. That demands that a child "shall have the right to adequate nutrition and housing." The declaration also states the child "shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age. He shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development."
In 2003 we became the jurisdiction with the youngest work start age in North America. Children are protected better in Alabama and Mississippi. Here in B.C. kids can work at any time of the day at any worksite. There's been a tenfold increase in injuries among children.
This year when we mark Child Day, let's do it with sincerity rather than spin. Let's commit to embracing and enforcing the UN declaration on the rights of the child.
[ Page 8805 ]
AUDITOR GENERAL REPORT ON
ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT PROCESS
AND PERMIT BACKLOG
A. Dix: This morning the Auditor General appeared before the Public Accounts Committee — his office and the environmental assessment office — to discuss a report that he released that was sharply critical of the government's approach to environmental assessment. The report concludes that the environmental assessment office's "oversight of certified projects is not sufficient to ensure that potential significant adverse effects are avoided or mitigated."
In fact, we heard in Public Accounts this morning that of 115 certificates issued by the EAO, there had not been a single site visit in six years prior to the release of the Auditor General's report in July.
Given this indictment of the government's record, my question to the Minister of Environment is simple. How can British Columbians have any confidence in the government's approach to environmental assessment?
Hon. T. Lake: First of all, I want to thank the Auditor General for the very good work that he did. I met with him to discuss his report. We accept the Auditor General's recommendations, but I do have to take exception to the member opposite's misleading information in terms of site visits.
It's quite clear that the environmental assessment office is one step in the permitting process. Following that, the proponent needs to get permits from Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations; Ministry of Mines; Ministry of Environment. These permitting authorities, in fact, do make site visits and follow up on the requirements of those permits.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: I have to admire the new approach of the government to question period. They get a report that's an utter indictment of their record over ten years, and the minister says: "We accept the report, hon. Speaker." Now, whether it's community living, whether it's forestry, whether it's the environment, it's the same thing. We have successive Liberal ministers, and their defence in the last few days is: "You know, if only we'd had a Liberal government in the last ten years, things would be better."
The Minister of Environment refers to the permitting process. So let's move on, and let's ask the Minister of Natural Resource Operations. Boy, that's been a successful reorganization. Information obtained from freedom of information says there's a backlog of 7,000 permits — the minister talks about permits — across natural resource industries. You know, it's not only communities and people who care about the environment who are concerned with the environmental assessment office. It's businesses concerned with the failure of that ministry to deal adequately with permits.
So it's very simple. How can he…?
Hon. K. Falcon: He loves his own voice.
A. Dix: The Minister of Finance just said in this House: "He loves his own voice." You know, it's comic relief over there, hon. Speaker. It's comic relief over there.
Mr. Speaker: Member. Member.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Could the member pose the question, please.
A. Dix: A backlog of 7,000 permits is clearly unacceptable. What is the minister doing about it?
Hon. S. Thomson: As the member opposite knows, we have identified that there is a backlog issue and a backlog of permits. That is why….
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
We're certainly not disappointing our guests, are we?
Hon. S. Thomson: That's why we've provided $24 million to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, to the Ministry of Mines and to the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations, in order to address those backlogs. We've got an aggressive timeline to address those. We're providing the resources to be able to do that.
It's very interesting to note that in requesting that information, the members, for example, of the BCGEU, recognize the importance of addressing those, because they recognize how important it is to move forward with economic activity in this province. That's why we've provided that funding, that's why we have an aggressive timeline to address those, and that's why we're committed to provide the economic opportunity throughout all the regions in the province.
[ Page 8806 ]
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, I'm sure the minister will agree, and I agree with him, hon. Speaker. You know, they seem reluctant to go through the detailed reports of the Auditor General and the results of freedom-of-information inquiries. They seem reluctant to deal with this, and I understand the minister's problem. I mean, successive Premiers have made a mess of his ministry. They've done and undone. Now they're reviewing the doing and undoing. I think, in fact, that the Minister of Finance under Bill 7 will have to issue a 200-page report just on what the Premier has done to his ministry.
The fact of the matter — and the minister will know this — is that the Minister of Finance knew and the government knew that there was a backlog of 7,000 permits when they cut his ministry by $48 million in the spring. They knew that the backlog existed when they cut all of the natural resource ministries by $60 million in the spring. Failure coming in and coming out of the EA process; failure in the permitting process.
If there are timelines, what are they? Let's be specific. Let's lay out the timelines so that the people of British Columbia and investors to British Columbia know what the facts are.
Hon. S. Thomson: The reorganization of the Natural Resource Operations Ministry was designed to provide integrated decision-making, more efficient decision-making, more timely decision-making for decisions on the land base. That's what the reorganization has done.
This restructuring has been supported by all of the associations that we've talked to, the stakeholder groups in the industry. It's been supported by employees. They recognize the importance of the direction that we have within this ministry to provide for that integrated approach, to provide for the efficient decision-making. That, combined with the additional resources that we've been able to provide to the ministry through the B.C. jobs plan, will ensure that we address these backlogs and get economic activity moving in all regions of the province.
C. James: Well, I'd like to tell the minister that he didn't even have support from his former colleague. The member for Kootenay East, who was the former Minister of Energy and Mines, stated last year: "…the resource ministries are starved for resources. You can't get your work done in any of these ministries."
It's a sad spectacle to witness the Premier travelling to Asia, saying that we're open for business, when the reality is that this government can't even provide the basics of an efficient permitting process here at home. That's all because of shortsighted Liberal cutbacks.
My question is to the Minister of Natural Resource Operations. Can he tell this House how he explained to potential investors in China that they would be proponent No. 7,001 when it came to necessary permits if they wanted to come to British Columbia?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to be clear, the concerns raised by the member referenced were prior to the additional resources being provided. We've recognized the importance of addressing the backlog. We're providing the resources to be able to do that, and that's what we're committed to do within this ministry — to provide that integrated decision-making, to address the backlogs in many of those permits and permitting areas.
We've also established…. If you want to talk about the investment from the Asia-Pacific as part of our job plan, those are addressed towards major projects. Those are not impacted by the backlog of many of the regular authorizations that we work with. So we're addressing those. We've got a major projects initiative within the ministry and within the government to address that investment from the Asia-Pacific. That's what we'll continue to do. The B.C. jobs plan and our focus on the Asia-Pacific will drive that investment here in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. James: I'd just like to remind the minister of the numbers again. Almost a 7,000-permit backlog, $60 million cut last year, and $24 million over two years is going to fix this problem? Everyone knows that's not going to fix the problem, Minister. You need to put the resources in place.
While the Premier is using photo ops to unveil her jobs plan, the Auditor General is sounding the alarm that the environmental assessment office is not doing its job properly. So what have we seen under the B.C. Liberals? We've seen no certainty for business. We've seen no protection for the environment, huge permit backlogs, no oversight, no penalties. The Auditor General is slamming the B.C. Liberals once again.
My question is to the Minister of Natural Resource Operations. Given this mess, how can British Columbians have any confidence that the Premier's promise of new economic growth will be subject to any kind of thorough environmental process?
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I want to reiterate that we've provided the resources to address the backlog. It's about providing an integrated decision-making on the land base through the new structure of the ministry. It's about providing those additional resources to address the backlog. It's about providing for economic activity throughout the province.
[ Page 8807 ]
I've said very clearly all along that it's also about ensuring that as we go through that process and address the backlog, we're going to ensure that the environmental standards are maintained. That's part of the oversight process, part of the work in addressing the permit backlog. We'll make sure that we move those forward. We'll also make sure that as we do that, the environmental standards are maintained.
PROTECTION AND LEGISLATION
R. Fleming: Yesterday….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, just take your seat for a second.
R. Fleming: Mr. Speaker, yesterday a national drinking water report card was issued, and it showed that over the last five years the Liberals have made no progress on protecting drinking water in British Columbia.
Too many communities across B.C. don't have access to clean water, as the Environment Minister well knows. Spences Bridge, next door to his own constituency, has had a boil-water advisory in effect for five years. Many other rural communities in B.C. face similar warnings year after year.
My question is to the Environment Minister. Why have the Liberals done nothing to improve the quality and safety of B.C.'s drinking water during the last five years?
Hon. T. Lake: First of all, I would suggest that the member get out and see the province and know that the town of Spences Bridge is actually in his colleague's riding, not my riding.
The fact is that abundant quantities of safe drinking water are what British Columbians expect. That is why over the last ten years we've had the Canada–B.C. infrastructure fund and we've had the British Columbia community water improvement program, the Canada–British Columbia municipal rural infrastructure program, Towns for Tomorrow program — over $330 million from the province of British Columbia.
We will continue to invest in infrastructure throughout the province to ensure that safe drinking water is available to each and every British Columbian.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: Here's the Liberal record over a decade in power. This government has not introduced one single drinking water protection plan for any community anywhere in British Columbia, no matter how contaminated the water is.
Here are some quotes from the report yesterday that show how badly British Columbia stacks up against the national record. "All jurisdictions except British Columbia have some mandated form of chemical sampling." Expanded chemical sampling was a specific recommendation made in the wake of the Walkerton inquiry.
Yesterday's report reminds that "there are no completed and legally approved drinking water protection plans in B.C."
The new Water Act was supposed to be ready by late 2010. The minister knows that. Yesterday he says that we may have to wait two more years until 2013. Not good enough.
Again to the minister: why isn't the Liberal government making the security of safe drinking water a top priority for British Columbia?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, it may be the member's view that putting off the water sustainability act is dragging our feet, as I heard the member say on the radio. But actually, if that's how the member wants to characterize the wishes of First Nations communities, then I would think that they would probably feel that's a bit disrespectful.
First Nations communities have asked for more time for input into the water sustainability act. Communities all around British Columbia have said, and engaged with us…. Over 2,250 responses, and they've said: "We would like to take more time. We would like to have draft legislation. We would like more consultation."
If that's what the member opposite calls dragging your feet, well, I don't. I call it listening to British Columbians, and we'll continue to do that.
GRANT’S LAW AND
PROTECTION FOR WORKERS
R. Chouhan: Grant De Patie was killed in 2005 trying to prevent a gas-and-dash robbery when he was working alone at Maple Ridge gas station. After his death his family, supported by the B.C. Federation of Labour and others, successfully convinced the province to adopt Grant's law, requiring drivers to pay before filling up and regulations requiring a protective barrier or more than one worker on the night shift.
Earlier this year WorkSafe B.C. announced that it would suspend, or it would continue to suspend, enforcement of these regulations, pending a review whose results we have yet to see.
Could the minister tell us why it is acceptable for regulations protecting workers at risk to go unenforced?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Thank you to the member opposite for the question.
[ Page 8808 ]
The tragic death of this young man is something that happened a few years ago, and I know that all of us still would extend our deepest sympathy to his family. There is nothing more difficult, I don't think, or few things in life that are more difficult, than a tragedy of this kind.
Certainly, I know that what was important to his family — I believe what was important to his family — was to try to make some sense out of this tragedy. I know they worked with government, with WorkSafe B.C., with the B.C. Federation of Labour on bringing forward Grant's law.
This was the first mandatory gas prepayment law in Canada. Others have followed, but we were the leaders in this one, and it has been tremendously successful. In the past in Vancouver alone gas-and-dash thefts were over 200 a year. I'm happy to say that there was only one incident in 2010. So the legislation has been successful.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Chouhan: I know that the minister is reluctant to answer my questions, and I'll tell you why the government is so reluctant to enforce these regulations. It's so that the B.C. Liberals can further water down safety requirements for workers at risk. That's the reason they are not enforcing these regulations.
Grant's law has provided leadership, as the minister has said, across the country, and the Liberal government should be seeking to protect and strengthen this law. Instead, the B.C. Liberal government is conducting this review in an attempt to water down regulations and once again put late-night retail workers in harm's way.
Can the minister stand up here today and commit to Grant's family and to the other workers and their families that she will defend Grant's law and not cave in to the pressure to take a step backward, with watering down the regulations?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Again, thank you to the member opposite. I want to be clear that Grant's law, the gas-and-dash legislation that was brought forward…. We're absolutely committed to it, and there is no intent to change it.
The member opposite is referring to some consultations that WorkSafe B.C. has concluded — extensive public consultation on the "working alone or in isolation" regulations. These are regulations that enhance safety measures for workers who work alone or in isolation, and some retailers have come forward expressing concerns, particularly in rural British Columbia.
One of the responsibilities that we have is to make sure that British Columbia is a great place for workers and a great place for employees. We need to make sure that safety is taken into consideration, but we do need to listen in the case of these consultations. WorkSafe, I think, has concluded them, and we are waiting to hear the results of the consultations, which are expected shortly.
GOVERNMENT BROCHURE ON
MARKETING BUSINESSES IN CHINA
S. Chandra Herbert: Last week the Minister of Tourism launched his trip to China by promoting and publishing a tourism guide which endorsed the suggestion that we should ban the promotion of gay tourism and casino tourism in China. Hours later, the minister apologized and admitted there was no such ban.
Government publications go through extensive vetting, researching and editing. They reflect the minister's point of view and the beliefs of his government. Can the minister explain why this Liberal government singled out the banning of gay tourism and casino tourism when we deal with China?
Hon. P. Bell: Again, I would like to start out by acknowledging that I did pass on an apology to the member opposite personally and to anyone else who may have been offended by the language in that document. It does not reflect my views nor the views of this government, and it's not something that we condone.
I also did indicate to the member opposite last week that I would ask my deputy to conduct an investigation. I have seen preliminary results from that investigation. I am waiting for my deputy's return from Asia. I'm expecting her to be back on Monday, and at that point I'll be further disclosing what we found.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, the minister's first response was to defend the publication and promotion of this brochure, a brochure that was clearly discriminatory. He then blamed the Conservative government in Ottawa; then he blamed the Chinese government. He defended it, and it blew up in his face.
The minister has now had over a week to figure out how his Liberal government got it so very wrong. If the minister wants to right this wrong, he will stand here in this House today and share the preliminary information he has about how his government got it so very wrong.
Hon. P. Bell: I don't want to make light of the situation, because it is a very serious one. We've taken it very seriously. I returned from Asia yesterday afternoon. I had a detailed briefing this morning personally, and my deputy is still in Asia and will remain there until the weekend. I don't think it's appropriate that I disclose any further information on this file until my deputy returns, at which point in time I'll be better able to brief the member opposite and make the House aware of the situation.
[ Page 8809 ]
AUDITOR GENERAL ACCESS TO
INFORMATION IN B.C. RAIL COURT CASE
J. Horgan: Yesterday the Attorney General stood in this place and said that her government was "cooperating" with the Auditor General, despite the fact that the Auditor General had twice to go to court to have documents released so he can conduct an audit into the $6 million giveaway to the legal team for convicted B.C. insiders Dave Basi and Bobby Virk.
Now, the minister will know that under the Auditor General Act, section 9, it says: "The auditor…must keep in confidence all information obtained in the exercise of a power or in the performance of" his duties.
In light of that, why is it that the government doesn't trust the Auditor General?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm going to reiterate the same answer that I gave the member opposite yesterday. We are in no way blocking the opportunity for the Auditor General to receive important information. In fact, we have waived privilege when it comes to cabinet documents. We are doing what is required as the Attorney General to make sure that when it comes to third-party protection of information, we are complying with that request through the courts.
But let's be perfectly clear. We are supporting the Auditor General, we have released all documents that we are permitted to release, and we will continue to cooperate with the Auditor General.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: I don't know how difficult this is. Most British Columbians assume that cooperating means: "How can I help you? What can I do to accelerate your process?" But in the B.C. Liberal world what that means is that we need to protect someone's interests, and it always is a B.C. Liberal interest, not the public interest.
I know we have a batch of questions from the Premier to the government about the $6 million payoff, but let's start with just the question of the auditor. The Premier stated, with respect to the municipal auditor: "Nobody in government really likes having an Auditor General because they often point to the things you're not doing so well or that you could do better, and that creates a tension that exists in government that doesn't protect the taxpayers' interests."
Again, to the Attorney General: how about some genuine cooperation? How about trusting the Auditor General and getting to the bottom of this? The public, the people of B.C., want to know why $6 million is going to the legal team for two convicted B.C. Liberal insiders.
Hon. S. Bond: Either the member opposite is uninformed or is knowingly misleading this House. Let's have a look at page 2. Let's be clear.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. S. Bond: Actually, in the document filed….
Mr. Speaker: Attorney, just take your seat for a second.
Hon. S. Bond: In the document that was filed, the member opposite might want to turn to page 2. In page 2, under the part that says "Factual basis," let's read item (c): "The provincial government has repeatedly advised...." This is in the courts.
Mr. Speaker: Attorney, take your seat again. Attorney, take your seat.
Hon. S. Bond: Perhaps under section 2, item (c). It states, in the factual basis, that "the government has repeatedly advised the Auditor General that it is willing to provide him and his office with access to all documents potentially subject to third-party, solicitor-client privilege as soon as the issues in that regard are resolved" — has repeatedly advised we are willing to provide those documents once the issue is resolved.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
[End of question period.]
Hon. S. Bond: I have the honour to present the 2010-11 annual report of the British Columbia Utilities Commission.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: The orders of the day this afternoon…. We will continue with committee stage of Bill 13, intituled the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act. Should we complete that, we'll be moving to second reading on two other bills this afternoon, 19 and 17.
[ Page 8810 ]
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 13 — Metal Dealers and
The House in Committee of the Whole on Bill 13; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:34 p.m.
Section 23 approved.
On section 24.
K. Corrigan: Section 24 of the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act, which we're continuing on with today in committee stage, deals with injunctions and the ability for there to be an application to the Supreme Court for an injunction.
I have a question about the operation of subsection 24(3), which provides that "With respect to considering an interim injunction under subsection (1), (a) the court must give greater weight, importance and the balance of convenience to the enforcement of this Act than to the continued operation of the person or business entity."
I was interested in this change, essentially moving the burden of proof, and I'm wondering if the minister can let me know whether there are precedents for this type of provision and whether it's a usual type of provision to tell the court, direct the court, what they must give weight to.
Hon. S. Bond: I do want to once again welcome staff from the Solicitor General Ministry to the House today — Clayton Pecknold, Kjerstine Holmes and Kathy Kirby — who began our work yesterday in the afternoon on this bill.
There is precedent. It is actually replicated, as much of the bill is, based on the Security Services Act.
K. Corrigan: We heard yesterday that many of the provisions of the act are based on that act. Nevertheless, I'm wondering…. Maybe I can get an explanation on this. This does not simply place the burden of proof on the act as opposed to "the continued operation of the person or business entity." It somehow seems to…. It says that it has to be given greater weight.
I do not understand exactly how that operates, because what a court does is balance one side versus the other. How do you, in a concrete way, give greater weight to that? Does it mean that the evidence from that side is more important, even if it isn't more persuasive? I wonder if I could get an explanation of that.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, we are, in essence, giving guidance to the courts in terms of the importance of this act, and they make balanced decisions about that. They balance those decisions all of the time. In essence, in considering the information that's before the courts, we are putting the focus in a particular area. It is not without precedent. As I said, it is also covered and replicated in the Security Services Act.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'm wondering: in framing this act, did the minister, with the assistance of staff, take a look at whether or not injunctions had been applied for and granted or not granted under this similar provision in the previous act? Has there been any court experience, any precedent, and did that in any way affect the decision to include this?
Hon. S. Bond: No. Well, the Security Services Act has not…. There has not been a situation where that has been utilized, and in fact, this is another one of the tools that we are looking to include and clearly articulate to push compliance. As I said on numerous occasions yesterday afternoon during the very lengthy discussion we had, the goal of this bill is to bring compliance to the industry. It has been welcomed by many legitimate metal dealers and recyclers. Again, this is a way to create an incentive for people to comply.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'm interested that it hasn't come up in court yet, that there haven't been precedents. My understanding of the law is that when a case is taken to a judge or justice, what happens is that there can certainly be statutory requirements that the burden of proof go one way or the other or with the level of the burden of proof — beyond a reasonable doubt or on the balance of probabilities — and a reverse onus.
But I haven't heard of a judge, when they're making a decision about whether they're going to have an injunction or not, not to simply balance the evidence and the information in making the decision but be directed actually to say that you will give more weight, importance and the balance of convenience to the enforcement of the act rather than to the continued operation of the person or business entity. I haven't seen anything like that before, and I'm wondering if the ministry, in framing the act, had any concern about whether or not there could be a challenge to this section.
Hon. S. Bond: Obviously, we always craft legislation with the eye that there not be the potential for challenge. That's why we work very carefully with the appropriate constitutional lawyers and others who advise us.
This is not a new section. It is a section that is also in place in the Security Services Act. In fact, the other two points that are critical are that this is an interim injunction
[ Page 8811 ]
and, secondly, that this is after a series of examples of non-compliance. This is basically to bring focus to the fact that this is not a first occasion, that there is non-compliance. It is for an interim injunction, and it is not a new section. It is included in another similar act.
K. Corrigan: I'm certainly not disagreeing with the intent of the section, and I recognize that this would be as a result of multiple infractions or misbehaviour. But that's not really what my question was about. It was more about evidentiary rules and how they're applied — and just wanting to ensure that if we're supporting this section, that it is fully supportable and would not be subject to a challenge because the court is being directed to do something which would be in their purview, as opposed to the ability of government to provide direction. But unless the minister has something else to say on that, I won't ask any more questions on that.
Hon. S. Bond: No, we simply want to present the bill. We have worked to assume that there will not be a challenge. In fact, as we've said, in practice we certainly have not seen that occur with the Security Services Act.
Section 24 approved.
On section 25.
K. Corrigan: Section 25 deals with offences under this act as opposed to what we spoke about earlier and what is earlier in the act, which are administrative penalties. My understanding is that if somebody is found to have committed an offence, as opposed to going through the administrative penalties process, the penalties themselves are more severe and, in addition, the fallout, I guess in some ways, is more severe.
The section provides that anybody "who contravenes any of the following commits an offence: (a) sections 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 or 8." Section 2 is the one that said you can't sell metal without identifying. Section 3 is that you cannot buy metal without getting all the identification that is required under the act. Section 6 talks about providing information to the police. Section 7 talks about keeping the transaction info, and section 8 requires the registration.
What is missing here is section 5 of the offence act. I don't have it with me right now, but I believe.… No, section 5 is there. Never mind. I'm getting ahead of myself.
Okay, my question was: why not section 4? Why is section 4 not included under the list of provisions that mean somebody would have committed an offence if they contravened the section?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm sorry. We need to ask for clarification as to which section 4 of which act. We were with the member opposite to a certain point, and then we have no idea which act or which section. So if she could clarify.
K. Corrigan: I apologize. That is entirely my fault because I changed my train of thought in the middle. I'd gotten ahead of myself.
Section 25(1)(a) says that "a person who contravenes any of the following commits an offence…" The sections that are referenced — that somebody could commit an offence by contravening these sections — were 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. So somebody could commit an offence by contravening.
But section 4 of the act deals with stolen property. That's the one that says: "If a metal dealer or recycler or any of its employees has reasonable grounds to believe that regulated metal in the possession of the metal dealer or recycler is stolen property, the metal dealer or recycler or the employee, as applicable, must immediately inform the local police authority of the fact."
This is the one that says they have to inform the police if they believe that it's stolen property. I'm wondering why that isn't included in the sections which say that you are committing an offence if you don't follow it.
Hon. S. Bond: We did canvass this extensively yesterday in section 4, but for the member opposite, there is no offence associated with the requirement as it was determined that doing so would characterize the section as having an intent to create criminal law.
K. Corrigan: We did talk about it, but not in the context of creating an offence. So is the minister now saying that if section 4 had been included, the provincial government would have taken a step, perhaps, over the line, entering into federal jurisdiction and entering the area of criminal law, which they can't do?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, these would be…. There are offences in the Criminal Code. In fact, in looking at our discussion yesterday and looking back, the question that the member opposite asked was how this would fit into the Criminal Code of Canada, when we were discussing section 4. In fact, we have canvassed it, and yes, that is the answer.
K. Corrigan: Yeah, I appreciate that we did discuss it and about the fact that there was a fitting-together and there's align with the Criminal Code. But I did not understand at that point, because we weren't at section 25 yet, that that would mean that the government could not include, as a provincial offence, section 4. I appreciate that clarification. Unless the minister wants to respond further, I'll go on to the next thing.
I'm wondering if the minister can tell me how the decisions were made about what could be an offence
[ Page 8812 ]
and what could be an administrative penalty. Are there things in here…? I'd have to go back and go through it all, but there are provisions in here that simply are subject to administrative penalties and some which are subject to being called offences. I'm wondering how the decisions were made.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, the differentiation is based on — well, partly on — the seriousness. But in terms of administrative sanctions, they are more directly related to the recordkeeping regime, the compliance in regard to collecting of information — those kinds of things.
In the case where we're looking at committing an offence, obviously there's the opportunity for Crown or, potentially, law enforcement to be involved. So the administrative sanctions are related to the recordkeeping regime. Less serious, certainly, but also we would see that potentially, police or Crown could be involved with those things that are considered an offence.
K. Corrigan: But the sections that have been cited as being ones which, if contravened, could be committing an offence are precisely the ones that are to do, or much of it is to do, with recordkeeping: providing the identification, keeping the information, transaction information — all of those things.
Can I assume, then, that it primarily has to do with the seriousness of the contraventions that would determine whether or not it would be an offence or whether there would be an administrative penalty applied?
Hon. S. Bond: I think that's a fair interpretation. I think there is also…. We recognize there is overlap.
Obviously, the police or Crown are going to be interested in public safety, particularly the more serious items that would be considered an offence. But yes, there would be overlap, and it probably is a degree, as the member opposite points out.
K. Corrigan: You will have to forgive my lack of complete knowledge of how things work under the Offence Act. So if somebody is going to be charged with committing an offence as opposed to an administrative penalty, what would the process be? Would it not be the inspection officers that could actually lay that charge, or does it have to be the police? I'm trying to figure out what the relationship is there.
Hon. S. Bond: Okay. We had a very interesting discussion about the process, so it was obviously a good question — timely for both the member and I.
In fact, the inspectors will focus particularly on the regulatory regime, so they would not be responsible for the offence part of the process. An inspector would be able to go in and take a look. There is routine oversight. If there is something that is not done appropriately, it could result in a fine — a ticket of some sort.
If that were to increase or if there were a significant pattern or if the seriousness of the behaviour continued, the registrar would be able to then look at that. The registrar could then look at multiple times that there has been non-compliance. The registrar can also, as the member might recall, issue the larger fee, which is the $5,000 to the $50,000. But after that, if there were to be….
I think we move into the next sections, which talk about the more serious offences. At that point, as it escalates, the police or the Crown may be involved. But the inspector does the routine regulatory reviews, deals with the issuing of, potentially, a one-time offence penalty. But as it escalates, it would move its way up from the inspector to the registrar and, ultimately, with the serious offences, police or Crown.
K. Corrigan: Well, I appreciate that. That's helpful to me as well.
Just to be clear, the minister said that there could be a one-time offence. Was the minister talking about offence, in the term of "offence," to say…? No. Okay. That's fine. I understand. I just wanted to make it clear.
So if somebody was going to be charged with an offence under this act, then it would necessarily be done via the police, and the registrar would probably make that recommendation. Then it would be the police that would be proceeding and making recommendations to Crown counsel and going from there. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: That is correct, and I should correct the record. I shouldn't have used the word "offence." I should have used "violation" or "infraction."
Hon. S. Bond: Okay, good. I'm glad. The member said she wasn't offended, and I'm happy about that. I was trying to find the correct word. So yes, the description that the member gave is accurate.
K. Corrigan: Maybe I should reword that. I didn't take offence. That's what I meant.
If somebody is charged with an offence, or if the proceedings go by way of the administrative penalties, in either of those cases, the person who had been charged — would their name be entered into the PRIME-BC database?
Hon. S. Bond: If charged or investigated, yes.
K. Corrigan: Okay. I just want to be clear — charged and investigated with an offence. How about if charged or investigated under the administrative procedures of the act?
[ Page 8813 ]
Hon. S. Bond: No, because at that point it would not involve Crown or police.
K. Corrigan: Okay, so charged or investigated. So if somebody was investigated by the police but charges were not laid, that person's name would go into the PRIME-BC database?
Hon. S. Bond: Actually, that question is beyond the scope of this act. It does talk about offences, but it doesn't assume what the police will or will not do. In practice, if the police are investigating or charging, obviously it does go into their database. But that is beyond the scope of this bill.
K. Corrigan: I do appreciate that. I'm just trying to get a sense of what the full impact of the act could be. So that was just, I assume, a clarification, then? Information, if it doesn't go to the police, doesn't end up on PRIME-BC?
Hon. S. Bond: The assistant deputy minister of police services assures me that if an investigation starts and the police are involved, then it goes into PRIME. But other information, if it's related to administrative or other infractions, does not. But if the police are involved, they would make the decision to use their database.
K. Corrigan: Is it possible…? Could the minister see, in the operation of this act, that there could be a weighing of which way to go — that perhaps investigation would start in a dual way, or the registrar would be looking at how to proceed, and at some point a judgment call would be made that it should be…?
I mean, I understand what the minister has said about increasing severity. But is it possible that a decision could be made that it should be investigated by the police — the information, therefore, would go into PRIME — but then at some point it's decided that proceedings will go by way of the administrative process. Is that something that is contemplated?
Hon. S. Bond: The best way to capture this is that it is not likely to be routine that that would occur. There could be the circumstance where the police do investigate and decide that there would not be charges pursued. That, though, would not necessarily trigger the administrative penalty process. They're separate, so it doesn't mean the registrar would automatically go back and take a look at that.
It's important that I put this on the record. Certainly, in terms of the management of PRIME, it is managed under the freedom of information and protection of privacy. There are very significant rules related to the capturing of that data. So we would not expect it to be routine at all that there would be a large number of circumstances where the police would investigate, have the information in PRIME, and then nothing would be pursued. We don't expect that to be routine at all.
K. Corrigan: Well, thank you for those answers. I have a question about this section 25(5), which provides: "If a business entity commits an offence under this section, an employee, officer, director or agent of the business entity who authorized, permitted or acquiesced in the commission of the offence also commits an offence."
So I am wondering if the business entity, as an entity itself, can be charged with an offence and found guilty of the offence and then have this larger penalty attached to it. I just want clarification on that. I assume that's the case, but….
Hon. S. Bond: Both the business or the individual could be charged.
K. Corrigan: I was pretty clear on that. I just wanted to make sure I had it right.
Subsection (7) says: "Section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply for the purposes of this Act." This is where I got ahead of myself earlier, and I apologize for confusing all of us, including myself.
Section 5 of the Offence Act says: "A person who contravenes an enactment by doing an act that it forbids, or omitting to do an act that it requires to be done, commits an offence against the enactment."
I'm wondering: was this section specifically excluded because it didn't want all sections…? It wanted to determine which sections of this act constituted an offence. Is that why this section was not included?
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
Section 25 approved.
On section 26.
K. Corrigan: Section 26 is the one that provides what the penalties are for committing an offence under this act. It provides that "An individual who commits an offence…is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $10 000 or imprisonment for not longer than 6 months, or both." And then: "(2) A business entity that commits an offence under section 25 is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $100 000."
Again, my understanding is that it would be the same as when we were speaking yesterday about the Administration Act, in that the total for any given set of circumstances could add up to more than $100,000. Is that correct? There could be individual and business entity charges.
[ Page 8814 ]
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, that's correct.
K. Corrigan: Thank you, Minister, for that answer. Now, it provided earlier in the act that when there was a fine under the administrative penalties, the registrar would "pay all amounts derived from administrative penalties into the consolidated revenue fund."
My question here is: because there is no similar provision in this section, what happens to fines that are levied when there has been an offence committed?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, it would be the consolidated revenue fund, and it would be as other offence penalties. It would be the same process.
K. Corrigan: So the reason that there was no specific provision about what happens with these fines as opposed to the administrative penalties is that this is the normal course of events. When there is an offence, there are fines for an offence as opposed to the administrative penalties, where you had to provide for that in the act. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
Section 26 approved.
On section 27.
K. Corrigan: Section 27, this part, deals with the registrar of metal dealers and recyclers. "The minister must appoint, under the Public Service Act, an individual as the Registrar of Metal Dealers and Recyclers." I just want to confirm — I believe it was said before — the expectation is that the registrar would be the same registrar as under the Security Services Act? Have I got that right?
Hon. S. Bond: It is the minister that appoints. The staff will be making a recommendation to me, and I'm assured that the recommendation I receive will be the current registrar that we have within the framework of the ministry.
Section 27 approved.
On section 28.
K. Corrigan: Section 28 deals with reconsiderations. Someone can ask the registrar to reconsider a decision which under section 10…. I think that was the one that imposed terms and conditions for registration. Section 12(1) was the refusal to grant a registration. In 19, a notice that one must pay an administrative penalty. "Within 30 days after receiving notice of or reasons for the decision…."
Actually, you know what? I've read through it, and it's fine. I have no questions on that particular section.
Sections 28 and 29 approved.
On section 30.
K. Corrigan: Section 30 says: "This Act does not apply to a person who purchases or sells a used motor vehicle that has been, or will be, crushed for the purposes of recycling it." I'm wondering, when we have the act that is dealing with, essentially, trying to remedy theft of metal, why it is that there was a decision made that those that are in the business of crushing automobiles and recycling them — why this was not included in the act.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, the decision was made to exempt this group because they actually fall outside the scope of the legislation as we believe, since it focuses on protecting critical infrastructure. So from our perspective, we needed also to be conscious of how broad the legislation is when it captures the auto wreckers.
I should point out to the member opposite, though — because this was certainly an item for discussion as we crafted the bill — that one of the things that's important to remember is that if the auto wrecker or people who crush vehicles were to begin to purchase other metals that are listed in the regulated metal list or metal that is relevant to critical infrastructure, they would be. At least, that part of their business would certainly be drawn under this bill.
K. Corrigan: So was this decision made because there were other regulatory schemes or a framework that was felt would cover, or is it felt there was no need to cover automobiles? Because it seems to me that this would be, potentially, an area where you could have abuse as well.
Hon. S. Bond: Again, I think, really, the intent is that the primary goal of the bill is to protect public safety in light of the growing problem that we've experienced with metal theft from critical infrastructure. So the bill is focused on high-value metal, and I think that's also an important consideration for the Privacy Commissioner. I am sure there is an important connection to not casting the net too broadly.
We also did look at best practice, as we discussed yesterday, in regard to municipal bylaws, which also exclude vehicle crushers from the application of scrap metal transaction monitoring. Again, we are attempting to monitor and focus on the transaction to shut down the market in high-value metals which relate most specifically to public safety.
So there was, I think, a fairly good discussion about this section, and we made the decision that, in essence,
[ Page 8815 ]
we wanted to focus on the public safety aspect and on those high-value metals.
Section 30 approved.
On section 31.
K. Corrigan: Section 31 is a rather lengthy section — about a page and a half long, a page and a third long — that deals with regulations allowing the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to make regulation. As we all know, the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council is cabinet….
K. Corrigan: My parents are from Alberta. I say "lieutenant." It's my background. I can't say it. I'll try. Thank you for the lesson from the members opposite.
This provision is, as I was saying, a very lengthy provision that allows cabinet to make regulations with regard to this act. The length of this section just, I think, highlights the concern that I have expressed before. There are so many parts of this act that are not going to be passed, debated, discussed in this chamber because so much of it is going to be done by regulation which, again, is done by cabinet behind closed doors. There is no debate related to it.
So I just want to say that I find it disappointing because so much of it has to do with the operational guts of how this act is going to operate — what the terms and conditions are going to be, what the forms and applications for registration are going to be, time lines, who the various people are who will be included in business entities, what a local authority is, definitions of what metal is.
I recognize that the minister has over and over said that the reason for that is to provide flexibility, but I think there are other ways that some flexibility could have been provided while at the same time allowing for this chamber to have a chance to debate what really is the essence of the act. So much of it is in the details of what is going to be regulated and how it's going to be done.
That's just a final comment on this very lengthy section. I don't actually have any questions on the individual workings of each of the sections or subsections in this particular section.
Sections 31 to 33 inclusive approved.
On the title.
K. Corrigan: I just have a question on the title. I went to the announcement of this act that was in the rotunda a couple of weeks ago, and there was a big sign there that I thought said "the theft of metal act." Am I mistaken or not? Was this originally going to be called the theft of metal act, or was it just a sign that said "theft of metal"?
Hon. S. Bond: The title has always been intended to be this title.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:24 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 13 — Metal dealers and
Bill 13, Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Polak: I call second reading of Bill 19, intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 19 — Miscellaneous Statutes
Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011
Hon. S. Bond: Switching hats, Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 19, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011, now be read a second time.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. S. Bond: Bill 19 amends a number of statutes. Amendments to the Agricultural Land Commission Act include a number of changes to ensure the continued ability of the commission to meet its statutory obligations effectively by focusing on preserving farmland while expanding enforcement. My colleague the Minister of Agriculture will address the changes in more detail during debate.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Amendments to the Mines Act provide the power to introduce regulations, exempting specified low-risk activities from the requirement for a mines permit. This change will reduce the regulatory burden on proponents of specified low-risk activities and allow government resources to concentrate on activities of higher risk to the environment, the public, worker health and safety.
[ Page 8816 ]
Consultation will occur with First Nations, with industry and with the public in developing the regulations.
Amendments to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act will add 9.7 hectares of land to the Stawamus Chief Park along the Sea to Sky Highway. These lands are being added to the park as a result of a private land acquisition.
The bill makes two sets of amendments and provides some clarification of regulation-making authority under the Wildlife Act. First, Ministry of Environment conservation officers will have more comprehensive enforcement authority to deal with the mismanagement of attractants, such as garbage and food, in order to prevent human-wildlife conflicts and to increase public safety. Currently, the act only prohibits intentional feeding or attracting of dangerous wildlife. The changes will put the responsibility on everyone to do their part to manage attractants that could be a magnet for dangerous wildlife.
The Wildlife Act will also be amended to create new recreational opportunities for youth and adults and support the guide-outfitting industry. Being a guide-outfitter is often a lifetime career, so the bill extends the term of the guiding territory certificate from a maximum of ten years to a maximum of 25 years, creating greater business certainty. The bill also moves the requirement to submit a guide report, following a hunt, from the act to the regulations and provides an opportunity to extend the deadline for submitting the report.
The amendments also create a new mentorship-style initiation hunting licence for B.C. residents 18 years of age and older who want to explore hunting under the close supervision of an experienced hunter. In addition, youth licences will now be available to youths aged ten to 17, up from the current ages of ten to 13. This creates more inclusivity for teen youth and allows for the possibility of new recreational opportunities for interested youth.
A minor amendment to the Public Service Labour Relations Act is necessary to ensure that references to organizations included in the act are current and accurate. Specifically, this amendment will replace the reference to the public affairs bureau with the organization's new name, government communications and public engagement.
The Special Accounts Appropriation and Control Act is being amended to expand the scope of the environmental remediation sub-account. This sub-account funds remediation of environmental damage and complex investigations of non-compliance. The amendments will permit the fund to be accessed for remediation or complex investigations caused by a violation of statutes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. This will ensure that the ministry is able to fund remediation and investigation costs where they are needed most.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act will facilitate British Columbia's implementation of the Canadian driver licence agreement. Without this change, all current B.C. licence holders would need to produce proof of citizenship upon licence renewal. The amendments will enable the government to exempt existing driver's licence holders from the requirement to prove their Canadian citizenship or legal entitlement to be in Canada.
The Public Sector Employers Act is "amended by repealing the definition of 'minister'" in two sections. The amendments will ensure that the interpretation of the term "minister" will occur under the Interpretation Act and remove any conflicts between the act and orders-in-council designating ministerial responsibility for different portions of the act.
Finally, the bill includes two validating provisions. First, a provision will retroactively validate and provide ongoing application of the Maa-nulth Forest Compensation Interim Regulation. This will ensure that the regulation which provides for a forestry compensation scheme for lands that became Maa-nulth treaty lands continues until all compensation negotiations relating to extinguishment have been concluded.
Also, following the amendments to the Public Sector Employers Act I described earlier, any action or decision taken by the Public Sector Employers Council is validated and deemed to be not affected on the basis that the Minister of Finance did not act as chair of the council for any period of time after June 23, 2008.
L. Krog: Always a delight to rise in the House and speak to a miscellaneous statutes amendment act, and I'm sure the Attorney General is just delighted to be the lead on another bill in this chamber. But I will be brief today. I know that the Attorney General will love to hear that. A number of my colleagues will have a great deal more to say about the misc bill because it contains so many various changes and applies to so many various ministries and, therefore, critic roles as well.
I'd be remiss if I didn't note the particular changes to the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The big change there is the change from the public affairs bureau to the government communications and public engagement. My, oh my.
I see that the former Attorney General is so excited he can't resist pounding the desk at this change. I suppose all the jokes about the politburo will now be out of fashion in Victoria.
The government communications and public engagement. Well, well. Ten years into their reign as government, and they want to finally engage the public. I'm so delighted at this forward-looking step that is so going to engage British Columbians. The change of a name, I'm sure, will just bring thousands of British Columbians forth who
[ Page 8817 ]
would otherwise never have thought of consulting the public affairs bureau, when we now have the government communications and public engagement organization.
I'm not sure whether we'll see the public affairs bureau staff, as it formerly was, out in the streets now handing out surveys or perhaps approaching myriads of citizens on the street, asking their opinion of the B.C. Liberal government and all they've achieved in the last decade. It conjures up images of something that's so exciting I can barely contain myself in addressing the bill today.
I'm delighted. Of course, it required a full legislative change — I mean, not simply an order-in-council. We actually have to debate this in this chamber, because this is certainly earthmoving and earthshattering — almost as exciting as the Minister of Finance's bill before the House, which contains all of four sections, as I recall.
B. Ralston: There's going to be a report.
L. Krog: Oh, and there will be a report, the Finance critic assures me, as well. It's just too exciting for words.
You know, hon. Speaker, I'm not sure what that change represents as far as this government is concerned. If this is the best you can cast up as a name change…. I'm reminded of Shakespeare, of course — a rose is still a rose by any other name — but there are probably less kind similes that might describe the name change with reference to substance versus form.
I think we'll all recall the remarks of the first female Prime Minister of Canada — who I remember commenting during a leadership race, I believe, to lead the Social Credit Party of British Columbia — that form without substance was a dangerous thing.
I'm not sure whether the substance of the public affairs bureau as it still exists is going to change or whether, with government communications and public engagement, in fact we will now see this bright new interest in communicating with British Columbians and listening as opposed to actually telling them what a great job the government is doing, regardless of how grim the story may be.
That is, as I say, so interesting that I very much look forward to the opportunity, I'm sure, that many members will wish to take to ask the Minister of Finance exactly what the purpose of this particular change is and why it's so important that we hear it in this House.
A number of other changes. The Agricultural Land Commission Act. Our critic will have a great deal more to say about that, but I don't think that is going to solve the problems of agriculture in British Columbia any more than changing the name of the public affairs bureau to the government communications and public engagement organization is going to do.
There are some nice, positive, simple steps that I'm sure won't create many issues for the opposition. But when I see the changes to the Wildlife Act giving conservation officers more enforcement powers to prevent wildlife conflicts and increase public safety…. It's a very good thing, but I guess the real question is: will there be any money to hire people to do more?
The Minister of Environment staff now is barely a shadow of its former self. It's much like the characters in a Victorian novel: living in reduced circumstances, precious little by way of resources, responsible for territories that in many parts of the world constitute nations of millions of people. In fact, the responsibility expected of those who work in the Ministry of Environment — and the Ministry of Forests, for that matter, as well — is simply extraordinary.
The same thing, of course, applies to agriculture. We're shifting around names. We're giving more enforcement powers, but at the end of the day, are we really, really intent on doing anything positive whatsoever with these changes? Are we in fact going to provide the resources to allow these dedicated public servants to do their jobs, to enforce the law, to protect the environment — to protect, if you will, the great legacy that has been left to us by previous generations of British Columbians?
That, I suspect, is not a question that is going to meet with a positive response. I doubt very much that the Minister of Environment is going to stand up and tell us that there will be significant numbers of new hires in his ministry to enable these changes to be, in fact, effective.
I see there is a nice concession to the recognition of the importance of youth participating in hunting and increasing that age limit and providing new opportunities. That's a positive step.
But at the end of the day, like much of what we've seen from this government in the last few years, I'm not convinced and not satisfied that we're really going to see any significant change, that we're going to really see improvement.
To conclude where I started, I think the most obvious conclusion one has to draw from something as inconsequential as changing the name of the public affairs bureau is that this is a great deal more about form than it is about any substance whatsoever — another disappointment from this government and, I'm sure, many more to come between now and May 13.
L. Popham: Well, I didn't think this day was going to come. I've been waiting for one full year for the report from the Agricultural Land Commission chair to be released, and as promised, it came with legislation that we're going to be debating in here at the end of a session.
The report that the commissioner released was about 100 pages long — very, very in-depth, very thorough — and my personal feeling is that it should have been released a year ago to the public and to the stakeholders. It reflected the consultation that took place with over 300 people and 60 stakeholder groups. Basically, that group
[ Page 8818 ]
of people, those stakeholders, including myself, were left in the lurch for one full year, wondering when the minister was going to release this report.
It went through three different ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture. It waited while the budget was decreased, and as we waited, more land was excluded from the agricultural land reserve, more construction fill was dumped on farmland, farms were ruined, farmland was turned into wasteland. One full year.
The chair of the Agricultural Land Commission put a lot of effort into this, and I'd like to say on record that I think it's very insulting that that report was held back for over a year. There are a lot of people in this province who believe very, very strongly in agriculture. It's the backbone of our province, and to hold a report with such critical information, when we all could have been working together, for over a year is unacceptable.
That being said, I am relieved that the report is released. The legislation that comes with it…. I've been reading the messaging coming from the other side of the House, and it's hardly a day to celebrate. There's been a baby step made.
We see $600,000 being committed right now to the Agricultural Land Commission, when the minister and I both know that just to clear the backlog of ten years of deterioration with the Agricultural Land Commission support would take $2 million. This government believes agriculture is of such little importance that they only committed $600,000, so they're not actually interested in fixing the problem, because we know that would cost $2 million.
Ten years of eating away at the agricultural land reserve and the commission, and we get $600,000 — $600,000 committed, maybe next year. We haven't seen a commitment for the $1 million for the next budget year. We haven't seen that commitment, but I know there's $600,000 committed.
Just to address the deficit with the mapping infrastructure, the GIS system and getting those ducks in a row will probably take the whole $600,000. That's an expensive process. It could have been dealt with over the years, but instead, now we are going to rush into it.
I know that there's some conversation around cost-sharing. When I went out with the Land Commission enforcement agents to take a look for myself at the fill dumping in the Lower Mainland…. You know, I wondered if the minister — the current minister, the minister before him or the minister before him over the last two years — had actually gone out with the enforcement officers and gone for a ride around the Lower Mainland where the enforcement officers could point out the critical parts where fill dumping is out of control.
I mentioned in this House that I thought fill dumping on farmland was out of control in this province, and on the local radio station here in Victoria, on CFAX, the minister actually said he's never heard that it's out of control. So that makes me curious….
L. Popham: On the ALR? Is that right? The minister is now trying to converse with me in the House. He's saying that the ALC doesn't believe that fill dumping is out of control. I know that the ALC is watching this debate right now. So I'm glad he got that on record in the House that he doesn't believe fill dumping on the ALR is out of control, because it's absolutely out of control — absolutely.
If the minister wanted to solve that problem in this House with his legislation, he would have called for a moratorium on fill dumping until we realize how much damage has been done over the last ten years.
In fact, the minister would have taken a look at all of the applications for fill dumping that were approved. He would have taken a look at the farmland that was involved, and he would have taken a look to see if these farms who had approved dumping on them and unapproved dumping on them were actually more viable ten years later. That's what should be happening. That's what the minister should have been fighting for, because right now we are seeing valuable, valuable farmland be ruined by construction fill because there's no provincial fill dumping plan in this province.
So $600,000 committed now. We've got some rushed legislation. The minister continued to say that he didn't want to release the report without legislation. Well, I don't understand what would have been the problem, except for the fact that we now can't discuss the report for the last year. We don't have 12 months to discuss the recommendations that the chair put forward. We now have to just swallow what the minister has decided is good enough for the Agricultural Land Commission.
One of the recommendations that is absolutely shocking to me is that the minister decided we didn't need to go from a regional commission panel system with the ALC. We didn't need to change that, even though 50 percent of stakeholders said they wanted to go back down to one single panel, provincial panel, with the Agricultural Land Commission.
That was effective back when the New Democrats were running the show, and as soon as the Liberal government came in, they disbanded that provincial ALC panel and decided that six regional panels of three commissioners were going to be more effective.
The proof is in the pudding. We all know…. Anyone who's in agriculture, has been involved in agriculture as an advocate, will know that that doesn't work. Having panels around the province doesn't work. It's not my opinion. I mean, I have that opinion as well, but it's not just my opinion. Fifty percent — that would be 150
[ Page 8819 ]
people out of 300 — believed that we needed to go back to a….
L. Popham: I don't know. The minister is wondering which…. It's like he didn't read the report. Which half? So 50 percent. I could go through, and I'll just remind the minister which stakeholders weighed in on this. We've got the B.C. Agriculture Council, the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, the B.C. Food Processors Association. I don't know if any of these are starting to ring a bell, but these would have been the people that would have said: "No, we don't believe that regional panels are actually effective. In fact, they're damaging the ALR."
The chair of the agricultural commission himself laid it out pretty strongly in his recommendations. I'll just read to you, in case you didn't catch it, what the chair said. Let's see here.
L. Popham: The minister is making comments, but I can't actually hear what he's saying.
Of the groups that discussed the governance issue with the ALC, "50 percent supported the return to a single provincial panel, 23 percent supported the existing regional panels, 7 percent supported a combination of the two options, and 20 percent supported a review of the panel structure." That to me sounds like there might be a problem with the regional panel system.
I can tell you what it might be, because the chair laid it right out. He said: "Pros and cons of a regional three-member panel system." He lists — let's see — 12 cons and two pros.
So the pros: "Applicants support decision-making closer to home. Commissioners are knowledgable about their regional and local issues." I understand that, because if you are living in the same area where you're making decisions on exclusions in the ALR, you would be fairly knowledgable about that area.
But the cons that were involved, which I think are extremely interesting…. If this government claims it wants more accountability and transparency, they should have been reading what the cons were of having these panels.
"Decision-making too close to local governments and people affected by decisions" — so making decisions around things that you might be too close to.
"Lack of provincial focus of the ALR program.
"Do not provide the breadth of experience, knowledge or opinion to examine the host of issues that need to be examined and debated.
"Increased potential for commissioners to be placed in situations of an apprehension of bias of potential conflict of interest.
"Recruitment is often difficult, and some important agricultural areas are not represented.
"Nineteen members of the commission is unwieldy.
"Function more as a permitting agency rather than an administrative tribunal.
"Inconsistent approach to considering applications and administering ALC and provincial policy.
"Personal biases can prevail with such a small decision-making body.
"Chair lacks the statutory authority to intervene on a matter before a panel."
I know that's changed now. The chair does have authority, but he still has to deal with all of these six panels.
"Considerable staff resources are needed to administer panels rather than more thorough, in-depth review of the applications and issues."
And they are "costly to operate."
Given that the Agricultural Land Commission is underfunded…. It's the Auditor General who stated that it was so underfunded it couldn't fulfil its mandate. You would think that one of the points that the chair makes about it being too costly to operate this way would have made an impression on the minister, because we don't have enough money to fulfil the job now. So if there's a way to make cost savings that is even apparently more effective at doing the job, you would do that.
There is a recommendation of a seven-member commission. Then he goes through the pros and cons with that, and he also goes to the pros and cons of a single ten-member commission, which is, in fact, probably where he would like to see us going. We've got 14 pros regarding a ten-member board. So at this point, I'm not quite sure how the minister would have decided to leave things as they were. It doesn't make sense. I think that the minister and I both know that it doesn't make sense.
I am still trying to figure that out. I don't know if the minister is going to be discussing that with me or during third reading. But something is a little bit fishy to me when over 50 percent of people who registered their opinions about the Agricultural Land Commission and its governance structure said that the regional panel system doesn't work. It seems to me that that's a message.
And then the chair, the very well-respected chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, Richard Bullock, as well recommended that we go down to a seven- or a ten- single-member commission.
L. Popham: The minister just yelled across the room to me that the chair actually supports the regional system. I'm not sure how that could be, unless the minister waited so long to release this report that this report is now outdated. But I don't think so. He wants me to give the chair a call and discuss it with him. Anyway, I'm….
L. Popham: The government is getting upset on the other side. They're getting a little bit upset because I'm pointing out some glaring, glaring inconsistencies with
[ Page 8820 ]
the way that the minister is producing legislation around a report that we have been waiting for 12 months to receive from the well-respected chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.
Hon. D. McRae: He'll talk to you, if you want to give him a call.
L. Popham: The minister wants me to call the chair. I don't know if I'm supposed to do this right now.
Or maybe he can give you a call.
Maybe the chair can give the minister a call and explain why a regional system doesn't work. Maybe he could do that.
The minister has also stated that the changes made…. I believe there are some good changes. This is not one of them. The regional panel system is not a good change. In fact, I think that it deteriorates the ALR. But there are some good changes. It's a baby step towards strengthening agriculture in the province. It's certainly not the solution. We haven't solved anything here, but we're getting there.
But we have to remember for 10 years the B.C. Liberal government has cut the budget for Agriculture. The B.C. Liberal government has not supported agriculture in this province. So to believe that $600,000 is the fix….
Hon. D. McRae: It's $1.6 million.
L. Popham: A $600,000 commitment right now. Who knows, when the budget comes along, what excuses there'll be when that $1 million commitment actually has to come into play? But we can see from the messaging around this report that this is supposed to lead us to believe that the agricultural land reserve is stronger than ever. That's what it's supposed to lead us to believe.
But it's funny. The day after this report was released, another report was released, and it was the Report on the Budget 2012 Consultations. This report — in fact, on page 47, in case the minister wants to look it up: "Investing in northern development." There are a couple points here around the agricultural land reserve. So we are now…. According to the minister and what has happened with the ALC, the ALR is stronger than ever.
But you can see on point 16 that there is a recommendation to "remove an appropriate amount of land from the agricultural land reserve so that Fort Nelson can expand its residential land base to accommodate the growth pressures and demands of developing" gas exploration. [Applause.]
We've got a member clapping for that, which is, you know, very appropriate.
So we are now stating…. And this is really where the heart of the whole problem is for the last ten years. This is why we have a problem with the agricultural land reserve and this government — because the highest and best use for agricultural land, in the eyes of the B.C. Liberals, is development. That's how the Liberals value agricultural land — highest and best use, anything but agriculture. Anything but agriculture.
L. Popham: That upsets the government when I say things like that because they know that it's true, and they know that the people in this province….
L. Popham: Oh, I've got some…. They want to talk about the agricultural land reserve, so let's see what we've got here. Between April 1 and March 31, 2002 to 2005, I think that….
Who was in government then? I think that it was the B.C. Liberals. The ALC approved the exclusion of 70 percent of hectares of ALR land that were proposed for exclusion. The regions with the highest rates of ALR exclusions were Vancouver Island at 89.1 percent, the Kootenays at 83.6 percent and the Okanagan at 82.5 percent.
Now, this is where the trickery begins. This is where the Liberal trickery begins. They say that we don't have any…. It stayed consistent. The ALR has been consistent, but consistency to the B.C. Liberals means that they've got their developments going. They've excluded land from the ALR. But hey, wait a minute. They've actually included land. "So hey, don't pick on us. We like the ALR."
Well, that's not right, because the land that's been included is in the north, which has low growing capacity. So that's the trickery of the B.C. Liberals. That's how they trick us. Nobody believes that story anymore. That's why most of this province….
L. Popham: The minister is trying to lap up some affection over there for his big commitment to the Agricultural Land Commission. It's very upsetting for the government. It's very, very upsetting. These guys — I tell ya….
Anyway, this government, in the eyes of so many, including one of the people who was around right from the beginning…. He knew what the agricultural land reserve meant. That's Harold Steves. He knew what it meant because he was there right at the beginning. You know what he's saying about these changes? He's saying they're baby steps. It's a step in the right direction, and I agree. It's still a long way to go. But here it comes.
[ Page 8821 ]
L. Popham: Listening, listening, listening.
Nothing in the measures announced stops or prevents speculators from buying farmland in places like Delta and waiting for the right offer from the port to buy up some more agricultural land for development. Why? Let's review. Highest and best uses — not farming, with the B.C. Liberals, actually.
The changes also give the ALC chair a more prominent role overseeing regional panels that decide on changes to the reserve, and that's good. Decisions of those panels can now be appealed to the chair. But the province did not follow Richard Bullock's recommendations to create a single provincial panel with representatives from each region to decide on ALR changes.
"Steves said a provincial panel would have been less vulnerable to lobbying at the local level." That's right, and that's the whole point. What is the highest and best use for farmland in B.C.? The only reason to keep a regional panel is so that the highest and best use can stay as development in British Columbia. That's what it is.
This is a very, very difficult topic in here, because there are people that really believe in the ALR and people that don't.
That's just a little taste of what I've got to say on second reading of this report, but I will have much more to say when the legislation comes in for third reading.
I'm going to take my seat, and the government on the other side of the House can breathe and try and calm down a little after hearing such devastating news from this side of the House.
N. Macdonald: Well, a debate usually has two sides speaking. It seems that what we get in British Columbia now is one side deciding that all of their discussions are going to be just yelling from the other side, keeping it off the record.
I mean, it's pretty sad when you have a Minister of Agriculture who is supposed to be in here with changes, after a year where they have hidden the report, where they then make changes that he refers to, and none of the references actually made in the House on record. I mean, there's something pretty pathetic about that.
I think if Gordon Campbell is looking at the army that he had all those years and sees the rabble that it's become, the leader of this rabble, I think he'd be pretty disappointed, pretty depressed.
For all that you can say about Mr. Campbell, at least there was some function, some sense that there was order over there.
You don't see that now. The minister should be up speaking.
Deputy Speaker: Members, can I remind you to keep your remarks to the bill that's on the floor, please.
N. Macdonald: Well, I'll speak to Bill 19. It's a Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. It is a type of legislation that makes presumably minor changes to a number of different pieces of legislation. Now, these changes should be largely housekeeping.
Early in my MLA career we had examples of where we were shown that we really had to watch carefully when bills like this are introduced. I'll go back to a time that predates the current Minister of Agriculture, but many of the members were there. It's Bill 33. Now, Bill 33 was, like this, a Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, and buried within Bill 33 was a clause. I think it was clause 56.
Now, I use this as an example of why with these bills you really have to go through section by section and look carefully at what is actually the outcome. Certainly, with this bill there are a number of areas that we're really going to have to dig down and understand the impact. I'll just talk about Bill 33 for a second, which was another miscellaneous statutes act.
That clause 56 removed local decision-making on the private river diversion projects in rural British Columbia. It had a huge impact, because essentially what it did is it removed our say in whether rivers would be diverted, rivers would be exploited, and took us out of the process.
It was a massive issue in my area. People were and continue to be bothered — more than that — deeply offended by that change. The history to it was, as people will remember, the Ashlu river had been basically given away to private interests so that they could do this diversion. The locals didn't want it. They went to the regional district, and the regional district used the powers they then had to stop the project.
This government, as they so often do, decided that democratic rights are something pretty inconvenient for their private interests, so they came in, and hidden amongst the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, they removed the right of local government to have a say on rivers in their area. That was section 56 of Bill 33. I remember when that bill was introduced that there was no mention in the opening speech that something so important had been hidden in there. So when we look at these bills we really have to go through and make sure that we understand completely what is in there and that we get full descriptions in the committee stage about the impact.
What do we have here? The areas that I turned to first in the bill were areas that deal with things of real importance to my area, and that would be found in sections 23 through 36. They basically are changes to the Wildlife Act, but they are changes that pertain to hunting.
People who come from rural British Columbia — I think even many who live in urban areas — will know that hunting and fishing are very important not only as recreational opportunities, not only as things that are important culturally but also are pastimes that provide
[ Page 8822 ]
really good, healthy food very often — certainly for my wife, being raised in Golden, for our children being raised in Golden. We basically have the good fortune to raise our children primarily on wild meat, which is very healthy.
What this legislation seems to be doing, I think, with regards to hunting and guiding, certainly on the surface of it, seems to be very supportable. We are talking about a government that is in the midst of continuous changes to allocation issues. These are all pretty complicated. It's important to get them right.
What we have been supportive of is the stated intention for the B.C. Wildlife Federation to draw more people into hunting and fishing. I'll tell you why that's important. People should be, I think, even if they do not hunt or they do not fish, appreciative of those that do in that they do have a real love for the land and they do tremendous work on protecting the public lands.
I think we all know that the public lands are under pressure. There are always those that want to move in and to get the public lands and privatize them. We saw it in the example I used with our rivers, when this government was giving away our rivers to private interests. The public, including many in rod and gun clubs, were there fighting to make sure that the fish and the animals that depend upon those healthy river systems were being considered. I think they were really effective, along with the other community groups, in making sure that that environmental consideration was there.
I think, as well, anything that allows people to easily move into hunting will get them committed to the land and will make sure that they are there as advocates for wildlife, which is really important. As I said, it's an important source of food, it is an important recreational activity, and it also makes people committed to the land in a way that's really important.
What we know is that most people who would get into hunting — more so, I think, than even fishing — have to learn it when they're young. The changes here, I think, point to an opportunity to get people in hunting when they're young. It extends the period when they would have provisions for new hunters to a broader age limit. There are also provisions in here that allow more experienced hunters to help new hunters move into hunting in a regular way.
So I think that we know that hunters and people that are committed to harvesting off the land base are committed to those public lands, and we know that we have to get them started early. For that reason, I think that most of the provisions that I see here — and we'll go through committee stage and get exact descriptions from the minister in terms of how it's going to work — I would find supportable and people in my area would find supportable.
The other part of it is around guided hunts. I think there's no question that in many parts of rural British Columbia the guide-outfitters provide an important part of our economy. They are people who provide at least seasonal jobs, and it's important to support them. We are moving, basically, from ten years in terms of the guiding territory certificates that they have up to 25 years.
Just so people understand how this system works, these certificates currently are for ten years, but five years prior to the date ending, they usually reapply and get it for an additional ten years. So it's not as if it currently would end after ten years very often.
Now, what this proposes, as I understand it, is that it would go for 25 years, and after 15 years you would reapply, and it would go for another 25 years. So the advantage, I would presume, is likely to do with financing, maybe with going to the bank with a longer period. As I say, the practice, as I understand it, is that these guiding territory certificates tend to be long term anyway. But we'll explore that, and we'll see what the minister says.
So the change is, then, around guide-outfitters. The other one there is around the necessity to report the success of the hunt from guide-outfitters. There's been an extension of the period of time that they've been given to do that, and it'll be interesting to hear from the minister the explanation for why that is needed. Presumably, that comes out of a request from the guide-outfitters.
There is a section, section 23 and 24, which deals with changes to the Special Accounts Appropriation and Control Act. There again we'll be looking for the minister in the committee stage to be laying out the rationale for that.
Basically, those likely are the changes that people in Columbia River–Revelstoke would be looking at most closely. I think that for the most part, there's not going to be a lot that the people have a problem with there.
Other parts of the legislation. We've had quite a bit of detail from our critic on changes to the Agricultural Land Commission. These are in sections 2 to 10. Presumably, they would be arising out of a report that the minister chose to sit on for a year, which is fairly bizarre.
I know that I attended many meetings with representatives from the ranching and agriculture committee who were wondering why that report would take so long. I met with the chair of the committee, who was, I think, mirroring many of those same questions. "Why would it take so long?" I guess any hope that the minister would stand up in this House and actually provide some explanation is simply not on, but you would have expected him to be doing that.
There are changes to the Wildlife Act, and there, I guess, we'll get a definition of "dangerous wildlife." I think that many here from urban areas — perhaps not, because it's even an issue that stretches into suburban and urban areas…. It would be around the definition of what dangerous wildlife is. I think in many….
[ Page 8823 ]
N. Macdonald: Oh, a chihuahua. Okay. Suburban definitions of dangerous wildlife will certainly be different from Golden.
In Golden we certainly would get bears regularly coming into the town. That's not unusual for rural areas and has to be dealt with pretty carefully. We also have a huge concern whenever we hear of cougars in the area. These are things that people would immediately recognize are dangerous. It is not at all unusual for coyotes to come in. Primarily, those would be seen as dangerous to cats and smaller dogs. Potentially, they would be defined as well.
I think what you will find, though, if you were to ask what the most troublesome wildlife is right now in our communities…. Certainly, in Invermere and in Kimberley they would say deer. While most of us don't think that the deer are particularly dangerous….
In Kimberley a woman that I just met with about a week ago was very badly hurt by a deer, simply stepping outside of her house with a small dog and unaware that she was coming close to a deer that had a fawn. She was attacked, and the deer, even though being pushed off by neighbours, was continuously coming back and trying to attack the woman again. She broke ribs. She had a punctured lung.
I think people are often surprised that animals like this can be potentially very, very dangerous. It's one of the reasons that there will be culls of deer both in Cranbrook and Kimberley and likely in Invermere. While that seems a very strong reaction, I think that once a community sits down and looks at the options, they realize the fact that wildlife coming into settled areas is often problematic.
This change talks about inducements to animals that would be considered wild. It'll be interesting to see the minister's definition of "dangerous wildlife" and definitions of what "inducement" actually means. I think, obviously, it refers to feeding bears, but we'll see how widely the minister interprets the definition of dangerous wildlife and inducements.
Just on that topic for a minute, when there are changes to the Wildlife Act, there are also opportunities to take ideas that have been presented to this government for a long time. Living close to Alberta, of course, it's easy for us to look across the border and look at things that they do in their jurisdiction. Often, after they have culled either elk or deer, they are set up with a problem where they have to make sure that the problem isn't re-created.
One of the tools that they have in Alberta is that they have trained dogs, Karelian bear dogs, a particular species that is proficient at moving wildlife out. I know that this province has experimented with Karelian bear dogs, I think near Whistler, but I also know they've decided not to make changes to the Wildlife Act that would allow that tool to be used. That's unfortunate, because in Alberta, used properly, it's a tool that can be really helpful.
We have changes to the Mines Act. If there was one part of this act where we would really want to dig down into the detail, I think it's there. Nobody is against moving decisions on the land through quickly, but all of us who live in rural B.C. in particular realize that these decisions are complex and that they need to be made properly.
The suggestion with these changes that we would short-circuit in some way the changing of land designation to enable mining might make a lot of sense, or it might be something that is problematic. But that will come out in the detail.
I think that the confidence we have with process is certainly undermined with this government when we see something like the Boss scandal, where, even with the provisions we have, we had members of the civil service being ordered to break the law. When they refused to do so, they were fired. These are the sorts of behaviours that you would expect, perhaps, in the Third World, but seemingly, that's the practice here in British Columbia as well.
So when we're looking at changes to the Mines Act, it is with the lens that we can put on it that there's not a great deal of reason why we would trust the government on an issue like this.
I do also want to celebrate section 22. It's not a real change, but it is, nevertheless, a change that I think most people would welcome. That's that we're going to get rid of at least the moniker for the public affairs bureau.
The public affairs bureau, just to give people an idea, is basically the propaganda arm for the government, for the Premier's office. It was set up with Premier Gordon Campbell as part of his intention to inform British Columbians about all the great things he was doing. It was sort of his baby, and it was part of the Premier's office for a while.
When the costs started to balloon, he moved it elsewhere. But he always controlled it, so it was basically his personal propaganda service.
He was up to 200. I was once corrected by the minister responsible. He said it was only 196. Just to put it in context, President Barack Obama has 42. Premier Campbell had about 198, and this Premier has decided that we'll keep the numbers, but we're going to get a different name.
That is the priority for this government. It's not about doing things properly. It's trying to convince people that something that's not happening actually is.
We see it every day in this House, where we're told the sky is green and the grass is blue. If they say it often enough, with 200 people pushing out that propaganda
[ Page 8824 ]
message, they hope that people are going to believe it. But I think those days are over, and whether there are 200 or 400, I think that it's a pretty stale message that simply is not going to get through.
So certainly for me, I am quite happy to see that public affairs bureau become something of a place in history, something we can look back at, and we'll get a new name for those 200 people.
So a bill that has changes. These changes are going to become more evident as we go through the committee stage. It is my expectation that we are going to have a committee stage. It has become practice in this House to forgo the proper work in making a law.
In the last two years almost every major piece of legislation that we've had has not gone through a proper process. The government continuously uses closure. It's my hope that that would not be what we see with this bill and with other bills because it is in that committee stage process that we actually can dig down into the substance.
N. Macdonald: Well, one of the members says that it's all up to me. Of course, I don't time when the legislation comes in. I think it's kind of ridiculous that we have bills that the minister will say has taken 18 — well, I think — years to put together, and they decide to put it in front of us in the last week of the House sitting, but that seems to be practice.
I certainly remember the HST bill, and I know that there's going to be another HST bill coming pretty soon, except it's going to do the opposite. I hope to see that as soon as possible. But I remember the HST bill. That was brought in, and then it was very quickly passed using closure, even though we still had time. So that was a lot of fun. It seems that the next HST bill, to get rid of it, as all British Columbians want, is going to take a little bit longer.
Deputy Speaker: Member, we're on Bill 19 now.
N. Macdonald: Yes, we are. Well, I certainly look forward to the committee stage debate, and I know that what would be appropriate is for a government member to express an opinion on something in this House that was in some way instructive or useful. At some point I hope that that will happen.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak, and I'll make way for the next speaker.
D. Donaldson: I'm very happy to take my place in second reading to speak to Bill 19, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. I take this role seriously and base my comments on information that's provided.
This bill was just introduced less than two days ago. We have got some information from a government media statement, and I've been able to glean some minor details from the Attorney General when she introduced the bill at first reading and then at second reading here.
I look forward to the committee stage where we can get more information so I can actually get into the details of what Bill 19 covers. The intent of the second reading is to generally give comments around the bill. So I'll do that but reserve whether I'm going to support this bill and the various sections until we get to the committee stage and have more information.
So the specific section I'm going to talk to in Bill 19 is part 3, "Energy and Mines Amendments" and amendments to the Mines Act. What we've been able to decipher and discover is that the amendments proposed are to give the government power to introduce regulations that would exempt some activities from the permitting process under the Mines Act.
We're not sure exactly, although…. On a news report from yesterday, a ministry spokesman from the Ministry of Energy and Mines said that these kinds of exemptions will apply to low-risk activities that "generally mean low-impact mineral exploration and small operations," although we don't know from the wording of the bill what "small operations" will be.
That's, again, something at committee stage that we can question the government on, because it's my role to shine some light on these bills introduced by government so the people in Stikine and elsewhere around the province that look forward to opening mines have an idea that things are being done properly.
Speaking to that, really what we're talking about in Bill 19, under the Mines Act, is giving exemptions, giving discretionary power to the chief inspector of mines around whether to exempt projects from the permitting process under the Mines Act.
I just want to review, in connection to that, under Bill 19, some examples of where there have been discretionary powers removed. It hasn't led to a good situation. It has led to delays, actually, in mining approvals and where we've seen political interference in the administrative process under the Mines Act already.
One area that is a very fresh example of that is the Boss Power situation, where just a few weeks ago there was an out-of-court settlement for $30 million. Now, the way that transpired is that before the last election there was a decision by the government to no longer permit uranium exploration of mining in the province. Just before that announcement was made, Boss Power had submitted a notice-of-work permit for a property that they held in the Okanagan.
Well, a matter of three days later the government came up with this announcement around no longer accepting mineral exploration or mine development in uranium. Many, many months later they actually made the regulatory change — I believe it was through an order-in-council — to actually back up their words.
[ Page 8825 ]
But in the meantime, the notice-of-work permit had been going through the process, and the chief inspector of mines…. It came across his desk, and he was obviously aware of the government's intention, already stated publicly in the media, about uranium mining no longer being allowed in the province. So he was wondering what to do, and this all came out in the court records that just recently came out publicly.
So what happened was the chief inspector of mines sought help from the Attorney General's office about what his statutory obligations were. Lo and behold, the Attorney General's office staff advised him that his statutory obligation was to process this notice-of-work permit.
Well, when he went to do that, he was told through the deputy minister and through the assistant deputy minister that that's not what was to happen. He obviously objected, saying: "It's my statutory obligation." Then what happened was that he was shifted out of that position. He was shifted out of that position, and the….
Deputy Speaker: Member has a point of order.
Point of Order
B. Penner: The standing orders require the member's remarks be directed to the bill during debate. So far, I have been listening carefully, but the member has not even touched on Bill 19 as of yet. I ask that you direct the member to comply with the standing orders.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I have said many times that we're debating Bill 19 on the floor today, and I would appreciate all members directing their remarks to Bill 19. Thank you.
D. Donaldson: Thank you, hon. Speaker, and it would be wonderful if members opposite, especially the Minister of Mines, would get up and defend the amendments to the Mines Act that is in the miscellaneous statutes bill. I wanted to say that it is a miscellaneous statutes bill. It covers a wide spectrum, and I'm addressing one part of it.
The one part of it that I'm addressing actually involves removing regulations around a permitting process and having the chief inspector of mines have discretionary power over that. So I'm going to talk about discretionary powers, the history of that, and it's directly relevant to this bill, Bill 19, which involves discretionary powers.
It is the Boss Power case, and what happened there is that there was political interference in a decision, and the political interference ended up costing millions of dollars because Boss Power had sued the government. There was an out-of-court settlement of $30 million, when the sunk costs into the project were estimated between $4 million and $6 million. So the premium on top of that was because of political interference.
The government settled out of court because they were…. Well, it seems like they were afraid of what would come out in court testimony about who directed the deputy minister to direct the assistant deputy minister to tell the chief inspector of mines not to fulfil his statutory obligation.
Bill 19 actually is about giving further discretionary powers to the chief inspector of mines. Those are the actual amendments to the Mines Act that we see in this Bill 19.
The problem here is…. As I said, I want to address Bill 19 in a general sense. The government hasn't been forthcoming with very many details on it before second reading, so it forces me to talk about this in a general sense. The general sense is that there's no confidence that the government won't exercise political interference in these discretionary decisions now that the chief inspector of mines will have around granting permits, granting exemptions to permits.
It's too bad, because in their past behaviour they've poisoned the well. It's very too bad, because this will impact the ability to see new mining activities. It's actually undermining public confidence in the administration of the Mines Act.
I wanted also to talk about discretionary powers. Again, it relates directly to Bill 19, because it is an example. The government's own media statement on Bill 19 — and this is where we can get the intent of what they're trying to do — says they are trying to reduce the regulatory burden, grow the mining sector and ultimately help create jobs.
Well, what we've seen are discretionary powers that are suggested in Bill 19. Actually, in other areas, discretionary powers have led to further delays.
I'll point out the case — and this is directly applicable to Bill 19 — of how, in the Environmental Assessment Act, discretionary powers were granted when the bill was gutted by this government in 2002. They gave discretionary powers to the project manager to establish a project committee, whereas previously that had been a stipulation of the act. Also, in 2002 they gave discretionary powers to the project manager or the project director to decide what kinds of topics would be in a final report. Before, that had been laid out in guidelines in the act.
So here was an example of…. In Bill 19 we're talking about allowing the chief inspector of mines to grant certain exemptions from the permitting process. The reason, the government has said, they want to do that is to grow the mining sector, reduce regulatory burden and help create jobs.
Well, when the Prosperity decision was handed down, they directly said — and this was the actual…. The
[ Page 8826 ]
Minister of Environment federally at the time said: "A number of stakeholders didn't take part in the provincial process, and this is why the federal and provincial processes arrived at different conclusions."
I'll remind you that the federal environmental review process rejected the Prosperity mine proposal, and the B.C. process had previously endorsed it.
One of the reasons that was cited by the federal review process is exactly what became discretionary powers under the 2002 environmental assessment review process. Many of the topics that the federal process considered, and rejected the mine based on, were given to the provincial project director as discretionary whether those were included in the final report. They weren't included, and they weren't addressed, and there weren't the robust procedures that were required to get this full review done.
Again, there's a case. Bill 19 is talking about giving discretionary powers to the chief inspector of mines, in the apparent hope that it will grow the mining sector. Yet I just gave an example of where discretionary powers being granted actually led to unnecessary delays and, in fact, poor results in the Prosperity mine project. That, to me, indicates that really, what we're talking about in this bill…. The amendments to the Mines Act under Bill 19 are not actually going to address what the government is saying they are going to address.
You know, the government has a problem on permitting. That is part of what Bill 19, they say, is going to address — the permitting problem. It's not just me saying the government has a problem on permitting. The former Minister of Mines, the member for Kootenay East, or East Kootenay, has come out publicly and said that the resources aren't there with the front-line ministries to do the job on permitting that is necessary to have an efficient, effective and transparent process.
As well, the former president of the mineral association of B.C. pointed this out, again, in a public hearing in front of the Finance Committee last year, saying that the cuts have gone too far in ministries like the mining ministry and it's led to unnecessary delays when it comes to permitting.
Instead of the government — in this bill, in Bill 19, in the amendments under the Mines Act — really addressing the crux of the matter, which is a lack of resources to deal with the permitting process, what did they decide? "Well, we'll just create the powers for the chief inspector of mines to make exemptions."
So instead of actually dealing with the issue of permit backlogs, they've decided that, at the discretion of the chief inspector of mines, they should be able to exempt projects from the permitting process. Now, that's not getting to the crux of the matter, although we know that the backlog issue is severe and extensive.
We were able to get the number of backlogged permits. Mind you, it was only through a freedom-of-information application. We know that that demonstrates this government's commitment to openness — that in order just to get information on how many permits are backlogged, it required a freedom-of-information application.
Again, Bill 19 is attempting to deal with mines and regulatory burden by eliminating some projects from the permitting process. Well, it's no wonder, in that when we got the backlogged information, the numbers were astounding — mining notice-of-work permits backlogged, approximately 230; water permits backlogged, approximately 3,900; Land Act permits backlogged, approximately 2,785. That's close to 7,000 backlogged permits.
No wonder the government, in Bill 19, wants to eliminate and give exemptions to the permitting process when they've almost got 7,000 backlogged permits. Even with additional resources for dealing with these permits, it could take years to clear this backlog, and again, it leads to unnecessary delays.
I just find it very curious that a government that is supposed to be concerned about economic development let almost 7,000 permits get backlogged simply on an ideology of cuts, cuts, cuts, without any thought to the business consequences of those cuts.
In Bill 19, instead of dealing with the crux of the matter, which is an efficient, effective and transparent permitting process that has sufficient resources, they deal with it through what looks like amendments to create exemptions to permitting and give discretionary powers to the chief inspector of mines. That's not the direction that the mining industry wants to see, obviously. They want to see some more efficiencies. I've talked about how the cuts have gone too far.
I also want to point out one of the recommendations that was made public yesterday in the Finance Committee's report on 2012 budget consultations. In fact, the very first recommendation that was unanimously endorsed by the committee was under "Streamlining Permitting Processes and Regulations". That was — and I quote from the document: "Develop and implement an effective, efficient and transparent permitting review process, and ensure that government agencies have sufficient resources." This was the recommendation to government from the members on this side and the members of the committee on that side.
Yet here we have government introducing legislation that actually doesn't want to deal with this kind of recommendation that was advocated for by industry and communities. Their way of dealing with the ineffective permitting process that they've created is to eliminate the need for permits in certain projects, to give exemptions to them. I don't think it's a very good way of going about getting to the crux of the matter.
Finally, I want to talk to Bill 19 around the media statement from the government that came out on this bill
[ Page 8827 ]
just yesterday. It was, again, around low-risk activities being exempted from regulation — up to the discretion of the chief inspector of mines.
The Attorney General, in her comments today on the second reading of the bill, talked about specified low-risk activities. We don't have any information on what those are. During the committee stage is when we'll get to those details, I hope. As my colleague who spoke before said, that is if we get to the committee stage. That hasn't been the case in the last few experiences I've had near the end of the legislative agenda, when the government introduces a whole number of bills, hundreds of pages of bills, with just a few days to go.
But this is an important topic. This is an important topic for my constituency, Stikine. It's an important topic around the province, and it needs a full airing and a full understanding. It needs a full committee stage, where we can get some answers on: what are specified low-risk activities? What are small operations, low-impact mineral exploration?
Really, if the government wants to deal with reducing regulatory burden, allowing the mining sector to grow, "save…companies time and money" — and these are quotes from their media statement — "and ultimately help create jobs," then they actually, really, should be dealing with the crux of the matter: the gutted environmental assessment review process. The fact that cumulative effects are no longer a topic in a final report has to be addressed. We've seen the impacts of that around the province.
The fact of First Nations consultation being very, very weak. That is, again, not me saying that. That was the vice-president of Imperial Metals, Byng Giraud, who presented to the Finance Committee this fall and really laid out their concerns, industry's concerns, about what the expectations of government are around First Nations consultation and what they expect companies to do. That framework is absent, and that was well pointed out by the vice-president of Imperial Metals, Byng Giraud.
If the government really wants to address in a bill, and in Bill 19, the objectives to save companies time and grow the mining sector, then listen to the industry and deal with the environmental assessment process and deal with First Nations consultation in a robust way and a better way — not abdicate responsibility on those and not turn to Bill 19 to say: "Oh, the way we're going to deal with that is we're going to grant discretionary powers to the chief inspector of mines to exempt certain activities from permits."
Again, it's not me just saying this. The Fraser Institute last year had a conference, and out of 72 jurisdictions, B.C. was ranked last in investor confidence when it came to aboriginal title and aboriginal rights. So by not addressing that topic, the government isn't getting to the crux of the matter and it's creating uncertainty and lack of investor confidence.
This is exactly what the government says their efforts in Bill 19 are supposed to address: increasing investor confidence and increasing jobs. That's from the media statement around Bill 19. Yet what we see here is nothing to do with the real crux of the matter. What we see here are attempts to exempt certain projects.
I'm going to have to finish off here by saying that the other issue was the lack of expertise in front-line staff when it comes to mining experience. Again, that was directly put to us by presenters to the Finance Committee from the mining sector. They said: "You know, there's no doubt that the people in positions are doing good jobs, but many of them don't have the experience, knowledge and training in the mining field, and that leads to delays as well." What we've seen is a gutting of operations so that we don't have those experienced people in place anymore.
I'll finish off by saying I look forward to the committee stage on this so we can get more information. It's much too vague right now about what kind of activities are going to be subject to possible exemption.
In my area there is a lot of exploration work that goes on, in Stikine. Most of it is done extremely well by responsible companies who attempt to do the best job possible. There have been the odd examples of where that hasn't happened. These are examples that relate directly to Bill 19, when a ministry spokesman, a ministry official, said: "An example of a low-risk activity could be a drill program of a limited size that does not require roadbuilding or that's located a certain distance from water sources."
Well, we've had examples in Stikine where there were activities that exactly fit those criteria but that were done poorly. Again, I say most exploration is done well, but when it's done poorly, the damage to the alpine is incredible. That's what happened in this situation — severe damage to the alpine. The company was reprimanded for it, and mitigative measures were required.
Under Bill 19, when it's up to the discretionary powers of the chief inspector of mines to exempt certain activities from the permitting process, then the possibility exists for more of these cases not coming to light. That would be unfortunate, because what we need is public confidence in the Mines Act and public confidence in the process. We need public confidence, because then there's trust in what happens out there on the land base — that it's going to be done well.
That requires a robust environmental assessment review process. It requires a First Nations framework for consultation, which is lacking right now, that talks to social licence. If we don't have that, then the stated objectives of this legislation around creating jobs and allowing the mining sector to grow are going to really be thrown into question.
I'm going to wrap up my comments. I look forward to having a chance to question either the Minister of
[ Page 8828 ]
Natural Resource Operations, who deals with permitting processes, or the Minister of Mines during the committee stage. We haven't heard any comments from them. They've had the opportunity to stand up here at second reading and explain what the intent and the effect of this bill will be, and we haven't heard anything.
R. Fleming: I rise to speak to Bill 19 this afternoon and to make some comments on a fairly wide-ranging miscellaneous bill. It's somewhat refreshing — only in British Columbia and in our Legislature, perhaps, heading towards the end of a session here, when we have just a handful of sitting days left — that a miscellaneous bill has almost become a tradition to dump in all sorts of things, with some very far-reaching amendments to things like the Election Act, and then push them through with the use of closure.
I think we're having a fulsome second reading debate here this afternoon and more to come. That seems to be a departure from a tradition that had become quite an affront to how this place is supposed to work.
I will make some comments in particular on, obviously, a number of the sections of Bill 19. There are a number of amendments, some of interest to the critic file that I hold for the opposition and some of interest to my constituents who have an interest in wildlife activities as well as farming and the recommendations around the Agricultural Land Commission that are contained in here.
I think my colleagues have zeroed in on some things, where the opposition clearly would like to have more information and more precise definitions around the proposals to do with the Mines Act. I think this has quite rightly already been zeroed in on as an area of concern by some in the media and by organizations and communities that are concerned that, by making a new definition of lower-risk activities and exempting them from the need to have permits for activities that have been permitted up until now, their communities will gain less certainty and the ability to have input to this government. That is a very valid and legitimate concern.
I don't think that at this stage of debate we have answers to some of the questions that need to be posed. But the very definition and the need to get that right, I think, is pretty crucial in order for this bill to have support across the assembly here.
I think that why that may be a bit of a red flag to many communities and individuals who have worked within the environmental assessment process and the other processes that lead up to the issuance of permits is because we have gone, and are still living, through the better part of a decade where, systematically, the rights of communities and local governments and First Nations have been eroded and amended out of legislation like the Environmental Assessment Act; where the threshold and the ability and the time periods for communities to participate in industrial projects, for example, that will have impacts on their quality of life, have far-reaching impacts on the landscapes around where they live and sometimes, in many cases, the social conditions and the social development of communities.
Those things have all been constrained and systematically curbed and reduced by amendments introduced beginning in 2002 and subsequently.
Now we see here — and we hope we don't see here — something that builds on the unfortunate legacy of this government around the loss of community trust and the ability to participate in environmental assessments and all of those activities that adjudicate and then deal with the issuance of permits. We'll wait and see.
You know, it is certainly quite feasible that there would be very small-impact, low-risk activities, as the Mines Act amendment here speaks to. It's also quite a distinct possibility that there would be a very disturbing creep of what that definition could include.
There are some proposals that need to be better seen. Of course, the context of an amendment like this is that we're living in a province that does not have, for example, any requirements to look at the cumulative impacts during the environmental assessment process of various projects — to take in the totality, a whole host of activities.
R. Fleming: The member across the way is referring to the Energy Act but not the Environmental Assessment Act. Right now in British Columbia the environmental assessment office does not, as a matter of routine, conduct assessments and look at cumulative impacts. It doesn't happen in British Columbia.
So we're concerned about that. We are concerned about that because the government's record is quite clear on environmental assessment, and the rhetoric coming out of senior leaders of this government and the Premier's office is one that, let's say, doesn't appreciate the challenges and the scope and complexity of environmental assessments and why they need to have legitimacy for the public, for industry and for the certainty of communities and, indeed, investors.
We're seeing a very one-sided rhetoric coming from the government about that. I hope that this is not motivated and part of an approach that we have at least been learning about and reading about in various speeches made by the head of this government and that this isn't situated within that context. But as I say, we will ask some of those questions, I think, most appropriately at committee stage.
There are some concerns, as my colleague who spoke before me raised, about the increasing discretion that
[ Page 8829 ]
would be given to the chief inspector in combination with the ability to waive permits. First of all, the motivation isn't well understood. A number of my colleagues, myself included, have met with representatives of the mining industry on occasion over a number of years to talk about industry challenges.
There are a whole host of reforms, which the opposition agrees, with industry and industry-watchers and stakeholders, should be undertaken by government. But this is one that, in my experience and interaction with the industry, I have not heard as something that is significant to the business case and the viability and feasibility of projects. I just haven't heard that before, so perhaps government will raise some different examples.
Counter to that, we haven't had the ability to have a briefing from the minister responsible yet, but again, I think in committee stage of debate we'll be able to look into that.
There are some other provisions in this bill that I want to speak to relating to the Agricultural Land Commission. My constituency doesn't have a great deal of farming activity, but it does have a heritage and legacy of it, and it does, in its outer Saanich boundaries, include people who make a living from growing food and raising animals and livestock.
The bill is interesting, in that it provides for different enforcement changes to the Agricultural Land Commission. There is an allowance for potential revenue generation for the Agricultural Land Commission.
I think that's important, because sufficient funding has been a key flashpoint of debate in this chamber and outside this chamber — about how poorly agriculture has been managed and how many opportunities have been missed in recent years that would allow the functioning of the ALC to be proper, allow the marketing of our produce and also new niche markets to expand and create jobs and employment opportunities.
The ALC has not enjoyed the respect of government, when it has made determinations, so there is an issue that is important around governance and independence for the ALC.
These changes, I think, are modest and should have been part of a much broader consideration. Nevertheless, they are there for us to deal with, and I think that members will speak to that. I raise it because I think there are some things that are important for the ALC to be able to do in order to expand opportunities that exist in communities.
Mine is not the host of a majority of those communities, but when I look at, certainly, Vancouver Island, my region, and look at a number of the valley producers associations and some of the emerging markets and some of the regional economic development plans that regional districts have, agriculture is a critical component. It's one that very much relies on a sympathetic provincial government — which, if you go to the Comox Valley and talk to those working in the economic development office there, they don't feel they have enjoyed with this government.
There are a lot of innovative ideas and initiatives that those who have been in agriculture for a long time and, most importantly, those who would like to be in agriculture have been stifled from being able to pursue. Others will speak to that aspect and that amendment in this bill, and again, the minister responsible will be able to answer questions in committee stage of debate.
One of the changes here, one of the amendments, is to do with the environmental amendments around the expansion or the inclusion of the protected areas of British Columbia. The proposal here is to add nearly ten hectares to Stawamus Chief Park. This is included in this bill. [Applause.] And there's a lot of enthusiasm for it by the member whose riding encompasses the boundaries, and I can understand that — beautiful area.
This is making good on a promise that legislators made more than a year ago, and I think that, given all the interest in this area for recreation and for bird preservation, among other things, this is something that is a welcome addition to what the province has built up over a century, which we're celebrating this year in British Columbia.
This, on the surface, is a very routine inclusion to this miscellaneous bill, and I think that in doing the housekeeping and completing in legislation the transactions that made this possible, this is something that I am particularly happy to be in support of in debate here.
The other changes that are in my critic area as critic for Environment that are of interest are the changes proposed to the section around hunting licences and the Wildlife Act changes around tenure. This is an interesting issue, and it's the primary interest group that has had input and also is somewhat dependent on changes being made here: of course, professional guide-outfitters in B.C.
The resident hunter population in British Columbia — I have not had the ability to hear from them and their opinions on this section of the bill. But I have heard from the guide-outfitting industry, and this is something that is quite clearly of great importance to those business people and those experienced outdoors people who make their living by guiding non-resident hunters that come to B.C.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
We're talking about a fairly significant market of people that spend a large amount of money per visit in our province. This is not an insignificant amount of economic activity when you look at the gross domestic product of B.C. It is not an insignificant number of small and medium-sized businesses in conjunction with even some larger businesses where there are resort operations,
[ Page 8830 ]
where these business people depend on having the ability to pursue leases and have leases with government.
For forever and a day, I think, for the longest time, the certificate length for guide-outfitters has been restricted to ten years. This isn't consistent with other types of leases provided to similar businesses — adventure tourism operators. There are others who depend upon the Crown to enter into an agreement and a lease agreement with them. For some reason, for guide-outfitters it has been a much shorter duration, and this has been the law of British Columbia for a long time.
I think government has clearly heard from the industry. I think this became an even more urgent message after 2008 and the tightening and restrictions on the ability of business people to secure credit after the banking crisis in many parts of the world. It became more difficult for businesses to be able to unlock credit, and I think that it made this issue even more acute.
So they have been interested in looking at longer-term leases to be able to operate their businesses more securely and to be able to access traditional types of lending arrangements. Previously, I think, they were forced into rather unorthodox positions to try and fund, finance and bridge their business's development. Having had that explanation from the industry, but without the benefit of further stakeholder feedback, I think this is something that is supportable and that is wise.
When you look at rural British Columbia, many regions of B.C., where there are a number of challenges economically to recovery, where traditional resource sectors are having a difficult time, it becomes even more important that government not continue to ignore something that has been, I think, on the agenda of guide-outfitters for a long time — that they act upon it.
I'm pleased, actually, to see that this is on the floor of the House, because I think it brings a lot of other benefits to it as well. We know that on the land base of British Columbia there are not enough human eyes and ears watching activities out there. We know that revenues are very important in British Columbia right now, and this is a source of significant taxation. It's taxation both through goods and services purchased and also through income and wages that are paid.
It's also a very competitive time, where different jurisdictions like British Columbia are trying to compete with each other on what sort of experience they offer. It's a market that is fickle, and it's a market that is very competitive, because more and more places are chasing fewer and fewer dollars now.
Fortunately, not very many competitors have what British Columbia has to offer in terms of what the guide-outfitting industry provides. But when one looks at the contribution that this industry has made to government, just going back a few short decades, from licensing and from hunting and fishing, the angling opportunities that government oversees and licenses but works in partnership with a variety of organizations to administer, it's something like $100 million.
Of course, a huge share of this money goes into the Habitat Conservation Trust, so a lot of the conservation work that is done by non-profit groups and by interested industry partners in partnership with government actually relies on government doing its role and taking its responsibilities seriously. I think the legislation is responsive to that. It is in consideration of things that have been put to them, and it is — as I explained, when you look at conservation funding and how that is made up in British Columbia — a win-win situation.
I also think the licensing reforms here and the licensing categories for youth that are proposed are ones that make sense both for promotion and the ability for families to hunt together, but also from a responsibility perspective, as well as responsible ownership and use of guns and hunting activities, and the ability to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next.
There have been a lot of activities that British Columbians have undertaken that, with all the competitions and distractions of modern life, have not become a feature of a community the way that it has in the past. I think that when you talk to the Wildlife Federation, when you talk to those who are associated with supplying or working in the hunting industry, that's just one area.
I think that we can well imagine how families and communities have changed over decades. But it is something where government has a role to make changes that make sense, and I think that the licensing categories here for young people engaged in hunting and fishing activities and the new categorization are something that make sense and is broadly supportable.
There are some new fines and prohibitions contemplated here, new definitions of what transgressions are considered around wildlife, around the illegal use of attractants, or the careless use of attractants, that may lure wildlife and create dangerous situations for people. I think that is something that government has listened to communities about — where there are a lot of not just nuisance but actually dangerous situations emerging.
The interface with wildlife populations has changed. Some of this is related to the climate, and some of it is related to human activity and development and the incursion on a space that was formerly in a more pristine state. These are changes that we live with, but there are changes that we have to make if, in the spirit of community safety, we're to take that seriously.
There are a number of other areas in this wide-ranging miscellaneous bill that I expect fulsome debate on. I think the Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement Act is of particular interest. I think it is more than fair to put that into context of very recent comments around the direction of treaty settlement in B.C. — the scathing
[ Page 8831 ]
report issued by the Auditor General on the resourcing of the completion and negotiation of treaties in B.C.
We have heard, from former treaty commissioners and those engaged in activities working with aboriginal communities and government, that this is a situation that is not ideal, where we are basically having to talk about the direction we set in the treaty process two decades ago to decide what meaning it has at this point in time. I think that those will be comments that others will want to make around the Maa-nulth Final Agreement and that are stated by amendments that are included in this bill. I will leave it to others to articulate them better than I can, and I apologize for that.
But I think it's worth raising, because we have a considerable amount of public debate. I mean, let's be clear. Reconciling with First Nations and making progress after centuries of inequality, and negotiating in good faith and being able to allow First Nations communities to become equal partners and live in self-reliance and in employment and with economic opportunities to halt the scourge of poverty, to reverse and lift up communities, has been something that British Columbia, in the modern era, has been thoroughly committed to.
I think that the conversation that is happening out there in British Columbia about whether as a province — despite, on occasion, saying the right words about a new relationship — we have, in fact, once again betrayed the confidence of First Nations people and raised expectations in a way that has not been met with government's engagement with them. I think that's a fair debate that is happening. I think it's not happening on the front pages in British Columbia today, but it is always an issue that governments and all of us collectively ignore at our own peril.
This is about righting inequities. This is about getting, in the 21st century, a path to justice and social and economic progress in B.C. If we don't get it right. If we don't recommit ourselves to that, British Columbia is simply not going to…. Its progress and its ability as a province to move forward become limited for all of us.
I think that while the amendments here are relatively narrow, they are situated within a context of a wider debate about aboriginal issues that we should be having. If it's going to be an election issue in 2013, that's fine. It should be, because governments need to be held accountable for the time they've had in office and marked and measured against the progress they've made.
I think that forms the bulk of my comments. I think we will be able to receive explanations and answers to our questions at committee stage to the various sections of this bill that deal with, for example, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Public Sector Employers Act. I have my own questions, when the time comes, around section 23 of this bill, about the environmental remediation sub-account.
On the surface of what I've read in the bill, this allows government the ability to take larger sums of money from that account, and I'm not sure what purpose that would be for. I think we have talked a lot about that kind of accounting recently in B.C., in the context of B.C. Hydro. I certainly hope that, for a government whose fiscal house is not in order to the extent that they led the electorate to believe it was just a short period of time ago, this isn't part of that kind of crisis management.
But those will be for the minister responsible. Those will be questions for the minister responsible to outline and clarify. The explanatory notes in this bill don't offer a lot of insight into that.
Mr. Speaker, those are the comments I have here at second reading on Bill 19. I think there are some things that need to be answered by government, some assurances that need to be made in the chamber before we can, obviously, conclude this debate.
But having said that, there are some things that I've already spoken to today that make sense; that are common sense; that will provide an addition to the protected areas, for example, that are important to the member from Sea to Sky and to all British Columbians to enjoy forever. Those are compelling reasons that Bill 19 has some sections here that are supportable.
But we'll wait and see if government has adequate answers to other sections of the bill that are convincing to those that have concerns about this government's environmental record and their motivations for some of the changes that they're putting through at the very end of this quite short fall session.
M. Sather: It's my pleasure to join the debate on Bill 19, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2011. As with most miscellaneous bills, this one has a number of areas of amendments in different acts, and I'm going to address two of them — the Agricultural Land Commission Act amendments and the Wildlife Act amendments.
There are certainly parts of this bill that I find quite supportable, and I'm pleased to see them come forward. There are others that I have questions about. In addition, I think the government has missed an opportunity with this bill. Certainly, with regard to the Agricultural Land Commission Act, it's very relevant to my constituency, and so I wanted to get into parts of the bill that are of interest to me.
The first one I wanted to talk about was section 5 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act. In the explanatory note to the bill it says that it "provides that a covenant that restricts the use of agricultural land for farm purposes has no effect until approved by the commission."
This one is significant to me because we had — it's ongoing — a situation in Pitt Meadows where a road was proposed through the agricultural land reserve north of Lougheed Highway. It's a cutoff from the connector to
[ Page 8832 ]
the Golden Ears Bridge to the Lougheed Highway. It's been called the North Lougheed connector. This is very concerning to me and to many residents because it would definitely push the urban boundary north into the agricultural land reserve and constitutes urban sprawl pretty clearly.
Now, the land commission has ruled on the North Lougheed connector, and they gave approval for the road, which I was very disappointed in. But they made a condition which I felt very heartened by. That condition was that the lands adjacent to that potential road — which, as I say, are on agricultural land reserve — must be covenanted for agricultural use. I thought: "Well, that's good, because we can keep it in the agricultural land reserve, but they have to have a covenant, surely, for agricultural use."
This has led me to talk to the Agricultural Land Commission about this. I initially thought: "Well, the commission would impose the covenant." But that's not the case. The municipality, the city of Pitt Meadows, would have to do that, and just how they would do that is becoming less certain to me.
I'm curious to know, and it will be good to find out, more about this from the minister, as to what effect this amendment would have. It says that the covenant, insofar as it may or may not be placed, has no effect until approved by the commission.
I'm really looking to understand what that means. Does it mean in our case, in Pitt Meadows, that now — because there is no covenant on the land, as we speak — a proposal can be brought forward to remove land from the agricultural land reserve — which I expect? That certainly is the intent. It needs to be understood that the real intent of this road is for big-box development or the like. The SmartCentres organization, which fronts for a lot of big-box development, is very actively involved in these properties along this road.
So I'm really looking forward to the discussion. I certainly do hope, as other members have said, that we do have committee stage for this bill, because there's not enough explanation in the bill. You know, that's understandable. Oftentimes bills are sort of inscrutable, and it's really good to have the minister, and the backup that he has with the professionals, to explain what's going on. So I look forward to that one.
Another section of interest to me in this bill is section 7. This is the panels that the Agricultural Land Commission has in place to make decisions over applications to remove land from the agricultural land reserve. It says in the explanatory note that it "provides for the executive committee to reconsider a decision made by a panel."
Before I get to that, though, I do want to talk about subsection (2) of section 7, which I think is the part that…. This is a good part of this bill. What it says, in effect, is that the CEO "may refuse permission" — that is, to remove land from the ALR — if "within 5 years immediately preceding the application, a previous application was refused permission by the commission."
In the case, for example…. This one is in Maple Ridge just across the border from Pitt Meadows, where the Pelton family made an application to remove a large section, 200 or so acres, from the agricultural land reserve in what is the most contiguous agricultural land in Maple Ridge and the best area for agriculture, although we have lots of smaller parcels farther inland.
This one was turned down by the Agricultural Land Commission, as it should be. The ALC commented in that decision what would happen to the surrounding farmlands if they were to grant approval. The commissioner said very clearly: "Well, I can tell you what would happen. It would be that every other landowner in that area would be coming to us to remove their lands." Why wouldn't they, if somebody gets a big chunk like that out for industrial use, which is primarily what it was for.
That application came forward. I'm wondering how one like that would be affected by this bill. On first blush, it appears, at least, that it would be five years. This was in 2010, so within the last five years. It would appear that for the next five years, they couldn't make a reapplication. Except, as I read the bill, subsection (b) says that "the previous application was made on or after the date this section comes into force." So obviously, this section…. None of this bill is in force yet. It could come into force, I suppose, as early as next week. I don't know, but oftentimes it's longer.
In any event, it seems to me, then, that that application which was turned down in 2010…. The person can make another application. Let's say it comes into force on January 1, 2012, and the person could make another application. So it wouldn't be really five years from the last one at all; it would be, like, two years. Then after that, if it's turned down again, they can't make another application.
It's a good piece. But I wish there was a retroactive clause in it, too, that said that if you had made an application, let's say, in the last two years before this bill comes into force…. There will be, as I interpret this bill, the opportunity for plenty more reapplications before the bill really takes effect.
In the long run, it's going to be a very positive outcome, I think, for the agricultural land reserve, because as the commission has pointed out, they've been inundated with reapplication after reapplication, sometimes five or six of them, such that they've been completely swamped by that — so badly that the government has had to make some response with some additional funds to try to address that.
The other part of section 7 that I started to talk about was subsection (d) that says: "the chief executive officer considers that the application is substantially the same as the previous application." That is, if the commission looks at this reapplication and says it's substantially the
[ Page 8833 ]
same as the last one…. Again, I'll want clarification of what it means — "substantially the same."
The Pelton proposal, for example, was about 200 acres. If they carve off a quarter of it, does it remain substantially the same? Or is it actually a different application then, and in fact, they can reapply sooner than the five years, given the considerations I've already mentioned?
This is good legislation, that part of it, but we need to know more. You know, the devil is in the details is the saying. We want to know that there's not going to be wiggle room for applicants to get around, which I think is the intent of this part of the legislation — to make the agricultural land reserve more secure. Certainly, it hasn't been over recent years.
We've had a lot of loss, in some parts of the province especially, but even in my area, in the Lower Mainland. We have the best land, and so some of the smaller losses are still very significant because there's plenty of potential to produce on some of those.
Then the next part of the bill talks about reconsiderations of decisions of a panel. There again, I wonder. As it stands, if your application is turned down — and that would be the only reason, I would assume, that you would go back for a reconsideration — you can go back for a reconsideration. I guess that's okay, but again, I worry that a reconsideration is going to replace the reapplications. "Well, I can't reapply in the next five years, but I'll keep bugging the commission for a reconsideration."
Again, we'll be looking for assurances from the minister and the government that this is going to, on the ground, in actual fact, have a really positive effect on agriculture, because we definitely need that.
From there I wanted to move on to the Wildlife Act, and section 16 of the Wildlife Act. This one is talking about dangerous wildlife and attracting dangerous wildlife. I was wondering what the government meant by "dangerous wildlife." I don't see it defined in the act anywhere, but looking in the information bulletin that the government put out, it mentions grizzly and black bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves.
I want to make a few comments about dangerous wildlife. I mean, whether it's a wild animal or it's a domestic animal, virtually any animal can be dangerous at some point. If you throw Bowser a steak on the floor and then try and take it away, you could get bit — you know. If you get a varying hare backed up in a willow bush somewhere, they might take a swipe at you too.
G. Gentner: Or a porcupine.
M. Sather: Or a porcupine — definitely. The member knows all about being threatened by a porcupine, as it happened to him a couple of years ago in the Spatsizi. But anyway, he survived. Porcupines aren't afraid of anybody, by the way.
Coyotes and wolves — I don't like us to put them in the category of dangerous wildlife. Probably the most dangerous coyotes in British Columbia are the ones in downtown Vancouver, because they get used to people, and sometimes there can be some problems, but they're not widespread. In the wild, coyotes are by and large certainly not dangerous.
The same thing goes for wolves, actually, contrary to what a lot of myth may be, with the possible exception of…. There have been problems, not fatal or severe, but there have been a few problems on Vancouver Island, interestingly enough, with wolf-human interactions. I don't know why that is. It may be because wolves and dogs interbred on the Island — I'm not sure — and maybe some of the dog genes are still there in the gene pool and are causing some of that kind of behaviour.
Of course, as the member from Revelstoke mentioned, the Kootenays have a problem with some deer that have been rather aggressive. That's unusual. We don't generally tend to think of Bambi as being dangerous wildlife, but as I say, any animal at some point might be dangerous. That's a comment I wanted to make on section 16.
Section 17 is the interesting one. Again, it's about attracting dangerous wildlife. But it makes a significant change, I believe, to current legislation, and it's a good one. The first part talks about a person must not intentionally attract dangerous wildlife, but then it goes on to say that you can't place an attractant, whether it's a carcass of an animal or whether it's some other form that would attract dangerous wildlife. That becomes an offence.
Although it says in the explanation, it "makes it an offence to intentionally feed or attract dangerous wildlife," I think the important part is subsection (2) there, which talks about placing an attractant, whatever that attractant might be, in a place where wildlife are — in particular, dangerous wildlife — or that can be accessible to dangerous wildlife.
I don't know how this is all going to play out, but I know in the Lower Mainland we have huge problems — in Maple Ridge, like many communities on the north side — with interactions between black bears and human beings, and so much of it is around a fruit that's left out, not gathered. Sometimes, it's true, the animals take the fruit right off the trees, but a lot of times it's fruit that's left to rot underneath.
I'm not sure if this is going to address that. I gather from some of the comments I read in the paper that it's felt that it will. I certainly hope so, because it's nothing short of carnage — the decimation of black bears. It's astounding. It's usually well in excess of 100 that are killed annually, because once they are attracted to whatever it is that's there, people become worried about that and the bear sometimes become dependent upon that. Certainly, bears can be dangerous to people.
[ Page 8834 ]
So that's a good section that I am certainly supportive of. Now, subsection 17(5) is where I think the government has missed an opportunity. It says that "A person does not contravene…leaving or placing an attractant in, on or about any land or premises for the purposes of hunting or trapping wildlife in accordance with all other applicable provisions of this Act and the regulations."
I have a real concern that it still says in the Wildlife Act that you can bait wolves. You're not allowed to bait bears in this province, but you're still allowed to bait wolves, which means specifically that you do place an attractant, usually the carcass of an elk or moose or deer, and then use that as part of the hunting process.
That's a concern to me when I look at what the overall effect is of what's going on in this province with regard to wolves. It seems rather than trying to protect…. Wolves are wildlife. That is the first thing to remember. They're not vermin; they're wildlife. And yet….
M. Sather: I disregard the comment there from my colleague, because it's not repeatable.
You know, this government seems bent on increasing the kill on wolves. They have now no closed season and no bag limit on hunting wolves or….
M. Sather: I see the wolves are howling. Only these are dangerous wolves. They could actually do damage.
But you know what it means in terms of reality? If you're hunting wolves year-round, what it means is that you are killing the adult wolves during the period when they have pups in the den…
M. Sather: Oh, there's lots of chirping over there.
…which means that if you kill the parents of those wolves, in most likelihood those pups are left to starve to death and die in the den or outside the den. I guess that members opposite think that's okay. I don't think most British Columbians think that's okay — that you let the young of any animal starve to death or die. But that's the effect of what this government is doing.
They've missed a great opportunity in Bill 19 to be able to actually address some of the problems with regard to the management, or the lack thereof, of wolves. This is based, admittedly by the officers themselves, who know what they are talking about, not on science…. And the government says: "Oh, we're science-based."
This decision to have a year-round kill of wolves is not based on science, because they don't have the science. They've even admitted — or their spokespeople have, who actually know — that it's anecdotal information. It's really unfortunate but that's the case.
Deputy Speaker: Members.
M. Sather: The minister says: "Talk to the farmers and ranchers." Well, you know there actually is a provision, if someone has livestock that's killed by wolves, to have the conservation service have a look at that and for them to get recompense for that. But there's nobody left in the service, in the ministry, to go and look. So now they are going to say…. The government says, "We're not going to provide any conservation officers" — cut them way back — "but now we'll just let you have at it yourself. Well, that's not responsible wildlife management. It's really not at all.
Moving right along. I wanted to move on to section 32….
M. Sather: You know what? I really suggest that members opposite get up on their feet and say their piece. Put it on the record, because I'd be glad to hear — particularly what the Minister of Environment has to say. I'd really love to hear what he has to say about this bill.
Section 32 removes the requirement for a guide-outfitter to deliver a completed guide report to the regional manager within ten days of concluding a hunt. In the publication, the info bulletin, it says: "The requirement to submit a guide report after a hunt will be moved from the act to regulations, and consideration will be given to extending the report submission deadline to give guide-outfitters more flexibility and time."
That may be okay. I would want to know, though, how long the government is considering delaying or extending the time to report. As has been mentioned by one of my colleagues, the guide-outfitters do a great…. In fact, they tend to be doing a lot of the wildlife management in the province because the government has abdicated their responsibility for it. So it is important to get their reports back, and it's important to get them back in a reasonably timely fashion.
I'll just want to hear more from the government. The Minister of Environment perhaps wants to get up today and actually talk about the bill. It would be good to hear what the intentions are there with the regulation that's going to be forthcoming.
Then lastly, I'm a little bit curious about section 35, which clarifies…. Section 35(a) says: "in respect of a regulation under paragraph (l), requiring that wildlife taken or killed by a person be included in the bag limit of another person." I want to understand. The minister, in wrapping up or whatever, can explain what that means.
[ Page 8835 ]
A bag limit, by the way, is the amount of game of whatever species that you can kill in a day. So they're talking about including that in the bag limit for another person, so…. I mean, it kind of sounds like…. If you go out hunting with, say, two other people, and you've each got a permit for one moose and you get your moose, does that mean you can shoot another moose and put it on the bag limit of your friend who wasn't able to do that? I hope not, because that's never been the way that we've done wildlife management before.
That may not be the intent — I don't know — but it's kind of curious to me as to just what it means, so again I'll look forward….
I know the members opposite are really eager to get up and explain how wonderful the bill is and their great understanding of wildlife management and wolves and what have you. That'll be very worthwhile listening to.
With that, I will take my seat and let another speaker have her piece.
V. Huntington: I'm pleased to rise today to speak to the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, Bill 19, and in particular, section 2, amendments to the Agricultural Land Commission Act. I think all of us — well, maybe the members on this side of the chamber — have been eagerly awaiting the release of the report by the chair of the ALC. Along with having received the Auditor General's report of a year ago, it's been a long wait to see how the government intends to respond to this report.
I have to agree with the critic of Agriculture for the official opposition that….
V. Huntington: Oh, I'm getting to that part. I'm getting there.
I would suggest that this is one of the most important reports on the Agricultural Land Commission since the government took power. I think it holds a big lesson for all of us if we indeed want to respect the mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission. The respect with which the agricultural community in general holds the chair, Mr. Bullock, meant that this report was eagerly awaited around the province, not just by members of this House. I think it generated an expectation of government that is partially met but which has left many, many gaps in what I think the ALC has recommended to government.
I think the Minister of Agriculture should be pleased — well, I know he is pleased — with what he's put forward in this bill, and I think as far as it goes, he should be pleased. I have no doubt that he faced many challenges among his colleagues to get even this far in terms of the recommendations that this act is putting on the table.
There are a number of changes in the right direction. There are some that I'm confused about. I hear rumours around the House that…. For instance, one of the recommendations was that the CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission be no longer appointed through OIC but be appointed — hired — by the Agricultural Land Commission committee itself. I don't see that in here, although there seems to be some sense that the CEO has become independent, so I hope that gets cleared up during committee stage.
Certainly, the role of the CEO seems to be highlighted to some respect, and I hope that that assists in the review of these applications in a more forthright manner.
Other issues that have been brought up in the bill. The minister and government have uplifted the budget of the ALC for a period of 16 months. And then I guess the attitude is, "We shall set you free," and we'll see how the ALC survives following that.
The chairman can have the executive committee review decisions, which is a good step forward and one which was highly recommended by the chair. I'm glad to see that the minister and the government have moved in that direction.
I'm also extremely pleased that local government officials can….
V. Huntington: Just you wait, Mr. Minister.
I'm also extremely pleased that local government officials can finally be delegated the authority to enforce this act. The Land Commission Act has been incredibly wanting in enforcement capacity over the years. Without the ability of the extended compliance and enforcement group within NRO but also the ability of local government officials who know what's happening right on the ground in the municipalities, it could not be done effectively.
So I am pleased to see that. I know my municipality has been urging for quite some time that its officials be able to go out and enforce and ensure compliance with this act.
The other aspect that is responsive to the recommendations of the chair is the five-year moratorium on repeat applications. While it's disappointing that that doesn't take effect until the act comes into effect, which means we're still going to see five years of applications landing on the table, it is a step in the right direction. I'm sure the chair is extremely pleased to see that.
But what the government didn't bring forward is what concerns me the most. While I'm pleased with what we do see, the failure of the government to support the ALC's mandate in a vigorous manner is very disturbing to me.
Throughout the report there is a reference, constantly, to the fundamental mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission, which is to preserve agricultural land and to encourage farming in British Columbia. Every recommendation refers back to that fundamental mandate,
[ Page 8836 ]
and almost every recommendation, or the discussion around that recommendation, discusses the impacts of fiscal starvation on the agricultural land reserve.
So while the government can suggest that $1.6 million over the next 16 months goes toward fixing that, I'd like to put that, perhaps, in some context. I am thrilled to see the $1.6 million, but when you look at it in context you realize that without a sustained attempt by this government to support the ALC vigorously, financially, it's not going to achieve its mandate.
The government is providing $600,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year and $1 million for the next fiscal year, to the end of 2012 fiscal. Following that, into the 2013 fiscal year, the government expects the ALC to be self-sufficient in terms of that additional funding, which means that it is going to have to find a way to collect an additional million dollars over today's levels.
What the act looks at in terms of ability to make up that funding is very curious. All of a sudden we're seeing costs downloaded onto the farmers in order to sustain the Agricultural Land Commission which is a constraint on them in the first place. So you see the act looking at additional fees for applications, additional fees to review information and a fee to exercise the power of the official.
Now, I hope we can get into that a little bit in terms of what exactly is meant — i.e., is the official not going to do anything if there is no fee paid to him to undertake the exercise of his official duty?
At the same time, over this period of time the government is discouraging new applications, which I think we all want to see. But as the applications dwindle off, so will the fees dwindle off, and the ALC, I suggest, will be right back where it started.
To put this new funding in context, between 2002 and 2011 the annual budget of the Agricultural Land Commission fell 33 percent. Based on the government's fiscal forecast and adding in the additional $1 million, the revised budget for 2012-13 will be $2.974 million. That means this budget will have risen only 1.5 percent in ten years — 1.5 percent, including the new money. That's not a very strong show of support from this government for the mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission.
According to the Bank of Canada, the inflation rate between 2002 and 2011 was 19.5 percent, which means that the budget of the ALC will have shrunk by almost 20 percent in terms of real dollars. If the funding had kept pace with the rate of inflation over the past decade, it should be $3.5 million this year, contrasted with the $1.9 million set out in this year's budget or the revised figure, including the $600,000, of $2.5 million. So even though we're looking at $2.5 million, it's contrasted with a budget in real dollars that should be $3.5 million — again, not a very good show of support for the Agricultural Land Commission.
During his discussion on issues surrounding fiscal restraint, the chair of the commission defined the problem throughout his recommendations. There was no money for training. There was no money for meetings to ensure the panels aren't autonomous entities — which, in his opinion, they have become. There was no provincial focus, therefore, on what the Agricultural Land Commission mandate should be throughout this province.
There was no money, no opportunity for meetings to discuss policy development because there was no money for those meetings to occur. Therefore, the ALC was unable to develop positions on emerging issues in this province. There was no expansion of the panels. There was no enforcement capability. There was no mapping.
You can go on and on, and I just simply call it fiscal starvation in an effort to — what? Get rid of an agency? Get rid of the commission? When you look at this over the years, that's what I think has been happening here: "We'll just starve it out by neglect."
Now they have to replace whatever money they are being given with new fees — which again, I say, is an increase in cost to the legitimate farmers and, I think, should be very carefully monitored by the minister. I can understand the desire to go for fees, but in this particular instance I think the farming community has enough troubles on its plate that it does not need that additional fee on top of everything else that it's required to do in order to even encourage or manage its own industry on its own land.
The other issue that I am very upset or concerned over that hasn't been brought up in this, with the exception of the five-year moratorium on repeat applications, is the desire of the chair and the ALC to reduce the pressure to convert agricultural lands or to exclude agricultural lands. He mentioned that this was a constant discussion between the Auditor General and the ALC — again, the recommendation of the Auditor General being that there had to be a reduction of pressure on the conversion of agricultural land.
But with the exception of the five-year moratorium, the government chose not to undertake any of the recommendations that would really do that very thing.
They did not choose to put in legislation that required applications for exclusions or for conversions from bona fide farmers only. That was a specific recommendation. It is a specific failure of this legislation. Bona fide farmers are the only ones who should be able to request exclusions or subdivisions for family purposes or generational purposes, not the non-farm landowner who's holding it for speculation.
We owe nothing to the speculator, absolutely nothing when it comes to agricultural land. Yet that, since 2002, has been what we have done. We have enabled the speculation on the land in this province.
[ Page 8837 ]
Why? Because another recommendation from the chair was that by reducing that pressure, by requiring those applications from bona fide farmers only, you then take it back to what the act stood for and had in it before 2002, when it was changed by the government.
A farmer could only come for an exclusion or for a change in designation when he was "aggrieved" by the designation itself. But the years went by and by 2002 this government had removed the word "aggrieved." So all of a sudden the applications for exclusion, for subdivision, for farm home dwellings, for larger farm home plates, for everything that goes along with the removal of land from the ALR, those applications were opened up to absolutely everybody who owned a piece of agricultural land. That's not appropriate, and it is something this bill could have corrected, and it is something this government chose not to correct.
The other issue that the chair showed a very great deal of concern about was the regional panel structure itself. And as mentioned by the critic, there is a perception of bias out there. It has been instances of real bias.
There is a lack of education within these regional panels, again because of the fiscal problems faced by the ALC. They can't get the proper training. They don't have the proper knowledge. They don't have the proper understanding of the mandate. They don't focus on the provincial issues. So what you end up seeing are panels making decisions, if not in ignorance, at least without all of the information that they ought to have available to them.
The one way the chair suggested that this could be resolved is to go back to the central panel system, whether it be a seven-person panel or a ten-person panel. He felt that this would be the most efficient way of ensuring that the mandate was preserved and exercised appropriately.
Rather than go on, I think I would just suggest to members on the other side of the House that they take a look at this report. It is an extremely good document, and along with the Auditor General's report, it is perhaps the finest material, as I've said earlier, that we've seen on the ALC itself in ten years.
I do think that, combined, what these reports tend to show us is that there has been, if not a coordinated desire on the part of the government to undermine the ALC's mandate, at least one of neglect. I am extremely concerned and hope that this minister can convince his colleagues to take another look and, as we go down the road, that these tiny steps forward can become bigger ones that really do reverse the trend to fiscally starve and undermine the mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission — something everybody in this province supports.
S. Fraser: I stand today in the House to take my part in the debate on second reading of Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011. That's Bill 19. I'm hoping I'll lead by example. The members from the other side seem to be quite vocal — the government side: MLAs, ministers, alike — yet they seem to have forgotten they, too, can stand like I am standing now and take an actual part in the debate and then be on the record of the debate, which would probably be more useful for the public, certainly, as we get a flurry of bills being handed to us.
These miscellaneous statutes acts are a bit of a dog's breakfast of different issues that we get. And we don't get much warning on this. This government seems to have made an art form of bringing forward bills without really giving us any heads-up of what we're dealing with, but we will persevere.
I am going to begin my portion of the debate with Bill 19…. There is a section — it's actually the first section — that deals with Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, which is my portfolio, as the critic. The changes, the amendments, are to the Maa-nulth agreement, which is actually in my constituency — four of the five Maa-nulth Nations, Nuu-chah-nulth Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They have achieved treaty, the Maa-nulth Nations, and they have got out from underneath the yoke of the Indian Act. I applaud them for that.
Really, the only part in this amendment act is…. It basically proposes legislation will ensure that the Maa-nulth forest compensation interim regulation applies retroactively — that's April 1, 2011 — and will continue until all compensation negotiations for former forestry tenures on what are now Maa-nulth treaty lands have been finalized and finished. It's more of a bookkeeping issue. It's addressing a timeline.
I understand that, but I will take the opportunity to touch on a couple things in treaty, specifically the Maa-nulth treaty. I'm surprised we have an opportunity here with an amendment to the Maa-nulth treaty. It is a glaring omission.
One of the final phases of implementation of treaty is having the treaty nations, in this case the Maa-nulth treaty nations, take part jointly with the local regional district. In this case it is the Alberni-Clayoquot regional district. It makes sense. It is the expectation of the treaty process that many, if not all, nations will take an active role on the board of directors of the regional districts. It makes sense because of economies of scale. There are certainly infrastructure issues that span from First Nations lands to municipal lands, and it's better that we all work together, something that is also pointed out in the new relationship.
So it was a surprise when I learned that there are no resources being made available by this government to provide for the Maa-nulth Nations to be incorporated in a meaningful way into the Alberni-Calyoquot regional district. It was brought to my attention at the UBCM.
When I did see that the Maa-nulth treaty was in this bill, in Bill 19, I was hoping that that glaring omission
[ Page 8838 ]
would be fixed. It is being left to the regional district, in this case, to basically create a new model of regional district that incorporates First Nations needs to ensure that they have proper representation. It's very complicated. There are issues of taxation, of authorities. There are many problems there.
There was always the expectation by the First Nations and, of course, by the regional districts that there would be transition funding and that there would be resources brought to bear and the expertise of ministry people to help with that transition.
It was found out by the regional district directors at the UBCM, when they met with the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, that there are no resources and that they are on their own.
It amounts to a betrayal to, in this case, the Maa-nulth Nations, who wish to take part in the regional district, and to the regional district themselves who do not have the resources and the capacity and expertise to redesign their own body to incorporate First Nations. Again, an opportunity lost here — a big, big opportunity lost.
It is, in effect, another form of major off-loading and downloading on local governments, who were not actually sitting at the treaty table when these things were negotiated — a big problem for the Maa-nulth Nations and, as well, a big problem for the regional district, the directors and the people that live in the entire region, who will face that effect.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The Maa-nulth treaty is actually one of two that is in place right now under the treaty process. It was a great day for the celebration in….
Mr. Speaker: Would the member take his seat for a second. The Attorney General has the floor.
Withdrawal of Comments
Hon. S. Bond: Thank you for the interruption, Mr. Speaker. During question period today I used the phrase "knowingly misled" in response to a question from the member for Juan de Fuca. I'd like to withdraw that remark.
S. Fraser: Again, I'm speaking to Bill 19, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011. I'm at the very beginning of the bill, Bill 19, that deals with the Maa-nulth First Nations final agreement.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
I'm just commenting on an opportunity that was lost in this bill, certainly, to correct a glaring omission, and it should have been done. I will have to inquire further with the minister on this, because the regional district does not have the resources to redesign and amalgamate the Maa-nulth Nations into the regional district without the help, support and the capacity-building of the government.
Indeed, that's what transition funding was supposed to be for, in my opinion, when it comes to treaty negotiations. We've seen enough downloading and off-loading on local governments by this government. Hopefully, this will get through and will be corrected, so that not just the Alberni-Clayoquot regional district but all regional districts who are facing, hopefully, future treaty settlements with First Nations will be able to actually create a regional district body that would work for all — for First Nations and non–First Nations communities.
It's part of, I think, a bright future if we can make that happen, where there is cooperation between local First Nations and local governments. Let's hope that that occurs.
Now, it's interesting, because this is a treaty amendment which opens the door to treaty in general and where government is going with it. As everyone in this House is aware, there was quite a startling statement made by Sophie Pierre, the treaty commissioner. She was quite blunt in her critique of the treaty process that she leads.
While the Maa-nulth treaty has been established and is actually in the works right now — it has been adopted, and it is a government in its own right — other nations, many other nations, that are in the treaty process have arguably been stalled. Sophie Pierre raised this issue just a couple of weeks ago, saying that — I'm paraphrasing, mind you — in essence, if we can't fix the treaty process so that it works more effectively, so that it addresses treaty for more nations in a more timely manner, than it might have to be scrapped.
I think — again, not meaning to presuppose what Sophie Pierre was thinking — she was abrupt in an attempt to get attention to the needs of the treaty process, which was never designed to be static. It was designed to be dynamic, and it was designed to change with court decisions, with international statutes, to develop or evolve, if you will.
So we have a Maa-nulth treaty right now where we have an amendment to it already. But we have so many in the treaty system that are not getting very good service through the B.C. treaty process.
Then we see the Premier taking positions that change almost daily when it comes to the treaty process. It leaves a lot of confusion — for me as critic, but I imagine for the entire province, certainly for First Nations in the province.
The Premier said originally that she would pick up where her predecessor left — that would be Gordon Campbell —
[ Page 8839 ]
on the new relationship, which of course includes, implicitly, the treaty process — not for all nations, but for many in the province. The quote that we have got here is: "On my watch we will continue to move forward. My government believes that treaties remain the most comprehensive approach to building relationships between our governments."
That was from the Globe, going back to June. Then you fast-forward a little bit, and she goes: "I think First Nations' and government's relationship has matured enough that we no longer have to see treaties as the be-all and end-all of every negotiation." Then that evolved to her suggesting that the treaty process has failed to deliver. She's directing government to "focus instead on striking economic development deals with native leaders who are willing to do business."
So where does that leave the treaty process? We have the treaty commissioner blowing the whistle on a flawed process that needs to be fixed. We have a Premier that changes her mind on treaty on a regular basis, and she's only been the Premier for several months. At the end she acknowledged that the treaty process is not working very well, and so she's moving on to short-term, one-off economic agreements.
Where is the treaty process here? Where is the leadership from the Premier on fixing the treaty process? We have an amendment here which is an opportunity with the Maa-nulth treaty to address the treaty process and the desperate need to fix the treaty process, and we don't see that here. Why not? Why not, hon. Speaker?
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
Deputy Speaker: Members.
I'd also remind the member we're not currently debating the treaty process but Bill 19 and would ask that he bring the comments back to Bill 19.
S. Fraser: Thank you, hon. Speaker. The bill actually is addressing amendments to a treaty, specific treaty, in British Columbia. Usually, in second reading it allows a fair latitude when it comes to that. But I will be mindful of that.
I guess we lost another opportunity with Bill 19 to address — at least start to begin to address — some of the big problems in the treaty process that were identified by the commissioner. And it appears that the Premier is just going to abandon the treaty process? She's made no comment about how she's going to fix it, and there was an opportunity here for her to at least to begin that process.
That moves me onto another section of Bill 19, and it's a good segue because, again, there is a First Nations perspective on this section that deals with the Mines Act. The amendments to the Mines Act are part of the bill. In the Mines Act they talk about…. The amendment will give the province the power to introduce regulations that would exempt some activities from the permitting process — a process that's in somewhat of a disarray, I would suggest. We certainly saw that confirmed in question period.
But according to the government, this approach will reduce the regulatory burden on industry, allow it to grow — the mining sector, certainly — and save individual companies time and money. Again, we'll have to see how that plays out. The regulations will be developed in consultation with First Nations. That's where I'm going to on this. That's great.
Now, what I want to know: is that a change from current policy of this Premier? This Premier — when it comes to mining, she trampled First Nations rights. She dismissed First Nations rights as her opening task as Premier. I'm talking about the Tsilhqot'in, the Taseko mine. This was a process that did not incorporate adequate consultation or any consultation with First Nations. So we have an amendment here to the Mines act that says that regulations will be developed in consultation with First Nations.
Well, the Premier, months ago, went to the Prime Minister and basically told him to override, to overturn, all of their decisions around the environmental assessment in complete defiance of the Tsilhqot'in people, the First Nations, of the Xeni Gwet'in people, and that's the nation that's directly involved by the Taseko mine. She did that as though they did not exist.
I want to remind this House that we're doing an amendment to the Mines Act in this section of Bill 19. It talks about consultation. The Premier, when she made the commitment and talked to the Prime Minister to try to get him to change his mind around the Taseko mine, ignored one of the longest court cases that I've been involved in: the Vickers decision that involved the Tsilhqot'in First Nation — 17 years in the court system. Justice Vickers established that indeed, not only do the Tsilhqot'in exist, but they have rights to the land and their territory established by historic use over millennia.
So after 17 years in court, the Premier ignores, just dismisses, that court decision, dismisses in the same breath our obligations under the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples that Canada signed — kicking and screaming but signed nonetheless; we are beholden to that — and also puts another nail in the coffin of the so-called new relationship.
If that were not enough, just last week we had the Premier in China suggesting that the Gething mine, near Hudson's Hope, in West Moberly First Nations' traditional territory, was a go, was moving ahead, completely ignoring the position of the West Moberly First
[ Page 8840 ]
Nations. They said no to that particular mine — not to mining. They're not against…. The West Moberly First Nations are very active in economic development.
S. Fraser: I know that the member opposite is very, very tired and therefore is not able to stand up and take part in the debate on record, but perhaps he can get a better rest tonight and actually stand up in this House and take his place in debate like we do on this side.
S. Fraser: There should be a course for MLAs. There really should be, because it's very easy to duck the issue by staying off the record.
I would remind all members in this House that the debate on Bill 19 is supposed to involve all members of the House. We've had an independent stand up here, and she did a great job, just before me. All the other members that have been standing up, to my knowledge, have been from the opposition. All we get are snickers from that side and cheap shots off the record. I would suggest that….
S. Fraser: Come on. Take your part in the debate. I'll sit down sooner if you will take part in the debate.
So we have an amendment to the Mines Act…
Deputy Speaker: Members.
S. Fraser: …that commits to consultations and negotiation with First Nations, and we have a Premier that's committed to anything but in her actions. Not just one — two major positions she's taken in complete defiance, ignoring the First Nations involved. So I don't know how that's reconciled.
I do know the effect it had. Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly, when he heard the comments made by the Premier in China…. Here's what he said. This is really going to help mining in this province — the complete dismissal of First Nations in the traditional territories. He said: "The Premier has no clue about what's been going on. For her to say that we can negotiate the issue out — we can't. There is either a coal mine and we go away, or we have our culture camp and they go away."
Chief Willson reminded that the First Nations indicated their opposition when the Gething project was first proposed in 2006 and have not wavered.
So I would suggest that while there's an amendment to the Mines Act in Bill 19 that talks about consultation with First Nations, we're going to need to have the leader of the government, the Premier of this province, maybe look at that amendment and heed it, because to not do so would be the greatest disrespect to First Nations in this province and would be in defiance of our international obligations under the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and will land this province, instead of in economic development in mining, into litigation, which is again what has happened with Tsilhqot'in. We are going to court; we're not going to work.
D. Routley: I am pleased to be able to rise to speak to Bill 19, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3). It's one particular section of the act that I'd like to speak about now. That is the one line in the act that changes the name — it's under the Public Service Labour Relations Act — of the public affairs bureau to the government communications and public engagement unit. So GCAPE — sort of Batman-like.
The public affairs bureau of this government has become the largest media room in the province, bigger than any newsroom in the province — this B.C. Liberal spin-doctoring shop. Over the years we've seen the public affairs bureau hit a high in its budget, in 2009-2010, of $41 million, and it employed 229 political spinners at that time.
Well, during the economic downturn this government promised that one of its measures to reduce its size would be to cut costs. They did lay off eight people out of that 229-strong staff. A few more positions were trimmed due to retirements and transfers to other ministries. But since then, GCPE, the government communications and public engagement unit, has been growing again.
Weekly we see orders-in-council that appoint new political spinners. And this is at a time when media rooms throughout this province, real newsrooms, have been forced to downsize. We've even lost one significant journalist and his website — Sean Holman and Public Eye Online.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
This is because they can't survive, while the government is able to spin its message with the largest newsroom in the province — the largest media communications showcase in the province. So one line in the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act deals with the public affairs bureau, now the government communications and public engagement unit.
How does it deal with it? It changes the name in an attempt to run from that past and divert attention from its growing and bloated staff. The member for Columbia River–Revelstoke pointed out that President Obama in the United States has 40 communications people, by contrast to the 229 that were employed at the height of the public affairs bureau's reign in this province.
The public affairs bureau — some of the notable achievements of the bureau before its name change in this bill
[ Page 8841 ]
— withheld until after the May 12 election information that showed the number of welfare recipients had increased by 47 percent. These were documents that were obtained by the official opposition. They were obtained through a freedom-of-information request after the election.
They showed an e-mail exchange that began on April 21, when a government web analyst sent a note saying that he was about to post the new welfare numbers on the government website on April 30. This analyst was told by a member of this illustrious public affairs bureau — now in this bill becoming the government communications and public engagement unit, GCPE — to hold off on posting these updates until after the election.
This is just one example of the notable achievements of the public affairs bureau, which is now having its name changed and a new beginning as the government's public engagement unit.
Also, after the 2005 election it was shown that the B.C. Liberal government had blown its advertising budget by more than 50 percent during a pre-election communications blitz by the public affairs bureau. The budget for the government's public affairs bureau at the time was $19.5 million — 19.5 million taxpayer dollars meant to spin the good news from the B.C. Liberal government.
This is what we're changing the name of. It's unfortunate that the government couldn't bring forward legislation that would actually begin to legitimize itself and its public affairs bureau, now GCPE. It should be pointed out that after the change, the GCPE, the government communications and public engagement unit, was still a huge political spin shop.
The new deputy minister of the rebranded public affairs bureau, Neil Sweeney, is making $10,000 more than his predecessor. This is after the public affairs bureau was targeted for downsizing before the election and during the economic downturn. Mr. Sweeney will receive a maximum of $250,000, assuming he receives a full performance bonus.
This is a simple name change, but it's an opportunity for us to remind ourselves and British Columbians of the record of the government when it comes to the public affairs bureau — its spin shop, its propaganda shop.
You know, Madam Speaker, public affairs bureau staff follow all the MLAs and reporters around this place and take diligent notes of every word that's said in the corridors to reporters, and that has become questionable in terms of how political that activity is. These are public servants who are often performing duties that are being seen more and more as being political duties for the B.C. Liberal Party.
They have been the ones during the by-election in Point Grey who arranged the Premier's celebrated photo opportunities — one as a waitress, one at the parks removing meters. That's what the public affairs bureau was busy doing with its millions upon millions of dollars and hundreds of staff. That's the kind of function that the new government communications and public engagement unit is tasked with.
I think this name-change opportunity could have offered the government an opportunity, in fact, to reassess its approach to communicating with British Columbians and start to communicate something more authentic in a more authentic manner and certainly in a more economical fashion.
With that, Madam Speaker, I'll thank you for the opportunity to speak to this narrow section of Bill 19 and take my seat.
G. Gentner: I'm going to talk about Bill 19, with such little time. However, when you look at it…. It's called the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, and quite frankly, when you read it, it's really a plethora of syllables — miscellaneous.
It has what appears to be empty agricultural changes, but they're quite significant — what the implications are. There's more about mining deregs. I'd like to talk about that, but time will not permit. There's something about conservation, perhaps — Ranger Smiths, if you will, with more jobs to do, maybe. But there's no money; we know that. There's talk about environmental cleanup, but there's really no soap in this bill. It's a ragbag of Liberal stuff, if you will, and it has all come together in Bill 19.
The member from Nanaimo talked briefly about the name change from public affairs. I hope that doesn't mean there'll be less public affairs because, frankly…. I have what's known as Internet radio, and I have a counter on there. I know how many people are listening, and I know public affairs spends a lot of time monitoring my radio station.
It would be really a sad day in Victoria, British Columbia, when the public affairs bureau is no longer and my ratings begin to decline. Nevertheless, all members of the opposite side are welcome to join me on Live from the Leg any time they want. We can explore more about Bill 19 rather than having such limited time.
You know, when we talk about the agricultural changes in Bill 19 we have to talk about, of course, what isn't being offered as change. The government's ultimate plan, I really still believe, is to destroy the agricultural land reserve. There are no bones in Bill 19. Here's an opportunity to beef up the legislation.
There'll be no farmland left without the ALR, and an ALR without teeth will mean that there'll be no farmland left in Maple Ridge, Langley and Abbotsford. The Fraser Valley will, of course, be nothing more than a freeway and further urban sprawl. Unfortunately, we don't see that type of leadership on the opposite side.
Briefly, when we talk about the bill, I have great, great problems with section 2 in particular. The Agricultural Land Commission Act, section 1, "allows for persons
[ Page 8842 ]
who are not employed under the Public Service Act to be designated as an official by the chief executive officer." Well, it has all the implications of perhaps contracting out.
The minister can cajole and convulse all he wants, but we have to understand what the language means. We've seen, with the environmental assessment office, the use of contracting out to non-professionals. I am really worried about the validity and the integrity of this miscellaneous bill. Perhaps we're going to see the non-use of agrologists who are going to conduct the work, simply because the CEO may decide to find expedited ways to save money.
Within the bill itself I take a lot of issues. The member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows mentioned before the notion that it provides that "a covenant that restricts the use of agricultural land for farm purposes has no effect until approved by the commission." Well, the problem with that, of course is that in this province covenants are useless. Covenants are broken every day in this province. They're traded, and they're bartered, but no one is out there policing and finding out what they really mean.
Again, here is an opportunity by statute to make a big difference and to restrict invasion or activities that are on farmland which are detrimental to farm purposes. It had its opportunity, but this government did not do so.
Also, I have to explain that in my constituency and, beyond that, in all of Delta, this provision of covenant does not properly look at what's happening relative to right-to-farm legislation. You know, through an order-in-council this government revoked way back in 2001 the right-to-farm legislation — it was all stripped — and put restrictions on the ability of the Land Commission to act as it should and restricted local government from acting in the best interests of farming. It took away that right.
Then we look further at section 6, where the Agricultural Land Commission Act, section 26, "provides for the application of section 34.1, as added to the act," if a local government, a First Nation or an authority has "the power to decide an application." Well, in Delta the local government has no authority at all. It has been stripped of any authority. Arbitrarily, this government imposes its will on farm legislation in the municipality of Delta. Section 6 certainly will not provide any of that.
The other problem that I have a difficulty with, I mentioned before. That is landfilling. We're seeing farmland in Delta being used as holding properties owned by the speculator to enhance profits. Unchecked landfilling is continuing, and the agricultural land reserve and the act, particularly here — a chance, in Bill 19, to deal with it — has fallen flat again.
Of course, you know that in Delta the farmland is probably worth close to $80,000 an acre. It's certainly going to go up, particularly when you look at section 7, which talks of how the "Chief executive officer may refuse applications," but it gives a five-year window on it. Those five years mean that there's further uncertainty within the farmland.
It's a speculator's dream. That $80,000 today, certainly in five years' time, will probably be worth more than $100,000. This is another example, I believe, of the incompetence of a government that is not addressing the real needs of protecting farmland.
I also believe that the CEO has the ability to grant approvals, and I think this is indicative of what we are seeing in the government opposite. We've seen years of putting more authority behind the executive council, by the executive itself, by the Premier, and this is sort of what's going on today, particularly with most ministries. I believe in the need for consultation with various panels and with the commission itself and staff, but I do believe that the chair now has the decision to override a lot of these decisions without proper consultation.
Very briefly, before I leave, I want to talk about the wildlife section, section 17. "A person must not (a) intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife." You know, when I first read that — with all due respect — I really thought that "attempt to feed dangerous wildlife" was kind of like contributions to the wild animals called the B.C. Liberals. Who's feeding who here? I mean, this government can't even come up with an elections act to look after these wild political animals running amok in the province of British Columbia. They're trying to do due diligence here, but frankly, I really don't see any confidence or substance in this type of legislation.
Obviously, we're talking about the need to deal with a person: "(3) Subject to subsections (5) and (6), a person who contravenes subsection (1)…commits an offence. (4) If an offence under this section continues for more than one day, separate fines, each not exceeding the…fine for that offence…." Blah, blah, blah.
Well, here we go. How are we going to police that, hon. Speaker? There is no implication. There's nothing in here. I mean, I harken back. They can't even deal with the Stanley Cup riot yet. They can't even police what happened there. My heaven's sakes. The Premier made big announcements here in the Legislature before — how they're going to deal with that. They can't police the riots. How do you expect them to police the violations when it comes down to attracting dangerous wildlife? I mean, it's….
G. Gentner: Yeah, there's no plan.
Finally, before I allow the hon. member for Juan de Fuca, I just want to talk briefly again about subsection 17(6)(b): "A person does not contravene subsection (2)…(b) by operating a facility for the disposal of waste, that is operated in accordance with the Environmental Management Act by a municipality, as defined in section 1…."
Well, talk about calling the kettle black. Garbage dumps. I mean, there's no legislation here to deal with the waste stream. How stringent are the rules to deal with the overflow
[ Page 8843 ]
of garbage and the proper disposal? I just want to say that the B.C. Liberal government cannot even deal with the environmental management of waste. How can it possibly deal with the management of dealing with dangerous wildlife?
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to rise and speak to second reading of Bill 19, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 2011.
J. Horgan: Oh, my good friend from Kamloops. I couldn't get the title out of my mouth before he started heckling me, hon. Speaker. It must be very late in the day.
J. Horgan: I was going to be characteristically charitable over the next number of minutes, but I'm afraid that…. My colleagues on the opposite side seem delighted with the prospect of me carrying on for some time, so I believe I'll take advantage of that opportunity.
We've listened to many, many members on the opposition side of the House rise to speak on the various sections of this act in a fairly comprehensive way. Particularly, I want to acknowledge my colleague from Nanaimo–North Cowichan, who had a brief eulogy for the public affairs bureau. I think it's important that we all acknowledge the good works of the spinners over in the public affairs bureau. They've worked tirelessly over the past ten years, as my colleague suggested, to try and make a silk purse out of many of the sow's ears that have come our way over that period of time. I give them full marks for that.
But it's not just the public affairs bureau that we're saying goodbye to today with this miscellaneous amendment act. We're also looking at some significant changes in areas that I've been following over the past number of years, particularly the Mines Act.
It's interesting that the member for Kamloops–South Thompson would begin the heckling today, because it's with him in mind that I look at these amendments. I'm curious as to why, after ten years in power, we get to a point, following on the heels of the Boss Power uranium giveaway fiasco….
J. Horgan: The debacle. Thank you very much. "Fiasco" doesn't really do it when you've got "debacle" at your disposal, hon. Speaker. I thank the member from Powell River for choosing a more appropriate word to describe how we lost $30 million.
An Hon. Member: Boondoggle.
J. Horgan: I would say "boondoggle." I would say "Boss Power boondoggle," but I like to leave the boondoggles to my friend from Columbia River–Revelstoke, who coined the term some years back in this place with respect to massive overruns for public projects. But let me get back to the substance of the bill, hon. Speaker, because I know that's what you'll want me to do with the time available to me.
I raised my friend from Kamloops because the particular amendment that's of interest to me with respect to the Mines Act speaks to changing the role and function of the chief inspector of mines. Now, the member opposite will know the importance of the autonomy and the statutory authority of the chief inspector of mines. He would know that as a former minister. He would know that as a friend of the individual I would be referring to in the matter of a couple of minutes.
What troubles me about the package that was put before this Legislature, and the accompanying press material, is under the section with respect to the Mines Act amendments, the press material which would have been from PAB but is now from the government communications and public engagement division — branch, legion. I don't know what exactly it would be called. Legion — is that all right? I'll call it a legion.
The package says: "Amendments will give the province the power to introduce regulations that would exempt some lower-risk activities from the permitting process." Now, that gives one pause when we think of Bill 7, which my colleague from Surrey-Whalley has been leading courageously on — the requirement for the Minister of Finance to write a report about all the deregulation that he can muster up over the next number of months.
We're looking forward, as the Leader of the Opposition today said, to the 250-page report on what happened to the Natural Resource Operations Ministry and the various other branches that used to be in what were the so-called dirt ministries.
But when I see a piece of legislation accompanied by a press package that says, "With respect to the mining industry" shortly after we had the chief inspector of mines' statutory authority abused by the B.C. Liberal government with respect to removing a uranium mining tenure from the Kelowna area, that causes us to pause. At the time that the member for Kamloops–South Thompson announced publicly a moratorium on uranium exploration in British Columbia, it wasn't backed up with any authority. There was no order-in-council in place to give weight and function to a press release — which was, yes, produced by the dearly lamented, now departed public affairs bureau.
The member for Kamloops–South Thompson…. After nine months, his replacement as Minister of Mines passed an order-in-council to put effect to that moratorium. Three years after the fact, we have an amendment to the Mines Act that says we are going to, by regulation…. And those regulations are developed by whom? Help me out here — the cabinet.
[ Page 8844 ]
The cabinet is going to set regulations directing the chief inspector of mines to allow some individuals or persons to proceed without a permit — deregulation in a sector that woefully needs regulation. I know colleagues on this side of the House have been speaking about that all afternoon.
I know that the Attorney General is anxious to wrap this debate. I'm looking forward very much to doing our committee stage work on the various amendments, those issues that were raised by my colleague from Saanich South, my colleague from Stikine and many other speakers on the opposition who are doing their job. The Queen is very proud of us this week, ladies and gentlemen, for holding the government accountable and speaking to legislation as it comes forward, in a reasonable and respectful way. With that, I'll take my seat and look forward to committee stage.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Deputy Speaker: Members.
Hon. S. Bond: Madam Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 19.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 19 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 19, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), 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. G. Abbott 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.
Copyright © 2011: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada