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
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Volume 31, Number 4
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 25 — Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Bond
Bill M213 — Senate Election Act
Bill 24 — Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. D. McRae
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Firefighters in Burnaby
SUCCESS services for immigrants
Minoru Place Activity Centre in Richmond
Patricia Theatre in Powell River
Charlene Reaveley Children’s Charity Society
Infection control and cleaning services at Burnaby Hospital
Hon. M. de Jong
Funding for groups participating in Missing Women Inquiry
Hon. S. Bond
Government consultation with public on throne speech
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Hon. C. Clark
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 22 — Education Improvement Act (continued)
Hon. H. Bloy
Hon. M. McNeil
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Advanced Education (continued)
Hon. N. Yamamoto
TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
S. Simpson: I know we've all been meeting with firefighters here. They came, and we had an enjoyable evening the other evening. They've been here talking to us about critical issues.
I'd like to take the opportunity to welcome a couple of the firefighters from Vancouver here: Gord Ditchburn, who's the president of the local; and Gord Wilson, who's the vice-president, government and public affairs.
I hope the House will make them welcome.
J. Yap: I have two introductions. In the gallery are two grade 11 students who are spending their day off from school here doing a job-shadow. It's a planning 10 course, and these two young students are volunteers and student leaders. Please welcome Alex Teoh and Jansin Cai, who are here to see the Legislative Assembly in action and to job-shadow someone that apparently has an interesting job as part of their curriculum.
Would everyone give them a great welcome.
J. Horgan: I want to join what I think will be a litany of members standing to introduce firefighters from their constituency. However, I'm going to deviate somewhat and introduce Steve Hanna, who is the president of the Saanich local. The member for Saanich South has allowed me to do this.
I mentioned two years ago that Steve saved my life as a young lad. I want to now say that I made him look like the best goalie on the team because of my prowess, and I know he'll debate me on that later on. Would the House please welcome Steve Hanna from Saanich, a known Reynolds Roadrunner.
B. Stewart: It always gives me great pleasure to introduce guests to the House, but it's a rare privilege to introduce real heroes. You know, all British Columbians know firefighters are heroes, but I think those of us from the Kelowna area understand that better than most. Their brave efforts in the 2003 Kelowna firestorm, the 2009 Glenrosa and 2010 Seclusion Bay interface fires saved not only millions of dollars of property but homes and our largest single employer in West Kelowna, Gorman Bros. Lumber.
Dozens of kids around Kelowna are safe, sleeping in their own beds in their houses and apartments today, because of the efforts of men and women like our guests today. So it's with great pleasure that I introduce the following three gentlemen to the House: Trevor Bredin, president of West Kelowna Professional Firefighters; Nathan Pike, vice-president and treasurer of West Kelowna Professional Firefighters; and Dennis Hall, the secretary of the West Kelowna Professional Firefighters.
I hope my fellow members will help make them feel welcome.
C. Trevena: I'd like to join in the welcoming of firefighters. I have a number of firefighters in the gallery today from Campbell River. We have up in the gallery Scott Kratzmann, Kelly Bellefleur and Stewart Dumont.
They are joined by Reid Wharton, who I think many people may have met at the door yesterday. He is the secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association. Also, I believe, in the gallery is Les Ready, who is an honorary life member — can't give up, can't retire, an honorary life member — but also very active in the activities of Campbell River.
I hope the House will make all of them very welcome.
J. Slater: As you are very aware, we have two Penticton firefighters here today — Wayne McKenzie and Chris Forster. I'd like the House to make them very welcome.
K. Corrigan: I had the great pleasure last week of attending the Westburn Soccer Club annual banquet, and I am very pleased to see that we have here today a dedicated volunteer from Westburn Soccer, Lana Wong, who's actually from Vancouver. With her is Dale Gephart of North Delta. They are here for a business conference.
I hope the House will make them feel very welcome.
Hon. T. Lake: It's a great pleasure for me to welcome some real everyday heroes to the Legislature here today. My teammate from Kamloops–South Thompson and I were fortunate to have breakfast this morning, after meetings yesterday, with firefighters from Canada's tournament capital. They include Kris Krutop, Ryan Cail, Trevor Wilkinson and Max Auger.
I would like the House to please make them very welcome.
M. Elmore: On behalf of myself and the member for Vancouver–West End, we're very pleased to welcome firefighters from across the province here. We enjoyed the reception last evening and will be having meetings with them today.
We'd like to have the House welcome, from Vancouver, Graham Mervin, Don Robinson, Chris Coleman, Lee Lax and Dustin Bordelo. I please ask everyone to make them very welcome.
V. Huntington: It gives me great pleasure to introduce two gentlemen who teach at Delta Secondary School in
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Ladner — Mr. Casey Mynott, who is the automotive instructor, and whose classes, I might add, have achieved significant notoriety for building the only electric race vehicle in Canada, a vehicle which currently holds the electric vehicle speed record; and Mr. Duncan Cowen, who teaches technical studies at DSS and whose students often make parts for that same electric vehicle.
Will the House join me in welcoming those teachers.
M. Karagianis: Today in the House we have a not infrequent visitor, someone who is always full of sage advice. A former MLA, Mr. Gerard Janssen, is here today. Please give him a good welcome.
M. Dalton: In the House today we have Norm MacLeod. He is the captain for Fire Station No. 1 in Mission. He's been a paid on-call firefighter for 25 years and a full-time firefighter since 2009, when Mission expanded to a full-time firefighting team. I want to thank him and all the firefighters in Mission for the work that they do for the community.
D. Black: I have two introductions to make today. The first is to introduce Tania Jarzebiak, my friend and former colleague, who's here in the precincts today. Tania is known to members of both sides of the House. She's celebrating a birthday this week, and I would ask all the members of the House to join in wishing Tania Jarzebiak a happy birthday. I'm asked by my colleagues what birthday, and I would just say 29 and holding.
I would also like to introduce two people from my community in New Westminster. Stacey Robinsmith, who is a teacher at New Westminster Secondary School, is with us today. Stacey and I have a passion for education in common, but we also have something else in common. We're both the parents of twins. That's kind of a unique club that Stacey and I both belong to.
I also want to introduce Michael Ewen, who is the vice-chair of the New Westminster school board and someone I've also known for many, many years, probably more than we both want to talk about. Michael holds the distinction of being the longest currently serving trustee in the province. He's now in his 33rd year as a school trustee in New Westminster.
Would the House please make them welcome.
N. Letnick: I'd also like to acknowledge our firefighters from the Kelowna area that are in the House: Larry Hollier, Dennis Miller, Mike Hill, Dave McCarthy and Jason Picklyk.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all the firefighters. Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to them, and they gave me something which I was not expecting, which was a beautiful axe, polished, with a little emblem, thanking me and all the people in this House who have worked so hard to introduce the Emergency Intervention Disclosure Act. It will sit as one of the highlights of my tenure in this House.
Would you please join me in welcoming all the firefighters.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Burnaby-Edmonds.
R. Chouhan: Finally, I got my turn. Thank you.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome my friends from the Burnaby local of firefighters: President Rob Lamoureux, Jeff Clark, Craig McDiarmid and Miles Ritchie. Please join me to welcome them.
L. Reid: My colleagues from Richmond Centre and Richmond-Steveston…. We are blessed to join together and welcome our firefighters. We have extraordinary firefighters in the city of Richmond. I'd ask them to please make welcome Cory Parker and Rich McMillan.
R. Fleming: I want to join with my colleague the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill and welcome Victoria firefighters who are with us here today: Gary Birtwistle, Darren Blackwell and Neil Pierson. Of course, the Victoria fire department is one of the oldest in the country. In fact, it existed before Canada was a country.
These three individuals serve on the executive of their union. They serve our community and our businesses to keep them safe each and every day. I will be meeting with them after question period, with members of the Saanich Fire Fighters. This is a rare moment of cooperation that will happen in my office after the Legislature.
Aaron Charlton will be representing the Saanich Fire Fighters. My colleague from Juan de Fuca has already introduced Steve Hanna, who will join us as well.
Will the House make all those firefighters from Victoria and Saanich welcome today.
Hon. S. Bond: On behalf of my colleagues from Prince George–Mackenzie and Nechako Lakes, we're delighted to have three of Prince George's finest here with us today: firefighters Mike Halladay, Blake King and Fred Wilkinson. We had a great, productive meeting this morning, and we're very grateful for the work they do in our community.
G. Coons: In the gallery today are two constituents of mine and friends from the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 559: Calvin Thompson and James Daniele. They're going to be meeting with the member for Skeena and myself this afternoon to discuss some issues.
I'd like to extend our gratitude to all the firefighters for coming down in the last couple of days. Please make them welcome.
K. Conroy: I, too, would like to introduce some firefighters. I'd like to introduce the president of the Trail
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firefighters, Lee DePellegrin, and Rick Morris, who's the secretary-treasurer of the Trail firefighters. Also with them is a firefighter from Trail. His name is Richard Melnyk. He is right now the acting president of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association.
In addition to welcoming these three firefighters, I'd also like you to welcome Wendy Letoria, who is a pharmacist from Fruitvale — not a firefighter but a pharmacist.
H. Bains: On behalf of my colleagues from Surrey, the members for Surrey-Whalley, Surrey–Green Timbers and Surrey-Fleetwood, it is my honour to welcome a delegation of firefighters from Surrey. I'm told they're the best in the province, and I believe them. They are doing an excellent job, and please help me welcome them to this House.
M. Coell: I have a guest in the Legislature today, Kaylee Butler. She is a grade 10 student from Stelly's Secondary in my riding. She has a keen interest in democracy and is here to observe the protest and march outside and, also, to watch question period. So please make Kaylee welcome.
D. Thorne: I have four firefighters in the precinct, and I would like the House to make them welcome. Two of them have been here before, and two are new firefighters, but nobody from Coquitlam ever wants to miss a good party, and they always have a good party when they're here. So I would like the House to make them welcome. I will say their names: Jason Miller, Steve Farina, Steve Rocolo and Mac Sullivan.
D. Hayer: Just like all my other colleagues, we had also had a meeting with our Surrey firefighters, some of the best ones in the world. They met with the members for Surrey–White Rock, Surrey-Panorama and Surrey-Cloverdale. They included representatives from the Surrey Fire Fighters Association: Chris Skeena, Todd Schierling and Mike McNamara. There were some other members from Surrey too.
I want to thank them for coming over and also explaining what issues they have, how they want our help to make sure we help them with the issues they have. I have enjoyed every year when they come over and talk to us, both sides of the House — explain the issues. Both sides have worked very well to find solutions over the last ten years, and we look forward to finding more solutions about the issues they raised with us this morning.
B. Routley: We have with us in the House today Scott Lunny, who's a union rep with the Steelworkers. I worked with Scott over the years — a fine trade union representative who's helped bargain fair collective agreements that we can share with all British Columbians. So please join with me in welcoming Scott.
D. Routley: I'd like to have the House help me welcome two guests, and they're not firefighters. Joining me are two of my dearest friends, Patty McNamara and her husband, Mike McNamara. They're both on my constituency executive. Patty happens to be my CA. And all of us know how important our CAs are to having ourselves represent our communities properly.
Mike is a former military man who runs the constituency association probably like the military might be run if only it were that efficient. He's also a very humorous guy. We all bought salmon together once. I was late picking mine up, and Mike phoned me and said: "Do you want to pick this salmon up, or do you want to have us smoke it for you?" I said: "I'm not sure." He said: "Well, I'd smoke it for you, but I find it really hard to light." That's the kind of humour from Mike McNamara.
Can the House help me welcome Mike and Patty McNamara.
Hon. I. Chong: In keeping with the tradition, I, too, would like to introduce two firefighters from Oak Bay. They are Chris Melenovsky and Brad Trenholm. They are new this year, and meeting with me because some of their former firefighters have retired.
But I do want to put a shout-out to the two previous ones I used to meet with. That's Rob Keeble and Don Roskelly. My best wishes go out to Rob Keeble, who has undergone some major health challenges.
I would ask the House to please make welcome Chris and Brad.
N. Simons: The two firefighters that I would like to introduce have left because the Queen of Burnaby is running today. Bill Grantham and Dave Ellis were in the precinct, and I was pleased to meet with them. Will the House please send them on a safe journey home.
M. Farnworth: I have a couple of introductions today — actually, not the Port Coquitlam fire department, with whom we had extensive discussions last night on the issues that matter to them, but rather two young individuals. We often, in this chamber and outside, want to see young people get into politics, encouraging politics. In the gallery today is a young fellow, a young student, named Keats Morton, who has a real interest in politics in B.C. and the Tri-Cities. He's up in the gallery. I'd ask the House to please make him most welcome.
The second introduction. It's my pleasure to welcome to this House a city councillor from my home town of Port Coquitlam. In fact, he is the youngest city councillor in the history of Port Coquitlam. When he was elected the first time, he was the youngest city councillor in all of British Columbia. He was re-elected this past year,
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topping the polls in the city Port Coquitlam, and that is Councillor Brad West, who one day I'm sure will be sitting in this House, on that side of the chamber — across. I'd ask the House to make him most welcome.
D. Hayer: I also want to recognize Saverio Lattanzio. He's a firefighter from Surrey, and I missed his name in the last introduction. I want to welcome him. Will the House please make him very welcome too.
L. Krog: I think our firefighters have already left. So for the members for Parksville-Qualicum and Nanaimo–North Cowichan, I won't introduce…. But there's a famous individual here — for the member for Cowichan Valley, who asked me to introduce him — who is known, for those of you who listen CKNW, as Tom from Cobble Hill, Tom Harkins. Would the House please make him welcome.
C. Hansen: I, too, want to welcome the Vancouver firefighters. I just wanted to let them know that the meeting that we have scheduled for 2:30 is going to start a little bit late because introductions have gone on so long today, but we will get there.
Mr. Speaker: I think on behalf of all members we want to thank all the firefighters in the province of British Columbia.
As one member said here, I don't think there are any more to introduce, but I think we have got them all.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 25 — MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Bond presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. S. Bond: I am pleased to introduce Bill 25, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Attorney.
Hon. S. Bond: I am pleased once again to introduce Bill 25, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. This bill amends the following statutes: the Assessment Act, the Environmental Management Act, the Farm Income Insurance Act, the Insurance for Crops Act, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Act, the Local Government Act, the New Relationship Trust Act, and the Park Act. The bill also makes consequential amendments and includes a validating provision.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 25, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL M213 — SENATE ELECTION ACT
J. Les presented a bill intituled Senate Election Act.
J. Les: I move this bill be read a first time now.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Member.
J. Les: I'm pleased to reintroduce the British Columbia Senate Election Act today. We are continuing to follow through in our commitment to engage with B.C. voters, and we believe that British Columbians across the province will support this bill.
The act provides a legal framework for the election of senatorial nominees to represent British Columbia in the Senate of Canada. The primary purpose of the act is to set out the electoral process required to democratically elect senatorial nominees selected by the electors of British Columbia, to be submitted by the government of British Columbia to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, for appointment to the Senate.
The act allows for a candidate to run as an independent or as an affiliate of a political party registered under the provincial Election Act.
The act creates a panel of three, including the Chief Electoral Officer, a distinguished political scientist and a member of the general public, who will create boundaries for six new senate electoral districts across British Columbia along four principles: firstly, keeping common geographic areas together; secondly, maintaining electoral districts that are manageably sized in sparsely populated areas of the province; thirdly, maintaining electoral districts that are similar in terms of population and interests; and fourthly, using federal electoral districts as a basis for division.
The act also requires the Chief Electoral Officer to find and approve a safe and secure method of allowing Internet voting to be the primary method of voting for senate nominees but also provides the possibility of mail-in ballots if an Internet-based system cannot be found in time for the first elections.
We're looking forward to working with our counter-
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parts in the federal government to find a mutually beneficial agreement to reimburse our government for the expenses incurred conducting the elections prescribed in this act.
Our government has made a commitment to support open government, and this act provides another tangible example of following through on that commitment. This bill contains a sunset clause of eight years.
Recognizing that the province of British Columbia currently has fewer Senate seats than both smaller provinces such as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, which each have ten senators, and larger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, which each have 24, we maintain that the inequity should be resolved in the midterm or the legitimacy of the Senate will be undermined. We urge the federal government and other provinces to move to a system which is more equitably representative.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M213, Senate Election Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 24 — PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO
ANIMALS AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. D. McRae presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. D. McRae: I move the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act be introduced and read a first time now.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. D. McRae: Today I introduce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act.
Many of you remember, when we brought forward the amendments to this act in spring 2011, we discussed the possibility of increasing oversight to the BCSPCA decision-making. The ministry has reviewed this issue with the BCSPCA and considered the input of the public on this issue as well.
Today I am pleased to introduce the amendments to the act that will increase transparency and accountability for decisions related to taking animals into custody, with an independent appeals process that will be led by the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board. The board has a successful history as an administrative tribunal, independent of government, in its general supervision of B.C.-regulated marketing boards and commissions.
I move that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting after today.
Bill 24, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
FIREFIGHTERS IN BURNABY
R. Chouhan: On behalf of everyone in this House, I salute all firefighters across B.C. Every day firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our communities. We all know how challenging and dangerous their job can be.
Last September I had the privilege to participate in Fire Ops 101. That was an eye-opener. When we got there, we saw how they function in very dangerous situations. We learned a lot from their experiences.
Today I would like to talk about the Burnaby firefighters, with whom I have worked since 2005. In addition to being ready and available 24-7, keeping our communities safe, the Burnaby firefighters are always available to help everybody who asks for help. Burnaby firefighters realize that their work is more than about handling emergencies. It is about helping the community with issues of poverty, hunger, health and so many other needs.
Through the work of the Burnaby Fire Fighters Charitable Society, firefighters have donated their time and efforts to host a yearly fundraiser. This Saturday they will be hosting their 20th annual charitable ball, a fundraiser that has in the last 20 years raised over $2 million to support over 60 community groups and fund programs such as teaching CPR to Burnaby high school students and snack programs for inner-city schools.
On behalf of my caucus members and every member in this House, we pay tribute to B.C. firefighters for their sacrifices and thank the Burnaby Fire Fighters Charitable Society for making a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.
SUCCESS SERVICES FOR IMMIGRANTS
J. Yap: I recently, as did the Premier and other members of this House, attended the Bridge to SUCCESS gala dinner show, a signature charitable gala event that brings together people to raise money for this great organization. This year the gala raised $475,000 to support programs and services run by SUCCESS. While there, I was reminded of the valuable work that this organization does.
SUCCESS is one of the largest social service agencies in B.C., providing services for new immigrants, persons
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with disabilities, seniors, youth and families across the province. From Richmond to Fort St. John, SUCCESS provides programs and services in employment and language training; health care and social housing; family and youth counselling; and community, social and economic development.
In particular, SUCCESS provides support for new immigrants of Chinese and other ethnic origins to settle and integrate in Canada. This includes promoting and delivering public services and training, as well as encouraging clients to fully participate in community affairs to be active citizens.
Organizations like SUCCESS are crucial for supporting multiculturalism within our province. The SUCCESS mission is to build bridges, harvest diversity and foster integration through service and advocacy. It's a voice of social change. It's a force for community service. It's a builder of bridges between diverse communities.
I'd like to congratulate current SUCCESS board chair Dennis Chan and his fellow directors, SUCCESS foundation chair Maggie Ip and her fellow directors and all of their team members on the success of this gala and all the great work of SUCCESS in providing valuable social services and promoting multiculturalism in B.C.
M. Karagianis: Fourteen-year-old Emily Case is a grade 8 student at Colquitz Middle School in my community. For the past two years she has been actively involved in a group called Free the Children. This group teaches young people that they can be the change now instead of waiting until they are grown up to change the world around them.
Through the group, she'll be travelling to South America later this year to build a school for children in Ecuador. To raise the money for the trip she has been tirelessly fundraising through bottle drives and garage sales. On Sunday Emily held a fundraiser that was so successful she exceeded her goal for Ecuador and has already started fundraising for a 2014 trip to Kenya.
Emily has been planning an event called Chorus of Cans at her school. It's a singing competition, with the entry fee being a can of food. All the food collected will go to the Mustard Seed Food Bank. She's also done fundraising for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the local SPCA. Emily was able to go to We Day in 2011, which included speakers Mikhail Gorbachev and Mia Farrow.
When she is not helping others, Emily finds time for other activities, such as the fine arts her school has to offer. She plays the trumpet, is a member of three bands, the choir, and participates in every theatrical production she can. She is currently rehearsing for this year's up-and-coming musical rendition of Bugsy Malone, where she'll play the lead female role of Tallulah.
Despite being that busy, she keeps herself busy and keeps up with all of her school work as well, without missing a single beat. Because of those things and more, she has been recently named the Save-on-Foods Amazing Kid, and she truly is an amazing kid.
MINORU PLACE ACTIVITY CENTRE
R. Howard: Located in charming Minoru Park, next to the aquatic centre and the cultural centre, is Minoru Place Activity Centre, a valuable community resource for older adults in Richmond.
As British Columbians, we enjoy the country's highest life expectancy and some of the lowest death rates from diseases like cancer and heart disease. As a result, seniors are living longer and more productive lives after retirement. Minoru Place is at the forefront of enhancing the quality of life of seniors in Richmond. Its goal is to continue providing affordable ways to stay active through recreational opportunities in a friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere.
A unique complex in Richmond, it has thousands of members, a full-service cafeteria, games room, woodworking shop, computer workstations and a multipurpose room. Just as the face of children's recreation is changing, so is the way seniors engage in physical and leisurely activity. That is why Minoru Place offers a wide variety of classes and clubs, like woodworking, dance, theatre and yoga. On top of the excellent selection of in-house activities, seniors can participate in day trips to special attractions, events and restaurants.
For great giving ideas, you can stop by the centre's boutique cupboard, showcasing beautiful, unique handmade articles for sale by the busy fingers ladies.
The incredible success of Minoru Place would not be possible without hard-working and dedicated individuals with a vision for active, affordable and quality living.
I would ask members to join me in thanking the president and board of directors; the program coordinator, Eva Busich-Veloso; and the staff and volunteers for their efforts in creating a welcoming and engaging community centre.
PATRICIA THEATRE IN POWELL RIVER
N. Simons: Over the past nearly 120 years movie theatres have become inextricably woven into the social fabric of our communities — a place to meet, to date, to share enlightening experiences, to learn, laugh, cry and cheer. Five generations of Saturday matinees and date nights, heroes and villains, love and loss and a healthy cementing of shared social experience have shaped our history.
Going out to the movies has survived radio, television, recordings, illegal downloads and home theatres, but the
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opportunity to sustain this tradition is being threatened now by the biggest compulsory shift in technology since the talkies were introduced in 1927. For the Patricia Theatre in Powell River, the longest continuously operating movie theatre company in Canada, it's digital or die. The Patricia, designed by the same architect as the Stanley Theatre, Henry Holdsby Simmons, has become an iconic landmark in Powell River by virtue of its location in the heart of the old townsite, a Heritage Canada–designated national historic district, and the beauty of an extensive perennial garden surrounding the federal designation plaque.
Every travel article about Powell River mentions the Patricia. Every visitor to the Sunshine Coast is lured to some extent by what they hope to experience there.
British Columbia is far more than its natural beauty. Visitors come here because of the province's offering of diverse experiences far beyond the obvious. One of our most authentic experiences is to savour a preserved heritage environment.
With the help of the people of this province, everyone who has lived in Powell River or has visited there or who knows people who have, this iconic working cinema and vaudeville house with its atmospheric murals and projection booth equipment can be preserved as a true living museum of Canadian neighbourhood theatres. Please find out how you can help save the Patricia Theatre.
CHILDREN’S CHARITY SOCIETY
D. Horne: Charlene Reaveley was a 30-year-old mother of four children, ages two to 11. A terrible tragedy took place February 19, 2011, on their way home from a celebration dinner. Charlene and her husband stopped at the corner of Pitt River Road and the Lougheed Highway in the Tri-Cities to help another stranded motorist, a 26-year-old Lorraine Cruz, attending Vancouver Community College from the Philippines.
Both women were tragically struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. As a caution to drinking and driving, it appears that alcohol was both a factor in the original accident as well as with the hit-and-run driver.
Charlene was bright, vibrant and always full of life. Her infectious smile truly had the power to change the situation and make things better. She was a genuinely caring and loving person who always went out of her way to help others in need.
In memory of her approach to life, the Charlene Reaveley children's foundation was created by her devoted husband, Dan. After suffering the loss of his wife, he was left to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams and to get his four children's and his life back together.
The mission of the Charlene Reaveley Children's Charity Society is to offer immediate assistance to families with children experiencing the loss of a loved one by providing practical tools, resources, as well as emotional and financial support. Their desire is to help ease the stress of the undeniable question in these cases of: "What's next?"
I wish to commend her husband, Dan Reaveley, as well as Charlene's father, Colin Ogilvie, for a very difficult situation — for preserving their memory in the foundation. As well, the two, and especially Charlene's father, put up a loving display of candles and flowers. He maintains this to this very day, every single day.
There was recently a gathering to mark the anniversary. It was attended by many who share the desire to ensure that families have the community support they require in their time of need. For more information and to support the excellent work and vision of the foundation, please go to www.crccs.ca.
INFECTION CONTROL AND CLEANING
SERVICES AT BURNABY HOSPITAL
A. Dix: Members of this House all know that infection control is essential to a hospital's ability to deliver quality care. That is surely the view expressed by Dr. Shane Kirby in a second letter he sent to Fraser Health last Thursday with respect to Burnaby Hospital.
According to Dr. Kirby: "Infection prevention and control had become 'an orphaned medical service' when the health authority restructured program delivery in 2009. The hospital's ability to take direct action against outbreaks was damaged in the process."
Can the Health Minister explain why the government's health authority allowed this to occur over a two-year period?
Hon. M. de Jong: British Columbians need to have confidence that when they attend at our hospitals, they will receive the best possible medical care and they will receive that care in a safe environment. That's why I attended at Burnaby yesterday, and I'm able to report to the House — having met with Dr. Kirby, the chair of Burnaby Hospital's infection control committee, the department head of internal medicine, the department head of acute medicine, the medical coordinator, the regional medical director of infection control, the chair of Fraser Health and the CEO for Fraser Health.
I can advise the House of this. They are all, together, collectively committed to ensuring that patients who attend at Burnaby Hospital are attending a medical facility that is safe. They are committed to ensuring that unacceptably high levels of C. difficile, which they all acknowledge is a reality in hospitals, continue to be brought down. They have committed collectively to the implementation of 13 recommendations presented by
[ Page 9810 ]
Dr. Gardam after he was called in by the health authority in November.
Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, they are committed to ensuring that patients at Burnaby Hospital are safe, and commit to the fact that they will be safe in the future.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: I think it's been of concern to everyone, certainly in my constituency and everyone in Burnaby, that C. difficile rates at that hospital have been unacceptably high for too long. In fact, the Fraser Health CEO commented that their actions were "as a result of recent public discussion." That does not fill us, frankly, with confidence.
Now, in response to what the minister said last week, Dr. Kirby sent a second letter to the Fraser Health CEO where he said that he shared that enhanced housekeeping could have helped mitigate C. difficile transmission at this hospital. Dr. Kirby says that there were "unacceptable delays" in implementing enhanced cleaning protocols.
Can the minister explain why those unacceptable delays referred to by Dr. Kirby happened?
Hon. M. de Jong: First of all, I would caution all of us against engaging in any amount of revisionist history. I will say this. Fraser Health has been tracking…. In fact, the data on C. difficile infection rates is publicly available. It is publicly available, on a quarterly basis, on the Provincial Infection Control Network. So there's no secret about the challenge that has existed, and they have made good progress.
But it was Fraser Health, responding to the situation and anxious to do even better at Burnaby Hospital, that called in an internationally recognized expert who completed a report that contains 13 recommendations. Those recommendations will be implemented. There is universal acceptance on the part of all of the partners at Burnaby Hospital.
In addition to that, a senior medical director for infection prevention and control is being appointed. In addition to that, Dr. Doug Cochrane is being tasked with the specific objective of tracking the implementation of the infection control recommendations from Dr. Gardam.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: With the greatest of respect to the minister, I don't think the term "even better" can be used to describe the situation with respect to C. difficile at Burnaby Hospital. When you've dealt with as many constituents as I have who have dealt with the hospital, he'll know that. He'll understand the broad concern with issues of infection control and cleaning at that hospital.
Dr. Kirby raised specifically how proposals to enhance cleaning at the hospital, to improve infection control, have been longstanding. I'll quote from what he says: "In fact, proposals" — there it is — "for enhanced cleaning had been brought forward by our local infection control committee."
He goes on to say: "…practitioners over a year previous in regards to unacceptable C. difficile rates…." Sorry, hon. Speaker. I'll read the quote again, because it's very important. "In fact, proposals for enhanced cleaning had been brought forward by our local infection control practitioner over a year previous in regards to unacceptable C. difficile rates," but they were still not implemented.
The question to the minister is simple. Why?
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, I'm not sure from the dialogue that has taken place here today what part of the actions that I have outlined for the House the Leader of the Opposition disagrees with. I am trying to bring to him and the House the most up-to-date information I can, flowing from the discussion that I had yesterday with all of the relevant personnel.
Burnaby Hospital is 60 years old. It is an aged facility. There are rooms that contain three and four patients. Members will know that as we replace these old facilities, we are doing so with single-occupancy rooms or double-occupancy rooms. All of the experts, all of the infection prevention officers that were present yesterday, concede that there are unique challenges at Burnaby Hospital, which is why we're getting on with the task of planning for the redevelopment of that site.
I will say this last thing. When we as a government say that we are getting on with plans for redevelopment, people take notice because there's $7 billion worth of evidence that we actually follow through.
M. Farnworth: The minister just said Burnaby Hospital is 60 years old, and that creates challenges. That's absolutely right, which is why it makes cleaning standards even more important.
I'd like to quote Dr. Kirby. He says: "I fail to understand why it required an external reviewer to reveal the same recommendations as internally generated within the region to actually stimulate some results." Those are Dr. Kirby's words. The Fraser Health CEO has effectively admitted that action was being taken because of media attention. The Fraser Health CEO said: "As a result of recent public discussion, we have taken immediate steps to restore confidence in infection prevention and control practices."
The question to the minister is this. Why did it take so long? Why did it take media attention for the health authority to actually act?
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member, who I have known for a long time, is simply wrong. The report from an international expert — and I have heard no one dispute Dr. Gardam's qualifications to render an opinion on these matters — contains 13 recommendations. The member on Thursday in this House was quoting from those recommendations. He was retained by Fraser Health last year in the fall.
So to suggest that Fraser Health was motivated by events of the last few days to take action is simply wrong, and it is — on a matter of such importance, relating to the confidence people can have in a hospital — unfair and, in my view, bordering on irresponsible.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: What's irresponsible is that it has taken so long to get this issue dealt with. What's irresponsible is that physicians at Burnaby General were raising this issue over and over again, and in their own words, clearly they were ignored. That's what is wrong.
The minister stood in this House last week and said the recommendations are going to be implemented. He was, you know, very happy to read from the report. Trouble is, the health authority said, "Oh, we're only going to deal with ten of the 13 recommendations," and they weren't going to deal with the major recommendation, which was around having modern staffing levels at Burnaby General when it came to infection control.
Again, the question becomes for the government: why did it take so long when, as the minister said, stats are on the website all the time? Why did it take so long to get action? And when they did, initially it was only going to be ten out of 13 recommendations. Why did it take so long?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, the member has changed his tune, perhaps recognizing that his initial assertion a moment ago was fundamentally wrong. When we're dealing with the confidence that British Columbians need to have in their hospitals, I think it's important that we be accurate.
There is a challenge at Burnaby Hospital. It is an aged facility. We are going to address that. Now, I have a prediction to make. I think later in these proceedings, during this session, I'm going to hear from the member beside the official opposition critic. I'm going to hear from the member for New Westminster. I'm going to hear from all these members who are advocating for the redevelopment of hospital sites in their community.
Now, there's a piece of paper in someone's desk over there that says how the NDP would prioritize those redevelopments. I'd be interested to know, because for ten years they did precious little to ensure that those three- and four-bed wards were being replaced by single- and double-occupancy bed wards.
In the short term, I'm happy to report to the House that the professionals at Burnaby Hospital are working together to continue to reduce the incidence of C. difficile, and we as a government are going to continue to work to ensure that the people of Burnaby and across British Columbia have the most modern hospitals possible.
R. Chouhan: The doctors at Burnaby Hospital noted that there was inadequate cleaning and said that this was part of the reason for the C. difficile outbreak.
A constituent of mine, Ujagar Singh Gill, is a 77-year-old patient at Burnaby Hospital who has been in the hospital for six months now waiting for residential care. Unfortunately, the care Mr. Gill has received paints a picture of inadequate cleaning. The family has asked repeatedly for the room and the bathroom to be cleaned, only to be told that there is not enough staff.
This is just one example of the Liberals failing Burnaby patients. What is the minister doing to ensure that patients have clean hospital rooms in Burnaby Hospital?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, here's a significant difference that characterizes the circumstance today versus what it was not so long ago. The member can stand in the House and present, as part of his line of questioning, specific data that is tracked on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. He couldn't do that ten years ago. There was no data.
We actually take these matters so seriously that we have measurements in place. The health authorities have measurements in place, and that data is presented publicly so that people can assess the progress.
In the case of Burnaby I will say again, in case the member wasn't listening earlier, that there have been challenges. The people that work there do so diligently and have managed to bring the incidence of infection down by 40 percent. Not as far as we would like it to be, but they and all of the people that I met with yesterday are committed to the objective of reducing the incidence of C. difficile infection and providing a continued safe environment for the people in that hospital.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Chouhan: The minister can quote all the numbers and data he wants, but the fact remains that the patients at Burnaby Hospital are not getting the services that they deserve. Mr. Gill's family is very concerned about the state of cleanliness in their father's room and bathroom.
Burnaby Hospital physician Dr. Kirby, in his March 1 letter to the Fraser Health CEO, said there were "unacceptable delays" in the implementation of enhanced cleaning protocols designed to help combat the spread of C. difficile.
Mr. Gill's son says he noticed the same stains — and we have pictures — on the toilets for four days. No, noth-
[ Page 9812 ]
ing was cleaned — four days. The family repeatedly asked for the cleaning to take place, but they were told there weren't enough staff to do it. Is this the kind of standard of care patients can expect at Burnaby Hospital?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm going to refer the member, with the greatest of respect, to the report that Dr. Gardam prepared, because to this point I have not heard anyone take issue. The 12th finding says this: "The Aramark housekeeping staff appear quite dedicated to their tasks and understand the important role they have in patient safety. Given the additional cleaning being recommended, it may be that existing contracts will need to be revisited. The existing…."
Hon. M. de Jong: Yeah. Well, it would help if you read the report, you see.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. de Jong: "The existing external auditing of housekeeping activities should continue."
I'm sorry if the hon. member is offended by the fact that we actually have data that we collect and report upon and make available to the public. But that's the basis of the public confidence that we will ensure British Columbians can have in the safety of the hospitals that are providing services right across the province.
FUNDING FOR GROUPS PARTICIPATING
IN MISSING WOMEN INQUIRY
S. Fraser: Missing and murdered aboriginal women are supposed to be at the centre of the Missing Women Inquiry, but aboriginal groups were forced to withdraw from the inquiry after the government specifically — specifically — denied them the resources they needed to take part in the proceedings.
Now Robyn Gervais, the lawyer representing aboriginal women at the inquiry, is resigning. Ms. Gervais is frustrated over how the commission continues to ignore aboriginal witnesses.
The Premier told this House that her government wants to "make sure people's voices are heard." Those words ring hollow. Will the Premier take the necessary steps today to ensure that the inquiry no longer marginalizes the voices of aboriginal women?
Hon. S. Bond: All of us in this House and in British Columbia want to ensure that this process continues, that we actually get to the bottom of what happened for missing women, aboriginal and others, so that this circumstance is not repeated in British Columbia again. The commission of inquiry was created by this government for exactly that reason.
Today taxpayers in British Columbia continue to support a process that will seek inclusion, we are hoping, over the next couple of months. We have extended the deadline of the Missing Women Inquiry until the end of June.
We have confidence that Commissioner Oppal is fully aware of the expectations that we hear from the voices of aboriginal people and that we will get to the bottom of what happened so it will not be replicated in this province.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Fraser: Without the aboriginal women and the groups who drew attention to this in the first place, this inquiry wouldn't have even happened. From the very start, however, the Liberals have been denying them a real presence and a voice in this process. That's the fact, hon. Speaker. Ms. Gervais was brought on as a compromise, if you will, but she has now lost confidence in the inquiry and has withdrawn.
Will the Premier commit today to take the necessary steps to restore credibility to this Missing Women Inquiry and finally give priority to those voices that matter so much?
Hon. S. Bond: Perhaps the member opposite needs to be reminded that the commission of inquiry is independent, and in fact the commission has been provided with a significant budget that is in excess of millions of dollars to ensure that there's adequate representation.
It is this government that set up and proceeded with the commission of inquiry. Four additional lawyers were added, including the lawyer that chose, unfortunately, to step down. But funds were set aside within the commission budget to ensure that there were lawyers providing adequate representation.
In fact, the member opposite is correct. This government made a choice. We made the choice to provide lawyers for those most significantly impacted, and that was the families of missing and murdered women.
J. Kwan: The Missing Women Inquiry was seriously jeopardized by the B.C. Liberals' refusal to accept the recommendation of their own commissioner to cover the legal costs for the 13 groups granted standing. These groups had some of the most valuable experience, knowledge and information to offer, but they had the least amount of resources. Groups like the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, the February 14th Women's Memorial March, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Ending Violence Association of B.C. and the
[ Page 9813 ]
Women's Equality and Security Coalition were forced to drop out of the process because of the lack of resources.
Given that Ms. Gervais, an independent counsel for aboriginal interests, has just lost confidence in the inquiry and withdrawn, what action will the Premier take to ensure that the integrity of the commission is restored and that the voices of aboriginal women are heard?
Hon. S. Bond: Once again, the member opposite should perhaps take some time to look at the mandate of the Missing Women Inquiry. What the government did was create the opportunity for this to be a less formal commission, a study commission. What it means is that in fact Commissioner Oppal didn't simply sit in a courtroom and wait for lawyers to appear. One of the things he did was actually travel throughout northern British Columbia to speak to women's groups, to speak to aboriginal communities right up and down Highway 16.
The study commission means that you don't need to have a lawyer to have the ability to participate. We did make a choice. We chose to fund the legal counsel for families of missing and murdered women in British Columbia. Commissioner Oppal will continue the process. He is independent, and I have confidence that he will complete this work with credibility.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Kwan: Surely the minister knows that some 24 lawyers are representing police interests at this inquiry, when in fact the most important voices are the aboriginal peoples' community voices at this inquiry. The 13 groups granted standing were denied access to resources, and that's why they have been shut out of the inquiry.
This inquiry came about because of the unimaginable horror that took place in this province. The voices of the aboriginal women and community groups are essential if we are to learn about how to prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. Their voice needs to be heard at the inquiry.
Last May the Premier said: "It's incumbent on all of us in every aspect, in every corner of our society in British Columbia, to care and to show that we care by doing something about it." That's what the Premier said.
My question is to the Premier. What concrete action will she take to show that she cares about the voices of aboriginal women in this inquiry?
Hon. S. Bond: What happened in British Columbia was tragic, and we want to ensure that it does not occur again. What we did as a government was we created a less formal study commission, and what that study commission allows is for people to have the opportunity to participate without the necessity of having a lawyer. That's about increased access.
When the concerns were raised about participation from groups like the ones the member opposite mentioned, the commissioner actually appointed four additional lawyers — two of them pro bono, and we appreciate their work; and two that are paid for from the commission's budget.
I refer to a comment made by a previous Attorney General in this House, speaking about work that Commissioner Oppal did in a previous inquiry, and this is what he said. It was NDP Attorney General Colin Gabelmann. "Mr. Justice Oppal has conducted the inquiry" — referring to the 1990 Oppal Commission — "in a way that is sensitive to the needs of differing groups who come to speak to him…. I think he has made it very clear that you don't have to have a lawyer in tow and that you don't have to do a formal presentation."
If it was good enough under the NDP and the Attorney General of the day set up a similar practice, I would assume that we would extend the same courtesy to Mr. Oppal again today.
WITH PUBLIC ON THRONE SPEECH
S. Chandra Herbert: As part of the Premier and this government's desire to be seen as changed, as a new style of politicians, ones who are open to listening to the people, the Premier and her Liberal government put in the throne speech — the official throne speech, I might add…. They called for "citizens to go on Twitter today and make their own contribution at #throne2011. In 140 characters or less, tell your government about the kind of B.C. you want for your family."
This new style of political consultation was intriguing, so I did a freedom-of-information request to find out what the Liberals were doing with the requests of the people of B.C. What did I find? Well, not four blank pages. None at all. There are zero records of the government doing anything with the information they called on the people to deliver to them.
My question to the Premier, in 140 characters or less, I might add, is: why ask the people of B.C. for their ideas when you refuse to listen — #bcpoli?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Our Premier and our government are absolutely committed to a different way of doing things as a government, and we are leading across Canada as a province in all of our open government initiatives. Last summer we launched three programs — our program of open data, open information and a new government website.
We are responding to people, and we have new public engagement. I think that the member opposite is well aware that we are providing this kind of leadership across Canada.
[ Page 9814 ]
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: If the minister is proud of appearing to be so open that they've actually done nothing to respond to the people of B.C.'s concerns that they asked for, well, then, she wins.
This government doesn't do anything. They appear to be listening. They like to appear to be responding, but when you actually do freedom-of-information requests, what you find is zero, nothing. It's what Jack Layton — the late, great Jack Layton — would call a hashtag fail.
I requested any and all memos, briefing records, reports, PowerPoint presentations, Q-and-A records, communication records, strategic communication plans and the Twitter submissions themselves related to the throne speech requests for ideas through #throne2011, and it was a big zero, a fail.
Again, my question to the Premier, if she decides to rise to the debate at this point — or maybe tweet about it later to her followers: will she explain why her government invited B.C. to be involved through #throne2011, only to then refuse to do anything about their requests?
Hon. C. Clark: I was actually thinking of putting in a freedom-of-information request on where the Leader of the Opposition stands on very important issues facing British Columbians these days. In fact, I was going to put in a freedom-of-information request asking for all notes, memos, documents and anything else that might suggest where he stands on the issue of a $2 billion addition to the budget in order to pay for the teachers union's demands. I won't put it in, though, because I bet you it doesn't exist.
[End of question period.]
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: Orders of the day this afternoon will be second reading continued on Bill 22, intituled the Education Improvement Act, in this chamber, and in section A, the Douglas Fir Committee Room, we will be doing the estimates of the Ministry of Advanced Education.
G. Gentner: I seek leave to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
G. Gentner: I present a petition with 406 signatures, all students of the North Delta Secondary school asking the Legislature to support teachers and quality education in the province of British Columbia.
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 22 — EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT
G. Coons: I rise to respond to Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act — so-called.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
This is a very, very important piece of legislation. I believe that it will once again violate collective bargaining rights for teachers, and it will definitely have a profoundly negative impact on learning conditions for students in British Columbia. I can attest to that. Over the years teachers in this province have sacrificed to win protections for class size and composition and many of the learning conditions for students.
Contrary to what the other side believes, teachers care about public education. They care about their profession. They work hard. They care about their students and want to be able to teach to each student's individual needs and make a real difference.
I represent three school districts — school district 52 in Prince Rupert, school district 50 in Haida Gwaii and school district 49 down on the central coast — and I know that, in the riding I represent, teachers in these regions have a real challenging time in the classrooms.
As far as EDI and scores, the regions up on the north coast are the most challenging for teachers, and it's important for students to have the necessary tools they need to feel good in the classroom.
B.C. Liberal governments continue to undermine the great public education system we have, and we can see that with the past decade of Liberal cuts. That's proof of that.
I have some experience in teaching. I taught for about 28 years. It's interesting, the rally outside, with thousands upon thousands of teachers, of workers, of public sector workers, of parents, of students and concerned British Columbians expressing their concern about the draconian legislation that is before us today.
When I started teaching in 1977, I had the special class. So I was involved in special education. I had the class of ten or 12 students who…. They told me, down by the boiler room: "Do whatever you want. We don't want to see these guys."
Over the years I found it very challenging to work with students, and I did some upgrading. In my summers I went off and upgraded in special ed. I ended up acknowledging that lots of these students should be in normal classrooms.
When I was teaching, I would take these kids to the
[ Page 9815 ]
gymnasium and do gym with them. I'd take them to the shops and make candy dishes. I'd take them to the home ec room and make cookies. I would do everything with these kids.
After about a year and a half I started integrating them in regular classes. I acknowledged that it took a lot of learning, not only for myself but for my colleagues, to understand the importance of integration of students with special needs.
When I heard the executive member for the Special Education Association speaking out at the rally, and their concerns about this legislation…. What their concerns are…. Students with special needs are at the heart of all teachers' concerns within this current labour dispute. They're willing to take a strong stand, and they are.
This is Vice-President Alison Ogden, and she says: "The current legislation not only fails to restore the resources so cavalierly withheld from our children with special needs for the past decade; it further threatens our ability to meet their needs."
These are from teachers — 600 teachers just attended the Crosscurrents professional development conference sponsored by the Special Education Association. I think that's a very important component of this legislation, because it's going to make educational circumstances in classrooms worse off for students and for parents.
I do have to add that 25 years ago I was the vice-president of the Special Education Association. So I have a clear tie to what is happening right now and experiences as to what is happening in education over the last ten or 12 years.
British Columbians, with this bill…. They can see that this Bill 22 makes things worse for students, worse for parents and teachers. It increases class size. It weakens protections for special needs students, and it hurts the quality of education that our children receive. It will violate negotiated working rights for teachers, and it's putting this government on their path of decimating working rights for all British Columbians.
But we have to remember that this is the B.C. Liberal strike. It is a direct result of Liberal mismanagement of education and the mess they've made. That started with the illegal ripping up of teacher contracts. I remember that well. I remember that well in Prince Rupert, back in 2002.
This government, these Liberals, have played politics. They've been increasing the fears and anxieties of parents and students to distract from their mismanagement of our important public education system.
This legislation before us is more about B.C. Liberal politics than it is for a concern about public education. Teachers, parents, students and taxpayers all have so much riding on a contract being agreed to in a fair and respectful way. A real mediation process would be the way to go, versus this some sort of legislated mock version of one.
Last week the employers and the BCTF wanted to go to some sort of mediation process, and this government failed to do that. They had the opportunity, and it fails. It appears it's this government's intention and agenda to give the mediator — you know, a government-appointed person — their own agenda, to strip teachers' contracts once again. Whether it's stripping of class size and composition, post and fill, seniority, due process and dismissal or professional autonomy — it's all coming under section 6 of the bill before us.
The minister, with this legislation, this Bill 22, will choose the mediator along with carefully crafted and tightly controlled B.C. Liberal terms of reference, to deal with concessions and contract stripping that this government was seeking at the bargaining table. I hate to say bargaining table, because there wasn't any bargaining going on. There was not any good-faith bargaining going on. This government wanted this to happen, and now we're seeing the end result.
This is a lot about respect — respect for the collective bargaining process. We see that this government is unwilling to come to a fair and reasonable negotiated settlement. There's been a long and destructive history of disrespect, especially with the current Premier and in her previous role as the Minister of Education back in 2002.
Again, it's about respect, and the lack of respect for teachers — and for our public education system, in ensuring that it can meet the needs of our students in today's world and in the future.
Now, if we look at the recent budget that we just saw a couple weeks ago, Budget 2012, it states on page 25, under the budget and fiscal plan, "Despite continuing declining enrolment, blocked funding to school districts remains unchanged from Budget 2011," right through to 2014-15.
However, the material assumptions in the budget show that the number of students is actually set to increase each year. The reality is that student enrolment is set to increase, and the government is essentially cutting over $100 million for failing to increase funding by the rate of inflation. Again, a disrespect not only for the collective bargaining process; a disrespect for public education and a huge disrespect for teachers in this province — and workers.
We see over the years that…. The most recent Stats Canada reports show that while funding for elementary and secondary public schools increased from 2005 to 2010, B.C. ranked at or near the bottom in terms of education expenditures.
When we look at the ranking, tenth is the lowest and one is the highest. For operating expenditures for that five-year period, B.C. was tenth — last in all of the rankings of all of the provinces. Total expenditures: tenth. Total expenditures per students: tenth. Total expenditures per student in constant dollars: tenth. Total expenditures per capita: tenth. Total expenditures as a
[ Page 9816 ]
percentage of GDP: ninth. Total expenditures per student as a percentage of GDP: eighth.
We can see this government treating our public education system with disdain and disrespect and not funding it the way it should be, as other provinces have. The recent budget basically does little to reverse the trend in terms of improving education.
Now, it was a disappointing budget for students, parents and teachers — and districts. Michael McEvoy, the president of the B.C. school trustees, said, "Districts will be feeling the pressure right across the province…. The 0.6 percent hike is targeted money for specific programs…and won't help boards deal with inflation and rising costs," such as MSP.
If we look at this, despite the Liberal government previously committing to making B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent, this government continues to cut and hack at the budget. The overall increase in the budget falls well below the rate of inflation.
Peg Orcherton, Victoria school board chairperson, says that the decision to freeze block funding is a cut, the same as a cut. This government gives with one hand and takes away heavily with the other. This cut, which is well over $100 million, will mean even less services for students. After ten years of devastating cuts, this will have even more impact in the classrooms.
But the real rich line is that the minister talked about investing an additional $165 million to deal with issues with class composition. This bill deals with that, but that's after this government has basically pickpocketed over $330 million a year by illegally stripping the rights of teachers to bargain class size and composition. That, as we all know, is in Bills 27 and 28. So this extra money, $165 million, is confirmation by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in their ruling against this government, against this Premier who was the Minister of Education at the time, forcing them against their will to deal with it.
To some degree, what we have before us is a bill that is trying to deal with the illegal stripping of contracts in this province. I'm sure most people remember that on April 13, 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, struck down B.C. Liberal amendments to the teachers' collective rights as unconstitutional and suspended that effect for 12 months. Bill 22 is this government's way of trying to deal with it.
Madam Justice Susan Griffin ruled that these bills were unconstitutional because they violated teachers' rights to freedom of association under section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These two bills strip collective agreements of class-size limits and guarantees of support for students with special needs, bringing along with it disastrous consequences for teaching and learning conditions in classrooms across the province.
Again, the significance of the decision, the illegal contract stripping, can't be overstated. Last year there were 12,000 classes that had over 30 students, and thousands of students with special needs whose basic rights were also violated by this government's draconian actions. The illegal legislation allowed this government to underfund education and limit teachers' abilities to insist upon adequate resources.
Basically, the passage of these bills by this government under the current Premier constituted a theft of 20 years of work and sacrifice of classroom teachers to ensure adequate funding, smaller classes and attention for kids with special needs. It was wiped out by a government that violated the rights of thousands and thousands of educators. We know an appeal went to the United Nations where the International Labour Organization found this B.C. Liberal government, with the Premier as the instigator, in violation of international law.
Now the government of the day, the Liberals of the day, just smile and let ten years pass. But in the end, the court found that this government's working condition provisions, forced upon teachers by the current Premier, were unconstitutional and invalid. This government was forced to deal with it, and that's what this $165 million is — a payback for breaking the law.
We go back and look at Justice Susan Griffin's comments in her ruling. She found that the Premier and her colleagues had trampled the collective bargaining rights of teachers by legislating away class sizes and other protections. She also said: "By passing this legislation…the government did not preserve the essential underpinning of collective bargaining, namely, good-faith negotiation." She also said — and this is when the Premier tried, in proud defence of herself….
Talking of balance in what they did when they stripped the contracts, Justice Griffin said: "The evidence that the government relied on to support its assertion that class-size limits were causing hardships to students and parents was anecdotal hearsay. It was so vague and unsubstantiated…. It would be unfair to give it any weight for the truth of its contents."
Any weight for the truth of its contents. So it sounds like a lot of misleading, and perhaps some of the evidence put forward was lies.
You know, the justice says: "Why not provide for a traditional solution to solve a labour dispute?" What we want….
Deputy Speaker: Member, I would caution you to use parliamentary language at all times.
G. Coons: Thank you, hon. Chair.
Why not provide for a traditional solution to solve a labour dispute? That's what nearly happened. That's what should have happened last week when we had an opportunity for a real mediation process to happen, asked for by the employers association and the teachers, but this
[ Page 9817 ]
government went ahead and sledgehammered this bill before us.
Another quote: "The legislation undoubtedly was seen by teachers as evidence that the government did not respect them or consider them to be valued contributors to the education system."
It's shameful that we have come to this Bill 22, which continues the disrespect for collective bargaining, the disrespect for teachers, the disrespect for our public education system.
The Premier, as Education Minister, orchestrated the most regressive pieces of legislation affecting class size and composition that this province has ever seen. These two pieces of legislation systematically decimated B.C.'s special education infrastructure. I've been hearing that, and I saw it in the classrooms that I taught in. This infrastructure had been built up carefully over four decades and turned the official policy of integration of students with special needs into mainstream classrooms. It just turned it on its head.
What we do know is that teachers continually strive for a public education system that enables every student to have the support they need. Teachers and students need class sizes and composition that enable teachers to meet students' diverse needs. They need learning specialists to support students with special needs, whose very learning styles require additional assistance or modified programs. But over the last ten years, from 2001-2002 to 2010-2011, what we've seen is a huge cut in specialist teacher positions.
Library services. There's been a cut of 30 percent — 277 less librarians. We've seen counselling, an 11 percent cut — 106 less counsellors. Special ed, a key one, 737 less teachers — a 19 percent cut. English as a second language, 328 less teachers — a 32 percent cut. Aboriginal education was cut 5 percent. This is not showing respect for our public education system and for the teachers that we rely on.
A teacher from Prince Rupert, Anna Ashley, whom I have known for many years as she's taught in Prince Rupert for many years…. This is a quote from her.
"We want to be able to give children the attention they deserve in our classrooms. We want to be able to meet the individual needs of each and every student so that they can be successful when they leave school and enter the workforce. We don't want to see some students left behind.
"This cannot be done in classes of 30-plus students. This can't be done when classes are full of students with specific special learning needs and inadequate resources. As always, teachers will teach as best they can within the limits that they are subjected to. But in the end, it will be the children and our future generations that will ultimately pay for the lack of resources and underfunding of our education system, which is simply unacceptable."
As we move forward here, we've got many situations that point to the fact that this government has not been bargaining in good faith. An editorial in the Times Colonist a couple of days ago: "…the Liberals' unbending hostility. The reason this turned from negotiation to dispute to strike, and potentially a wildcat strike to come, is that the Liberals have never bargained in good faith."
So here we are, sitting here with this bill before us, and in it there are many, many things that are going to hurt students, teachers, the education system and parents. I'd like to look at some of the sections here.
Bill 22, cynically called the Education Improvement Act, is basically a destructive act of legislative vandalism that will violate collective bargaining rights for teachers and have a huge negative impact on learning conditions for students. I can only imagine how concerned parents will be when they realize that learning conditions are only going to get worse as a result of this bill.
In section 6, under "Mediation" — the imposition section. It provides that the Minister of Education must appoint a mediator to assist the parties in determining their new collective agreement. But the mediation is specifically to concessions brought forward by the employer.
The new collective agreement is to enable high-quality teaching through "effective feedback and evaluation of teachers to promote improvement." That's from the act. But that means dismissal and due process clauses stripped in current negotiated contracts.
They talk in the legislation about an "alignment of professional development with teaching needs." All this is doing is attacking the professional autonomy of teachers.
Another in section 6, "Mediation," is "scheduling and selection of teachers suited to students needs." This is going after, in negotiated contracts, the posting and filling of teachers and their seniority rights.
You know, what this appears to be, this mediation forced upon teachers in some sort of mock mediation process…. It's designed to make teachers complicit in stripping the remaining protections of their own collective agreements. The mediation is one-sided and only includes concessions that were tabled by the employer side of bargaining. So it's a farce.
Now, we've heard a lot about that, about the mediation section, where it's mock. There should be a real mediation process, which we're calling for, the employer has called for and the BCTF has called for. That's where we should be right now.
In section 7 it talks about the offences — the intimidation section, with very severe penalties for any action. This is just sort of more bullying and an attempt to intimidate teachers. The fines are just so outrageous — $475 a day for an employee, $1.3 million for the BCTF.
If we look at that and compare it to recent fines and the Langley mushroom farm that got fined $350,000 for three deaths and two others that are permanently disabled…. These are outrageous, bullying and intimidation factors in this legislation.
Section 13 removes the provision respecting restrictions on bargaining that was found to be unconstitutional by Madam Justice Griffin and substitutes the exact same
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language, with a few slight changes. Again, this is what this government is doing — attacking the public education system, attacking teachers and attacking workers in this province.
You know, section 14, the second-last section that I want to talk about, looks at…. That's a contract-stripping section. It removes provisions about average class sizes. It removes the requirement to obtain the consent of a teacher where classes exceed 30. It removes the requirement that there be no more than three students with an individual education plan, unless the superintendent or the principal — or maybe even the minister — thinks it's appropriate for student learning and there had been some consultations.
So basically, there's an unlimited number of special needs students in classrooms. And this removes any teacher input in the makeup of classes, and it removes reporting requirements under this section.
Again, it also looks at removing accountability. Section 15 removes the requirement to set a calendar for the school year in consultation with teachers and school planning councils. So school planning councils are going to be left out of the picture.
Also, section 15 removes the requirement that superintendents prepare a report on organization of classes within the school district and present it at a public meeting of the board. They don't have to do that anymore.
It also removes the reporting requirements on class size and composition at the start of the year, essentially removing any accountability on class size and composition. So when we look at this legislation before us…. It is a horrendous piece of legislation.
Another teacher, who I've known for many years, is saying:
"Why am I on strike? Teaching has been my calling, my passion, my vocation for more than 30 years, and it is with difficulty that I walk out of my classroom. I'm not usually in favour of a strike. However, this government leaves me no choice due to the actions they have taken and the statements made by our Education Minister.
"First and foremost, the future of our students in our province is at stake. In the past decade our class sizes have increased; the numbers of special needs students in our classes have increased; the compositions of our classes are increasingly complex, including students with social, emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties. Ten years ago the government stripped provisions of class size and composition from our contract, an act that was found to be illegal.
"I am standing up in support of my students, in support of future conditions and in support of what has been fought for and gained over many years of respectful negotiations."
This is an elementary teacher, Laura Esposito, who talks about how normally, she would not be out there protesting the actions of this government over the last ten years.
I can attest to what teachers go through every day when they walk into a classroom and there are 25 or 30 students and it's very difficult to meet the needs of the students in their classrooms.
This last story I want to refer to is a grade 6-7 teacher. Ten girls, ten boys — that's it — 20 in the class. Three of them have moderate intellectual disability. Two of these take medication. It can be hit-and-miss. Another student is intensive behaviour designation. The fifth special needs student, diagnosed with FASD and ADHD, lives in foster care. Constant monitoring is required. The sixth special needs student is intensive behaviour designation. And of the remaining 14 students, one was assessed for mild intellectual designation, but support wasn't allowed. Two more have self-regulation problems and impulse control and so on and so on.
A student teacher was coming in, and she asked the teacher to find the designated students, and the teacher could not in her class of 20. But her classroom was deemed an appropriate learning environment by administration.
This bill is a blueprint for an attack on all workers, takes away the rights for working conditions, unheard of fines. It sets up a phoney mediation. It eliminates the Charter of protective rights to free collective bargaining. It also predetermines the outcome of the mediation. It is a blueprint for eroding the quality of public education and the future of our children.
It makes a mockery of the B.C. Supreme Court decision on Bill 27 and Bill 28. Rather than dealing with Bill 27 and Bill 28, they introduced contract-stripping language word for word. It must be stopped — this bill. It's regressive legislation. It's bad for our public education system. It's bad for students, parents and teachers. It's bad for workers, and it's bad for British Columbia.
This is the B.C. Liberals' strike. They've mismanaged education. They've hurt students, parents, and they played politics with teachers.
We should be in an independent mediation process. Even though teachers and employers wanted to do this, this government has failed public education again.
I agree, I stand tall, with the thousands of teachers in this province and the majority of British Columbians who think that independent mediation or arbitration is the way to go, and we must kill this bill.
J. Les: I appreciate the opportunity to rise this afternoon and offer a few comments on Bill 22. I will make my comments fairly brief, as I think it's necessary that we move forward with this legislation as quickly as possible.
I know that members of the opposition are doing their level best to string this debate out. Each one of them is taking their full 30 minutes of allocated time. I think it's important that we recognize the urgency of the situation. Hundreds of thousands of students across this province are being denied their opportunity to an education. I think it is a travesty that students in British Columbia are being used yet again as a pawn in a dispute between
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adults. That, to me, has always been unacceptable, and it remains unacceptable today, so I will do everything I can to make sure that this goes forward very, very quickly.
Now, I've been listening carefully to some of the debate from members opposite, when I've had an opportunity, and the level of rhetoric is, I think, pretty significant. Sometimes I'd like to see a little bit more thoughtfulness, but unfortunately, I guess, members have a specific mission when they come in here and really haven't, I think, looked that closely at the legislation before they start to speak.
To the bill. Bill 22 actually responds, largely, to many of the requests that we've been hearing over the past number of weeks. For example, we heard that there should be a mediator appointed. And what does this bill do? It in fact allows for a mediator to be appointed and for a cooling-off period to be put in place as well.
I think these are responsible things to do. These aren't solutions that are easily captured in inflamed rhetoric that we hear from the members opposite, but I think this is a responsible approach to try and find our way through the many difficult issues and bring about a solution that is good for our children and good for the teachers of this province, as well as good for the taxpayers of this province. We have to be fair to each of those parties.
That's one of the difficulties in government. Choices have to be made, yet when we challenge the Leader of the Opposition, for example, as to whether or not he agrees with the demands that have been placed or put forward by the teachers, he is singularly evasive. He says: "Well, you know, that needs to be sorted out at the bargaining table." Well, there have been 78 bargaining sessions with the B.C. teachers union, and of course, there has been exactly no success derived as a result of those bargaining sessions.
The opposition leader continues to say that these matters should be discussed at the bargaining table, and he is completely unclear as to what he would suggest, in a constructive way, perhaps. Maybe that's too much to expect of an opposition leader, but some constructive contribution would be nice from time to time.
We are forced to look, then, at what the Leader of the Opposition has espoused in the past. We go back to 1998, when he played a significant role in the negotiations and bargaining that was going on back in those days with the teachers union. He takes credit for coming to a resolution or an agreement that resulted in a zero-zero-and-2 settlement, as it was then advertised by the then NDP government.
The now Leader of the Opposition very much is an architect of that solution, except that they forgot to point out that there were all kinds of other side deals included within that purported zero-zero-and-2 arrangement. The actual cost was an overall increase in cost to government of some 11 percent, which led, of course, to the inevitable headlines back then — typical NDP math: zero plus zero plus two equals 11. You know, it has been ever thus. Members of the New Democratic Party have extreme difficulty with mathematics.
There are many statements, some wilder than others, that are made in this House. There's talk about education cuts, for example. Well, I should put on the record that the education budget has actually increased by 29 percent in the last decade. That is not a cut. That is in spite of declining enrolment of about 70,000 students in that period of time. I don't know how people come to the conclusion that that is a cut. It simply isn't. It is significantly increased resources, with a significant decline in student enrolment at the same time.
The facts are what they are, and I think we need to pay a little bit of attention to the facts once in a while, including the members opposite.
We have claims being made, such as, for example, 700 fewer special needs teachers will be available under Bill 22. The fact is that it will actually enable the hiring of 2,100 additional special needs teaching assistants in British Columbia classrooms.
There's a claim being made that B.C. teachers are actually ninth on the scale of teachers' remuneration in Canada. The fact of the matter is that B.C. teachers' salaries plus benefits are fourth best amongst the provinces in Canada.
There's a claim that seniority is being done away with in the proposals in Bill 22. Clearly, that's not the case. No government would trash seniority. But it's also important to understand that if in a school, for example, they're looking for a new math teacher, the shop teacher with the highest seniority does not get to qualify for that math teaching position.
I'm sure that parents in British Columbia want their kids taught math by a teacher who is qualified to teach math. I think that is an important consideration. If you're looking for a teacher to teach English, you're not going to go looking for a French teacher who happens to have the highest seniority. No, you want the teacher who is best qualified to teach English. That is what is important for the children in the classrooms of British Columbia.
There's an assertion that the contract demands that have been made by the B.C. teachers union are very, very reasonable — some 15 percent, which is, of course, a cost of $2 billion. Well, the teachers union in their last contract achieved a 16 percent increase and an almost $4,000 signing bonus. That, I think, was a very generous settlement and very appropriate for the time. Since that time the economic circumstances of the province have declined somewhat, and government has proposed a zero-and-zero mandate for all public sector unions.
Some 120 or 130 public sector unions have now agreed with that mandate and have ratified or signed off on those negotiating parameters. I actually have the list here. I'm not going to take the time to read off all of the agree-
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ments that have been arrived at between government and the various public sector unions. But the B.C. Teachers Federation somehow seeks an exemption from that zero-and-zero mandate that has already been agreed to by hundreds of thousands of public sector workers across British Columbia. That is not reasonable.
Everybody in British Columbia understands that we live today in an economic circumstance that is not quite as robust as it was a few years ago because of the world economic decline that we're not immune to. B.C. teachers still are, as I've said before, fourth best paid in Canada. Asking B.C. teachers to adhere to the zero-and-zero mandate, while allowing them to go to mediation to discuss other aspects of their working conditions and arrangements, I think, is a very fair approach.
There's another assertion that class-size limits are being eliminated. Well, clearly that is not the case. First of all, there are strict limits in place, and they remain in place for K-to-3. Caps in other grades remain, but exceptions can be made by principals and superintendents, and in some cases, if they exceed a certain number, then additional pay is provided for teachers as well.
You know, there are all of these assertions that are out there, and in a labour dispute, of course, that's par for the course. Everybody seeks to sway public opinion. But I think it's important sometimes to put the facts on the table.
I've also heard one about 12,000 overcrowded classrooms across British Columbia. Well, we have 65,000 classrooms in British Columbia. Fewer than 1,500 have more than 31 students, and fewer than 600 have more than 33. Most of those, of course, as you can imagine, are for things like band, choir and theatre, where actually you want as many students as possible within reason.
It's easy to say: "Well, we've got all of these classes that are way larger than they should be." You need to look at the facts. The facts are that in a lot of these cases that is exactly what discerning parents and their students and their children want to have. If you've got a school band, you probably don't want just 15 kids in that class; you're probably better off with 50. You've probably got a much more robust-sounding band.
We've got to sort out the rhetoric from the facts. I hope that we will have the ability to continue to do that. Again, I'm going to cut my remarks here, because I think it's important that we move this forward quickly.
I hope that I can tell the children of British Columbia as quickly as possible that this dispute is resolved and that they can get back to learning and achieving their educational goals, because, quite simply, it's important.
We all owe the children of British Columbia a lot better than us bickering in here and arguing in great rhetorical oratory. Frankly, some days I almost want to apologize to the kids of British Columbia, because I think we all need to be doing better than this.
D. Routley: I think the members opposite do owe the children of B.C. an apology. They owe the people of B.C. an apology. They owe an apology for so many issues that they've brought to this House, be it the HST or the tearing up of the HEU contracts or selling B.C. Rail when they promised not to. This is just the latest reason that the people of B.C. would deserve an apology.
From the member who spoke before me in particular, given his personality, I'd use the phrase "less is more; more is less." It's an Orwellian phrase that encourages us to believe that less is in fact more, that less funding in education is more funding in education. We have had successive ministers stand in this House and proclaim to the province that less is more.
They say: "We have spent more per student than ever before in the history of B.C." That sounds like a big claim, but it's not such a big claim when you consider inflation and the downloaded costs that this government has imposed on our school systems. Bills 27 and 28 imposed two years of wage increases for teachers onto school districts without funding. Those are the things that have driven the deficit in our classrooms.
The deficit in our classrooms is a deficit in service, a deficit in support. Every school district has had to grapple with these problems, and the B.C. Liberals pretend and would have us believe that there is no problem. "Those silly teachers, those silly parents, they must be wrong. We are spending more per student than ever."
Successively, I have asked every minister who has sat as a Minister of Education to manage my daughter's allowance. They can double Madeline's allowance from $25 to $50 a week, and then I can download onto Madeline the salary increase for her teacher, the new accounting system that the province has imposed on her schools, the increased heating cost, the increased costs of the carbon tax — whatever it might be that this government has downloaded onto the school system.
Then when she tells me, "Dad, I don't have money for that," I can simply send her to the minister, whoever that might be at the time. The minister will tell her: "No, Madeline, you have more allowance per student than in history. You have the most." So more is less; less is more.
It doesn't make sense. Everyone knows. Everyone who has been impacted by Liberal education policies knows the truth. They know that there is a deficit in our classrooms. They know that there is a deficit in the learning conditions of the children of British Columbia.
The previous speaker said that somehow the NDP is responsible for drawing this debate out. Well, we owe it to our constituents to debate legislation. This government had an option of calling this bill on Wednesday. It was the Premier on Tuesday who challenged the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions out of order on the bill.
She was so eager to have it debated in question period on Tuesday, but then on Wednesday did we see the bill?
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No, we didn't see the bill. On Thursday morning, did we see the bill? No, we didn't see the bill on Thursday morning. We did see it briefly on Thursday afternoon, but then what happened? The government adjourned the House, and we went home.
The government had the option of keeping us here all weekend, if they'd chosen. But they didn't, because they think they need this dispute. They think they need this dispute to change channels, change the channel from their failed policies, their absolute failure to build the trust of British Columbians and their failure to live up to their word in so many ways. "Look over there. Now it's the greedy teachers' fault."
And the NDP? We want to debate a bill that doesn't make sense. When both sides of a dispute are calling for mediation and the government refuses to engage in that mediation, we should just agree — shouldn't we, Madam Speaker?
I think that would be the worst thing for the B.C. Liberals right now, if we sat down and agreed, because they need this fight to change the channel from their absolute dismal state in terms of the polls of the province, the support of the people. The people have lost faith in the B.C. Liberal government.
This is the government's strike. They went to the table those 78 times with no flexibility, no mandate to negotiate. Those are not good-faith negotiations. They drove for this strike, and now they have it. They drove for this dispute, and they created a battlefield in our classrooms.
The people who have created pawns of our children in the school system are sitting on that side, the B.C. Liberal government of British Columbia. They have chosen this conflict. They have chosen it, and they have driven it. Bill 22 is the wedge they hope to drive now.
Bill 22 needs to be opposed for so many reasons. Bill 22 responds to a Supreme Court decision that found that Premier to have imposed legislation in 2002, Bills 27 and 28, which was unconstitutional — illegal. That's what the court said about our Premier's legislation introduced when she was Education Minister in 2002.
When that decision came down and the government was given one year to rectify the situation, there was some glimmer of hope in the province amongst educators, children, parents — even us on the opposition side — that maybe what would happen would be that legislation would be brought forward or a contract agreed to with the teachers which would address the terrible conditions imposed way back in 2002, which would address the failure of the government even to live up to its own legislation, Bill 33 of 2006.
Imagine our surprise. Maybe we're a little more jaded on this side of the House in opposition, but imagine the surprise of teachers who fought for that decision, who knew that those bills, 27 and 28, were unconstitutional. Imagine their surprise when what they got was worse.
Imagine that the Supreme Court could tell the government that it had unconstitutionally stripped working conditions from the negotiating process. The result of that was increased class sizes and decreased supports for students, particularly the most vulnerable students. Imagine their surprise when Bill 22 delivered worse.
How did it deliver worse? Well, it delivered worse, first, by removing any limits on special needs students in the classroom. The Education Minister defends that as some sort of defence of their right not to be considered different in the classroom. Those caps were put there to support those children. Those caps were put there to protect working conditions so that the teachers could cope with the demands. So they were removed.
It is a little bit like someone who got caught speeding too many times, so they just removed speed limits. It's inconvenient. It's a pattern for the B.C. Liberals. They put in a law that says: "We won't run a deficit." They run a deficit. They say: "Well, we'll change that rule." This is the same.
When they can't live up to the obligations they have in fact imposed on themselves as employers, they say, "Well, we'll just remove that. We will call it the Education Improvement Act. Why don't we call it that? That will make it sound good" — when in fact it's bad, when in fact it makes things worse for children and worse for teachers.
Teachers weren't rallying out here 5,000 strong and all across the province because things have improved. Children and parents aren't alarmed and angry because things have improved. They are voicing their concerns because they know that the true deficit in this province exists in their classrooms. They know it exists in hospitals. They know it exists throughout the services that British Columbians depend on, which this government has undermined.
They are saying it loud and clear to a government that refuses to hear, to a government whose policies have left us in the dismal situation where the total expenditures in this province — operating expenditures in current dollars — place us tenth of all provinces.
We're tenth in total expenditures. We're tenth in total expenditures per student, tenth in total expenditures per capita. Oh no, hold on. We're only ninth in total expenditures as a percentage of GDP. Ninth — that's a big improvement over tenth,
These are the real outcomes. The real outcomes are…. My sister in her class will find how much more difficult it is to manage her classroom, to teach the way she wants to teach, to be effective. My whole family are teachers and have been teachers. They won't have the wool pulled over their eyes by a government that defends its policies the way this government does — tells us that less is more and more is less. They know the truth. British Columbians know the truth.
Let's look at the history. Bills 27 and 28 in 2002 wound up costing so many children their chance at the best education that we could deliver them. Children who were in
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kindergarten back then are in grade 11 now. They have lived their entire school career under these diminished conditions delivered by the B.C. Liberals.
It took that long for the teachers to prove that act was unconstitutional. Now it's taken a year since that time for this government to deliver yet another blow. That is extremely disheartening for professionals who are teachers, who have chosen the profession because they care — not because they want to get rich, because they don't.
Did you know, Madam Speaker, that in one of the districts I represent, it takes an average of 12 years for a teacher to get a full-time continuing contract? Did you know that it's common? I think in B.C. it's about eight years.
During that time, because they don't have continuing employment, those teachers can't qualify for mortgages. Those teachers don't know what their annual income will be, even their monthly income. They cope with that because they love the profession. They cope with all the conditions downloaded and placed upon them — the burdens to success with their children — by the B.C. Liberals, because they love teaching.
We should be thankful for that. We should not further burden them and further insult them with legislation like that and a defence like we just heard from the less-is-more argument. I just think it's really an insult. It's another slap in the face of people who have devoted themselves to our future, our collective future.
Why are we here? Why are we here debating this act? We are here because British Columbians understand that investing in the future…. I think all people understand that investing in future generations is the last thing we should fail to do — the last thing. But what do we see from this B.C. Liberal government? We have seen deteriorating conditions for our future. We have seen diminished supports for our future.
We've seen a disinvestment in our future. We have seen a government that's given up, that has simply handed to its friends the benefits of this province and, with a bill like this, makes our children pay for that. That is disgraceful.
That does a disgrace to the commitment of teachers. It does a disgrace to this province, to this House. It's the House of the people of B.C. It's ornate. It's beautiful. It's made that way to uplift all of us in our common interest. This government and its policies have been an affront to those principles. This bill is, in a sense, an acknowledgment of that failure.
Another little piece of history when it comes to the Premier's involvement in education. On April 23, 2003, the school trustees of the Premier's own constituency at the time demanded her resignation because of the conditions that she had imposed on them.
The outcome of Bills 27 and 28 just in that district alone left an $8.7 million deficit that had to be partially made up by closing three elementary schools and by other cuts, still leaving a million dollars to be cut at the time. This government's policies led to 2,500 fewer teachers and the closure of 113 schools. Throughout the province we fought for our small schools.
These are the issues that brought me into politics. This is it — Bills 27 and 28 and what they did to our school system. I was working for the Cowichan school district at the time as a custodian. We grouped together with other employee groups — teachers and educational assistants — and became politically active. We knew we needed to elect people who could push back against this agenda. I became a school trustee. This is the reason why I stand here — what this government did to our public services generally but in particular to education at that time.
We fought and fought for our small schools. We would have public meetings. One in particular I remember. Youbou, a small community, quite distant from any other community that could support it — trying to save its school. We did. Three times in a row we saved that school, until finally the target was reached and the school was closed.
We were told to look through the lens that the cost of delivering education per student in Youbou was some $6,000, when the average was supposed to be about $1,800. We asked that they turn the lens around, and the cost to the rest of the 8,000-odd students in the Cowichan Valley school district at the time to maintain Youbou was something on the order of about 50 cents per student.
It all depends on your perspective. If your perspective is one that says, "You know what? It's really troublesome to deliver these public services, and this is a great profit-making opportunity for our friends. Let's undermine this. Let's cause a battle in the classrooms. Let's cause a battle in every small school in this province. Let's undermine the faith of the people in their education system, in their health system, and we will back-door privatize those services. We'll push so many students out of the public system and into the private. We'll push patients out of the public health system and into the private health care deliverers — our friends, our contributors, our donors," this is a great plan, a really great plan.
Do you know, Madam Speaker, that when we saw the shift, a lot of the declining enrolment in our district, we looked at the numbers of school-age children. The decline in enrolment was double the decline in school-age children. Where did they go?
Their parents fled the system. Those who could afford it fled the system, and they went to the private system. Overall there was a 9 percent shift of enrolment. Now, if you shift 5 percent of the public school student body to private education, you have only cost the public system 5 percent, but you've increased the private system's enrolment by 50 percent, because the private system currently is about 10 percent of the size of the public system.
This is a great scheme. I call it that — a scheme to
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undermine public services, to let the people who can least afford it continue to pay for breaks for the people who can most afford it and need the least help. That has been a pattern with this government all the way through their governance of this great province.
The HST is another example of it. Shift the burden from those who are the most wealthy onto those who can least afford it. On and on we go. I mean, if you believe that, Madam Speaker, and if you believe that the benefits of society should be funnelled up towards those who have the most and away from those who have the least…. If that's the transfer of wealth you're working on, which is what the Liberals have done, then say it. And if you're proud enough to say it, defend it.
It had to be veiled — didn't it? This continues to veil that. This continues to veil the effects of transferring the burden of providing services more and more onto those who can least afford it in order to pay for tax breaks for those who least need them. So on we go. On we go, this Liberal train wreck that they call the management of British Columbians' affairs.
If this is a philosophy that you believe and if you think that's a good thing, you can make an argument for it. I don't agree. I think most British Columbians wouldn't agree. I think most British Columbians believe in empathy and equity and a collective pursuit of excellence. The opportunity to thrive and benefit should be equally shared. Our kids should start at the starting line together, and when the gun goes off, everybody's kid has as equal a chance as possible.
But if you don't believe that, if you believe that those who were born ahead of the start line should stay there and that those who were born behind the start line should stay where they belong…. Okay, it's a philosophy. I don't agree with it. I don't think many British Columbians would. But it's a philosophy.
When it becomes particularly tragic, when it becomes a crime against what people consider to be their common wealth, is when you impose that without a mandate onto those who can least afford to pay for that silly notion. When you take from those students who can least support themselves, who need the most support, and you somehow justify that to yourself if you are a legislator….
If you somehow say to yourself: "No, it's okay. This is a good thing. You can't shovel money off the back of the truck to support those vulnerable students. We'd rather put a $600 million hole in a roof over a stadium. Can't shovel the money off the back of a truck to support those seniors, can't shovel the money off the back just to make class sizes smaller for teachers. Can't invest in the future. We'd rather invest in billion-dollar overruns on convention centres."
That's a good priority. This bill simply continues that. We have teachers in our province who are struggling every day to cope with unmanageable workloads. I get so many letters, and I was going through some of them, trying to decide what I should read into the record here. There are just a couple of them that I'd like to share.
This is from Linda Torgerson of Nanaimo. She says:
"With funding cuts, there are not as many school psychologists. These professionals test students who are identified by a school team as at-risk learners. Students who are tested and identified as having a learning impediment, such as a learning disability, receive a designation. A student with a designation is supported with extra funding for educational assistant hours. Many of our vulnerable learners are not being tested due to long wait-lists. Hence, they become invisible to the system. They are visible to me. I see them every day."
I know it's true. As a school trustee I managed the budget where we could afford only so many evaluations per year. It wasn't that there were more evaluations than students who needed to be evaluated. The opposite was the case.
We were budgeting the number of students we would designate as special needs because we just couldn't afford to address the need that was obviously there — a need that grows and grows with the complexity of society, with the increasing rates of autism, with the increasing poverty in this province.
Those issues are growing every day in the classroom. The classroom is ever more complex and difficult to manage, yet this bill makes it worse. Imagine that. It makes it worse, and they have the gall to call it an improvement, the Education Improvement Act — like the clean air bill that allowed more air pollution, the Peacemaker missile. Take your choice. It's all Orwellian.
An Hon. Member: NDP math.
D. Routley: Oh, NDP math. Well, this is Liberal language. This is Liberal language for you — an improvement act that makes classroom conditions worse. Hooray. Pat yourselves on the back. Don't break your arm doing it.
She goes on to say: "In our district autistic students who had full-time EAs last year now share one half-time with several other high-needs students. I guess they are not quite as autistic as last year." It's kind of funny — right? — but not. In fact, it's tragic.
There's a thin line sometimes between tragedy and comedy, depending on your distance from a situation. But if you're in a classroom and the distance is from the front of the class to a child that can't be reached and a teacher who hasn't got the time to invest in the technique and attention that they know could reach that student, that indeed is tragedy. This bill makes it worse. Unbelievable.
Russell Berg from Nanaimo: "I love to teach." You want to know how many letters start that way? Do you want to know how many letters from teachers start "I love to teach"? Okay.
"I love the spark that opens up slow at first, then wider and wider, when a grade 8 student sees the wonder of life that teems in a drop of water. I love to watch the distracted and troubled young man
[ Page 9824 ]
who is always moving and never quiet find a calm centre as he steps onto the stage in our theatre production."
But so often arts need to be cut — right? "We need to cut that extra, because we just can't afford it with the current funding formula. We have to stick with the core services." Yes. No, so that young man…. That service, that theatre program might be every bit as essential as English or math or science to another student, but no. "We'll cut that. That's an extra."
"I love the quiet sense of satisfaction that a student gets from finally taming the many-headed beast that is a quadratic equation. I love to see the young, shy girl who has worked so hard to never be noticed find her voice as she steps into the light to sing in public for the very first time."
These are really important things.
"I love all of these things and so many more about the work that I do. I have the privilege and honour of working with the province's young people, and I am fulfilled and exhausted by it every day. I do work that has lasting and significant meaning in the lives of the people around me.
"I love that I can express myself creatively as I think, plan and dream about the best way to reach them, to help them, to explain. I do not always succeed. Sometimes I am too tired, or my patience is not what it should be, or I have not anticipated correctly what it is my students truly need. But every day, every semester, every year I get to go out there and work hard to make it better.
"In order to make this happen, I need something from you" — the hon. minister to whom this letter is addressed.
"I need you to listen to me. I need you to hear that I cannot connect with 30 students at once in a meaningful way. I need you to know that having four students with learning designations — in addition to the one who is living on his own because his parents kicked him out and the three who came to school hungry because their parents live in poverty and the two who are dealing with drug problems — is just too much. I cannot be the teacher I want to be in those circumstances."
Well, guess what. Bill 22 just made those circumstances worse. It's a crime. I think that we need to step back. I think that we need to put down the rhetoric that allows members on the other side to ignore the truth and argue that less is more and more is less.
I think we need to take another assessment of how this is going. I think we need to listen to both sides in this situation. Even the trustees are calling for mediation — mediation that could be independent, that could help arrive at a solution, that could help address some of the problems. No one will get everything they want, but it has to be better than this.
It has to be better than this solution, which in answer to a Supreme Court decision that said that government's education laws were unconstitutional and stripped the classrooms of over $200 million per year…. The answer to that can't possibly be something that has made it worse. But this does, and that is a pathetic condemnation of a government that is failing in every way.
They are tired, and they've lost vision. They don't care. It's time for them to either step back, listen to the people of B.C. and respond in a way that serves the common wealth, or move over, get out of way, call an election and let a government that will act in the true public interest take its place. That's what we intend to do. I know teachers and students need that. They need it today.
D. Hayer: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.
This bill, as we all know, is aimed at resolving the current dispute between the government and the B.C. Teachers Federation. But I want it very clear that I am — and I'm sure everybody else in the House is — very supportive of teachers.
The opposition have a different way of expressing their views now that they are not in government. But if somebody really wants to see what the views were from '91 to 2001, they should go to Hansard and check it. Then also compare, when three times they forced the BCTF back to school, what their views were and how they expressed their views in this House in Hansard. Then you will get the fair view.
You can listen to our current views, and you can listen to the opposition's when they were in government. Then you'll have a fair and correct way of looking at how we're doing.
Many of us, including myself, have family members and friends who are teachers. As a matter of fact, our Minister of Education was a teacher. He used to be a member of the BCTF. Many other MLAs on the government side and, I'm sure, on the opposition side have spouses, children, grandchildren, friends or other family members who are teachers.
So we understand the issues fairly closely to most people. Even our Deputy Speaker in the chair now was a teacher before she was elected. So we know, when we discuss within our caucus…. Everybody brings the experience of their family members and the experiences of all their colleagues and their spouses who are teachers.
We all know the immense value teachers have in our lives and their contributions to the education of all of us. Every one of us has memories of school classes. Every one of us can use and also remember and recall a wonderful teacher or teachers who left us with lasting direction for a better life today.
Teachers are role models. Through dedication and devotion to their profession, they accomplish greats things in the lives of our children and in our lives when we were students. Teachers set the course of our lives in our formative years. We spend more time with teachers interacting and learning than any other person, even our family members.
Almost every teacher is caring, is concerned about children's mental and physical growth. Rare is this teacher who is just in it for a job or for the money — it is not the best-paying job; a lot of other jobs make more money — but they're there because they want to teach the kids and they care for children.
That is why I fully support our teachers. But I do take
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issue with the BCTF, which is making financial demands that if agreed to would cripple our economy and our province.
[D. Black in the chair.]
A strike at this time of the year will be devastating to so many senior students who are in the midst of preparing for final exams. The result of those exams will set the course for their future education. If it curtails the instruction or learning time, some students' choice of post-secondary education opportunities may be in jeopardy, and that is not fair.
I have received some calls from my constituents. I think everyone has. Everybody has received e-mails. I had a coffee meeting last Saturday. There was one teacher who was there to talk to me, express those views, and there were other people. As I was explaining to her, the MLA's job is to listen to everyone. Basically, like most cases — and this is no different — I'm getting constituents' views three different ways. Some are saying the teachers are underpaid. Some are saying they are paid just right. Other ones say they are overpaid. I don't agree that they're overpaid, but I do think they could get more money if the economy was good. But under the current circumstances, they probably are fairly paid.
So the BCTF, when they take the stand — what they're doing right now — also are affecting the education of our children who might not be one of the brightest kids in the class. Some parents are more involved in education.
I had four children who went through public school. Now they are 22, almost 24, 26 and 28. I can tell you, talking to many of their friends, some parents were really involved in their education; others weren't.
With the dispute we had and how teachers have been ordered to behave because of the BCTF, some of the parents did not get the report cards. Some parents were really concerned. They said they found out their children are going to be failing the course so they might not graduate, because they didn't know. They probably didn't have enough time to spend time with their teachers. That's sad to see. We can't allow our children to be held hostage or allow teachers to be held hostage because you're forcing them to do certain things they might not want to do.
We have a democratic system. We want to make sure that we all respect their views. We all have different views. The union has their views, and they're entitled to their views. But on the other hand, we should respect everybody's views.
Bill 22 provides the legislation to create a fair and reasonable process in place to settle this dispute with independent mediation to reach a settlement. I hope that when the independent mediator is appointed, the opposition will be able to stand up and say that's a good choice and they respect the independent mediator. So I'll wait to see that.
It is frequently heard that our government treats the BCTF differently from the previous governments. Let's be very clear. In the past 30 years, only once has a freely negotiated settlement between the BCTF and the government been reached. Guess which government accomplished this achievement?
An Hon. Member: Ours.
D. Hayer: No, it was not the NDP in the '90s. As the member beside me said, it was ours. That's true. It was not the Social Credit of the years before. It was our government in 2006, when we negotiated a five-year contract with a 16 percent wage increase and a $4,000 signing bonus for every teacher. If you averaged it out, it was a $3,700 signing bonus, but the full-time teachers got $4,000.
Now times are very tough, and there is a budget deficit due to economic turmoil in the world. The BCTF is not willing to accept the net zero mandate agreed to by 130 other public sector unions in B.C.
Other unions are helping the province to balance their books, to make sure we have funds available for other resources, for other programs. But the BCTF thinks they should not be held to the same argument. But when I talk to the teachers, they say they don't really care about the extra money. They are looking for other things. But they have been misinformed many times with much of the information.
They ask me. They say, "We should tell our minister and our government to make sure they provide the facts so the teachers can hear both sides and the public can hear both sides" — the BCTF's side and the government's side and the facts. Then they can make their decision. Maybe the truth is in the middle somewhere.
On the other hand, right now, some of the information they had was not correct. I hope the government really takes the time to explain to the public and to the teachers, explaining what they intend to offer so they can get the facts directly.
Instead, like many times before with different governments, BCTF has gone on strike and forced the government to take action. It was done three times in the '90s under the NDP government, under the Social Credit government, once before under our government, and the next time with the freely settled agreement for which they received a $4,000 bonus plus a 16 percent wage increase over the five-year contract.
It is important to note Bill 22 does not legislate a contract on teachers but implements a cooling-off period and independent mediation. That's what the union was asking for before, independent mediation, and they are getting that now with this bill.
Here are some of the facts. Education funding has in-
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creased every year since 2001 even though we have approximately 70,000 less students in schools across British Columbia. Our funding has increased dollarwise every year since 2001. It is now $5.308 billion, and that is an increase of $67 million more over last year's budget, an increase of 29 percent since 2001. I repeat: since 2001 the government has increased the education budget by 29 percent even though there are approximately 70,000 less students attending schools now.
That is why it is something when opposition members and the BCTF say that schools are closed. It's because you have 70,000 less kids. Guess what? You can't have empty schools, and sometimes you have to see which is the best way to deliver education to students.
B.C. teachers' salaries and benefits are fourth in Canada when you consider all ten provinces. Teachers have not sacrificed salary, and since 2001 B.C. teachers' salaries have gone up by 19.5 percent. Plus, our government gave them a signing bonus of $4,000 for every full-time teacher in 2006 — on average, $3,700 signing bonuses, every teacher when the economy was very good, when we were making lots of surplus, lots of profit because the world economy was doing good and British Columbia was right at the top.
We don't have 100,000 oversized classes, as has been stated sometimes by the opposition and many times by the BCTF. Of 65,000 total classes in B.C., fewer than 1,500 have more than 31 students. Fewer than 600 classes have more than 33. So there is a lot of misinformation going out there. Most of these classes are band, choir and theatre classes, where large groups are desirable — when I talk to the teachers.
Special needs covers a wide range of abilities and challenges in our schools. That's what the BCTF has said: "We need help with special needs." Bill 22 provides for a more regular and meaningful consultation with the teachers on class organization, because that's what they were looking for, so that teachers can be more involved in decisions around how classes are organized.
So 2,100 additional special needs teaching assistants have been added since 2001 by our government. We knew they needed help when we were elected in 2001, so we provided — these are the facts — 2,100 additional special needs teachers' assistants so they can help in classes with teachers.
Bill 22 puts an independent mediation process in place to work with all parties to reach a mediated settlement. Bill 22 implements a $165 million learning improvement fund to improve the support of special needs students. This is on top of $866 million in supplemental funding already provided each year to support special needs students.
Bill 22 maintains existing class limits for kindergarten-to-grade-3 students while establishing a class maximum of 30 students for grades 4 to 12, with a provision that will provide additional compensation — additional money, prep time or professional development — to teachers if or when a class exceeds 30 students. I think that's very fair.
These new provisions will actually generate a reduction in the number of classes over 30. They are based on a model that is in the Coquitlam school district, which the union, BCTF, and the school district had agreed to, where there are currently zero classes of over 30 students. You would think they would support something that is working in Coquitlam school district — and some of the other school districts, too, but basically in Coquitlam school district, where they have zero over-30-student classes.
Bill 22 forces the issue of post-fill, or seniority, to mediation, to work with parties to find solutions. I was told by some of the parents that some of the districts have some problems where sometimes somebody who might be an expert in teaching history but not in math, because of seniority was told they can teach math — where, actually, the students suffered, and the family suffered. I think that is not fair. You need the best-qualified students to be successful, then make sure they have good teachers. So you need the best teacher who can teach. If their seniority allows that person, they should take the best teacher who has the knowledge of the subject.
It's the same with somebody teaching French, for example. If they have never taught French, they should not be teaching French, unless they learned it in university or took extra courses to qualify for that. I think most of us want to make sure our kids are taught by qualified teachers, and most of the teachers are very well qualified. Most of the districts have this language already in place. Only some places don't. This will make sure that all of the province has a fair position.
We want to work it out with the BCTF. We want to help our teachers. As I have said before, our teachers are dedicated, and they are one of the most important aspects of our lives. They form our thoughts and challenge us mentally. They create within us a desire to learn, a desire to succeed, and they lead us by example.
I understand that they want certainty in their jobs, and the parents and students want similar certainty that their kids' education is secure and that they have good education for the children.
Bill 22 is a complex bill, and that complexity is needed to deal with this very complex issue between the government and the BCTF. We know that, and that is why we are going to debate Bill 22 fully. The opposition can take their full half an hour if they want to, or they can take less time to explain and express their views on this.
Madam Speaker, we want both government and opposition members to express their thoughts and ideas on these very serious issues. They should keep the democracy. Sometimes in the past when we put closure, the opposition was the first one to complain — for the 11 years I have been there. If we don't put closure, sometimes they say: "Why aren't you putting closure?" You can never tell
[ Page 9827 ]
which side they're going to sit on — right? On the other hand, I think we're going to allow the system to work, and we support that.
I urge the opposition, however, to always put our province's students and their families in their deliberations instead of bending to the demands of BCTF. I think many of them believe in that. Sometimes, maybe for different reasons, they are forced to say that. But on the other hand, we have freedom to say in this House whatever we want. And we should try to be making sure that we express the views of teachers, the views of students, the views of the students' families and the views of the taxpayer, who's funding all the funding for us to be here and who pays for all the bills the government pays for.
Children, students, must always come first in these debates, because they are the ones who ultimately will benefit or suffer from the outcomes of this bill and, eventually, the settlement of the BCTF dispute. I urge members of the opposition not to jeopardize our children's future and to support mediation through Bill 22 to achieve certainty for parents and their students and the children of all of our constituents who are in school.
Our government has, over the past few years, made great strides in coming to a fair agreement with every other union it has to deal with. That is why the BCTF's position on the net zero pay agreement is unreasonable to taxpayers. The BCTF demand for a $2 billion wage benefit increase, while every other major public sector union has agreed to a net zero mandate, is not reasonable for the taxpayers who elected us.
Every other union seems to understand that British Columbia and the world are weathering a severe recession. When we watch the news, we can see how Europe is suffering. The United States is suffering. Even in some of the Asian countries economic growth is slowing down.
We all have to respect taxpayers, and money does not grow on trees. Expenses must be balanced against revenues. We must protect the best interests of our children and our future generations. In fact, we have 130 net zero agreements with our public sector unions so far, even including an agreement in the educational system with CUPE. What is it about the BCTF that it doesn't get what virtually every other public sector union has, over the past few years, agreed with?
We want to bring the BCTF back to the bargaining table and through an independent mediator. We want them to get a fair settlement, but we also need them to realize that there isn't an endless supply of money in government. Taxpayers are saying that they are overtaxed and that they would like to get more tax breaks. They don't want to be paying more taxes to pay more wages right now.
When the economy is strong and we have more money coming in, then we can pay more money to the teachers and other government employees, as we did in the past. Teachers know that from our record of 2006, when they got a $4,000 bonus for each full-time person who signed a contract. They got a 16 percent increase, and they can get increases again as the economy gets better, as we have done and as we have shown to them.
In the meantime, if Bill 22 achieves passage in this Legislature, it will provide a cooling-off period and will suspend the teachers union strike action while calling on the assistance of an independent mediator.
I think everybody wants a livable solution to this situation. I believe everybody wants our education system to work. I believe everyone supports the dedication and devotion of teachers. I think both sides of the House support teachers. I truly believe that supporting Bill 22 will give everyone hope for the future.
I have talked to many of the teachers and many of the parents and some of the taxpayers who don't have kids in school anymore or don't have any kids at all, who pay taxes. They have said to me: "You know, government and the BCTF had over 78, 80 bargaining sessions but no successful outcome. They have discussed this almost for one year, and there doesn't seem to be any solution." There was no choice but to go to this, as they had done previously over 30 years, other than once with us in 2006.
I hope we can all learn from this, that we can all work together and find a workable solution where we can all win. That way, we will have more respect from the students, more respect from the parents, more respect from taxpayers, and we will all feel better.
We all have friends in the union. I know I have lots of friends in the union who supported me in the last three elections and the time before, when I had nomination for election by the mayor, Doug McCallum, in 2000. We have got to listen to them, and we have to respect our teachers. We have to ask the BCTF to be fair and to please listen to many of the teachers who don't want to be targeted after they say publicly what they really feel, because they think they will be intimidated.
I support this bill because I think this is good for everybody. On the other hand, we have to have calm heads, cool heads to make sure that we can do whatever is in the best interests of our students first and their families and the teachers, and I think we all support that.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for giving me time to respond to this bill, Bill 22, Education Improvement Act.
D. Thorne: I can't say that I'm pleased to be standing here today speaking about Bill 22, but I think it's important that I do this and represent my constituents with whom I have been in pretty close contact in the past short time.
I'm rising today to follow my colleagues in opposing Bill 22. I feel that the process is wrong. I think it's the wrong direction for education in British Columbia. I
[ Page 9828 ]
think it's actually a very sad day for many, many people — not just parents, students and teachers but for all of us.
The main issue, I would say, that the bill is supposed to be dealing with is the whole issue of class size and composition. I think that in many ways, perhaps in every way…. It's not just inflaming that situation. It's going to make solving that issue even harder and make the whole situation worse.
I can't say much more about how I feel. I think it's pretty obvious.
It's always hard for me to get up in these debates and listen to the speaker from the other side, whoever that speaker happens to be. I'm not singling out the last speaker. I always feel like I'm in some kind of parallel universe when I stand here and I listen to what is being said on the other side of the House.
I so profoundly disagree with what is being said most of the time that, really, I feel like I've gone down the rabbit hole or something. It always takes me a few minutes to kind of clear my head.
I am so tired of the "times are tough" mantra — I can't tell you — when we're dealing with a government that can afford half a billion dollars for a roof on B.C. Place Stadium, as only one example. I'm not going to take up too much of my time and list all of the projects that I and this side of the House wonder about and that make us kind of shake our heads, when "times are tough." I'm just really, really tired of it.
While I'm saying what I'm tired of here — because I'm going to get into what my constituents have been saying about this bill in a moment — I'm also so tired of hearing about the increased funding for education. That's all we've listened to for years and years now.
I don't understand why the government thinks that because there are more dollars in the system, that translates into more money for education. Everything is going up. MSP is going up. I mean just for things the school district has to worry about paying. Hydro bills are up. They have all the carbon-neutral stuff. MSP has more than doubled in the last ten years.
I would hope there's a few more dollars in the education system, because it doesn't begin to cover the increased bills that the school district is having to pay every month and year and every day.
I got that off my chest. There are lots of other things that really annoy me, but those are two things that I just thought of in the last few minutes.
Now, there are a couple of things I think…. If somebody said, "What makes Canada great?" I think there are a couple of things that spring to mind, I'm hoping, on both sides of the House but certainly, I know, on this side of the House.
We think two of the greatest things about Canada are our medical system and our public education system. Those things are sacrosanct. Would we not all agree?
Of course, there has to be choice. There have to be private schools for people who choose to not be part of the public school system, but it's the public school system that we value in Canada. That's what we tell people that we're so proud of and we talk about, etc.
Now, I personally know a little bit about public schools and private schools — church schools or whatever — and paying fees, because I was born in Newfoundland when it was not part of Canada. I went to school in a private church school my whole life. I wore a school uniform. My parents had to pay fees, and God help the families that couldn't afford to pay fees for their children in the school system that was in Newfoundland at the time.
It's all changed there now, of course, and we're part of Canada. I was too young when we joined Canada to realize what a good step, what a good move that was, how important it was. It was important for the rest of Canada, as well, to get Newfoundland. That was quite a coup because the U.S. wanted us as well, of course. But in the end we voted, and we chose Canada.
If we were to ask older Newfoundlanders what they value most about being part of Canada, I know some would make a joke and say it's getting all the money from Ottawa. But realistically, I think it would be public education and the medical system. Those are the two things, and that's what makes this ongoing attack on education by the government of British Columbia such a horrendous and sad issue. That's what makes it that way.
It's almost shameful, Madam Speaker. I mean, it is shameful that year after year we stand up and talk about these issues. We have different opinions, and we call something blue when it's really pink. We call something red when it's really white. That's what this issue is.
Bill 22 is part of a continuing attack on the public education system in British Columbia by this government. I or nobody else really knows how it will end, but I think this bill…. It's going to pass. I mean, the government has the votes, or they wouldn't be the government. So it's going to pass. But in the meantime, we will oppose it.
We will speak our mind, and we will do so as long as we legally can in this House. We will do that, and we will do it outside as well. I would hope that even if they don't express it publicly, some of the members on the other side will have some moments of doubt about Bill 22. They'll think: "Maybe we have gone too far this time. Maybe this is going to break a fragile system."
No, maybe not. I'm getting sneers and funny looks from the other side already, so it's probably just wishful thinking.
The government introduced Bill 22 on February 28. They've called it the Education Improvement Act. It's a complex bill. It tries to do very, very many things, but mainly it has suspended the current job action by the teachers of British Columbia. It sets a cooling-off period until the end of August.
It establishes offences for contravening this cooling-
[ Page 9829 ]
off period. The amounts of these offences are unprecedented around the fines to teachers and the Teachers Federation. The government states in Bill 22 that as of July 1, 2013, teachers will have the right to bargain class size and composition again. However, this bill does not guarantee that. It removes the requirement that there be no more than three students with individual education plans in a classroom. It removes any teacher input to the makeup of classes.
In 2006 when the government introduced the Education (Learning Enhancement) Statutes Amendment Act — I was here in the House then — the former Education Minister crowed about how the government and schools would be consulting with teachers on the makeup of classrooms. Well, they certainly can kiss that goodbye with this bill.
Bill 22 provides for a learning improvement fund to be administered by the ministry to deal with the ruling in B.C. Supreme Court on Bills 27 and 28, which deemed them to be illegal. However, it does not guarantee funding going forward. Bill 22 repeals key sections to meet the bare minimum legal requirements to address the ruling by the Supreme Court on the government's stripping of teachers' rights to bargain class size and composition — which, essentially, was Bills 27 and 28. They have replaced those sections with basically the same wording — certainly, the same intent as what was struck down by the Supreme Court.
It's pretty hard for me and my colleagues to understand how this is promoting public education in British Columbia, how this is putting it forward and pushing it ahead and having it continue to be one of the things that we're most proud of in Canada, one of our most wonderful institutions.
Much of the bill is dealing with what the courts have imposed on the government with respect to the Supreme Court ruling on class size and composition. This is in the House now because the deadline for the government to respond to that ruling is, I think, April 13 — the middle of April, essentially. So we now are working toward that date.
The whole issue of mediation is very — what will I say? — confusing. I mean, the role of the mediator…. This did not need to be brought in by legislation, and the terms of reference which limit the role of mediation. We could have had an independent mediator at any point in the process without Bill 22. The Labour Relations Board could have appointed a mediator to deal with the issue, all of which would not have entailed having the necessity of Bill 22.
The legislation, as I said earlier, weakens the class-size rules. It's kind of hard to understand how doing that, weakening class-size rules, actually does what the Supreme Court has mandated that the government has to do around these two illegal bills, which were deemed illegal.
The legislation removes the limits on special needs students in a class, and it does not put in any alternative system to support them. This government, in my opinion — and the opinion of my colleagues and the opinion of many, many people across British Columbia, probably more than the government expected — is playing politics with students and their families with the timing of certain aspects in this bill.
They're trying to prolong debate in order to allow the teachers to strike, in order to use it as a wedge issue. Person after person has said that to me in the past week. Why is this happening? Why is this being used? Is it being used as a wedge issue? In this case, then, that's crass politics, and really, in the context, it's kind of heartbreaking when we think about how much it's hurting students in the province — our children, the future.
I mean, this is the government…. I remember when I was first elected in 2005 and we had the great goals. We had five, I think, great goals, one of which was to have the best education system and the best-educated people.
I was going through my old notes from the Finance Committee, when I was on the Finance Committee. This letter is from 2009. It's from the B.C. School Trustees Association. They came and they presented, like many do, and like they still probably did this year. I'm not on the committee anymore, so I don't know. I read through it, and I thought that I just had to read some of it into the record, because things were better then.
The school trustees…. Even though one expects these letters to be positive when you get them on the Finance Committee, because they're there for a reason…. They're not there because they're not looking for something, so they want them to be positive. But anyway, I think this was probably truer in 2009 — I know for sure — than it is today.
I'm just going to read some of this into the record from the BCSTA — who, I think, if I'm not mistaken, are also opposing Bill 22. They're a bit dismayed by all that has happened in the past few weeks. It starts out:
"The good news is that B.C. has a strong public education system, but we know there are increasing demands on public education that require increased and sustained investment. The school curriculum today is vastly more complex. The mandate of boards of education has expanded to include responsibilities for learning before children enter school and for literacy for all citizens in our communities.
"We also know that there are children who need more support to succeed — those for whom English is not their first language, those living in poverty, those with learning disabilities. We have much to be proud of, but we also have much to protect. Unfortunately" — and I was referring to this a few minutes ago — "the rising costs of maintaining the current system have outstripped the funding increases."
Now, this was three years ago, in 2009.
"In addition to higher costs for energy, technology, staffing and transportation, many districts are also dealing with aging infrastructure in need of remediation or replacement. Boards of education have worked hard to reduce their administrative and
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operating costs, even though demands have risen significantly. Simply put, despite increased provincial education budgets, boards of education have definitely been doing more with less."
I think it's an accepted fact now, certainly, by most people in British Columbia — perhaps not the members on the other side of the House, perhaps not the government. If they were to accept this, they would have to stop the mantra of how they've put all the increased funding in and why don't the school districts and the teachers — and the opposition, of course — stop whining about it. That kind of thing.
I thought this was interesting, because it goes on to talk about all-day kindergarten. It says:
"When the government announced its plan to implement all-day kindergarten, we have stated in previous submissions that we support the plan to direct more resources to early learning. However, it will be critical that this implementation not take away from the need for further support to existing programs. The future benefits of providing early learning opportunities will be lost if these same children then progress to a system that has not been adequately resourced."
I'm not going to read any more of this. It does summarize the whole paper. But I think that that last line is really, really crucial, and I think that the members on the other side of the House need to remember those words. I'm going to read it again just in case, as I suspect, they're not really listening that closely to what I'm saying this afternoon. It says: "The future benefits of providing early learning opportunities will be lost if these same children then progress to a system that has not been adequately resourced."
I believe that the children who are now in all-day kindergarten, the five-year-olds…. I think at this point in time that if something of a great magnitude doesn't happen and Bill 22 passes and we continue to see similar legislation, I think there's no doubt that those children will be progressing to a system that is not adequately resourced. I think there's no doubt at all, and I think it's a sad day in this Legislature and in British Columbia when we have to admit that.
I think I've outlined my feelings about the bill and that of my colleagues sufficiently. I'm not sure how much time I have left, but as I say, I have had many, many letters from people in my riding, and they're not all teachers. I do have teachers. Of course, a lot of the teachers who I've talked to and who have written to me as their MLA are also parents. At some point in time a lot of us are parents, and a lot of the teachers are parents as well, so they're writing from two different viewpoints. I think that's well worth considering.
I also had some letters from students and recent graduates of schools in Coquitlam. I thought this was an interesting letter. I think that I won't give the people's names who have written, because I wouldn't want anyone to be able to be identified when I'm reading it into the public record, especially teachers talking about classes and that kind of thing.
This is a student, and she says that she's writing to ask that I voice her support for the teachers against Bill 22 in the provincial parliament.
"As a kindergarten-through-grade-12 graduate of school district 43, I am greatly indebted to the many teachers who invested countless hours of time to help me develop academically and personally while I was a young student in Maillardville. Thanks to the tremendous support of my teachers, I've felt invested and needed in my community and, consequently, have committed myself to feel, do and act the same. A strong education system is fundamental for this to occur.
"Teachers are the main point of contact for our youth, which is our future, and thus need to be valued, need to be supported and taken seriously, above many of the other 'priorities' which the government has listed in our province, because they are the developers of our greatest assets. They need to be supported and respected so that they can support our future.
"I have a young brother with autism spectrum disorder whose services are being cut because of a lack of funding. He used to be non-verbal and non-communicative, but thanks to the diligent support he received, he is now an author, a writer and an artist. This year he starred in his first school play because a teacher, not even his own teacher, invested extra hours outside of classroom time to put on a production just for him. He shone with self-confidence.
"My brother is making tremendous strides. Please do not let the government let him fall through the cracks."
I thought that was a really, really good letter.
This is from another student who graduated from school district 43. Well, she just graduated from UBC last year, so she would probably have graduated around five years ago. She just goes on to talk about the fact that she has done her bachelor's in education. She hasn't started to teach, so she's not a teacher, but she has done her practicum. She did that in Vancouver.
She said that she personally taught a class of 30 students in English. Of those 30 students, four were autistic. Eight were ESL students whose English was not very good.
"It is an unexplainably difficult and frustrating task to try to deliver quality education to every student in a class when there are so many divergent needs. Though this will likely always be an issue, the government's negating of the contract that limited class sizes will make this pressing issue far worse.
"Further, the paltry sum being offered to support special education assistance and resources will not go very far, and the presence in the classroom is sorely needed."
So two students talking about how important the whole class-size and composition issue is. There is no easy way out of that.
I think this government tried to take the easy way out in 2002, when the Premier was the Minister of Education, by bringing in Bills 27 and 28. I've deliberately not gone through the history of the last ten years in this province under the Liberal government and the resultant issues in the public education system, because some of my colleagues have already done that. I thought it was more important for me to just pass on some of the opinions of parents, students and teachers in my riding, in school district 43.
This letter is from a teacher. Again, I'm not going to say the name.
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"I am an elementary school teacher and a constituent in your riding. I am troubled and saddened by the recent attack on our public education system by the Liberal government. I feel passionate about children in public schools, and I feel that our government's shocking disregard for students' needs is nothing less than terrifying.
"I feel like we are at a turning point here in our education system, and I for one am ready to stand up for public education and the vast array of needs of our students."
There is another person in my riding.
This one is from a teacher whose job title is a learning support teacher.
"In Coquitlam this means that I get to work with teachers who are interested in trying new ideas or honing skills in their classroom. I consult, collaborate and coach by meeting with teachers before and after school, at lunchtimes, break times.
"I model lessons, find resources or provide an extra set of hands in the classroom for teachers who are overwhelmed already by unrealistic class size and composition so that they will have the confidence to try a new strategy.
"I think I have the best job in the world. To be working alongside colleagues who are interested in best practice and supporting learners in the classroom is fantastic."
She talks about the collective protest and how pleased she is that the official opposition is making it a point to point out our feelings on this and to bring forward her feelings as well.
Here's another one. I would suspect that the government MLAs in school district 43 are getting the same letters that I'm getting. I don't think that there are any of them here in the House, but you know….
Deputy Speaker: Member, it's not appropriate to mention who is or who is not in the House. Thank you.
D. Thorne: I'm sorry. I'll just read what she says here.
"I am a teacher in Coquitlam — and one of the 40,000-plus teachers about to be silenced, yet again, with the passing of Bill 22.
"From 2001 to the present, funding cuts to my school district, which is district 43, have so disproportionately affected student learning in my class that it's just really difficult to know where to begin trying to express the daily impact on my students.
"Over the years I have stood up for education in this province. My voice has counted, and I will never be able to just roll over and silently swallow what the government is now trying to dish out. I've watched my students suffer more and more, and I have personally felt increasingly undervalued, unappreciated and disregarded as a professional as well.
"My colleagues encouraged me to write and offer you a snapshot of my classroom composition this year. I have always loved my job and believed in what I do. I've worked hard to become a good teacher, and this year I've had an increasingly difficult time feeling that way. I am going to work every day trying hard to do a job that is becoming virtually impossible."
Madam Speaker, you're telling me that I have to wind it up, that my time is just about over. Once again, I want to thank you for listening and for being allowed to express my opposition to Bill 22.
I sincerely hope that at third reading, when we get down to the clause by clause…. I'm sure that we will be bringing forward amendments. When we're expressing our opinion, I'm hoping that we can make some good changes to Bill 22.
Hon. H. Bloy: It's always an honour to stand up here in the House and a privilege to serve the residents of my riding of Burnaby-Lougheed. There's lots I wanted to say, but I'm really here for the children today. I get a lot of support from my office and my constituency, from my office in Victoria here, from my family, special friends and supporters who make this job worthwhile and rewarding for me.
I can tell you that I've had my family go through the Burnaby school system, three children who attended different high schools and all the same elementary school. I have the utmost respect for teachers in this province. The teachers do an excellent job. I'm proud of the education system that we have in British Columbia. I believe it's one of the best in Canada.
I'm proud to keep it going, and that's why I support Bill 22. I have no doubt about my support, because supporting Bill 22 is about the children and the parents, and getting teachers back to the classroom so that the children can have the full experience of their educational year and not lose it all.
You know, many of the members have been telling stories. Just like the B.C. teachers union, they only tell part of the story. They never tell the whole truth. There are only parts of the story that get out there, so we've had all kinds of letters and things.
I'll tell you one story about a teacher. I've heard lots of these, but this is someone that I spoke to just the other day who called me. His biggest concern about Bill 22 was the personal fine of $475. He said that was just too much money out of his pocket to pay. He said charge the union more money. He said: "You're already charging them a lot, $1.53 million."
Do you know what $1.53 million represents? It represents two weeks of union dues paid to the B.C. teachers union in British Columbia. Look at the money that the B.C. teachers union is collecting in British Columbia.
I go back to the teacher that I spoke to. Ten years' specialty. He said it's impossible for him and teachers to cross the picket line. If you want to talk about bullying, the British Columbia teachers union is the biggest bully in the province. They would be blackballed out of teaching. That's what would happen to any teacher that would cross their picket line. I hear this on a regular basis from teacher after teacher that disagrees with their union.
I want to be able to bring back some reality to what's going on in this debate. I want to talk about some of the points about why we're doing this. Hopefully, the teachers are listening and the parents are listening so that they get both sides of the story and accurate.
I'm sorry. I'm going to have to read for a bit, but I think these points are important to get out.
Bill 22 seeks to suspend disruptive strike activity and establish a cooling-off period, appoint a mediator to facilitate bargaining and implement a $165 million learning improvement fund and other improvements
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benefiting teachers and students.
I heard one of the members say earlier today that $165 million in additional funding was a pittance and amounted to zero.
In short, the Education Improvement Act will put more money into the classroom, improve supports for students and teachers, compensate teachers for large classes and restore the opportunity to bargain class size and related matters.
Everything that they've been asking for is right here in the bill. These gains recognize the important role and contribution of teachers.
Government spending on education is at record levels. Government has an education plan to support the 21st-century learning, and we want to work closely with teachers to improve student learning improvements.
After a year of negotiation — 78 times they've met — no resolve at all or so little progress it wasn't worth…. There was no progress.
We understand how important teachers are to student success, but we also know how important it is that teaching assistants, administrators, principals, parents and teachers work together to support learning.
We are not prepared as a government to see a school year pass without every parent in B.C. being able to receive a full account of their children's progress at school. We're particularly concerned about the impact that it will strike and have on vulnerable students.
Bill 22. Again, 78 face-to-face meetings between the union and the bargaining committee and no resolve. We're $2.2 billion apart in these demands. The teachers have been ordered back to work or legislated back to work three times by the NDP. But the NDP across from us won't tell us where they stand now. They want a 15 percent increase. They got a 16 percent increase in 2006. A 16 percent increase in 2006 and they say they've never had an increase.
Where does the NDP stand? Where is that budget hidden? Are you backdating it? Are you changing the dates on the budget to keep up when it's going to go out? Are you changing the facts and figures as the debate comes along? Where are we on your budget? Where do you stand? How are you going to pay for $2 billion plus to pay for the teachers' additional funding for this?
Mr. Hughes issued a report concluding that the "parties have not been able to narrow the outstanding issues and that, as a result, it is very unlikely that they will be able to reach a voluntary settlement of their collective bargaining dispute." That's from Mr. Hughes. We're not prepared, again, to see a school year go by without the parents being fully informed of the progress of their child and being able to work with them.
The Education Improvement Act, Bill 22, provides certainty for students and their parents by suspending the teachers' strike action and setting a cooling-off period and imposing financial consequences for illegal strikes.
I'm not sure what happened today — if they were illegal strikes or not. I know they had three days, today, by the Labour Relations Board that they could go out on strike, and they could go in front of their schools. They couldn't have strings around their neck. But they could hold a placard on a stick with a sign stating….
But I didn't see anywhere where the Labour Relations Board went on about blocking other government buildings — stopping people, physically mishandling people and trying to stop them from going to work to earn a living, to pay taxes and to look after their family and pay their bills. They went out and stopped British Columbians from working today and earning a living.
This bill also appoints a mediator to facilitate bargaining with the goal of reaching a mediated settlement based on our guidelines of a net zero mandate, the same as over 130 other unions that have accepted it already over the last year. I could go on and on about reading what we're doing and the net zero mandate, and a lot has been said in this House, but I want the debate to continue so that we can call a vote.
But just before I do that and before I close, I want to do some facts. There's a claim out there — this is by the B.C. teachers union — that we'll have 700 fewer special needs teachers. The fact is 21 additional special needs teaching assistants in B.C. classrooms is what this bill will do.
The claim: ninth best-paid teachers in all of Canada. The truth, the fact: a B.C. teacher's salary plus benefits is the fourth best in this province.
Claim: seniority eroded under Bill 22, this education act — that they'll lose their seniority rights. Fact: seniority remains a key factor but qualifications also have to be considered — math teachers teaching math, science teachers teaching science, phys ed teachers and shop teachers teaching their specialties.
Claim: contract demands are unreasonable. Fact: a 15 percent wage increase at a cost of $2 billion is completely unreasonable, given the current economic reality.
Claim: wage increases are modest. The teachers union's demands would cost over $2 billion, which would have to be raised in taxes by working British Columbians.
Claim: eliminate class sizes. Class-size caps in all grades, with exceptions made by principals and superintendents, is a fact.
Claim: reject net zero mandate. You know what? When 130 other unions have already accepted the net zero mandate…. In fact, CUPE employees just signed a net zero mandate a short time ago. The net zero mandate is a fiscal, prudent responsibility of this government to protect our taxpayers, to keep our taxes low so that they have a choice.
There's a claim that we'll have 12,000 overcrowded classrooms. This goes on and on — 12,000 overcrowded classrooms. Well, we have 65,000 classrooms in all of British Columbia, and fewer than 1,500 of these class-
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rooms have more than 31 students, and fewer than 600 have more than 33 students in their class. Most of these 600 classrooms are made up of band, choir and theatre.
We have to come back to a reality. I hope that people are listening to this reality, that they're listening to what's being said. They'll make their choice. But from what I get from the people I've spoken to, they support where we've gone on this position as a government, with this contract, to protect working British Columbians.
I just think the demands of the BCTF are unreasonable in today's economic times. I want to tell you, hon. Speaker, that I'm proud to stand here and support Bill 22 with this government. Thank you very much for the opportunity to stand in the House today.
M. Sather: It's my pleasure to join the debate on Bill 22.
I've had a number of letters from educators and from parents, and I wanted to read into the record and put before the House a small fraction of those that I've received.
The first one is from a teacher in school district 42, where I reside. He says:
"I've been a teacher for 18 years, and I have to tell you that this week has been a new low for me. I have no doubt that this government ever had any intention of negotiating in good faith with teachers. They have sat across the bargaining table over 70 times during the past year and offered nothing but contract concessions and net zero.
"For B.C. teachers, our profession has become a race to the bottom. The cuts made by this government have made it impossible for teachers to do their job properly. This is not just an underfunding of public education but rather our entire social safety net.
"It should be quite apparent to people of this province that the sick, handicapped, the old and children are not valued. Why else would we still have the highest child poverty rate in the country? Why would we be leaving hospital patients in hallways and Tim Hortons?
"I have noticed huge changes in my classroom over the past ten years. I'm tired of begging for support time for students who are at risk. Typically, students in my district are on waiting lists for over a year to have testing for learning disabilities.
"Every year three to four teachers in my school have classrooms in violation of Bill 33, and every single time principals sign off on classrooms that teachers know are not sound learning environments.
This year I have handed out pencils, paper, binders, notebooks, erasers, glue, scrapbooks, planners, paints and clothes and shoes, many of which were hand-me-downs from my own children. I'm constantly scrounging around my house and shopping at dollar stores for art supplies. Our school art room is bare. We have no music program. Our librarian only has two days a week for actual library duties. I can't do any more with less.
"I feel completely disrespected and undervalued. My rights have been stripped away illegally with the stroke of a pen. When I started teaching, I was proud of my profession and wanted to make a difference. Now I actually feel like my own employer doesn't really care if I do or not. The only people I know who do care are my colleagues. Teachers care, to their own detriment.
"I would never recommend being a teacher to a young person, and I have discouraged my own children from pursuing the profession. They could do much better with the eight years of post-secondary education I have achieved. I love what I do, but it has become impossible."
That's from Ken Bisset.
This one also comes from a teacher in Maple Ridge, who says:
"I have a boy in my class with cerebral palsy. He has difficulty gripping his pencil, writing his thoughts down, zipping up his jacket and walking over obstacles without tripping. Despite many efforts from dedicated support teachers, this little boy receives no assistance and has no coding from the Ministry of Education.
"By the end of the day, his body has slumped to one side. He is tired and exhausted. It takes him an extraordinary amount of time to gather his materials, transition between lessons and simply put his shoes on to go play. He does not qualify for assistance. He basically needs to be in a wheelchair and needs toileting in order to be provided some extra help, which he so desperately needs.
"Our entire support team, including our school psychologist and occupational therapist, are baffled. He does not qualify for a computer, yet his written output is so slow that he will be left behind once he enters the intermediate grades. Our occupational therapist has had her time reduced and her workload increased. It just doesn't work. It's not good enough.
"The government's lack of meaningful support and funding is causing our children to slip through the cracks, and the crack is now a chasm. These are our children. The Liberals should care about the welfare of all our children. Families first — not even close."
This one is about special needs and from another member of the school district, who says:
"It was early September in our new grade 1 classroom when my teaching partner and I noticed that one of our students had severe learning difficulties and possible developmental difficulties as well. Upon talking to her kindergarten teacher, we learned that the teacher had been trying all year to gain some support for her. But as the girl was not coded, she was not eligible to receive SEA time — student education assistant.
"Throughout her entire grade 1 we held countless meetings and filled out many observations and forms trying to secure this girl some more one-on-one learning support. Grade 1 ended in June, and this girl still received no direct support. Two years of her schooling had gone by, and she was being lost in the shuffle. Her grade 2 teacher continued the fight for getting her some direct support.
"In the end, after all of her teachers' persistence, she finally was given support time mostly because she gained some official coding. It was very clear from the day she started school that she had severe learning issues. Appointments with pediatricians and specialists can take months or years to secure. Coding of a child is a very time-consuming thing to achieve. As this poor little girl's teachers, we watched helplessly as she struggled. We could only work with her so much, because guess what. There are many other kids in the class as well.
"When I see her in the hallways and stop to chat, I think of the battle it took to get this young lady the help she so urgently needed and rightfully deserved. Securing SEA time is an unnecessary battle. Allowing kids to receive ESL, speech and language help, etc., is equally as difficult.
"It makes me so distressed to know that I went into teaching to help every student I work with, but over the years I find it's becoming harder and harder to teach. My class size has grown. There are more special needs children in my class, and there is a battle to get support for those who need it.
"I kid you not. There are days that I shed tears of frustration knowing that many kids are falling through the cracks. My plea to you is that you invest in our kids, give these little ones the academic support they rightfully deserve. If they were your children, you would want nothing less."
This one is from a parent, and this is about special needs as well. She says:
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"As a parent of three school-aged children, I feel that the introduction of the new Education Improvement Act will directly and negatively impact my children. The idea of removing the cap of three special needs children in a classroom and allowing class sizes for intermediate grades to go past 30 is a backwards step that will hurt our children and cause more problems in the already strained school system.
"Last year my daughter in grade 9 was taking a full load of academic courses. As well as being in the French immersion program, she was managing advanced placement English and math. As a treat to herself she selected art as one of the classes she could enjoy. However, there were seven special needs children placed in this art class, and as a result, she had a terrible experience.
"Because of the varying degrees of the special needs from very severe and screaming all the time to mild, the class was not permitted to do some of the art activities that the other classes with less special need students were able to do, things like using a pottery wheel.
"When does inclusion involve taking all students into consideration and not just those with special needs? If high academic students in an art class can't have a good experience with seven special needs children, what would be the outcome in an academic class? How can our government possibly consider increasing the number of special needs in a classroom? What are you thinking?
"My 12-year-old son, currently in grade 7, was diagnosed with autism at the end of grade 4. Before his diagnosis, school was a terrible experience for him. He was treated like all of the other students in the classroom, although his coping ability was not the same as everyone else. He was falling behind in all subjects, had huge anxiety from school, was depressed and had low self-esteem.
"Upon getting the diagnosis, the classroom dynamics changed in a very positive way for him. His diagnosis helped limit the number of special needs children placed with him, affording the teacher more time to work with him at his own pace and giving him support time with a support teacher. His anxiety has decreased, his self-esteem has improved, and he is finding success in an environment he can cope with.
"If he is placed in the classroom next year with more special needs children, his previous problems will return. Currently he is managing to keep up with most of the curriculum for his grade level."
That's from Marianne Ulriksen in Maple Ridge.
This one, Madam Speaker…. We have heard a number of members opposite talk about what's happening with the limited action that teachers had taken, especially with regard to not getting report cards. This is what this teacher said about that particular issue.
"During job action to date I have continued to do my job as I would any other year, with the exception of writing report cards. During the time when most of us would be spending hours writing formal report cards, I was able to not only communicate with each parent in a more meaningful and direct manner, but I was also able to create a great learning tool for my students to take home over the Christmas holiday, something I could not have done had I been writing report cards.
"All of my parents would agree that they are more informed now than they ever were with a formal report card. Through e-mail, agendas, calls home and face-to-face meetings, parents know exactly what we are doing in class and, more importantly, how their child is doing."
That's from Stephanie Walker, a grade 1 French immersion teacher in my district.
This one is a short one from a counsellor in the district who says: "I am a counsellor in the elementary school system, and I have over 100 children I am responsible to see every week. You can imagine how difficult this task is when you consider that in the mainstream counselling world the typical caseload is around 35, with 50 being a very large caseload. We need more help, please."
I can attest, certainly, as a former counsellor myself that having a caseload of 100 is completely impossible. You could not effect any good counselling with that kind of a caseload. That's what this counsellor is dealing with in our district, and I expect that it's not so different in a number of others.
This one is also from a teacher in my district, saying:
"I have been teaching in Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows district for 15 years. The degeneration that I have seen over my time here is staggering. Here are just a few of the examples that come to mind.
"Stolen or misplaced texts are not replaced.
"Eleven years ago we had clerical support to help teachers with photocopying and marks entry. In 2012 we don't even have a full-time receptionist. If parents need to contact their child during the school day, they are most likely to receive a recorded message.
"Our custodial staff is no longer employed over the summer. As a result, the deep cleaning is never done, and there is a layer of grime and dust in the corners and on light fixtures.
"In September of 2001 my principal came to me and apologized for having to put 28 students in one of my grade 9 French classes. By October there was a new teacher hired, and the class size was reduced to 24. We ran some elective classes with as few as 14 and 15 children. In 2012 a class of 28 students is considered average, and a teacher is very likely to have students added over the course of the year.
"Library hours have been reduced, as have those of lunch-hour supervisors, counsellors and many other specialist teachers.
"We have lost the right to participate in discussions around school hours and schedules. The district, citing the need to have all our high schools on the same schedule, completely eliminated our morning break, and the lunch break has been pared down to 33 minutes.
"We have complained to our district administrators, telling them that the kids in our school are hungry, and many are living under socioeconomic stress. They need more flexible time to eat nutritious food, play sports, work with teachers or socialize during the day, but no one listens. No one is listening to us at all.
"We need a voice, and we deserve a modicum of respect given to us as professionals — both of which can only come through a fairly negotiated collective agreement."
That comes from Laura Richardson.
This one, Madam Speaker, is about overcrowding in the classrooms. It's a common theme that I heard. You know, despite what the members opposite may say, these are the realities in the classrooms of today, and it's not good. She says:
"I've been teaching in school district 42 for 32 years and have seen many improvements and declines during that time. Let me begin by saying I have always thought school district 42 to be a progressive district, ready to try new initiatives and encouraging teachers to grow, learn and communicate."
Our school district is well known for paying strong attention to students with special needs, and yet we have these struggles also.
"That being said," she goes on to say, "in the last couple of years the initiatives have been there, but the infrastructure is sadly lacking. This is mostly due to the lack of government funding and constant cuts to education."
You know, members opposite can say what they like about cuts or not cuts, but this is the reality that teachers on the
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ground and in the classrooms experience. You can tell them it's not a cut, but they know the reality.
"The government touts its new line about an education plan, yet many teachers have been focusing on and teaching to the 21st-century learner for the past few years. We have to. Children's brains are developing differently with more exposure to computers, video games and advanced software.
"Many teachers are trying to bring technology into the curriculum and actively engage the children, yet they do not have the materials to do so. Let me give you some examples.
"Try streaming the Me to We celebrations from Vancouver, or any video clip, and the Internet can't sustain the demand being placed on it. Try maintaining behaviour control when the wheel goes round and round and the picture freezes several times during those kinds of lessons.
"Try using a class set of notebooks — 20 of the 28 purchased by the parent advisory committee — to teach children how to save their documents in a cloud when the Internet slows down and it takes ten minutes just to log the class on.
"Try introducing intermediate classes to the new cloud technology when there are no tech teachers in the school and no training is provided classroom teachers. Try moving forward with new initiatives and asking for help from district personnel when there are problems with the cloud system, when even they haven't yet received training.
"If the government expects teachers to try to use technology, they have to have the infrastructure in place before implementing new procedures."
Now, we're hearing from the government that teachers, you know…. "I guess they're not with it with regard to wanting to teach technology." But that's not what I'm hearing. I'm hearing that there are a lot of challenges before them, though, to do that very thing.
This one also comes from a teacher in the school district. She says:
"As you debate Bill 22, I would like to share a few of my concerns with you. I sit in my classroom with a feeling of despair. I have been teaching for 16 years and truly love my job. However, I have left work every day this year questioning my decision to be a teacher and looking for a way out, not because I don't enjoy working with the children but because I am continually asked to work under struggling conditions.
"I ask myself daily: 'What else can I do?' I no longer feel that I can do my job to the standard that I expect for myself.
"As I look around my classroom, I see all the resources that I have bought with my own money throughout my career. Do people realize that when we start out, we are given nothing? The alphabet on the wall, the posters, the bulletin displays, the resource books, the classroom library, class games are all purchased with my money. Even the stickers that go on students' work were bought by me.
"I have a SMART board in my room that was purchased through PAC fundraising. This SMART board is being run by a used computer that was donated by a parent. Every time I have the tech come to fix a computer issue, they can't believe the ancient technology that we are working with. And yes, despite what our government wants people to believe, I have been incorporating technology into my teaching for many years already.
"I recently started an art project in my room. We were learning about the colour wheel. We have not completed this project because we do not have any primary colour paints in our school, and due to job action, I'm not using my own money to purchase supplies for my room this year.
"The system is severely underfunded. To accept that this government wants to make further cuts to an already starved system is unthinkable."
I have a lot more letters and would like to read a lot of them, but unfortunately, I don't have the time to read many of them. I do want to add a few comments about what's going on and what members opposite are saying.
Class size and composition. I think a lot of people that don't really know the educational system that well perhaps think that…. It's like some members have said: "What's the big deal? You add another child to the classroom. So what if it is 31?"
Well, letter after letter I've received — and that was a small sample of them — talk primarily…. They don't talk about money for teachers. Sure, they would like a wage increase, but that's not their main concern. By far, their main concern is the working conditions. When they talk about working conditions, they're talking about class size, they're talking about special needs and they're talking about the lack of resources.
Some of the members saying that there are class-size limits…. If you look at Bill 22, in section 13 it says: "There must not be included in a teachers' collective agreement any provision…restricting or regulating a board's power to establish class size and class composition." It also says there must not be included in the collective agreement any provision "establishing or imposing class size limits, requirements respecting average class sizes, or methods for determining class size limits or average class sizes."
When this bill passes — and it will pass, according to the government's agenda and to what benefit they feel it is to them to pass it soon or not — that will be the law of the land. There are definitely restrictions on class size there now.
That particular section is repealed on June 30, 2013, which is when the current collective agreement with the teachers expires. The government is saying: "Well, after that you can get to talk about class size and composition." But that's kind of a trust-us proposition, that one is.
How can teachers, parents or anybody in British Columbia trust that this government is going to keep their word after the fiasco of the deficit in 2009, the misrepresentation of the deficit, and after the fiasco of the HST, which was foisted upon them? But that's what they're being led to believe.
Now, section 14, which I guess is going to be the new reality, perhaps, after June 30, 2013, says: "…the class size of any class for any of grades 4 to 12 in any school in its school district does not exceed 30 students unless (a) in the opinions of the superintendent of schools for the school district and the principal of the school, the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning."
Well, that's right back to Bill 33. We've been there, done that. Remember, the Liberals brought in Bill 33, which supposedly, on the face of it, imposed class-size restrictions. I looked at my notes from my speech back then, and I can see that I was hopeful, in fact, there was going to be the consultation — because there was consultation
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with teachers — and it was going to be effective.
What it has in fact resulted in is 10,000 grievances. What happens is the teacher goes and says: "Look, this composition I have is not tenable. It's not going to work for the kids in this classroom." But it happens anyway, and then they have an outstanding grievance that hangs out there somewhere in the ether. That's how it works. So I mean, it's nothing definitive at all about class size.
In fact, with regard to special needs, the government has said that there will be more than three in a classroom. That is the so-called coded that some of the presenters, teachers and parents I talked about referred to. There can be…. I've talked to teachers that have, like, six and seven and eight kids, some of whom have a coded special need but others who don't. They may have a lesser disability in some sense or a special need, but it's nevertheless very real.
I was in a classroom where I was sitting down and talking to the teachers and some parents and SEAs. They were talking to me about the difficulty they have. They don't have any quiet room. It's not built into the school. I guess they didn't expect them in those days. So they've had to make their own.
After talking for an hour or so, they said: "We're having an incident right now. Do you want to see what's going on?" Tentatively, I said, "Okay," and walked into the hallway. There was an SEA with both feet braced against a door, holding the door — not locked — but with a child who fortunately, as I was told, was not a very large child, who has autism, who sometimes goes off, as can happen. They become quite uncontrolled. They have to put that little boy there until he calms down. That's all they can do. They don't have the resources.
I was sitting beside an SEA. She was a strong woman, a young woman. She has four — count them — WorkSafe B.C. claims for this year. What from? From being hit. By whom? A child out of control — not hitting her purposely. This is the classroom environment that we're in today, and it's not tenable.
The members opposite, I think, must know that deep down. It does need to be addressed. What do we hear about education? We hear about how mines up north are costing billions of dollars more — or hundreds of millions — because they don't have trained people. Yet this government acts as though, I believe, the students were dispensable. It's not good, certainly, for students. It's not good for the economy, and it's not good for society.
I don't know if the government is going to go to the labour board again, because — I don't know — they claimed that somebody was blocking the doors of the Legislature or some such today.
I can understand why thousands and thousands of educators and their supporters, parents, were there on the lawn of this Legislature today. I can understand why that's kind of unsettling for the members opposite, and so it should be. These folks are there — the biggest reason they're there — to get better conditions in the classroom. It's simply not happening. This bill only makes it worse.
B. Bennett: I'm speaking in support of the legislation. I need to say, I think, to start that it's with some sadness that I find myself here again, once again, dealing with a union that can't seem to negotiate a contract with any government unless there's a large wage increase involved. In the last 21 years only one contract has been negotiated between the employer and the union, and that was actually under this government. It wasn't under ten years of NDP government.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
To the bill. I think that it's important to say quite clearly what's in the bill. I also think that it's important to say what Bill 22 does not do, given the considerable amount of misinformation that seems to be flying around these days on the wings of union news.
What Bill 22 does. Bill 22 intends to stop the disruption of our schools and start a period of time when the parties can settle down and figure out what's possible. Bill 22 appoints a mediator, as was requested by the teachers union, and it implements a $165 million learning improvement fund, as well as other improvements benefiting teachers and students.
Bill 22 restores the right for teachers to bargain class size and related matters. In my view, this legislation is restrained and is constructive in its response to the issues at hand, particularly given the importance of education in this province.
What Bill 22 does not do. I want to make reference to a poll that the B.C. Federation of Labour was involved in just recently. Apparently, the B.C. Federation of Labour wants the public to believe that 62 percent of British Columbians are opposed to Bill 22. That's what they say. But when I took a close look at what question was actually asked, I found, to my disgust, that people were actually being asked if they were opposed to a contract that (1) was imposed by government, (2) eliminates class-size limits and (3) eliminates seniority.
What is the truth about those three claims? Well, first of all, in terms of imposing a new contract, Bill 22 does not impose a new contract. Rather, it simply extends the previous collective agreement to cover the mediation period.
What about class-size limits? Are they eliminated by Bill 22? Well, no, not really. Bill 22 does not eliminate class-size limits. That's actually an outright falsehood, which I have heard repeated in this place a number of times and have read it even in the newspaper and heard it on the radio.
Bill 22 maintains existing class limits for kindergarten-
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to-grade-3 while establishing a class maximum of 30 students for grades 4 to 12, with provisions that will provide additional compensation, prep time or professional development to teachers when a class does exceed 30 students.
These new provisions will actually generate a reduction in the number of classes over 30. I say that because this model is being used in the Coquitlam school district, where there are currently zero classes with over 30 students.
It's an important point that what government is trying to do here is find best practices within the system that exist already in the province and adopt those best practices. For some reason or other, the union is not interested in that, and neither is the NDP.
How about the claim that seniority is eliminated by Bill 22? Well, Bill 22 does not eliminate seniority. What it does do is introduce a requirement that the system start to ensure that qualifications are appropriately considered when filling teaching positions.
Surrey and Central Okanagan school districts already have that contract language. That strikes a good balance between seniority and qualifications. Again, government wants to take a look at what has worked in these other districts. Sounds like a reasonable thing to do.
The bottom line here with seniority is that a biology teacher should be teaching biology — not a math teacher, not a music teacher, not a gym teacher and not a French teacher. I ask: what other profession allows those unqualified to perform a particular job to take that job, strictly because they have more seniority? It does not exist anywhere else.
Now, I also hear the union and members of the opposition saying the K-to-12 education budget has been cut over the last ten years. They claim that we have a mantra, that we continue to say that K-to-12 education has received additional funding. That's true. We continue to say that because it's true.
What they're saying is not true. There is no polite way to say this. The claim by the union and the NDP is absolute nonsense, and it's a deliberate trick to trick parents. I urge parents and students to take a look at the legal budget documents of the last ten years. Take a look at the budget documents. They will soon see that education funding has increased every year since 2001 and is now at $5.308 billion. That's an increase of 29 percent. That's a fact. That's not a mantra. That's a fact.
Here's another BCTF doozy: B.C. teachers' salaries are ninth in Canada. Well, they're not ninth in Canada. When you factor in compensation, they're actually fourth in Canada. Actually, unlike the NDP, when they had their chance to govern in the 1990s, this government in 2005 negotiated a five-year agreement that provided a 16 percent wage increase and a $3,700 signing bonus. Since 2001, teachers' salaries have actually gone up by 19.5 percent.
On this point, I want to pause just for a minute and speak directly to teachers. The B.C. Liberals are the group that has paid teachers the most increases in the past 21 years, not the NDP. That is the case because the B.C. Liberals are better at managing the economy. More jobs are created, more revenue is collected, and therefore, there is more capacity during good times in Canada to pay teachers that deserved increase.
Do not be misled by the union or by the NDP. The record is clear. A strong economy is how public sector unions achieve the pay increase that everyone wants.
One last correction. Despite the union's expensive and relentless efforts to convince the public that their demands are reasonable — in my view, in any case — a 15 percent wage increase at a cost of $2 billion is completely unreasonable given the current economic reality.
The demands would raise taxes for all B.C. families and, frankly, would prevent the government from balancing the budget when it has promised to balance the budget, which is perhaps part of the union strategy.
I want to end with a comment on what I consider to be the hypocrisy of the opposition in this debate. I have listened carefully. I've had my television on in my office, and I've been in here for several hours. I've listened carefully.
Although it is clear, reading between the lines, that the opposition simply wants government just to pay that 15 percent increase, they don't have the courage to stand up in this place in support of their brothers and sisters in the union and say that they want government just to pay out the $2 billion. They won't stand up and say it.
They don't have the courage of their convictions, and it's because of their own narrow political reasons that they're prepared not to say what they actually want to see happen. It's very interesting.
My brother and my sister-in-law are lifelong teachers. Both of my grandmothers were teachers. I did some substitute teaching when I was younger. I found it very satisfying, but I found it very challenging work.
I was recently, only a couple of weeks ago, in an elementary school in Cranbrook where I witnessed superb teachers teaching children to read. These kids had had some difficulty in learning to read. These teachers had developed a program on their own to teach these kids, and it was a marvelous thing to witness. That's why I respect the work that good teachers do in our schools.
But I support Bill 22 because I know there is no money for a 15 percent wage increase or for any increase. I support Bill 22 because I want students to get back into the classroom and for report cards to start going home so parents know where their child is at. I support Bill 22 because no one union is so special that it should be the only one of over 130 public sector unions that gets a raise, when the government is trying to maintain a strong economy in the face of huge economic failures all around the world.
I support Bill 22 because I believe there is nothing
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more important in our society than educating our children. I hope, perhaps somewhat idealistically, that finally the teachers union will be able to sit down with government, as a partner, and realize that there's no money now but will investigate carefully what else can be done to improve teaching conditions and conditions for students. That's my hope.
S. Fraser: I take my place in the debate for Bill 22. [Applause.] Thanks for that thundering applause.
Bill 22 — the education disruption act. I don't think it's an accurate name the way it's set up. Improvement act is a misnomer if there ever was one — maybe the education confrontation act. As we know, teachers have been engaged in a very moderate job action, in keeping with collective bargaining, and that has now escalated to strike action, open confrontation.
This strike action is a Liberal action. It's clearly a Liberal action. There was no attempt to negotiate, ever, in good faith, as far as I can see, with teachers.
I represent — I'm fortunate — Alberni–Pacific Rim. I get to represent two school districts, 69 and 70, and 70 incorporates the whole west coast of Vancouver Island, from Bamfield up to Ucluelet and Tofino, and then comes across through the Alberni Valley and all the schools in the Alberni Valley. Then on the other side of the hump, as we call it, on the east side of the Island, it comes into district 70. The schools there are, of course, a different district, a different set of trustees.
As we saw on the lawn of the Legislature today, all teachers are speaking as one. It's very rare that you see in any labour agreement, where there's a move to the membership of the union, any union, to look at actions like strike, to get, first of all, a 75 percent turnout and then to get an 87 percent resounding endorsement to take action against a draconian bill.
I have the greatest respect for our teachers. They are the mentors of our future, if you will. I try to visit as many schools as possible in my constituency as many times as possible. I try to encourage those schools, those classes, the teachers and chaperoning parents and the students to come to the Legislature, to this place.
I always attend the tours. I always make time for that. I tend to release the tour guides after 20 minutes, where we're talking about an incredible piece of stained glass or something in the outer foyer.
I tell the kids: "Look, I can maybe get us behind these doors. I've got a pass that will get us behind these doors, but we have to be like ninjas, because we're not supposed to really go there. But I can get you where you're not allowed to go."
Then I get them in here, and we talk about everything. I give them a tour. I get them in our caucus room. I get them pounding on tables. I show them sort of a taste of what we do in this place.
It's important, I think, because it's a generation coming up. Young people, as they get to the voting age, often don't do that franchise. They do not vote. I've been young once, and everyone is busy, 18 to 25 — a bad turnout at the polls, though. So I think it's important that all of us in this House encourage our young people — the students in middle school, elementary school and, certainly, high school — to get involved and become aware. We in this place are making decisions that affect their future.
This bill, Bill 22, is part of that. The students across the province know that this is a bad bill, designed to pick a fight with their mentors — their teachers. We've seen that across the province — students taking this issue forward, speaking out loudly in defence of their teachers, trying to defend their teachers, their mentors, against this government, which has planned and designed Bill 22 to pick a fight.
So we have a strike action now — a Liberal action, which is an unusual thing. The government doesn't usually bring in a strike. But de facto, they did that. Both sides at the negotiating table called for a mediator, even an arbitrator. There was an impasse delivered — yes, an impasse — by the government. They weren't moving. They weren't negotiating. They were just letting it roll.
I know the government told public sector workers that they would have to be creative if they want to look for a pay raise. They'd have to find creative ways to do that. Well, the teachers did that. They looked at amendments to retirement plans, early retirement. Move the age of the workforce — those senior members. Allow retirement. Move that up, which would save money.
It wasn't even considered by the government side. Indeed, the teachers at the negotiating table, B.C. Teachers Federation, agreed with some of the clauses within the proposed contract negotiations from government. Yet the government, the employer, would not sign off on those. There was no intention of signing off on anything. There was no intention of negotiating in good faith.
As a matter of fact, the intention, in my opinion, was for crass political opportunism to pick a fight, because this government is down in the polls. They have been exposed in every which way, every way they turn, and the public knows a bad government that's past its best-before date. They've pegged this government rightly with that.
This government needed to divert attention, and they're making collateral damage of our children and their parents by picking a fight instead of negotiating in good faith. Why in the world, instead of bringing in a bill of this nature — such a draconian bill — would the Liberal government not have listened to their own bargaining, the BCPSEA, their own unit, and the teachers and others? The opposition and the public overwhelmingly, in every poll I've seen, have said to use mediation. Find common ground as a negotiating tactic.
There are many things available — types of mediation, different types of arbitration — all of them suggested by
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both sides, and that was never even considered. The idea was to pick a fight with the teachers, to force their hand. I suspected that.
I've met with teacher representatives from the both district 70 and district 69, and I've always met with teachers and students and parents and PACs. All those groups are so fundamental in their common ground in trying to help students, the children in the system that deserve the best education possible. This government didn't listen to anybody. They had a plan.
If there was any doubt that this government didn't have a plan to pick a fight, well, we sure saw that cleared up on February 28. We came into this House, and Bill 22 was dropped on us. I looked at the clock. It was around 1:38, 1:40 in the afternoon. We had just started the session. We'd just finished introductions. Introduction of bills is the process. Bill 22 was dropped on this House to silence, I would say, Madam Speaker. We as legislators get bills. We need to review them.
Of course, the teachers would have also had Bill 22 dropped on them about the same time, I guess. We went into question period right after we got Bill 22, the education confrontation act, if you will, and we engaged in the process known as question period, where people actually tune in. The press gallery shows up. All ears tune to the 30 minutes of question period.
It was important because we had our first chance to ask some questions about the budget, which the Premier subsequently described as some bill from last week. So on the question, in the response from the Premier to the first real chance we had to ask a question about the budget…. She blew off the budget question and moved right to the gist of things.
Ten minutes after Bill 22 was dropped on us, on this side of the House, on the teachers and the province of British Columbia — the education disruption act — the Premier stood here, and instead of answering a question about the budget from last week, the week before, she engaged in actions that I have never witnessed in this House before.
She chastised the Leader of the Opposition for daring to ask a question about the budget, which she described as some bill from last week, and taunted the Leader of the Opposition and then, afterwards, the Finance critic. She dared, "Ask a question. I want you to ask a question — not about some bill from last week. Ask me a question about Bill 22," which is, of course, not allowed procedurally.
You can't talk about the substance of a bill. We'd just brought the bill in ten minutes before. It's ready to go for the next sitting day. It's part of the resolution that we all voted to deal with.
She said: "Today we have teachers around British Columbia threatening to withdraw services to children." It's what she said in response to a question about the budget, which she jumped off of and said: "Today we have teachers around British Columbia threatening to withdraw services to children." Madam Speaker, she showed her true colours, the Premier did.
This was about picking a fight. The teachers weren't talking about withdrawing services to children. They were looking at Bill 22, which had just been introduced for first reading in this House ten minutes before.
We saw the Minister of Education trying to make everything look like we're being a strong government here, that the Education Improvement Act sets the stage "for a responsible conclusion to the current dispute, provides certainty to students and their parents, and incorporates several initiatives that will benefit teachers," da-da-da.
The Premier gets up and wants to pick a fight and says to this House…. Instead of answering a question about the budget, she tries to lure us into an area that we're forbidden to speak about, the substance of Bill 22, which had just been dropped. She said: "Today we have teachers around British Columbia threatening to withdraw services to children."
They had not. She indeed was standing here surmising that that would happen. It was the plan, because the bill is such a draconian bill, Bill 22, the education disruption act. She knew that she'd forced the teachers into a corner, and she was just betting on the fact that they might have to take job action.
It didn't end there. Five questions about our budget got the same response. The response to the second question from the Leader of the Opposition — again, about disposal of public land for a one-time balancing of the budget, a very important issue…. The response from the Premier…. Instead of answering that budget question, she goes: "But here's the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislature on a day where teachers are threatening to withdraw services to children across British Columbia."
The teachers had had Bill 22 for about 12 minutes. We had had Bill 22 for about 12 minutes. The people of British Columbia had had Bill 22 somewhat less than that. We'd just done first reading, and she's picking a fight. The whole premise for her of this bill was to pick a fight for crass political opportunism at the expense of our children, at the expense of quality education. Well, she's getting a fight, indeed. It's a fight caused by the Premier and the Liberal Party.
She went on to say, in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition about the budget and the fire sale of public land, refusing to answer that question…. Again she goes: "Today, on a day when teachers — the teachers union — are threatening to withdraw services to children in British Columbia, he" — referring to the Leader of the Opposition — "refuses to get up and engage on the issue."
Madam Speaker, first of all, we're not allowed to en-
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gage on the issue in this House. We just had first reading. The Premier was taunting the Leader of the Opposition to engage in a debate that we aren't allowed to do and taking a position…. Of course, the teachers would have been aware of Bill 22, the draconian Bill 22. It got dropped on them just like it got dropped on us. Yet she's already taking the position, not referring to "today" as when this government dropped this draconian bill on the teachers, on the students, on the parents of British Columbia and on the opposition. She was not talking about that. She was saying that it was a day when teachers — the teachers union — are threatening to withdraw services to children in British Columbia.
The teachers, I would submit, hadn't even met yet. There certainly had been no strike vote yet. They were looking, just as we were, at the very beginning of our introduction of Bill 22.
They weren't threatening anything of the kind, yet the Premier stood here and said that as though it was fact; taunted the Leader of the Opposition, who did not bite; then went on to taunt, similarly, the Finance critic. The Finance critic went on to ask questions about how the province could justify balancing its budget by selling off parts of British Columbia. It was the first time we really had a chance to ask that question, and she responds to the Finance critic in a similar fashion.
She went right into the statement that the teachers were picking a fight, and she was daring the Finance critic to engage in a debate about Bill 22, which we are forbidden to do at that point in time. We just had it introduced. It was first reading. Then the Speaker of the House had to rein the Premier in because we are not allowed to talk about the substance of Bill 22. That's why we were talking about "some bill from the week before," as the Premier put it, which was the budget, the B.C. Budget 2012-2013. Some bill, indeed.
Rather than talk about the budget, she wanted to engage in a fight by taunting the Leader of the Opposition and the Finance critic, daring them to engage in a fight, in a debate on an issue that we aren't allowed to debate in this House. Unbelievable — sanctioned by her own Speaker, trying to pick a fight with the teachers.
So any attempt by the Minister of Education in the public eye to put a sober, considered, fair look to this bill — and their caring about education and teachers and students — was out the window. All the Premier saw was: "Oh, boy, we've got a fight. Let me pick the fight." You should have seen the looks on the members across the way, the government members. That caught them by surprise.
The Premier had to be sanctioned again by the Speaker of the House. The first time: "Premier, you can refer to the bill itself, but you cannot refer to the contents of the bill. Continue." She stood up again, and she said: "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The issue of net zero has been something the government has been talking about for months."
Again, the Speaker, unbelievably, going: "Sit down, Premier. You can refer to the bill itself, but you can't refer to the contents. The contents of the bill have 'zero' in it." She was breaking every rule in this House in an attempt to pick a fight with the teachers.
Now, I don't know. I didn't see any government members on the front steps of the Legislature at noon today. But guess what. You've got a fight. Thousands of people standing up there — teachers, yes, but British Columbians, students, teachers from district 69, teachers from Port Alberni on the west coast…. Teachers from district 70 out there travelled across the province from Alberni–Pacific Rim. From far and wide across the province, just aghast that this Premier would dare pick a fight and make the collateral damage be our children in the school system today.
We've been seeing ads placed on — wow — every form of media. I mean, the government's budget is $15 million to do job ads, Madam Speaker, but we've seen ads building up to this. I guess we should have seen it coming, although it was so blatant from the Premier — unbelievable. Ads, again, talking about the government caring about what they're doing: "We're putting $165 million into a learning improvement fund." [Applause.]
Oh, yeah. Applaud, yeah. And that's what it sounds like — applauding in a vacuum. Yeah. Listen to that. Let it echo around for a bit. Savour it. I have never seen anything more misleading.
Bills 27 and 28, foisted on the teachers in 2002 — not by the Premier but when she was the Education Minister — were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. Now, this is the bill that took away the teachers' ability to negotiate class size and composition — found unconstitutional.
Well, you know what? I don't care what government you are — right-wing, left-wing, Liberal, Social Credit, NDP. Whatever else there is, whatever other party there is, there's one job of government probably more important than anything else. It's to respect and defend the constitution of Canada.
Stripping rights. This government has no reason, has no right to sit as government. Stripping rights the second time. They did that to the HEU workers right when they came in, in a broken promise to win an election in 2001. Then they continued with the teachers in 2002. Then it took the Supreme Court to turn that around.
You know what? They pulled…. The Liberal government, this Premier, as Education Minister, yanked almost $300 million out of the schools every year for ten years, with Bills 27 and 28, from children with special needs — unbelievable. The Supreme Court said they breached the constitution in so doing and had to fix that by April, coming up soon, when the 11 months in the year have passed.
To fix it, they dropped this bomb, the education dis-
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ruption confrontation act, and have the gall to run ads at public expense to say: "Oh, we're putting $165 million into a learning improvement fund."
Well, one thing the people of British Columbia have learned — that teachers have learned, that students have learned, that parents have learned — is when it comes to any claims, especially if they're spending taxpayers' money to sell it to us with our own money, read the fine print — $165 million.
With Bills 27 and 28, the Liberal government — this Premier, in her previous role as Minister of Education — pulled almost $300 million a year away from children in the classroom. That's, by my count, over $3 billion till the Supreme Court said they shouldn't have done that. It was against the constitution.
When they say they're putting back $165 million, they're not giving anything new in a learning improvement fund. What they did over ten years was fill up the shoes of teachers and students and parents with stones, uncomfortable stones.
When the shoes were full of these horribly uncomfortable stones, in this one fell swoop they took one out and said: "Look, we've created a learning improvement fund." They didn't create anything of the kind. They have returned $165 million from $3 billion they stripped from our classrooms and all the damage that would cause.
But that's not all. Remember I said: "Read the fine print." When it comes to the Liberals, the people of British Columbia sure know now they have to read the fine print. Only $30 million is going into the classroom in this fiscal year and only $30 million in the next fiscal year. So out of the $3 billion they stripped from our students — the students that needed it most, kids with special learning needs — they're willing to put back $30 million, as though it's something great and new.
If that isn't the art of deception, I don't know what is. But they have the deep pockets of the taxpayers of British Columbia to try to convince them that they've done something good here, when it's a travesty.
How many children have suffered from not getting the resources in the classroom? Yes, those children that have special needs, special learning issues — yeah, they suffered, but every student suffered, because the classrooms did not have the resources to address those needs, and by transfer, all the students had to lose some quality of education.
The teachers fought. They fought so hard to continue a quality level of education despite this move, knowing it was wrong and knowing in their hearts that it was so wrong — and indeed, having that knowing affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Bill 22 is a bit of déjà vu. It's reminiscent of Bills 27 and 28 that this Premier, when she was Minister of Education in 2002, foisted on the teachers, on the students, on the parents, on the people of British Columbia. They were designed to strip rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Canada and designed to strip the resources from the children that needed them most.
So we see Bill 22….
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
Hon. M. McNeil: It may come as no surprise that I rise today to speak in support of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.
As a mother and a grandmother, I truly understand the importance of the public education system. Like many others in this House, I also was on the PAC of my daughters' elementary school for many years, and I spent countless hours trying to ensure that their experience was the best it could be by being involved. Now my daughters are repeating history. They, too, are on the PAC. It just shows that education matters to many of us.
I also understand how crucial excellent teachers are to the health and well-being of our children and our future. My husband is a retired high school teacher in Vancouver. He spent his entire career dedicated to teaching hundreds of teenagers, many of whom he continues to keep in touch with. He still misses the classroom. We also have nieces, as well, that are involved in the education system.
I've been chatting with them a lot, but I've also been struggling, listening in this House to the rhetoric, the words spoken on the other side of the House. It's as if we, on this side of the House, simply don't understand.
I hear the members opposite expressing shock that the government is even considering imposing legislation. One journalist just recently wrote in Surrey Now: "One would assume democracy is about to end and our kids are about to be part of the one of the worst education systems in the country, if not the world." This is the kind of rhetoric we're hearing.
In its 30-year history the BCTF has only had one successful round of collective bargaining, and that was in 2006. Think about that — only one. So unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation that we find ourselves in.
Why do we continue to do it this way? When are we going to learn from the past and from experience? It simply doesn't work. When the rhetoric becomes too loud, it becomes only about us, the adults, and not about the kids.
The misinformation, the distortions out there about the bill's intent are so shocking — including to my personal e-mail, I might add. I've been getting references to my e-mail from the BCTF, telling me what the bill is actually trying to do. How they got my personal e-mail, I don't know.
Bill 22 imposes a cooling-off period to the end of August, and I support this — particularly the cooling-off period that this legislation provides. It suspends all strike and lockout activities while a mediator attempts to facilitate a negotiated agreement between the
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B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers Association.
Under the net zero mandate, as my esteemed colleague from Kootenay East said just shortly ago, there have been 130 agreements and agreements-in-principle covering 75 percent of almost 300,000 unionized public sector employees, and 75 percent of public sector collective agreements have been negotiated to date. It's important to note that 24 of those ratified agreements at net zero have been with school support workers.
The mediator can help parties arrive at compensation improvements, whether to wages or benefits, by looking for trade-offs with the contract, just as other public sector unions have achieved under the net zero mandate.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The mediator will also seek to balance the union and employer demands to help find agreement on such matters as class size, composition, feedback and evaluation of teachers to promote improvements and alignment of professional development with teaching needs.
As the Minister of Education said on March 1: "It's unfortunate that the rhetoric and name-calling has overtaken a thoughtful and constructive approach to resolving the impasse through mediation. When mediation begins in the near future, I hope that the discussion will unfold in a respectful way." I hope that we can stop the rhetoric and make it truly about the kids.
I've been told: "Why are you rushing the process? What are you doing trying to rush this?" Both sides have spoken at length about education, and I don't think we've had a real debate on the issues that really matter. It's not enough that we discuss who controls education or how much money we allot to the ministry. It's about how we best educate our children.
The fact is that after nearly one year of negotiations, 78 bargaining sessions and nearly 7 months of job action, there has been very little progress in closing the gap. It is time to end this — for the students, for the teachers and for families.
Mr. Speaker, I would sure like for us to stop the rhetoric, bring logic and respect back to the process, and truly make it about the kids.
H. Bains: It is my honour, once again, to stand in this House to speak on issues that are important to all British Columbians but in particular to the people that I represent in Surrey-Newton.
I will be speaking on Bill 22, named the Education Improvement Act, which as many speakers before me have said is a misnomer of the worst kind, if you go back into the history. When you start to read the bill, clause by clause, you hardly see anything to suggest improvement to education.
Mr. Speaker, I think time is coming to an end for today on this debate. I am told to look at the clock. Noting the hour, I will continue to make my comments in the next sitting.
H. Bains moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:20 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. Thornthwaite in the chair.
The committee met at 2:53 p.m.
On Vote 13: ministry operations, $1,971,938,000 (continued).
M. Mungall: It's great to be back this afternoon. I'm just going to go back to some of the questions I was asking, generally, about the ministry. From my notes prior to breaking for lunch, I was asking the minister a question about changes in staff, and I was also looking for some costs associated with that. So if the minister could please share with us the costs of increasing the ADMs from two to three and the cost associated with doing a reorganizational process in the ministry.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll just reiterate what was said this morning. First of all, there are no additional FTEs in ministry staff. What we have done, though, is reorganize ministry staff to result in more effective delivery of services and to allow the ministry, frankly, to focus on priority areas and priority programs. The reallocation of the staff is all done within existing resources and within
[ Page 9843 ]
the existing budget.
M. Mungall: With that, is the minister saying there is no increase in costs in terms of administrative staff with the addition of a new assistant deputy minister?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: My understanding from the member opposite is that the most recent question you posed is slightly different from the original question. The most recent question seems to focus on the administrative costs, so that's what I'll address right now.
We have redistributed administrative costs from existing resources again. The executive admin support subvote is only 1 percent of our actual total budget, and I don't believe that has changed since last year.
M. Mungall: Then my next question has to do with the minister's travel. How much money was spent on travel for the minister and the minister's staff in the previous year? How does that compare to that which is budgeted for this coming year?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The minister's office travel budget has actually not changed from last year to this year, so that's the budget we're talking about. The actual forecasted expenditures for this year will be about $75,000.
M. Mungall: I see that the budget hasn't changed from last year to this year. That's what the minister is saying. But that brings me to the question, then…. If she is asking institutions to cut their travel budgets, I'm wondering why she has not cut her own travel budget.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We actually in the minister's office showed great leadership a couple of years ago. We reduced quite dramatically the travel budget. In the year '10-11 the ministry's budget was $178,000. This year, '11-12, it's $105,000. As I mentioned, it looks like our actual expenditures will be about $75,000 to $80,000. To repeat, we actually took the leadership last year to reduce our travel budget.
M. Mungall: I'm just looking here at STOB 57, which is the travel budget. Under "minister's office" it says $105,000. The minister is now saying, though, that it looks like it will be about $75,000 to $80,000. But we've got to talk about what's in here, and it's $105,000. If the minister said $105,000, and she already did say there was no change, then it begs the question: what numbers are we working with?
If we're asking institutions to cut their travel budgets, if that's where post-secondary institutions can just easily cut their budgets to address the budget cuts that they're experiencing from this ministry, then yes, the minister ought to take leadership. She ought to take it in the year that she's asking the same from institutions.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll just repeat that again. In STOB 57, as the member opposite has indicated, the budget for the minister's travel for this current fiscal year is $105,000. It is a budgeted figure. Our anticipated actual expenditures will be about $80,000. So we don't know, and we can't predict, exactly what we are going to be spending, but that is the budgeted figure. The last fiscal year we budgeted $178,000, and the fiscal year that we're speaking to during these estimates is the next fiscal year, '12-13. That $105,000 is in the budget as well. So there's been no increase.
M. Mungall: Sorry. Just for point of clarification, then. What I heard from the minister was, though, that in the budget year of '10-11 it was $178,000. So for '11-12, was it $105,000 or $178,000? It was $105,000? For '12-13, it's $105,000 again. That brings me back to my question.
If we're expecting the administration of post-secondary institutions to cut their travel budgets and the minister is not cutting her travel budget, and that's the number we're working with here…. If the minister actually anticipated the budget to only be $80,000, well, then why is that not $80,000 here? This is what we're going to be voting on. This is what we're talking about — $105,000. So if the minister says we're not going to be spending $105,000, then why didn't she make it what she actually anticipates it to be?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: What we are discussing is a budget. We anticipate spending $105,000 for the next fiscal year, '12-13. It's a budget. We don't know what the actual expenditures are. Imagine having to anticipate what the member opposite's travel costs would be for the year '12-13. It will be an estimate, not what the member opposite could actually today determine.
So what we've done is start with a budget of $178,000 during our last fiscal year. We showed some leadership. We reduced the budget for travel from the minister's office to $105,000. We will exceed…. Well, I shouldn't say exceed. We'll actually not exceed that budget. We will be well under that budget. For the year '12-13, again, it is a budgeted line item, and we expect that the minister's office travel will be similar to what we experienced this fiscal year.
M. Mungall: I understand that the minister has reduced the budget item from '10-11 fiscal year. Many post-secondary institutions did just that, as well, in that fiscal year, which is now two years ago from what we're discussing today because we're discussing the upcoming budget for 2012-13. So in 2010-11 the minister reduced the budget compared to '11-12. Many institutions did the
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exact same thing for those two separate budgets in that same time frame.
I'm comparing what the minister has budgeted for 2012-13 to what was in the budget for 2011-12. The minister is saying that the travel for those two budgets has not increased or decreased. It has remained the same at $105,000.
So the question is still unanswered as to why they haven't taken the same pill, so to speak, that they are giving to post-secondary institutions in saying that they must cut their travel budget. It was said in the budget speech. That's where I'm pulling this from. Why not then do the exact same thing for the budget year of 2012-13 compared to 2011-12?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll repeat what I've just said. What we did in the minister's office was take a significant reduction in our travel budget in the year '11-12 from the year '10-11. That was a $73,000 reduction in the minister's travel.
M. Mungall: It's clear I've attempted several times to get an understanding of what's the difference of why there hasn't been a reduction from 2011-12 to 2012-13. So I'll just move on.
I'll give a chance for the minister's staff to resettle itself. I'm going to go to the Degree Quality Assessment Board. There might need to be some shifts of people. Yes, I see some. Okay, we're ready. Great.
I'm going to start with the focus on what's been dubbed the Stubbs report, which was given to the ministry on March 31, 2011, and posted on line in May 2011. This report has done a review of the degree approval process here in British Columbia. What we've been using for the last while is the Degree Quality Assessment Board. This review was looking at that board and its processes in how it approves degrees.
The minister said that on their website, the ministry website, it says that they will be working with post-secondary institutions to assess the recommendations and develop a plan to implement the recommendations. There are 35 of them coming from this report. I'm just wondering, to date, it being about a year — 11 months — from when this was first put on her desk, where the ministry is at with this assessment.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The Stubbs report was a good report. The ministry is supporting all of the recommendations of the Stubbs report. Some of the recommendations affect the board itself; some of the recommendations affect ministry operations. Consistent with the jobs plan and the expectation that we'll be expanding and strengthening our quality assurance framework, we are in the process of actually developing that quality assurance framework right now, as we speak.
M. Mungall: The website is really clear that the ministry is working with the post-secondary institutions to assess the recommendations and develop plan implementation. The minister says they are supportive of all the recommendations, so I'm just wondering if, being in support of all the recommendations, they have an implementation plan already in place.
I hear that what the minister is saying is about the quality assessment process, but I'm specific to the Stubbs report here — if there is an implementation plan and if that is available to the public.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We are actually working on a quality assurance framework right now, and that quality assurance framework incorporates the majority of the recommendations from the Stubbs report. We're actually just beginning right now a broad public engagement, or consultation, on the new framework, and that will begin shortly. The remainder of the recommendations of the Stubbs report affect the board directly, and those are actually being implemented now.
M. Mungall: Questions about the board were actually my very next questions — if the ministry had considered particularly recommendation No. 4, which was that members from the business community "be reduced to two members to make way for slightly increased numbers of representatives from the academic institutions." Number 3, of course, lists off the increase from the academic institutions. So I just want to make sure and confirm this for the record — that the ministry is going to be implementing recommendations 3 and 4 specifically.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: With respect to recommendations 3 and 4, that is actually going to be part of the broader public consultation. We don't want to prejudge the outcome of that, but I could just say that I'm generally supportive of the recommendations.
M. Mungall: Just going to the public consultation process, then, I'm wondering if the minister can outline that in a little bit more detail. As an example, will she do round tables with administrators of post-secondary institutions, or…? I'll leave it open-ended so that the minister can just answer with what exactly they're doing.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes. We will be having round-table discussions, actually, with both our public and private sector post-secondary institutions. We're also investigating using social media to engage parents and teachers and students — all, of course, in the goal to improve the quality of our post-secondary education in British Columbia.
[ Page 9845 ]
M. Mungall: Moving on to some further recommendations, recommendation No. 7, where it recommends "that the DQAB should commission a full arm's-length review of its activities, using external reviewers, at least once every eight to ten years. The first review should occur in 2013."
So I'm wondering if the ministry has budgeted for this review and how much it is budgeting.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We anticipate the costs for the review to be about $200,000 to $300,000. That's just based on previous reviews that we've undertaken. And just for the member opposite's information, that report, that review, actually comes directly to the minister's office, not to the board.
M. Mungall: I'm just wondering if it's in the budget for 2013 or 2013-14. Which year will we be seeing that?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The anticipated costs we anticipate coming out of the existing budget. We don't actually get down to that granular level with respect to identifying projects of…. Yes, for this year.
M. Mungall: Continuing on through the recommendations, I'm looking at recommendation No. 13. It talks about a more structured orientation process for all review teams associated with the DQAB.
I have two questions on that. One is: what is the current orientation process for degree review teams, and does it include conflict-of-interest information? Is this going to be included in the public consultation process that the minister has already discussed, or is this something that the minister is already taking action on?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The answer is yes. The board has already implemented recommendation No. 13, and yes, it actually includes a conflict-of-interest policy.
M. Mungall: Then moving on to recommendation No. 16. This one I find particularly interesting because it's talking about avoiding unnecessary program duplication. This report specifically says that this is a direct policy decision for government, and here's why it says that.
It says, quoting from page 17: "The development of niche or very narrowly defined degrees has apparently sometimes occurred as a way of circumventing the duplication criteria or as a way for institutions to attract international students. Whether the needs of students in the system as a whole are being met by such an approach is open to question."
I think that's a very serious point that this report is making. What's interesting is that this report further goes on to talk about how B.C. once provided the necessary coordination to ensure that this type of niche, narrowly defined degree or this type of duplication doesn't take place. In fact, other jurisdictions are doing it now, as this report lists off several provinces that are doing that.
So the status now, according to this report here, is that "it appears to be the case that no one ministry or individual has a full understanding of the current highly complex post-secondary system in this province."
That's a powerful statement in this report. It certainly speaks to the complexity that does exist in the post-secondary system and what has been going on with quality assurance. I know the minister has talked about doing a quality assurance framework, strengthening that framework.
I'm just wondering what steps the minister has taken to immediately address this issue, to immediately look at the issue around preventing duplication, preventing the creation of niche or narrowly defined degrees with a very specific focus that may not actually help students over the life span of their careers because it's such a niche and narrow focus. So I'll just ask that again and repeat myself. What steps has the minister taken to immediately address this issue?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Better coordination of our post-secondary system is actually an overarching objective, and with this strengthened and expanded quality assurance framework, we're hoping that we meet that objective. It's too early to prejudge what the consultation process will tell us. But I will say that we generally support the thrust, again, of recommendation No. 16.
In the meantime, though, prior to the consultations that we're doing with our post-secondary partners, we're working directly with our institutions to ensure that they're addressing the specific labour market needs in their regions and ensuring that we're meeting student demands. The workforce tables currently occurring around the province, both regionally and sectorally, are also providing us with information to help us make those decisions.
M. Mungall: I'll move on to the next set of recommendations. This one is recommendation 19. It talks about what's called the exempt status of post-secondary institution audits and the internal reviews. This recommendation 19 — again, a very specific framework for gaining and maintaining exempt status.
They're talking about a periodic internal review process as well as an external audit process on exempt post-secondary institutions. My understanding of what happens right now is that once a post-secondary institution receives exempt status, this means they can put forward a new degree. It still has to be approved by the minister, according to my understanding, but they don't have to go through the DQAB process. They actually
[ Page 9846 ]
have their own internal process.
What's lacking right now and what the Stubbs report has identified particularly is that there is no audit of that. So if an institution still has the credentials and is meeting the same rationale for when they received exempt status, say ten, seven years into the future, there is no audit process to determine if that is still the case.
My question, then, looking at this framework, is if the ministry…. I know the minister has talked about this public consultation process, but I'm wondering if this is another thing that is going to be put forward to that public consultation process or if there are steps being taken now to address this issue, particularly in light of what's happened with Douglas College. We have heard that on the news, and I know the minister is well aware of it. She was quoted on the news report on 16x9.
Particularly taking that into consideration — I'm sure there are a lot of other examples, as well, to consider — what steps might the ministry have already taken to implement recommendation 19 and the framework that it offers up to create greater accountability in the system for exempt post-secondary institutions?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Just a reminder. The quality assurance framework that we're working on expanding and improving is quite overarching, and we're looking at expanding that to include all public and private institutions.
With respect to the exempt status, institutions have exempt status. They're still subject to a Degree Quality Assessment Board review. With respect to Douglas College, I have directed them to the board to actually undertake a review, and that's ongoing right now.
We've reorganized the ministry internally. Part of this reorganization was intentionally to separate the divisions that are responsible for governance and the ministry duties that are responsible for the direct service and delivery of programs. Our intention to do that was to look at the accountability of our institutions in ensuring that the quality and the assurance components aren't actually in the same department. So we should see some good changes coming from that.
Again, I think your question was whether or not the exempt-status institutions are subject to audits. They are subject to an audit if directed by the ministry staff or myself.
M. Mungall: Actually, more specifically what I was asking about is recommendation 19. My understanding on recommendation 19 is it's saying that audits are, at least, not an automatic. If what the minister is saying is that audits can take place, then it's at the direction of the ministry. But what this is saying is that audits must take place. So I'm just wondering if this is, then, a part of the public consultation process or if this is something that the ministry is acting on right now.
The minister has replied to my letter about Douglas College. I saw that. I didn't mean to ask a question about the situation at Douglas College — just highlighting that as an example of a reason why maybe this would be something that the ministry would take action on right away as opposed to waiting for, perhaps, a lengthy public consultation process.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: As I mentioned, we do have…. Or maybe I didn't. I'll mention it now. The ministry has been reorganized. There is now a new audit and accountability branch, and they're actually currently discussing what the framework would be for auditing and the period, the frequency. They're considering the criteria: what a routine audit would look like, what the risks would be that we should be looking at. All that will be considered in building the audit plan.
B. Ralston: I want to ask a couple of questions about Simon Fraser University Surrey, and I've given out slight advance notice to the deputy.
By the way, I want to congratulate the former comptroller general on her new position as deputy minister. We're familiar with each other from the Public Accounts Committee, where she did a very capable job, and I'm not surprised that the ministry is moving in the direction of a greater audit function. That perhaps reflects some of her considerable experience in that area.
Turning to SFU Surrey, I do want to ask the question that I have asked annually about SFU Surrey. The government gave a commitment in, I believe, 2006 to move in a plan to provision of a budget for the 5,000 full-time-equivalent students at the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University. I certainly appreciate the vagaries of the budgeting process and the stress that's been placed upon it by external events. Nonetheless, for planning purposes, Simon Fraser University does require that assurance.
I appreciate that the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services unanimously recommended that the minister give attention to this request. I also further understand that Simon Fraser University — through its president and its vice-president, external, who is, of course, a former deputy minister of Advanced Education who's intimately familiar with the process — has similarly made representations.
Here in this forum I want to ask again: can the minister advise what the plan of the ministry is to meet that commitment of funding 5,000 full-time-equivalent students at the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University? In the plan it was to be completed by 2015, I believe. The minister can correct me if I'm wrong, but certainly a firm commitment was made, and I just want the assurance on behalf of the students, the university and the community of South Fraser that this commitment will be met shortly.
[ Page 9847 ]
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: As the member opposite has noted, we have received a presentation from the president of Simon Fraser University, and they have clearly indicated that the Surrey SFU campus is their top priority — or that area, anyways, is their top priority.
We are considering this request in the context of our ten-year capital plan and keeping in mind, of course, our current fiscal climate. We did say that our goal was to increase the FTEs in Surrey to 5,000 from 2,500 by 2015, but that was subject to the availability of operating and capital funding.
I would be remiss if I didn't list some of the huge investments that we have actually made in Surrey at the SFU campus. In fact, since 2001, $85.3 million has been invested in capital projects at Surrey. We have seen just recently…. The member opposite was there to share in the experience of opening Podium 2, which is on the Surrey campus — a $5.2 million investment from Advanced Education. That was, I believe, just last year.
In total, there has been almost $70 million for the new Surrey Central City campus. That was used to acquire and renovate space within the Central City building in Surrey.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that answer. I'd like to, perhaps, rephrase the question. Again, I understand that this is a slightly…. It's not an annual target. It's a longer-term target.
Can the minister advise, given the commitment that's made to 5,000 FTEs by 2015, when she sees within the three-year plan achieving that target? I might say, further, that the investment in this campus has been very well received by the city of Surrey, by the citizens of Surrey.
As the minister will know, there are studies that show that what the educators call the transition rate — that is, the number of students who move from high school graduation to advanced education — is in the South Fraser region lower than the provincial average, and particularly lower than the provincial average among young males aged 18 to 25. There are also studies that support the fact that if facilities and opportunities are closer to where students reside, there is a higher takeup. I think that only makes sense.
There is a huge demand in Surrey. Surrey is the biggest school district in terms of the number of students within the public education system in Surrey. Again, there is that. There is a very good relationship between the Surrey school district and Simon Fraser University, among other educational institutions there. Kwantlen technical university, as well, is part of the mix.
Just given all those factors, given the opportunities there and given the catalytic effect that redevelopment, that investment in the university poses and will create in the city centre and the accompanying private sector investment — whether it's transforming the housing market, the commercial market within that district of the new city centre in Surrey — can the minister be more specific about when, within the three-year plan, she expects to achieve the target of 5,000 full-time-equivalent students that has previously been spoken of?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Just like we weren't able to anticipate the economic financial crisis in 2008-2009, I'm unable to predict what will be occurring in the next couple of years. But what I can say to the member opposite — because I recognize that SFU Surrey is a vibrant campus and very well used — is that as the economy turns around and as funding becomes available, we are committed to working with SFU to address the needs in the region, specifically the training needs for students in the Fraser Valley.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that being asked this next question may be like being asked to choose your favourite child, and no parent wants to, usually, indicate that. But where in the priorities of the ministry would the expansion of the campus of Simon Fraser University fit, given that the minister obviously agrees with most of what I've said about the benefits that would flow from that commitment? Can the minister advise where it fits in the priorities of her ministry?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I will reiterate that, certainly, SFU Surrey campus expansion is one of our many priorities. Regrettably, there are competing priorities for limited resources that we have right now, particularly in these challenging times.
What I would like to say, though — and this is a general comment on Budget 2012 — is it does confirm our government's ongoing commitment to our key fiscal plan objectives, which are to balance the budget by 2013-14 and to ensure that we have a fiscally sustainable taxpayer-supported debt-to-GDP ratio that maintains our triple-A credit rating. If we can do that, what it does is sets us up to make these strategic investments in key areas in our province to ensure that the students and our labour market demands are met.
C. Trevena: I have, I think, about three questions for the minister — questions from both myself and the member for Alberni–Pacific Rim. North Island College covers both our constituencies. In fact, it's a huge area of the north Island and central Island. It covers, as well, part of the central coast.
North Island College has a large land base. Also, it ranks third in the number of FTEs for rural colleges, but
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in terms of funding, it comes fifth. Likewise, it serves the largest population base, as I say — from the west coast down to Ucluelet, way up to Bella Bella and Bella Coola — but it ranks sixth in its funding per capita.
The college is very aware, as the minister keeps talking about, of these challenging economic times. While I think it would dearly love to see a proportional increase in its budget, it's aware that that is not likely to happen. In conversations that both myself and the member for Alberni–Pacific Rim have had with the college….
They would like to see that if there are cuts to the budget, as is expected across Advanced Education, that that be used to start doing some equalization so that colleges such as North Island College — which has a very large base of students, has a very large geographical area and serves a large population — can come up in the rankings and get a more equitable amount of funding.
I'd like to hear whether the minister is willing to look at that, examine that. If, on the other hand, she's going to say that there is more money available for North Island College, that would be very, very welcome.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: It's such a good opportunity to talk about the workforce table that will be hosted on the Island, looking at the Island workforce issues. That will be happening shortly. That will have the post-secondary institutions. It will have community members, chambers of commerce, industry members and ministry participants on that workforce table.
We anticipate that the outcome from the workforce tables will actually identify where the need is for certain types of training, and that will help guide us at the ministry to work with our institutions to determine the appropriate allocation and the realignment of current resources. I'm looking forward to that process being initiated and the outcomes.
C. Trevena: The minister is not saying that there is going to be any more money. It's going to be looking at it through a jobs perspective rather than the academic perspective and needs of the college and needs of the community, of each individual community. It's going to looking at the whole Island. What I'm talking about is the rural colleges provincewide — North Island College being a rural college — in comparison to other rural colleges.
It's really unfair to compare North Island College to either Vancouver Island University, which is now a university designation, or Camosun or UVic. I mean, you're looking at a very specific rural college that serves specific needs — so whether the minister would be looking specifically at that or very targeted at the needs for employment training and skills training in the short term.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Just a reminder to the member opposite. The operating funding for North Island College for the upcoming fiscal year actually remains the same. We're protecting the core operating funding for Budget 2012-13. But what we are doing is we're asking our institutions, large and small, to collaborate, to form partnerships.
The collaboration across the sector actually will probably benefit the smaller institutions more than the larger institutions, frankly, so this will be good for North Island College. But what we're wanting the institutions to do is to collaborate to meet the training needs of the region.
I'll give you an example of something that I just found out about recently. Northwest Community College up in the north, a small college, is partnering with JIBC — Justice Institute of British Columbia — and they're doing this in order to provide high-level paramedic training to rural paramedics. This is something that will be able to be delivered at the Smithers campus of Northwest Community College in partnership, something they couldn't do alone and using the expertise from JIBC. So this is a great example of what we'd like to see more of in our system.
C. Trevena: You're clearly not going to be trying to equalize the inequities of funding. While the operating budget has remained the same, that is, as I think everybody is aware, going to be effectively a decrease because of inflation and doesn't do anything to address capital. So I think that it's not good news for North Island College. I will pass this on to both the board and the president.
The president and the board are also quite concerned, and I'm not sure if this is the area that the minister can answer. There has been for many months a vacancy for the board in the north Island, in the northern part of the Island. They've had candidates put through. They're still waiting for approval and have heard nothing.
They're still also waiting for approval for vacancies to be filled in the Comox Valley area, where they're looking at succession planning for the current chair of the board. They would like this expedited, and they wonder if the minister could give assurances that this will be expedited. This has been many, many months of waiting.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'm not familiar with the actual specific details of the North Island College board with respect to board vacancies, but I can assure the member opposite that I will work with the institution and the board to ensure that there is a timely replacement of board members, because with respect to governance, we need to ensure that we have representation from the community on those boards.
C. Trevena: I'm sure that the president and the chair of the board will be in touch with the minister by the end of the day on that one, because talking about timely, as I say, it's been many, many months, and they're getting
[ Page 9849 ]
I'd like to switch my focus to the cost of education for students. The minister has stated repeatedly that she isn't willing to reinstate the financial needs–based student grants program. The high cost of tuition, I think the minister should be aware, is very detrimental for many, many students. They are unable to access post-secondary education.
I don't know if the minister has actually read the declaration of human rights, but access to post-secondary education on merit rather than cost is there under the declaration of human rights — which, last I knew, we were a signatory of. So I hope she would look at that.
I'd like to know whether the minister finds it acceptable that B.C. remains the last in the country for student grants while retaining the highest interest rate on student loans.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Just for the information of the member opposite, students in British Columbia had access to over $730 million from the provincial and federal governments for student financial assistance last year. What we believe, and what I believe, is that we actually have the right mix of upfront grants and back-end relief programs. That's based on government policy that believes that by providing the back-end relief, we encourage the completion, for students, of their studies. We've seen studies to back that up.
What I'd like to put on the record, though, Mr. Chair, is the number of grants that we have, front-end grants. The members opposite would have you believe, frankly, that we don't have any upfront grants. I will just list them off.
We have the nurses education bursary, and that is valued at $1 million. We have the B.C. Access Grant for students with permanent disabilities, and that's $2.25 million. We have disabled student grants of $800,000 and a supplemental bursary for students with disabilities, $600,000. The learning disability assessment bursary is $109,000; United World scholarship, $290,000; and student society emergency aid fund, $100,000.
We also have the adult basic education student assistance program, $5.7 million. Passport to Education provides $12 million, and the provincial and district scholarships are $5.6 million.
We also have three programs that I'll just draw to the attention of the member opposite. One of them is an interest relief program. The others are a loan forgiveness program and a loan reduction program.
The interest relief program is for students who are in repayment. They've completed their education, and if they've got trouble paying, maybe due to family size or income, the taxpayers will actually allow the student to stop their payments for up to 54 months. No interest will accrue. Taxpayers pay the interest on the outstanding balance while this happens. That is available for students.
There's also a loan forgiveness program. I can perhaps give you a concrete example of how the loan forgiveness program has helped a nursing student at Thompson Rivers University. This is a student with two children, who finished her registered nursing program at TRU. She had access to about $47,000 in student financial assistance, and when she finally completed her education, she chose to work in an underserved community. In this case, it was in the Merritt region.
Actually, maybe just before I get to that, the $47,000 was automatically reduced by $2,000. That was the loan reduction program. That's available to 21,000 of our students. It's automatic, and it's based on the amount of debt that a student has acquired through their education.
With the loan forgiveness program, her now $45,000 debt, which started at $47,000, was forgiven by one-third in the first year that she worked in Merritt. It's an underserved area; they needed nurses. In the second year the taxpayers forgave another one-third of her loan, and because she worked there for three years, in an underserved community where they needed nurses, her complete student debt was forgiven. It went from $47,000 to $45,000, and then from $45,000 to zero.
Those are some of the programs that we have to help our students who actually have acquired some student financial assistance to get them through their school year.
R. Fleming: I'd like to pick up on a question I was able to ask the minister before, in the morning part of this sitting day, about Camosun College. I think the answer she gave in response to program cuts that are anticipated by the board of directors was simply that she's not aware of any yet, because the board has to sit down and grapple with how having a budget that is going to be lower this year, with all the cost pressures, will push down into the various departments of the college.
I accept that explanation for the time being. There's nothing I have received from the board. They're in the middle of very urgent — even emergency — budget meetings right now.
What I wanted to ask her was about Camosun, as it relates to a trades training institution. I know that the Premier and members of the government have been at Camosun recently to talk about the benefits that the Seaspan federal ship procurement program will have for my community. Indeed, Camosun is going to play a key role there in helping to supply the welders and electricians and, perhaps, marine pipefitters and other sorts of trades that they can supply.
The question, really, I have is: how is that going to happen, when we look at the training authority's budget in this ministry being reduced by $10 million? And what is that going to mean for Camosun College?
I'm sure the minister — and maybe she can comment
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on this — would not want to see any of the potential jobs that Washington Marine Group and other employers may create go to tradespeople that are qualified from other parts of the world — to people from Spain or Ireland or the United States. I'm sure she would want to see them for people who have lived and worked in greater Victoria or the province of British Columbia and want to raise a family here.
The concern, though, and the question that we're getting from trades instructors and staff at Camosun College, is how they are going to square that with a budget that has lowered funds for industry training.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: With respect to industry training dollars, I would just remind the member opposite that actually, those training dollars come from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, although frankly, a lot of that training is done in our public post-secondary institutions. So I do have some information from Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, but I would ask the member opposite perhaps to confirm our response during the estimates for the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
My understanding is that the training budget actually has been kept whole for the training dollars, and again, you can have that confirmed. But what I think is important to mention is Camosun's leadership on the shipbuilding and repair workforce table. That was something that was announced last year.
Camosun actually sits on the steering committee and on the working committee, and they are actively developing a human resources plan with respect to the needs of the shipbuilding industry. Camosun has certainly been a leader on this.
R. Fleming: I wanted to ask the minister if she has contemplated something that research universities, I think, are interested in, in British Columbia, because, of course, they have to think long term. They have to think strategically. They perform extremely well in Canada — and recognition in the world. I'm speaking mainly about the four big research universities, and the University of Victoria in particular.
I wanted to ask her: now that her government has tabled a budget that will freeze and reduce funding for three years…. This is in direct contrast to our neighbours in Alberta, jurisdictions like Ontario, who are already far ahead of us in terms of how they support not just research and development but researchers at their university institutions through graduate scholarship programs that we do not have in British Columbia, through competitive compensation packages and through budgets that are supporting institutions to attract international talent.
What I wanted to ask the minister…. I'm sure she was warned by many sources throughout the institutions that report to her ministry that putting B.C. at a competitive disadvantage with places like Alberta, Ontario, other parts of the United States and international universities by sending the message out that for the next three-year horizon, funding is going to decline here…. That's not a very good way to recruit top international research and teaching talent to British Columbia.
Has she asked her ministry, or is her ministry conducting…? As we go through this three-year experiment on our universities, has she asked for ongoing analysis or even a special review of whether B.C. has put at risk our ability to compete with other research universities in other parts of the world and, indeed, our economic competitiveness in British Columbia vis-à-vis R-and-D investment and productivity as an economy, as a result of these budget cuts? If she hasn't asked for that kind of information, will she commit to reviewing that over this three-year budget horizon?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll just remind the member opposite that it's actually Jobs, Tourism and Innovation that has the research and innovation file. But we work very, very closely with Jobs, Tourism and Innovation because the majority of the research is actually done, again, at our institutions.
We do support, obviously, the BCKDF — the B.C. knowledge development fund. That was established in 1998, and that provided funding to build world-class research facilities and increase the capacity for innovation in our institutions. It is the province's primary investment vehicle for our research infrastructure.
Now, this program, as I mentioned, is managed collaboratively between Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Advanced Education. It is a cost-sharing program. So 40 percent comes from the provincial government, 40 percent comes from the federal government through the Canada Foundation for Innovation fund and then 20 percent non-government or third party.
Since 2001 more than $425 million in BCKDF funding has attracted more than $789 million of federal and third-party funding. So that's a total of over $1.2 billion in research funding.
We have in B.C. been consistently awarded, I think, more than our fair share of the total national budget. In fact, we've been awarded between 12 and 15 percent of the total national budget in major competitions.
I can proudly say that BCKDF is a priority and continues to be a priority in our three-year budget. Again, the program supports the province's jobs plan by providing support in sectors that leverage the province's competitive advantages.
But again, we are working with JTI and ensuring that we are able to attract our fair share of national research dollars.
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M. Mungall: I think the last few questions highlight some of the things that I've been hearing as I tour around the province. What I've been hearing from faculty and students and administration as well is that the benefit in previous years, when labour market development and Advanced Education were one ministry, was quite positive throughout the province and that it being separated has been a difficult situation.
Moving along, I want to come back to the degree quality assessment review, going back to some of the recommendations. So I know that there has to be a personnel change. I'm going to just highlight a couple more recommendations with a few more questions.
The first one is particularly recommendation 31. It's referring to a broader section that the reviewers did on the Canadian degree qualifications framework, which is from the Council of Ministers of Education Canada. I'm so glad to see that they actually spelled out the acronym, because I'm sure the minister might feel the same way as I do — the acronym soup that is in post-secondary education.
CMEC, which of course B.C. is a part of, has their quality assurance of degree education in Canada. Three documents are included in the statement. Of course, B.C. is a signatory to the statement.
Coming from that, the report is looking specifically at the DQAB. I'll read out the recommendation: "The panel recommends that the DQAB should review and, if necessary, modify the degree qualifications framework requirements for graduate-level programs and ensure that they are accurately reflected in the DQAB graduate degree program review materials."
So again, I'm just wondering what steps the minister has taken on this, when she anticipates that that will be implemented and, since we've learned about the public consultation process, if this is part of the public consultation process or if this is going to be exterior to it.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member opposite asked what steps we'll be taking. It will be part of the public engagement process that we'll be undertaking. With respect to the implementation time, the B.C. jobs plan does set out a goal of introducing a more robust, strengthened, expanded quality assurance plan by the end of this year.
I'd just like to put down for the record that B.C. is actually seen as a leader on quality assurance in Canada. In fact, we're the envy, apparently, of other jurisdictions, and we were quite instrumental in helping design the CMEC model the member opposite spoke to — this is the credentials qualification model. We will continue to be leaders in quality assurance in Canada.
M. Mungall: In terms of quality assurance and being leaders in Canada, I think that's actually debatable. There have been quite a few incredible stories about private post-secondary and some of the scandals that have existed in the private post-secondary system that have tarnished the reputation not just of other excellent private operators but also of the public system. And we know this, that there have been warnings coming from Chinese and Korean embassies. There are a lot of stories there.
I'll leave that aside for now. What I want to go to — and actually, this is very related — is the second-to-last recommendation, No. 34. It's "that the DQAB, which for several years has had a moratorium in place on the use of the word 'university,' give this matter careful attention in the near future and strengthen the standards for the use of this term." It goes on, on what strengthening those standards ought to look like.
This brings me to have the question of when the last time the DQAB did allow for a post-secondary institution to be called a university and why the moratorium was put in place. I'll leave it with those two questions first.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Mr. Chair, I'm sorry for the delay there. This is a little bit complicated.
First of all, I'll answer your question. It was 2004. That's when the last new university based in B.C. was granted the right to use the word "university." That was University Canada West. That was granted under the Degree Authorization Act.
I think it's important to note that there's nothing stopping an institution from applying to use the word or the term "university" through the Degree Authorization Act right now. There is no moratorium on that.
However, there is a moratorium for institutions that want to try to establish a university or use the name using the private act. That moratorium is currently in place. We're doing that so that we can develop robust criteria, which again, will be part of the new Degree Authorization Act.
M. Mungall: The other part of my question, though, was: why was the moratorium put in place…? I'm sorry. Perhaps the minister answered that. It was to develop a more robust criteria.
Of course, this was done in 2004. It's 2012. It's seven years later. What has been done in this seven-year time frame to do what the minister says was the reason for this moratorium?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I have to correct a statement that I made. There is, in fact, also a moratorium on the Degree Authorization Act avenue to request to use the term "university." That moratorium was put in place in 2009. We
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are doing that to ensure that we increase the standards and to protect our quality, as well as to protect students in our system.
So there are two avenues to seek to request using the term "university." One is through the private act, and the other is through the Degree Authorization Act. There is a moratorium on both.
M. Mungall: With a moratorium on both, the minister said that the start date for one moratorium was 2009. Was that for both the PCTIA and the DQAB? Also, going back to 2009, I'm still wondering what exactly is being done for quality assurance. If it's 2009, well, that's a three-year period. There must be people working on it. I'm wondering what they're actually doing to increase quality assurance over this three-year period — if it's not indeed 2004, which would then be a seven-year period. What are they doing in that time frame?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The 2004 date, again, wasn't when the moratorium was put in place. That was just the last time a university was granted the permission to use the word "university" — just to clear that up.
The member opposite did ask what we have been doing since 2009, since the moratorium was put in place. What we did in 2009 was introduce new legislation that strengthened the quality assurance in the career training sector. Maybe I'll just remind the member opposite that with respect to PCTIA, institutions that are members of PCTIA actually cannot offer degrees.
We also introduced the EQA. Another acronym — the education quality assurance program. This was introduced in November 2009, and it's B.C.'s brand for quality post-secondary education. It's the first of its kind in Canada. What the EQA does is allow students to make informed decisions about where they choose to study. We think it allows them to choose the best educational experience that they can in British Columbia.
Of course, we've talked about this, and this is where the question is coming from. We had the John Stubbs review in 2010. As we've talked about earlier, the Degree Quality Assessment Board is making changes, and we're making some changes based on those recommendations.
Of course, we've also talked about the broader review that we're doing to improve and strengthen our quality assurance in British Columbia. That is one of the steps that we're engaging in right now.
M. Mungall: Then just wrapping up on the DQAB. When the minister talked about the public consultation, I heard what she was saying about what their strategy was for that. I'm just wondering if there is a time frame for this public consultation and when she anticipates that will be concluded.
Just given the context that the jobs plan — and the minister has already discussed this — does say that this new framework, this quality assurance framework, needs to be in place by the end of this year, which I assume is by the end of 2012 — so looking at the time frame for that public consultation.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: To the member opposite, just a reminder. We have actually had ongoing consultations with our stakeholders, but not in a public manner, since the Stubbs report. But the public consultation that we've been talking about will start mid-March and go through till the end of April, and we'll use this public consultation to inform the next steps of our new quality assurance framework.
M. Mungall: Great. Well, then I would like to move on to — the minister already brought it up, so we'll go right there — the education quality assurance.
So my first question. The minister is talking about the — I want to make sure that I don't call it something that it's not — quality assurance framework. Of course, this was part of the jobs plan. I'm just wondering if the public consultation in the current review that the minister has discussed is the only thing that's been done in the last year to strengthen the EQA or if there are other things that government is doing to strengthen the EQA.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We have actually done some considerable work with strengthening EQA. What we have done most recently is introduce a public interest criterion into the EQA assessment. So now every single applicant is assessed on whether they are actually in good standing. We look at if there are any outstanding legal issues, if there are any outstanding financial issues, whether or not they're operating in the public interest.
We look at their websites to make sure that they're not misrepresenting the programs or courses that they're offering. Now we link with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to ensure that the institution is not acting in contravention of immigration regulations. So there are some steps that we've taken most recently to ensure that we have strengthened our EQA and maintain the leadership that we have in Canada for our quality assurance framework.
M. Mungall: The B.C. Centre for International Education — the BCCIE. If the minister is like me, she knows the acronyms often better than the full name. The BCCIE administers the EQA on behalf of the government. I'm just wondering if the minister can outline if we're done with the BCCIE with regards to their role in administering the EQA, especially with the new responsibilities that the minister just outlined in the previous answer.
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Hon. N. Yamamoto: BCCIE. You know what? I couldn't even begin, at this hour, to tell you what that stands for now. B.C. Centre for International Education — is that what you said? But you're right. We know these institutions by their acronyms better than their full names.
BCCIE actually administers the initial assessment of the institutions who are applying for EQA, but the application is subject to a very, very robust — a much more robust — review by the ministry. The ministry actually conducts the suitability and the public interest review, and that public interest review cannot be delegated. It's the responsibility of the ministry.
M. Mungall: My next questions were going to be, then, about PCTIA and — here's another one — BCCCA. I think that's the B.C. Career Colleges Association. Yeah.
I'm just wondering what work has been done with those two organizations, as they are the two main bodies representing private post-secondary. What work has been done with them on strengthening the EQA, as well as other strengthening initiatives? We canvassed the DQAB quite extensively, but maybe there is something more that the minister wants to bring up about that as well.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: PCTIA is the regulatory body. They're responsible for establishing the standards of quality assurance for the institutions. They're governed by the PCTIA legislation.
BCCCA. Although they have no regulatory authority, we often meet with organizations such as the BCCCA to explain the criteria that has been set forth in our EQA legislation, because we know that actually that helps strengthen and increase the awareness of quality assurance.
Going back to PCTIA, the regulatory body. They have just completed a review of the bylaws. The new bylaws are coming to us shortly for a review. Ministry staff have been working quite closely with PCTIA and looking at their bylaws, because one of the criteria for us is to ensure that we actually strengthen the quality assurance of PCTIA and EQA. One of the ways is by changing the governance and bylaws of PCTIA.
M. Mungall: Mentioning the change in the bylaws of PCTIA…. One thing that I think is really important to note is that PCTIA actually doesn't have any regulatory authority over the private English-as-a-second-language schools. Another acronym: ESL. They don't have any regulatory say over the private ESL schools throughout British Columbia.
Of course, the Watson report, released in 2008, recommended that private ESL schools be brought under PCTIA for regulation. This came as a direct result of serious complaints against some of the private ESL and the negative experiences that students were having there, particularly fraudulent practices.
I think this is important not just in terms of student protection for any one student. This is a major industry in British Columbia. So 43,000 students, which is the bulk of international students in British Columbia, are attending private and public language schools. That's the private and public combined, but of the private, again, that's a very large number of international students who are coming to British Columbia to learn English as a second language and are attending many of the private institutions.
Many of them are doing exceptional work. However, there are always the few bad apples, and if there isn't sufficient regulation, those few bad apples can grow into a bushel and so on and so forth.
Is the ministry looking at implementing the Watson report's recommendation to include ESL under PCTIA regulations?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member opposite is quite correct. The PCTIA bylaws do not include the regulation of ESL schools. It's not mandatory. But we actually do have some voluntary members from the ESL programs, schools, that recognize that having the EQA brand is actually a great asset for their business. This is actually one of the areas that we will be canvassing during our public consultation.
M. Mungall: Great. I'm glad to hear that this is going to be up for debate and discussion in the public consultation, because this has been a long time coming. It's four years since the recommendation and, since 2001, the removal of English as second language from any regulation in this province, and we've seen the consequences of that. So I applaud the minister for bringing this forward, and I'm glad to see it happening.
Moving on to another subject area, I'd like to look at the minister's international education strategy and plan, so we'll let change of the guard happen.
My first question. I'm looking at the service plan, in the ministry's service plan, page 13: "Objective 1.2: B.C. has an internationally recognized post-secondary education system." Then in their strategies, it's to "develop and implement an international education strategy."
I'm just wondering if what is mentioned in the service plan is essentially the title of what was mentioned in the B.C. jobs plan — if this is the strategy that the jobs plan says was going to be delivered by the end of 2011 and that I brought up with the minister yesterday in question period.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The international education strategy that is in the jobs plan is the same report or strategy that the International Education Project Council worked
[ Page 9854 ]
on and had delivered to me by the end of December 2011. But that wasn't a final report. Those are recommendations. So my staff are working on finalizing the report, and we should be doing that shortly.
M. Mungall: Is this international education strategy, then, a follow-up from the plan that the minister mentioned that she received in December, or is this something entirely different? I'm just wondering — the relationship here between all this work.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: No, it's the same plan. A draft report was prepared by the newly formed International Education Project Council to inform a final plan that we hope to be finalized within the next few weeks.
M. Mungall: Then is it fair to conclude that the international education strategy mentioned here in the service plan is the final report that's going to be coming out, available to the public?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes.
M. Mungall: Moving along, then. There is talk in the service plan of the on-line gateway. My understanding in reading the service plan is that this on-line gateway is not only for domestic students but, obviously, targeting international students with a no-wrong-door approach to accessing key information.
My question, then, is: if this is what's accounting for…? If we go to the budget estimates book, the capital expenditures, we see quite a significant bump from last year of $504,000 to this year of almost a million, at $896,000. So just wondering if that large bump is what is…. It says "Information systems" when we look at the estimates book, so I'm just wondering if it's specifically targeted for this on-line gateway program and no-wrong-door approach.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The answer is no. The increase in funding that the member opposite has identified actually is being used to modernize the student financial aid system.
M. Mungall: Then I'm just wondering, following up on that, what the budget is for this development of this on-line gateway.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: No specific funding has been identified in the budget for the on-line gateway. We're currently working with Jobs, Tourism and Innovation on this project. We're actually currently trying to determine what the best portal will be. That's still yet to be determined.
M. Mungall: My next question is related to another point that's made in the strategies for international education, and that's promoting B.C. in target markets. What will the ministry be doing?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I make the offer to sit down with the member opposite once the strategy has been finalized, but right now these questions are a bit premature.
M. Mungall: Well, it concerns me that these questions are coming off as premature, because a big announcement was made in September that B.C. would be taken down a path of increasing our international students, doubling our international students. So one would anticipate that there would be a bit more forethought and planning before that announcement took place.
One of the things that I'm particularly concerned about is how it came to the decision that B.C. has the potential to increase our international students by such a large amount in just four years.
So I'm just wondering, then, what analysis the ministry has done to determine, first, the capacity that post-secondary institutions have to accommodate such a large increase in students. I'll leave it with that first question. I don't want to give too much because I know the minister needs to consult with her staff.
We'll just start with, first: what analysis was done to determine whether post-secondary institutions are going to be able to accommodate such a large growth in their student population within a short time frame?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I just want to make sure we state for the record that the capacity in our system to accept international students isn't just going to come from the public post-secondary sector. It'll come from the private sector, as well, and the K-to-12 sector, both the public and private.
With respect to the K-to-12 sector, we've found out that there's actually a lot of capacity in the sector, and they're looking forward to filling some of their seats with international students so that they can keep their doors open. So we've got the public and private post-secondary. We've got the public and private K-to-12 sector. We also have language schools as well. So that's where the capacity is.
Also, we've done a lot of analysis. One of the reports that we funded is the Ros Kunin report. She has identified that there is potential growth in the market. Not only that, but we actually met with our sector prior to determining the target of 50 percent increase in four years.
We had a discussion with our sector, and although the capacity varies from institution to institution and region to region, the sector was comfortable with the growth that we are projecting.
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M. Mungall: The entire sector being comfortable with the growth that the government is projecting…. I question if that is everyone in this sector, considering that we've heard from the University of the Fraser Valley, saying that they are not too sure where they're going to be able to put the students. Langara's president has been in the media saying that they're maxed out, that they don't have any ability to accommodate that large of an increase in international students.
I met with SFU last week, and they've said 20 percent of their student body is already international students and they're topped out. They've been maxed out in terms of their ability to accommodate international students. That's because SFU definitely took the lead.
When the minister says that people in the sector are satisfied…. I should also mention, actually, that I've been speaking with more rural and remote schools as well, and they don't anticipate that they'll see much of that increase in international students. Most of them…. Well, we call it the MTV destinations for international students — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Nelson, as you can imagine, doesn't fit into that, nor does Dawson Creek or Terrace or Houston. There are a lot of questions throughout the sector about institutions' ability to accommodate such a large increase in international students.
I'm wondering, then, if the ministry is actually specifically identifying certain institutions as those that will be the ones to accommodate the large increase in international students.
The minister has already mentioned private post-secondary institutions and the English-as-a-second-language schools as well. Of course, I've already mentioned that they have the largest international student body. So I'm wondering if the ministry has been more specific in terms of where international students are going to go.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member opposite is correct. Some institutions have informed us that their capacity is limited, because they actually have quite a large percentage of their student body that are international students already. But the member opposite mentioned SFU. We've had conversations with SFU, and they've told us that their capacity does exist at SFU to increase the number of international students.
Again, I don't want to focus it just on the public post-secondary sector, because a lot of the capacity is in the K-to-12 sector. It's in both the private and the public K-to-12 sector as well as at private post-secondary institutions and, of course, the language schools. The capacity does vary from region to region.
We are looking at our institutions to partner with other institutions and look at where the institutions in the province…. I'll give you some examples, like UNBC in Prince George has capacity, College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, as well as Kamloops' TRU. Part of the marketing and the promotional effort will be actually directed at promoting the rural communities where we know that there is capacity.
M. Mungall: Just to wrap up on international education, again, going back to the service plan, the performance measures. What we have is the baseline of 94,000 in 2011-12. Then we go to 2015-16, which is the final increase of 50 percent at 141,000 international education students. But the in-between years, so this year included, 2012-13, we just have a TBD — to be determined.
I'm just wondering how the minister can be working on this plan. We know the end goal, but we don't know what's going to be happening in between. How, then, can the minister know that B.C. is actually on target to reach their final goal if we don't have any hard targets in between?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The details actually will come in the finalization of the international education strategy. Unfortunately, the timing of having to complete the service plan didn't sync with the finalization of the international education strategy.
G. Gentner: I just want to know…. A lot of things are for sale these days, and assets are, of course, something the province is dealing with. Maybe this is a two-part question. Number 1: What is the anticipated sale of property that the ministry is going to release in the upcoming budget? Number 2: can she give us a rundown on how much is expected with the sale of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University parcel of land in Delta by the entrance to Ladner?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Questions about the release of assets for economic generation should be referred to the Minister of Finance.
G. Gentner: The decision to sell the property…. Okay, I get it. We're not going to get any questions relative to the actual price we're going to get, but I do know that the property was purchased by Kwantlen some time ago for a measly $3.5 million.
Does that money go to…? The money received from the sale of that asset — does that go to the ministry, or does this go into general revenue and is the decision of the Ministry of Finance as to what they're going to do with it?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Future use of the funds would be considered upon request for ministerial approval for the disposition of the property as required under the act.
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G. Gentner: The administration, you're talking, goes to Kwantlen…? "Sell the asset" means the moneys will go to Kwantlen University? Or will it go to the ministry, or will it go to the bigger universe called government itself — general revenue?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll repeat my previous answer. Future use of the funds would be considered upon request for ministerial approval for the disposition of property as required under the act.
G. Gentner: Therefore, does the ministry have the intent to apply for that money to come back? I'm trying to figure out how, in your budget, it works. When line by line we're losing an asset and the money is going, according to the act, how or where in the budget are we going to see…? Are you going to be credited with it? Obviously, you're not.
Please walk me through it. I'm just trying to see how, when you're disposing of such assets…. It's not every day, I think, your ministry sees these assets sold. Does it go into…? Again, I'd like to know: are you going to see that money coming back within your ministry for use for advanced education?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: On a case-by-case basis, the same answer: future use of the funds would be considered upon request for ministerial approval for the disposition of property as required under the act. That will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Chair, noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report progress on the Ministry of Advanced Education and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:15 p.m.
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