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
Monday, March 26, 2012
Volume 33, Number 2
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Merritt Centennials hockey playoffs win
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Cassidy Megan and Purple Day
Port of Prince Rupert
Avalanche awareness and North Shore Rescue
Bear safety programs
Teck initiative for reduction of nutritional zinc deficiency
Changes to federal legislation on fish habitat protection
Hon. T. Lake
Impact of power project on Ashlu Creek fish stocks
Hon. T. Lake
Release of media correspondence with government to Eminata Group
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Jumbo Glacier resort proposal
Hon. S. Thomson
Catalyst mill operations and workers
Hon. P. Bell
Resignation from caucus
J. van Dongen
Orders of the Day
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 27 — Supply Act (No. 1), 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 27 — Supply Act (No. 1), 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 27 — Supply Act (No. 1), 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 27 — Supply Act (No. 1), 2012
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 20 — Auditor General for Local Government Act
Hon. I. Chong
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation (continued)
Hon. M. Polak
Estimates: Ministry of Agriculture
Hon. D. McRae
MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today is someone that was renamed by my colleague from Kootenay West as St. Ellie. That would be my spouse, Ellie Horgan, the only woman I've ever met that is able to overlook all of my failings day after day after day. Joining her from the great state of Alberta are her brother, Rick Mast, and his able and charming wife, also able to overlook shortcomings, Aileen Mast.
Would the House please make my in-laws and my lovely spouse very welcome.
R. Cantelon: My better half — certainly, by far my better half — is joining me in the gallery today. It's a very special day for us. I've loved her and she's been with me now for 18 years. It's our anniversary today, so please give her a special welcome.
V. Huntington: It gives me great pleasure to introduce two long lost relatives of mine, who I've only discovered today. Andrew and Robert Orr are in the gallery to see this wonderful question period. I hope the House joins me in making them very welcome.
G. Gentner: It's an honour for me to introduce family members in the House as well — my mother, who is a constituent of the member for Delta South, Doreen Gentner, a renowned drummer. Now she is taking up the ukulele. She is a great artist. With her is my sister Karen, who got all the good looks. She's a constituent from Chilliwack-Hope. She is a public nurse, and she is also a dairy farmer.
Beside her is her daughter, Teresa, a student of the Fraser Valley University. She is also a senator of the university. It's hard for a New Democrat to admit that he has a relative who is a senator, but she was elected.
Would the House please make them welcome.
R. Hawes: Today is Purple Day, which is a day to remember epilepsy, to think about epilepsy.
Today in the gallery are some people from the Fraser Valley, from my riding. First, Laura Yake is with the Fraser Valley Epilepsy Society. Belinda Robertson is from Chilliwack who, on behalf of our member from Chilliwack, I'd like to also mention. Lastly, Ted and Janis Downey are the parents of my son-in-law, who I actually got a chance to introduce earlier today.
I know there are other members that the Minister of Health is going to introduce shortly, but for them, please may the House make them welcome.
E. Foster: In the House today we have several guests visiting from around the world, actually. My wife Janice is here, always supporting me. Janice and I, as I have mentioned in the House a few times before, have taken in international students for many years.
My good friend and now the mayor of Lumby — he took my job there — His Worship Kevin Acton is with us. His soon-to-be wife, Jen James, is with us, and their daughter Phoebe. Visiting from Mexico we have Liz Degraro; from Japan, Aska Taganashi; from Bolivia, Delsa Lanos; and from Korea, Min Hoy Kim.
I would like the House to please make them very welcome.
S. Fraser: I know there are some students from the University of Victoria visiting today. I don't know if they're here yet or not, and I actually don't know him to recognize one student, Stephen Frampton. I have spoken him with him on the phone, and he is due here today.
If you are here, Stephen…. I'm very impressed with his knowledge and interest in politics, and I'd like to make him and the other students from UVic feel very, very welcome.
Hon. T. Lake: Today in the precinct we have a number of folks from an umbrella organization called Organizing for Change that hosted us at lunch today. We thank them for an opportunity to discuss environmental issues with them. Leading the group is Lisa Matthaus.
We also had John Bergenske and Casey Brennan from Wildsight; Tom Hackney of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association; Sarah Cox from the Sierra Club of B.C.; Matt Horne from the Pembina Institute; Josha MacNab, also from Pembina; Matt Takach from the Dogwood Initiative; Christianne Wilhelmson and Ruby Berry from the Georgia Strait Alliance; Nicola Hill from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society; Jessica Clogg and Andrew Gage from West Coast Environmental Law; Joe Scott from Conservation Northwest, Pierre Iachetti from ForestEthics; Stephanie Goodwin from Greenpeace; and Sean Nixon from Ecojustice.
Thank you very much to the group for their discussion today, and I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
HOCKEY PLAYOFFS WIN
H. Lali: The Merritt Centennials, the Junior A hockey team out of Merritt, is actually the longest continu-
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ously running B.C. Hockey League franchise in British Columbia. I want to say, and I would ask in particular my two colleagues from Prince George to join me in congratulating the Merritt Centennials, as they swept the Prince George Spruce Kings four games to zip to go on to the next round of the playoffs in the BCHL. Would the House please congratulate the Merritt Centennials.
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. de Jong: In addition to Ted, Janis, Laura and Belinda, who are from the Fraser Valley, taking part in Purple Day for epilepsy awareness, from Victoria and the south Island are a group of individuals who dedicate themselves on a daily basis to highlighting the challenges people who suffer from epilepsy face and challenge all of us to assist in research and finding an elusive cure.
Katriona Johnson; Vanessa Isherwood; Roxanne Moore; Lise Anthony — and Lise is here with India, her beautiful Lab assistance dog; Terry Beaton; Lindsay Beal; and Nathan Lampbert are all from the south Island, all in the gallery. All, I know, will feel welcome in these precincts.
R. Fleming: I want to join my colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim, who jumped me in the queue to introduce 24 students, in fact, from the UVic NDP Club here today. There are a few of them that I know especially well: Raizy Marmorstein, Leah Ritch, Dylan Sherlock and Darcy Lindberg. They will be taking in question period and then meeting with the Leader of the Official Opposition and several caucus MLAs following question period.
Then something of a tradition now for visiting university groups, they will get a tour by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast of the buildings, of which the historical accuracy of the content of his tour cannot be verified at all. Nevertheless, would the House please make all of these guests welcome here today.
(Standing Order 25B)
CASSIDY MEGAN AND PURPLE DAY
R. Cantelon: Every year on March 26 people across the world wear purple in support of those living with epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disease that is characterized by recurrent seizures, and it affects approximately one in 100 people. There are about 300,000 Canadians and 40,000 British Columbians living with epilepsy.
Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia is one of them. She's also the founder of Purple Day for epilepsy awareness. In 2008 nine-year-old Cassidy decided she wanted to help raise awareness about her disease. She wanted to dispel any myths about the disease and help connect people living with epilepsy to support networks, treatments and services.
She approached her principal with the idea for Purple Day. Cassidy chose the colour purple because the international colour for epilepsy is lavender, and lavender is a flower often associated with solitude. But Cassidy wanted people with epilepsy across the world to know that they are not the alone and that we support them.
Taking part in Purple Day can be as simple as wearing a purple T-shirt, a purple tie — I see much purple here today, which is wonderful — or taking time to learn about epilepsy and the people that it affects.
Our healthy communities depend on everyone supporting each other, and I hope all members will join me in celebrating Purple Day this year.
PORT OF PRINCE RUPERT
G. Coons: Safest, deepest, closest to Asia. To what am I referring, you ask? My hometown, specifically the Port of Prince Rupert. We are blessed to have one of the safest harbours in North America with a proud track record of securely moving ships to and from the Pacific Ocean — one of the deepest ports, making it a natural choice as a gateway for the dramatic growth in trade with Asia. As every member in this House knows, we are the closest port to Asia by up to three days over other ports.
Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the Port of Prince Rupert being designated a national harbour by the government of Canada. But the port's history actually reaches back over 100 years, when the first train cars arrived in Prince Rupert from Winnipeg on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. This launched Prince Rupert on the path to developing as one of Canada's most critical intermodal facilities. The port has come a long way.
In the '70s the first deep-sea facility, Fairview Terminal, was opened as a break-bulk facility. In the '80s Ridley Island's coal and grain terminals were developed. In 2007 the port developed a whole new industry, containers shipped out of the Fairview Container Terminal. The growth is so impressive that plans to double capacity have started.
The impact on B.C.'s prosperity is clear. Over 2,000 people from Prince Rupert and other northern communities work at transporting cargo through the port. The direct economic impact last year was over $120 million in wages and $270 million in GDP, and new planned expansions will unleash billions more in forestry, mining and other B.C. resource investment — all this while maintaining their commitment to sustainability and engaging with First Nations and communities to create a new standard in viewing their development and operations through a long-term lens.
Mr. Speaker, 40 years ago Prince Rupert was designated a national harbour, and I'm excited about the next 40 years. I'm proud of my city's contribution to our nation's
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well-being. It is truly an honour to call Prince Rupert home and represent this amazing community.
AVALANCHE AWARENESS AND
NORTH SHORE RESCUE
J. Thornthwaite: British Columbians are truly blessed to live in a region with extraordinary natural beauty. I, like many British Columbians, enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities in B.C.'s mountains. I am particularly fond of Mount Seymour. However, these activities can come with a real danger of avalanches. This winter has been filled with many tragic stories of avalanches across our province and has regrettably resulted in numerous fatalities. There have been close calls and injuries as well.
This past Saturday, for instance, four hikers needed rescue on Grouse Mountain. On the North Shore we are privileged to have North Shore Rescue to provide assistance to people in distress. North Shore Rescue, a team of approximately 40 dedicated volunteers, conducts roughly 90 search and rescue operations on the North Shore mountains each year.
In addition, this remarkable team engages with the public and civil authorities by sharing their knowledge and experience. I regularly speak with Tim Jones of North Shore Rescue. He reinforces just how busy this season has been, conducting helicopter rescues on the north shore slope.
I was a guest on a Talon helicopter, actually, with North Shore Rescue in 2009, and that was an exciting experience. As this winter has demonstrated to us, we all need to be avalanche aware while we enjoy our beautiful outdoors. To learn more about how to safely enjoy our mountains, I urge everyone to visit websites such as avalanche.ca or northshorerescue.com. Additionally, I encourage all British Columbians to consider supporting their local search and rescue organization.
G. Gentner: I remember the day it happened. We were just kids then, just hanging around, about four or five of us standing at the end of my driveway. I think a cigarette was being passed around when Rob took it, and he fell backwards. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, his head struck the jagged rocks in the driveway, and his body twitched and shook. We really didn't know what to do. We didn't take him seriously, because Rob was always the prankster. We thought it was another one of his jokes. We knew something was wrong, but before we could do anything, Rob got himself up, dusted himself off and asked that we wouldn't say anything to anyone, including his parents.
But I took it upon myself to talk to his parents anyway. His mother — I remember it well — while leaning against the kitchen counter, said: "Oh, not my Rob." His father, Sid, with a T-shirt and suspenders, sat on a chair at the table and buried his head in his hands. He looked at me and said thank you, and took me to the front door.
I or none of my friends — we didn't see Rob much anymore. It didn't have to be that way, because epilepsy can be treated. Today is Purple Day, a day dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy, a disorder of the brain function that takes the form of recurring seizures. It is more common than you may think.
It's time to understand and dispel the myths and inform those with seizures that they are not alone. There is reluctance to talk about it, particularly when I grew up. The Epilepsy Foundation provides support, and it's time to reduce the stigma and create a more welcoming and inclusive society.
I heard recently that Rob had died about 15 years ago, and no one knows of what or how. But on behalf of my chums and myself, I hope that you forgave us, Rob. We were just kids then, and we really didn't understand.
BEAR SAFETY PROGRAMS
J. Slater: The signs of spring are popping up all around us. The days are longer. The tulips are starting to come up. The campgrounds are open, and Yogi and Boo-Boo are waking up.
Every year you hear of the troubles with the bears in campgrounds along streams, rivers and more now in our neighbourhoods. In order to keep our families and properties safe, the British Columbia Conservation Foundation has created a guide, the Bear Safety at Home pamphlet, that is distributed throughout the province to educate homeowners on how to keep bears out of our neighbourhoods, how to keep families safe and prevent the unnecessary destruction of bears.
Brenda Lacroix, who is the executive director of the Christina Lake Stewardship Society, and her team of volunteers have been conducting a very active Bear Aware program over the years throughout the community. In 2011 they distributed 1,051 Bear Aware packages, delivered eight press releases and spent 762 hours educating the residents, businesses and visitors on how to be bear-proof.
Feeding or allowing bears to access human food sources leads to bears being killed. There is enough food for bears in the wild.
At the annual general meeting of the Christina Lake Stewardship Society held last week, Brenda Lacroix and the society received an appreciation certificate from the conservation officer services of the Boundary-Kootenay for their work and dedication in educating the community and visitors on Bear Aware. I, too, would like to send my congratulations to Brenda and the society for doing a great job in keeping Christina Lake safe and in keep-
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ing our bears alive.
TECK INITIATIVE FOR REDUCTION OF
NUTRITIONAL ZINC DEFICIENCY
K. Conroy: Here are some concerning facts, Mr. Speaker. The number of people worldwide who are not getting enough zinc through their diet, two billion; the number of people who die annually from zinc deficiency and related disorders, 800,000; and the number of children who die each year from zinc deficiency, 450,000.
As a significant producer of zinc, when Teck first learned of the devastating impact of zinc deficiency, it recognized the role that it could play in finding solutions to this global issue. In fact, the amount of zinc required annually for zinc supplements to treat all cases of zinc deficiency is less than 2 percent of Teck's production and less than 0.1 percent of global zinc production.
The challenge the world faces is not producing more zinc; it is getting zinc into the diets of people suffering from zinc deficiency. This requires education, better distribution networks and greater awareness of the dangers of zinc deficiency.
Teck's zinc and health initiative is aimed at helping address these issues by raising awareness about zinc deficiency with the goal of helping to save children's lives. Teck has set up zinc and health captains at all of their operations to help spread the word. In Trail, Capt. Catherine Adair has ensured each of her over 1,500 colleagues on site have learned about the zinc and health awareness campaign.
Teck has also joined with the highly successful We Days in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where over 40,000 youth, educators and special guests plus a large on-line presence learned about the global issues of zinc deficiency. They were also encouraged to bring household batteries for recycling. A standard double-A battery has enough zinc inside it to save the lives of six children. Thousands of batteries were collected, and all of them were recycled at the Trail operations, reducing landfill waste and allowing zinc in the batteries to be recovered and reused.
It's a wonderful initiative not only for our environment but ultimately for saving children's lives.
CHANGES TO FEDERAL LEGISLATION
ON FISH HABITAT PROTECTION
A. Dix: Last week it was revealed that the federal government intends to make significant changes to the federal Fisheries Act. In particular, there's a proposal to delete protection for fish habitat in section 34(1) of the act.
A former federal Fisheries Minister, a Conservative, John Fraser, has said that to take habitat out of the Fisheries Act is a serious error because you can't save fish if you don't save habitat.
I want to ask the Minister of Environment if he agrees with Mr. Fraser. What consultations have taken place between the province and the federal government on these proposed changes?
Hon. T. Lake: Thank you very much to the Leader of the Opposition for the question. The federal Minister of the Environment and I have a very good working relationship, and we have been discussing some of the changes that are contemplated federally.
I would say to the member opposite that this government is committed to protecting fish habitat, to making sure that environmental sustainability is at the forefront of all the policies that we do here in British Columbia. We will continue to make sure that that is the policy going into the future.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: If the minister in fact believes in protecting fish habitat in the Fisheries Act, then surely he would agree that taking it out would be a bad thing. And 625 scientists have said so in a letter they've written to the Prime Minister.
If the minister has had discussions, has he communicated the strong and, I think, passionate view of all British Columbians of all political stripes in favour of protecting the fishery? Has he communicated that view, and does he oppose taking specific protection for fish habitat out of the Fisheries Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, as I mentioned, it's critical to ensure that we have environmental sustainability in all decision-making here in British Columbia. These changes to the Fisheries Act are very recent, as the member has suggested. We will have opportunities to discuss, with both the federal Environment Minister and the minister responsible for fisheries, those changes and how they impact sustainable environmental commitments here in British Columbia.
I will say again to the member opposite that this government is committed to environmental sustainability, to making sure that we develop our resources in a way that all British Columbians are proud of, and we will continue to do that.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, hon. Speaker, the minister will know that it has been suggested that these changes will be brought in, in two days, connected with the federal budget, which
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means that the concern is immediate. I think he would agree with that. The government in Ottawa has a majority, and they may intend to push through that legislation rather quickly. Two former Conservative Fisheries Ministers…. Mr. Fraser, of course, says there's "no justifiable excuse" for these changes, and Mr. Tom Siddon called these changes "a very serious error."
If, as the minister suggested, the government is committed to the protection of fish habitat, will he make it clear today and plain today to the federal government that the B.C. government does not support changes that weaken section 34(1) of the Fisheries Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we actually like to base our decisions and our discussions on evidence. At this point the changes that the member opposite is suggesting have not been made. We will evaluate any changes that impact the environmental sustainability of this province and have discussions when that evidence is presented, rather than jumping to the answer before we have evidence in front of us. This government will make decisions based on evidence, and that's what we will do in this circumstance.
R. Fleming: The problem with what the Minister of Environment just said about discussions is that nobody has asked the province of British Columbia about these proposed changes. We know there was no testimony by the province to the government's review. B.C. was either not invited or not interested in what has become a sweeping and hugely controversial change to the Fisheries Act.
My question is to the Minister of Environment. Having learned that his federal counterparts plan on completely compromising the requirements to study and review impacts on fish habitat and ecosystems that are part of an environmental assessment process in British Columbia, in Canada now, what is his message to the federal government?
Does he agree to go along to get along with his federal counterparts, who seek to turn the clock back four decades, muzzle scientists and ram through changes that strip away the integrity of environmental review in our province, or does he have another view of the matter?
Hon. T. Lake: I rise with some trepidation because it sounds like "The sky is falling. The sky is falling." We will await to see what changes are in store federally in an area in which the federal government has jurisdiction. We will discuss with our federal counterparts any impact that it may have on the environmental sustainability of British Columbia. This government is committed to making decisions and making policies based on evidence rather than speculation. We'll continue to do that.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: We've just heard from the Minister of Environment that the time to talk about British Columbia's position is after legislation hits the floor of the House of Commons. That's what he said is good enough for him and his government here.
The proposed revisions are out there. They will disable the pillars of environmental protection in Canada and make it almost impossible to ever trigger an environmental assessment in B.C. again by the federal statutes. A former 32-year veteran of DFO, a senior scientist, says that this will put Canada where we were in the pre-1976 era, when there were no laws to protect fish habitat.
So my question, again, to the minister: has the minister contemplated how this will burden his own ministry, the environmental assessment office here in British Columbia — an agency that the Auditor General slammed for failing to monitor completed projects, many with sensitive fish habitat areas? And will he stand here in the House today and call on the federal government to delay any changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act until British Columbia has its chance to make its views?
Hon. T. Lake: It is with great interest that I see the member's new-found enthusiasm for environmental issues, like perhaps CO2, that he's just finally realized is a problem in the world today. This side of the House is concerned about environmental sustainability, to make sure that this province is in fact left in a state that our children and grandchildren can be proud that they have the same opportunities for life that we have had. The only way to do that is to protect the environment. I am committed — this ministry is committed; this government is committed — to protecting the environment in British Columbia.
IMPACT OF POWER PROJECT ON
ASHLU CREEK FISH STOCKS
M. Sather: Unfortunately, the sky literally is falling for the fish in Ashlu Creek. Our recent FOI, freedom-of-information, requests have shown a real disturbing pattern of fish kills in the Ashlu at the private power project.
My question is to the Minister of Natural Resource Operations. Can the minister explain what steps this government has taken, in the three years since this project has been in place, to eliminate the killing of fish? And has this government increased monitoring at other projects in light of these revelations?
Hon. T. Lake: In fact, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the compliance workers and employees…. We are working with those proponents. They pointed out the difficulties that were identified and ensured there were changes that occurred. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars were spent by proponents to ensure that those problems were looked after. Again, we are making sure that there is sustainability, that
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we develop clean, renewable power in this province in an environmentally sustainable way.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Sather: I don't know how the people of British Columbia can trust anything that this minister says. The freedom-of-information material also revealed that there were six species of fish in the Ashlu River, while the proponents, when he filed out the environmental assessment, only identified one species of fish.
Can the minister explain how people in this province are supposed to believe what the Liberals say about the environmental impacts of private power projects when there is such a huge disconnect between fact and fiction rubber-stamped by this government?
Hon. T. Lake: Let me quote from Chief Bill Cranmer from the 'Namgis First Nation. "We the 'Namgis expect our children's children to be fishing and recreating on the Kokish River, as their ancestors have. We would not compromise our cultural or environmental values and ethics for this or any other project."
The fact is, Mr. Speaker, the members opposite are against every clean and renewable project in this province — every single one. We believe that developing our resources in a sustainable way, in a way that allows First Nations economic opportunity, that provides clean, green power to this province is the right thing to do, and that's what we're going to do.
RELEASE OF MEDIA CORRESPONDENCE
WITH GOVERNMENT TO EMINATA GROUP
M. Mungall: The recent resignation of the former Minister of State for Multiculturalism concerning a leaked e-mail to a Liberal Party donor and the events surrounding it have called into question the Liberals' ability to work in the public interest. I know the Minister of Advanced Education would like to put this all behind her, but there are still many, many questions that remain.
On Monday, March 12, the minister told this House that she did not share an e-mail from a Province newspaper reporter with Eminata Group. The question is: did the minister know at that time that her ministerial assistant had leaked a hard-copy printout of the e-mail to the Minister of State, who of course has no responsibility for regulating private post-secondary institutions?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We thoroughly canvassed this issue the last time we were in the House. My office did nothing wrong. The member for Burnaby-Lougheed has apologized. He did the honourable thing, and he resigned from his position in the cabinet.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Mungall: It's a real shame that the Minister of Advanced Education is refusing to answer further questions on this issue. There are many questions, as I said, so I will continue asking those questions on behalf of the public and the public's interest.
On Wednesday, March 14, I asked what the minister had found on the leaked e-mail, and the minister said: "…there has been no e-mail sent by myself, from my office or ministry staff to the organization that the member opposite is referring to."
My question is: did the minister know at that time that the Minister of State for Multiculturalism had leaked the e-mail? And if she knew, why did she hide that fact from the House?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We have canvassed this issue. I can repeat for the member opposite exactly what happened, but all the member opposite has to do is to look into Hansard. We canvassed this question. Our office did nothing wrong. I was not aware of any e-mail — until I read an article in the Province newspaper — that had been shared with my minister's office and another ministry.
J. Horgan: My question is also to the Minister of Advanced Education. We know now that her ministerial assistant took a hard copy of an e-mail to the ministry and gave it to the former Minister of State for Multiculturalism.
Our question is a very simple one. When did the minister know that her ministerial staff had taken confidential information and transmitted it to a third party, which ended up in the hands of someone that she regulates? When did that happen? Be specific.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In fact, I do have my Hansard transcript here. I just don't have it in front of me. Again, I would ask the members opposite to look up Hansard. It's been canvassed in the media as well. I stand by my statements.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister for Multiculturalism has stepped down. He has apologized. He did the honourable thing.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: Again, to the minister: the minister's staff member, her ministerial assistant, took information — and gave it to another minister — that ended up in the hands of a body that's regulated by that ministry. Surely to goodness, at a minimum, the minister has taken some steps with that staff member. Perhaps she could elucidate the House and advise us what she's doing to try and get
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control over the regulatory responsibilities of her ministry.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: As I've already mentioned to the members opposite and to the media, there are circumstances and there are times that ministers share information with other ministers. That is not unusual. On this side of the House we work as a team. We expect confidentiality.
I know it's hard for the members opposite to understand that. They haven't been in government for a while. We do this sharing of information with the ministries, and we're expected to do that.
S. Simpson: My question, again, is to the Minister of Advanced Education. Will the minister tell this House whether she inquired of her ministerial assistant as to why he made the decision to provide the e-mail to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism, and will she tell this House what the response was?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We have canvassed this issue in the House. My statement is in Hansard. My ministerial assistant…. The office has not done anything wrong. The only issue was the sharing of this information with somebody outside of government.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: The minister is accountable for what goes on in her office, and her performance today says she doesn't know what's going on in her office.
The minister has not told this House when she found out. She has not provided that information. She has not told this House what the explanation for her ministerial assistant choosing to give that e-mail to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism was. Will the minister get up in this House, provide some disclosure and tell us why that happened and why the ministerial assistant did what he did?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I do have my statement, which I stand by. This is what I said two weeks ago, I believe, in the House.
"I want all members in this House to know exactly what happened. On Monday I became aware of an article that was written in the Province newspaper. In that article they indicated that a representative from Eminata was in receipt of a copy of an e-mail that originated from a reporter that had been sent to my Advanced Education communications department.
"The reporter had asked for a response to some questions regarding a private post-secondary institution. An e-mail was sent back to the reporter, with a response to those questions for the article. So just to be clear, that is the e-mail that is in question.
"After finding out about this — and in the newspaper — I did take steps to find out exactly what had happened. So later that day I was advised that a printout of the e-mail was passed along to the office of the Minister of State for Multiculturalism. That was done by my ministerial assistant on February 20, and I was not aware of that, nor did I direct that.
"I have since learned that the Minister of State for Multiculturalism passed it on to a representative from Eminata. That was wrong. Yesterday the Minister of State for Multiculturalism acknowledged his error in judgment. He has apologized for that."
That was what was recorded in Hansard. I think the issue has been fully canvassed and answered.
JUMBO GLACIER RESORT PROPOSAL
N. Macdonald: Well, let's see if we can do better with answers than that. Let's go to the minister responsible for the decision on Jumbo. Every measure of public opinion in the Columbia Valley for the past 20 years has made it clear that people who know that project the best have been against it.
I'll just remind the minister of some of the indications of that: 91 percent actually against it in the environmental assessment process; Invermere mayor and council consistently against the project; 79 percent opposed in a referendum; the Ktunaxa First Nation is strongly opposed.
After all the petitions, all the demonstrations, all the letters, the minister has chosen to ignore the residents of the Columbia Valley and instead impose a development. It's no wonder, I suppose, that the minister hid away as far as he could from the Columbia Valley when he made the announcement.
The question I have for the minister is: does the minister seriously think that the people in the Kootenays are going to quietly sit by while he attempts to impose a development in Jumbo Valley?
Hon. S. Thomson: This is a project that has had the most extensive review process, the most extensive consultation process in history — over 20 years, as the member opposite referenced. This is, again, a pattern that seems to be developing — opposing economic development projects that have been through processes, a change in policy. Again, the member referenced 20 years.
I know they don't like to be reminded of the past, but let me read a letter of support from former leader — and former Premier — of the NDP Mike Harcourt to the proponent of this resort. He says: "I hope that you will be able to proceed on this project and that one day we may see this international venture realized." That day is now 20 years through the process, through a legitimate process with environmental assessment. It was time that the decision was made, and we're proud that we've made that decision.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Macdonald: Well, I mean, these are projects that are best understood locally. The minister quotes a former mayor of Vancouver. The fact is that, consistently, people who have been there have understood the projects.
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If you look at Kootenay communities, if you look at the Ktunaxa, you will consistently have…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
N. Macdonald: …individuals who know these projects well. They have developed resorts in the area. What they are doing is they are looking at this. They understand that if you're going to develop a resort, it is important that it fit in with a long-term plan. This project does not fit in with a long-term plan. Residents from the area, who best understand that, have told this minister that repeatedly.
I have a question for the minister. Is the minister presenting an honest picture to potential investors? Are they being told about the strong local opposition and the First Nations' objections, or are B.C. Liberals again misleading investors?
Hon. S. Thomson: Maybe I'll just correct the member opposite. That quote was not from the former mayor of Vancouver. That quote was from the former leader and the Premier of the province at the time. That is a quote from an official communication from the Office of the Premier.
Let's be clear. This project has been through an environmental assessment process with 195 conditions on it — an environmental assessment approval following the interim agreement that was provided in the 1990s.
Again, a master resort approval. The proponent in this case has met every test through the process and complied with all the conditions and all the agreements. The master development agreement ensures that those conditions are met in the master development agreement — again, 20 years. We're pleased to have made the decision. It was time for the decision to be made, and we look forward to the project proceeding.
OPERATIONS AND WORKERS
N. Simons: The livelihoods of hundreds of workers in Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River are hanging in the balance as Catalyst is in bankruptcy protection. Under the Liberals more than 35,000 jobs have vanished from the forest industry. These coastal communities have depended on forestry for their survival for generations, and this situation could be devastating without the involvement of government.
My question is to the minister responsible. Can he tell us what steps he has taken to help stabilize this situation?
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite knows, Catalyst is currently in a CCAA protection process. That involves all different groups coming together to work with Catalyst to try and find an opportunity for that company to come out of protection and be a viable company again. The provincial government is playing a role in those discussions. It's an important one, and we're looking forward to, hopefully, getting a successful outcome in the Catalyst situation.
C. Trevena: This doesn't just impact the workers who still have jobs in the forest sector. Catalyst pensioners across the coast, in Campbell River, Powell River, Alberni and in the south Island have serious worries about what's happening. Catalyst's pension plan is underfunded by as much as $75 million. That means retired workers could lose nearly half of what they expect to get in their retirement earnings.
So I'd like to ask you, Mr. Speaker: does the minister have any assurance for those retirees that they're not going to be the latest victims of this government's failed forestry policy?
Hon. P. Bell: Perhaps the member opposite isn't aware of the process that a company under protection goes through, but that clearly is not an appropriate question to ask while Catalyst is in that process. The process involves a number of different parties coming to the table. If the member opposite is thinking that the sole responsibility for the underfunding of the pension should be borne by the provincial government, I'd suggest she stand up and say that.
S. Fraser: You would hope that the government and the minister would do something. Workers are at stake here. Pensioners are at stake here — their livelihoods. Communities are at stake here. They've done everything right. They've worked hard. They paid into their pension plans, and they believed it would be there when they needed it.
Now, thanks to circumstances entirely beyond their control, they're being let down by this government. This is now the third Forests Minister — the third one in the last six years — to shrug his shoulders and say: "Sorry, there's nothing we can do." Not good enough.
Will the minister finally take some action and ensure that these workers and retirees won't be left behind by this government's failure in the forestry sector?
Hon. P. Bell: I find it a little bit rich listening to the member opposite lecture us on forestry when we have witnessed the biggest single meltdown in the U.S. housing market ever — ever — in the history of the globe. It's this government and this leadership that charted new waters into the Chinese marketplace, into bioenergy, into new opportunities around tall building construction — really innovative strategies that have led to thousands
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and thousands of people going back to work.
What the problem is, is that the member opposite doesn't believe that anything beyond British Columbia can possibly impact us here. The difference on this side of the House is we go out and find the opportunities for our forest industry.
[End of question period.]
J. van Dongen: I rise and ask for the attention of the House to make a personal statement.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
RESIGNATION FROM CAUCUS
J. van Dongen: For almost 17 years I have risen in this chamber to represent the best interests of my constituents and the best interests of all British Columbians. I have done so as a member of the official opposition for six years, as a member of cabinet for eight years and as a private member for three years.
Throughout that time I have been keenly aware of the privilege and the responsibility that comes with being an elected member of this assembly. I have always tried to conduct myself in a manner consistent with the expectations of those who entrusted me with this office. I am by no means a flawless individual but have strived for personal and political integrity. I've always taken ownership of my own shortcomings.
I had hoped that there would have been renewal in my party and in government, but in the last 12 months I feel that has not happened. Indeed, every week constituents question government actions and issues that I am not able to defend.
What I believe people expect from political leadership are core values that include integrity and a genuine commitment to public service. Integrity includes honesty, ethics and personal character. Integrity is non-negotiable. It is foundational for a strong organization, and most importantly, integrity includes full accountability.
To this day, there are still serious unanswered questions regarding the writing off of $6 million in legal fees in the B.C. Rail case, contrary to government policy — questions I have been asking for a year and a half, and questions the Auditor General is seeking answers to through the courts. Most recently, the unexplainable cancellation of a $35 million naming rights agreement with TELUS is, in my view, another example of failed leadership.
There have been other lapses in proper accountability, and I expect more to come. When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure.
Today I rise because I can no longer carry on with my duties as a member of government. I have decided to resign as a member of the B.C. Liberal government caucus, and I'm cancelling my membership with the B.C. Liberal Party.
I believe the people of B.C. deserve a government that will look in the mirror and honestly contemplate what it sees, a government that people have trust and confidence in, a government that models true accountability for its actions.
To my colleagues in the government caucus as well as those in opposition and those who sit as independent MLAs: I celebrate each of you and your willingness to serve the people of British Columbia. This is not an easy job, so to all of you who continue to strive for excellence, I applaud your efforts.
To my constituents: in the coming days and weeks I look forward to speaking with you and further discussing the decision I have made. Indeed, I do have much to share and will in the coming weeks make it clear that while this was not an easy decision, it was the only decision I could arrive at in good conscience.
To the government caucus staff, constituency assistants and party staff: it has been a privilege to work with you.
To all those public servants who I have had the honour of working with: rest assured that my work with you to accomplish the goals and policies that were right for all British Columbians has been one of the most meaningful aspects of my time in public office.
To my family and friends: thank you for standing by me through some difficult times. In particular I wish to thank Sherri and Lukas for their continued love and support.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, looking forward, I will do what I have done for the past 17 years. I will put my time, energy and talents to serve my constituents and the party that I believe can best provide British Columbians with a broadly based, credible, free enterprise option in the next provincial election. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that I will now be sitting in this House as a member of the B.C. Conservative Party.
I look forward to continuing to work for all my constituents in Abbotsford South and for all British Columbians.
Thank you, hon. Speaker, and thank you, Members.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: In Committee A we'll be continuing the estimates for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. Following that, should we get done, we would move to the Minister of Agriculture. In this House we will be moving to interim supply. Following that, we would be moving to municipal auditor general,
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if we should get there. So interim supply.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 27 — SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2012
Hon. K. Falcon presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Supply Act (No. 1), 2012.
Hon. K. Falcon: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 27 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. K. Falcon: Bill 27 will provide interim supply for government operating expenses for the first nine weeks of the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Bill 27 will provide interim supply for 50 percent of the year's financing requirements for voted capital expenditures and loans, investments and other requirements. It also provides supply for 100 percent of the year's requirements for revenues collected for and transferred to other entities.
By leave, it is the intention of the government to proceed with all stages of Bill 27 this day.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister. We've had first reading on the bill.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 27 — SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2012
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that Bill 27 be read a second time now.
Mr. Speaker, existing voted appropriations will expire on March 31, 2012. Bill 27 will provide interim supply until the 2012-2013 estimates have been debated and final supply is voted upon in this assembly. This will ensure the continuation of government services until final supply is in place.
Interim supply for ministry operations and other appropriations is based on the voted expense as presented in 2012-2013 estimates. The interim supply period for these appropriations has been set at nine weeks, which reflects the current legislative calendar for debate of the 2012-2013 estimates. Interim supply for financing transaction requirements is based on the voted requirements set out in schedules C and D of the 2012-2013 estimates.
These disbursements are not evenly distributed throughout the year. Additional appropriation is required to accommodate project timing. Therefore, interim supply for these transactions is set at 50 percent of the combined voted amounts in schedules C and D of the estimates. Schedule E of the 2012-2013 estimates outlines the revenue collected for and transferred to other entities.
As there is no impact on the deficit, borrowing or debt resulting from schedule E financing transactions, 100 percent of the year's requirements is being sought in this supply bill. These interim appropriations are based on the accountabilities outlined in the 2012-2013 estimates. They are not outside of the scrutiny of Committee of Supply. The final supply bill to be passed by the Legislature will incorporate these amounts to ensure that the estimates currently in committee reflect the total voted appropriation to be given to government in 2012-2013.
B. Ralston: I rise to speak briefly to the bill. The supply act will authorize spending for what is described as nine parts of 52 of the total amount of the votes of the main estimates. In other words, it would authorize expenditure according to the main estimates until the first week of June, by my calculation. As the minister has mentioned, the House is scheduled to rise in late May, having completed the budgetary process.
Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules says that: "Interim supply provides the government with money to meet its obligations during the time before the main estimates are approved." It's also clear in Parliamentary Practice that "approval of interim supply does not authorize spending by the government on new programs. It only authorizes spending in accordance with the main estimates."
So the only additional thing I would say is a reference to the capital spending, which is fully proposed to be one-half capital expenditures in clause 2(c). Ordinarily, most of those expenditures are construction. Ordinarily, construction in British Columbia, given the nature of our weather and geography, begins in the spring and is usually completed in the late summer or early fall. So it's important that those projects get underway and be funded and that there be no impediment to them.
Obviously, the opposition reserves its right to carry its questions through the estimates process and reserves its judgment and its vote on the budget at the end of the process. But in order to keep the government running and to pay employees and all the other things that government does in the next nine weeks, we are prepared to support the bill.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Minister of Finance closes debate.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move second reading of Bill 27, Supply Act (No. 1), 2012.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Minister. We're just being certain that we passed the first reading. So if you want to
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put a motion forward on that, we'll move to second reading and then move through.
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, I move that Bill 27 be introduced and read a first time now.
Bill 27, Supply Act (No. 1), 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to proceed to second reading forthwith.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move second reading of Bill 27, Supply Act (No. 1), 2012.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Bill 27, Supply Act (No. 1), 2012, read a second time and ordered to proceed to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 27 — SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 27; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:42 p.m.
On section 1.
B. Ralston: Can the minister explain how the calculation was made? I understand that this will carry the expenditure of government to the first week of June, by my calculation. Firstly, is that correct? Secondly, a brief explanation of how that calculation was made.
Hon. K. Falcon: This represents the voted expenses appropriation totalling $35,225,725,000 times nine, divided by 52 weeks — so that's the nine weeks of the year — which gives you the total of just over $6,096,760,000.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
B. Ralston: Section 2 refers to the schedule C in the main Estimates, and the dependent clause at the end is: "…being substantially 1/2 of the total of the voted amounts referred to in those Schedules to the main Estimates."
Can the minister explain how the figure of one-half is arrived at?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised, Member, that the one-half rule has been standard for the last dozen years. It's especially important for school districts so they can get going on their capital programs and not be concerned about the dollars not being there or having a hiccup.
In terms of how the figure is arrived at, under schedule C and D you will see the totals there, the voted appropriation totals. Under schedule C, for capital expenditures, you see a total of $425.827 million, and then under schedule D — under "Voted appropriations," disbursements — you will see $374.944 million right at the top of the page there. Those two are added up, and then the 50 percent rule applies. So when you add those up you get $800.771 million, and 50 percent of that is $400.386 million.
B. Ralston: I'm looking at schedule D. It's referred to in the main estimates as "Financing Transactions — Loans, Investments and Other Requirements." Can the minister explain the purpose of including this in subsection 2(b)?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the reason why these are included is simply because these are financing requirements for the year that are going to have…. We want to make sure there's going to be no interruption.
For example, you can see under there that things like the StudentAid B.C. loan program…. You want to ensure that there will be no interruption in that whatsoever. My understanding is that this is standard operating procedure over at least the past 12 years. I'm not as familiar with it prior to the previous 12 years.
B. Ralston: Looking at the schedule again in schedule D, the minister has referred to the StudentAid B.C. loan program. There is a reference to receipts and disbursements. I understand the need to disburse to continue the program. What are the receipts that are referred to in the first column?
Hon. K. Falcon: Those would be loan repayments that are being made by students.
B. Ralston: Similarly, in the "International fuel tax agreement (Motor Fuel Tax Act)," there is a column for receipts and there's a column for disbursements. Can the minister…?
The receipts vastly, according to this table, are greater than the disbursements, yet there's a figure on the right-hand side, $9.305 million, which doesn't have brackets around it. I take it that is positive rather than negative, and no further disbursement is required. Is that correct?
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Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the difference is largely a timing differential reflecting the cash flows, as the cash flows are estimated to be coming in as receipts and going out as disbursements.
This is under the international fuel tax agreement. This is largely the commercial transport industry. We have tax agreements with the United States, for example.
It gets quite complicated, but essentially it comes down to what percentage of the driving you were doing within a jurisdiction. There's a calculation made, and then you receipt or disburse based on all of that. There's an important timing differential that can take place here, and this is an estimate for the year ending March 31, 2013.
B. Ralston: At the bottom of schedule D, under the Ministry of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government, there is a line item entitled "Release of assets for economic generation — development and sale of surplus properties and buildings," and disbursements of $3 million are required. Can the minister explain why that is included in this section and this schedule, rather than simply being a part of the main estimates? It doesn't seem consistent with what has been said so far.
I note at the top of the page that the explanatory note says…. Just for the sake of clarity, I'll read it:
"The allocation of the total voted disbursements among special offices, ministries and other appropriations or among categories of loans, investments and other requirements is shown for information and planning purposes only." The money disclosed for special accounts is "subject to the available spending authority within each account. Treasury Board may reallocate the total voted disbursements among special offices, ministries and other appropriations. No reallocation may result in the total voted disbursements set out in this schedule being exceeded."
Perhaps he could clarify why this amount of $3 million…. I understand that the minister…. This will be the subject, perhaps, of some questions when we come to the minister's estimates, but in the budget speech he did signal his intention, not in this fiscal year but in next fiscal year, to reap some anticipated revenue from the sale of so-called surplus properties. There's a $3 million item of disbursements and no receipts, so I'm wondering why it's in this schedule and not in the main estimates.
Hon. K. Falcon: These, Member, are costs that are normally netted from revenues on the sale of a property, so they typically are costs that will take place in advance of the sale of the property. These are the kinds of things, like site preparation and advance-marketing costs, that will take effect prior to the sale of the property. Of course, when the property sells, then those costs will all be netted off against it.
What we're doing here is making sure that we've got an allocation for some of those costs that may be undertaken and to ensure we have a voted appropriation for that in the course of the interim supply.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that explanation. Then does this signal the establishment of a special account to receive the revenue, depending on what it is, from the sale of so-called surplus properties and buildings? Will that separate special account be open to scrutiny as we go along? I think many people would be interested in that.
Hon. K. Falcon: The answer is no. There's not a special account that's being set up. It, of course, will be operating in…. The Ministry of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government has been tasked with this effort. This is just to ensure that they've got the voted appropriation to have the expenditure of those dollars allowed for the utilization of things like site preparation, advance marketing, etc.
B. Ralston: Further up the page, under the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, there's an item entitled "Crown land administration — development of land for sale in future years" and a sum of $5.878 million. Is this also related to the proposed sale of so-called surplus properties and buildings?
Hon. K. Falcon: No, this is the normal operation of Crown special accounts sales, so there's nothing unusual about this at all.
B. Ralston: Similarly, in the same ministry, "Tourism development — development of land for sale in future years" and an allocation of $600,000. Is this related to the final item, the release of assets for so-called economic generation, or is it another account?
Hon. K. Falcon: No, it is not related. If it was related at all, we would have it in that category below.
B. Ralston: Given what's said in the explanatory note, does the minister agree — and I think he would have to — that within this total voted appropriation, when it passes, money can be reallocated but it can't exceed the total amount of the allocation? For example, if the development of sale of surplus properties was underestimated at $3 million and $5 million was required, could reallocation be achieved within this voted appropriation?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct. In the example the member just gave, you would have to find it somewhere else.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
B. Ralston: This clause, section 3, refers to schedule E
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of the main estimates. Schedule E of the main estimates refers to financing transactions, revenue collected for and transferred to other entities. For example, in the Ministry of Finance, the minister's own ministry, there is for B.C. Transportation Financing Authority a receipt of $435 million and a disbursement of $435 million. Perhaps the minister could briefly explain that entry.
Hon. K. Falcon: In this case these are all dedicated dollars that just flow through. They simply come in, and we send them back out, so there's no impact whatsoever on our surplus, on borrowing or on debt. These are dollars that go to post-secondary institutions, for example, or B.C. Transit or TransLink fuel tax — those kinds of things. They flow in and flow out.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that explanation. Looking at the entry for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, there are two line items: northwest transmission line — a receipt of $60 million and a disbursement of $60 million; and the Oil and Gas Commission — $31.157 million receipt and disbursement.
I would expect in the Oil and Gas Commission, that came from fees that the commission would collect. Can the minister explain the source of the $60 million receipt that's received for the northwest transmission line?
Hon. K. Falcon: Those are federal dollars that we flow through to B.C. Hydro for the development of the northwest transmission line. The other below — I think the member correctly referred to it. Those are fees that we administer on behalf of the Oil and Gas Commission.
B. Ralston: I think this may be the final question. South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority — $308.1 million receipt and disbursed. Can the minister explain the source of that $308.1 million?
Hon. K. Falcon: That would represent fuel taxes that are collected and then transferred over to TransLink to finance their operations.
B. Ralston: The British Columbia Transportation Financing Authority — $435 million receipt and disbursement. Is that money borrowed by the province on behalf of the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority and then transferred to TransLink?
Hon. K. Falcon: That's the same as TransLink. It's fuel tax that is generated, collected through the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority and then disbursed.
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:06 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
BILL 27 — SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2012
Bill 27, Supply Act (No. 1), 2012, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. I. Chong: I call committee in this House for Bill 20, Auditor General for Local Government Act.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 20 — AUDITOR GENERAL FOR LOCAL
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 20; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 3:08 p.m.
On section 1.
Hon. I. Chong: Before we begin, I'd just like to introduce staff who are here. To my right I have Nicola Marotz, to my left Rena Bindra and Gary Paget.
With that, I'll take questions.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
H. Lali: I want to thank the minister and the staff who obviously will be answering questions for the next few hours.
I want to start off by making a bit of a statement before I ask my question. I want to put it on the record that the NDP supports accountability. We also support transparency in terms of what government does and what ministers and ministries and staff do. I just want to point out that we also believe in consultation. That's also very, very important.
When I was a member of government, having had the chance to sit on the opposite side, I was a member of the government that brought in the Freedom of Information
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and Protection of Privacy Act that was the flagship for any state or province in North America.
We also brought in legislation concerning the conflict-of-interest act for members of this House — some major changes and the accountability aspect of it; and also the new Elections Act, whereby constituency associations and parties have to register with Elections Canada, complete with spending limits and a whole lot of other transparency in terms of reporting. I know the minister and the government want to be able to do that as well.
Also, I want to point out that currently there is legislation. There are also regulations that exist for the provincial Auditor General and other areas. I made some comments during second reading that we believe, as opposition, that this bill actually misses the mark. We will be able to actually ask some questions on a number of the sections that are particularly important. We will do that as the sections come out.
Also, the bill that's before us here at committee stage puts forward the auditor general for local government, which is actually different from any of the other provinces that we have in our Confederation. We'll be asking some of the pertinent questions.
I want to start off on section 2. Section 2 sets out the appointment of the auditor general and provides that "on the recommendation of the minister, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may appoint…a qualified individual to be Auditor General for Local Government" for a term of five years.
I want to ask the minister why it is the minister who is making the recommendation to appoint an auditor general for local government and not a select standing committee of the Legislature.
Hon. I. Chong: The objective here is for the minister responsible for the auditor general for local government to make a recommendation to cabinet, based on a recommendation from an audit council that will consist of a body of experts on subjects like accounting, auditing, local and provincial governments. That will, as I say, enable us to use those individuals on the audit council, to have a wide range of opportunities to interview, to find the person that they believe is best suited to act as auditor general for local government.
I expect the audit council to then provide that to myself. Then on that recommendation I would take it to cabinet.
H. Lali: The minister hasn't answered my question. I'm still asking the minister why it is that she felt it would be the recommendation of the minister. My specific question to the minister is: why not put this to a select standing committee of the Legislature? We have select standing committees. They are in place to hire the provincial Auditor General.
This is no small measure, the municipal auditor general. You're looking at basically tens of dozens of municipalities and regional districts across the province. To be able to perform a lot of the same duties as the provincial Auditor General does…. It's not a position, obviously, to be taken lightly, either.
We have a fair process where members sit on the select standing committee, comprised of membership from this Legislature, who are answerable to the people. The accountability is there through the Legislature, through all of the debates that we have here. Why is it that the minister chose a different path — to actually recommend herself for the appointment as opposed to having the select standing committee go through a process, as we do when we hire the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, the provincial Auditor General and other officers?
Traditionally, this Legislature is responsible for putting out the ad through the select standing committee, taking in the resumés and CVs and letters of application, going through a vetting process that is fair, open and accountable. It is independent from cabinet or government or from the ministers themselves.
It is a fair process, and it is based on a unanimous recommendation of the bipartisan committee of this Legislature. This is not a small position; it's a huge position. It's a very important, very significant position similar to that of the provincial Auditor General with a lot of duties and responsibilities that we're going to get into later.
I'm going to ask the minister: why was the similar process not chosen or selected by cabinet — that it would be a select standing committee of the Legislature who would look after that, rather than the minister herself?
Hon. I. Chong: I'd like to begin my comments by reminding the member that this position is not a provincial statutory officer. While it may have some of the hallmarks of the same areas of responsibility and accountability of how the office will work, it is not a provincial statutory officer.
The reporting structure for any auditor general does aim, though, to satisfy independence and accountability, and that independence is from the entity being audited. The accountability is ultimately to the citizens.
For the provincial Auditor General — and I just wanted to make this clear — independence from the entity being audited means independence from the provincial government through the Legislature. Accountability to citizens is also satisfied by reporting through to the Legislature. That's where the difference is. The provincial Auditor General, as the member has indicated, is reporting through the Legislature.
For the auditor general for local government we are establishing a separate reporting structure — that is, an audit council. That will ensure the independence from
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the entities being audited while also reflecting the principle that local governments are a separate order of government. They are elected by and directly accountable to their communities.
Local governments are not accountable to their citizens through the Legislature. It's for that reason that this is how the structure of the office and how the reporting requirements and the hallmarks of independence will be determined.
H. Lali: It doesn't, again, entirely answer my question. I mean, the minister went into a sidebar kind of conversation about the AGLG not being a statutory officer of the Legislature.
Municipalities and regional districts are a creation of the provincial government. Municipalities and regional districts collect the property taxes on behalf of the provincial government. They are so intimately tied to the provincial government, with funding flowing back not only in terms of the property tax transfer but also for various other projects or grants that they may have — for instance, building of water and sewer projects within municipalities and regional districts, the construction of sidewalks and roads, a number of programs that municipalities also deliver, and the grant programs that exist which flow from the community development ministry and other ministries to the provincial government.
There is that intimate tie between the municipalities and regional districts, and the province on the other hand. As I mentioned at the outset of this conversation, municipalities and regional districts are a creation of the provincial government. So it's entirely up to the provincial government to decide whether the AGLG would be a statutory officer of the Legislature or not.
With the two divergent paths, there was a path that the minister chose, that cabinet chose, which was not to make the municipal auditor general a statutory officer of the Legislature. Therein lies my question. Why was that other path chosen? Why not have the position open and accountable?
I mean, this whole — and we'll get into it later — lobby that took place…. The now Premier, who was vying for the leadership of the Liberal Party and hence become the Premier, had an agreement with a certain lobby group, if you want to call it, or folks that wanted to support her leadership — the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce amongst others who were going to give the Premier support. But they wanted a municipal auditor general in place. They cited issues such as accountability and openness as factors.
So my question to the minister is…. She chose a path which actually deviates from that whole issue of independence. It makes it less accountable — makes it accountable to the minister but not to the people that it's supposed to serve in terms of the municipalities. And a lot of the funding flowing back from the province to municipalities, not being accountable to the provincial taxpayer…. We're all one taxpayer. But at the end of the day, $2.6 million is going to be flowing towards the creation of this office, which gives it that provincial realm.
Why did the minister choose the path of making it less independent and less accountable — that the minister is going to make the recommendation and not a select standing committee of this Legislature?
Hon. I. Chong: Hon. Chair, with respect, the member has mentioned a couple of times for the record — and I will try to correct him — that he feels I have not answered his questions. In fact, I have answered his questions. He may not like the answer, and I accept that.
What I have said is that local governments are not accountable to their citizens through the Legislature. The select standing committees, as we have established for statutory officers, require that accountability to the Legislature. Again, local governments are not accountable to their citizens through the Legislature. It's for that reason that we need to establish a mechanism to allow that degree of independence, and that's the reason why an audit council has been determined as a way to provide for that.
I will also advise the member, through the discussions I have had with UBCM, that their policy paper they provided to me in September asked that the auditor general for local government report through a separate committee composed of representatives of the local government system — those who understand the local government systems in that case. They did not ask for a committee comprised of members of the Legislature. Therefore, citizens would not see that as sufficiently separate from local governments being audited.
I just want to again make it clear that the auditor general is not reporting directly to me. The auditor general has the autonomy to decide what audits are undertaken, and then that will provide the accountability to the public through the audit council. I trust I've made that matter clear for the member. I've answered his questions. He may, as I said, not agree, but that is in fact the answer.
H. Lali: I'm going to try this one more time. The minister is right. I don't like her answer because she's not giving an answer. That's the reason I don't like the answer. There are other reasons as well.
The minister may want to say that municipalities and regional districts are not answerable to the folks they represent through the Legislature. The fact of the matter is there's $2.6 million of provincial coffer moneys that are going to fund the office of the auditor general for local government, and there ought to be that accountability through the Legislature. But the minister has taken on that role.
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We don't know what kinds of discussions take place, and this Legislature doesn't know. Members on the back bench on the opposite side don't know. They're not in cabinet or privy to those kinds of discussions. We have no idea what kinds of discussions are taking place between the minister and whoever the future auditor general is going to be, as well as the audit council.
The fact is that $2.6 million of provincial moneys are going to fund this office. So we have a right to expect that that accountability would be through this Legislature, not through the minister.
So I'll ask a final time. Will the minister agree with me that the recommendation to hire a municipal auditor general ought to be through a select standing committee of this Legislature and not based on the recommendation of the minister alone?
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to address the comments the member made with respect to accountability of the dollars. I do want to advise and inform him that there is accountability for the budget, the $2.6 million. That money is voted through the budget estimates, so there is the accountability for those dollars spent there.
With respect to the establishment of the auditor general as well as the audit council, I just want to again inform the member and this House that this is a relatively new concept in this province — not necessarily new across the country. There is no standard mechanism or standard for establishment of an auditor general.
What I can say is that there are no other provinces in Canada that have auditor generals for local government reporting through to the provincial Legislature. It's for that reason why a select standing committee that reports to the Legislature would not be a good fit for the way that the auditor general for local government is established.
B. Ralston: The minister has spoken of the hallmarks of independence. Does she characterize the following facts as hallmarks of independence?
On her recommendation in 18(2) the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council "may appoint no fewer than 5 persons to be members of the audit council and must designate one of the members as chair of the council." So the minister recommends the appointment of the council, recommends the appointment of the chair of the audit council. The audit council then recommends to her a candidate for auditor general, who she also selects. So the minister's hand is in this whole process. Is that her definition of independence?
Hon. I. Chong: Let me just provide to the member, with respect to the auditor general for local government, a number of hallmarks of independence, if you will, which are similar to those provided to the provincial Auditor General. They're not identical, but there are some similarities. One of these hallmarks would be a fixed term of office. We are going to establish a five-year term.
A legislative mandate for the auditor general for local government which includes the sole discretion to choose which performance audits to undertake and which local governments to audit is yet another hallmark of independence.
The freedom to publish reports and recommendations without any required approvals. There will not be a requirement for myself to approve those published reports. I play no role in the development and publication of any of the auditor general for local government's reports, and the audit council has no authority to require that the auditor general for local government change the content of any of those reports.
Another hallmark of independence would be the professional independence, as the auditor general for local government must be a qualified auditor. This means that the auditor general for local government is subject to the rules and guidelines of the professional audit association of which he or she is a member, as well as the standards put forward by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Canadian auditing standards and general assurance in auditing standards, standards for assurance engagements other than audits of financial statements.
Another hallmark of independence is a limit to the basis for any suspension or removal of the auditor general for local government. This can only happen for cause or because of incapacity. We also have a legislated personal liability protection. Those are some of the hallmarks of independence which the provincial Auditor General has, and we have provided for that in this legislation as well.
B. Ralston: The minister has spoken of hallmarks of independence and has given some comments. Doubtlessly, we will deal with this in later sections. But given that the debate is arising in section 2 here, one shouldn't let the opportunity go to bring to the minister's attention the fact that the audit council appointed by the minister or by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to cabinet on her recommendation, in 22(4), "must review the proposed annual service plan and, subject to subsection (5), may provide comments and recommend changes to the plan as the audit council considers appropriate."
Now, given that the audit council works intimately with the auditor general and is appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor…. Although the auditor general will be appointed for five years, obviously he has to respond to the audit council. One can see that it's likely that if the audit council recommends changes, the auditor general would be wise to do that. So there's that control and inhibition of the independence of the auditor general.
Secondly, in section 23, on performance audit reports, it says in subsection (4): "The audit council may provide
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comments to the auditor general on the proposed final performance audit…submitted under subsection (3)." Not only does the council get to recommend changes to the plan before it's begun; if they don't like the report, they can recommend changes to the auditor general before the report is released.
The minister speaks of the hallmarks of independence. Does she agree that those are not hallmarks of independence?
Hon. I. Chong: I just wanted, again, to reassure the members that one of the hallmarks of independence is to provide that auditor general for local government the unfettered ability to do the job that he or she determines will allow for him or her to publish reports in a way that will provide value to the auditee — i.e., the local government.
When the member suggests that the audit council, under subsections 22(4) and (3) — I know we've hopped a little further into the act — must review the proposed annual service plan and is able to provide comments and recommendations…. There is no requirement that the auditor general take into consideration those recommendations.
The auditor general is free to hear…. There might be some very valid recommendations that the audit council makes to the auditor general with respect to the service plan or to a number of other areas, but there is no requirement that that auditor general undertake those recommendations.
In addition to the reports that the auditor general will be publishing, recommendations can be made. But the auditor general is permitted to issue those and publish those as he or she sees fit, as well as, then, after an audit is conducted, to provide any such report to the local government without any changes that are directly required of that auditor general for it to be published.
I hope that does provide some clarification to the member.
B. Ralston: The minister mounts some kind of a defence to this suggestion that the auditor general for local government will not be independent, but I don't think it's a very convincing one. My experience on the Public Accounts Committee, as a member and as the Chair, is that the Auditor General, who is nominated and selected by an all-party committee, selects his own topics to be audited.
There's a power to make a suggestion, but there's no formal mechanism by which he's obliged to consult to put the topics of his audit plan, as opposed to the budget for it, before the committee.
Secondly, the idea that the Auditor General would come back to the Public Accounts Committee with a draft report in camera and receive suggestions about it…. That step doesn't take place. The Auditor General has the control over the production of his report. It is shared with the entity being audited but not with the political direction of the Public Accounts Committee.
Would the minister not agree that this is really a very poor substitute for genuine independence, in the sense that an audit council that the minister and the cabinet appoint will appoint an auditor general for local government? The reports will be scrutinized by that same audit council, based on scrutinizing the plan that the auditor general sets out. So at every step the independence of this auditor general will be fettered. Is that not accurate?
Hon. I. Chong: At this point I think we are actually getting into section 4 of the act. I don't know if the member wishes to pass sections 2 and 3 for us to get to section 4, but I will provide the response to his question because it does refer to section 4, and that is with respect to the selection of audits and limits on audits.
There does need to be a balance between professional independence for the auditor general for local government and his or her accountability to the public for his or her performance, and that's why the audit council has a role in reviewing the service plan. The service plan will not go into specifics as to which local governments will be audited, but it will outline annual objectives, goals and performance measures as well as general criteria for deciding priority themes of audits.
That's not unlike what the provincial Auditor General is also provided — the opportunity to do that, to prepare an annual service plan. Yet he has the sole discretion to select those audits that will be conducted.
There is some similarity with respect to the independence that is afforded the Auditor General. The service plan is provided and is allowed to be reviewed — in the case of the provincial Auditor General by the select standing committee and in this particular case by the audit council. Likewise, with the provincial Auditor General and the auditor general for local government, the selection of audits will be at that discretion of the auditor general.
H. Lali: Under subsection (2) it says: "Before making the recommendation referred to in subsection (1), the minister must consider the recommendation of the audit council under section 19 (1) (a)." Could the minister explain to me why the word "must" is in there?
At the end of the day it's the province of British Columbia that's putting forward $2.6 million towards the auditor general's office. But the wording here says, under subsection (2) under this section, that the minister must consider the recommendation of the audit….
So the audit council goes out and finds somebody, and they're going to recommend to the minister, but the minister must consider their recommendation. Are the minister's hands tied in this? I mean, who has the final authority? The audit council? Or is it the minister?
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Hon. I. Chong: It seems somewhat confusing. At one point the member suggests that I not be involved with respect to the appointment of the auditor general and then, on the other hand, suggests that where it says I must consider the recommendation of the audit council, it goes counter to that.
The objective here, of course, is that the audit council will have the ability to interview possible candidates for the position of the auditor general. The audit council will then provide those recommendations to me, and therefore, I must consider that. Otherwise, it would be indirect, or it would be that I would be ignoring the work of the audit council.
So when the audit council provides those recommendations to myself as minister, I am required to consider those. That, therefore, allows me to take into consideration those comments, their deliberations, and then make that recommendation to cabinet. So I must consider what the audit council's work is.
H. Lali: There's no confusion in my mind. If there's any confusion, it's in the minister's mind. The minister has already stated that she's not going to actually have the whole hiring process be put off to a select standing committee of the Legislature — that it's going to be the way it's already put down in the bill.
So we're going onto the next subsections. There's no confusion there. I'm not trying to play one against the other. Under this particular subsection it says that the minister must consider.
The audit council is not a democratic body. The audit council is a body that is appointed. It's cabinet appointees on the recommendation of the minister. They're not an elected body. They're not even a representative body of various stakeholders within the municipal and regional district system or the UBCM. They're political appointees of the minister.
Now you've got political appointees who will make a recommendation that the minister must consider. Again, to the minister: where is the accountability? Where is the independence of the auditor general if a bunch of political appointees are making their recommendation that the minister must consider?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I want to refer the member to comments I made earlier with respect to the discussion that I had with UBCM and the policy paper that they did present to me in September last year. They felt that the reporting relationship to a stand-alone board or committee — in this case we call it an audit council — would be the most compatible with local government autonomy.
So they have accepted that in order to provide that independence, a committee or board would be suitable, which, in case, we are now calling an audit council. Again, I want to make it clear that the independence of the audit council members will, in fact, be established by way of a number of factors that we're putting in place to ensure that the audit council is a separate arm's-length body.
The legislation does require the minister responsible, myself, then to undertake certain consultations. We have consulted with UBCM — that is one of the requirements — and other organizations that are representative of business, taxpayers and local government professionals. We may also undertake other consultations with other persons or organizations that we believe need to be consulted and, therefore, initiate a process that invites input from UBCM, LGMA, GFOA and the business community. That has been undertaken.
There is also a public process for inviting applicants to be members of the audit council, through the Board Resourcing and Development Office. That is also done as a measure so that members do meet the selection criteria developed in order for them to have knowledge of the work that is required of an auditor general.
As well, all audit council members will need, as I say, to meet the qualifications specified in the legislation. That requires some technical background either in accounting, auditing local and regional governance, or provincial governance.
The audit council, I do feel, has the degree of independence that is required for them to undertake the interview process, which will conclude with a recommendation that I would be able to take to cabinet for the eventual appointment of an auditor general.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
H. Lali: Section 3 is about the purpose and mandate of the auditor general for local government. It states here under subsection 3(1): "The purpose of the auditor general is to conduct performance audits of the operations of local governments in order to provide local governments with objective information and relevant advice that will assist them in their accountability to their communities for the stewardship of public assets and the achievement of value for money in their operations."
Well, in the ministry's own document, Municipal Auditor General: What a MAG Will Do for B.C. — the pages aren't numbered, but it's on here under "Existing accountability framework" — here's what the minister's own document says:
"The current local government accountability framework is strong. Local government legislation, such as the Local Government Act and Community Charter, sets out financial accountability rules for B.C.'s 188 municipalities and regional districts. These requirements include annual audited financial statements; five-year financial plans updated annually; electors' approval of capital borrowing; limits on the amount of borrowing; public reports such as an annual report; requirement for balanced budgets — no deficit; and the role of the inspector of mu-
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nicipalities, independent bodies — for example, Ombudsperson, Information and Privacy Commissioner, the courts — and the Municipal Finance Authority."
The only thing that's additional here is the value-for-money audits that the minister talks about in her document here as well. The fact is that there's the existing provincial Auditor General that is in place. We have the inspector of municipalities, who also has a far-reaching role as well.
Why could this not have been done through the existing mechanisms that are in place? I would like the minister to explain why this government went about setting up a separate bureaucracy when already we have various entities that I've mentioned here, not the least of which are the inspector of municipalities and the provincial Auditor General, whose offices that could have been utilized?
Hon. I. Chong: The items that the member spoke about with respect to financial audits that currently are in place are correct. I have indicated in the past and I have agreed that yes, there are financial audits that are required of local governments. They produce those financial audited statements, and they do a number of other reports that are required to provide accountability to their citizens.
However, what is not in place is the opportunity for performance audits, value-for-money audits. That is what this auditor general for local government will be primarily focused on, in terms of its purpose and mandate.
The member also goes on to suggest that the inspector of municipalities would or could be engaged to do some of the work that he envisions an auditor general for local government would do. I think there has been confusion on that part. I'll take this opportunity to put on the record and clarify what an inspector of municipalities is, because it was raised a number of times when second reading debate was ongoing.
The inspector of municipalities' primary role is to approve local government long-term capital borrowing and other financial instruments, such as development cost charges. It could be a perceived conflict of interest for the inspector to approve borrowing for a project and then judge whether the local government has implemented that project most efficiently and most effectively.
The inspector of municipalities' role is supervisory, and it is focused on helping ensure the financial stability of a local government, whereas the auditor general for local government's role will be advisory, not supervisory. The auditor general's role will be advisory and focused on assisting local governments to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in their operations.
As I said earlier, the auditor general for local government would be independent and would report through the audit council. The inspector of municipalities reports to the minister through the deputy minister of this ministry.
B. Ralston: Well, I appreciate the minister clarifying her view on the role of the inspector of municipalities. As she will know, both the Union of B.C. Municipalities context paper on the municipal auditor general and an opinion from a lawyer at Young Anderson, the leading municipal law firm in British Columbia, say that under section 171(3) of the Community Charter both the inspector of municipalities and every municipal council already have authority to require the municipal auditor to provide reports in addition to the annual financial statements.
Under the charter the municipal auditor "has the power and duty to conduct the examinations necessary" to prepare all such reports. This includes reports on, to use the language of the provincial Auditor General Act, whether the government is operating economically, efficiently and effectively.
Of course, the minister will be aware that just those words are used in subsection (2)(a)(i): "the operations are undertaken economically, efficiently and effectively." It's a little bit of an irony, given that the Union of B.C. Municipalities…. The minister says she wants to defer to the knowledge of those at the local government level. The leading municipal law firm already says that the inspector general of municipalities has those powers. Yet the minister is proposing in this legislation duplication of that very legislative authority.
I know that the inspector general of municipalities is an important position. It was vacant. I understand that there has been a recent appointment to that position, so it obviously has ongoing utility in the ministry and is not a mere appendage or frill.
My question relates to subsection (5). It says: "In carrying out the powers and duties under this Act, the auditor general must not call into question the merits of policy decisions or objectives of a local government." I want the minister, if she can and if she will, to define what "policy decisions" means in this context. Does it mean that if the municipality or the city on its own decides, as a part of their tax policy, to raise a tax or to charge a fee, that cannot be the subject of a performance audit? Is that what that section is saying?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to again reiterate what the inspector of municipalities' role is. The inspector reports to the ministry by virtue of reporting to the deputy minister through to the ministry, so that does not provide the degree of independence. Again, the inspector role is supervisory as opposed to advisory. I want to put that on the record and really make the distinction, because the inspector of municipalities could not be the auditor general for local government in that regard.
With respect to what the auditor general for local gov-
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ernment is permitted to do, what perhaps will be easier to explain is what the auditor general for local government will not do. They will not question the merits of local government policy choices or objectives, will not question tax rates or practices, will not make binding recommendations or impose requirements and will not duplicate or displace current financial accountability requirements.
B. Ralston: So in answer to my question, then…. I want to summarize this, so I make very clear that I understand and so it's on the record, because I know many municipalities may be interested in this answer.
The minister is saying this subsection (5), the reference to "the auditor general must not call into question the merits of policy decisions" — not "choices" but "decisions" is the language of the section — "or objectives of a local government…." That's the section as it's written. By that the minister means that the auditor general will not, in a report, question a decision made by a municipality or city to raise its taxes or to charge a particular fee. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: What this means is that the auditor general is not allowed to call into question the merits of policy decisions or objectives of the local governments. For example, the audits will not review whether a municipality decision to establish a particular recreation service to its citizens was a good idea or not. However, the audit could examine how that service is being delivered, whether that method of service delivery is efficient and effective and whether the service is achieving the results that council wanted to achieve when it chose to establish that service in the first place.
That's just an example of a policy decision that is made by a local government. The auditor general would not be permitted to call that into question but would take a look at that decision in determining the outcomes, whether it achieved the outcomes that the decision was established for it to achieve.
B. Ralston: The minister didn't answer my question. It's an important one, and I want to ask her again. The interpretation of this subsection (5) — does it mean that the auditor general for local government, if the statute is passed and the office is created, will not be able to call into question the decision of a city or a municipality to raise its taxes?
The reason I ask this is important, because some of the lobby groups, some of the other groups out there seem to think that this office will create a mechanism to attack or question generally the level of taxation in any city or municipality in the province, depending on where they are. There's a sense among some…. These are legitimate questions. I just want to make sure that this is not going to be addressed by this office — the level of business taxation relative to residential taxation.
Those would seem, to me, to be important policy questions for the elected council to decide, and I just want to be clear. I'm sure members of city councils across the province will be interested in the minister's answer, so I ask her to please direct her comments to my question. Does this mean that the auditor general for municipalities will not be permitted to examine a decision by a city council or municipal council to raise its taxes?
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated, the objective and the purpose and mandate of this office is to provide value-for-money audits, not to do financial comprehensive audits, not to do other duties that are performed by, for example, the inspector of municipalities. This subsection (5) is very clear in that it does say that "the auditor general must not call into question the merits of policy decisions or objectives of the local government."
In providing the policy paper that we put forward last fall we did also indicate there, for the benefit of local governments that were concerned, that the auditor general would not make or overrule policy decisions of elected officials such as taxation, structure or land use.
Again, I've indicated in my earlier response that the auditor general for local government will not question the merits of the local government decisions, question tax rates or practices. The objective here is to take a look at the decision that has been made and then take a look at whether the particular decision has been delivered efficiently and effectively, and whether or not it achieved the desired outcomes for that decision.
B. Ralston: I think I understand the minister's answer. She's agreeing with me that the auditor general for local government will not be able to question tax policy. So when a group like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which lobbied — and that's their prerogative — for this legislation, complains about residential taxation and taxation for categories 4 and 5, business taxation….
When they complain that they don't agree with the ratios, the minister is saying that that complaint, however legitimate it may be, is a legitimate area for political discussion but that going to this new office with that complaint will not yield anything. The municipal auditor general will not be able to act on that complaint, because it's ruled out by virtue of subsection (5) that we're talking about here. Is that right?
Hon. I. Chong: That's correct.
H. Lali: Under this subsection 3(2)(a), and I'll go back a bit to read it into the record, it says:
"A performance audit conducted under this Act by the auditor general consists of (a) a review of the operations of a local govern-
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ment, as the operations relate to a matter or subject specified by the auditor general, to evaluate the extent to which (i) the operations are undertaken economically, efficiently and effectively, (ii) financial, human and other resources are used in relation to the operations with due regard to economy and efficiency."
Would the minister like to explain what that means?
Hon. I. Chong: The purpose of subsection 3(2) and all the other subsections below it specifically establishes what a performance audit consists of. It's a review that focuses on key elements of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. These provisions aim to provide a clear framework within which the auditor general can conduct performance audits.
So, as I say, it is dealing with the elements of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
H. Lali: This whole idea of a municipal auditor general came because of the lobby of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Their biggest beef was about taxes on behalf of their membership. They were saying the taxes were going too high.
The Premier at the time had stated that it's a two-way responsibility — that the provincial government had been off-loading onto municipalities and regional districts for the decade that the Liberals have been in office, that there's a two-way responsibility there, and that the off-loading ought not to occur either. That was implicit in her remarks, as to one of the reasons why the CFIB would have felt that their property taxes were going up on behalf of their membership constituents.
So there's been a concerted, wholesale attack on municipalities and regional districts by the CFIB over the last 18 months or so — specifically during the leadership debate of the B.C. Liberal Party, during that whole debate. Part of it was the attack by the CFIB on the people — the workforce that works for municipalities and regional districts, who tends to the water, the sewers, the garbage, the roads, the sidewalks and the parks and all of the other responsibilities under municipalities and regional districts.
Specifically, they've been attacking the wages and the benefits as something that is way out of whack. But when you look at it across all provinces, British Columbia is in the middle of the pack in terms of the municipalities and regional districts.
There was this wholesale, concerted attack against not only trying to bring down the public sector wages in the municipalities but also to try to get a better deal on taxation. It was for that reason that the Premier, who was the leadership candidate, struck this backroom deal with the CFIB.
So when I see this section 3(2)(a)(ii), which actually talks about "financial, human and other resources are used in relation to the operations with due regard to economy and efficiency," that raises red flags for me. If this isn't the section under which the minister and this Liberal government are trying to reward their friends in the CFIB because of the backroom deal that the Premier made with the CFIB and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce…. If this isn't a way to try to look at that whole issue of property taxation and then try to actually have an attack on the workforce that works for regional districts and municipalities….
Would the minister like to categorically say that this is not what is going to happen?
Hon. I. Chong: Subsection 3(2) is here to articulate the hallmarks or the requirements of the value-for-money audit. Perhaps I can try to explain it in this way for the benefit of the member. Value-for-money audits generally involve one or more of the following: audit of controls and practices to ensure due regard for economy, efficiency and effectiveness; the audit of resource management, with due regard for economy and efficiency; as well as the audit of effectiveness of programs, operations and activities.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Those three words that I've used — economy, efficiency and effectiveness — are throughout this definition. With respect to economy, that generally refers to spending management, to the acquisition and allocation of appropriate quality and quantity of resources at the appropriate time and optimal cost.
With respect to efficiency, oftentimes people will refer to that as the best bang for the buck. That's just the terminology that is being used. It refers to the use of resource inputs to optimize service outputs.
With regard to effectiveness, it's about doing the right thing. It refers to the achievement of broad social objectives and outcomes.
So as I say, this subsection does provide information that tries to clarify what we are looking at in terms of a performance audit — i.e., a value-for-money audit.
B. Ralston: Just again so we're clear, I'm looking at subsection (5). I appreciate that the minister has given an outline of what a performance audit is.
I suppose that one should mention parenthetically that the office of the provincial Auditor General is regarded across the country as a leader in performance audits. So it is regrettable, indeed, that the decision was made to set up a separate office rather than locate it with the provincial Auditor General, given the expertise on performance audits that resides there. But that's a decision that has clearly been made.
Now, I just want to be clear, and I want the minister to set this out clearly. By a policy decision…. The decision of a municipality to engage into a collective bargaining relationship with a union and the rates of compensation that are set by that collective agreement, and any of the
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provisions of that collective agreement such as call-out provisions or overtime or statutory holidays….
Would the minister agree that the intention of section (5) is to rule any inquiry into that off limits to this municipal auditor general, as being what would be called the merits of a policy decision?
Hon. I. Chong: Again I want to advise the member that the decisions that a local government makes as policy decisions are those policy decisions and choices a local government makes.
That is not what the auditor general for local government will be calling into question. The choice to enter into an agreement, the choice to set tax rates, the choice to have recreation services — those are choices that local governments can and will make. What the auditor general will be able to do is to examine the operations of local government in particular. The "operations" have been defined in section 1, and that means "the design or implementation of the programs, services, policies or systems of a local government and related procedures." So that is to take a look at the operations of that choice but not the choice itself.
B. Ralston: Well, I think we're close to an answer. The minister referred to agreements. By "agreements," I have a very specific term that I'm using, and I want to make sure the minister and I understand each other on this and that the record reflects this. I'm talking about collective agreements.
So is the minister saying that collective agreements — the provisions, the wage scale inside those collective agreements that are negotiated as a matter of policy by the municipality or city with its employees who perhaps have chosen to be represented by a union — are not the subject and cannot be the subject of an audit, a performance audit, by the auditor for local government?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I think the member has very specifically articulated. The examples that he's given do relate to a matter of policy, a matter of choice that the elected officials make, and I agree with him.
Those are those matters that the local government, the elected officials, are able to make. Those are not what would be called into question by the auditor general. However, what can be questioned by an auditor general is the operations of that and whether or not those policy decisions meet the expectations of those choices.
H. Lali: So in the same vein, could the minister, then, categorically state that under this section, this entire section, the bill does not in any way allow for a revision or opening up of taxation policies of local government?
Hon. I. Chong: I did answer that previously.
H. Lali: I had asked that question previously, before my hon. colleague from Surrey started asking. My colleague asked about collective agreements — right? So I'm asking about the actual property tax rates that are set, the mill rates that are set by regional districts and by municipalities. So my question is different from my hon. colleague's. He talked about collective agreements. I'm talking about the overall taxation policy that municipalities and regional districts are responsible for at the local level.
So I just want the minister to say it. Does this section allow those policies to come under review and to be opened up — yes or no?
Hon. I. Chong: A few questions ago I did answer that, not just the most recent question. So for the record I will again state that an auditor general would not make or overrule policy decisions of elected officials, such as, which I said earlier, taxation structure or land use.
K. Corrigan: I just want to follow up on the same line of questioning because I still don't understand. I don't fully understand what exactly would be and wouldn't be within the purview of the municipal auditor general. The minister said that, no, the auditor general will not be able to question policy decisions, but then the minister went on to say, I think, that the auditor general could comment on whether or not this was an effective use of tax dollars.
So just being really specific, could the minister expect that the auditor general may not question the policy but, nevertheless, in a report make the comment or the suggestion that perhaps a municipality would do better to, for example, contract out services?
Hon. I. Chong: What I think is important for clarification is, in fact, that the auditor general for local government will have independence with respect to what he or she decides to audit and where he or she decides to conduct those audits — i.e., which local governments, which regional districts — and that the report the auditor general produces will be one that will provide for comments and recommendations but not a requirement that local governments necessarily adhere to them, not unlike what happens currently with our provincial Auditor General.
So I cannot speculate as to the range of comments that an auditor general may make or what range of recommendations that an auditor general may make as a result of an audit. That is the purview of an auditor general.
But again, what I will state for the record, what the member may not have heard previously when I answered one of her colleague's questions, is the auditor general not being able to call into question the merits of a policy decision or objectives of a local government but that the audits would, for example, review how that particular choice, that particular decision, of that service is being delivered.
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The example I gave earlier was an example of the policy decision being made by local government to establish, for example, a recreational service. The auditor general would not be able to call into question that the local government decided to enter into a recreational service agreement but can take a look at how that service is delivered, whether that method of service was efficient, whether it was effective and whether the service once established is in fact achieving the results that that local government wanted to achieve when it chose to establish the service. That's an example I'm hoping that for the member provides some clarification.
K. Corrigan: I wasn't suggesting that anybody can direct an auditor, and they are to be independent in deciding what kind of work they do. I hope that is the case here as well.
I asked that specific question because I want to understand where the edges of the mandate are. Given that nobody is going to direct where an auditor general is going to go, would it be within or would it not be within the mandate of the auditor general…?
If the auditor general chose to go there, would it or would it not be within the mandate of the auditor general to make a recommendation that it would be more efficient, more effective to contract out a service as opposed to keeping it in-house?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, as I indicated, we have no ability to fetter the range of comments that the auditor general would like to provide. So if the auditor general wished to make comment in that area or provide recommendations, as the member has suggested, that auditor general may do so. As is happening currently with our provincial Auditor General, a range of recommendations sometimes do come forward. It's up to the government, then, to decide how we deal with those recommendations.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'm glad to hear, because I think it's important for us to understand at this point exactly what the mandate is or isn't. The minister has very clearly said that it would be within the mandate of the auditor general, if the auditor general so chose, to make a recommendation to a local government that it would be better to deliver services by contracting out as opposed to keeping those services in-house — not commenting on the process, not commenting on the policy, but simply saying that it was more effective. I believe that's what the minister just said.
So in the same vein, I'm wondering if…. I would assume, if the auditor general chose, that the auditor general could also, in looking at the operations of a local government, make a recommendation that it would be better for a local government to go by way of what is known as a public-private partnership as opposed to keeping a service in-house?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I just want to clarify for the member that section 3, the purpose and mandate, does set out what the purpose of the auditor general is. That is, to conduct performance audits of operations of local governments or to provide those local governments with objective information and relevant advice. That is what it is — advisory.
That's also what I tried to clarify earlier when we had the discussion about an inspector of municipalities versus the auditor general. The inspector of municipalities provides an advisory role, whereas the auditor general provides advisory…. That is what the recommendations would be in terms of advice.
I don't want to leave the comments that the member has made wide open as to what an auditor general is going to, I guess, dictate what a local government is able to do. Again, the policy decisions that the local government decides to make are those by the local government. The auditor general is able to make recommendations in relation to a particular service or operation that the auditor general — he or she — has just audited. So it's not about the entire operations of a local government. That is not the purpose and the mandate of the auditor general.
It is to take a look at value-for-money audits. It is to take a look at a specific program or a particular service that a decision has been made on by the local government and then be able to report out on that for the objectives of efficiency, effectiveness and economy.
K. Corrigan: Well, I understand what the minister says — that this is not looking at the whole of the operations, although whether it's the whole of the operations or an individual portion of the operations of a municipality…. I'm not sure that it makes much difference.
Let's take another very specific example. Let's say the auditor general chose to look at the water operations of a municipality. I just want to be clear, consistent with what I believe the minister has already said, that the auditor general could potentially — and we're not speculating as to what a recommendation would be or what areas the auditor general is going to go into…. The auditor general could potentially, as part of the auditor general's recommendations, for example, in looking at the water operations of a municipality that are perhaps in-house…. It would be within the mandate to make a recommendation that the water operation should be operated, for example, by way of a public-private partnership.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, it is speculating whether that auditor general would make those kinds of recommendations. I don't know. The auditor general obviously would want to report out on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of that particular service and, in so doing, may choose to use language or words that are direct recom-
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mendations. He or she could decide to report out on those kinds of findings that would lead to conclusions that the local government could decide upon.
The objective of a performance audit, value-for-money audit, again, is to take a look at a particular service and, for the matter or subject that the auditor general has decided to audit, to evaluate it to the extent to which he or she is able to provide a report that provides information on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness. So I can't speculate on what an auditor general may or may not report.
K. Corrigan: So I'm wondering…. Let's use the example that we've just talked about, which is looking at the in-house water operations for a community. I just would like to really tie down what the auditor general would not be able to comment on. In the case of, say, water operations — and the minister has confirmed that it's possible…. You don't want to speculate what the auditor general might do, but it is possible that the auditor general may choose to make a recommendation. It would be within the mandate to make a recommendation that, for example, a P3 might be a better way to go.
What in that particular example could the auditor general not comment on, or in what way could the auditor general not comment because it would fall within the aegis of being a policy decision, the merits of a policy decision?
Hon. I. Chong: I just want to assure the member with respect to recommendations, that the auditor general for local government would or could be making…. In fact, any recommendations made by the auditor general for local government would be in relation to, again, the economy, the efficiency and the effectiveness of a local government's operations as a result of a specific performance audit.
I want to be very clear that the proposed auditor general for local government only has the authority to make recommendations which are not binding recommendations. Communities will have the freedom to decide whether they want to act on those auditor general's recommendations.
The auditor general's mandate would also include the ability to develop and publish best practices arising from specific performance audits for other local governments as appropriate and useful and, therefore, the auditor general could provide best practices on issues like joint service delivery or other kinds of services if those topics were initially the subject of the auditor general for those specific audits.
Again, I want to be clear that the auditor general is not able to call into question whether or not the local government chose to have a service delivered in-house, whether a local government chose to use a P3 option. Those decisions are decisions that a local government is empowered, is able, to make.
Once they have made their choice, however, an auditor general, if he or she chooses to take a look at that decision, then takes a look at the objectives that were set for that particular decision, and the auditor general would see whether or not the decision or that choice is meeting those objectives that that decision relied upon.
K. Corrigan: I certainly appreciate what the minister says. But what could happen, I would presume, is that this auditor general, who is being appointed by government and not by municipalities, though, who are being audited, could make a recommendation or create best practices that say, for example, that it's a good idea — this could be what the auditor general decides — to privatize services or to have them be P3s, a different form of privatization.
Then, of course, if the minister could just confirm, if those were the best practices that the auditor general happened to recommend, it would be within the ambit, within the purview, of the provincial government to then enact legislation or regulation that would require that that's the way that municipalities would proceed.
I know that is not part of this act, but if the minister could just confirm that would certainly be within the aegis of the government to do that.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I want to reiterate that the recommendations that an auditor general for local government provides as a result of the audit of a particular service will be able to be published in a report. They are recommendations that will go to that local government. Those recommendations are not binding, and those recommendations are not to the provincial government.
H. Lali: Subsection (4) states: "The auditor general, if permitted by regulation, may, on request of a local government and in accordance with the regulations, enter into an agreement to conduct a performance audit of the operations of the local government that relate to a matter or subject that is specified in the agreement."
I'd like to propose a scenario here, for instance. I won't mention any names of any communities, but the minister will be familiar. Under this section can this mechanism be put into action via a complaint or complaints coming from members within a community?
Often, you know — the minister will be familiar; she's been Minister for Municipal Affairs for a long time — you'll find some constituents making allegations against the mayor and council or regional district reps about misappropriation of funds or other complaints such as that. Is this the mechanism under which if a municipality or regional district wanted to clear its name or that of an elected official, they could then ask the auditor general
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for a review or investigate that complaint that is against them? Whether it's founded or not is irrelevant, but folks who are elected at the local level want to have the opportunity to clear their names and ask the auditor general to be able to do that.
Hon. I. Chong: I think it's important to note that this section does state that "the auditor general, if permitted by regulation," and by regulation…. We would have to take a look at subsection 27(1)(g), which refers to the regulation-making powers. This is about providing the ability, on the request of the local government…. As a result of the regulation, that would be allowing them to enter an agreement.
This is not about a complaint-driven process. This is a specific agreement that local government would be able to enter into if the regulation permits that to take place.
H. Lali: If an audit takes place as a result of a request by a local government and it's permitted by regulation, then who pays for the actual costs of that audit?
Hon. I. Chong: I think perhaps it's fairest to say that that would need to be determined at the time the regulation is put in place. I think it's fair to say that with this position that is being created, it is about providing the auditor general with the ability to determine what audits he or she decides to undertake and what entities — municipalities, regional district — he or she decides to take a look at. So the objective is for that auditor general to make those decisions on his or her own accord.
Where this does provide that…. If an agreement is made, and therefore if a local government is specifically requesting a performance audit, it's not unlikely, then, that the local government would be required to pay for that, as if that local government were to go outside and ask for an audit firm to come in and pay for that.
The objective of the auditor general office is for him or her to make the decision on what audits he or she wishes to perform. But when a local government requests it and there's a specific request that is made, then clearly the local government is requiring something on its own and, therefore, would have to take a look at possibly considering those costs.
B. Ralston: My question is about the retrospective application of this act. If the act passes — and I assume that it will at some point in this session — will the appointed municipal auditor general be authorized to examine, say, previous land transactions under this section 3, looking at their economy, their efficiency and their effectiveness? How far back is it proposed that the auditor general would be able to look?
Hon. I. Chong: When an audit is conducted, generally it will have been as a result, as I say, of a decision that has been made and, I guess, retrospectively. Perhaps that's what the member is referring to. Once a decision has been made, you'll then take a look at that service and conduct the audit, but it is not designed to go back and look at particular services that are no longer in existence.
By virtue of the definitions in section 1, what the auditor general is looking at is operations, and "'operations' means the design or implementation of the programs, services, policies or systems of a local government and related procedures." And that would generally refer to those that are currently in place. If a decision had been made six years ago but that particular service is still in operation now, yes, the auditor general would be able to take a look at that operation. If a decision was made six years ago and that operation no longer exists, then it is highly unlikely that an auditor general would be considering reviewing that, because that service is no longer in existence.
B. Ralston: Well, I thank the minister for that answer, but just to be clear, there is nothing, no specific language in the act that I can find that limits the retrospective application of the auditor general's powers. In other words, if a city, for example, had a program of land sales, as many cities do, and it was ongoing, then — given what the minister has said — the auditor general would have the scope to look at sales of land in the city or municipality going back, I suppose, to the origin of the program, in theory. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: I thank the member for his clarification. I would agree that if in fact there is a policy or a choice, a decision that has been made that is ongoing, yes, the auditor general may choose, if that is the area of audit he or she chooses to make, to take a look at that ongoing practice and make a determination going back to whatever period that allows for him or her to take a look at the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of that program.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
B. Ralston: The important qualification here is in subsection 4(1). Can the minister explain how that section will work? The annual service plan and the choices set out in the annual service plan are subject to a review by the audit council, and they can make suggestions. Does the minister agree, notwithstanding the language "…in his or her sole discretion…," that there's an effective limitation by the role of the audit council that's set out in section 19?
Hon. I. Chong: I think what's important to clarify here is that the auditor general must provide a service
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plan, and that service plan will establish the general goals and objectives of where the auditor general wishes to go. There is no limitation in terms of those goals and objectives.
The audit council is able to make recommendations. The audit council is able to review and provide input, but the audit council is not able to then dictate to the auditor general as to the changes or make binding any of those recommendations that the audit council has for the auditor general.
The objective here is to ensure there is a service plan that is available and published for all to see and then for the auditor general's office to be able to adhere to the objectives of that service plan.
B. Ralston: Well, I'm just looking at subsection 22(6): "The auditor general must" — and that's obligatory — "consider the comments and recommendations provided by the audit council…." So it would seem that in the ordinary course of business, given that the auditor general is going to be hired by the audit council — or, at least, on the recommendation of the audit council — that a reasonable auditor general…. If the audit council who hired her or him doesn't wish to proceed in a certain way in the service plan, he or she would be wise to pay attention to that and revise their plan accordingly.
Now, I appreciate the minister says that theoretically the auditor general has the final word. But as a matter of practicality, doesn't the minister agree that what will happen is that the audit council will prevail in terms of setting the objectives?
Hon. I. Chong: No, I don't agree that the audit council will prevail. The objective that the member has referred to, as he's jumped to subsection 22(6), is that the auditor general must consider. Again, they're not binding on the auditor general.
The idea is to ensure that when the service plan is developed, if there are recommendations that the audit council feels should be looked at and considered, they are at least provided to the auditor general, and he or she, therefore, must consider them. But the service plan will still be one that is designed and developed by the auditor general.
K. Corrigan: I'm just following up on my colleague's questions. In choosing the audits, could the auditor general choose audits of the Municipal Finance Authority? Would that be under the mandate under this section?
Hon. I. Chong: No.
K. Corrigan: So that doesn't fall within the…. I know we're back to the definition, but I'm thinking of the audits that could potentially be taken.
Then just for confirmation, as well: could that selection of audits include an audit of the operations, through local government, of TransLink?
Hon. I. Chong: In section 1, the definitions, we have explained what local governments are. They mean "(a) a municipality, (b) a regional district, (c) a greater board, (d) a board, a commission, a corporation or another organization that, under generally accepted accounting principles, is considered to be controlled by one or more municipalities, regional districts or greater boards, and (e) another local body prescribed by regulation." Those are the subject areas the auditor general would be considering.
K. Corrigan: I just want to follow up on what my colleague also talked about in referring to both section 4 and section 22 — the fact that the auditor general "must consider the comments and recommendations provided by the audit council…."
I would again ask the minister whether or not the minister has any concern about the fact that the auditor general, in choosing the audits under section 4, might feel some influence. Given that it is my understanding — and maybe the minister can correct me on this if I'm wrong — that the five-year term that the auditor general is appointed for…. The auditor general can be fired — is that not correct? — differently than what we have with the provincial Auditor General, where it is impossible to do that. I'm asking that in the context of the decisions that are being made under section 4.
Hon. I. Chong: I just want to again provide, for the benefit of the member, clarification with respect to the annual service plan that the auditor general would be producing. It is a high-level document that provides overall direction for the auditor general for local government's operations in its upcoming year. The audit council, as I say, may make comments or recommend changes, which is consistent with their role in reviewing and monitoring performance of the auditor general for local government.
As well, the audit council, because they are made up of knowledgable experts, may have useful input for the auditor general for local government in preparing his or her service plan. That's why we feel it is important that the auditor general must consider those comments or recommendations that the audit council puts forward.
The legislation does provide sole discretion to the auditor general for local government to select the performance audits that will be conducted, and again, the audit council comments on the service plans are non-binding.
With respect to the comments the member has made, whether the auditor general can be fired or not, that goes further on to section 6 of the act, where that can occur for cause or because of incapacity, which is not unlike what is
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currently the case for the provincial Auditor General. The provincial Auditor General can also be let go for cause or for incapacity, and that is how we have similarly drafted this for the auditor general for local government.
Sections 4 and 5 approved.
On section 6.
The Chair: The member for Fraser-Nicola on section 6.
H. Lali: Thank you, hon. Chair. I know you're very tempted to say Yale-Lillooet. I was the member for so long under that name.
Section 6 deals with suspension, removal or resignation of the auditor general, and 6(1) says: "On the recommendation of the minister, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may, for cause or because of incapacity, order that the auditor general be suspended with or without remuneration or be removed."
I just want to ask the minister: what is their recourse for appeal if the auditor feels that they've been unjustly suspended or removed? What is the process that they use to fight that?
Hon. I. Chong: Again I want to reiterate that this section is virtually identical to what is provided for the provincial Auditor General. We believe that what is in place with the provincial Auditor General can be used in this same form.
You know, again, without speculating, I think it's fair to say that anytime someone feels they're let go unjustifiably, there's always a legal recourse that they have. But it does state here that as minister I would not just perform this task unilaterally. It would be on the recommendation of the audit council as well — that they feel there could be cause or reason of incapacity. So I would take that into consideration before any such removal would be considered. But as I say, it is virtually identical to what the provincial Auditor General section is.
H. Lali: Subsection (2) says: "Before making the recommendation referred to in subsection (1), the minister must consider" — there's that word again — "the recommendation of the audit council under section 19 (1) (c)." Again, it just leads me to ask the question to the minister: isn't this a bit about the tail wagging the dog?
I mean, really, who's in charge here at the end of the day? Is it the minister, or is it the audit council? Because there's a whole lot of authority or responsibilities assigned to the audit council that the minister must consider in terms of recommendations, and it's going to come up again and again. So who's in charge here? Is it the audit council, or is it the minister?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would state, perhaps for clarity, that the auditor general for local government actually is accountable to the citizens through the audit council. In looking at…. Jumping to subsection 19(1), the role of the audit council is to really review and monitor "the performance of the auditor general, including, without limitation, the performance of the auditor general in respect of the annual service plan."
So there is a role for this audit council to ensure that when they make the selection and they provide recommendations for the service plan, they have a role, because again, it is the auditor general who is required to be accountable to the citizens — but through this mechanism of an independent audit council. So that is why, in many cases, the member will see that where the audit council provides information to myself as minister, or whoever the minister responsible will be, I must at least consider those kinds of comments and recommendations.
Sections 6 and 7 approved.
On section 8.
B. Ralston: In the budget that's proposed the minister will know that $2.6 million has been set aside for the operation of this office. Can the minister tell the House how much it's proposed that the new auditor general for local government will be paid?
Hon. I. Chong: The auditor general for local government would receive a salary comparable to those with similar roles in the B.C. government and to municipal auditors general in other provinces. We have not set that level specifically yet. As I say, we are taking a look at salaries that are comparable to other municipal auditors general across the country.
B. Ralston: Well, as the minister will know, the independent statutory officers of the Legislature are paid the same rate as a Provincial Court judge, which is about $250,000 a year, plus expenses. Is that the range that we're looking at here to pay this person?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps I could provide this. In terms of specific comparisons, B.C.'s assistant Auditors General make approximately $144,000. Ottawa's municipal auditor general salary is $182,000, Toronto's earns $212,000, and Oshawa's earns $169,000. So there is quite a range of auditors general salaries, providing similar functions.
The auditor general for local government is very important, but I would state that the auditor general for local government has a narrower mandate. It is looking at performance audits only and not at financial audits. So as I say, we will take a look at the comparisons that are available and then provide that salary level that I think
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fits within that range.
B. Ralston: I know that the positions of member of the audit council were advertised some time ago, in advance of the legislation being tabled in the House. So presumably, that process of recruiting members of the audit council is already underway. I know in a later provision there's an ability for the audit council to set its own pay for their job and their expenses.
Is the minister saying that it's somewhere in a range between $130,000 and $212,000 and that the minister just doesn't have an idea how much that person is going to be paid? I find that hard to accept.
Hon. I. Chong: I want to just correct the member, with due respect. He mentioned that he believed that the audit council remuneration was not set. In fact, the audit council remuneration is not set by the members themselves. It is set by regulation.
Again, with respect to the auditor general for local government, as I've indicated, there is a range of salaries that we have looked at. Ultimately, the auditor general for local government's salary will be determined based on the number of skill sets. As well, it will be determined taking a look at the range of salaries across the country. It will be determined based on the salaries that similar roles have within the provincial government. So when that determination is made and the offer is made to the auditor general, that amount then would be set.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise if a search firm has already been engaged to conduct the search to find the municipal auditor general?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm happy to advise the member that, in fact, certainly there has been a posting that has been made through the PSA, the Public Service Agency, website. There has been advertising that has, as well, taken place, so that it has been a national public service process underway. The posting, my understanding is, closes on March 28, which would be this Wednesday.
B. Ralston: That certainly expresses the government's confidence in getting the legislation passed, obviously.
Can the minister, then, if there are ads that are out across the country…? Ordinarily, one of the things that people inquire about when they apply for a job is what they are going to get paid. Can the minister tell the House what the salary range is — if it is a range, or the dollar amount, if it is a precise amount — that's specified in the ads that have already gone out?
Hon. I. Chong: I think, perhaps, it's best to again refer the member to the Public Service Agency website. In the posting that was placed, it does call for an auditor general for local government. It says it's a critical role calling for exceptional leadership, dedication and strategic management. It provides a descriptor for the auditor general for local government. It provides a bit of information as to how a team of individuals will be required, but the ad does not indicate the salary amount.
B. Ralston: Well, it seems a bit surprising, if you are asking people to apply for a job and you're not setting out what you are going to pay them, even a range. That does seem a little strange. Does it say that the salary will be negotiated or something like that? I haven't seen the advertisement. I wasn't aware…. I didn't think, given that the legislation hadn't passed, that the position would already be advertised, but there we are.
So is the minister then saying that…? There is a preliminary budget, I know, because some money has been allocated, $2.6 million. Is the minister saying there is no notional amount, there is no amount pencilled in, for the salary and benefits and the pension of the municipal auditor general? Is that what she's saying?
Hon. I. Chong: So the notional amount — I guess, the best way to describe it — is in the range of the examples that I have already provided. Again, it will be based on the individual who is selected. It can be based on, as I say, expertise and the skill sets they bring. But that range is based on the examples I have provided earlier.
B. Ralston: I'm not sure that's a very full answer, but I suppose that is the answer.
I just want to close on this point and then summarize what I understand from the discussion — that the salary proposed for the municipal auditor general will be in a range between $140,000 and $212,000 a year. I believe that is what the salary was for the Toronto municipal auditor.
On top of that, there'll be pension rights, which generally account for about 25 percent on top of the salary, and travel expenses. That's set out in section 8(2). So we're looking at the low end, something approaching $180,000 or $185,000, and at the high end, about $250,000. That's fair. I'm sure the public will be interested in the economy and efficiency of this office.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, the range that I did provide the member earlier…. Yes, if he wants to make those calculations, he can. Again, I am not able to say for certain what the amount will be, because those will be what is negotiated. These are approximate range amounts that we'd be looking at, based on what we have seen across the country and with respect to the skill set levels that will be required for this position.
K. Corrigan: In talking about the ads for a prospective
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auditor general, I am interested in the fact that there was an ad. I hadn't seen that. I'm just wondering: was there a starting date or an approximate starting date in the ad?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised there was not a starting date placed in the ad.
H. Lali: I understand that the closing date for this position is in two days, and here we are debating this bill in the House at committee stage today. It's sort of letting the horses out of the barn and then closing the door. I mean, is this a way to run a government? Does the minister think that this is the right way to do things — to put out an ad, and we haven't even passed the bill?
The minister doesn't even know if members of her own caucus are going to support this bill. An ad goes out, and the closing date is in two days. Does the minister think this is the right way to run government?
Hon. I. Chong: Well, we did introduce the bill last fall. It's been known for quite some time that we were going to be establishing an office of the auditor general for local government. I do believe that it was responsible to place an ad out there, to find out those who are interested in this position.
Yes, the closing date is coming up, but that's not to say that the applicants who are going to be looked at will be chosen in the next few days. The audit council will still be required to take a look and provide a short list and do the interviewing. The office is a matter that has been talked about for over a year now. We brought in the legislation in the fall. So it's no surprise to members opposite that we are going to be establishing an office of the auditor general for local government.
H. Lali: Well, the minister says, you know, that we made the announcements. The bill was introduced in the House. We put out an ad already, and the bill hasn't even passed. The bill hasn't even passed in this House, and the minister doesn't even know the outcome — whether the bill is going to be passed or not, whether all the members of her team are even on board and are not going to be jumping ship left, right and centre as they've been doing today already.
The minister thinks that it's okay to be able to spend money already, before it is even approved? Mind you, this really is the typical way of how Liberals have been running this government for the last 11 years. It's just to shovel that money out from the back of a pickup. No respect for due process.
You bring a bill forward into the House. You debate it and see if it's passed. Once it's passed, you say: "Okay. Now we're going to actually put out an ad." No.
"We made the announcement. We introduced the bill," the hon. minister says. "We've done those kinds of things, and everybody in the world knows about it."
But it hasn't been passed. It hasn't passed in this House. We're still debating it, and the closing date is in two days. What is it, the 26th today? It's closing in two days. We could be sitting here debating this bill for the next three days because we've got a lot of questions on this side of the House.
I know that the members opposite are all sitting mum. They're not asking questions. They're not standing up for their constituents. But we are. We're asking the pertinent questions, and this could drag on for the next three days.
I mean, what is the minister going to do? The bill doesn't pass by the time the closing date ends. What is the minister then prepared to do? Is the minister going to pull the ad? Is the minister going to inform all of those people that applied: "I'm sorry. We put the cart before the horse. The bill didn't pass, and we've got a closing date already"? Is the minister then going to pull the ad and tell all those folks: "I'm sorry, but we don't have a job right now"?
Hon. I. Chong: As I have indicated, this office of the auditor general for local government has been discussed for some time. Legislation was introduced last fall in anticipation of the fact the office will be established. It is not uncommon for preparatory steps to be taken in anticipation of legislation being passed. It is not out of the ordinary.
Yes, the closing date will be in two days, but that's not to say that the individual will be selected within two days. Obviously, an audit council will need to take a look at the applicants and make a determination about which of those they wish to interview. If there isn't a suitable candidate, then there's still a possibility that we would continue to post for a successful candidate to fill the position. We are taking preparatory steps in anticipation of the legislation passing.
H. Lali: Let me ask about a preparatory step that's a part of this whole process, then. It's the audit council. That's another one of the preparatory steps, because the audit council has to be in place in order for the audit council to make the recommendation, which the minister must consider. That's also there in the act: "…the minister must consider…."
So will the minister tell us, inform us: has the membership of the audit council all been selected, and is the audit council up and running and functioning already?
Hon. I. Chong: No.
The Chair: The member for Fraser-Nicola, on section 8.
H. Lali: Well, this section is pertinent because we are talking about remuneration and expenses of the auditor
[ Page 10358 ]
general, and of course, the audit council is a part of that whole AGLG.
The audit council has not been selected, and the closing date is in two days. If the audit council is going to be going through the resumes and doing the interviews and then coming down with a recommendation, how is this supposed to work when the minister has already put out an ad requesting applications and part of the preparatory work is to set up an audit council which has not been set up yet?
Hon. I. Chong: The processes are underway, as well, to select the audit council members.
H. Lali: Can the minister tell me: when did the Liberals put out the ad? When did the government put out, firstly, the ad for the auditor general's position and, secondly, the ad requesting the membership for the audit council?
The Chair: Member, it's not part of section 8. Section 8 is dealing with remuneration and expenses of the auditor general.
H. Lali: Thank you, hon. Chair. I'll rephrase my question. Could the minister tell me: when was the ad put out for the auditor general, and how much is the cost of the ad? And when was the ad put out for the audit council, and what is the cost of that ad?
The Chair: You're still out of order, Member. If you just take a moment to look at section 8, it's dealing with the remuneration and expenses of the auditor general.
H. Lali: Well, thank you. Then, maybe the minister can clarify for me whether the ad that has gone out for the auditor general comprises a part of section 8?
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
H. Lali: This is the budget then. Under this issue…. Actually, before I get into the monetary end, I'll ask that question, because this will be the pertinent section then. Obviously, the answers from the minister have got to come under this section.
This is $2.6 million of taxpayers' moneys that this government is spending to set up a separate bureaucracy, when we know that the office of the provincial Auditor General already exists. So my question to the minister is: why did the minister not consider putting the responsibilities of the AGLG under the wing of the existing provincial Auditor General?
Hon. I. Chong: While that comment does not relate specifically to the remuneration and expenses of the auditor general under section 9, which is what we are specifically referencing, what I can say with respect to the decision to have the auditor general for local government separate and apart from the provincial Auditor General is what I had stated earlier.
The provincial Auditor General is focused on the activities of the provincial government and the entities that it controls — and reports to the Legislature. The provincial Auditor General reports to the Legislature. The auditor general for local government, however, is focused on the operations of local governments, which are a separate order of government, and they do not report to the Legislature.
It was important to establish a separate office that reflects the principle that local governments, as a separate order of government, are elected by and directly accountable to their communities, rather than being accountable through the Legislature.
H. Lali: In last year's estimates, in the spring of last year, this minister is on record for categorically stating that the new municipal auditor general would be under the wing of the provincial Auditor General. She also is on record, in that particular dialogue that we had, stating that the Premier is also envisaging that that is what would happen.
So would the minister please let us know: why was the AGLG's office set up as a separate bureaucracy? Why wasn't it set up under the provincial Auditor General where we could have saved $2.6 million that could have been used in health care or Children and Families or some other ministry?
Hon. I. Chong: First, I want to also make a clarification, lest it be assumed here in these debates now, that…. The establishment of the office of the auditor general for local government is a separate office, and the costs associated with it will require the hiring of auditors to perform the work.
The office of the provincial Auditor General, had it been used, would not have stayed at the same staffing level as is currently in place. They likely, as well, would have had to hire additional auditors to take on the work. I don't want members to think that the work of the auditor general for local government would all have been done by the work of the office of the provincial Auditor General.
As well, I want to say that when the decision to take a look at establishing an auditor general for local government…. I do believe that there was a belief that it could be housed within the office of the provincial Auditor General. However, after some discussion and in working with UBCM and the policy paper they presented, they also made it very clear that a reporting relationship to a stand-alone board or a committee could be
[ Page 10359 ]
the most compatible with the local governments' level of autonomy.
That is why reporting through the Legislature was identified as most detrimental to the local autonomy of those local governments. So that is one of the reasons why it was decided that the office of the auditor general for local government needed to have that separation.
H. Lali: The minister is now saying that the reason — basically, this is what the minister is saying; I'm trying to paraphrase — they changed their mind on not putting the AGLG under the provincial Auditor General was because the UBCM had a different idea in mind. They wanted to set it up differently, not under the provincial AG.
Well, if the minister and this government honestly wanted to listen to the concerns of the UBCM, then they should have talked to UBCM before the Premier did her ready-fire-aim approach or writing policy on the back of an envelope — a secret deal that she made with the CFIB — and said they were going to set up a municipal auditor general and then promised it would be under the provincial AG. The minister stated such in estimates last year in the springtime.
All of a sudden, they change their mind, and now they're going to listen to the UBCM, which they didn't even consult. The Premier didn't even consult before thinking of this idea of setting up the AGLG. Now the minister is saying that they've changed their mind because the UBCM wanted to set up something different. We learn now that the UBCM does not even have any representation on the audit council — no elected mayor or official or anybody, as such. Rather, it's going to be all business interests that are going to be on there.
Again, I would say to the minister…. Why did the minister state last year that it was going to be under the provincial AG and now set it up as a separate bureaucracy and spend $2.6 million that could have been used elsewhere? Why did the minister change her mind?
Certainly, it wasn't on the advice of the UBCM, which they basically short-shrifted all along this whole process, and now are trying to say: "We did it because of the UBCM."
Hon. I. Chong: First, I do want to say that audit council members have not yet been selected. So I want to make it clear that when the members make comments that there's no representative from UBCM, it's about having representatives who understand local government. Again, the audit council members have not been selected.
I want to read in, for the record…. The member made comments now on a number of occasions that indicated I had made very specific comments with respect to the auditor general's placement — I guess that's the best way to describe it — and my recollection was that I had advised that the possibility for it to be with the provincial Auditor General certainly was there. But I had not said so definitively, yet the member has indicated that. I think it's important to make it clear for the record, and this is what I did say last year. I will read it as verbatim.
"I can tell the member that I had a meeting with our Auditor General, not specifically for this but on another issue."
I discussed the issue of a municipal auditor general, and he indicated to me that while there are some municipal auditors general that exist, there is not one set of rules that they all adhere to and that it can be a complex issue.
"We don't make a determination at the outset as to what that auditor should be doing versus what is already in place.
"As the member will know, the financial statements of all municipal councils currently are either comprehensively reviewed or audited, I believe, by independent auditors, so that already takes place.
"We don't want to duplicate those kinds of things, so we will have to proceed very carefully, working in collaboration, as I say, with the Office of the Auditor General, if that is to be the case, and working with UBCM to understand their expectations of what is required, because they do represent local governments, but at the same time taking a look at what is taking place in other jurisdictions to find if we can get the best out of all those best practices that exist and then incorporate them here in British Columbia and have a solution for what we want and that I think everybody will accept and appreciate."
What I said last year, or last fall in the estimates, was that I would be taking a look at what existed across the country, what was possible, and that I would work in collaboration and speak with the Office of the Auditor General, our provincial Auditor General, and that I would also work with UBCM. Clearly, that's what I have done.
H. Lali: Maybe the minister can then tell us, in terms of members of the audit council: are they going to be paid, and what is their rate of pay envisaged to be? Could the minister also tell us: will there be regular weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly meetings? What kind of travel and other expenses are also envisaged?
Hon. I. Chong: If the member wants us to hop over to section 21, I can, but that is where all the details with respect to the business meetings of the audit council will be. But I'll just briefly state that the audit council must meet at least three times each fiscal year.
K. Corrigan: Section 9 talks about the auditor general presenting for approval to the chair of Treasury Board "an estimate, in a form acceptable to the chair" of the Treasury Board, "of the resources that will be required during the upcoming fiscal year" to exercise the auditor's powers.
We have a number — I believe it's around $2.6 million — that's the estimated cost of this new municipal auditor general. But I'm wondering if the minister could confirm…. The auditor general presenting to the Treasury Board is not going to be required, I would assume, to come up with a budget of around $2.6 million. When it says "in a form acceptable to the chair," my reading
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of that section is not talking about a form as being the amount but rather a form as the way that the estimate is put together.
I'm wondering if the minister could comment on that. Is the auditor general going to be independent in deciding how much the office is going to cost to operate?
Hon. I. Chong: It's fair to state that the auditor general for local government will need to put forth an estimate that he or she believes will be required to allow him or her to perform the functions of the office. That's not unlike what all ministries do. All ministries go to Treasury Board and put forward an estimate as to what they believe is required for their operations.
That's what the auditor general for local government would be required to do. The comments about "in a form acceptable to the chair" are standard in that that is in a format that the Treasury Board is able to receive.
K. Corrigan: We have a bit of an unusual situation that doesn't happen all the time. We have a budget in the range of $2.6 million, a tentative budget. But we have an auditor that is coming in, who is said to be independent, to have the independence of the office. Presumably, that auditor would be the individual that would take a look at the mandate that the auditor general for municipalities is going to have and make a decision about the resources that will be required to fulfil that mandate.
What I would like to find out is: is there going to be an expectation that in fact that auditor general is somewhat limited and perhaps not independent because the expectation will be that the budget will be in the range of $2.6 million a year? Or will the auditor general have the ability to simply say: "These are the resources that are required during the upcoming fiscal year to exercise my powers and also to remunerate and reimburse members of the audit council"?
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated, the auditor general for local government will be required to put forth an estimate that he or she feels is appropriate in order to perform the duties he or she is required to and to fulfil the mandate of that office. That is not unlike, as I say, all ministries.
That is not unlike what the current provincial Auditor General is also required to do — set forth what he feels is required to run his office. He does not get to have unlimited resources to operate his office. So it is handled in a similar manner. The auditor general for local government will be able to take a look at the estimate of the resources that are needed in a form that's suitable for inclusion in the estimates, and that is the process that is underway.
K. Corrigan: There has been an ad that has gone out to seek interested parties. Would it be expected that part of the interview process and the vetting, the screening, of the potential auditor general would be to say: "Are you happy with a budget of $2.6 million?" Or would it be expected that this auditor general is going to be truly independent and is going to be able to come up with at least an initial estimate of what resources are going to be needed, and if that's $8 million a year, that's $8 million a year?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would say to the member that the provincial Auditor General, too, is not able to set his budget according to what his desires and wishes are. He is required to submit what he believes to his best ability is what he requires to conduct audits, and he is viewed as independent.
So we have modelled it under the same fashion. However, in this first year we did set aside an amount of $2.6 million as an indication of what government is prepared to resource this particular office.
Going forward in the future, the auditor general for local government absolutely will be required to, again, provide information that he or she feels is necessary to fulfil his or her mandate as the auditor general for local government, not unlike what all ministries will be required to do and not unlike what the provincial Auditor General is required to do. That is, as I say, a process that is the standard procedure.
K. Corrigan: Is the minister suggesting that in the initial setup of the office, the first estimate and potential budget for this office of the auditor general will not follow the format that is going to be in following years, which is that the auditor general will present for approval an estimate of how much it is going to cost to have the office?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member knows, there is not currently an auditor general. So I did put forward an estimated amount that I believed was an appropriate amount to allow for the office to be established in this initial year, because we don't have an auditor general. As I said, going forward, the auditor general will need to provide information with respect to what he or she feels is required — the resources required — to perform the services that he or she needs to for the role and the mandate of the legislation.
As well, it's not to suggest that the auditor general will have an ability to set his or her own budget. Like the provincial Auditor General, there is a requirement to provide that estimation of what dollars they feel they need and make that presentation to Treasury Board, which will then decide whether that is an amount that can be funded.
K. Corrigan: I just would like to have clarification that
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the minister is saying that the first budget for the first year is going to be set by the government and not by the auditor general, when that auditor general is selected.
Hon. I. Chong: Currently that is what is in the estimates.
K. Corrigan: But this is the first year, so what you're saying is that the auditor general is going to come into this position, setting up this organization…. Essentially, the minister is saying that it is not going to be up to the newly appointed independent auditor general to at least have an opportunity to make the case to government that this is how much it is going to take in order to operate this organization. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member has indicated, this is the first year, and so it would be difficult to speculate whether in fact the entire amount is even required. We made a determination as to what amount seemed reasonable, which should be set aside in the estimates. We had to ask for that amount to be included in our budget estimates, and that's the amount we've chosen. Going forward, the auditor general can make a determination whether or not those dollars are sufficient or whether the amount is too much and then make that request to Treasury Board.
V. Huntington: Assuming that the audit council has been appointed by the minister and then assuming that the audit council has spent a certain amount of time interviewing the candidates for auditor general, who is then setting the reimbursements and remuneration for the audit council? Is that to be done through regulation, or is the auditor general going to be expected to set the remuneration?
Hon. I. Chong: The member is correct. The members of the audit council will be remunerated in accordance with the rates set by regulation. That is in section 18(7).
Section 9 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 39
NAYS — 28
On section 10.
H. Lali: Under section 10(2) — this is about the audit of financial statements of the auditor general — it states: "The minister must appoint an independent auditor who is authorized to be an auditor of a company under section 205 of the Business Corporations Act to audit the financial statements referred to in subsection (1) for each fiscal year."
Hon. Chair, would the minister please explain why she has not asked the provincial Auditor General to actually audit the report of the AGLG?
Hon. I. Chong: This is a similar requirement that exists with the provincial Auditor General under section 23 of the Auditor General Act.
H. Lali: Can the minister please explain…? Under sub (3), when the audit is completed in each fiscal year, the auditor actually appointed under subsection (2) has to submit the results of the audit to the auditor general and to the minister. What is the rationale for that, and why not submit the audit to the Legislature?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps the best way to describe it, as I said earlier, is that this position is not reporting to members of the Legislature.
H. Lali: I was wondering if the minister could tell me…. When the independent auditor does the audit for the auditor general, the AGLG, and it goes to the minister and also goes to the auditor general himself or herself, could the minister tell me if a copy is also going to the audit council at the same time?
Hon. I. Chong: The answer is that the audit report is
[ Page 10362 ]
not provided directly to the audit council, but because it is included in the annual report through that, in essence, the audit council will have received the audit report.
H. Lali: I was wondering if the minister can clarify that. The minister says, not directly but indirectly, yes. Will the audit council be receiving the report at the same time that the minister is receiving the report?
Hon. I. Chong: The information with respect to the annual report is under section 25. In essence, subsection 25(2) says: "The annual report must include the audited financial statements referred to in section 10." That's why I made reference to the fact that the audited financial statements will be part of the annual report, which is provided.
It is, I guess, a standard practice that when there are audited financial statements that ministries receive for inclusion in annual reports, they are provided directly to the minister for inclusion in an annual report. But because the audited financial statement will likely be at the end of the year and the annual report will likely be at the end of the year, it is very likely that both will be made available around the same time.
H. Lali: But not necessarily — correct?
Hon. I. Chong: Correct.
H. Lali: So in effect, there could be an instance where both the minister and the audit council get the report at the same time, and there could be instances when the minister gets it first. But when it's included in the annual report, then the audit council gets it.
Hon. I. Chong: That's correct.
H. Lali: I just want to go back to subsection 10(2) under the same section. It's a follow-up question to the one I asked originally, when I asked the minister why the independent auditor could not be the provincial Auditor General, who would actually do the report at the fiscal year. The minister says it was done in the same way as the provincial Auditor, where the independent auditor is assigned.
Again, it doesn't answer my question. If the minister can explain it to me: what's the difference between the provincial Auditor General and somebody that is hired outside of that to actually do the audit of the auditor general's report?
Hon. I. Chong: I just want to say that what this section merely does is allow for an independent auditor to review the fiscal performance of the office of the auditor general for local government. What it does is ensure that the financial statements of the office of the auditor general for local government are reviewed independently every year.
H. Lali: The provincial Auditor General is an independent officer of the Crown. It's independent of government, the cabinet, the government caucus and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, and reports directly to all members of this House, all 85 of us in this chamber. That's where the independence of the provincial Auditor truly comes into nature.
My question to the minister is: why would the minister not actually assign the provincial Auditor General to be that independent auditor that is required under this section?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would just like to say that this position, this auditor general for local government, does not report to the Legislature. However, there is a requirement under this section that the financial statements of this office are, in fact, audited. The government is funding this office, and like other agencies and commissions as such that are funded by government, they all can have independent auditors review and audit their financial situations or their operations for the year.
That's what's going to happen in this particular case. An independent auditor will in fact audit the financial statements, status and operations of the office of the auditor general for local government.
H. Lali: Subsection 10(2), according to my reading, does not preclude the provincial Auditor General to be that independent auditor. Am I correct, or does the minister have a different reading than this?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, subsection 10(2) just requires that the audit of the financial statements of the auditor general be conducted independently for each fiscal year.
H. Lali: It's a simple question. Either it does preclude the provincial Auditor General or it doesn't — yes or no?
Hon. I. Chong: I didn't say that it precluded. I just said that the audit will be done by an independent auditor. It could possibly be, but it doesn't have to be, the provincial Auditor General.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
H. Lali: Under section 11 the auditor general actually can "retain persons in capacities other than as employees who the auditor general considers necessary for the exercise of the powers and the performance of the duties of the auditor general," and may set the remuneration and
[ Page 10363 ]
terms and conditions of employment for that individual.
Is the minister referring to contracts in this section?
Hon. I. Chong: The purpose of this section is to provide authority for the auditor general to appoint and engage persons necessary for the exercise of the powers and performance of the duties of the auditor general. This includes the authority to appoint "in accordance with the Public Service Act, a deputy auditor general and the other employees necessary for the exercise of the powers and the performance of the duties of the auditor general," as stated.
It also provides or includes the authority to engage "persons in capacities other than as employees" — for example, contractors — and to set that remuneration. It ensures that the auditor general has the authority, in fact, to hire staff and other persons to perform his or her mandate. These provisions are similar to section 8 of the Auditor General Act.
H. Lali: I want to thank the minister for that answer. My next question is: will these contracts be tendered or will they be direct-award?
Hon. I. Chong: We expect that this would be subject to the same procurement policies that the other independent officers currently utilize.
H. Lali: I take it to mean that some will be tendered and some will not be tendered, depending on the amount of the contract. Could the minister give me some examples or some benchmarks above which they will be tendered and below which they would not be, some examples under the existing policy that is there, for my clarification?
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated, these provisions are similar to section 8 of the Auditor General Act. I guess for general purposes I can advise that for amounts under $25,000, the procurement policy provides that they may be direct-award or sole-sourced. For amounts over $25,000, those generally do require following the procedure of the procurement policy, which does require requests for proposals.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
H. Lali: Section 12, the powers of delegation. It provides that the auditor general may delegate, actually in writing, the powers or duties of the auditor general except for the power to delegate, the power to prepare and submit a proposed annual service plan to the audit council and the power to make a report.
This is actually fairly far-reaching here. I was wondering why that power actually does not lie with the cabinet itself rather than with the auditor general himself or herself.
Hon. I. Chong: The powers that are being provided are not as far-reaching, I think, as the member…. He chose that word. What this provides for is it enhances the efficiency by enabling the auditor general to delegate certain powers and duties while maintaining an appropriate level of accountability.
The objective here is so that…. The auditor general, to conduct certain work or powers and duties of his or her role, cannot always be expected to do every single function. Therefore, when he or she has staff or other members under his or her authority, he or she can delegate that to those members to carry on the work that an auditor general might otherwise be doing directly himself or herself.
H. Lali: I was wondering if the minister can clarify, because this section is not worded as succinctly as it perhaps could be. This section provides that the auditor general "may delegate, in writing," the powers or the duties of the auditor general, with some exceptions.
Is the power being delegated to the audit council? Or is it just that a comma is missing in here — the power to prepare and "submit a proposed annual service plan to the audit council"? It's a little confusing whether it's just the power of submitting a proposed annual service plan to audit council, or is the delegation of the power, in written form, given to the audit council as opposed to some outside individual?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps it's best to share with the member that this section mirrors the ability that the Representative for Children and Youth also has, in that the representative is able to delegate to her staff certain duties that she might otherwise undertake.
This is not about delegating away reporting or requirements. This is about delegating authority to staff to conduct the work that the auditor general might generally be required to do in the conduct of the audit that generally takes place. So the section is similar to that which the representative currently has, where she needs to delegate to her staff to conduct some of the work that is required.
H. Lali: So basically, the power to delegate is to the staff and not to the audit council — correct. I thank the minister for that.
The other subsection here — actually, one of the subsections under 12 — provides that if the auditor general ceases to hold office, a delegation of power will continue to have effect for as long as the delegate's appointment or retainer continues unless it is revoked by a succeeding
[ Page 10364 ]
Any timelines? Is that because this is fairly open-ended? How long could this possibly go on? It may take months to find a succeeding auditor general, for whatever reasons. There's no timeline attached here. Really, then, the delegation of power rests in the hands of the staff for an indefinite period. I'm wondering if the minister agrees that there ought to be an end date or a duration put in here, as opposed to making it open-ended?
Hon. I. Chong: This is not a delegation that is indefinite. What it provides for, though, is that when a delegation has been made to staff or an auditor to go out and investigate and conduct its work, that delegation can remain in place even if the auditor general decides, for some unknown reason, to tender his or her resignation. You can't have that delegation stopped right in the middle of the work that's being done by the auditor.
But again, I want to provide some comfort to the member. Under section 7, if an auditor general does, in fact, resign, there will be an acting auditor general who would therefore be able to continue with ensuring that delegation of authority is limited to the actions and the work required of that particular staff member or that auditor.
H. Lali: The minister used the word "acting" auditor general. There's the auditor general, but is there a provision for a deputy auditor general under this act? Is it reasonable to assume that the delegation's powers would go to that deputy auditor general, who would then become, obviously, the acting auditor general?
Hon. I. Chong: Yes, that could be the case.
Section 12 approved.
On section 13.
H. Lali: Under section 13. This is the section "Access to records, information and things." For this section, "participant" means a municipality or treaty First Nation whose geographic area or treaty lands "form all or part of an area in which a service is provided by or on behalf of a regional district." Could the minister give us an idea of what kind of due diligence was done with First Nations in drafting this section?
Hon. I. Chong: The auditor general for local government's mandate is, as I said, to audit local governments. The auditor general for local government doesn't have authority to audit other organizations. However, as part of the audit of a local government, the auditor general for local government may need to get access to records and information that are in the hands of other persons or organizations involved in the operation of a service or activity of the local government.
Examples might include a private partner operating a service under contract with the local government, a non-profit to whom the local government gave a grant of money or a municipality or treaty First Nation that participates in the regional district service that is being audited. It would be treaty First Nations that are participating in a regional district, so not First Nations, blanket.
H. Lali: Does this section allow the AG to have access to records of treaty First Nations?
Hon. I. Chong: This is only with respect to those who are members of a regional district. Currently there is only one, and that would be Tsawwassen First Nation.
H. Lali: Still on section 13, this section also provides for additional persons or organizations that may be required to provide access to records, information and things, facilities and works and explanations necessary for the performance audits. Could the minister tell me how the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act applies under this section?
Hon. I. Chong: Under section 13, I want to make it clear that the FOI rules apply to the records of local governments. When the records are taken by the local government auditor general, then the rules for the use of those records fall under section 16, so in a further section. How those records, once they are taken, are to be used will fall under section 16.
K. Corrigan: These seem to be fairly wide-sweeping subsections. The section and subsections seem to be fairly wide-sweeping in terms of the access that the auditor will have.
One of the examples that the minister actually mentioned was in the case where a municipality contracted with a private operator. Let's say in the case of a P3. Well, my understanding is that in the past it would be difficult to access those records and, in fact, that some of those records are protected under the agreements, that they will not be available to others.
I'm wondering if the minister has thought about potential consequences of what seems to me to be a more wide-ranging access to records than previously would have existed. Perhaps the minister can let me know — whether, in fact, my assumption that the access to records are more detailed and more wide-ranging than what would presently be available to an auditor who is auditing the municipalities' books. I'm just trying to get the sense of how wide-sweeping this power is, because it seems to me it's pretty wide.
Hon. I. Chong: Hon. Chair, I want to say, through you
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to the member, that it's not as wide-sweeping and open-ended, I think, as she believes it appears to be. This is about access to records in relation to the audit, so not access to every single document. It's only in relation to the audit. This is similar to the scope that is provided to the provincial Auditor General in looking at information. However, as I've indicated, by virtue of section 16, the restrictions on use of that information is there in particular issues with respect to confidentiality.
Hon. Chair, noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:23 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution and progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:24 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); D. Horne in the chair.
The committee met at 2:39 p.m.
On Vote 11: ministry operations, $34,753,000 (continued).
The Chair: We're currently considering the budget estimates of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Hon. M. Polak: If you recall, when we last met, there were a number of issues that my staff and myself agreed to follow up on — a couple of questions that were asked by members.
The first issue is in response to the member for Alberni–Pacific Rim's question regarding the terrible car accident that occurred just north of Hope along Highway 1. The issue raised was on behalf of the Spuzzum First Nation about the remains of the accident that are currently wrapped around the abutment of the bridge.
I had staff look into the issue, and we're quite satisfied that the concerns around the diesel leaking, at the very least, have been taken care of. We've been advised that the diesel has now all been drained from the vehicle tanks. All the debris except for the remains of the trailer that is wrapped around the supports of the bridge has been removed.
Provincial staff have been working with ICBC to get the trailer removed. ICBC hired a contractor just before Christmas to remove the trailer, but then CP Rail had concerns about how the work could potentially impact the bridge structure which currently supports rail traffic.
The work to remove the trailer is currently on hold while ICBC and CP Rail come up with a plan that is going to address those concerns. We'd be happy to arrange for a further briefing or meeting between CP Rail, ICBC, the province, Spuzzum just to explain the situation and plans going forward and allow the member to ask any further questions. But that's the information we were able to find out for the member.
Then, for the member for Cowichan Valley, the second question was raised by the member on behalf of the Coast Salish Employment and Training Society. I've been advised that the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy agreement holders are funded to deliver employment programs and services by the government of Canada. Their funding agreements are administered by Service Canada, and the province, as such, has no authority in relation to the funding levels of the ASETS agreement holder.
Apparently, since February of '09 B.C. has received federal funding under the LMDA, the labour market development agreement, for the delivery of EI, part 2, employment programs and services. And the devolution of LMDA programs to B.C. did not include the ASETS programming. So again, there's additional information we'd be happy to provide to the member if he wishes more detail.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for providing that in such a timely way. I appreciate the fact that she's doing this on the record here and waiting for response. It sometimes can be a lengthy process, or sometimes it doesn't happen at all. I'm not faulting the minister on that. It's just the way it works. I appreciate that.
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I'll go in reverse order, and I'll forward this information on, and I'll refer our member to Hansard on the Cowichan issue and the Coast Salish skills and training program.
On the other issue, just a correction, not a criticism. It actually was my understanding that it was two big semis, and there was a truck involved also. So it wasn't a car crash — just a technicality.
Hon. M. Polak: A vehicle accident, instead of a car accident.
S. Fraser: Yeah. I guess I need a little bit of clarification on a couple of things. First of all, the Spuzzum First Nation wasn't able to get a clear answer on who was doing what. The Ministry of Highways wasn't quite sure, and ICBC wasn't quite sure. The Ministry of Environment had some role to play, so I'll touch on that first.
Certainly the spill, as it happened, has…. You know, there's no sign of it, certainly not in the water. That diesel spill was cleaned up. What there are signs of are the booms that they used to contain the fuel leaks. I mean, there are still piles of them there, sort of in various stages of…. Near where the old highway is, where the old overpass used to be, there's still that stuff that's sitting there.
Actually, I have some knowledge of this. I worked in the oil refining business for many years, and we did use these types of booms. But the intention is that you remove them. Otherwise, they will continue to leach because with rain and such they will continue to exude the oil, and that will continue to come down. No one seems to have taken responsibility for that, and the Spuzzum have tried to contact everyone. So I guess I need a follow-up on that first. I'll just leave it with you, with that.
Hon. M. Polak: As it's not particularly within our ministry, I've provided the information I was able to get. But as I said in my response, we're quite happy to make arrangements with the member to arrange for a further briefing or in fact put together a meeting with the parties who are involved so that there's clarity as to what's taking place right now.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I actually will take the minister up on that. That was one of the hopes that the Spuzzum First Nation representatives and chief councillors had said because they didn't feel they were getting adequately addressed.
For the record, I'd just like to comment. There's still garbage from this wreck all down below the embankment where the trailer continues to be hung up. I was asked to zoom in, using binoculars, on the actual wreckage that's still hung up there. The minister is right. It's right against the abutment that's holding up the trestle. There appears to be some damage to that trestle, so certainly, that's of concern to the Spuzzum also.
Is there a problem? Is anyone addressing it? Is there a risk? This meeting, hopefully, could bring the parties together for that. Then I guess if it's not the Ministry of Environment, I'd rely on the minister to inform us as to who would be responsible for the cleanup of the stuff.
There is metal right adjacent to the pool — right, actually, at the pool where traditionally everyone has learned how to swim for generations, if not millennia — and actually a risk, a rebar-type piece, in an area that people would normally dive into.
I'd just ask the minister…. I'm saying, just to inform her, that there may be more than just the usual suspects that we want in this discussion, if we have such a meeting. Hopefully, my comments will help inform her with that.
I'll sit down for a moment just to get a response.
Hon. M. Polak: We're more than happy to help put together a meeting with all the parties. Hopefully, that brings some clarity to the area of who's responsible for what aspects of cleanup or mitigation of any serious issues that have occurred. That can be, certainly, covered at the time when we have that meeting.
The Chair: While there seems to be a fairly collaborative feeling in the room, I'd hope that we can get back to the budget estimates for the ministry. Thank you.
S. Fraser: Thank you, hon. Chair. I was going to speak at length on the trestle, but I won't. I'm just kidding.
I thank the minister, though. I think this is good news, and it is…. I mean, we are allowed to discuss some of the larger issues around, you know, policies and such, and the Spuzzum asked that these things be put on the table. They weren't getting adequate answers from others, so at least this is a step in the right direction. I thank the minister for that.
I'll move on. Has the minister had any…? There's nothing in the budget per se that I can see on issues of justice. The ministry spans many, many ministries, actually — Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
There has been the federal crime bill that has come down, and I'm sure the minister has heard concerns from aboriginal people, aboriginal leaders, around this and how it might affect aboriginal people in British Columbia who are overrepresented in the system. There are great fears, and they have been spoken of well in the press, too, by aboriginal leaders — Chief Stewart Phillip and others.
I'm just asking: has the minister or her staff had any discussions around what effects the changes to the federal crime bill may have?
Hon. M. Polak: Certainly, it's a matter of general concern for all Canadians and, indeed, for British Columbians — the overrepresentation of aboriginal people, First Nations people, in our justice system. But
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this is an area that the member would need to canvass with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: I'll take the minister up on that advice. But I guess the question is: is there any role for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation? The minister is nodding no.
Issues have been raised about the court precedents that stand right now. Quoting Justice LeBel right now:
"Courts have at times been hesitant to take judicial notice of the systemic and background factors affecting aboriginal people in Canadian society.
"To be clear, courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and of course higher levels of incarceration for aboriginal peoples."
I mean, the minister has certainly had to deal with a number of these issues. As a ministry, the issues around education have come forward. The minister has spoken of those and has taken part in some of the issues around that. Certainly, we've already canvassed, to some extent, the issues around residential schools — some of the underlying factors that come into play definitely affecting the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Is the minister not concerned if she's not being consulted on these issues and on the effect of C-10, which would have a disproportional effect on aboriginal peoples in the province and in the country?
Hon. M. Polak: Again, we're all concerned — all Canadians are concerned; all British Columbians are concerned — with the issues that the member raises: the gaps in education achievement, the overrepresentation in the child welfare system, any number of those things.
With respect to the question around the crime bill, that is something that the member needs to canvass with the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. Our role as a ministry is to negotiate agreements with First Nations and to advise across government with respect to the implementation of the relationships with First Nations and also, of course, specific agreements. But we are not a catch-all ministry for all things aboriginal.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
I realize the specificity the minister is talking about as far as the role of the ministry. However, again, maybe it's a misnomer…. The ministry is Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. I've been the critic for a long time. I know from past estimates that when I go to other ministries, they often point back: "Oh, you should ask the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation on these issues. It's an aboriginal issue. They're the lead on this." I get that all the time. Then it's too late, and the next year comes by.
I'm not trying to pick a fight here. I am frustrated by that, so I'd like that on the record. This is a key issue. There's a crime bill here which would definitely affect the ministry's ability to effect aboriginal relations and reconciliation. This could, I would suggest, put a crimp in the relation and relationship, such as it is. You know, I would hope that the minister in her role as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation would also play some sort of an advocacy role if she sees, for instance, an injustice happening in a bill that's coming down from another jurisdiction.
We have canvassed issues around Jordan's principle previously. That's around the disconnect between the federal and provincial governments, specifically in dealing with children on reserve. That is a role for…. The minister has discussed these issues with me. So have other ministers.
I believe that these issues, while not specifically related to a line item on the budget, are germane and certainly in keeping with the decisions and the report made by the Auditor General on the role of estimates — which includes, I might comment: "Opposition members in the Legislative Assembly may question cabinet ministers on all matters related to policy, fiscal plans, revenue, spending proposals and underlying assumptions."
It's a fairly broad range of questions that I can ask. Does the minister not see her role, as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, as advocate for First Nations in this province if she and they see an injustice being foisted upon us?
Hon. M. Polak: It's unfortunate if the member has not been able to get satisfaction with respect to answers to questions of other ministries, where it's appropriate.
Our role, insofar as First Nations who are experiencing issues or concerns or matters that they wish to address that are the responsibility of other ministries…. We absolutely take those forward to those ministries, but then that is the end of our role within that. It is to facilitate the discussions across government. But it is the responsibility of those individual ministries to carry out their work, as they are responsible for not only First Nations people in the province but also for non–First Nations people in the province.
Ministry of Health is responsible for health, so Education, so Justice, and you could go on down the line. The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation does not have any responsibility in those areas. With respect to advocacy, our role, as with any minister in government, is not to be an advocate. Our role is to fulfil that of a minister, which is to fulfil my responsibilities not as I see them but as I am given them through order-in-council in my ministry.
I do want to express my concern that there seems to be an underlying assumption that somehow our ministry has a general responsibility for First Nations and aborig-
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inal people across the province. That's just not the case. Each individual ministry that provides different programming and services has that responsibility.
I will commit to the member that if he's concerned that individual ministers have not been providing sufficient information, I would be happy to assist the member with that. But it is impossible for me as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation to respond to questions, be they budget or policy matters, that are the responsibility of other ministries.
S. Fraser: I'm going to just cede my position here for a few minutes for a few questions from a colleague next to me.
B. Simpson: I would like to follow up on a conversation we had here on March 15 with respect to the economic and community development agreement between the government and the Williams Lake Indian Band. Just for the record, I had asked the minister about the status of an economic and community development agreement with Williams Lake Indian Band with respect to the Mount Polley expansion.
The minister at that time, and I'm quoting from Hansard, indicated that she had the letter in her hand and stated: "We're absolutely committed to sharing revenue with them" — that's the Williams Lake band — "and we advised them in the letter that we will be pursuing a mandate for that very quickly. It's all a matter of timing in terms of getting in front of Treasury Board, but we expect to be able to do that very soon."
The letter was brought to my attention by the Williams Lake Indian Band because I went and gave them a heads-up that the letter was on the way. The Williams Lake Indian Band is reacting quite strongly, negatively, to this letter. The letter, and again I quote, states:
"The Ministry of Energy and Mines, in conjunction with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, is currently compiling the next package of projects to be assessed for their suitability. I can now confirm we have added the Mount Polley expansion to our list of projects that will be assessed for mandate consideration this fall."
So there's a difference, as far as the Williams Lake Indian Band is concerned, in terms of the minister's statement in Hansard — "that we will be pursuing a mandate for that very quickly" — and the letter which said that it will be considered for a mandate. I wonder if the minister could clarify on the record the difference between those two statements.
Hon. M. Polak: There is no difference. It's simply a matter of semantics. The wording used in the letter, where we say it would be for consideration of a mandate, doesn't mean anything with respect to our intent to share revenue. The mandate has to do with getting a specific amount or range within which we could negotiate. But it doesn't change at all our commitment in what I said in Hansard versus what we said in the letter. We always hope we can get before Treasury Board even sooner. There's no inconsistency between the two.
B. Simpson: So again, for clarification, part of what's going on here is that the Williams Lake Indian Band would like to know when negotiations begin with them. They've been promised negotiations around this issue for some time. They were expecting a letter that actually outlined the negotiations process. Then the letter they get seems to suggest that what's happening with the Williams Lake Indian Band will be lumped in. As the letter states: "currently compiling the next package of projects to be assessed for their suitability."
If they're suitable, then they would be assessed for mandate, whereas the sense that the First Nations — in this case the Williams Lake Indian Band — got from the minister's response was that the ministry is actually asking for a mandate for that project. The letter intimates that the Williams Lake band's project with Mount Polley is simply going in the lump and will be considered for a mandate.
They want clarification on that, but they also want to know when the First Nations negotiation begins, because they've been working on this since last year. Everybody keeps saying the negotiations team will be put together, we'll start negotiating with you, and yet no negotiations have occurred. And now they find out that the government is going for some sort of set fund without actually talking to the First Nations about what their desires are to see revenue flow from that project.
Hon. M. Polak: We have already been having scoping discussions. This is a matter of seeking a specific financial mandate. We regularly put forward mandate requests when they are of a similar nature in one package simply because it's more efficient to go to Treasury Board once with a number of different mandate requests than it is to come back separately on different occasions.
That is simply a matter of the more efficient logistics of Treasury Board. It's not uncommon. It's our usual practice. But we fully intend to be negotiating a specific financial mandate with them as quickly as we have that from Treasury Board. There's no difference in the position that we've taken all the way along. This is simply the language used to describe what we ordinarily do when we go to Treasury Board to seek that mandate.
B. Simpson: I wonder if the minister could explain, again, for the Williams Lake Indian Band, who'll be looking at the notes from this…. When they met with the minister on January 17, at that meeting the ADM indicated to the Williams Lake Indian Band that a mandate
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should be coming, that "we should commence negotiations immediately."
The Williams Lake Indian Band representatives asked what "immediately" meant, and the ADM said — and it's a quote from them — he would put together his team right away and have them get in touch with the Williams Lake Indian Band. That was on January 17. To date, there has been no connection with the Williams Lake Indian Band around negotiating with them as to what mandate or what amount would actually be asked for in a mandate with the Treasury Board.
What the Williams Lake Indian Band feels is happening is that the government has been able to prevent the Williams Lake Indian Band from doing a judicial review of issuing permits for the expansion in advance of any agreement being signed with the Williams Lake Indian Band.
The permits have already been approved, and there's been this sort of "cheque is in the mail" discussion with them since last summer. Again, the minister is nodding her head no. But the reality is I'm expressing what Williams Lake Indian Band is expressing to me by way of e-mail and a number of conversations with them.
They explicitly expressed to me that what they feel is that they are being strung in order to prevent them from going the judicial path to challenge the Mount Polley expansion.
With the promise that there would be negotiations beginning on the development agreement, they did not do a judicial request. They were able, through my office and MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin's office and others — the minister's office — to get an agreement with Mount Polley that the government took great pride in having a number of ministers sign.
Now the Williams Lake Indian Band is indicating again that they feel that that was a front to put them in an awkward position, and in the meantime the government is not negotiating in good faith.
The question I'd ask the minister just now, to cut through all of that, is: while the minister believes that there's clear language on the mandate issue, could the minister make a clear statement about when the first actual discussion will occur on the nature of this agreement and the Williams Lake Indian Band's version of what that agreement needs to be like will be heard directly from them? When will the first table be convened to begin negotiations on whatever this mandate is that's going to be asked for?
Hon. M. Polak: From the outset I want to say that if there has been misunderstanding with respect to the language and the communications, we're happy to make a special trip out to have our folks sit down with Williams Lake and make sure that there's no misunderstanding with respect to our actions or activities.
We have been in discussions with them around the framework of the agreement. That's very high-level. As soon as we have a specific financial mandate from Treasury Board, we will enter into those more specific negotiations with them.
That is our ordinary practice. It is no different than we have done with any other First Nation with whom we've developed an ECDA. It is our usual practice. There's nothing different going on here, but we're happy to clarify that with the Williams Lake Indian Band if that's necessary.
B. Simpson: I thank the minister for that offer.
Again, so that the minister is clear that I'm not misrepresenting the band's frustration with this, this is an e-mail to me. It says:
"The government has managed to bask in the success of the participation agreement between Mount Polley and the Williams Lake Indian Band. We feel that we have been strung along, with the intention of inducing us to give up the fight with the Crown on the issuance of the Mount Polley permits."
Continuing the quote from the e-mail:
"As I told you, Mount Polley will be seeking additional permits for underground exploration and will quite soon be seeking an amendment to their mine plan to further extend the mine life. If the issue of the ECDA is not resolved by the time that comes around, we will once again find ourselves in a position of conflict with the Crown.
"Our relationship with Mount Polley could be jeopardized, the progress we have made on building a relationship could be lost, and people's jobs could hang in the balance."
So the minister is clear that I'm not reflecting my own opinion of that, I wanted to put that on the record.
I just have a quick follow-up on this. For clarity, what I've heard the minister indicate — and I think it would be worthwhile to do — is that a table of some kind, a meeting of some kind, could be convened to walk the Williams Lake Indian Band through how the government understands this process and to hear from them directly, but the mandate in the discussions around the substantive nature of the ECDA won't occur until the Treasury Board actually signs off.
That probably won't occur until the fall, so if I could just get clarification that it would be that kind of a stepwise process.
Hon. M. Polak: We will certainly endeavour to have our staff who are connected with the Williams Lake discussions ensure that there is all the clarification given to them so that they know what to expect.
We do hope and we believe we will be able to achieve a mandate from Treasury Board much sooner than the fall, but fall would be the outside limit in terms of when we would achieve that. As soon as we have that specific financial mandate, we will be in discussions with Williams Lake Indian Band to finalize that ECDA.
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B. Simpson: I thank the minister for that clarification. We'll get this information back to the Williams Lake Indian Band and leave it to them to work with your staff and FLNRO to have some kind of meeting to clarify their concerns.
Now, just a final question around this. Soda Creek Chief Bev Sellars was copied on the letter that went out with regard to the mandate. I'm sure the minister is aware that Soda Creek is also involved in Mount Polley. I'm meeting with the Chief this weekend. One of the questions there is that Gibraltar is also expecting to go through a significant expansion — much more significant, in many regards, than Polley.
The question is: in terms of compiling a package of projects that was named in the letter, is Mount Polley one of those projects that will also be seeking a mandate to be able to sit down with Soda Creek and others involved in that project? Is the Gibraltar project part of the package that's going to Treasury Board?
Hon. M. Polak: Yes, it is.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for answering the questions of my colleague.
I want to finish off just where I was. I was touching on some of the changes that might affect British Columbia and aboriginal people in British Columbia dealing with the new crime bill that has been brought down from Ottawa. I know that the minister was uncomfortable with the line of questioning and was suggesting that it was maybe inappropriate for me to follow that.
I'm going to refer — and I'm not trying to lecture here — to the service plan. This is the budget service plan. It says specifically: "Objective 1 — To establish respectful relationships with aboriginal peoples as a model for all British Columbians." The first bullet is: "Work with other provinces, territories, the federal government and national aboriginal organizations to initiate and coordinate efforts to address issues of mutual interest."
I mean, that's fairly broad. Certainly, mutual interests…. We've heard from Shawn Atleo. A-in-chut is his Ahousaht name. He has certainly raised alarm bells about the potential for the crime bill to inordinately affect aboriginal people. He is speaking from a perspective of British Columbia. That's where he is from.
Has the minister not received any correspondence, any concerns from aboriginal people, aboriginal leaders in the province of British Columbia or from the national chief? Has she not seen these write-ups, the concerns about what might happen and the effect it might have?
Already a disproportionate number of aboriginal people are caught up in the system. This would actually potentially take away the discretion of judges to actually affect what they have been ordered to do by the courts — again, a big problem. The socioeconomic impact on aboriginal peoples in this province would also be a big problem for the province of British Columbia.
Will the minister be engaging in any discussions on this? Has she not had any concerns raised? Has she not seen the concerns raised publicly by leaders both provincially and nationally?
Hon. M. Polak: As I've said previously, of course these kinds of things concern all Canadians, all British Columbians. But as the member rightly read out from our service plan, our role as a ministry is to initiate and coordinate. So to the extent that we hear concerns, we direct them to the ministry that is appropriate for dealing with those.
The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General has the expertise within its ministry to evaluate such a piece of legislation and determine its impact on British Columbia for both First Nations and non–First Nations individuals. That is not expertise that we have within our ministry, and it's not the role that our ministry plays.
S. Fraser: The Chair has apprised me that I was asking for some speculation there. I apologize for that. That is not appropriate. I'll try not to do that again. I'm sure the Chair will tell me if that happens again.
Just a direct question then. Has the minister done that? Has the minister referred these issues to Justice and Attorney General, the concerns that have been raised very loudly, very publicly by aboriginal leaders in the province — or by the national leader, for that matter? Since the minister has been made aware of those, in the press or personally, which leaders have been referred to the appropriate ministry, if this is not the appropriate ministry to deal with?
Hon. M. Polak: Without getting too far into the operations of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, my understanding is that they have formed an officials working group for review of C-10. We have through that group referred the concerns of the national chief to them.
We have also…. As concerns have arisen and come through correspondence, whether electronic or otherwise, they have been put forward to that body as part of their consideration and review. I would have no specific knowledge of that, because if it was not related to my ministry, it would go directly to the ministry that it was concerned with.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that, and I'm respectful that she doesn't have further information on that.
Is there any requirement for that working group to report out? Is the minister aware if this is going to either be made public, or will the minister and the ministry be made aware of the results of that working group? If so, do we have a timeline on that?
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Hon. M. Polak: My understanding is it's simply an operational construct for the purposes of the officials being able to work together smoothly. I don't believe it's in any way an official type of review with a report at the end. It's simply a matter of our organizing ourselves operationally.
Again, that would be better inquired of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: Thanks for that. I guess if I could go to a specific issue — the Ktunaxa people. As we've canvassed somewhat in question period — I don't want to reiterate any of that — a decision was made on the Jumbo Glacier resort.
The concern coming out of Ktunaxa is that they offered a great deal of evidence to the decision-makers on the cultural value of the area, which Ktunaxa certainly have an interest in. They made it very clear that any development of the area would cause serious and irreversible harm to the Ktunaxa Nation, to their culture. They've mentioned grizzly habitat, obviously not the purview of this ministry.
The minister is well aware that other concerns were raised.
I would note that in objective 2 of the service plan for this ministry, it says "to seek opportunities for early engagement of aboriginal peoples in initiatives that affect their families and communities." That includes the negotiation and implementation of agreements with First Nations. So we have an agreement that's not an agreement. This flies in the face of many years, actually decades, of the Ktunaxa making a very compelling argument.
Obviously, this is breeding some ill will, shall I say. There was an expectation that their submissions would be taken and dealt with in good faith and seriously. This is a surprise to the Ktunaxa. They did not believe this was going to occur. Has the minister had discussions with the leadership? If so, how will she get around this major, major roadblock to relationship-building?
Hon. M. Polak: I want to say at the outset that I know this was a difficult decision for the minister responsible, and I'm quite confident that he weighed very carefully the information from the Ktunaxa people. Although he reached a different conclusion than what they would have been pleased with, I know it is something he considered very carefully. Of course, there have been extensive discussions and consultations over the years.
I also want to acknowledge that the Ktunaxa have had a very good working relationship with the province of British Columbia. In anticipation of this decision I did meet with Kathryn Teneese, the Ktunaxa Nation Council chief. We spoke then of our interest in ensuring that the good relationship with the province and the Ktunaxa would remain, regardless of what the decision was. Shortly after the decision was announced, I also spoke with Kathryn Teneese again and reiterated our desire to maintain that relationship.
We have plans to meet very shortly to talk together about maintaining that relationship, and it is a very solid one. The Ktunaxa are currently in advanced agreement-in-principle discussions. They've accepted the land and cash offer. We have a strategic engagement agreement with Ktunaxa. There are various revenue-sharing agreements with respect to forestry, resorts, mining, as well as the Flathead agreement.
We certainly have an interest in maintaining those strong relationships. I know the Ktunaxa do, as well, in spite of the fact that they do have, of course, their own decisions to make with respect to how they will protect their own values on that part of the land base.
S. Fraser: I appreciate the fact that you met with Kathryn Teneese. I think she's the nation chair. Ktunaxa Nation chair is her title.
Was there discussion about the Qat'muk declaration and the stewardship principles they've been developing for quite a few years? This is a problem as far as the Jumbo Glacier resort goes. Were there discussions with the chair, Kathryn Teneese, regarding those principles, that declaration?
It seems to me, from my discussions and from what I've been able to glean from reading the information, that this will be a significant roadblock to moving ahead in any process. Was that declaration discussed? If so, was there agreement to get beyond that?
Hon. M. Polak: Yes, on a number of occasions I have had that information presented to me. I am quite confident that Minister Thomson considered that information and those presentations quite seriously in making his decision. I do know that Minister Thomson is looking to…. I shouldn't say that. Since we're in the small House, I'm forgetting that the rules apply as in the big chamber.
Mr. Chair, I will withdraw any comments I made with respect to the minister's name and simply say this. The Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations intends to respect, insofar as it is possible, the concerns that the Ktunaxa have put forward and to work with them to design plans such that they can be as respectful as possible. Of course, one would have to canvass that with the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
S. Fraser: I'll put in a shameless plug for the Ktunaxa. Their declaration, the Qat'muk declaration, and their stewardship plan, their principles, the Shaffer report and a really, really good short documentary are available at www.beforejumbo.com. I'll just do that.
Just a clarification then, the negotiations that will
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follow…. The minister will know, of course, that the Ktunaxa have never ceded the territory. There was never an extinguishment of rights. We've seen from the Tsilhqot'in decision and others that rights do exist and that the government and ministry certainly have a role to play there. In this ministry the second objective of the service plan would certainly capture that.
With that in mind, the government does have a legal obligation to consult — obviously, the minister has dealt with that to some extent — but also to accommodate. That's what the courts have said — accommodating impacts. This isn't directly treaty. I mean, it's a side agreement that has not been agreed upon. The Premier and the ministry talk in the service plan about agreements being made — resource agreements being made — as an alternative in some cases to treaty. This is an agreement that was made, which has not been agreed upon by the Ktunaxa.
How does the ministry or the minister wrestle with that? There is a treaty process happening, and it's fairly far advanced. There's been a disagreement agreement, a resource agreement happening in land that has never been extinguished. How will the minister deal with an accommodation of this nature? Will that accommodation have to be made for the Ktunaxa in the treaty process? This is sort of new ground for me. This is a different kind of negotiation. So can the minister explain what kind of accommodation will be embarked upon inside or parallel to the treaty process per se?
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
Hon. M. Polak: This is not a treaty matter. It would be a matter of accommodation for a specific project. As such, it would be up to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to address accommodations. My understanding is that there has been revenue-sharing offered and that there has also been money for a wildlife management plan offered. That will be the subject of the discussions between that ministry and the Ktunaxa. You could find out more specifics from the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
S. Fraser: But just for clarification, the service plan refers to "meaningful engagement processes with First Nations, non-treaty agreements focus on ensuring First Nations benefit from and participate in development opportunities, identify areas of common interest" — that sort of thing. So is this not a non-treaty agreement? Would this fit into that category, or is it some other type of agreement?
Hon. M. Polak: For clarification, while we have responsibility for many non-treaty agreements, we are not the sole ministry responsible for non-treaty agreements. There are non-treaty agreements that are finalized and concluded with other ministries, not with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
S. Fraser: Will this have no impact on the treaty negotiations or land settlement? Will that change now? Do things get affected by the imposition, in this case, of a very major resort development that has been opposed from the beginning?
I want to comment that the Ktunaxa are not opposed to development. The minister knows that; I know she's nodding.
But this one is a problem. There are spiritual issues; they're well established. The grizzly bear is…. This is a very important habitat. It's a very important part of the Ktunaxa history and culture, and it has spiritual implications.
How do the treaty negotiators deal with this? What is the instruction from the ministry as they want to move further down the road towards a reconciliation through treaty when these kinds of things happen? This is a very significant one. For me, it would be telling on how the ministry has handled this when it comes to continuing with negotiations.
Hon. M. Polak: I want to begin by saying that we're absolutely committed to the treaty process with the Ktunaxa. Our discussions to date have been very, very positive. We recognize that this is a significant area of concern for the Ktunaxa. That's one of the reasons I have made sure to maintain contact with Kathryn Teneese with the Ktunaxa Nation Council.
We certainly will be ready to supply and support our own advice where it is helpful to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. We're hopeful that they will be able to sufficiently address some of the concerns of the Ktunaxa. I'm hopeful that as we attempt to maintain our good relationships, we will be able to continue the progress that we have experienced thus far with our treaty discussions.
We recognize that it is a very serious issue for the Ktunaxa and that they will have to make their own decisions with respect to how they go about to protect their own values on the land base.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I don't mean to belabour this. I probably haven't been very specific on this. This particular agreement…. The Ktunaxa have been very clear, as part of their land-planning process….
The Qat'muk process has been in place for 20 years, and it's been a "no" to this resort. Now something changed. I mean, government suddenly said yes after 20 years. This spans many governments, so something changed. Even though there has been significant progress in the treaty
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process with the Ktunaxa — I acknowledge that — something changed there.
Will this not come across the table of the treaty negotiators? I guess what I want to know is: if there are accommodations necessary to be made — I would suggest legally made, because there was no extinguishment, in this case, of this traditional territory — and if there are concessions made, is there an allowance for that in the treaty process? Is there discretion for the negotiators to try to address accommodating for this?
If there is an accommodation, which there should be, because of this resort being imposed on the Ktunaxa, will it come out of treaty settlement money or lands? Will it be a separate thing? Have there been discussions around this? Do the negotiators have the ability to have discretion to try to make accommodations here? I'm sorry if I'm not wording this correctly, but it is an interesting case. I'd sure like to know how this will play out at the treaty table, if at all.
Now, if the negotiators have been given no instructions to make accommodations for this sudden decision made by government…. I realize 20 years isn't sudden, but the decision came against all odds certainly as far as the Ktunaxa were concerned. If I could get an answer to that convoluted question, I'd really appreciate it.
Hon. M. Polak: I don't want to prejudge in any way the manner in which Ktunaxa will choose to approach their relationships with the provincial government. We certainly hope we will be able to maintain the very good and productive working relationship that we have had for many, many years.
Our negotiators at the table are fully mandated to negotiate with respect to all matters within the territory. They are fully aware of this issue, so they don't need any additional instruction from us to deal with any matters that may arise at the table.
Currently, though, the state of affairs is such that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to discuss with the Ktunaxa opportunities for accommodation. As I've said, as a ministry we'll be happy to assist them and support them in any way we can.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. For clarification, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations…. That will be a separate thing outside of the treaty table per se. Am I correct in that?
Hon. M. Polak: The negotiations around treaty, of course, are tripartite. These discussions that would be taking place with Ktunaxa and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations would not involve the federal government. They would, if they were successful, come to a resolution that would — we would hope — fit nicely alongside an eventual treaty. But at this stage it is a bilateral discussion between Ktunaxa and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. The answer was obvious, and I feel embarrassed by that. I should have realized.
Minister, of course it's a bilateral agreement when it's from a provincial ministry. That's obvious to me now. I got carried away.
Then, finishing off this line of questioning, I guess I have to ask: is the treaty table active? Are they meeting regularly? When is the next meeting? I'm curious: who are the…? I don't know if she has the information on who the provincial and, actually, the federal negotiators in this case are.
Hon. M. Polak: That treaty table is very, very active, as I said in a previous answer. They are very close to an agreement-in-principle and have accepted the land and cash offer.
The negotiator from the provincial government is Tom Ethier. He, of course, has a team with him. Canada has Brian Smith. Again, Brian brings a team with him.
Yes, that table is very active. I don't have here with me the next meeting date, but if the member is interested, we can find that out for him.
S. Fraser: Thank you for the answer. I would very much appreciate…. I'd like to know that for my own knowledge and my own future discussions on this.
I'm going to leave the Ktunaxa and the Jumbo Glacier resort for these estimates. I'd say we're probably running a little bit short on time, so I'm going to jump a bit here.
The Canadian Minister of Natural Resources made comments recently — Joe Oliver. The minister has probably heard this. Her staff have probably heard it. It has been an affront to aboriginal leaders and aboriginal people in the province. Anything can get taken out of context. But the minister was addressing the Vancouver Board of Trade, and he actually used the term that aboriginal communities are socially dysfunctional, in his zeal for promoting a resource development — the Enbridge pipeline.
Now, we all have opinions about the Enbridge pipeline. I side with the northern and coastal First Nations Fraser River declaration, Save the Fraser — 50-plus First Nations there also — which we've discussed earlier.
When a federal minister of the Crown embarks on, essentially, a stereotypical negative connotation and then tries to use it to defend, in this case, fast-tracking a project, how do we respond as a province there? There's no other ministry I can think of that might be able to take that on. We don't have a corresponding…. I guess we
[ Page 10374 ]
could say Natural Resource Operations.
This is an affront, and I guess I'll just leave it there for now. I just want to know if the minister…. She certainly has indicated she's heard the comments. Though they're regrettable, they are left to stand. That is a problem, I think, for British Columbians and for aboriginal people in British Columbia too.
Hon. M. Polak: While I am aware of the media reports with respect to the minister's comments, I certainly wasn't there and didn't witness them. I have to say that while I understand the member's passion for his topic, I really think that asking for comments on a federal minister's statements in the media is unrelated to what we're discussing here with estimates.
S. Fraser: Fair enough, I suppose. I mean, I was tempted to come out as critic and say something, because I find the federal minister's — Joe Oliver — comments relating to British Columbian communities, First Nations communities, to be offensive. I believe they are offensive not just to First Nations communities but also to British Columbians.
Is there nobody in government, in the provincial government, that can take a position to say that's not right? This is part of systemic stereotyping that was talked about in the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It's a problem. And you know what? If we're not part of the solution, if we don't stand up to that stuff, then we're part of the problem.
I could certainly do it as an opposition critic, and I guess I am, because this is on record. However, wouldn't it be an official position to take on behalf of the province of British Columbia? Is that a role for the Premier? Is it a role for the minister? How do we effect some kind of comment officially that the pattern of stereotypical, discriminatory statements is offensive, and they're not acceptable? Just because it's a federal minister doesn't mean he should be able to get away with it.
I mean, I need to know how the leadership council and how people in the province can know that this is not acceptable if we can't get any kind of official statement from either the minister or the Premier. Maybe the minister could explain to me how that can be done.
Hon. M. Polak: The member will be aware that on very many occasions, I have spoken publicly with respect to my views about First Nations, their place in our society and indeed the very tragic history that we have as a Canadian society with First Nations. I'm simply saying that while I understand the member's zeal and passion for this, I just think we're well outside the scope of an estimates debate.
S. Fraser: It's got nothing to do with zeal and passion. This is about justice. These are statements that are part of the perpetuating of a stereotypical, derogatory pattern that has been formally identified by government, by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. That was 16 years ago.
If it's allowed to continue officially, because we're not supposed to say anything, then we're part of the problem. There must be an avenue for official response here.
If the minister doesn't think so, fine. She can say so. If it's not her, fine. Who? Who in government will make sure that, officially, British Columbia does not appreciate such comments and does not condone them as being appropriate?
Hon. M. Polak: Again, our approach in British Columbia is one of respect, reconciliation and relationship building. It's something I've spoken about many times publicly. There's no question with respect to my position or our government's. I'm simply saying that the venue to discuss the concerns that the member has is not in estimates debate.
The Chair: Member, can I bring you back to the estimates debate, please.
S. Fraser: Thank you, hon. Chair. I know you weren't here when I read this, but I've got the Auditor General's report on the role of the Legislative Assembly — that it's a duty to hold government to account. "The role of the opposition parties to extract accountability from government during the budget debate is obvious."
I'm trying to get that accountability here. We have a leadership council. We have strong statements from all involved. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says: "It goes beyond paternalism. There's definitely a colour of racism in a lot of his remarks towards indigenous or aboriginal or First Nations people. We certainly don't appreciate those incredibly ignorant public declarations. It serves no purpose but to intensify an already volatile situation. It's not helpful. Regardless of his excuses, his intent is very clear — shamelessly cheerleading the corporate agenda as it pertains to these large-scale resource development projects."
We've had similar comments from all leaders in the province, as the minister knows. What we haven't heard is anything from the province of British Columbia.
We're supposed to be working closely with the leaders of the leadership council. That's part of The New Relationship. I've got it here, so I'll pull that up and do quotes from that too. "To remain silent in the face of this injustice is being part of that injustice." These statements were appalling, and they were offensive not just to aboriginal people in the province.
So the question was never answered. If the minister is not the one to take a stand with the leadership coun-
[ Page 10375 ]
cil to oppose these kinds of attitudes in the province of British Columbia, especially from a federal minister, then who is?
Hon. M. Polak: I want to remind the member that in my time as Minister of Children and Family Development — indeed, going back to my time as Minister of Healthy Living and Sport, when I had responsibility for aboriginal public health and wellness — and now as Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, I have been one of the most passionate speakers in favour of the advancement of aboriginal rights across Canada, in British Columbia. I have done that at the federal level. I have done that in communities, and I will continue to do that. There's no question that that's my passion and my commitment.
However, with all due respect to the Auditor General, he does not set the rules of the House, and this is well outside of the scope of debate in estimates.
S. Fraser: All right. Can the minister inform who would be…? What is the venue for me as the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation critic to effect a statement from the government of British Columbia? Who would I go to? Who would the leadership go to, to get such a statement? If not here, fair enough. Where? Would it be estimates with the Premier? Is there some other avenue that I could maybe embark on to get a statement to acknowledge that this is inappropriate? That would be an understatement.
Hon. M. Polak: We're here to discuss the estimates for the budget of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. We're not here to discuss what would be the appropriate government response to the comments of a minister from the federal level.
The Chair: Member, I want to let you know that I think we've canvassed this long enough and far enough, so please direct your comments back to estimates questions.
S. Fraser: Thank you, hon. Chair. I don't believe we have, but I certainly do agree that we're not getting an answer, so we probably are wasting time here.
Has the minister had any discussions with the Tsilhqot'in regarding any of their plans for the region that do not include a mine — in this case the Taseko mine? There have been plans afoot….
S. Fraser: That don't include, yeah — not unlike the Ktunaxa. There have been plans underway for quite a long time — land use planning, for lack of a better term, I guess — around traditional territories. I'm just wondering if the minister has had any discussions and if she can…. Well, that would be a good place to start.
Hon. M. Polak: We are in discussions to renew the Tsilhqot'in framework agreement. It is an agreement that allows for discussions of all manner of issues that are taking place on the land base. By agreement, it does exclude the Prosperity project. I would say, as with the Ktunaxa, we generally, as a province, have a very good working relationship with the Tsilhqot'in.
S. Fraser: Can the minister explain — I'm not trying to catch her on anything here — if the framework agreement is a…? What is this described as? It's not a treaty agreement. So is this a resource agreement? What form does this take? What definition does it take?
Hon. M. Polak: This is a non-treaty bilateral agreement. It amounts to a strategic engagement agreement, and that includes things like government-to-government relationships, shared decision-making, conflict resolution and general land use issues.
S. Fraser: We've canvassed the issue of the mine and the controversy around that, and there's an environmental assessment process, such as it is, underway. But there are some parallels here with the Ktunaxa. There is a development, if you will, within the traditional territory that was never ceded, that was never extinguished. In the one case we have a treaty process. In the other case, this case with the Tsilhqot'in, we do not have a treaty process as such. Are there parallels here? How will these discussions differ about controversial…?
Let's do a hypothetical here. I guess I can't ask the minister to speculate, but we have two different First Nations groups in the province that are both opposing a development within their traditional territories.
With the Ktunaxa, it is the Jumbo Glacier resort. They're in the treaty process parallel to this. With the Tsilhqot'in, it is the Prosperity mine, phase 2 or phase zero. I don't know what you want to call it. It's sort of the earlier one. The spectre of it coming forward is what the Tsilhqot'in are facing, but they do not have a treaty process.
How will these two processes, which are very similar in many ways, proceed? One has a treaty process occurring that's significant, and the other one does not. And they both have in common a resource use that is considered unacceptable by the First Nations.
Hon. M. Polak: We have a number of different tools that we can use as a ministry on behalf of government to build relationships with First Nations. These are relationships. Whether it's Ktunaxa or Tsilhqot'in, we have ongoing, fairly strong relationships between their gov-
[ Page 10376 ]
ernment and the province as a whole. As in any relationship, there are from time to time matters where the parties disagree, but the idea of building a relationship of this nature is that the relationship can survive beyond the individual areas of disagreement.
Now, it's somewhat different between the two because, of course, Ktunaxa is seeking reconciliation with the governments of Canada and British Columbia through treaty. Tsilhqot'in, though, has other opportunities with government through non-treaty agreements.
One can use any number of tools as the kinds of building blocks that bring us toward more fulsome reconciliation. We will continue to do that, both with Tsilhqot'in and with Ktunaxa, as we seek to find more and better ways that we can work together on the land base.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister. A fairly broad answer, but I realize I wasn't too specific in my question.
You've got, for instance, members of the B.C. Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. One route is treaty; the other is not.
I guess one question. Both the Summit members and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs members — and, I guess, the Assembly of First Nations — which make up the leadership council…. Would they all be stakeholders that you meet to try to deal with their issues in different ways because they have different perspectives about how to get reconciliation?
Both the union and the Summit would be considered legitimate stakeholders in your deliberations on how to proceed with reconciliation — maybe by a different route. Am I right in saying that?
Hon. M. Polak: First off, we don't consider them stakeholders. We consider them governments. They are governments with which we have a government-to-government relationship.
Insofar as the members of the leadership council, the First Nations Summit is the official representative to the treaty principals. The UBCIC and the Assembly of First Nations have a role to play on the leadership council. We certainly work with them as we develop our approaches to First Nations. The very many tools that we utilize through non-treaty means were, many of them, developed in conjunction with the work we do with the leadership council.
S. Fraser: I'm assuming that there are meetings…. We discussed some of the budget problems — what I saw as budget reductions — in meeting time, in meeting resources with both the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and, actually, the Summit and the Assembly. I assume that the budgeted amount of money for meeting time there was split three ways. It's not just treaty and agreements. There's a whole range of discussions, I'm sure, that occur with the leadership council.
So as government-to-government relationships go, has the minister or any of her staff…? When the Missing Women Inquiry was being brought about, were there discussions through you or your ministry and the leadership council?
Hon. M. Polak: Through my officials, as concerns have been raised, they have then been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
Clarification, though. In the budget there was $350,000 set aside for the leadership council, for meetings, for resourcing those discussions. Was there a formal discussion or were there meetings where formal discussions happened regarding the creation of the Missing Women Inquiry? Is that something that was budgeted for through that $350,000?
Hon. M. Polak: I hope I haven't misunderstood the member's question. The $350,000 is general support that we provide to the leadership council. It changes from year to year, typically based on the type of activity that is undertaken. Very often it's attached specifically to various tasks.
For example, the single largest year of funding for the leadership council was when they had undertaken to develop the reconciliation legislation that, of course, subsequently failed. Then in the following year, when they were still seeking a renewed mandate from their chiefs, there was very, very little funding because there was very little activity without a mandate that they had. So it tends to flow that way.
There haven't been any specific discussions around the Missing Women Inquiry. I'm not aware of any that took place prior to establishing the Missing Women Inquiry, although I have only been minister for just a little over a year.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. Could she confirm that no discussions happened with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation prior to her being the minister? Can staff confirm that there were no…? Staff would be…. Well, staff would change too.
I'd like to know…. Previous to the inception of the Missing Women Inquiry, was there any discussion with the leadership council, for instance — with any of the three membership groups: the Assembly, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs or the B.C. Summit?
Hon. M. Polak: I'm advised that the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General did directly engage with the leadership council. It may be somewhat difficult to determine if those discussions ever took place formally
[ Page 10377 ]
in my ministry prior to my time as the deputy. Many of the senior staff have changed, and of course, I'm not there as well. But we do know that there have been formal discussions with the leadership council and the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: So since you've been minister, there have been no discussions with the members of the leadership council — the Union of the B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Summit, the Assembly of First Nations — or the federal Assembly of First Nations regarding the Missing Women Inquiry? Has there been no correspondence, no discussions at all with the ministry?
Hon. M. Polak: As I said previously, to the extent that those issues have been raised, they have been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. I have not had any formal discussions.
I'm casting my mind back. It's possible that the issue has been mentioned in passing, but it hasn't been the subject of a formal meeting that we've had. Nevertheless, as concerns have been raised at a staff level, those have been passed along to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: So in the role as Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, the only role played in addressing the issues of the Missing Women Inquiry has been as a conduit to another ministry? There has been no consultative role — nothing like that?
Hon. M. Polak: The member is correct. The consultations with regard to this are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. Again, we are quite happy to facilitate if there are times when issues are raised to us, but the member is correct that beyond that we don't play a role in this. It would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: Obviously, recently we lost the appointed attorney, Gervais, and one of the pro bono lawyers. That certainly raised a lot of concern amongst…. Well, we lost the last of the leadership council, the Summit.
Was there no correspondence with the minister or the ministry regarding the loss of Ms. Gervais and the loss of the B.C. Summit, the last of the aboriginal groups represented at the inquiry?
Hon. M. Polak: These are justice matters, so in the event that correspondence did come to our ministry, it would be directed to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
S. Fraser: Have there been any discussions through the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation with any of the groups withstanding, outside of the leadership council?
I know the Summit stayed in, but there were 13 aboriginal women's groups and community groups that were involved, that actually were given standing, as recommended by the commissioner. Were there no discussions with the aboriginal groups outside of the leadership council with yourself or your ministry?
Hon. M. Polak: Again, any time concerns have been raised to us, they have been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. It is not something that we have been involved with because it's not part of our ministry responsibilities.
S. Fraser: Okay. There were recent appointments made to replace Ms. Gervais and the pro bono lawyer to represent all of the aboriginal groups withstanding. Was there no discussion from Justice to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations on appointing lawyers to represent aboriginal groups in probably the largest investigation, commission, of its kind in the province?
I am finding this hard to believe. No discussion happened with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation from the Ministry of Justice to appoint counsel for the aboriginal groups withstanding?
Hon. M. Polak: Well, again, these are justice matters. They are matters solely within the purview of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. I would not expect them to consult with us, just as I would not expect the Ministry of Health to consult us with respect to health matters or the Minister of Education to consult us with respect to education matters.
As to the manner in which these lawyers were chosen, that would have to be canvassed with the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. I know that the member wishes to find out more information about this. We have now canvassed this for a little while, and I think the member can sense that the answers he's receiving from me are fairly similar, one to another.
I would just suggest that, really, there is not much, if anything, to pursue with our ministry with respect to the Missing Women Inquiry. There is nothing within our jurisdiction.
S. Fraser: I don't agree with a couple of the statements. I mean, the minister referred to issues of health and issues of education and, certainly, issues dealing with aboriginal health. And there are significant ones happening right now — and, certainly, through the federal process and that devolution that's happening. There are issues around aboriginal education that have always come forward to…. Is there no role for the ministry to deal with anything?
[ Page 10378 ]
It says here, in the goal in your service plan: "Reconciliation with aboriginal people in British Columbia." This is the goal. "Reconciliation is an ongoing process and rarely straightforward. It requires trust and commitment to overcome stumbling blocks along the way and a willingness to learn from each other at all stages. Relationships built on mutual respect and recognition are key to making reconciliation possible."
So reconciliation is a very big, broad topic. It certainly would include and could never could exclude things like education, health care, justice. In this case justice is what I have been probing.
If the ministry has had no role, no correspondence…. No one has picked up the phone and called the ministry before, during and after the commission being created.
Through all the controversy that's hit the press, there is no role for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, when in the government-to-government relationship — not stakeholders, as the minister referred to — the leadership council has been very vocal. As a matter of fact, the Summit had just left that process because it was considered to be illegitimate and non-representative and unfair.
Does the minister not see that this seems incredible — that the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation would not have any role to play in a very serious issue involving aboriginal women?
Can the minister confirm, again, that in her discussions with leadership council representatives — with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, with Grand Chief Ed John, with Jody Raybould, with Shawn Atleo — there has been no discussion? The issue has never been raised about what was considered to be a travesty of justice — that they're not getting through the Ministry of Justice.
Hon. M. Polak: To correct the record, I did not say there had been no correspondence. I said that where there had been, if there had been — and there may well have been…. If there had been correspondence directed to our ministry that was related to the Missing Women Inquiry, that would have been passed along to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, because that is their responsibility.
Indeed, we would have done the same with any concerns that had been raised. As I have advised, as we have been made aware of concerns, we have passed those along to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
I need to remind the member of something that I stated earlier on in the estimates. The title of our ministry, that being Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, does not mean that whenever something has to do with First Nations or aboriginal people, our ministry is responsible for that service or program area. Far from it. Our role is to negotiate agreements with First Nations, establish those relationships across government and facilitate that when it comes to different ministries.
The member used the example of education or of health. No, I would not expect the Ministry of Health to consult us on a health matter. They have the expertise in health matters. I would not expect them to consult us on an education matter. They have the expertise in education matters.
In fact, what the member has described in terms of the agreement that has been made between the federal government and the new First Nations Health Authority is something that was not negotiated through the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
Again, individual ministries are responsible for their service area. We negotiate agreements. We advise and assist with implementing those and where ministries seek out our assistance and advice with respect to our area of expertise, which is knowledge of First Nations. But this matter is a matter of justice.
The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General has the expertise with respect to that, not our ministry. There would not have been much that we could offer them in terms of advice, as they are the experts on matters related to justice. The member, I think, should understand that we do not have a program and service responsibility.
J. Kwan: I'd like to just ask the minister some questions in this area as well. The minister had acknowledged that many of the aboriginal organizations are critical to the work of the ministry, and it does relate to the goals and objectives, if you will, of the ministry in achieving some of the outcomes that I think we all desire on behalf of all British Columbians.
Related to that, on the Missing Women Inquiry issue, the First Nations Summit, which I know the ministry works quite intimately with on aboriginal-related issues. I'm wondering if the minister has ever seen the submission that the First Nations Summit had released on March 6 around their withdrawal from participation in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. I wonder if that's been brought to the minister's attention.
Hon. M. Polak: I am aware of it, and I have seen it. I don't believe I received it in an official piece of correspondence. I can't recall if I received it electronically from someone or if it was passed along to me. But I am aware of it, and I have seen it.
J. Kwan: Thank you to the minister for that answer.
In the press release that comes with the document dated March 6, 2012…. The press release reads as follows:
"First Nations Summit Withdraws from Participation in Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. An Open Letter to Wally Oppal, QC, Commissioner.
"Coast Salish territory, Vancouver. The First Nations Summit
[ Page 10379 ]
today released the attached open letter to Wally Oppal, commissioner of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
"The letter concluded that given recent developments, including the withdrawal of the independent legal counsel for aboriginal interests and the overall conduct of the inquiry, the voices of the families of the missing and murdered aboriginal women and aboriginal communities are clearly not being heard or respected. Therefore, given the realization that the inquiry will clearly not be able to fulfil a critical part of its mandate, the First Nations Summit has indicated it has no choice but to withdraw as an active participant in the inquiry."
Then it lists the contact people for this press advisory.
I'd like to ask the minister this question. What are her views of this press release that has been issued by the First Nations Summit as it relates to the work that she needs to do on behalf of her government in aboriginal relations?
Hon. M. Polak: I apologize if the member wasn't here for some of the earlier discussion. As I pointed out with the previous member's questions, these answers will become more and more similar, because this is an area that is well outside my responsibilities, and as such, those types of questions need to be directed to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
J. Kwan: No, I was here to listen to all the questions and answers related to this matter. Why I ask this — I think that there is a relationship — is this. I'm not asking the minister to make a decision. I fully recognize that those decisions, as they relate to the Missing Women Inquiry, rest with the Attorney General's ministry. I fully recognize that.
In the context of the work that the minister has to do as she works to build relations with the aboriginal community, knowing the history that British Columbia has with the aboriginal community and given that this press release has now been issued and is on the public record…. Clearly, it has an impact and implication for aboriginal relations in British Columbia.
As the minister in her ministry and that work…. I'm wondering whether or not the minister has thought about that and what implication it might have for her work in her ministry in striving towards building those kinds of relationships that we all want to see in moving forward with the aboriginal community, especially in addressing historical injustices.
Hon. M. Polak: Both collectively and individually, the actions of every ministry of government, as they relate to First Nations, have a potential impact on our relationships. It's impossible for me to speculate about or respond to questions as they relate to the actions of other ministries and how they might relate to the relationships with First Nations overall.
We could spend years discussing all the different interactions, but let's remember that while we have common goals across government with respect to our relationships with First Nations, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has a specific role in achieving that. Other ministries have their roles. This is outside the bounds of the responsibilities of my ministry, and it is not possible for me to continue to comment on it.
J. Kwan: Let me just go on to the statement that's been issued by the First Nations Summit in this matter. If the minister…. She says she's seen the document. It reads: "Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, First Nations Summit statement, October 12, 2011."
It begins with a quote, and I think it's a significant quote. It says: "The world was supposed to have learned three indelible lessons from the concentration camps of Europe: (a) indifference is injustice's incubator; (b) it's not what you stand for; it's what you stand up against; (c) we must never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable."
This comes from "International Law and Human Rights: The Power and the Pity," Hon. Rosalie Silberman Abella, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, 2010.
I think it sets the stage in terms of what the First Nations Summit is leading into. It goes on to talk about, under different headings…. They have a variety of different headings in the submission — "Acknowledgment," "Introduction."
The introduction portion, under section 7, reads:
"The specific issue involving 'violence and indigenous women' is not just a local issue to this province. It is an issue that has gained national and international prominence, including at the United Nations.
"First Nations individuals and organizations have for years called for an independent examination and inquiry into the missing and, we now know, murdered aboriginal women. Such an inquiry, we hoped, would shed some light into the dark corners of such violence, their roots, extent and impacts, and including such issues as systemic racism and lateral violence.
"Viable solutions built on genuine, actionable political will and the necessary financial resources are desperately needed to find a way forward. We have repeatedly called on Canada and British Columbia to understand these issues and to deal with them as important public policy priorities."
There's much information in the submission as well. Under "Participants," paragraph 10, it states as follows:
"While some participants will appear before the commission, most have, for a number of very legitimate reasons, withdrawn. Many of these reasons have been submitted to the commission in writing and are well known publicly.
"These have highlighted the credibility of the commissioner and the inquiry, including the conduct of the inquiry itself and that of the provincial government, which has from the outset tied the hands of the commission by its extremely limited terms of reference and by refusing to provide desperately needed financial support to those participants who have very limited or no resources.
"Given the incredible importance of the issues before this inquiry, the position of the B.C. government to not fund these participants is nothing short of astounding."
Let me just pause here for a moment. Given the context in which the First Nations Summit has laid out the Missing Women Inquiry as it relates to the important
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work of the aboriginal community and the future of the aboriginal community and their relationship with the Crown, with governments and with British Columbians on the whole, I would argue, the minister suggests that it's not her role to represent these issues as the Minister of Aboriginal Relations.
Surely, though, the minister must agree that it is within her scope as the minister whose interest is to ensure across government that policies and decisions are made in such a way that it does not operate in a silo but rather with a broad scope in viewing what those implications are with those individual decisions from different ministries as they relate to other ministries.
Surely, the minister would agree then — given the grave concerns that the First Nations Summit has brought to the government's attention, to the minister's attention, to the ministry's attention — that the minister will find it important and within her scope as the minister to advocate on behalf of the aboriginal community with her colleagues in ensuring in this work, though it was not her decision but the Attorney General's decision, that those decisions best reflect the views of the aboriginal community and what they're trying to achieve.
Hon. M. Polak: Certainly, no one who has grown up in British Columbia or indeed has been around British Columbia for any length of time could be unaware of the great tragedy that exists in the history we have with First Nations, and the incidents that have prompted the Missing Women Inquiry are no less tragic. In fact, they overlay on a tragic history and make it even more horrible for those who observe it.
Having said that, though, the same could be said in areas of health. If one travels around the province and takes a look — and indeed across Canada — at the health status of First Nations and some of the terrible living conditions that are present, if one looks at the gaps in education, there is tragedy upon tragedy that has been visited on First Nations.
The fact of the matter is that with respect to an estimates debate, Education is responsible for the issues with respect to First Nations around education. Health is responsible for the issues with respect to First Nations around health. Housing is responsible for the issues with respect to First Nations around housing. So, too, is the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General responsible for the issues of justice as they relate to First Nations.
Mr. Chair, I do think we have strayed well outside the scope of the debate around the estimates for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
The Chair: Member, I just want to remind you that you are going beyond the scope of this ministry. Maybe you can focus back to the estimates for this ministry's budget that we are talking about right now. Thank you.
J. Kwan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be happy to because, actually, the submission from the First Nations Summit lays out quite clearly for us how it relates to this ministry. In that submission, under the heading of "Context for Understanding First Nations–Crown Relations," it speaks to the issue of systemic issues and patterns of Crown conduct.
Let me just put this on the record — how it relates to this ministry — because it talks about the history of aboriginal people and why this history is so important in the understanding of our conduct today on virtually all matters related to aboriginal people, whether it be on the treaty process or on the Missing Women Inquiry. It reads as follows, paragraph 29:
"We firmly believe that to know our history and that of our historic dealings with successive Crown governments will help you understand the nature of existing relations and that of our place in contemporary British Columbia. We do not want to oversimplify a complex history of relationships, but there are certain recurring elements of past and contemporary conduct on behalf of the Crown which cannot be ignored."
Paragraph 30: "There is an atmosphere in the conduct of Crown affairs that is difficult for First Nations people to accept or even understand."
"At the very core of this is the continued denial by the Crown, on behalf of B.C. and Canada, of the very existence of aboriginal peoples or their rights, unless and until these are proven in a court. Even to this day we continue to see this in the pleadings filed by Crown lawyers and in the written and oral arguments they submit when matters relating to the rights of aboriginal peoples end up in a court."
It goes on:
"The United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly, in its preamble says it best. 'Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.'"
In December 2010, Canada endorsed this declaration, this being the declaration of the UN on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The submission goes on to say, in paragraph 32: "Since its interception as a colony, and then as a province when it joined Confederation in 1871, B.C. and Canada have acted with impunity regarding the land, cultural and political rights of indigenous people." It goes on to talk about the issue around apology, the issue of inferior and unequal treatment of the aboriginal people.
In paragraph 35 it talks about the discrimination that took place against aboriginal people and the Chinese people in their prohibition from owning Crown lands, not being allowed to vote and how Indian students of school age were not allowed in public schools until the 1950s. So there's much history that leads to a context of racial discrimination and what the aboriginal community leaders are saying is a pattern of systemic discrimination. In fact, in paragraph 36, it reads:
"Again the underlying point in all of this is that the conduct and
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acts, including laws and policies of the Crown, reflect a systemic pattern of discrimination. If the Crown in its official capacity is able to discriminate systemically, how then are its citizens and institutions to think or act towards aboriginal peoples and the substantive issues they raise? These prevailing attitudes do not exist in silos. They permeate and impact on all aspects of First Nations lives."
Let me just stop there. This last section, section 36, is particularly important because it is exactly what they're calling for — for the minister and this ministry to go and advocate on their behalf to change the course of history today forward, to make a difference, to say that systemic discrimination is no longer acceptable and that if you see practices within government, even if it's in other ministries, it is incumbent on all of us to stand up and say this is not acceptable.
In light of what's come forward with the Missing Women Inquiry…. The First Nations Summit and the aboriginal leaders across the board are now saying that there is an issue of systemic discrimination — that history in this strange way, I suppose, is repeating itself at this point in time within the Missing Women Inquiry.
My question to the minister is this. As the minister who's trying to rebuild the bridge here, who's trying to address some of these historical injustices of the past, does she not see fit that it's part of her responsibility, as well, to talk to her colleagues around these concerns, to advocate on behalf of the aboriginal community? Does she not see at all that her role as the Minister of Aboriginal Relations would have something to do with that advocacy at the cabinet table with her colleagues?
Hon. M. Polak: Again, I can certainly appreciate the passion the member brings to the very many tragic circumstances that have been visited upon First Nations people. But as I have said, the matters related to the Missing Women Inquiry are for the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. They are well outside the bounds of debate with respect to the estimates of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
The Chair: Member, I will remind you again that these are important and good questions you have, but these are beyond the estimates we are discussing right now. You have asked those questions of an inappropriate ministry that is here presenting their budget estimates.
If you have other questions, other than what you have repeated the last few times….
J. Kwan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I can tell you this. I certainly will be canvassing these questions with different ministers in this process. But I do find it astounding, though, that what we've heard in the last — what? — hour or so from the minister is that she's denied responsibility to be the advocate on behalf of aboriginal people at the cabinet table. These matters actually relate to Aboriginal Relations, Mr. Chair. They relate to her responsibility in her capacity as minister responsible for Aboriginal Relations.
I do find that astounding — disappointing too. I really was hoping, even at whatever minimal level she might see her role to be, that she might say: "Yes, I'll bring those concerns forward to the minister. Yes, I will reflect those concerns. Yes, I agree with the First Nations Summit around these concerns." But she made no such statement all along.
Hon. M. Polak: Yes, I did, actually, to your member previously.
J. Kwan: Okay. The minister said she did. I would love to hear that.
Will she then tell me: does she agree with the First Nation Summit's issues and concerns that they brought up in their submission? Maybe just let me know that.
Hon. M. Polak: I agree wholeheartedly with the historic concerns that the First Nations have outlined, both in this submission and in many others. I made it very clear, actually, in a number of answers that whenever concerns are brought to us — whether it's correspondence or whether it's conversation — we have brought those to the attention of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
Mr. Chair, I have, I think, been very patient as the members have attempted to attach their view as to the construction of government and response of government to First Nations. I want to express what concerns me here, and that is that the idea….
First, let's go back. The different historic wrongs that have been outlined — and, indeed, very eloquently outlined — in the submission of the First Nations…. The vast majority of those result from an instrument, and that instrument is called the Indian Act. The Indian Act results from the concept that all Indians should be dealt with through one key government area. It's not the responsibility of the rest of the Canadian government to deal with aboriginal people; it's the responsibility of the Indian Act. That's where that notion comes from.
The idea that all things aboriginal in British Columbia should therefore fall under the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, rather than the individual line ministries, I find fundamentally patronizing. It harkens back to that very instrument, the Indian Act.
We have made it clear that we have passed on any and all concerns that were raised to us. But I reject the notion wholeheartedly that aboriginal people, First Nations people, in British Columbia, on all matters that relate to them — be they health, justice, education or housing — should somehow be told, just like they were with the Indian Act, that they should go to this one place because that's where aboriginal people are dealt with. Aboriginal
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people have a right to expect far more than that from government. If we're going to change history, then let's make sure that every single ministry recognizes that they have an equal responsibility to First Nations people as they do to non–First Nations people.
The Chair: Member, do you have questions on Vote 11?
J. Kwan: I do. And that's exactly the point, in response to the minister, that I'm trying to make. It is not just an Attorney General's ministry issue. It goes across government. The minister herself is actually trying to deny that very notion, simply trying to say this issue falls only under the Attorney General's ministry, and it is not true. It goes across government and across all ministries as it impacts the aboriginal community.
Of course, as the minister responsible for Aboriginal Relations, there is actually a core piece for the minister to take up that advocacy role as well. I'm not saying she should be the only person who should take up the forces on this issue, but rather that she's amongst them. But right now she's actually not taking that responsibility and saying that it is someone else's responsibility.
The minister did say, though — and I'll give her credit…. She acknowledges the historical injustices that were raised in the submission. That includes the injustice as it exists today on the Missing Women Inquiry. I think I heard the minister say that she agrees with the First Nations Summit to say that the Missing Women Inquiry now has a systemic discrimination issue and a pattern of systemic discrimination issues. Would the minister advise if she agrees with that or not?
Hon. M. Polak: I'd appreciate it if the member would refer to Hansard rather than characterizing my comments on her own. I advised the member that I agree wholeheartedly with their assessment of the historic injustices that have taken place to First Nations, many of which continue today. But we are far outside the bounds of the estimates debate for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. I understand the member would like to get a number of things on record with respect to an issue she's very passionate about, but this is not the place.
The Chair: Member, it's my duty to inform you we are debating today estimates on Vote 11. Do you have questions relevant to Vote 11?
J. Kwan: Let me just close with this. The minister has repeatedly referred this matter to the Attorney General's ministry. I take it from her response that she does not feel compelled to advocate on this issue as the Minister of Aboriginal Relations. I did not hear her say that she will in fact advocate on behalf of the aboriginal community to address historical injustices as a component piece within the context of the Missing Women Inquiry. I find that disappointing.
I have to be very honest. It's not an issue about my passion. It is an issue about injustices of the past, and we all have some responsibility for taking it on — no matter where we stand, where we sit or what capacity we hold. If you believe in those injustices that occurred in our history and you want to rectify that in some meaningful way, then you would pick it up and move forward.
That's all I'm asking of the minister. And how does that relate to this vote? By the sheer fact that she is the Minister of Aboriginal Relations, and part of the groups she deals with are from the aboriginal community — and to advance those concerns, hopefully, as passionately as we all feel here today in this discussion.
Let me just close with this — why this is so critical in our history today. The missing and murdered women's history is nothing short of astounding in the sense that, I dare say, it is probably the largest homicide case in the history of Canada. The depth of the tragedy here is beyond words.
We have group after group that has withdrawn from the inquiry. The list of groups includes the Native Women's Association of Canada, the committee of the February 14 Women's Memorial March, the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.…
Point of Order
Hon. M. Polak: Point of order, Mr. Chair. I believe the member has already been directed several times that this, in fact, is outside the scope of the debate of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation's estimates.
The Chair: Hon. Member, I understand you have posed a number of questions on matters outside the scope of the vote currently before the committee. As the Chair, I must ask you to relate your questions to the provisions of Vote 11 and not discuss matters outside of Vote 11.
J. Kwan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. I will do that.
The groups that I was just mentioning — the minister knows who they are. Let me just say this. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is another group that has raised many, many issues in the public realm, on the public record, as they relate to historical injustices for the aboriginal community.
They relate to a wide range and breadth of issues, including issues that surface in the treaty process, issues that are not part of the treaty process and issues that are part of the urban aboriginal community. Many of the
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folks that live in the Vancouver–Mount Pleasant community are aboriginal in their ancestry but have had no recognition from any levels of government anywhere. They struggle day in and day out, and they're amongst our most vulnerable populations, if you will.
Let me ask the minister this question. Has she seen fit to advocate at the cabinet table on behalf of the urban aboriginals in our community, bringing their issues and concerns forward to her colleagues and ensuring that opportunities and a better future for aboriginal people in the urban communities are addressed?
Hon. M. Polak: We have a number of tools that we use in our ministry to attempt to address many of the historic wrongs that have taken place, and the member has well outlined many of them.
I would take great pleasure in having a discussion with the member about those tools, about the types of agreements that we put in place, about the way in which we can empower First Nations, both on reserve and off reserve, as a result of some of the economic development, reconciliation protocols — very many tools that we have in our ministry. I would very much like to discuss those matters as they have been the subject of considerable study for myself in preparation for estimates.
I'd certainly appreciate it if we could return to the subject of the vote.
The Chair: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, I recognize you on Vote 11. Can we get back to Vote 11 please.
J. Kwan: Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Maybe the minister can tell us what those tools are.
Hon. M. Polak: I'm excited to be able to spend some time speaking about some of the very important work of our ministry. In very many cases, the types of agreements that we enter into with First Nations have a very direct impact on the kind of socioeconomic circumstances that those First Nations experience.
First off, for example, we have our strategic engagement agreements. The strategic engagement agreements are a way in which we meaningfully involve First Nations in the planning and decision-making around their territory. We have very many successful ones. In fact, one of the most recent that we're very proud of is one that we have put in place with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. It also involves a very comprehensive land use plan that we have entered into with them.
One of the advantages to the First Nations is that, then, any industry proponent coming into their territory understands clearly what the expectations are of them when they're going to deal with those First Nations. It means that the First Nations spend far less time struggling with industry proponents in an attempt to get at some shared and meaningful decision-making, because it's already laid out. It's already agreed to, and it's done respecting the ways in which those First Nations would like to engage both with government and with industry proponents.
The forest consultation and revenue-sharing agreements. These have been around in another format for many years. It's a really exciting opportunity for First Nations, some of whom are in rural areas — I would venture to say most — but also those that are approaching more urban areas — up the Fraser Valley, for example. It gives them an opportunity to share revenue on forestry activity that's taking place in their territories. Again, it's a way for them to be able to develop the kind of economic base they need in order to contribute to the very many social needs that they have in their territory.
It is empowering, because it means they are the ones who are able, then, to enter more meaningfully into delivering those types of services and assisting with those types of needs in their communities. We've spoken a little bit about the economic community development agreements that we have in place and are in discussions with other First Nations about.
One of the things that you will hear time and time again from First Nations is their frustration at seeing the resources on their land base extracted in order to benefit communities around them without really experiencing a benefit for themselves. It has meant that you have seen great riches taken out of many areas of the province while still seeing First Nations living in abject poverty and not benefiting from resources in their territory.
Our province became the first to address that and to provide for revenue-sharing opportunities for First Nations. While we have many other avenues we can go, we find that in terms of these economic community development agreements, the mineral tax revenue that is shared with the First Nations has become a very powerful tool for them to become empowered and be able to, again, provide for that economic opportunity on their land base. In many cases it enables them to enter into other agreements with proponents that involve training and building toward a better future for their young people, their future generations.
In the north we have economic benefit agreements on the sharing of oil, gas and coal revenues with Treaty 8 First Nations, and we are also in discussions around further types of agreements that give certainty in those areas.
I want to talk, also, about some more recent developments. Those are with respect to reconciliation agreements, which are much more comprehensive. If we take, for example, the Nanwakolas, the Haida, the coastal First Nations…. There we've been able to enter into much more comprehensive agreements on the land base, which include a full range of different areas under which we've formed agreement.
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Probably the best example of one operating right now is what's taking place on Haida Gwaii. The member knows — we've talked about this before — that I spent time living in Haida Gwaii in the early and mid-'90s. The differences between the economic activity then and the economic activity now is absolutely night and day. It's a result of the reconciliation agreement that we have with them.
Here is the key, though. It is that it doesn't just have an impact on the economy of Haida Gwaii and the economy of the Haida people. It has a very direct impact on what they are experiencing in terms of outcomes on a socioeconomic basis in their territory. There's an example. I'm happy to have been able to provide that to you. It is some of the very important work that we do that advances the interests of First Nations and aboriginal people across British Columbia.
J. Kwan: I thought I asked a question about urban aboriginals. I didn't realize the Haida Gwaii would be considered urban aboriginals. The minister read off some statement on a whole range of different tools. Fair enough. There are different tools. But with that said, my specific question was on urban aboriginals.
Let me ask a very specific question. Has the minister actually met with representatives from the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, the Frank Paul Society, or the committee of the February 14th Women's Memorial March?
Hon. M. Polak: I couldn't say specifically with respect to each of the groups. I don't have the material with me. But when we were heading up the Ending Violence forum, many of those women were people whom I met at the forum, some of whom I met when we were at the ceremony down in the park prior to the forum.
So I couldn't say specifically with respect to that, but I'm sure that they were part of many of those discussions. Again, though, it's not an area where we have any formal role as a ministry.
J. Kwan: Well, if the minister did meet with these groups, then in all likelihood, she would have remembered some of the content, I would anticipate, of those meetings.
Whenever I meet with those groups, what they constantly talk about are the issues and the plight of the aboriginal community, for both men and women, but particularly when it relates to women — the challenges that they face, the historical injustices, the systemic impact of those injustices that we see as it impacts the aboriginal community today. It's to the point where we see people are extremely vulnerable, extremely marginalized.
Many of them were victims of Robert Pickton. Many of them were the women that went missing. Many of them were the women that were murdered. Many of them are still seeking justice for their family members, which clearly, they're not going to really obtain from this minister, because she says it's not her responsibility but that of the Attorney General.
S. Fraser: I visited the Peace River last year, actually for an annual event, the Paddle for the Peace. The West Moberly First Nations weren't able to get me paddling because it was a very bad flooding situation. Actually, driving was the problem. Coming in through Alberta was the only route to get there by road, and all boat traffic was impossible.
They did lay out a very clear sort of a road map. We hiked quite a bit to get to the areas that would be potentially flooded by the Site C dam, including traditional territories of the West Moberly and other Nations and, potentially, grave sites and that sort of thing — very significant historical land.
I'm wondering if the minister can inform how discussions go to deal with the modern-day proposal to flood massive traditional territories. How would accommodations be met in those very difficult circumstances?
Hon. M. Polak: I, too, have visited the Peace not that long ago. It's absolutely beautiful country. I toured around some of the areas that potentially could be inundated in the case of Site C.
With respect to the consultation and accommodation as it relates to this specific project, B.C. Hydro is the lead on that because it's their project. We, along with other ministries, are working to support them and provide support to them as they do that. Our ministry has responsibility for areas outside of the Site C discussion with respect to other types of agreements and discussions that we have with treaty 8, but B.C. Hydro is the lead with respect to the discussions around Site C.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
Perhaps she could inform…. The significant issues of things like grave sites, historic and significant sites — is there a role for the ministry here? I realize it's not a treaty issue, but has that role been delegated to B.C. Hydro? Or maybe it is the B.C. Heritage Conservation Act? I'm not quite sure who…. First of all, is it not this ministry that has a role? If not, who would handle those significant issues?
Hon. M. Polak: I will try to shed some light on what will prove to be a nicely complicated matter, but maybe I can simplify it. In this case…. Well, let's go back. For any project, the proponent is the one responsible to meet the regulatory requirements. In this case, the proponent happens to be B.C. Hydro. In the case of remains or artifacts, it would be the archeology branch of Forests, Lands and
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Natural Resource Operations that has responsibility for the Heritage Conservation Act.
There is a regulatory review process that would guide the treatment of any human remains or artifacts. I'm advised that currently there is quite extensive work being undertaken at this time by the archeology branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. I apologize. It's not information that we possess in our ministry, but I'm quite certain that that ministry would be happy to provide it to you.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
I'll just close on this issue. I agree with the minister that the area is very impressive. I understand the voracious need for power, but it is kind of scary to be standing on the bluff overlooking the confluence where the Moberly River comes in and seeing the site.
We had native elders. It's a long hike. One of the biologists moved the grass out of the way, through the mosquitoes — it was pouring rain — and there was a cactus. This was on the south slope there. There was a cactus, an actual little cactus. It was perfect. It's one of the few places in Canada outside of the southern Okanagan where such a thing will exist — probably the only place.
It's such a unique region ecologically, sort of a microcosm for various things. Of course, the history there of the First Nations is extensive. I'm hoping that….
I have found failures with the Heritage Conservation Act. It is an old act. It hasn't been updated in an awfully long time, and I think that's way overdue. I did touch on that a little earlier in estimates when we were here a couple of weeks ago.
So just those closing comments on this, and I hope to get back there soon to learn more about the region and what impacts something like a Site C would have on the traditional territories.
I would like to move to the residential school commissions. Their sessions will end in Victoria on the Island on the 13th and 14th of April, across the street at the convention centre.
Now, when I attended in Port Alberni, I believe I saw ministry people there or, certainly, provincial government people there. Were there, indeed? Was I right? Did we have anyone from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation attending either the Port Alberni session or other sessions?
I might as well throw the next question in. Will there be anyone attending this big regional session to be held by the commission on April 13 and 14?
Hon. M. Polak: Yes, there were ministry people at the Port Alberni gathering, and there will be at the gathering that the member mentioned.
S. Fraser: I'm hoping, and maybe the minister can inform, that there will be recommendations coming out of that. I touched on this two weeks ago, but the commission has already asked for a national awareness campaign on this. Obviously, this spans various levels of government, but I'm hoping that the…. Will the ministry be playing some role out of this, since we have staff attending these sessions?
The recommendations will be an important part, I think, of reconciliation. Will the ministry play a role in the recommendations coming out? Justice Sinclair and the other commissioners, I suspect, will have quite a few recommendations. Will they be something that are addressed provincially, in part, by the ministry? At any point will they come before the Legislature so that we can all take part in that?
Hon. M. Polak: As the member knows, I'm sure, it's a federal process. It is one that I think is critically important, but nevertheless, a federal process. It would be impossible for me to speculate with respect to how those recommendations may shape up. Certainly, if there are recommendations that have a relationship to British Columbia, we will want to take a serious look at those.
S. Fraser: I can inform us that Justice Sinclair has already come out with a recommendation. A part of the campaign that he has referred to deals with curriculum, which does fall on the provinces. I think there'll probably be, hopefully, some sort of united response from the provinces in their role in dealing with education and making sure that a very, very dark part of history is not forgotten and is part of what is taught in the school system.
With that, I'll move on to my last topic, and we'll be closing down hereafter. We'll see how many questions we get on this, but I don't think it'll take too long. It's around the Gathering Our Voices, the big aboriginal youth event that happened in Nanaimo last week, just a few days ago.
I know the minister was there. It was impressive. I applaud the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and the work they did, and all of those who attended — 1,400 youth attending that event.
There was obviously a role the government played and the ministry played. I'm just wondering if the minister could inform us as to what role…. What was budgeted for that? Did the budget come out of this ministry? That sort of thing.
Hon. M. Polak: Yes, the Gathering Our Voices conference was very impressive. Having all those aboriginal young people in one room, the energy was very, very high.
We provided $100,000 from our ministry budget in a grant to them to support their conference. We were not
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the only ministry that did. I understand the Ministry of Children and Family Development provided the larger portion, which was about $300,000. We provided some staff and in-kind support as well.
S. Fraser: While we didn't have the resources, we had a couple of our members that were wearing green shirts and volunteering too. It was great. I wanted to do that also.
Hon. M. Polak: Did you get a photo?
S. Fraser: Yeah, I wanted an autograph. I didn't get one. It's great to have a celebrity there too. Thanks to the minister for that. I guess another shameless plug here, but a very, very important event — as the minister knows and is nodding — and worthwhile.
I know these are annual events, and a few hundred thousand dollars is a lot. However, 1,400 youth…. It's impressive. As far as value for the dollar goes, I think the people of British Columbia certainly got that. I would put a plug in for next year. I don't think this will get to be a smaller event. I think it will grow. I think it's well worth supporting. I know the minister probably feels the same way, and so does the staff.
With that, I will close my questions and leave it to the minister to close out this session.
Hon. M. Polak: I think it was fitting that we closed with a topic that is about the future for aboriginal people and, indeed, about the next generation. I think the member would agree with me, having been in attendance at the Gathering Our Voices Conference, that we have every confidence that the next generation of aboriginal people is really going to take hold of its future with great zeal. I think we are going to see some very great things coming from them.
With that, I thank the member for his questions.
Vote 11: ministry operations, $34,753,000 — approved.
Vote 12: treaty and other agreements funding, $40,007,000 — approved.
The Chair: We'll have a short recess.
The committee recessed from 5:32 p.m. to 5:52 p.m.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE
On Vote 14: ministry operations, $52,314,000.
The Chair: Do you have an opening statement?
Hon. D. McRae: By all means. I have a number of ministry employees that have joined us today. I would like to introduce some of the people that work so hard for agriculture in British Columbia. To my left I have Wes Shoemaker, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture. To my right I have Colin Fry, executive director of the Agricultural Land Commission. To my back right I have Melanie Stewart, assistant deputy minister, agriculture science and natural resource policy division. To my left I have Shauna Brouwer, assistant deputy minister, corporate services, for the natural resource sector.
During the course of the next several hours, both maybe today and also tomorrow, we'll have several cameos or guest appearances by other staff members as they're so needed.
It's an honour to speak to the estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture. Like I say to my staff, I'm starting to do things for the second time now in the role of the ministry, so I'm looking forward to this. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on how much government and the ministry have achieved since this time last year, and I look forward to the coming successes in the year to come.
The year that has passed since we last met for estimates debate has been a year of accomplishments for agriculture in British Columbia. While the member opposite may not always agree, I think there have been some great wins for agriculture in the past 12 months.
We have a stronger ALC, thanks to not only the $1.6 million of new additional funding we provided in November, but new legislation that increased enforcement capabilities and allows the ALC to transition into a more self-supporting operating model by 2013.
We have also increased access for B.C. fruit producers to many countries, including China. China is one of the world's most sought-after markets, and we achieved record sales there in each of the last two years. In 2011 sales reached almost $150 million.
To give you an idea of the growth of B.C. exports to China, prior to 2010 our exports of agrifoods to China had never exceeded $100 million. In 2010 it was $118 million. Last year we were very pleased to say it was almost $150 million. I predict next year will be more of the same — record exports as both domestic and international markets want the good-quality, high-value product that we produce in British Columbia.
B.C. beef is already on its way to Korea. We're working hard to ensure access to China as well.
B.C. wines, enjoyed and cherished by residents of British Columbia, are seeing opportunities in markets outside of this province. They are capturing niche, luxury markets in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. While the dollars are not huge — $5 million in sales in 2011 — the growth has been phenomenal percentage-wise, and we look forward to future growth for our wineries.
There is also a huge opportunity for B.C. cherries in
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China, one that we continue to work on with the governments of Canada and China to access. We're pleased to hear the federal government making an announcement recently, and I know the tree fruit growers in the Okanagan were indeed, as well, pleased.
The province is going to build on our successes and expand the opportunities for B.C. agriculture and seafood producers in new markets. One way to do this is that we continue to create an environment in British Columbia where agrifoods succeed.
Some examples of how we're doing that include developing new bylaw guidelines to protect farmland and providing supports for groups like 4-H, farmers markets and ag fairs. We also support the Food Innovation Centre of British Columbia, the place B.C. food and health product entrepreneurs can go for help, knowledge and advice.
All of these provide clear support for the farmers and families who grow our food and are the backbone of many rural and urban communities and economies. They form our agrifood sector, which is becoming increasingly competitive in the domestic and global markets.
As it grows, it creates more and more rewarding careers and opportunities. As of last year more than 61,000 British Columbians were supporting their families through farming and food.
Like I'm sure many people saw in the news, ten days ago we unveiled the agrifoods strategy as part of the B.C. job plan. The strategy will build on our advantages of innovation and our recognized leadership in providing high-quality, trusted and safe foods.
The strategy focuses on our strength and maximizes the benefits and opportunities for B.C. farmers, workers and communities large and small. It ensures that B.C. food producers operate in a business environment that is supportive and rewarding. This year's budget further supports this goal.
As announced in the budget, we will review the carbon tax to see the impact it has on food producers in British Columbia. We will also continue to protect the environment and ensure the agricultural sector is competitive not only today but well into the future.
The budget also supports our partnership with the federal government. This partnership jointly funds B.C. producers and processors to develop new products, create new processes and invest in food safety and renewable energy. The partnership also provides producers with business risk-management support crucial to farming, which totalled about $38 million in 2011.
So even in the midst of global economic turmoil, with other Canadian provinces and countries around the world overwhelmed by expenses, we continue to work to improve operating conditions and opportunities for B.C. farmers. Despite all these global challenges and the impact they have on B.C. government, it has reaffirmed the importance of agriculture in this province by preserving the ministry's budget.
As a recent federal study pointed out, farmers in B.C. continue to exceed. That study reported farm operating income increased by 23 percent in 2011 and predicted years of stable growth in B.C. food producers coming forward. The government will also work to make it happen.
British Columbians can continue to enjoy local, fresh and healthy foods at 125 farmers markets in B.C., at their neighbourhood restaurants and supermarkets. That's more and more British Columbians who will enjoy our $10.5 billion food industry and support their families by providing customers at home and abroad with world-class foods produced in British Columbia.
I welcome questions from the members.
L. Popham: It is a pleasure to be here. For me, I think this might be my third or fourth time. I've been looking forward to it a lot.
I think that my perspective on the estimates process has changed from the last time I did it. I think that you can look at the estimates process as an extended question period which is a place where you can bring in regional issues and have colleagues bring in those regional issues.
But I think my responsibility as a critic for Agriculture…. As I look at the budget estimates, I think that my job is to go line by line through each part of the estimates and make sure that the accountability statement for the minister and the budget estimates line up.
I would like to open by saying that I feel extremely fortunate to live in British Columbia. As I have travelled around this province as the Agriculture critic, the enormous landscape that we have to work with became very apparent to me very quickly. I see the opportunities that regions have to develop their food systems and the opportunity we have as a province to support that distribution as we develop a domestic market.
The former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans, once said in these chambers that he thought this was the very best place to work. He was referring to the Ministry of Agriculture. He also stated that he valued the budget estimates of the ministry because it was one of the few opportunities for the House to actually talk about matters of importance in agriculture and food in the province in a meaningful way. I appreciate the opportunity to do this.
The budgets of both the ministry and that of the Agricultural Land Commission represent a statement of how much the current government values our agriculture and food system in this province — or the way I see it, how much they don't value this important sector as being part of our provincial economy.
It's a sector that provides jobs in all regions of the province and contributes directly to the economic and social well-being of our local communities. As I've watched the budget for agriculture decrease over the years…. It's a status quo budget this time, but it really is a place
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where we should be investing. When times are tough — in tough economic times, as we continually hear — I understand that, but this is a place where investment would really pay off.
This budget is disappointing not only for me as the Agriculture critic but as well as for all of the stakeholders that I visit and communicate with over the year. Everybody is hoping that one day this government may find a priority in agriculture. It's been ten years of chipping away at a budget. It's been ten years of chipping away at a sector that should have been held up on a pedestal as something that is greatly important to all parts of this province.
The focus of the debate in estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Land Commission is public accountability for what is represented in these estimates; how the estimates align with statements made by the current government with respect to specific initiatives; specific issues of concern relating to the estimates, which my colleagues and I will address.
I can tell you what commitment to agriculture means to me. What it means to me is that I can travel from one end of this province to another, and when I'm eating in places in different towns, in restaurants, the idea of ordering B.C. food is not foreign; when I order a steak at a golf course in Williams Lake, that it's B.C. beef because there's an emerging ranching industry there that's trying to focus on grass-finished beef. We haven't embraced that as a government. We haven't put those supports in place.
As I go through these estimates, that's going to be my focus. It's not a negative focus. I'm a champion for agriculture. I expect the same from the Minister of Agriculture. I believe he's doing his best, but I think this government doesn't value agriculture.
I'm going to start with Vote 15, the Agricultural Land Commission. The Agricultural Land Commission, as pointed out last year…. I understand that the minister needed to have staff available all day waiting for these estimates to come up, so I appreciate Mr. Fry being here for the day. I expect that we'll be moving into tomorrow as well, so I appreciate the time.
As far as the Agricultural Land Commission budget goes, I see from Vote 15 that the total 2011-2012 operating expenses are $1.974 million and the total 2012-13 operating expenses are again $1.974 million. Is that correct?
Hon. D. McRae: The status quo budget remains the same. However, I would like to also remind the member opposite that we also included a $1.6 million contingency input into the Agricultural Land Commission, which for the year coming will be $975,000 added to their $1.974 million.
L. Popham: Could the minister please confirm on page 22 and 23 of the Supplement to the Estimates, Vote 15, the standard object of expense 86, 88, 89 and 90 recoveries are adding up to what amount?
Hon. D. McRae: The recoveries are for $3,000, which we didn't actually bring the data for at this stage. That's okay?
L. Popham: Thank you.
On November 25th, 2011, the minister made a statement regarding the changes in the Agricultural Land Commission and the legislation that changed in the House. The minister commented on enforcement. In fact, the wording was to: "increase enforcement within the agricultural land reserve by involving qualified officials from other government agencies and levels of government in enforcement activities."
Can the minister explain how this statement affects Vote 15 and where in Vote 15 one would find the increased expenditure on enforcement?
Hon. D. McRae: There is no extra cost to the ALC. We've had a year with 31 FLNRO staffers being deputized. This year we'd look to see potentially between 60 and 100 FLNRO staffers being deputized as well, to assist. But these are government resources that, when available, are being retasked. Lastly, the municipal bylaw officers are enabled under this legislation. They have yet to be used, but that's a choice or a practice that could follow in the future.
L. Popham: Can the minister please tell me which ministry vote the budget for this item should be canvassed under?
Hon. D. McRae: Since they are FLNRO people who could be potentially deputized, they would canvass FLNRO. If a person were to be deputized or worked under the municipal bylaw authority, they'd have to ask the municipalities.
L. Popham: In regard to the moratorium on applications…. "Place a five-year moratorium on repeat applications to the ALC and focus resources on core functions like preserving farmland and encouraging farming."
Can the minister advise how much of the $1.974 million annual budget of the ALC is currently being spent on encouraging farming and describe the specific activities being undertaken by the commission to achieve this function?
Hon. D. McRae: The goal of the budget basically encourages farming, they would argue, in all aspects. C and E is an example which is assisting farming and farm practice; planning, obviously; and dealing with applica-
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tions. All these functions of the ALC encourage farming. However, I'd also like to remind the member opposite that the $975,000 being injected into the ALC from contingencies also allows the chair to be very proactive and do more outreach around the province.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain how much savings will be realized by placing a five-year moratorium on repeat applications?
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Hon. D. McRae: The moratorium is not about saving money. It's allowing the hard-working staff at the ALC and the organization to achieve its mandate — protecting farmland and encouraging farming in British Columbia. Again, it's not about saving dollars.
L. Popham: From what I understand from reading the chair's report last year, the amount of applications that was coming through the commission was taking the entire staff time of the commission, so that must have been taken into account when the minister was looking at this situation. It's hard to believe that a monetary value wouldn't have been put on that. So I'm going to ask again: was there any consideration of any monetary savings?
Hon. D. McRae: There are years where there will be 600 to 800 applications going forward, and obviously, every application requires staff time and staff resources. Also, the time is key here. As the member opposite knows, there are great workers in the ALC. If they spend all their time processing applications, they will be unable to do, I think, the work that they would really find rewarding, as well, which is encouraging farm practice and preserving farmland in British Columbia.
L. Popham: Maybe I should ask this question. Can the minister explain how much time savings will be realized by placing a five-year moratorium on repeat applications?
Hon. D. McRae: These changes were brought in late November last year, so they're still relatively new. To give, basically, any numbers would be…. We don't have enough data gathered to feel that we can do it well. However, these changes will allow staff at the ALC — this is done with conversations with the ALC and their approval — to focus on their mandate of protecting farmland and encouraging farming.
L. Popham: I guess I'm wondering what the new measures will be to encourage farming and to protect farmland exactly. What are the new initiatives that the time savings would be able to buy?
Hon. D. McRae: Obviously, when we spend less time processing applications, it allows the ALC staff to devote more of their valuable time towards planning.
Outreach. The chair of the ALC — I'm very, very pleased at his ability to visit communities across this vast province. It also allows the ALC to engage with the Ministry of Agriculture, sector stakeholders and communities, all of which will be a long-term benefit for agriculture.
Hon. Chair, I move that the committee rise and report resolutions and completion of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and report progress on the Ministry of Agriculture and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:21 p.m.
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