2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Volume 34, Number 4
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Clark
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
School fruit and vegetable snack program
Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society
Chinese-Canadian donor campaign for stem cell transplantation
Prevention of violence against women
Cardiovascular health forum and interCultural online health network
Joint delegation proposal in support of Aveos workers
Hon. P. Bell
Carbon offset costs to SUCH sector
Hon. T. Lake
Public consultation for communities in Interior timber supply areas
Hon. P. Bell
TransLink governance and transit services
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Negotiations for RCMP services and RCMP compensation
Hon. S. Bond
Hon. K. Falcon
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 21 — Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012 (continued)
Hon. K. Falcon
Reporting of Bills
Bill 21 — Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 21 — Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 26 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012 (continued)
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation (continued)
Hon. J. Yap
Hon. P. Bell
TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Clark: I have the great pleasure today of introducing the parents and aunt of someone who has worked for me for a very, very long time. They are currently contemplating their choices in the next Alberta election, given that they live in Grande Prairie — Joe and Betti Haakstad. And Gail Sherman has visited every provincial parliament in Canada and likes this Legislature absolutely the best. I hope that the House will make them welcome.
D. Thorne: Today I have the pleasure of introducing some special guests to the precinct. I would like to introduce my daughter-in-law Susan Edmondson and her parents, who are visiting all the way from New Brunswick, Susan and George Anderson. I think, so far, we've given them some pretty good weather, and I'd like the members to put their hands together and hope for more good weather for good east coasters.
Hon. J. Yap: I have a few introductions. In the gallery today is a great supporter of China and British Columbia trade and investment and relations, Amy Huang, president of North American Association for Investment in China, along with Agnes Chow, vice-president of Mega Global Marketing Inc.; Vanessa Cheng; and Raymond Chan, who is a constituent of the member for Richmond Centre.
They are here today with a delegation of China tourism media, a crew from the cruise travel industry in China, to do interviews with legislators and a bit of a documentary on beautiful British Columbia to broadcast in mainland China.
Here today to do this is Weidong Li, vice–general manager, Guangzhou Yinshi Tourism Culture Media; Zhu yao bin, Guangzhou Yinshi Tourism Culture Media; Luo Lin Mei Ke, Guangzhou Yinshi Tourism Culture Media; and Zhu Feng Ming.
Would the House please offer a warm welcome to our guests.
D. Routley: In honour of Bike to Work today, I rode my bike from Duncan to the Legislature — but also in anticipation of doing a statement on a hero of mine, Tony Hoar, a cycling legend. I phoned him today just to verify a few facts. He's watching right now.
The reason I'm standing up in introductions is to ask the House to help me console Tony. This 80-year-old retired professional cyclist, while racing a man half his age down the Malahat the other day, took a spill on a corner and spent ten hours in emergency getting X-rayed. He's bruised but not broken.
He's watching now, so if you could help me send our condolences and best wishes for a speedy recovery to an absolute hero of mine, a famous cyclist, Tony Hoar.
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. McNeil: I have a number of people to introduce today, but a little bit of a backstory first. The Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. holds various fundraising events throughout the year, and in an effort to help out, I donated a lunch with me to the winner and a few friends. The winning bid was from Steve Arnett, CEO of the Nanaimo Youth Services Association.
Steve was professionally trained as a social worker at the University of Calgary, where he obtained his undergrad and graduate degrees. Steve is here today with some very distinguished people.
Rae Shaben will be graduating grade 12 in June. She aspires to further her education and wants to go into either child and youth care or community social work.
Edward Walkus is also set to graduate shortly. He recently began reclaiming his cultural heritage and is enjoying the journey.
Michael Jensen fully completed a Toastmaster's public speaking and business presentation course for youth and community members last year, and his goal is to attend VIU and become a chef.
Finally, Melanie Morton, who works with Steve at the Nanaimo Youth Services Association as program coordinator for the supported-living program. Melanie is a professional child and youth care worker who studied at VIU.
I very much enjoyed my lunch with the five of them today, and I want to wish them all the best for the rest of the afternoon and hope the House will help make them feel welcome.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased today to recognize a group that's here in the precinct. I think they might be in the House up there. I have 22 grade 5 students from St. Francis of Assisi School — along with their teacher, Josie Pauletto — who are here visiting the Legislature and taking a look around the buildings. I wish the Legislature would make them all very welcome.
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N. Macdonald: I'd just like to speak for a moment about Mr. Ike Barber, who passed away Friday at the age of 89. I was honoured to meet him as owner of WoodEx, which he started at the age of 83. WoodEx, of course, has its mill in Edgewater just north of Radium.
Mr. Barber, as people would know, was founder of Slocan Forest Products and donated tens of millions to charity. I would just ask the Speaker to pass on the House's condolences to the family of this great British Columbian.
Hon. C. Clark: Like the member opposite, I rise today with great regret to commemorate the passing of a man who was a great Canadian and a real, true son of British Columbia — Ike Barber.
For most of his life Ike worked in our province's forest industry, and when many people might have thought about winding down, he started a forest company, Slocan Forest Products, at age 55. During his 24 years at the company's helm, it became a real leader in our forest sector.
But more important than that, he embodied one of life's greatest precepts. He gave back to the community which he felt had given so much to him. He gave back generously, and he gave back selflessly, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support research and education all over British Columbia.
His legacy will live on at UBC's Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, to which he donated $20 million in 2006 — still the largest single donation to a project in the university's history — and the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC's Kelowna campus, to which he donated $10 million in 2004.
The last time I saw Ike was at UNBC when we went to open up their new bioenergy plant. He looked at me, with bright fire in his eyes and full of vim and vigour, and he said: "You go get 'em, kid." That was the last time I saw Ike Barber.
On behalf of this House and British Columbians everywhere, I'd like to offer our sympathy and our condolences to his wife, Jean, his three children and his extended family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will miss him deeply.
We will all miss him deeply, Mr. Speaker. The likes of Irving K. Barber come along all too rarely, and he will be deeply missed all over British Columbia.
A. Dix: I just want to join with the Premier. Ike Barber is kind of a British Columbia legend and a Canadian legend. As the Premier has said, he contributed a great deal to MacMillan Bloedel, founding Slocan, led Slocan for 24 years, which had an impact, as the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke has said, in every part of the province. A winner of the Order of B.C.
I think you see his legacy. You go to campuses, and you don't necessarily expect to see…. You go to a different campus, and you see a different legacy — at UBC, at UBC Okanagan, at UNBC. At Kwantlen College there's the Ike Barber chair for diabetes research, which people with diabetes will know. Ike Barber had a great commitment to that.
He was a great British Columbian. I want to join with the Premier and all members of the House in expressing our condolences to his family. I think it's nine grandchildren; I think it's 17 great-grandchildren. He leaves an enormous legacy to everyone in the province.
(Standing Order 25B)
D. Routley: I rise to speak once more about Tony Hoar, a cycling legend, a pioneer designer and a community servant. At 80 years of age, Tony is still racing, still riding, still crashing and still getting back on. He can still ride the legs off men half his age.
Tony first came to Canada for the 1954 Commonwealth Games as part of the first-place-winning British road race team. He's won stages as a professional in the tour of Holland, tour of Ireland, tour of Egypt and tour of Britain. In 1955 he and his teammate were the first two British riders to complete the Tour de France. The team was plagued by bad tires from their sponsor early on, but Tony persevered. Tony became probably the most famous winner of the Lanterne Rouge, which is the trophy for the last-place rider. He jokes that he's the guy who spent the most time on the bike in the race.
At the end of 1956 he retired to Canada. Tony was a technical engineer who installed technologies in mills for his career around the world. He also designed and built his own bicycles — CBS, Canadian Bicycle Specialists.
Tony worked with Rick Hansen for over two years developing and producing the revolutionary racing wheelchairs that took Rick to two world championships. Now Tony designs and builds bicycle trailers. He won a design award for a trailer for homeless people that folds out at night as a tent-trailer and during the day converts to a recycling binner's trailer.
He designs trailers for disaster relief. Many urban recycling operators use his trailers, including Cowichan Recyclists. Tony designed a trailer for people with disabilities. They can roll a wheelchair onto this trailer, and an able-bodied cyclist can go for a ride with them.
Tony has orders from all over the world. One day recently his website had over 2,200 hits. Tony can't possibly service all the market himself, so he's busy designing a training program that will leverage his designs to pro-
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vide training and apprenticeship opportunities to others.
I think you can see why Tony Hoar is a hero to me, and I think you can also agree that this extraordinary Canadian deserves that status with all of us.
SCHOOL FRUIT AND VEGETABLE
J. Thornthwaite: Prior to my life in politics I was a registered dietitian, helping people of all ages choose healthy foods for a healthy life. Naturally, I was pleased with last week's announcement of another $1 million for the B.C. school fruit and vegetable nutrition program to further support school children's access to fresh B.C. fruits and vegetables in the classroom.
This is on top of the $3 million announced last year, which will bring the total number of participating schools to almost 1,500 by the beginning of next year, serving B.C. plums, blueberries, apples, tomatoes and carrots to almost half a million school children every other week.
A healthy diet encourages healthy children. It reduces the incidence of today's chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and most cancers. It allows children to concentrate on their studies, leads to stronger academic performance and exposes children to new, yummy choices that they may never have heard of before.
The B.C. school fruit and vegetable program is not only a national leader, but it supports our local agriculture industry by purchasing 6.3 million servings of fruits and veggies from over 800 B.C. growers and supports our local farmers, our food stores and distributors.
I applaud the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Education, as well as the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, for committing this additional funding for the benefit of students in British Columbia.
V. Huntington: There is an organization in Delta, very dear to my heart: the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society or, quite simply, OWL. In 1985 Bev Day started OWL in her living room. Today the complex includes flight cages, hospital and intensive care facilities, pool cages and enclosures for resident birds unable to survive in the wild.
OWL rescues injured and orphaned birds of prey from all over B.C., other provinces and the United States. Staff and volunteers are on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Veterinarians from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council train the volunteers, and two local animal hospitals generously donate their surgical services.
OWL offers unparalleled educational opportunities for Lower Mainland youth. Each year 12,000 Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides and elementary students visit OWL's schoolhouse to learn about hawks and merlins, peregrines and eagles. For 25 years high school biology students have participated in work experience for credits in science and technology.
But it doesn't end there. The Canadian Mental Health Association, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and B.C.'s justice system all partner with OWL to help their clients obtain job skills, training and community service hours.
OWL is an organization that provides a huge return on investment to its sponsors and to the province. Delta has Canada's largest concentration of raptors, and when OWL lost its gaming grants, our community immediately understood its significance. Citizens of Delta stepped up and donated their time and money to ensure OWL kept running.
I hope members will join me in thanking Bev Day and the staff, volunteers and community members who contribute to OWL's amazing work.
CHINESE-CANADIAN DONOR CAMPAIGN
FOR STEM CELL TRANSPLANTATION
M. Stilwell: There is a large-scale campaign underway in Vancouver. Its aim is to get members of the Chinese community to become registered stem cell donors. Stem cell transplants are used to treat a variety of potentially life-threatening illnesses, from blood cancers like leukemia to genetic disorders. For many patients, a stem cell transplant is their best hope for survival.
Currently there are close to a thousand patients in the country in need of stem cell transplants. About 32 of them are Chinese Canadian.
A patient's best chance of finding an unrelated stem cell donor is within his or her own ethnic group. Canada's stem cell donor base is made up of 77 percent Caucasian donors. Just 5 percent of donors are Chinese, and when looking at the global database, this number drops to 3 percent. This means that the majority of Chinese patients looking for unrelated stem cell donors will not be able to find a match. Expanding the Chinese donor pool is critical. For those lucky enough to find a match, their probability of survival jumps to about 80 to 90 percent.
Last month the nation learned about 17-year-old Katie Chong. Katie goes to school in Ancaster, Ontario, is an accomplished piano player, lifeguard, swimming instructor, runner and volunteer. She is also one of the 32 Canadians looking for a stem cell donor, but because she is half Chinese and half Caucasian, her donor pool is limited. So for Katie and 31 others, I urge the members of the Chinese community to donate. Log on to www.chinesestemcell.ca, and find out how you can save a life today.
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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
K. Corrigan: This week is Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, initiated in 1995 by the NDP government, which the B.C. Society of Transition Houses says "effectively began a movement to encourage the public to express its commitment to reducing and preventing violence against women, as well as to raise awareness about the unacceptability of violence against women, youth and children in our communities."
If we want to prevent violence, we must heighten awareness and understanding of the pervasiveness and the complex roots of violence against women. It is a long and slow process, but I believe there is increased awareness across the province and across society.
Some important examples include the recent and powerful gathering of aboriginal men standing up against violence towards aboriginal women and children or the We Can B.C. and the Justice Education Society, who are training the Youth Against Violence team to mobilize students.
As another example, this week the Battered Women's Support Services is engaging its on-line community to resist media representations of women and the implicit inequality in that representation as a way to prevent violence against girls and women.
The Ending Violence Association is working to increase awareness about the vulnerability of women in the workplace and the responsibility of employers to keep workplaces safe. There is increased awareness in communities like New Westminster and its Purple Lights nights campaign.
Increased awareness through education and campaigns is important. It is a critical piece in preventing violence, but in the end, it takes more. It takes government commitment to address the great gaps in services and supports that we learned about in the tragic Christian Lee case. But ultimately, the real key to prevention of violence against women is economic, political and social equality.
CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH FORUM AND
INTERCULTURAL ONLINE HEALTH NETWORK
R. Lee: I recently had the pleasure of attending a community forum on cardiovascular health at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver. The forum allowed medical experts to share their expertise with the public. A speaker panel that included pharmacists, family physicians, dietitians and neurosurgeons provided information on heart disease, its symptoms and effective tips on managing heart health.
The fact that the forum was delivered in Cantonese, with simultaneous Mandarin translation, meant the panel could reach out to members of the public who might be missed through traditional information seminars.
The forum was presented by iCON, the interCultural online health network. The iCON program was established by UBC's faculty of medicine to promote health information for multicultural and aboriginal families throughout B.C. by hosting forums like the one I attended.
These forums and the public workshops provide a venue for meaningful discussions between the community and health care workers, allowing health care workers to educate the public on personal health care and chronic disease prevention. These forums are presented in a variety of languages, from Cantonese to Punjabi, and will help families manage their health and gain access to culturally relevant health information — information which might be hard to understand if they have trouble speaking or reading English.
I'm very pleased our government supported the iCON program with a $500,000 grant in March. This grant will help iCON continue to support our multicultural families in managing their health and promoting healthy choices for their children.
JOINT DELEGATION PROPOSAL
IN SUPPORT OF AVEOS WORKERS
A. Dix: Today is actually something of an anniversary for me. A year ago I was elected leader of the B.C. NDP, and what I've learned in that time…. [Applause.]
I know I share this with the Premier, who was elected around the same time. You know, in these jobs as leaders, you have good moments and other moments, sometimes good quarter-hours and other quarter-hours.
In that light, I wanted to say that I received a call from the member for Burnaby-Lougheed today. He spoke with great sincerity, I think, in apology. I wanted to say that for me the matter is closed. I accept his apology.
I want to say to all members of the House — and certainly to him — that we'll continue to work together. We're going to disagree all the time. All the time. And that is part of democracy, and it is a good thing. But we can work together to do what we want to do, which is serve our constituents and serve the people of B.C. So I thank him for his apology. [Applause.]
My question is to the Premier. The Premier will know that 356 skilled workers have lost their jobs at Aveos. The Legislature came together just before the break and passed unanimously a motion to work together to support those workers — to work to save those jobs, to work together as a province.
Of course, there have been other events that have occurred since then. The government of Canada has yet
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to take a favourable position in the sense of the jobs, although they've made some offers to the province.
I want to ask the Premier today if she'll join me, if the government will join with the opposition, in a joint delegation to Ottawa to advocate for those workers — a delegation with those workers and with the aerospace industry — so that we can work to save those jobs in British Columbia.
Hon. P. Bell: Fortunately, this issue was canvassed yesterday by the critic in the estimates period as well, so it is top of mind and fresh. We have drafted and prepared a letter to go back to Ottawa, reinforcing the position that I believe the opposition and the government took in the resolution that was passed. As the member knows, right now we're in the midst of session, so travel would be difficult to go to Ottawa.
I continue to be in discussions with Minister Lebel on this issue, and I don't believe that the government's view has changed at all. It is aligned with opposition's in an attempt to make sure that those 356 workers have all of the protection they could possibly have.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: I thank the minister for his answer. I just want to say that I think we can put the pressure on more, and I think we need to. There is a lot at stake for our industry, for our workers and for future workers in the industry. The government itself, as you know, has programs to train future aerospace workers. This is a major blow to those programs. So I wanted to ask the minister, because it seems to me what the workers are asking for is a renewed effort here — an effort to get the attention of the government.
I'm sure that, given the session is on here, we could pair and make that trip happen together. Whether the Premier and I go, or the minister and the critic go, or he and I go, it doesn't matter. It will be one and one. It will all work out. So I want to ask the minister….
A. Dix: That would be a great flight. I'd enjoy that flight.
I think the important question, though, is those jobs and making the advocacy for those jobs. The government of Quebec is going to court today, as the minister will know. The government of Canada has taken the position that the act doesn't apply, and therefore, those jobs are gone everywhere.
So I wanted to ask the minister if he would take the next step. Join with us. Let's go to Ottawa. Let's make the case for British Columbia, as a united delegation could, and make a difference for those workers.
Hon. P. Bell: Thanks very much to the Leader of the Opposition for his generous offer to pair and find a way to make something like this happen. I would be happy to continue to work, whether it be with the critic or with the Leader of the Opposition, as they see fit, in the discussions that we've had with Minister Lebel.
In fact, I'd be happy to have either or both sit in on the conference calls that we're doing with Minister Lebel. If at some point in time it is appropriate for a delegation to go, certainly I'd be happy to do that in a joint way.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Hon. Speaker, I feel like we're making progress here.
A. Dix: The Government House Leader seems to think I'm pushing my luck, but I don't think so. I think that everybody knows — and I think the minister will know, having met with those workers — how important those jobs are, how important the sector is to our economy. It's really at the centre of it.
Those jobs, in many respects, are irreplaceable here. They have been here a very long time. They are at the centre of a broader industry.
I appreciate the minister's offer to keep us apprised, to keep us involved, but I think we need to take an additional step, so what I'd ask him to do is to meet with us today — and we'll find a way to do it — have those meetings and plan those efforts so that we can have a joint effort that uses all the resources of British Columbians to save those jobs and to ensure that that sector continues to thrive in British Columbia.
Hon. P. Bell: I am always happy to meet with the critic — or any member of this House, in fact — on this or any issue. Fortunately, I think the critic and I will be spending a blissful four hours together today in the estimates period in the small House. But certainly, the offer to continue to work together is one, I believe, that we've extended, as well, and support the initiative.
I think not only is it important from the 356 workers' perspective, but it's also important from the travelling public's perspective. I think people are comforted by the notion that they have highly skilled and professional workers that are maintaining these aircraft and looking after, particularly, the heavy-duty maintenance, as is associated with the Aveos workers. I think all of us would like to see those people go back to work.
So we'll continue to work together with the critic, with the Leader of the Opposition, to see this file through to the end.
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CARBON OFFSET COSTS TO SUCH SECTOR
R. Fleming: A week ago this Liberal government was embarrassed into admitting that its mandatory carbon-neutral scheme for school districts was little more than a shell game that transfers scarce tax resources away from classrooms and gives it to B.C.'s biggest polluters. In a press release the Environment Minister granted a concession to schools to finally retain these offset payments in a separate fund so schools can do their own energy efficiency projects.
Since change is in the air and the error of ways is being admitted to, my question today is for the Minister of Environment. When will he also allow — after making this concession to school districts — colleges, universities and hospitals to use public funds to lower their energy costs and achieve real carbon emission reductions in the public sector, instead of continuing to subsidize B.C.'s biggest polluters?
Hon. T. Lake: On this side of the House we are extremely proud of our actions on the climate file. This government has led all of North America in terms of carbon pricing and putting policies in place that have seen real reductions in greenhouse gases in the province of British Columbia. We are the first government in North America to be carbon-neutral, something of which we are extremely proud.
This carbon-neutral government policy is an example of leadership — leadership which is demonstrated to British Columbians each and every day as they go into public buildings across this great province. We provided $75 million through the public sector energy conservation agreement in previous years, which allowed public sector organizations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well as save hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year on utility payments.
We will continue to make sure that our carbon-neutral policy is leading edge, and we will continue to look at ways to improve that policy.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: Let's have a look at this issue. In just over one year there have been two reviews by the Liberals of the Pacific Carbon Trust, resulting in, now, three different offset schemes: one for local governments, one for hospitals and universities, and now another one for schools. This isn't considered policy-making. This is an example of government making it up as they go along.
Again, I would ask the minister — because he's getting these questions; he's facing these questions from education leaders in advanced education and in the health care sector: why did the Minister of Environment exempt public schools while completely ignoring the plight of colleges and universities, a sector that this government ripped $30 million out of in the budget that they tabled?
Hon. T. Lake: This from a member whose party failed to support carbon pricing in the province of British Columbia. Finally, they have come on board and recognized the leadership that this government has shown with carbon-pricing policy, leadership that leads all of North America.
The fact is that a carbon-neutral government demonstrates leadership. Not only that, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and saves those hospitals, those schools, those public sector organizations across the province of British Columbia hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy bills each and every year. It's good for the environment, and it is good for the bottom line too.
PUBLIC CONSULTATION FOR
INTERIOR TIMBER SUPPLY AREAS
B. Simpson: When will the Minister of FLNRO reveal to the public the options the government is considering to increase midterm timber supply in the mountain pine beetle–impacted areas?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite.... I had passed an invitation yesterday. I know we got kind of caught up in terms of the challenges of timing with the estimates process, but I offered to get together to discuss this very specific issue with the member opposite. Not only has he got a keen interest, but I am keenly interested in his views on it.
There is a lot of work going on. It is in the broader mountain pine beetle region. We are likely a month or two away from having a broader public discussion. I think that dialogue is important, and it is a dialogue that we'll be encouraging as we move into the summer months.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Simpson: The minister may be keenly interested in my views, but I think I'm keenly interested in the public's views on what the government is contemplating in this case.
The technical reports. The reports the minister is indicating and that the real minister for this file — the one that isn't allowed to stand up, the minister of FLNRO — is telling the public are incomplete are on the Internet. All of the technical appraisals are there.
In those technical appraisals it points out that in my area, in Quesnel, we have 1.5 years of commercial timber left and we may see 1,600 jobs lost if mitigation measures are not taken. But those mitigation measures are highly controversial and will completely change the face of for-
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estry in this province, yet that same report isn't sure if this government wants to consult. The document states that "assuming the government wants to engage in dialogue," decisions have to be made before the end of the year "to avoid conflict with the May 2013 election."
My question to the real minister for this file, the minister with the legal obligation for this, is.... Please tell this House when the public will be consulted on what the government is considering.
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite, while he would like to suggest that this government is not interested in consulting, is completely inaccurate. In fact, that's what we need to do.
What has occurred is the need around the Burns Lake environment. Specifically, as it results from the fire and explosion, which was devastating, it has accelerated the need to do that work more quickly. The ministry is doing exactly what it should do right now. They're doing the detailed analysis to determine what the options are. Those options will be presented, and there will be a public dialogue about those options.
AND TRANSIT SERVICES
H. Bains: Today we heard the CEO of TransLink tell us what we already know. The system is broken, and this government has no plan to fix it.
The commissioner rejected the fare increase request. The mayors responded by saying they will not allow property tax increases for new services. The board members have received ridiculous pay increases in the meantime. As a result, services all across the system, especially south of the Fraser expansion, are put on hold waiting for more reviews, more answers, the answers this government doesn't seem to have.
Before you fix the problem, you need to acknowledge that. I ask this minister once again today: will he admit that the structure that his predecessor put in place made it worse, made it unworkable, and will he take the leadership role and fix the problem that his predecessors have caused?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We went through this yesterday. I made a commitment a year ago, when I took on the position and began meeting with the Mayors Council, that I would work with them to find refinements to their governance policy that would help enhance the service delivery that we all are committed to doing for the province of British Columbia and, in this case, the residents of Metro Vancouver. I will continue to do that.
We've had discussions. We've had agreements. We've had disagreements. I actually put a response back to the Mayors Council and their request. The indication from the Mayors Council right now is that they are taking the time to put in writing their response that they would like to see.
We will continue, and my commitment will remain the same — that I will work with the Mayors Council to find solutions for the betterment of the province of British Columbia and Metro Vancouver to ensure that TransLink works in the best interest of all of us.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
H. Bains: Despite what this minister says, the public confidence in TransLink and its leadership is in tatters. Services are stalled, and costs are going up. Local governments feel alienated, and the leadership that is appointed by this Liberal government is working in secret, with no plan to fix the problem. So they are looking for leadership from this minister.
The question comes to the minister again: what concrete actions are you taking to put back the working relationship that is needed with the local government and build the public confidence that is needed for a system that you are responsible for?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: As I've said before, I've committed to working with the Mayors Council and TransLink. I'm doing exactly that. We've had numerous meetings. We've reached agreement on some issues, and on others we haven't. I will continue to work with the Mayors Council to ensure that what we have to do to ensure a sustainable TransLink system is there.
We have a world-class transit system in Metro Vancouver. It has incredible needs. It has challenges with funding. My commitment is that I will work with the Mayors Council. This is not a one-side fix or the other side. This is a combined effort by all parties at the table to find a solution — and I will say this again — that works in the best interest of the people of British Columbia and Metro Vancouver that we all represent.
S. Simpson: When this minister's predecessor chose to blow up the original TransLink model, largely over a snit around differences of opinion with local governments around the Canada Line, he told us at the time that this system would be more effective. That's what he told us.
Well, the results are playing out today. The results are that the chasm between the funding that's available and the funding that's needed continues to grow. We have the mayors saying: "We're not going to pay with property taxes." We have the commissioner saying: "You don't get the fare increase." We have the mayors sending a letter in March to this minister with a number of propositions that were rejected by the minister. And now we have this situation.
Effectiveness is about leadership. Leadership is about bringing people together. This minister hasn't done it.
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When will he show some leadership on this file?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We obviously differ on some issues here, Member.
I think we have a world-class transit system in Metro Vancouver. Like every system around the world and in everything we do, we hope to improve on what we've done the day before today and in the future. We're going to do that.
But when the member says that the commissioner has rejected, I myself have rejected the request from the Mayors Council, the one group that he forgot to say is that the public has also rejected the issues that have been put forward. The commitment we made was to work together to find issues that work for the Mayors Council, that work for TransLink and work for the public, and we're going to do that, Member.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: Maybe the minister would like to go and talk to all those people who live south of the Fraser, who heard today that any expansion of services out there was suspended because of the ineptness of this government on the TransLink file.
You have a board that gets put in place by this model. You have a chair that has a retainer that goes from $75,000 to $125,000 a year over a couple of years. You have directors making more than $2,000 a meeting to be there. They meet largely in secret. The public doesn't have access. There is no transparency to this process. You have a situation where there is a crisis around funding.
Where is the effectiveness? Where is the plan? When will the minister do something besides say, "Trust me; we're gonna fix it," when it's falling apart around his shoulders?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: What I will assure the member is that I will fix it by working with the Mayors Council and obviously not the member opposite, with your attitude, Member.
As I've told the member on more than one occasion, we have a great transit system. We have some challenges. We are going to work together to resolve those challenges. We've just concluded, and announced, the Evergreen line, something that the Lower Mainland was after.
What I will tell the member is that it's about balance. It's about finding the right balance. The province injected $583 million into that line, a pretty substantial amount. The federal government put $417 million into the Evergreen line. The Mayors Council and TransLink and Metro Vancouver put in $400 million. That's cooperation.
If we have to work together to find solutions for future expansions, we're going to do that. But what I want to assure the member is.... What they've said today is they're going to put them on hold. We've committed to do an audit. We've committed to work with them. I'm looking forward to that audit, because I do believe there is money to be found, and we'll continue to work for solutions for future expansions as well.
NEGOTIATIONS FOR RCMP SERVICES
AND RCMP COMPENSATION
K. Corrigan: Municipalities around B.C. have expressed grave concerns about the Liberals' lack of, shall we say, attention to detail when it came to signing a 20-year contract with the RCMP. The Liberal Premier said of the increases to RCMP compensation: "That wasn't something that we expected, and it caught the province off guard." The Liberal Justice Minister said the compensation package "included items that were new to us and to municipalities." Yet Stephen Harper's Public Safety Minister said they shared the details with provinces two times.
To the Justice Minister: who do we believe — your government or Mr. Harper's?
Hon. S. Bond: We've been very clear that we worked closely with municipalities for years, in fact, to look at a contract that includes new management tools. Those very tools are the ones that will help prevent this kind of discussion and this kind of communication issue from happening in the future.
In fact, we have been very clear. There was notional information provided about the potential of an increase. I actually think mayors across the province have gone back and looked at the appendix that was sent that included that information.
There continue to be details where additional information is required. We're going to continue to work constructively with the federal government to ensure that those details are provided to municipalities as soon as possible.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: It sounds like an admission that the work wasn't done by the minister in these negotiations.
It isn't just the municipalities around the province that are concerned with this Liberal government's lack of attention to detail. Yesterday the former Liberal Solicitor General and member for Vancouver-Fraserview said he was also surprised his Justice Minister was caught off guard. He said that not only was she unaware, but I understand there are others in government that were unaware that this was actually taking place.
Again to the minister: were you unaware, as your colleague from Vancouver-Fraserview said? And I'm going
[ Page 10745 ]
to ask you again: who do we believe — your government or Mr. Harper's?
Hon. S. Bond: What we're completely aware of is the fact that municipalities across this province value the work done by the RCMP, asked us to go and negotiate for new management tools to deal with precisely issues like that. That's what we did. That's the contract that has been negotiated. And we're going to continue to work with municipalities in a positive and constructive way.
D. Donaldson: Because of a negotiating blunder by this B.C. Liberal government, many small communities in rural B.C. face an unexpected increase in RCMP compensation this fiscal year — all because the Justice Minister never asked what level of pay increase was slated for the first three years of a new 20-year contract.
Taylor Bachrach, the mayor of Smithers, says that it all translates into a tax increase that is out of the community's control. Does the minister think it's fair that taxpayers in small towns must cough up for the botched negotiations by this B.C. Liberal government?
Hon. S. Bond: Obviously, the member opposite needs to do some more homework. In fact, small municipalities across the province receive additional support from the provincial government, and there's a cost-sharing agreement which brings policing costs down for all municipalities because we have a partnership with the federal government. Let's be clear. One of the things, in talking to the federal government about the package that was approved….
Let's be clear. To the members opposite: RCMP officers are federal employees, and throughout the course of the budget process federal Treasury Board approved a package of incremental increases. There are items in that package that require further explanation.
But I can tell the member opposite this. The federal government is also making reductions to the RCMP on the administrative side, and we've been very, very encouraged by the comments from the federal government that in fact, at the end of the day, the increases will be mitigated by cost reductions.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
D. Donaldson: Well, let's be clear. This government can't get its story straight within caucus. It can't get its story straight with the federal government. It defies the definition of competence by any standard. A botched implementation by this Liberal government, and communities around B.C. have to adjust their strained budgets to account for the unexpected increase.
As the member for Vancouver-Fraserview said yesterday: "The federal government says they advised, and we as a province said we were unaware of it." To the Justice Minister and chief negotiator on behalf of B.C. municipalities: will you admit you botched the implementation of the contract and communities across B.C. are on the hook for the unexpected increase?
Hon. S. Bond: The last thing that members on this side of the House are going to do is take lectures from members on the other side, who drove the economy of British Columbia to have-not status. We are delighted that British Columbia just had its triple-A credit rating confirmed, when the opposition….
Let's look back at the record of the members opposite. Successive credit downgrades. That's the type of confidence we saw when the members opposite were in power.
[End of question period.]
Hon. K. Falcon: I have the honour to rise and report that the government is adding two organizations to the government reporting entity by regulation. The organizations are the Trades Training Consortium of British Columbia and the British Columbia Council for International Education.
Adding these organizations to the government reporting entity is necessary as both organizations have been found to be controlled by government from an accounting perspective but do not meet the Financial Administration Act definition of government organizations. As Crown corporations, both organizations will be required to prepare service plans and annual reports under the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: In this House we will continue Bill 21 in committee stage, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012, and then move to second reading on Bill 26 to complete that. The others on the list will follow what I said in the House yesterday. In Section A, Douglas Fir Committee Room, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation will continue their estimates.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 21 — BUDGET MEASURES
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 21; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:36 p.m.
[ Page 10746 ]
On section 36 as amended (continued).
B. Ralston: I want to resume debate on section 36. Over the lunch hour I recalled some discussion I'd had in the past on various programs that are designed to encourage children to participate in organized sports. I had mentioned the Right to Play, but the other one is JumpStart, which is a foundation sponsored by Canadian Tire, the well-known retail outlet.
In their material they say: "One in three Canadian families cannot afford to enrol their children in sport and recreation activities because of financial barriers — Ipsos-Reid, 2009. This means that many kids are missing out." They speak very strongly of participating in organized sports and recreation increasing a child's chance for success in life. "They discover and participate. They gain self-confidence. They gain self-esteem. They learn leadership skills. Their lives become richer."
The minister referred to…. I don't want to diminish the value of the program that's been initiated in terms of equipping playgrounds at public schools. I think that's a good step forward. But I think what the focus in JumpStart and in the Right to Play is, is to take children who were otherwise not able to participate due to financial barriers and have them get the benefit of organized sports for all the reasons that I just enumerated from the JumpStart program.
The Right to Play scope is even broader. They talk about encouraging understanding, conflict resolution, the benefits that come from being in a team and resolving differences — we in the Legislature may have some experience of resolving our differences while working within a team on occasion, successfully or not — and the opportunity to participate more directly in the community.
I will just close on this in terms of this section. But my concern about the approach that's been taken in this fitness credit is that only those who are able to and make a claim of up to $500 in order to get the maximum credit of $25…. Only those parents who can afford to make that expenditure will be able to get the benefits for their children.
While that's commendable for a certain section of the population, I think what these programs show is that the benefits of participation in organized sports — and all the benefits that that brings for self-confidence, for social growth, for becoming a good citizen — ought to be extended to everyone.
So in addition to this program — obviously, the minister has put it in the budget — is the minister prepared to consider other avenues where these kinds of benefits might be more broadly shared across all the children in our community?
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member for what is a very thoughtful question.
First of all, let me say that the organizations like JumpStart and Right to Play are doing exceptional work in ensuring that kids from underprivileged families receive the same opportunity to have access to the kind of equipment that is necessary to be able to engage in sports activities.
I want to state for the record just the exceptional work that those organizations and their corporate sponsors have done. I've attended fundraisers myself to support those initiatives, and I believe very deeply that what they are doing is absolutely the right thing.
I also want to acknowledge what the member says. As I said in an earlier answer, I accept that the premise of this program…. By mirroring the children's art and fitness tax credits with the federal program to maximize the benefit to families and parents in British Columbia, we are by its very nature subjecting it to the same rules that apply under the federal program. Indeed, you have to be paying income tax to be able to receive a tax credit under the program.
The bottom line is that the member is making the reasonable point: will government consider other avenues to support those that do not have the ability, because they're not paying income tax, to take advantage of the benefits that are laid out there under this particular program? And the short answer is yes. I would be open to that.
As a former Health Minister, I am keenly aware that the social determinants of health are important factors in determining the kind of healthy communities that we're ultimately going to have. Those social determinants can be particularly acute in lower-income neighbourhoods.
The good news, as I've alluded to earlier, is it is not the only thing we're doing in government. It is just one part of a large suite of issues that are underway to help deal with the issue that the member has talked about.
We touched on some of them: the investment in playground equipment; the new requirement that playground equipment be mandatory for every new school now constructed in the province of British Columbia to put an end forever to parents having to do fundraising, etc. — something that's been going on for a long time in the province of British Columbia; also, the mandatory physical education program; the fruit and vegetable program — which Canada is a leader in, as was pointed out in one of the MLA statements today — to ensure that healthy food options, fruit and vegetable options, grown in British Columbia are made available to children throughout the province.
All of those things each take a small piece of the puzzle and help build what ultimately, I hope, will be greater engagement in physical activity. But, Member, I think that I would be very open to suggestions on how we can look even beyond what we're doing here to try and achieve the same purpose that is trying to be recognized in both JumpStart and Right to Play.
[ Page 10747 ]
B. Ralston: Well, I thank the minister for those responsive comments. I might say, just parenthetically, that in the brief research I did to renew my acquaintance with Right to Play…. The Ontario government partnered with Right to Play in northern Ontario aboriginal communities, judging from the news release, at a very minimal cost, to bring a couple of hundred aboriginal kids into a program that was designed specifically for them and sponsored by Right to Play.
Just to return, though, to the child arts credit, I would make similar comments. I won't rehearse them again, but similarly, I think one recognizes, in early childhood development, the importance of an exposure to the arts in promoting creative thinking and general intellectual ability and, also, some sense of emotional stability — whether we see, in some more extreme cases, through things like music therapy, the powerful effect that the arts can have upon people's emotions and their ability to function more effectively as citizens of society.
A similar critique would apply to the child arts credit as well. While it may work for those parents who are able to spend the money, it doesn't work for a broad section of the population. I know that the member for Vancouver–West End raised this earlier.
It doesn't seem as though, beyond the wish to mirror the federal program — the kind of research about other alternatives — the tax expenditure that will result…. I believe it's $9 million a year. There might have been other uses that that $9 million could be put to in a more effective way.
Having said that, I don't know whether the minister wishes to respond, but I think that would conclude my comments on those two sections.
Hon. K. Falcon: Just briefly to the member's comment around the value of art and what is a growing sector, actually, of art therapy. I would agree with the member that there can be some real, positive outcomes by utilizing art to deal with physical or other impairments an individual may be dealing with.
It is worth noting — and I'm reminded by staff — that if a child is eligible for a disability tax credit, they can qualify for an additional $500 credit under this program. So there is an enhanced ability for children that are registered already or are eligible for the disability tax credit to receive an enhanced tax credit under this program.
Section 36 as amended approved.
On section 37.
B. Ralston: Section 37 amends section 4.5(1) "in the description of 'D' by striking out 'the smaller of $10 000 and'." I understand that previously placed a limit on expenses that could be claimed for dependents. This removes that limit. Perhaps the minister could just confirm that the cost of removing that limit is expected to be minimal.
Hon. K. Falcon: The cost is certainly minimal in the scope of things for government, but it is obviously very significant for the individuals that benefit. What we're doing here is harmonizing to a similar change that's been made to the federal medical expense credit.
I think for the families that benefit, this will be very significant. I think for government, it is fair to say that cost-wise, it will be insignificant.
Section 37 approved.
On section 38.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment is to section 4.51 of the British Columbia Income Tax Act. It proposes to amend subsection (2)(b) "by striking out…." And there are some references to some other sections. So I take it that these are consequential amendments based on the creation of the child tax credit that we've spoken of earlier.
Hon. K. Falcon: It's a very sort of technical issue that's taking place here, but I think the best way to summarize it is by saying that without this amendment in place, an individual's disability transfer amount could actually be inadvertently reduced by the amount of the child fitness credit and the child arts credit that are being claimed by the dependent. This is to ensure that that untoward event does not take place.
Section 38 approved.
On section 39.
B. Ralston: Section 39 proposes to amend what is entitled "Unused tuition and education tax credits" in section 4.62 of the act. In subsection (1) there again seem to be consequential amendments. Similarly in subsection (b). Perhaps the minister can just confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is more of the same kind of thing. These are consequential amendments, too, in this case. Again, without the amendment, an individual's tuition and education carry-forward amount may be inadvertently inflated by the amount of the child fitness and arts credits that they're claiming.
This is to ensure that in fact, that does not take place. So it's consequential again, but trying to deal with the same kinds of unintended consequences.
Section 39 approved.
[ Page 10748 ]
On section 40.
B. Ralston: Section 40 refers to the…. It's entitled "Transfer of unused credits to spouse or common-law partner." There's a formula where "A + B - C." There's a proposed amendment to the description of "C" in the formula. Can the minister briefly explain the purpose of this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, it's similar to the other ones that I've been mentioning. It's a consequential amendment.
The purpose, again, is that without the amendment in this case, an individual spousal transfer amount may be reduced by the amount of the child fitness and arts credit that could be claimed by a spouse. In order to ensure that that doesn't take place, this consequential amendment takes care of that.
Section 40 approved.
On section 41.
B. Ralston: Similarly, in section 41, section 4.66(a) is amended in the description of "B" in the same formula, I believe. Can the minister briefly explain the purpose of that amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, these are consequential amendments. They're really not of any consequence. That's, I suppose, why they're consequential amendments.
But in this case this is referring to an individual's tuition and education transfer amount that could be inadvertently inflated by the amount of the child fitness and arts credit that is being claimed. Again, as a consequential amendment, we want to avoid that untoward event taking place, and this will do so.
Section 41 approved.
On section 42.
B. Ralston: This section I propose to discuss a little bit more at length. It's a change to section 4.69 of the Income Tax Act — that's the British Columbia Income Tax Act — and that refers to the dividend tax credit. What happens here is that the amendment would increase the percentage applied in determining the dividend tax credit.
I spoke of this at second reading briefly. The minister will know — and his staff will have advised him — that the dividend tax credit decreases at a net tax paid on dividend income. The basic principle is that since a corporation would pay tax on its income, in order to avoid double taxation, there's an attempt to do what's called integrate the subsequent payment of dividends out, since the income from which the dividends are drawn has already been taxed.
The question that I wish to pose to the minister is: why is the decision being made to raise this tax credit when taxes on Canadian companies are declining with the federal tax rate, which has gone down from 16.5 to 15 percent on January 1, 2012. And of course, as the minister will well know and is very familiar with, the general corporate tax rate on B.C. companies also has declined.
Why is this tax credit being raised?
Hon. K. Falcon: The increase to the dividend tax credit rate was necessary to offset some recent reductions to the federal gross-up rate that is used in calculating B.C.'s dividend tax credit.
The federal gross-up has declined from 45 percent in 2009 to 38 percent in 2012, resulting in a lower provincial dividend tax credit each year, despite the province keeping its dividend tax credit rate constant over this period of time. So given the reductions to the federal gross-up, a slight increase to the provincial dividend tax credit is necessary so that our credit remains constant.
B. Ralston: Well, perhaps the minister could just take me through the decline in the federal gross-up. My advice was that the effect of this amendment would be to essentially favour a dividend income at a lower rate of taxation over those who pay income tax based on their wages.
So the integration policy would, as part of a basic fairness approach, seek to equalize the income tax on dividend income and on income from wages. In fact, the result of this approach is to favour, in the result, a lower level of taxation on dividend income.
Will the minister…? If he's not prepared to confirm that, can he at least clearly deny that or point out to me the misunderstanding that I may be exhibiting?
Hon. K. Falcon: It's a reasonable question for the member to ask.
The fact of the matter is that even with this change, you will still be paying a higher rate of tax receiving dividend income than you would under wage income — in fact, at the top marginal tax rate for dividend income. So if we look at both corporate and personal income tax, it'll be 44.17 percent dividend income rate at the top marginal rate, compared to 43.7 percent for wage income on your personal income tax.
B. Ralston: In 2006, when the enhanced dividend tax credit was introduced, the Ministry of Finance provided an explanation explaining the process and making the comparison between income earned from corporate profits and income earned from wages and salaries. Such an analysis was provided with their explanation.
The research done on my behalf was unable to locate a
[ Page 10749 ]
similar explanation in support of these changes. Will the minister commit to providing an explanation similar to the one provided in 2006 at the creation of the enhanced dividend tax credit?
Hon. K. Falcon: In 2007 the dividend tax credit was 12 percent, at a time when the corporate income tax rate was also 12 percent. We're talking about the provincial portion of the corporate income tax rate. In 2009 the rate was reduced to 11 percent to mirror the 11 percent provincial portion of the corporate tax rate.
Here again, what we're doing is simply the same thing of just mirroring the fact that our general corporate rate is now 10 percent, and thus, the dividend tax credit will also be 10 percent. But I'm happy to get the information that the member requested to the member.
B. Ralston: Well, I thank the minister for that, and perhaps that's something that can be arranged at a subsequent briefing between myself and ministerial staff that he may choose to make available.
I want to, then, just to close on this…. This may be something that we can deal with in that discussion, but just for the record here, can the minister, then, explain what the combined top marginal income tax rate on wages and salaries with the dividend tax credit will result in? My advice is that it's presently 33.5 percent and the amendment will lower it to 32.5 percent. Can the minister either confirm or dismiss that claim?
Hon. K. Falcon: We haven't got that split out, Member. It'll take some calculation, but we'll be happy to forward that to the member upon doing that.
B. Ralston: I'm going to close on this section now, given that we'll have further discussion. This is difficult to discuss this level of detail in this particular forum, but I think the general concern is that the effect of these rules is to reduce the amount of tax paid compared to the tax that is placed upon wages and that the operation of this enhanced-dividend tax credit favoured those who received income in the dividend form, which is contrary to the basic principles of tax fairness. Therefore, that's the basis of the concern that I'm raising.
However, I'll pursue that further with the minister at a later date, given what he has offered. With those comments, that would conclude my remarks on this proposed amendment.
Section 42 approved.
On section 43.
B. Ralston: I'm advised that the purpose of this proposed amendment to section 4.74 of the Income Tax Act is to restrict "the amount of the child fitness and arts credits that may be claimed in the year of bankruptcy." Perhaps the minister can confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is to mirror the federal approach to dealing with bankruptcy issues to ensure that a taxpayer cannot claim more than the legislated amount of the B.C. child fitness credit because, of course, if an individual goes into bankruptcy there's a deemed disposition. So you could effectively have the opportunity to claim twice.
This mirrors the federal approach to ensure it can only be claimed a single time.
Section 43 approved.
On section 44.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment to section 4.76, I'm told, "restricts the amount of the child fitness and arts credits that may be claimed by an individual who is not resident in Canada for part of the taxation year." Perhaps the minister can confirm that interpretation.
Hon. K. Falcon: The reason for this amendment is that those that are living part-time in British Columbia can still claim the credit, but the credit will be prorated for the amount of time that they're actually a resident in British Columbia. This is to ensure fairness. I expect it probably follows the federal legislative requirement. And it does.
Section 44 approved.
On section 45.
B. Ralston: This is a proposed amendment to section 4.78 of the Income Tax Act. I'm advised, somewhat elliptically, here that it provides for the deduction of the child fitness and arts credits "when computing the tax payable by an individual in a separate return of income for a particular period." Can the minister confirm or explain in an alternate way the purpose of this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: In this case, this consequential amendment provides for the deductions to be permitted in a separate return if an individual passes away or dies. As I read it, this would allow the estate, I would assume, although I can confirm that….
Their estate can still claim the credit, even if the individual has passed away.
Section 45 approved.
On section 46.
[ Page 10750 ]
B. Ralston: This is a proposed amendment to section 4.79 of the British Columbia Income Tax Act, which is entitled "Order of making deductions." Can the minister explain the purpose of this amendment? I assume it places the two credits within the order in which tax credits may be deducted. There's a long list. It looks to be some 15 proposed deductions which must be applied in a prescribed order.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct. This is consistent with the federal credit, so we follow the same order to ensure there's consistency between the federal and the provincial approach.
Section 46 approved.
On section 47.
B. Ralston: The proposal here is to amend section 80 of the Income Tax Act. It refers to amendments to the film tax credits and proposes to allow tax credits for eligible "interprovincial co-production." Given that fairly complicated term of art, can the minister explain what the purpose of this amendment is and how it might impact a qualifying corporation?
Hon. K. Falcon: The proposed removal of the copyright grind on interprovincial co-productions is to allow eligible interprovincial co-productions to claim the full basic tax credit. Now, before this change the interprovincial co-productions were subject to a reduction in the credit when the corporations owned less than 100 percent of the copyright.
So this, I believe, will be recognized as a positive change. It is a fairly technical, industry-specific sort of issue, but my understanding is that this is a good thing.
B. Ralston: The minister is, I think, referring to page 56 of the budget, and that's the description that's given in the budget document of this proposed credit. On page 56 it says it will increase the cost of the Film Incentive tax credit by $2 million a year. Perhaps the minister could confirm that, and perhaps he could, just for the purposes of clarity, explain more fully the copyright grind that is referred to. Just what does that mean?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct in pointing out, on page 56, the $2 million a year.
There's a description on page 59 — it's actually not too bad a description — of what it actually does. It says — and I'll just read directly from it: "Under the Film Incentive B.C. tax credit, interprovincial co-productions are subject to a reduction in the credit when corporations own less than 100 percent of the copyright. This copyright grind is removed, and copyright ownership requirements for interprovincial co-productions are amended for productions with principal photography starting on or after January 1."
In other words, you can co-produce with others interprovincially where you don't own 100 percent of the copyright and still receive the full benefit of the credit.
B. Ralston: Given the dollars involved, some $2 million, what's the policy reason for doing this? One might well say, "Well, it's entirely appropriate that it be prorated. If you don't own 100 percent of the copyright, why should you get 100 percent of the benefit?" and prorate it accordingly, given your percentage of copyright ownership in the production.
Can the minister explain the policy reason behind making this change, given that the tax expenditure here, the loss to the treasury, is $2 million a year?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is something that was of some importance for our domestic British Columbia film industry that wants to partner with other Canadian production companies. But all of the spending will remain here in British Columbia, so they wanted to have the opportunity to create those co-productions with other Canadian production companies and not be penalized for doing so. I must confess that I'm not the minister responsible for this, but I have a recollection that this was viewed as something that was quite positive for domestic film production in the province of British Columbia.
B. Ralston: I don't think it's technically in the legislation, but I believe that on page 59 in the budget there are tax credits clarified for what are called cutscene productions. I'm told that the definition of "cutscene" is "non-interactive animated or live action scenes included in a video game to provide storyline, character development or context."
There's a change proposed by regulation that's related to this legislative change, so perhaps the minister — although it's strictly not part of the legislation — could clarify what's proposed in the way of amendments to regulations.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is to help clarify a situation having to do with a film tax credit and a digital media tax credit. There has been some confusion in the past, apparently, and this is in an effort to try and deal with that situation. I'm advised by staff that this is a fairly complex technical element that probably requires much more of a discussion than we can do on something unrelated to the legislation we're talking about.
So maybe the easiest thing to do is that if the member wants to pursue it further, we can arrange for a briefing. I had a briefing on this some time ago, but I must be honest. I've forgotten the detail. I just remember it was complex.
[ Page 10751 ]
Section 47 approved.
On section 48.
B. Ralston: We now move to a different section of the Income Tax Act and the proposed amendment to part 8, the book-publishing tax credit. This is an amendment to section 111(1) that's proposed. I understand from the advice I've received that it proposes to extend the book publishing tax credit by five years and updates the definition that references the federal program, which has changed its name from the book publishing industry development program to the support for publishers component of the Canada book fund.
I don't think there are any other changes proposed in this amendment, other than those ones. Can the minister confirm that that's accurate?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Section 48 approved.
On section 49.
B. Ralston: These appear to be consequential amendments to the section that we just passed, similarly updating a reference to the federal book publishers program. Can I just confirm, then, with the minister that other than extending the tax credit by five years, there's no change to the actual credit itself?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Section 49 approved.
On section 50.
B. Ralston: Once again we've moved to a different section of the Income Tax Act. This is part 9, "Training Tax Credits." This proposal is an amendment to the definitions section, in section 116, which adds definitions for "government assistance" and "non-government assistance" at the beginning. Can the minister explain the purpose of those amendments and the reason why they are necessary?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is to take the definitions and apply those definitions broadly under the training tax credits, which is in part 9. They will apply to the overall training tax credits.
Section 50 approved.
On section 51.
B. Ralston: This proposes an amendment to section 117 of the same section, and this is entitled "Division 2 — Tax Credits for Individuals." These are training tax credits for individuals. This proposes to extend the application of that division to taxation years ending before January 1, 2015. I think that's relatively straightforward. Perhaps the minister can confirm that that's accurate?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct. It extends the current training tax credit program for individuals for an additional three years, to expire on December 31, 2014. It expired on December 31, 2011.
Section 51 approved.
On section 52.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment would also amend the definition of "applicable period," similarly extending it to the end of 2014 — concerning training tax credits for employers. I take it that it's the companion amendment to the one previously, which referred to individuals. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: Correct.
Sections 52 and 53 approved.
On section 54.
B. Ralston: This is a proposed amendment to section 124.2 It appears to make it clear that an employer may not claim both the regular training tax credit and the industry training tax credit — can't claim both. Likely, the employer would claim the industry training tax credit because it's more generous. Is that accurate?
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, it is.
Section 54 approved.
On section 55.
B. Ralston: Section 55 adds a division 3.1 to part 9 of the Income Tax Act, which refers to tax credits for shipbuilding and ship repair industry employers. Obviously, this is occasioned by the landing of the federal shipbuilding contract which will create employment here in the province.
There is some comment on pages 58 and 59 of the budget. Perhaps, just for the purposes of explaining it, the minister could briefly summarize that.
Hon. K. Falcon: Madam Chair, this is a case where, as you know — and for those that are listening, paying
[ Page 10752 ]
attention today — the country, the federal government went through a national shipbuilding procurement strategy, undertaking the largest shipbuilding procurement ever in the history of the country. And certainly, British Columbia wanted to ensure, given the sometimes rocky history of contracts being awarded on a strictly best-bid basis…. There was a lot of effort and leadership made by the Premier of the province to ensure that we, in fact, are going to do everything necessary to secure British Columbia's share of the contract award.
So the introduction and the commitment to the shipbuilding and ship repair industry employer tax credit was to ensure that we gave our industry, and particularly Seaspan, the greatest possible opportunity to be competitive in the bid process. Of course, we know the successful outcome of that has resulted in — well, I believe it's well over $10 billion now with the recent federal budget — multiple billions of dollars of investment into the province.
What this does is add a new division, as the member pointed out — 3.1, which is "Tax Credits for Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Industry Employers" — to part 9 to provide for refundable tax credits for eligible employers in relation to employees that are in the Red Seal or non–Red Seal training programs. It also provides that the new tax credits will be effective between a prescribed date, which will be set in regulation, and up to December 31 of 2019. It requires that employers whose principal business is the construction, repair and conversion of ships will be eligible for the tax credits provided by the new division.
So it is, broadly, to try and capture the entire shipbuilding and ship repair industry employers who qualify in accordance with the definition therein.
B. Ralston: And the credit is available to employers, I believe, up to a maximum of 20 percent of wages, up to a maximum of $5,250 per apprentice per year, and that's to the employer. The definition of "eligible apprentice" is, according to the B.C. Income Tax Act, the same meaning as subsection 127(9) of the federal act. Can the minister just confirm that by "eligible apprentice" in that definition, that means someone enrolled in a program that would lead to a Red Seal qualification and not any other form of training that doesn't meet that standard?
Hon. K. Falcon: We are, in fact, providing employer credits to those that are involved in Red Seal programs, which are the interprovincial programs that follow national standards and are typically eligible for federal incentives that are available for apprentices and employers, but we are also covering non–Red Seal programs that follow provincial standards and would not be eligible for the federal incentives but would be eligible for the provincial incentives laid out herein.
B. Ralston: Can the minister, then, perhaps give examples of those eligible trades that would be covered and meet the federal definition of "eligible apprentice" and contrast that with those trainees that would qualify or meet the provincial definition and perhaps explain the difference?
Hon. K. Falcon: I think the best way to probably go through this, rather than to eat up a lot of the member's time in reading painstakingly from the list…. There is a Ministry of Finance tax bulletin on line that has the training tax credits for employers and breaks out which are federal and which are provincial.
For the purposes of the gist of what the member is looking for, I believe at the federal level it would include things like carpenters, electricians, concrete finishers, welders, electronics, technicians, plumbers and that kind of thing. I think there are up to 50 others, but I won't use up the member's valuable time going through them.
On the provincial level there would be things like tower crane operators, plasterers, marine engine mechanics. Again, there's a list that the member can find on line at http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/rev.htm. So maybe that will give you the gist of it, and then if you want to look at the list in full, you can find it on line.
B. Ralston: In the same proposed section, 126.3(3), there's what are called completion credits.
Can the minister clarify that these are credits that the employer would earn, and that there are separate credits that the individuals can earn upon achieving, I think, completion of what are called level 3 or level 4 programs? So can the minister confirm that there are both incentives to both employers for their employees to complete those levels and companion or complementary programs to incent individuals to complete higher levels of training as well?
Hon. K. Falcon: The short answer is yes. For the existing non-shipbuilding program, both employers and employees are eligible for the credits that are in the current B.C. training program. For the shipbuilding sector, however, just the employers qualify for these credits, though it's important to point out that all of the employees can qualify under the existing apprenticeship program and training program that's currently in place.
B. Ralston: Just as perhaps a slightly broader policy question…. Obviously, these tax credits are targeted to shipbuilding and ship repair industry employers. As a matter of policy, is there any consideration being given to taking this scheme…?
The credits for employers are slightly more generous and, in some respects, for employees are slightly more generous — although, as the minister has pointed out,
[ Page 10753 ]
the completion, really, is simply eligibility for the existing provincial program. Is there any consideration being given to extending this targeted approach to other industries in the province?
As the minister is well aware, there's a real skill shortage in many sectors, and one might well imagine that employers seeking assistance or further apprentices in order to train their own future workforce might welcome this kind of targeted approach to their industry. Is there any consideration being given to that?
Hon. K. Falcon: In fact, we've done that with the extension of the existing program. The existing credits have now been extended to eligible apprenticeships, and I should keep emphasizing that. So it is for eligible apprentices under the current program. That has been extended and is available to B.C. employers and employees that, of course, meet the requirements set out in the form I referred to earlier.
It is true that in the shipbuilding sector we…. The Premier made really clear that she wanted to ensure that we did everything we could to be competitive for the B.C. industry, so it is an enhanced shipbuilding sector credit for employers, to be sure. But again, we wanted to ensure that we would have our industry be as competitive as possible in a very, very closely watched and highly competitive procurement that went on.
I'm pleased to say that the result of that was, indeed, very successful, with well over $10 billion of federal investment into our local shipyards with the successful awarding to Seaspan and all the employment that will flow and result from that. We're very pleased by that.
B. Ralston: I'm advised that the estimated incremental cost of this program for shipbuilding employers is $3 million per year. I appreciate that it's an estimate and there may be some variations, but can the minister confirm or give some rough estimate of the likely cost of this program in future years?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct in that on average we'll be looking at about $3 million a year, but again, it will differ in different years depending on how quickly they're ramping up or what have you. I do think it is worth underscoring that this is also an employer credit that is available to the entire sector, broadly speaking. Though Seaspan clearly will be the major beneficiary here — as they are going to be undertaking, I'm sure, the vast majority of the work here — it is open and eligible to the entire shipping sector broadly.
Sections 55 and 56 approved.
On section 57.
B. Ralston: We are now moving to proposed amendments to the Land Tax Deferment Act — perhaps not cited too often. Section 57 proposes some changes — to add new definitions of "actual value" and "deferrable value." Can the minister explain the purpose of these amendments?
Hon. K. Falcon: The current provision defines terms used in the act, including "assessor." The proposed amendment is to add a definition of "actual value," as the member pointed out, in relation to an eligible property and to improvements on that property.
It also adds a definition of what is called "deferrable value" in relation to a property. Deferrable value is the actual value of the entire property minus the actual value of any improvements which are not covered by fire insurance. It is a fairly definitive definition. Again, deferrable value is the actual value of the entire property minus the actual value of any improvements which are not covered by fire insurance.
It then goes on to remove the definition of "assessor," which is not required, given that the new definitions refer to the Assessment Act, not to the assessor.
B. Ralston: I just want to be sure that I understand this, in order to understand the proposed amendment. There is a provision in the act for homeowners with the minimum amount of equity to be able to defer their property taxes. There is presently a requirement that they have fire insurance in order that the deferred taxes can be retrieved by the Crown in the event that the property is destroyed by fire.
This proposed amendment will remove the fire insurance requirement — as I understand it — and involve a calculation of the minimum amount of equity that an owner must have in order to qualify for that. I suppose that, ultimately, it's a cost saving if there is no requirement to have fire insurance.
Can the minister confirm if I'm on the right track in my understanding — or perhaps augment that with a further explanation?
Hon. K. Falcon: The new definitions will allow a modification of the requirement to have fire insurance. That modification is going to follow coming up in section 59. So maybe if the member is comfortable with that, we can move on, and then we can get onto 59, where we talk about how it will work in practice.
Section 57 approved.
On section 58.
B. Ralston: Before we get to that anticipated answer to section 59, which I'm sure people are waiting for, I want
[ Page 10754 ]
to ask some questions about section 58. This appears to offer an amendment to deal with the issue of deferral of taxes on what is Crown land and leaseholders. Can the minister explain the purpose of this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: The nature of this amendment is to clarify that leaseholders on Crown and municipal lands are not going to be eligible for the property tax deferment program. So what the proposed amendment is doing is preventing the minister from entering into any new tax deferral agreements with leaseholders on Crown or municipal lands. Leaseholders with existing deferral accounts will not be affected.
Why are we doing this? Well, the property tax deferment program is essentially a loan from the province to a taxpayer to pay the current year property taxes. A central feature of that program is that the province must be able to secure the loan in the event of a taxpayer default. Clearly, you would not be able to do so under the arrangements that I have described above.
That is the purpose of the amendment that's in place here today.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that clarification.
Can the minister say whether this is to respond to the hypothetical prospect of default, or is this a situation that has arisen where the province has been unable to claim deferred property tax from existing leaseholders?
Hon. K. Falcon: What we are attempting to do here is just be very clear that it is not to apply to leaseholders on Crown or municipal lands. This is not being driven by a situation. We haven't had any of them yet. We're talking about an extremely small, potential group. But as the member would know, these deferments can go on, literally, for decades. This is just really providing clarity here to ensure that we are not into a situation where the province is unable to secure a loan because they haven't got access to proper security.
Section 58 approved.
On section 59.
B. Ralston: This is the section the minister referred to, and he offered to provide an explanation when we arrived at this point. This refers to the requirement of a homeowner who has applied for the property tax deferral program to have, or have not, valid fire insurance. Perhaps this would be the opportunity to explain that.
Hon. K. Falcon: As I go through these things, I'm trying to find simple ways to explain them for the benefit of myself, the member opposite and those listening. In this situation, what we're trying to do here is ensure we are not excluding people that we want to be able to have access to this program.
What can happen…. Under existing provisions of the Land Tax Deferment Regulation all of the value of the improvements on the property must be covered by fire insurance. But there are often cases where you will have a property, a home in very good shape, good security, etc., on the home and the land, but they may have an old, beat-up improvement somewhere — a collapsing barn or whatever the case may be — that is uninsurable.
What we want to do is…. Under the existing rule, that excluded some of those kinds of properties, which provided good security through the land and their principal residence but also contained one uninsured improvement or uninsurable improvement. So we are trying to make sure we do not continue to exclude those people from the ability to be eligible under the program.
Section 59 approved.
On section 60.
B. Ralston: At this point we initiate a series of proposed amendments to the Motor Fuel Tax Act. It looks as though the minister has the correct staff there to assist him.
There are a number of proposed amendments. Perhaps we can begin at the beginning and deal with the changes that are proposed to the definitions section.
One would appear to be an amendment to "purchase price," which removes references to repealed provisions, which I think would qualify as housekeeping. There are also amendments to the definitions of "retail dealer," "vendor" and "wholesale dealer." Can the minister explain the purpose of those amendments?
Hon. K. Falcon: I have good news for the member opposite. This follows on the discussion we had on the prior amendments related to fuel imported into B.C. by ship that had to do with the carbon tax. This is essentially doing exactly the same thing, but instead of carbon tax, it's applying to motor fuel tax. Every other element of it follows along the same discussion we had on the Carbon Tax Act.
Sections 60 and 61 approved.
On section 62.
B. Ralston: There's a reference in this…. I appreciate the minister's comments. Given the fairly detailed explanation that was given in our discussion of the amendments to the carbon tax and the fact that these are really companion amendments dealing with the same change in legislation….
I do have a question. It refers to a "licensed carrier." Is
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there a definition for a licensed carrier that the minister could provide, or at least an explanation of what a licensed carrier is in this context?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that this typically applies to these 18-wheeler tractor-trailers that operate in multiple jurisdictions. They're specifically licensed under an international fuel tax agreement that provinces and U.S. states enter into. It just prevents a situation where each jurisdiction would be having to try and figure out, or provide, a taxing authority on these licensed 18-wheeler vehicles that are doing business in multiple jurisdictions.
We're part of an international fuel tax agreement that all the provinces, I understand, and U.S. states are part of. It just allows for the appropriate and rational and reasonable way of dealing with tax owing.
Sections 62 to 79 inclusive approved.
On section 80.
B. Ralston: We're now moving to a proposed amendment to the Police Act. The measure is described as streamlining the approval of the police tax administration fee by the revenue minister, but really what it seems to do is simply remove the requirement that the order be made on or before April 10.
Perhaps the minister could just explain what the police tax administration fee is and what the purpose of this amendment is.
Hon. K. Falcon: Municipalities receive an administration fee from the province for collecting the police tax within their boundaries. Currently the minister authorizes the fee each year, even though the fee has not changed since the tax was introduced. Under the proposed amendment, the minister will have the ability to only authorize changes to the fee and not have to keep making this authorization every year even though nothing has changed.
B. Ralston: Just for clarity, the police tax, as I understand it, is a property tax that's levied in unincorporated areas and communities of less than 5,000 population. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Section 80 approved.
On section 81.
B. Ralston: We've now moved to the proposed amendments to the Property Transfer Tax Act. The proposed amendment is to section 14(3) of the Property Transfer Tax Act, which provides for an exemption from the payment of tax in respect of "a transfer of a life estate" in specified circumstances, which would appear to be — and I think is by definition — a fairly technical amendment.
Can the minister confirm that that's the appropriate interpretation and explain, perhaps, why it's necessary at this time?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'd like to take this opportunity to put out a plea to the professional staff in the buildings to relax their rules on only limiting us to water during these debates. I find coffee would be exceptionally helpful as we get into this fascinating detail associated with some of these things. I just put that plea out there, and hopefully, one day it will be realized. Then I promise you that my answers would be much sharper and more focused.
The issue here, as best I understand it, is referring to the issue around life estate. Essentially, what we are doing here is that the property transfer tax currently applies if the life estate is re-registered. Let me back up for a second.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Currently if the property owner wishes to register a mortgage against their property and there is a registered life estate against the title, the land title office requires that the life estate be removed before the mortgage is registered against the title to give the mortgage priority over other interests in the property. That is currently the situation.
What we are attempting to achieve here…. The proposed amendment will provide an exception where a life estate is re-registered under the…. The property transfer tax currently applies if the life estate is then re-registered on title. The proposed amendment will provide an exemption where a life estate is re-registered under those circumstances. Did that make any sense to you? Oh, good.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that explanation. It's an exemption where the mortgage requirements require it to be removed and then re-registered after the mortgage is registered on title, and it has priority over the life estate. That is, I think, a relatively rare occurrence but a correction to…. I thank the minister for that explanation.
Sections 81 and 82 approved.
On section 83.
B. Ralston: This is a single proposed amendment to the School Act which I gather will be dealt with later in the bill in sections 86 to 89. If that is accurate, then I'd
[ Page 10756 ]
be content that we deal with it when we come to those proposed amendments. Perhaps the minister could just confirm that that is accurate.
Hon. K. Falcon: I can confirm that.
Section 83 approved.
On section 84.
B. Ralston: We now move to proposed amendments to the Small Business Venture Capital Act. The proposed section 84…. I'm looking at my notes here, if I could just have a moment.
The Chair: The staff is changing, too, if you want to take a moment, Member.
B. Ralston: That will give me the moment I require to examine my notes. I don't have the benefit of staff immediately available to me.
Hon. K. Falcon: The section 84 amendment to the Small Business Venture Capital Act is to introduce and allow eligible new businesses that are less than two years old — so quite specific towards startups is, I guess, the best way to describe it — to access a new $3 million addition to the small business venture capital program targeted to direct investment in small businesses, oftentimes referred to colloquially as angel investors.
It's to really focus on encouraging that particular investment in startups. If there is full takeup on the $3 million, I'm led to understand that that would result in $10 million of new incremental investment to new small businesses in British Columbia.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that explanation. Just so that I'm clear, then, an eligible new corporation…. There are some qualifications. It can't result from "an amalgamation or merger." But is the definition, aside from that qualification, that an eligible corporation is one that's simply newer or younger than two years old and subject to it not resulting from an amalgamation or merger of existing corporations? Or are there other conditions that are prescribed to determine eligibility?
Hon. K. Falcon: The eligibility criteria, in terms of the different sectors that businesses that are eligible would be doing business in, has not changed.
What has changed is that we've just very specifically said: "This additional $3 million tranche that we've put into place is only going to be for those eligible companies that require the approval to raise capital, under the program, within two years of incorporation." They are the only ones that will be able to qualify, so it's specifically targeted to new startups — that they will be aware, that there is $3 million made available under the small business venture capital program. The belief or the hope is….
What we've heard is that it will benefit and encourage so-called angel investors to make the investments in these eligible new small businesses that are less than two years old, and we're hopeful it will achieve its aim.
B. Ralston: Just dealing further with the issue of eligibility, in the proposed subsection (3), the prohibition doesn't apply, as I understand it, to a business that was "previously carried on as…a sole proprietorship, partnership or joint venture for 90 days or less." In other words, if you come together, start a business but within 90 days convert to a corporate form, then you're still eligible. I just wanted to make sure that I understood that.
Hon. K. Falcon: That does, indeed, provide a grace period so that those conditions in section (2) do not apply. So it does provide that 90-day grace period.
B. Ralston: The minister has referred to availability of $3 million. Perhaps just for the sake of understanding this a bit better, what's the maximum benefit that an eligible business corporation could receive from this fund? Is there an upper limit? Is it required to be matched by the third-party angel investor or just…?
I'm not looking for a detailed explanation but just, in the context here, some ability to understand a little bit more broadly what's being done.
Hon. K. Falcon: I believe we may have got the answer here. The aggregate of all the amounts received by that eligible business corporation from all eligible investors, directly or indirectly, must be less than $5 million. Greater clarity, if the member wishes, can be provided.
Sections 84 and 85 approved.
On section 86.
B. Ralston: We've now moved to the new statute, the Taxation (Rural Area) Act. I don't know whether the minister needs different staff, so perhaps I'll just wait for the staff to arrive.
Hon. K. Falcon: The proposed amendment clarifies the longstanding intention that the exemption only applies in respect of land and improvements held by the Crown in trust for a First Nation. I understand that this amendment also ensures consistent administration of this exemption and the exemptions provided for property within a municipality that the Crown holds in trust for a First Nation.
[ Page 10757 ]
B. Ralston: Just so we're clear, then, that would be an exemption from the property tax that would otherwise be due under this act. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, and the exemption, I'm advised, flows through to other acts.
Sections 86 to 88 inclusive approved.
On section 89.
B. Ralston: This authorizes regulations providing for partial tax exemptions for property owned in part by the Crown or Crown agent. Is this related to property held in trust for a First Nation, or is this a more broad power of regulation relating to any property owned by the Crown?
Hon. K. Falcon: It's the latter. It is not First Nations. It's any property that may be owned by the Crown.
Sections 89 and 90 approved.
On section 91.
B. Ralston: I believe these repeal provisions of the act that are not in force. This would appear to be a housekeeping amendment.
Then, after that, we have the following sections that are transitional provisions, which I have a couple of questions on.
Perhaps the minister can just confirm that this is simply a housekeeping amendment to repeal provisions that are not in force.
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Section 91 approved.
On section 92.
B. Ralston: The next and to the end of the bill are simply what are called transitional provisions which would explain or regulate when provisions come into force. So the Carbon Tax Act transition will take effect assuming and when the statute passes and is proclaimed on May 1, 2012.
Perhaps I can just go through them all, and then the minister could confirm or not.
Section 93 would come into force by regulation, Motor Fuel Tax Act transition, May 1, 2012. The Taxation (Rural Area) Act amendments, the date of royal assent, and there are certain provisions that apply to Taxation (Rural Area) Act transition, retroactive regulations. The date of royal assent and commencement would be the date of royal assent.
I'm simply reading from what I've been advised here, and I assume that that's accurate. So perhaps the minister could confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct.
Sections 92 to 97 inclusive approved.
The Chair: Shall the bill pass as amended?
Motion approved on division.
The committee rose at 4:20 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
BILL 21 — BUDGET MEASURES
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2012
Bill 21, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012, reported complete with amendment.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be reported as read?
Hon. K. Falcon: By leave, now.
Third Reading of Bills
BILL 21 — BUDGET MEASURES
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2012
Bill 21, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012, read a third time and passed on division.
Hon. T. Lake: I now call continued second reading of Bill 26, intituled Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 26 — FORESTS, LANDS AND
NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Mr. Speaker: Member for Alberni–Pacific Rim continues where he left off. [Applause.]
S. Fraser: Thank you to those applauding.
I'd like to retake my place in the debate on second reading of Bill 26, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource
[ Page 10758 ]
Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012 — a difficult thing to say, actually.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Just to recap where I started off yesterday at the end of day, and I note the time here. I've got — I'm not sure — probably 25 minutes left or close to. I was expecting a lot more from Bill 26. Here's an attempt, right now, to correct numerous errors that should have been addressed in Bill 26, so we have some tinkering around the edges on forestry.
The Auditor General's report was just out a month ago, and it's a scathing indictment of a failure to manage our most valuable resource. The conclusion — I'll just throw in a quote from the Auditor General: "We conclude that the ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives. Without clearly defining its timber objectives, the ministry cannot ensure that its management practices are effective." The Auditor General has cited that this government is failing to manage our resource.
Now, you go back in history to tree farm licences being created in the '40s and the Sloan Report in the '50s that talked about the importance for the wealth of our province of our forest industry, and the management in perpetuity of that was an integral part of the tree farm licence system. It was certainly identified many, many decades ago, and that's been respected by and large by every government since — except this one.
So Bill 26. Here we are, a month after the Auditor General's report. A chance to amend, start making the changes key to starting to manage our resource again, and it does not address any of the key issues.
I'd like to give a real-life example of just what it means to mismanage this forest resource for British Columbians. The example I know best is in the Alberni Valley. There's an instance happening right now. Currently there is no public control of the entire Alberni Valley, the forest resource circling the entire Alberni Valley. The entire central Island, for the most part, is now all outside of the tree farm licence control.
TFLs, TFL 44 in this case, is how the public used to control the resource, to manage it for future generations, for workers, for the jobs, for the community, for the industry, for the environment, for the watersheds. That was stripped away by this government — that level of control.
All the private lands were removed from TFL 44 in 2003 and given to Weyerhaeuser for free, and that has led to job loss, a degradation of the environment. And in the real world what it means right now is that the new private managed forest entity that has cropped out of the removal of those lands, the privatization of that resource, Island Timberlands, is planning on cutting McLaughlin Ridge.
Now, McLaughlin Ridge is the most valuable ungulate winter range territory there is. It's a wildlife habitat zone that's incredibly important. We used to have control of that. It's also the key part of our water supply for the entire city of Port Alberni, so it's important to have control of such things.
The previous owner, Weyerhaeuser, when it was in the tree farm licence, made an agreement. They recognized the good work that the Ministry of Environment had done back in the '90s about the importance of this habitat on McLaughlin Ridge — beautiful old-growth forest, nothing like it left in the region. It's key to so many species and to the future of the Alberni Valley in many ways, including the water supply.
Weyerhaeuser got the land from this government out of the tree farm licence for free. There were very few stipulations that went with that, but here is one that happened. A letter of agreement was signed between the provincial government and Weyerhaeuser. And Weyerhaeuser said here:
"We recognize that the schedule A lands within Weyerhaeuser's limited tree farm licence, TFL 44, contain important habitat for ungulates and other wildlife species. The parties also recognize that the company has demonstrated commendable environmental stewardship through the preservation of critical ungulate winter range and other conservation areas on public and private lands within the TFL.
"The purpose of this agreement is a statement of intent on the part of the parties" — which are Weyerhaeuser at the time and the provincial government — "to support Weyerhaeuser's planning process for development of long-term protection of this critical habitat. The goal of the process is to develop and implement protection measures to maintain grandfathered ungulate winter ranges and wildlife habitat areas while facilitating the removal of all the schedule A lands from TFL 44."
This was supposed to go with the lands that were taken out of public control by this government and given to then-Weyerhaeuser. Even Weyerhaeuser recognized the importance of protecting these lands for all of the values of the Alberni Valley. Now this is part of the management scheme that was a betrayal by this government of the public interest. Now we have a private company that doesn't seem to think that this applies to them, even though that was the intent at the time.
There's a real-life example of a failure to manage the forest resource in my constituency in the Alberni Valley. And we have Bill 26 before us, which could've started addressing some of those critical and key issues for the protection of our forests and the management of the forest resource for future generations. That example is interesting because there will be virtually no value achieved for the people of the Alberni Valley that are the stewards of this area.
All of these trees are going to be exported, so no value added. That is the management scheme of the Liberal government on forestry. It is knock 'em down. We're up to 5½ million cubic metres a year now. Knock down the trees and ship them. This has skewed, perverted, the market for our forest resources — forest industries small and large, mills, shingle mills, veneer plants. You name it.
All of the operations now on the coast and on the
[ Page 10759 ]
Island are having a hard time getting fibre because all the trees are being cut for export market. That is the priority. The 5½ million cubic metres that are being exported — raw logs, no value added — have perverted the market for local mills and the value-added operations that haven't been decimated already under the Liberal failure to manage the forest industry.
This started right at the beginning in 2002 — so the Liberal government — when they were dealing with silviculture, the replanting of our forests. Kind of an integral part of managing the resource is to make sure that it's replanted. In 2002 this government removed the legal requirement to replant, and cut the budget by 90 percent on silviculture.
That legacy is continued to this day. We have record-low levels of replanting in this province — on the coast, all over the province — when we have the greatest need for replanting, when we have the issues of the beetle wood and such.
We have a lot of problems in the forest sector. We've had 35,000 jobs lost — good-paying, family-supporting jobs — in the forest sector under this government, and just in the last few years, over 70 mills shut down.
There are mills on Vancouver Island that would run…. Coastland in Nanaimo — a very, very efficient veneer operation — would run a whole other line, employ more people, support more families. But they can't get access to fibre because the only plan of the Liberal government, the single thing that they have planned for the forest industry and managing the industry, is to cut down the trees as fast as possible, to facilitate cutting down the trees as fast as possible, take them all out of public control — 80,000 hectares removed from tree farm licences under this government, just on the coast — and ship them away.
No doubt, it makes short-term money for a very few entities — large income trust companies that have acquired the forest holdings of British Columbia. On the coast, most of the land is held by these private managed forest land companies. Of course, as soon as the government handed over the lands for free to the companies…. They didn't have to pay back any of the considerations. They should have paid back hundreds of millions of dollars to communities like Port Alberni, to the taxpayer.
The minister of the day gave to it them for free and didn't require any payment back. There was a betrayal there, and then we lost control of the resource, a resource that isn't being replanted in any kind of a rate for sustainability and a resource that is exiting the province so fast that it has led to the record number of job losses that never happened before in the province.
We have a bill that has come out a month after the Auditor General has confirmed, basically, the failure to manage the resource. You can't manage a resource…. The baseline for managing any resource is: what have you got?
What do we have in British Columbia? Well, the Auditor General, I believe, estimated the value of this resource, the forests of British Columbia, to be at about a third of a trillion dollars — probably, I would assume, the most valuable of our resources.
So you want to make sure that you have a rate of cut in all of the regions of the province that will be sustainable and a level of silviculture and replanting that will ensure the sustainability of that resource for future generations, for all the values. It's not just for the jobs, not just for industry — that's important — not just for the communities — absolutely important — but for the health of our planet, for the protection of our water and water supply systems and our watersheds and, of course, for the sustainability of all the other creatures and plants that we share this great province with. All of that is gone.
Every other government has managed the resource. The Socreds managed the resource. This government abandoned the resource, and they abandoned the communities like Port Alberni that built the economy of this province by managing the resource. That has been taken away.
A month after the Auditor General blows the whistle on the failure of this government to manage the resource at all…. The Auditor General is an independent body, for those that may be watching. This is an objective body; it's not a political body.
The Forest Practices Board. They've said the same thing too, over and over again. The government is failing the people of British Columbia in managing its most valuable resource — or not managing its most valuable resource or mismanaging its most valuable resource. Forest professionals have spoken to this too. They are trained, obviously, in forestry.
It's a big problem when you have every independent group that oversees the forests in the province say the same thing: this government has failed to manage the resource and is failing to manage the resource.
The response to all of that is Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. It's tinkering with a broken system, with a resource that will not be there, at this rate, for our future generations.
There is a section in the bill which I find particularly curious. It's around revenue collection — stumpage fees. The bill actually calls for clarification on language to the licence holders, to say that they have to provide correct information to the government about what they're cutting, so the province can charge appropriately for that resource — the stumpage fees.
Now, under this Bill 26, it's suggested that we're going to change things so that the licence holder will now have to provide true and accurate information. So what were we getting before under this government? I mean, they deregulated everything. And then they were not requiring true and accurate information? I mean, by default, I
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guess that's what happened.
Right now 53 percent of the stumpage in this province is at 25 cents per cubic metre — a cubic metre, like a telephone pole. A quarter is what that is, bargain basement. This isn't even enough to cover the vague costs of the Forest Service in this 100th anniversary of the Forest Service. It's been basically dismantled. Happy birthday, Forest Service of British Columbia.
We're getting no value added from the forests under the Liberal government. They are exporting — that's the plan — as fast as possible, perverting the markets. The companies are cutting for export, denying the needs of the few mills that are still running, the few value-added operations that are still running in the province.
There's no value added there — minimum benefit to any communities, a few trucking jobs and that sort of thing. Yes, it's important, but it's a small part of what should be extracted from this resource to benefit the people of British Columbia, to pay for all the things we need. We're not getting anything there. We're getting a wholesale exodus of the resource to benefit the manufacturing operations in other jurisdictions.
Stumpage. The one thing we could be getting was stumpage fees, and 25-cent stumpage doesn't even cover the administrative costs for the Forest Service, so we're extracting a loss from our forests. As they're being harvested and exported, we're subsidizing that with 25-cent stumpage.
Well, I guess the government needs some money, so now they're bringing in a rule in Bill 26, which says: "An applicant who is required under this Act to submit information to the government must ensure that, at the time the information is submitted, the information is complete and accurate."
Well, what was it before? Were we getting incomplete and inaccurate, untrue statistics? And that has led to a 25-cent stumpage on over half of the trees cut in the province? What did we lose to the treasury?
This is an admission. Bill 26, instead of fixing the fundamental problems, the failure to manage the forest resource in the province…. Instead of fixing that, we find an admission that the government has not even been requiring the licence holders to provide true and accurate information.
Well, the last Auditor General report that I saw on forestry, before the one a month ago that pilloried this government's handling of the industry and the resource, was around the TFL 28, I think it was Jordan River lands. This government, without consulting with the capital regional district took, again, a whole whack of land — 28,000 hectares — out of the public control of the tree farm licence and gave to it Western Forest Products for free. No repayment of consideration. Again, a betrayal to the taxpayer by this government.
The Auditor General came in to review that. I asked the Auditor General if in that review they could include the huge amounts, back in 2003, that were removed from TFL 44 in the Alberni Valley, in that area, where I represent. While it was cited, the Auditor General said it was too complex, too far back to actually do a very detailed study. But he certainly looked over…. They looked over all that information too.
What they determined was that in the removal of these lands — in this case it was the Jordan River lands — the government forgot to take into account the public interest, was the statement from the Auditor General.
Well, not as a partisan thing. You can be a right-wing government. You can be a left-wing government. You can be a centre government. Whatever kind of government, you do have to take into account the public interest. That's kind of the baseline for government. You know, you want to protect the constitution. You want to protect the public interest. That spans all…. Whatever political stripe you are, that's a given that you're going to protect the public interest.
The Auditor General confirmed that there was no protection. They forgot to protect the public interest, to consider the public interest when it came to forestry and the removal of the lands from tree farm licences.
Now we're learning, in Bill 26, that the government failed to ask the licence holders, who basically they gave complete control of the resource to, and dismantled the Forest Service on this 100th anniversary of the Forest Service…. They failed to require the licence holders to provide accurate and true information so that the treasury could benefit, so that somebody could benefit besides just some company. That's what we get in Bill 26.
When are they going to start fixing the resource? When are they going to start fixing the failure to manage the resource? That is missing in Bill 26.
You were given guidance. The government was given guidance a month ago by the Auditor General, guidance by the Forest Practices Board, guidance by their own forest professionals, that they need to start managing our resource. Otherwise, we won't have a resource — the most valuable resource in the province.
Whether it's McLaughlin Ridge in the Alberni Valley, which is now at threat because of this government's mismanagement and giveaway of the public control of land, now privatized, that puts at risk the water supply system of the city of Port Alberni, takes away the control of the city, of the local governments to have any say on what happens….
That's not management. That is a betrayal of public trust. You don't have to take my word for it. Read this Auditor General's report. Read the last Auditor General's report. Read the Forest Practices Board report — many, many reports — and we will see that the government has failed again. Bill 26 has been tinkering with a system that this government has broken, and they must fix it.
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I note my time is up.
D. Donaldson: I am very happy to take my place in second reading of Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. I'm happy to do so because we haven't had much legislation in this particular session, this winter-spring session, related specifically to forestry.
In fact, this is the first piece of forestry-related legislation since the Auditor General's report in February of this year, which was an audit of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations management of timber. I'm very happy in that context to be talking to second reading of Bill 26 and to elements of this bill that relate to forestry in general in Stikine and in the province.
The elements I'll be addressing in this general debate during second reading are the amendments that are proposed to take place under Bill 26 to the Forest Act regarding revenue generation, amendments to the Wildfire Act under this bill and amendments to the Occupiers Liability Act under the bill. Those are going to be where the majority of my comments related to this bill will lie.
The general thrust is that in light of the Auditor General's recent report in February, it is disappointing that this bill did not take the opportunity to really address some of the fundamental issues that need to be addressed in the forestry sector — such a vital sector to rural and northern areas. Many of the communities in the constituency I represent were forest-dependent communities and now aren't. There are still many communities in the north that are forest-dependent that really need to see some action by this government, especially in relation to the most recent Auditor General's report.
I'd like to start off talking about the revenue collection aspect of the bill. These are amendments to the Forest Act. Specifically, they clarify language around stumpage so that the government can charge the correct stumpage amounts.
Interestingly, the legislation under the revenue collection will be…. The amendments are around applicants and holders of agreements who are required to submit information to the government under the act. They must "ensure that the information is complete and accurate." This amendment replaces that the information must be just complete and substitutes "accurate," as well, and has some repercussions that the minister might be able to enact if he or she decides the information is not complete and accurate.
I would think most people in the province would have already assumed that the information being provided to the government by industry around harvesting in order for the government to assess stumpage that is due to general revenue was complete and accurate.
It is unfortunate that this oversight has been going on for a number of years. I assume it has been going on since 2004, when the Forest and Range Practices Act was enacted by this government and put more emphasis on industry to report rather than the government keeping an eye on the public resource in the forest. So that's my first comment.
I'm sure people would be surprised that there was no compelling language in the legislation for the industry to ensure that they submit complete and accurate information around wood being harvested for stumpage reasons. I can tell you one example of how I have seen that as a problem.
This was a situation explained to me by people who have worked and are working in the forest sector. They explained it to me in confidence. This was an example of the lack of compliance and enforcement around ensuring that information is complete and accurate so that we as a collective who own the forest, we the people of B.C., are able to get the proper amount of revenue from those resources as industry harvests the trees.
The example relates, actually, to waste wood left on site. The example was a company that came in, did the logging, likely did a good job of the logging, but what they did is left a number of potentially merchantable timber decked on site after the logging was completed. From the waste wood perspective, this should be addressed in stumpage rates, but it has to be assessed first.
People have to go out from forestry offices in the districts and assess how much of this waste wood was left behind so that the appropriate consequences can be financially applied to the companies. Because compliance and enforcement has been gutted to such an extent, it took over two years for compliance and enforcement officers to visit the site where the waste wood was left, and by that time the wood had rotted to such an extent that an accurate appraisal of the volume and the quality was not possible.
In that instance, because of the gutting of ground staff, compliance and enforcement staff, there was an inability to assess what industry had left behind and what the consequences to our revenue stream would have been for that. So I can understand why this part of the bill is necessary, but it's not extensive enough to address those kinds of situations in compliance and enforcement.
In fact, in relation to this section of the bill…. I don't know if it was created in reaction to some of the findings of the Auditor General just last month in the report that was released, but the Auditor General really had a great deal to say about monitoring and reporting around those components of what the government's role is and the Forests Ministry's role is in reporting and monitoring work and reporting and monitoring on the industry.
In compliance and enforcement, the Auditor General found.... "Our review of compliance and enforcement reports show a steady decline in forest practice inspections, from over 31,000 in 2000-2001 to less than 15,000 in 2008-2009," which was the most recently published com-
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pliance and enforcement data that the Auditor General used in the reported in the report.
Well, one could assume that, perhaps, things are working well, and we wouldn't need as much on-the-ground truthing, inspections by compliance and enforcement officers. I know and knew many of the compliance enforcement officers in Stikine.
But the Auditor General goes on to say: "However, this reduction" — the reduction in the inspections — "did not appear to be related to a greater degree of compliance by industry, nor was it reflective of the ministry's expectation that compliance and enforcement work would be more complex under the Forest and Range Practices Act." He goes on to say: "Despite the significant role compliance and enforcement plays in the oversight framework, the ministry has not demonstrated whether its existing compliance and enforcement inspections are sufficiently robust to ensure industry compliance."
This relates to this bill, in that the government had an opportunity to address compliance and enforcement in a bigger way and chose simply to address an important part, I'm sure, but just some wording around an amendment so that "accurate" was put in as well as "complete and accurate." I think the Auditor General, in that aspect, really pointed out some of the problems with compliance and enforcement.
Another story that I recently…. Of course, living in a northern rural area where communities were and are dependent on the forest resource, just socially or at any time of the day when you run into people, they have connections to forestry or have been on the land base. Another story that was related to me by forest sector workers — and this relates to compliance — was some of the standards that were really falling down in the forest sector because of the lack of compliance officers and the results-based kind of code from the Forest and Range Practices Act.
I was shown a picture of debris over a riparian area — in other words, a stream — that stretched 50 metres. You could walk across the debris and not see the water; you could hear the water. This was left on site after one particular logging operation.
Those kinds of practices, I think, most people in the province thought were a part of the past, four decades ago. We had improved practices, and now it seems we're falling back, in some cases, into these standards that I don't think people would be finding acceptable. It is partly because of compliance and enforcement staffing that isn't there anymore.
I wanted to touch on the results-based initiative that the Forest and Range Practices Act brought in, in 2004. I believe that there could be some benefits to a results-based approach to forestry, but only if the industry, which is being monitored around results-based…. It's only if there is good monitoring going on so that we know that the practices are sound, which requires robust inspections and compliance and enforcement officers on the ground. But it also requires the ability to reward good players, and there are many good players in the forest industry.
I know many of the small mill operators. I know some of the larger operators. I know most of the people who work on the ground in Stikine in forestry. They want to do a good job, and many of them do. In a results-based scenario there has to be the ability to reward those who are doing a good job, and in the system that is in place right now, we don't have that ability. We don't have the ability to actually, as the Auditor General points out, monitor what the results are in the first place.
Again, going back to this section on amendments to the Forest Act that really relate to compliance and enforcement, the Auditor General also talked in his most recent report about forest stewardship plans. Under the Forest and Range Practices Act these form the legal basis for the relationship between the plan holder, usually the licensee, and the ministry. They have a five-year maximum on the length of the plan. They need to be renewed every five years.
The Forest Practices Board, which is another agency that monitors, well, practices in the forest industry on the ground, found that the plans generally stated vague and non-measurable commitments that could restrict the ministry's ability to enforce or hold licensees accountable. In other words, the forest stewardship plans that are so important if you're going to have a results-based arrangement aren't really up to snuff.
The Auditor General said: "It determined the plans proposed few innovations in forest practices and were generally very similar to the default standards provided by the ministry." In other words, some of the forest companies are just simply taking the forestry default standards and putting them into a forest stewardship plan.
You know, perhaps nothing's wrong with that if you have the people on the ground to ensure that compliance is up to date. But really the intent of a forest stewardship plan was to give the forest stewardship plan holder, the licensee, the ability to go beyond the minimum standards that the ministry set, to introduce perhaps a bit of flexibility and to allow them to be innovative.
Then the Auditor General points out: "Nearly half of the 204 active forest stewardship plans are scheduled for renewal in 2012. That provides an opportunity to rectify the known issues during the renewal process. But the ministry" — according to the Auditor General — "has not demonstrated how these weaknesses will be addressed in the new plan."
Again, a missed opportunity that could have been addressed perhaps in this bill but overall through the now Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
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Finally, in this section I did want to touch on a final point that the Auditor General made about effectiveness evaluations. These evaluations are on the ground to see if the ministry is meeting its goals, and especially around the free-to-grow stage. There are certain obligations of licensees up to about 15 years. Fifteen years is the general time that the scientists and the ministry have said that a tree has reached the free-to-grow stage. It's made it through the seedling stage, and there are certain silviculture prescriptions in the first 15 years around brushing and weeding, for instance, and that kind of assistance to get the tree to the free-to-grow stage.
After the free-to-grow stage is where effectiveness evaluations come in, and the Auditor General found that there have been no assessments to the risks posed to the success of the framework or whether changes are needed. In other words, he's said that there's not enough work on the ground to know if effectiveness evaluations are even being done by the ministry.
Again, this is not addressed in the bill. It's unfortunate, because all of these together are around monitoring and reporting and are very important for communities in rural areas to ensure that the practices on the ground are being done in a manner that the government has set out, objectives that they've set out, and to make sure, as discussed in the bill, that the information being supplied by industry under this results-based code is accurate and complete so that we, the people of B.C., can get what is determined to be the proper amount of revenue from our commonly held resource, the forests.
The second part of the bill that I wanted to address in second reading are changes under amendments — in other words, under the Wildfire Act. The Wildfire Act has a number of changes, and really, what they relate to are changes around liability around wildfires. The essence of these — and I'm going to check on the sections here — is the designation of a prescribed class of person who will be responsible for fire hazard abatement.
This is a precursor, from what we can understand. And in committee stage we'll get into this more. But it seems to be a precursor for the yet-to-come forms of forest licences intended to help the bioenergy sector get secondary access to wood.
By way of background, in other words, this is wood that generally is found by a licensee to be non-merchantable when it comes to dimensional lumber production but is still fibre left on the site. It can be used for other purposes, especially in the biomass industry, where the wood can be made into pellets, for instance — energy pellets. These aren't simply the pellets that some people would be familiar with in wood-burning stoves but larger, puck-sized pellets that are shipped overseas, especially to coal-fired energy facilities.
It's a good idea, because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. There are much less carbon emissions from the wood pellets compared to carbon. Of course, it's a renewable resource if we do it properly in this province.
My time is flying by to such an extent. I wanted to get to that part around the renewable part of forestry, but as far as the intent of the amendments to the Wildfire Act, as way of background, the former Minister of Forests, Pat Bell, back in 2010 wrote: "As a former logger, I've always thought that there was too much waste being left behind in the bush from logging operations. While some wood residue is necessary for biodiversity reasons…."
Deputy Speaker: Member, I remind you not to use the member's name.
D. Donaldson: I apologize.
The former Forests Minister, now the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, said: "As a former logger, I've always thought that there was too much wood waste being left behind in the bush from logging operations." That was over two years ago. In fact, the former Forests Minister also hinted, at his own natural resource forum in Prince George in 2010, over two years ago now, that he intended to introduce receiving licences.
Receiving licences are a method where other producers could access this waste-wood fibre on the sites. Yet here we are two years later, and we still haven't seen receiving licences, and we still haven't seen the access that's necessary. I agree. We need that access, because access to that biomass can mean more jobs in communities like mine, like Burns Lake, communities in other areas of the north where that biomass can be used for energy production as I've described, the energy pellets, or even in community energy systems.
Two years have gone by, and we haven't seen any action. Now we see at least a precursor to that action. You can imagine, in the last two years, the jobs that could have been created, the jobs in the rural communities that could have benefited from having the legislation on receiving licences which the former Forests Minister announced back in 2010. If that had happened a little sooner by this government, we could have seen a lot more benefit to rural communities.
Of course, what's been happening in those two years is that many of these piles have been burned. I had a person not from Canada with me, going around. We travelled throughout areas in Stikine and massive piles of wood waste. He said: "What are those all about?" I said: "Well, those are parts of the tree that aren't going to be used for dimensional lumber production and have been deemed waste wood by the licensees."
He goes: "What's going to happen to them?" I go: "Well, on a good day in the fall, when the sky is clear and we have a good high pressure system so that venting can be allowed so that there's no inversion and the smoke doesn't hold in the valleys and cause problems around asthma and that kind of thing, they'll be burned." He
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couldn't believe it. He said: "That's good wood fibre that's just being burned." In fact, around the Burns Lake area 3,600 piles were burned last year in this kind of scenario.
I appreciate that the current minister is finally attempting to address this issue by amendment to the Wildfire Act, which is going to create a prescribed class of person. But you know, it's been two years in the making, and all we can get to now is an amendment around a prescribed class of person? I think most people in forestry-dependent communities would have assumed and hoped that when the former Forest Minister announced over two years ago, in 2010, that receiving licences were on their way in order to create access to this fibre, that it would have happened by now.
The important part of the biomass end, and related to this part of the bill, is actually knowing how much wood that you have in the forest. Again, the Auditor General in the February report had a lot to say about this. You have to know how much wood is in the forest in order to know how much you can allocate — for instance, for receiving licences and allocate for other purposes, such as the appropriate level of raw log export.
So what did the Auditor General have to say about inventory work? It wasn't very good. "Utilizing the forest inventory," the Auditor General said…. Usually, the way you know about the inventory is you do an aerial imagery sample and follow it up with ground sampling. That's a truthing, ground truthing.
I've actually worked in the forest industry. I spent some time beetle probing, as it was called, back when we actually had, perhaps, the ability to address the beetle issue. We'd go into the forest — it was over the wintertime — and look at areas that had been attacked by beetle and either identify them for falling and burning on the site, the trees that had been attacked. Or if the timber still looked good, if a tree still looked good for dimensional timber production, it would be falling and removing them from the site. It was attempting to address the beetle problem at that point.
The ground truthing is important because you can only tell so much from aerial imagery. When you're on the ground in the forest, you know, you can tell about the canopy and other conditions that you're just not going to get from the aerial surveying.
What the Auditor General found is that the ministry "lacks the information needed to accurately categorize the attributes of a forested area." "Without sufficient ground sampling, the chief forester" — is what the Auditor General has to say — "has to estimate the effect of disturbances rather than rely on a more valid, updated inventory." Again, this has not been addressed in this bill or elsewhere — about the need for boots on the ground in order to make sure that the inventory is accurate after sample by aerial survey.
Then the Auditor General also talked about updating the forest inventory. He described that because industries' information that they submitted to the ministry.... "Because mapping or silviculture data was missing or did not meet the ministry data quality specifications…." Again, it was a guessing game, a guessing game on inventory work because the data is not good enough coming in from industry on the forest inventory or from the ground truthing by the ministry.
This leads to a lot of guessing on the part of the government. You don't have the ability to utilize the forest inventory data. You don't have the ability to update the forest inventory.
Another area that the Auditor General found was that the government doesn't have the ability to project forest growth and yield very well either.
When you can't do any of those three things, it makes allocation decisions very difficult. And allocation decisions, as I mentioned already, around raw log export, for instance…. We all know that there has to be a certain mix of that in order to make a mill viable.
You know, an almost 200 percent increase over the last couple of years in raw log export is way over the top and leads to situations like I have mentioned in this Legislature around the Kitwanga sawmill, reopening in July, when the Premier visited, and then closing indefinitely in October and filing for bankruptcy protection in late November, early December. That's an example of a problem with too much, over-the-top, raw log export policy by this government.
I wanted to say, to close off, that what is important is jobs in the forest industry in small communities. I taught in the forestry program. We need those forest jobs in communities, because it's people staying home at night, being able to volunteer in a community.
D. Routley: It is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill 26. Bill 26 is an amendment act, and by virtue of being an amendment act is limited in its scope, which is unfortunate at a time when B.C., more than ever, needs comprehensive change and a comprehensive review of what's happening in our forests. There are positive steps taken by Bill 26, but as has been said by numerous speakers, it is simply tinkering at the edges of a very big problem.
The problem that we face and that this Bill 26 fails to address is so broad in scope that it's almost become unimaginable. The basic role of government is called into question by the B.C. Liberal record on the management of our forests.
Our forests represent our largest public asset. They reportedly are worth one-third of a trillion dollars, and yet that enormous resource is being managed without adequate information as a result of the steps that have been taken by the B.C. Liberal government.
The basic role of government to balance the interests in our society. The economic, social and environmental
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interests are failed by the B.C. Liberal record on forestry. The public interest has repeatedly been put in second or third place by the B.C. Liberal government when it comes to forest management, and that has been confirmed not just by the opposition but also by the Auditor General of this province numerous times.
Unfortunately, the problem is made worse by the fact that the government really has no idea what the state of the resource is. It's been pointed out by the Auditor General that inadequate information provided to government by industry has put this government and the people of B.C. in a guessing game when it comes to appropriate decisions that might be made to manage the forest resource sustainably.
This government, our province, has no idea what state our forests are in — the health of the forests, the forest inventory and what might be done to address those problems. This has been brought about by the choking of the ministry to the point where for the first time ever in the province of British Columbia this government makes less in revenue from forestry than it costs to manage the ministry. That is definitely a sign of a crisis.
This is the 100th year anniversary of the B.C. Forest Service. Usually we would celebrate such a momentous anniversary with a hope and reflection on past glories and a hopeful vision for a future for the Forest Service. Unfortunately, this 100th anniversary comes at a time when the Forest Service of this province is practically disabled to the point of no return.
The foresters of our province are not able to apply their skills and their knowledge to help us manage our public resource. The foresters of this province are warning the people of the province that the forests are in crisis. It seems that this government, by virtue of the limitations — the limited scope of this bill and other bills that we've dealt with relating to forest management — just isn't listening to those voices of concern and caution.
The Auditor General has been bold and brave and effective in pointing out the problems that we face. When the B.C. Liberal government removed private lands on Vancouver Island from TFL oversight, the Auditor General quickly condemned that as a failure to guard the public interest. It was, essentially, over a $200 million gift to industry with no promise of payback in investment, in jobs or any kind of a sustainable management plan. In fact, what it has led to is an unsustainable cut and an unsustainable management of the standards and practices in our forests.
We are losing viable forest lands forever as those lands are converted to housing and other developments. This was condemned by the Auditor General, and the response of the government was to attack the Auditor General and accuse the Auditor General of not knowing how business is done in British Columbia.
That was an unfortunate reaction. It may be true that the Auditor General expected that business would be done with integrity and with forethought and with the public interest in mind, but if he did assume those things, he was obviously wrong. Because we can see throughout the record of the government in managing the forests that that just isn't the case.
Bill 26 has done nothing to address those basic core problems. When I look back to the first term of the B.C. Liberal government and the deregulation of the industry — the disintegration of the industry and the disconnection of the resource from the communities and mills — we were promised that that would lead to huge investments in new manufacturing operations. In fact, none of that materialized.
We were promised that the deregulation was going to lead to a better industry. In fact, deregulation led to deaths. The coroners have repeatedly pointed to deregulation as a contributory cause to the deaths of workers. In the case of one faller in particular, Ted Gramlich, from the Cowichan Valley, the coroner who looked into his death after reviewing the circumstances pointed to the reckless deregulation of this government as a contributory cause to his death.
This is a parade of condemnation of the record of the B.C. Liberal government when it comes to forestry. One would think that given all of these lessons, all of these people who have contributed advice and concern to the government — the Auditor General, coroners, WorkSafe B.C., the opposition, the stakeholders, the communities — somehow the government would have heard, and even the simple steps that could've been taken to address the deeper problems in the forest industry might have been taken.
Instead, we are constantly standing in the House debating minimal amendment acts to the Forest Act that end up only marginally, at best, improving a situation. And there are elements to this bill that are positive, but they're very specific, narrow and limited in their effect. What we need is a comprehensive approach to the forest industry that will assess where we stand today and point the way to a vision for a sustainable and thriving industry and environment for the future.
Instead, we've had the outcomes of deregulation: the deaths of workers. There was one year where 49 forest workers died. Two of them were legacy exposures to asbestos, and 47 were due to accidents. In an average year something like a dozen or a dozen and a half, at the most, will die, and that's a terrible circumstance by itself. But for one year immediately following the deregulation of the industry by this B.C. Liberal government, 47 workers died. As I say, in many cases that was attributed to the deregulation and the effects that it had on the lives of these workers and their working conditions.
This bill does nothing, and we've never seen anything from the government that would do anything to significantly address those issues.
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Waste wood. When I was working in the industry, I set chokers. Chokers are the cables that would be wrapped around logs, and the logs would be dragged down the hillside to a landing where they would be loaded onto trucks.
Even in the late '70s, when I did that job, the standards were higher when it came to waste wood. There was one job I remember where we were sent into a ravine some 60 or 80 feet deep and had to pluck, with chokers attached one after the other up to the lead line that towed the logs in — attach those chokers to the chunks of wood that had broken off bigger logs being dragged across the ravine and had fallen into the stream. That was the standard in 1978.
Now we have an increase of at least 100 percent in the waste that's being left behind on Vancouver Island private lands that are now managed in a self-policing way by the industry and that have been subject to these relaxed standards.
We have an enormous degree of damage being done to the environment. We have an enormous amount of fibre that's being left in the bush to rot, which contributes carbon to the atmosphere rather than provide opportunities for manufacturing or for use as even pulp wood for our pulp industry.
The results have been devastating. Overall, we've lost 35,000 jobs in the forest industry since the B.C. Liberals took power. That's some 80 mills. We have lost those jobs, and we've probably lost them for at least a generation, as the mismanagement of the health of the forests and the stock that we consider the basic raw material for this industry has been so damaged.
This is a terrible record. It's a terrible record that's been pointed to over and over again for years now, and yet this government has refused to hear those words of caution. So we wind up again standing in this Legislature debating amendment acts that tinker at the edges of the real problem.
I'm going to talk about a couple of elements of this bill that are positive and that will, I think, help some of my constituents. The problem, the real significance of Bill 26, is not the small details that it addresses within the industry and the challenges within the industry but those problems that remain unaddressed. So I will continue, Madam Speaker, with your permission, to address those missing aspects of the bill that might have addressed some of these deep elements of crisis in B.C. forests.
One of the issues that we face is that the deregulation and disintegration of the industry was predicated on a self-regulation model, where companies would submit their own plans, they would monitor their own activities, and they would report at the end the results of their activities. The judgment of the government on the company's performance would be based on the results.
There are potential benefits to that approach, as many of the participants, the companies that work in our forests, are responsible and do contribute in a way, with integrity, to the environment and to the state of the forests. Those companies may, in fact, benefit from a results-based code. But we can only be certain that these companies are following the practices that are recommended, are prescribed by the government, if we are monitoring what they're doing.
The constant cuts to the Ministry of Forests and to the Environment Ministry have left us in a place where we don't have the eyes and ears on the ground. We don't have the boots in the bush that would tell us for certain how these plans are being followed.
As a result, not only does the government have no idea what the inventory or state of health of the forest is; we also don't have any idea whether or not we are extracting the maximum revenue that the public can expect for the resource that's being taken.
There are several examples of where this has resulted in the public not receiving the amount of compensation it should for the use of its forests.
This is a disaster for the revenue of the province, but it also puts us in a terrible predicament with the softwood lumber agreement, as the American lumber coalition that contests our basic formula for stumpage has more and more support for its arguments that we are not behaving properly or that we are subsidizing an industry if we don't get the fair amount for the wood that's taken. That, unfortunately, appears to be the case.
This Bill 26, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, in effect admits that. In the section on revenue collection it basically highlights the fact that the results-based forest code has been ineffective and that the information that's being provided by industry to government in order to calculate stumpage rates has not been correct. This is an admission of failure of this system and of the government's performance when it comes to guarding the public's interest.
We have more than 50 percent of the wood in this province being taken at 25 cents per cubic metre, which is the salvage rate established to encourage companies to log the beetle-infested wood. But it's been shown over and over again that healthy wood has been taken at that price. That is not only a tragedy when we consider the revenue of the province, but it also puts us in some liability when it comes to our agreements with our markets to the south in the United States.
The act, when it established the results-based code, came in, in 2002. The former Forests Minister said that they promised multi-million-dollar fines and the possibility of jail time if the self-regulation provisions in the results-based code were transgressed.
When I asked someone with some experience in the forest industry in this province, Rick Doman, what he thought about the self-regulation and self-monitoring
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plans of the government, he had a simple answer for me. He asked me: "When was the last time you gave yourself a speeding ticket?"
You know, one of the members actually put up his hand because he might have actually done that. But it is a great question.
When we're asking industry, whose primary obligation is to make profit for its shareholders…. Its primary obligation is not to guard the public interest of British Columbia. Its primary obligation is not to protect the environment of British Columbia. Its primary obligation is not to provide revenue to the government of British Columbia for the resources that it takes from the province.
Their primary obligation, understood by everyone, is to make profit for their shareholders. That's a simple truth, and it should be respected. It is, in fact, disrespectful to the interests of those industries to put upon their shoulders the obligation to be self-monitoring, self-regulating and to in fact give themselves speeding tickets when they don't comply — multi-million-dollar speeding tickets.
How many would do that, at a time when they are barely making profit and under enormous pressure to provide dividends for their shareholders? How many companies would report the problems that they're creating in our forests and face those kinds of penalties?
It was an obvious conflict of interest that was put upon the industry. It was done by this government, and the results are coming in.
The results are coming in, as we see the health of the forests deteriorate, as we see the standards and practices in the industry decline. And there seems to be no end to that.
Certainly, there's no end to that in this amendment act. And there hasn't been, as long as I've stood in this House, any legislation that's come forward that has comprehensively been able to address these problems.
So it appears to me to be a wholesale failure — a wholesale failure. It is an unsustainable management practice. It puts us at risk when we consider our agreements, like the softwood lumber agreement.
We had the private land removals, which were condemned by the Auditor General as a failure to guard public interest. We have the terrible results when it comes to worker safety, and the results were paid for with the lives of workers. That was pointed out by coroners and not just the opposition or the unions. In fact, the results of B.C. Liberal forest policy have been simply devastating.
As I said in the beginning, this bill, Bill 26, and the government's cumulative record in forest industry policy, forest policy, forest management policy, call into question the basic role of government — to balance the interests in our society, to balance the economic interests with the social interests and the environmental interests. It shows a basic failure to guard that role that they've been entrusted with.
What is required? What we require in this province is a comprehensive review of forest policy that will result in something to address a restriction on raw log exports. We've seen 5½ million cubic metres of raw logs exported this past year. That's enough for logging truck after logging truck, bumper to bumper from Victoria to Ontario and back. This is a disaster.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Mills in my own constituency that are starving of fibre are watching truckload after truckload of raw logs pass by their front doors as they are forced to close for a lack of access to fibre.
We need support for the remaining manufacturers and to rebuild the manufacturing base in this province. We need legislation that will enact an investment in forest health, in silviculture.
We need a consultation, broad, with all stakeholders — not simply the industry players, the companies, but with the communities, local governments, First Nations, with workers for the companies, with foresters and other academics. We need to support the development of new value-added industry. We need to support the development of new markets.
None of these steps that are needed to address the crisis in our forest industry have been taken thus far by this government.
This amendment act does address some issues positively. I guess if you say that recognizing that the government has not been receiving adequate compensation or revenue from the forest resources taken because of information provided to them not being accurate….
Recognition and admission of that is a first step. It's unfortunate that we're put in a position where the government has to admit that it's failed to collect adequate revenue for the province from the resources that have been taken, but this bill does take some steps to address that huge gap in public policy.
Resource roads. Resource roads are a significant issue throughout the province. On Vancouver Island, here on the east coast of Vancouver Island, most of the lands are private, as they were granted to Dunsmuir in the Dunsmuir land grant to create the E&N Railway.
This is a particular and unique situation, where the lands are private but in exchange for public oversight over their practices and oversight in the form of tree farm licences, the companies that operated on those lands were granted rights to public timber on public lands.
This creates a significantly different situation on a number of fronts. First Nations negotiations are certainly complicated by the Dunsmuir land grant and the privatization of the forests of Vancouver Island. Also, public
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access to forest lands is complicated by the same situation.
The companies in the past had informal as well as formal relationships with local sportsmen's clubs. Those clubs would provide services to the land base and would monitor the access to the lands in exchange for the right to that access.
In recent years the fish and wildlife clubs of Vancouver Island have found it increasingly difficult to access the forest lands, and this is not a simple question. Yes, they're private lands, but there are public assets at stake. The wildlife is not a private asset. The watersheds are not private assets. So access to those areas is a complicated issue.
This bill thankfully addresses some of that issue by limiting the liability to those companies that operate on the land base and to the government for people who do access the back country. If they take risks willingly and create damage to themselves or to their property, the liability to the companies operating in that area are limited by this act, and that is helpful.
Now what we need to do is see further steps taken by the government to help mediate, help balance the interests again between those companies and the citizens of British Columbia who would like to access those lands. I'm sure the minister and his staff would have an important role to play in mediating some of those negotiations to help that access be increased to the level it was at before.
The fish and wildlife clubs who were responsible and took care of the access monitoring in the past point out that the law-abiding folks who want to access the back country respect the gate that's locked. Those people who actually cause problems on the land base don't respect it. So nothing has been achieved by barring access to British Columbians from that land.
I'm hopeful that this step will help in negotiating and arranging access for those clubs in the future, and I'll be waiting with hope to see that happen. I invite the minister to take whatever steps he might to encourage productive and positive negotiations between the companies operating on Vancouver Island and the various fish and wildlife clubs of the Island, to help us re-access the land that they consider to be theirs.
While this amendment act does address some issues in a minor and limited way, it fails, unfortunately, to deal with the bigger problems that face us in our forests in British Columbia, and that is our biggest public asset. It's unfortunate, but thankfully, those minor issues that I mentioned have been dealt with.
We'll look forward — I hope, at least — to the government finally hearing the voices of the Auditor General, of the various concerned groups and citizens of this province, who really feel like there is a role to play for government in protecting their interests and protecting their forests and making sure that our interests are protected and balanced.
Bill 26 is, as I said, a tinkering at the edges of this problem. The problem is big. The problem continues to grow without being addressed adequately. One would hope that the continued clarion of voices in our province who are calling for the government to hear and to recognize these crisis issues will finally be heard and that we will one day soon in this Legislature see legislation that will finally and adequately deal with the problems that the forest industry faces.
With that, I will take my place in the debate.
H. Lali: I rise to take my place on Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. There are a number of things that the minister is proposing to do in terms of making changes in forestry. When you look at the record of the B.C. Liberals over the last 11 years, you can't isolate that from what they are trying to do here, because this right now is a result of what has taken place over the last 11 years.
This government came in. They said they were going to make a lot of changes. We had a forest industry that was working. We had, over the decade before, an additional 32,000 jobs that were created in the forest industry. Communities all across the province were alive and well, with forest operations employing dozens and dozens of people in each operation.
What you have here is a government that is trying to now, in order to look at all of these big problems that have been basically created by the policies of this government…. They are trying to tinker with them. It just reminds me of how sad the state of affairs in the forest industry in this province really is. This Bill 26 does not even begin to actually address the real problems.
Basically, what you are seeing here — some of the tinkering the minister is proposing to do — is just a small realization of the failure of their forest policies in this province over the last 11 years.
When you look at what has taken place…. I think it was four successive Forests Ministers in a row — none of them has put forward any kind of a viable policy that is going to take a look at the entire picture and say that we are going to actually fix the problems they created to begin with. None of the Forests Ministers they've had, all four of them, has a clue as to how to go about doing that.
The present Forests Minister — I have the greatest respect for the individual. He's one of the finest gentlemen I know to come into this Legislature and adorn a seat, and he has a great deal of respect from a lot of folks. Unfortunately, he knows some of the things that need to be fixed and what has to be done, but his cabinet, his government, won't allow him to actually do what he knows is necessary to do. So the minister comes in here with something which is basically tinkering.
I have a great deal of respect for the minister. Unfortunately, his abilities are being shackled by this government in terms of what has to take place, and it's
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not the tinkering that you see that has evolved with Bill 26 here.
At the end of the day, when you look at Liberal forest policy, it started out with these wild and crazy changes to the Forest Act way back — I think it was in late 2001, early 2002 — where they made a whole slate of changes. Those changes were made, and they ended up being very, very punitive in terms of the workers who worked in the forest industry and especially those communities who relied upon, for their tax structure, the base that was there, with the industry that existed and the forest industry.
Those changes that were made have punished workers and communities, especially on the coast and in rural British Columbia, where you see now as a result…. I'll talk about what the result is, but those punitive policies basically were designed to actually begin the corporatization of the forest resource. That was the first thing, because all of those big companies that are friends of the government wanted to have those changes made so that they could get more access to the timber and get it out of the hands of those family-run operations.
You've seen the massive corporatization of that resource into the hands of four large mega-giants in the forest industry. That's what happened. Then they also wanted to get the workers and their unions out of the way as well, and a whole slate of changes were made, not the least of which was getting rid of, in the name of trying to balance their budget — Mr. Kerley was the guy who was in charge of it — the Job Protection Commission.
They got the job protection commissioner out of the way in order for consolidation to work — consolidation of the resource into not only the hands of a few companies but into the hands of a few operations as opposed to the many that existed. First off, they had to get the job protection commissioner out of the way.
The job protection commissioner's job was to go in and assess whatever industry was in trouble. It didn't have to be a forest industry or a forest mill or a pulp mill. It could be a mine or some other operation. He was to independently assess whether an operation was viable with some help provided by the government or the workers or whatever tools he had at his disposal.
They got him out of the way. They got rid of the 90-day mill closure review process as well. They got rid of the appurtenancy clause, which maintained operations in communities and allowed the company that was in that community to actually have access to the people's timber. So it was a contract. It was a social contract, and every single one of those things was removed, all in the interests of their buddies in the corporate world who wanted to corporatize, consolidate that resource into their greedy hands and get it out of the hands of the independents, the family-run operations, the small operators, the value-added operators, the small business forest enterprise program and all of those community-based operations.
They had to get that out of the way. You could not send in the Job Protection Commission because that office did not exist. That office, that officer, reported to this Legislature and was an independent officer and gave independent advice based on sound business and accounting practices of the day. It was brought in by the Social Credit way back in the '80s and continued on under two successive NDP administrations. But the Liberals saw these items as impediments to their greater goal of giving the resource away to their buddies in the corporate world.
I'm going to give you three or four examples. The job protection commissioner — when we were government, the NDP in the 1990s — was sent in, in my constituency, into four operations and saved each and every one of them. At the Lytton Lumber sawmill in 1994, upon the recommendation of the job protection commissioner, almost a hundred jobs were saved.
We sent in the job protection commissioner to give independent advice as to the Aspen-Weyerhaeuser deal in Merritt, when Weyerhaeuser wanted to pull out. We kept enough timber to keep three shifts alive, hon. Speaker, and saved almost a hundred jobs there in Merritt.
The Highland Valley Copper mine. Again, the job protection commissioner went in there and put forward a deal that both the union and management accepted. Government was at the table as well. We saved almost a thousand jobs. They still exist today in Logan Lake in my community.
The last example I want to give is of the J.S. Jones operations in Boston Bar. Again, it was the recommendations that came forward from the job protection commissioner that saved 240 direct jobs in that community — direct jobs in the community of Boston Bar.
What the Liberals did when they changed that…. They cut the appurtenancy clause, got rid of the 90-day mill closure review process, got rid of the job protection commissioner. In essence, they knee-capped the community, the workers and, at the same time, the sawmill itself. Lumber just went down the tubes. It was killed by this Liberal government. That was a hundred jobs there.
The same thing happened with J.S. Jones. Not even a year after the Liberals took office, that mill was gone. I often use this example. I think it was 1997 when the Tolko mill in Merritt burned down. They did not want to rebuild the mill, but the Premier of the day went in and said: "We will help you and do whatever is necessary that you need to help the workers transitioning into other jobs while the mill is being rebuilt." With the $25 million they got from the insurance moneys, they rebuilt the mill. It is one of the highest-producing mills of its kind in the world.
When Tolko's mill burned down in late 2003 in Barriere — Louis Creek, Barriere, near Clearwater — there were still almost 300 jobs that were there. Because
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this government had cut the appurtenancy clause, the social contract, Tolko not only walked away with $50 million in insurance moneys, but they also walked away with the almost 450,000 cubic metres of wood that was attached to it and divvied it up amongst its other sawmills.
That's what this government's plan was for forestry — to shut down sawmills and pulp mills across the province and to let companies, companies that financed their election campaigns, walk away with the timber and do whatever they wanted with it, to basically have no social contract in place, and to heck with workers and to heck with communities. That was the government's policy.
Followed by that was a period of neglect. It was, basically, look the other way. That's what this government did. It continued to look the other way. They did that for a number of years, yet they were going to put out these…. There was some White Paper; there was some Green Paper — all sorts of paper. They were going to announce this policy, and what they came forward with was a seven-page document. That was it, in terms of their forest policy.
Then there was a period of giveaways — more giveaways, actually — aside from the timber being consolidated in the hands of large corporations, four of them, and with dozens of small operations going out the window with this government.
There was the policy of giveaways, the softwood lumber giveaway. The day before, actually on the eve of British Columbia and Canada winning its case in the international court that the tariff that the Americans were putting on was illegal, Premier Gordon Campbell and this Liberal government colluded with Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, and capitulated and sold out communities, sold out British Columbia, sold out forest workers and forest communities in this province and signed a deal by which they capitulated to the Americans and gave away $1 billion of that softwood lumber tariff that was sitting in a neutral bank there. Of the $5 billion, they gave $1 billion to American companies.
If they'd left it on the table, we would have won that case. But they sold out our companies, because that's what those large corporations, those large companies — international, multinational companies who now own most of our resources — wanted this Liberal government to do. That period of giveaways, the softwood sellout, they will live to regret.
What we've seen since in the last 11 years is that 80 sawmills and pulp mills in this province have closed, by the deliberate policy, the punitive policies and the policy of neglect of this Liberal government. Over 40,000 permanent, family-supporting forestry jobs in communities on the coast and throughout rural B.C. have been lost as a result of this government's policies.
What does the minister come forward with? What does the Liberal government come forward with? It comes forward with this Bill 26 — tinkering. Tinkering is what they're trying to do.
You know, for years now we've been saying that the stumpage is not being counted properly. And what this government has finally realized, what this minister is putting forward, is that they're going to have a review of the revenue collection under the Forest Act. This act actually now clarifies language around how information, submitted by forestry companies, forestry licence holders, must be correct so that the government can charge the correct stumpage amounts.
The need, actually, for this amendment highlights the government's failure on compliance and enforcement around revenue collection. When you had so many operations…. We had so many people, so many professionals that were telling this government for years and years that their system was flawed, that the reporting structure was flawed, that companies were actually cheating on the way that they were reporting, this government turned a blind eye to it, hon. Speaker. They turned a blind eye.
Now, finally, we have this minister…. Finally, he's come to the realization that maybe, maybe we have a problem. Maybe we have a problem, because what was happening was that companies were laughing at the Liberals about how loose they made that system.
Now they've finally said: "Oh god. I think we need to correct this, because they may not be reporting properly. They may not be calculating the stumpage properly. They may not be paying the appropriate amounts of stumpage that was needed." This is the record of this government, just a continued record of mismanagement in the forest sector along with the 80 sawmills and pulp mills that their policy has closed.
We also see this government as making the amendments to the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act. Now, this act was actually created in 2010 by Bill 21, but the Liberals have not yet actually passed the regulations to bring it into force. The amendments herein actually make some small housekeeping changes related to registering liens and other property claims, but one amendment actually repeals the section in the FSPPA which was to repeal the Woodworker Lien Act.
Now, this reminds us of the victory won by the NDP MLA from Lake Cowichan, when he actually correctly pointed out that while the new act rightly intends to ensure that independent contractors are paid if a company goes bankrupt, the act made no reference to workers, and repealing the Woodworker Lien Act would have left them vulnerable.
The government didn't see fit — when they were trying to deal with due diligence — that perhaps there might be a group of people that would be left out…. We don't have a problem with them looking after the contractors and the subcontractors. After all, I mean, they've looked after the big corporations. Here, a whole bunch of small business people that were being left out when a company
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was going to go under — for the small contractors….
That's okay that they did that, but what about the workers? What about the back wages of the workers who hadn't been paid when companies went under? And this government wanted to leave the workers high and dry while they just wanted to look after the contractors and the subcontractors and their big corporate buddies, because that's where their priorities were at.
We know, when that amendment came forward here in this House, that the member from Cowichan, who sits in the row right behind me, made a really eloquent and forceful case to point out to the government that they were leaving workers in communities high and dry. They had no problem looking after their friends on the business side, but the workers were getting the shaft once again. It took the NDP opposition, especially the member from the Island, to point out to this government that this was an injustice and it ought not to occur.
There are also amendments taking place on the Wildfire Act. It will help the government allocate fire hazard abatement responsibilities under new forms of tenure meant to give the bioenergy sector secondary access to logging sites. And these new forms of tenure have been promised since at least 2006 but are still unimplemented, highlighting another Liberal failure, I might add.
I want to also point out that this will be in relation to, actually, new forms of tenure, which are meant to give the bioenergy sector secondary tenure and having them come in to gather scrub and brush that are left over after the primary tenure holder is done logging an area.
I just want to remind the Liberals, that shortly after I was re-elected in 2005 we had a group of small-scale salvage operators from my constituency — just someone from Merritt and someone from the Princeton area; there were about a dozen of them — that came into my office to talk to me about this very particular issue of picking up leftovers from the forest floor after the companies had gone through it. It was wood that was excess to the needs of the tenure holders. They're probably going to just pile it up and burn it anyway, and there are folks who wanted to have access to that and create jobs.
The small-scale salvage operators had investments — I would say had — anywhere from a million or two up to about $15 million or $20 million, employing anywhere from three to five people or up to about 15 to 20. Some even employed about 35 or 40 people. These weren't the union rate, $20- to $30-an-hour jobs, but they were nothing to be sneezed at either, because they were anywhere from $14 to $20 an hour, depending on the complexity of the job that they did.
For small communities like Merritt and Lytton and Princeton and others, a $20-an-hour job is enough to support a family. It's nothing to sneeze at.
There were hundreds of these small operators across the province employing thousands of people with huge investments made by families — and sometimes families and their workers who worked in these operations. They were looking for scraps to gather up from the forest floor so they could create value from that and create jobs and keep their operations alive.
This government would not allow them to do that, because they got rid of a positive policy that existed, brought in, in the '90s, that said to tenure holders: if you allow family-run operations and small-scale salvage operators access to pick up that timber that's not needed by you, it'll count as a credit towards you applying for licences in the future. It was a win-win situation.
But the Liberals got rid of it and said they were going to charge them stumpage at a rate anywhere from $50 to $70 a cubic metre. You know what's happened? There's an individual in the forest industry who has looked at all of the auction manuals that come out, where the auctions are. In the last 11 years he has counted over 200 of these small-scale salvage operators, value-added remanners, family-run operations that have been put out of business by this Liberal government because of this punitive policy.
They wouldn't even allow them to go in there to pick up what was considered garbage by the large companies. They wouldn't let them do that. Now this allows them to do that. While those small-scale salvage operators were told to get lost, they're going to allow the companies to go in there to do the secondary tenures.
Also, what we have seen…. In November 2001 it became known that 3,600 piles of wood were burned at logging sites around Burns Lake, yet B.C. Hydro had recently rejected a job-creating bioenergy project by local First Nations. Hon. Speaker, this same Liberal government that told the small-scale salvage operators to get lost told the First Nations up in the Burns Lake area to get lost, while they burned 3,600 piles of wood that would have created hundreds of jobs in this province.
That's the kind of attitude that they've got and the policies that they have, because their big corporate buddies who finance their elections told them not to allow them to do that. That's the bottom line.
Now you have also — again, under the revenue collection aspect of the Forest Act…. I mentioned earlier that this issue again highlights another failure of the Liberals, and it also highlights the fact that the Liberals' so-called results-based forest code has also been ineffective and showed not being able to actually collect the appropriate amounts for stumpage.
In 2002 when they brought in the new Forest and Range Practices Act, the Liberals talked about how they were going to have million-dollar fines. For those who broke the code, those who actually messed up the environment, they're going to bring in million-dollar fines. That's what they said. That's what the Liberals said they would do. They also said — not only million-dollar fines — the possibility of jail time.
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They were going to fine people left, right and centre if they messed up the environment, they messed against the Forest Practices Code. They were going to fine them millions of dollars. They were going to put them in jail. Tough talk from a tough government.
That's what we had in this province in 2002. They said these two things would help keep the industry in line, even though the Liberals were allowing it to police itself. That's like turning the chicken coop over to the fox. "I'll tell you what, Mr. Fox…."
Deputy Speaker: Member, can I bring you back to Bill 26?
H. Lali: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
So this Bill 26 they're talking about is to try to fix problems that they created. I'm talking about a problem that they created which is very relevant to what they said they were going to try to fix.
It's like saying to Mr. Fox: "I'll give you the keys to the chicken coop. You watch them while I'm gone over to do other duties, while I go and have lunch. I'm going to go and have dinner." Well, guess what. By the time they got back, that fox has had the chickens for dinner.
That's basically now an admission by this government that this was what their friends have been doing out there in the woods. They're saying, "We're going to bring in million-dollar fines," and they're going to send people to jail and let the industry police itself.
The problem, you know, today…. Few if any fines or even jail times have been levied, even as the public share of the forest revenues has dwindled. That's what's happening. It has dwindled because of what this government's inaction has done.
They talk a good tune, but I've seen now for the last 11 years Liberal Forests Minister after Liberal Forests Minister going out there and saying they're going to fix the world when it comes to the forest industry. I have seen Liberal ministers go out there and say how many jobs they are creating.
Never mind that their policies have devastated forestry-dependent towns by allowing, through neglect and deliberate punitive policies, the permanent closure of 80 sawmills and pulp mills in this province and hundreds of small-scale salvage operators and value-added remanners in this province. Because of their policies, over 40,000 permanent forestry jobs were lost.
Yet you see minister after minister getting up on podiums, singing how great it is in this province, how they're bringing back the forest industry and how they're reopening sawmills and that. Yeah, opening sawmills all right — in China. That's what's happening.
This Bill 26…. When you have a catastrophe taking place in British Columbia, what does the minister do? Because he's not allowed to do his job by the Premier or this Liberal government, which kowtows to big industry all over this province, he is bringing in tinkering. Tinkering — that's what he's doing. When the whole tree is rotting, the minister is sent in to try to prune some leaves off the trees. That's supposed to be their idea of trying to fix the forest industry — this tinkering.
This document, this bill, even in a small measure, in a small way, is an admission by this Liberal cabinet minister and this Liberal government of the failures of their forest policies that have destroyed the very social and economic fabric of small-town British Columbia — all of those communities that have been dependent on the forestry jobs, all of those regional districts. You've seen those municipalities and First Nations that have been dependent because their membership had jobs in the forest industry.
Now 40,000 of those jobs are gone because of the policies of this Liberal government. And they've got the gall to come in here and bring in policies, bring in a bill that's going to tinker with it now, rather than actually coming out and throwing up their hands and saying: "We've lost. We've messed up the forest industry. Maybe somebody else can come in and do a better job." Because that's what's needed.
We don't need another paint job or a paint coat when you know the body of the vehicle is rusting. You need a complete rebuild. And this government finally — even though it's tinkering — is admitting its failures in the forest industry, and I guess we just can't wait until May 2013.
H. Bains: It is always a pleasure to stand here and get engaged in debates that are very, very important to the people that we represent, to the well-being of British Columbia.
I think, coming from the forest industry as my background, it always compels me to stand up and speak on those issues that actually fed my family and gave a very good life to myself, my wife and my two children. I extend that to thousands of families in British Columbia. Going back to the days when British Columbia was created, from that point on, the forest industry in British Columbia played a major, major role in building this province, giving the people of this province the life that they enjoyed.
The reason I stand up and many of my colleagues stand up to talk about the forest industry is because we owe so much to the forest industry for giving us such a great life — and how we can actually preserve it and enhance it — all of those benefits that were presented to us, coming from the forest industry.
The bill before us, Bill 26, that I want to talk about — talk about the flaws and find the admission by this government of the mistakes that they have created in bringing in the original bill that was called the Forestry Revitalization Act…. Pretty catchy name — a very catchy
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name — but if you look at the details, why we have to bring Bill 26 is because there were flaws in that bill. It was not only minor typo errors or small little acts that were left out and somehow it was overlooked; it was a major overhaul of our forest industry and how we managed our forest industry.
It was brought in with a promise from the forest industry that if we get what was promised in the Forestry Revitalization Act, there will be $2 billion dollars invested in the forest industry to bring back the modern, most effective, most efficient forest industry, to create jobs and to be competitive with the rest of the world, and bring revenue for the province and the people of this province so that we could have money going into our health care and we could have money going into education or other social programs — the very same things the forest industry has been doing over the years, 150 years or so, ever since the province was created.
Some of the things that were in there completely gutted the social contract that existed for decades. It is not a partisan issue. Many governments of different stripes came ever since the social contract was put in place. The social contract says — and worked — that we have natural resources here. They are renewable. We have plenty of them.
The industry could come in and have easy access to our forest industry, but in return they will create jobs. They will use those logs, use our forests to create jobs for British Columbians. What a noble concept. But because the industry, who supported that government in 2001, didn't like it that way, they wanted change — the change that they thought was best for that industry.
It was the job of the government of the day to make sure that we bring in policies that are good for British Columbia and the people of this province. That portion was neglected when that forestry revitalization was brought in. People of the province were neglected. The benefits from the forest industry to British Columbia was neglected. They gave everything to the forest industry that they wanted.
Now we're talking about making small changes to that because somehow there is an admission, now that 11 years have gone by, that we may not be getting the stumpage that we deserve. Maybe we should fix that — 11 years gone by.
Well, that is just a small portion of a big issue that faced British Columbia. The appurtenancy clause, part of the social contract, was taken out. That was the clause that required the licence holders to harvest the forests, process them in their own mills. Originally that's the way it was designed. Originally you were given a certain tract of land to be harvested, and then they were to be directed to a certain sawmill to be processed.
But in the 1980s, because the times were changing and the industry was changing, that particular appurtenancy clause was watered down again by then Minister Tom Waterland. At that time changes were brought in for the logs that you harvest from that tract of land. Rather than specifying a sawmill to be attached to it, they said: "Well, maybe we should allow the industry to manufacture them at any of their mills or the mills that are owned by their affiliates." Then there's a definition of who the affiliates are.
That worked for us as well. I could give you example after example, during my time in the forest industry, where that clause was used by the government, by the minister of the day. Whether they were the NDP minister or the Social Credit minister, they used those clauses, holding the industry accountable for harvesting their logs and not processing them and not meeting the spirit of the social contract.
There are examples where the industry went back and revisited their decisions and those mills opened again. And then they worked.
I don't know if anybody remembers the Plateau sawmill in Vanderhoof. It was shut down in the '70s. The government of the day said: "Look, you don't want to run it. We will run it." The government took over the mill, ran it, and then they sold it. The mill is still there — a success story.
Madam Speaker, I came from a mill — well, on the other side of the water, not too far from your house or your constituency — in South Vancouver across from the airport, Eburne Saw Mills. Closure was announced, permanent closure. Canfor had had over one million — 1½ million — cubic metres of logs in the coast, but that was the last sawmill that they were going to close.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The minister of the day said: "Look, there are some laws here that you need to abide by." We were able to work with the industry, with Canfor, at that time, and people were looked after.
Then there was the Squamish sawmill owned by Interfor. That mill also announced permanent closure. The community, the chamber of commerce, the council, the union — they all worked together with the job protection commissioner, also reminding Interfor: "You have an obligation to use that tree farm licence to keep that mill open, or you will lose the tree farm licence." After so many meetings, we put together — well, that group put together — an economic plan for the sawmill to reopen again, and that mill reopened again.
That was the success of the social contract that we had, and that was taken out when the Forestry Revitalization Act was brought in.
I could give you numerous other examples where the social contract actually worked for the benefit of the province, for the benefit of the industry, for the benefit of the people of this province. It created jobs; it pre-
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I'm being given some looks here, perhaps looking at that clock, Mr. Speaker. Noting the hour, I reserve my space to speak again on this bill, and now I adjourn the debate.
H. Bains moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:26 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
JOBS, TOURISM AND INNOVATION
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); D. Horne in the chair.
The committee met at 2:32 p.m.
On Vote 30: ministry operations, $234,108,000 (continued).
M. Elmore: I just have a final question on the provincial nominee program. I'm wondering if you can tell me the number of occupations that are eligible that have a pathway to permanent residency and the number that do not. So it's the number of total occupations where temporary foreign workers come into British Columbia and the number that have access to a pathway to permanent residency, and then the number that do not have any access, so they're just continual temporary workers.
Hon. J. Yap: The total number of eligible occupations, which spans the spectrum of semi-skilled and low-skilled right through to highly skilled, that have a pathway through to application for PNP is 492. With respect to the grand total, 492 is the total.
To give some context here, that includes 372 that are occupations that are included and 120 that are included, for a total of 492.
M. Elmore: Just to clarify for me, there's a total of 492 separate occupations that temporary foreign workers are eligible to enter. It wasn't clear to me. Out of that number, out of 492, is that…? All of those occupations' workers have the opportunity, a pathway, to permanent residency? Or a proportion of that?
Hon. J. Yap: All 492 have a pathway through PNP.
M. Elmore: So 492 have a pathway. Thank you.
Is that the total number? So for every category that a temporary foreign worker, low-skilled or semi-skilled, enters, they are eligible to apply for permanent residency? Or are there some occupations that are excluded from that category?
Hon. J. Yap: I'd like to provide some clarification for the member opposite. The 492 that I mentioned previously, Member, is the total, which includes lower- and semi-skilled jobs that were added for the northeast pilot. So for the northeast, the total has actually increased — 492. For the rest of the province, it's 372 occupations, which includes all levels — all semi-skilled, lower-skilled, right through highly skilled.
It's important to keep in mind, though — for the member and others to keep in mind — that the total is 3,500, which is the level that is authorized by the federal government. For the information of the member, for 2011 the 3,500 that were approved had the following profile: 61.37 percent were skilled workers; 8.01 percent were designated health professionals; 7.5 percent from the international students category; 2.71 percent international postgraduates pilot project; and the balance, 20.41 percent, entry-level and semi-skilled workers.
M. Elmore: It's not quite able to get to my question. Maybe I'll just submit it in a written form, and I can forward that on to the ministry and see if I can pursue the answer that way.
I'd like to ask some questions about the northeast pilot project. If you can just tell me what the operational budget is for the northeast pilot project and also if any anticipated changes or…. Will the funding of the pilot project be affected by the recent decision of the federal government to take over the management of settlement services? Is the pilot project going to be impacted by that decision?
Hon. J. Yap: With respect to the northeast pilot, there is no specific budget for the northeast pilot project. It is
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being handled within the overall budget. On the second part of the member's question, there will be no impact on the northeast pilot project as a result of the federal government's announced intention on centralizing and taking back settlement services.
M. Elmore: A couple questions about the task force on immigration — just some information on how the members of the Immigration Task Force were selected. There has also been some criticism coming forward in terms of the lack of labour representation or community presence on the Immigration Task Force. Specifically, there was no expertise to speak to issues of employment standards or labour relations codes or dealing with the issue of informing new immigrants about their rights.
I'm just curious about the process of the selection and why these areas were overlooked when these members were chosen. How will these issues be addressed and corrected when the task force report is being presented?
Hon. J. Yap: The Immigration Task Force was focused on economic immigration. It's important to keep in mind that the scope was to focus on the four economic immigration programs — which, as the member knows, were the provincial nominee program, the skilled worker program, the Canadian experience program and the immigrant investor program.
The membership was, because of that scope, focusing on economic immigration and not on other immigration programs. We were fortunate to be able to attract community and business leaders, people with wide experience with immigration issues and also from the perspective of employers — which, again, was the focus of this task force.
M. Elmore: Was there a recommendation, or will there be a recommendation coming forward, to create a new body to assess foreign academic credentials in B.C.?
I'm sure you've heard, as I have, very consistent reports, stories and experiences of immigrants coming in, holding professional qualifications of one degree — just the difficulties of having their credentials recognized and their ability to contribute and practise in their profession that they've been trained in. I'm just wondering if that's in the works.
Hon. J. Yap: Credentialing is a very important issue, of course. The member may know that this was not specifically part of the mandate of the Immigration Task Force. However, as we travelled around the province and met with and consulted with stakeholders around the province, we did hear about this issue. Of course, this reinforced the awareness in government that this is an important issue. We can report that the government is working on this, and plans are in the works.
M. Elmore: I'm wondering if you have a list of community groups that were consulted and that made presentations to the task force and, also, if you can talk about the impact of the federal government decision to resume control of immigrant settlement services. What impact will that have on your area and those programs?
The Chair: I might remind the member — through the Chair.
Hon. J. Yap: We can and will provide a copy of the places that the Immigration Task Force travelled to, to do the consultations, and also those who participated in the consultations.
With respect to the federal government announcement on settlement services, it is really too early to tell how this will unfold — except that we do have time. It is a two-year transition that we have been given notice of. So there is time, and ministry officials are working with federal government officials. As the member can appreciate, it's early days but already the discussions have started. There will be work done in collaboration with federal officials as we move forward.
M. Elmore: In terms of the changes to be expected with the centralizing of the immigrant settlement services, early estimates are a loss of anywhere from 30 to 50 jobs.
Also, can you talk about the loss of the Welcome B.C. programs? That's one area that…. I've had the opportunity to visit a number of organizations who have undertaken those projects. I found them excellent in terms of their quality and certainly the value for that investment in terms of partnering with, often, community organizations, neighbourhood houses and community groups, and bringing together just a wide variety of individuals to undertake antiracism work, to create welcoming communities and to also encourage and welcome new immigrants.
Those have been, I thought, very excellent programs and also really very innovative. I know that they are also regarded as leading programs in terms of being effective in creating a very welcoming environment for new immigrants. I'm concerned that those programs will be jeopardized and possibly lost under the move, the federal government taking control of immigrant settlement services.
Can you talk to what you anticipate the impact will be on Welcome B.C. and those programs?
Hon. J. Yap: I think the key to this is that it is early days. We should keep in mind that the federal government announced that they will be taking over the delivery of services for settlement. The federal government has not said anything about cutting the funding. As I said, it's early
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days. We will work with the federal government to ensure that the needs of British Columbians in this area are met with the transition.
M. Elmore: Yes, they haven't announced a funding cut. I have also heard that. In terms of the per capita, B.C. is allocated a per-capita amount in terms of immigrants. We can expect that number to increase.
I'm concerned about the services that are administered under Welcome B.C., those kinds of community grants. Maybe we can just keep in contact and have open communication in terms of the status of those programs, when it's determined what their future will be. If you have an opportunity to visit some of those programs, I think it's very worthwhile. They are very beneficial and very positive programs in the community.
I'd like to ask to just shift to the issue of representation — particularly in the public sector. This is representation of visible minorities in the public sector that I'm interested in.
Just some statistics from the B.C. Stats workforce profile on the B.C. public sector from March 2011. The stats here are that visible minorities made up 12.4 percent of regular employees in the B.C. public service in 2010-2011. Currently in B.C. visible minorities make up 24.8, nearly 25 percent, of the B.C. population. So there is a gap in terms of the representation.
I don't know if you're familiar with the…. There was also a recent report, DiverseCity Counts: A Snapshot of Diversity in Leadership in Metro Vancouver, published in July last year, which looked at the representation in leadership positions of folks from visible minorities in senior leadership in public sector, private sector, elected government and senior leadership positions. It also found that there was a disproportionate…. There wasn't an equal representation reflecting the makeup of the population.
My question is: what action is the province currently taking to raise the numbers of visible minority employees in the public sector and also to ensure that visible minorities receive fair treatment when competing for higher level positions, since only 15 percent of promotions within ministries are of visible minorities?
Hon. J. Yap: Certainly, government recognizes the importance of diversity in the public service, and we should strive for a public service that represents the diversity of our province. Having said that, this is really within the purview of the Minister of Finance, who is the minister responsible for the Public Service Agency. I would encourage the member to perhaps take it up and canvass that particular line of questioning with that minister.
M. Elmore: I would like to ask about a particular program and the concern of the graduation rates from high school of immigrant and refugee youth who either immigrate or come to Canada as youth and who enter the school system. Of course, not only for immigrant and refugee youth but for youth in general, their success in life is shaped very much by their ability to complete high school and to transition, to go on to post-secondary education of some sort.
There is a recent report that immigrant youth and refugees who come to Canada and B.C. after the age of nine have a lower graduation rate, compared to…. Their graduation rate, their high school completion rate, drops by 1 percent each year after they come to Canada.
So there was a pilot project, the immigrant youth in schools pilot program. I'm just wondering if a report was filed on that in terms of the success of that pilot program. Will that program be continuing?
Hon. J. Yap: The in-school immigration youth project was very successful, and the member will be pleased to know that it will continue.
M. Elmore: So that is also the in-school immigration youth project — basically, the immigrant youth project? I've got my titles a little bit different. I've got it here as the immigrant youth in schools pilot program.
Hon. J. Yap: The member is referring to the in-school immigrant youth project, and that will continue, yes.
M. Elmore: Thanks for the answer. I'm wondering: are there current, up-to-date statistics that track the success rate and graduation rate of immigrant and refugee youth — the high school graduation rate?
Hon. J. Yap: Our ministry does not have those statistics — the graduation numbers for immigrant students — and I would suggest she may want to canvass this with the Minister of Education.
M. Elmore: I have asked the Minister of Education also, and it seems that it would appear that the statistics are not tracked consistently. I don't know if you have any insight into that. I know different jurisdictions, different provinces, have different approaches in terms of tracking statistical information throughout the ministries. Do you have any further information about that?
Hon. J. Yap: We will be able to provide information on the in-school immigrant youth programs. This is with respect to those who participate in the programs and only those who participate in the programs, and we can get that for the member. But in regards to general tracking of the graduation rates, that information, I understand, is not available.
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M. Elmore: That pretty much concludes my questions. I just want to thank the minister and also the minister of state. I appreciate it.
J. Kwan: Then we're going to move on to the other area of the ministry that the minister is responsible for. I'm going to first open up with some general questions around the budgeting items and then move on to the jobs plan and various trade issues and so on.
Can I ask the minister this question? There has been so much restructuring, really, within the ministry. It's kind of a smorgasbord of many things, as the minister has noted, in his current role as the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. Maybe the minister can tell us: are there reductions in spending in any of the program areas within the ministry, first of all, as a broad question? And if so, what are those reductions?
Hon. P. Bell: We may have to spend some time on this. There have been a number of puts and takes in the ministry. The net effect in the entire ministry is a reduction of $3 million. That is a result of the termination of the Year of Science program, which was a time-limited program and had a fund of $3 million attached to it. It was only a single-year program by the nature of what it was. The remainder of the funding to the ministry remains level.
We have moved dollars from some program areas to other program areas to enhance different offerings and support initiatives that we think are important. If the member opposite would like, we can certainly go through those, or if she's happy just to have an overall representation of the budget, we're okay with that — whatever the member opposite would like to pursue.
J. Kwan: In the interest of time, maybe the best thing to do is just simply to get that list from the minister. I'm always conscious of the fact that these are tight estimate processes, and we try to sort of get through as much as we can, canvass as many areas as we can. Maybe that's the most efficient way of doing it.
Also, likewise, I'd be interested in getting a list of the programs that have been moved from the ministry and that have moved around. For example, if a program has moved from this ministry and moved into another area because of the reconfiguration of changes, it would be good to know what those programs are and where they have gone.
Hon. P. Bell: There have been no changes to the structure of the ministry since it first was developed a little over a year ago. The ministry remains today as it was when I was first appointed, I guess, 13 months or so ago. The only change is the incorporation of the Minister of State for Multiculturalism, and the programming around multiculturalism has moved into the ministry. Aside from that, there have been no changes over the past 13 months.
J. Kwan: A broad question, again, for this ministry. Have there been any fee increases related to this ministry? This ministry tends not to be a ministry with those kinds of programs in place, where fee structures are put in place, but I thought I should just canvass that question — whether the ministry had any fee increases in any of the items that the ministry offers.
Hon. P. Bell: A little cautious about how I answer this question, just to make sure that it is accurate. Any fees require approval of Treasury Board. Fee increases or changes require approval of Treasury Board, and we've not submitted any requests for fee increases or changes.
The reason why I'm being a little cautious is the Forestry Innovation Investment provides funding for marketing initiatives, and it has different standards that it sets for participation rates. For existing markets, it requires a 50 percent contribution. For marketing initiatives in new markets, I think it's only a 10 percent contribution rate. So those may have changed slightly over time.
In terms of strictly fees that are associated with kind of a fee-for-service-type approach, we've not taken any submissions forward to Treasury Board, and that is the normal process that would be required in order to have fee changes.
J. Kwan: What about in the last fiscal year? We've just come to the end of a fiscal year, so have there been any fee increases in that last year — not just forward-going but in the past?
Hon. P. Bell: The answer is the same as the one that I just provided. There's been nothing since I've had responsibility for the portfolio.
J. Kwan: How about performance measures? Are there any substantive changes in the performance measures in comparison? If so, what are they?
Hon. P. Bell: When we did our update for the 2012-13 service plan, we did make a variety of changes in the service plan measures.
We could do this a couple of different ways. If the member opposite would like, we can simply provide a list of the changes and the reasoning for that, or I could go through them and itemize them over the next few hours here.
J. Kwan: Again, in the interest of time, I'd be happy to receive the documentation from the minister, and I can go through those on my own. I know that the minister has offered in the past, as I have received these docu-
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mentations. If I have further follow-up questions for the minister's staff, I can certainly do that so we can save the time in this process here.
I know that the minister has travelled quite a lot in an effort to build relationships and so on and to look for opportunities. I wonder if the minister can also provide me with a comparison of his travel budget that's taken place. I would imagine that probably has some big differences in terms of the budget allocated to the minister.
Hon. P. Bell: I'd be happy to do that. Although there may be some dialogue around the travel I've done last year or in the previous fiscal year, I think it was just a single trip to China, actually. I don't think there was anything else last year. The year before, I think, there were two trips to China and one to Washington, D.C. Actually, there might have been one to Portland, Oregon, I think, last year as well.
There's a significant amount of media coverage, of course, on the trips that we do. That maybe makes it seem like there's more travel. We do our best to limit our travel efforts and make sure it's very focused. I'd be happy to provide the member opposite with the budget lines on that.
J. Kwan: Thanks. That would be very useful — to have the previous year's travel budget and then compare it to what's anticipated in the budget for this year. That would be useful and, I guess, along with that,for the minister's staff as well.
I'm wondering, for example, about the upcoming trip that the Premier will be taking — travelling to China again and various parts of Asia. Is it this minister's staff who will be providing the support on the trip for the Premier, or does that come under the Premier's budget, as an example? Presumably the Premier's travel would be coming out of the Premier's budget and not this minister's budget. I just want to get some clarity on that.
Hon. P. Bell: The Premier released the total costs of the trip that we did to China and India last fall and provided that data earlier on — just before Christmas, I think. These trips, typically…. The Premier's travel expenses — herself and her immediate staff — come out of her budget.
On most of these trips, often we focus on a few sectors. So the last trip had a significant forestry contingent. There was a significant LNG contingent, a mining contingent, an agriculture contingent, an international education contingent. Those are, at least, the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.
Staff from each of those ministries may attend, depending on the type of trip it is and what is necessary for support. If that were the case, then their travel expenses would be carried by that individual ministry. So if there was support from mining, as an example, then that would accrue to the Minister of Energy and Mines travel budget. It is spread out, depending on what ministry it resides in.
We do have a significant contingent of staff internationally. Those staff and the costs associated with those staff are borne within that budget. They do support the Premier's trip or any other minister's trip when they go abroad. There may be a few of our economic development staff that go with the Premier as well, depending on the nature of the trip, who again support that work.
For each individual that goes on the trip, their budgets accrue to the respective ministry that they reside in. For the Premier's office and the Premier's staff, the expenses would reside with the Premier. But when we released the data last December on the total cost of the trip, it was broken out for all individuals and then pulled back together in one lump sum.
J. Kwan: So in anticipation, then, of the upcoming trip, is the minister anticipating that any staff from his ministry would be accompanying the Premier?
Hon. P. Bell: We are still working on the details of the trip, but I would expect that some will travel on this trip, yes.
J. Kwan: Presumably, that information will also be made public once the plans are finalized.
Hon. P. Bell: The member is correct.
J. Kwan: I'm wondering about another broad question — lobbyists. Does the minister have an estimation of how much time or how many hours he spends on being lobbied by lobbyists in specific meetings? I wonder if the minister has a sense of that and if he could provide that to us.
Hon. P. Bell: I wouldn't necessarily, no. I suppose if we had staff go and check each lobbyist's registration, that detail could be determined. There are days it feels like most of my meetings are engaged with lobbyists, but then there are other days, of course, where that's not the case.
I really would hesitate to say. It doesn't feel like a lot to me, but I don't know. I really haven't kind of paid attention. My job is to work to advance large economic initiatives in the province, as one of the elements. Tourism, of course, is another element. Industry training and innovation are other elements.
I do meet on a regular basis with individuals who have, certainly, an interest in seeing a project move forward. They sometimes are represented by professional lobbyists. It's not unusual for me to meet with people — businesses, companies — who have retained a professional lobbyist, but I have not kept track of what percentage of my time goes to that sort of meeting.
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J. Kwan: Maybe the easiest way to do it is to actually, again, have the minister's staff provide me with a list of who the lobbyists are that the minister has met with. That way I can get a sense of what's happening on that front. I wonder if the minister would agree to providing that.
Hon. P. Bell: As I think the member opposite knows, that information is not tracked internally. We don't necessarily know if a person…. I mean, there are some that I know are professional lobbyists, but there are some that I don't know whether they are or not.
It is the obligation of the lobbyist to register and to register the contact. It's not the obligation of the minister to track that information. Short of someone going and checking every lobbyist that is registered in the province and checking their contacts, we don't have access to that information.
I know that the members of the opposition regularly request copies of my calendar, and I know that's released. I'm sure they have staff buried somewhere down in their research department that can go through and do that same work.
J. Kwan: Here I was trying to put that work off over to you. All right, then. I guess we'll go through the normal process of trying to access that information. Cooperation only goes so far, I guess, eh?
Okay, on the question around contracts, I wonder if the minister can advise: what is the total value of contracts? Does the minister have a broad figure of what that number is on contracts that were let by the ministry?
Hon. P. Bell: The total value of contracts budgeted for the 2012-13 fiscal year is $29.722 million.
J. Kwan: And how does that compare to the fiscal year that just ended?
Hon. P. Bell: Last year we had a total expenditure of $44.389 million of contracts, so that is a reduction of $14.667 million, which is about a 33 percent reduction.
J. Kwan: That's a significant reduction, actually. I wonder if the minister also has a breakdown, then, for the 2011-12 fiscal year on the contracts that were let. How much went into advertising contracts, how much went into contracts that were tendered, and how much went into contracts that were not tendered? In other words, they were just direct contracts.
Hon. P. Bell: The total advertising contracts — and I just need to make sure that there is clarity on this — in 2012-13 is $9.437 million, but that is all Tourism B.C. So it's all marketing for tourism, and that is the advertising budget. The remainder of the budget for GCPE is held in other ministries. In terms of tendered versus non-tendered contracts, the total of non-tendered contracts is $2.071 million, which represents 12.9 percent of all of the contracts issued.
J. Kwan: The minister said the total advertising is $9.437 million — all tourism dollars. So then remaining out of the $29 million there's another $20 million. What are those contracts for?
Hon. P. Bell: I should say to the member opposite that the $9.437 million in advertising was not included in the contracts that I spoke about earlier, the $29.722 million. So the $29.722 million is in other ministry contracts, not advertising.
Just to give the member opposite a bit of a flavour of what types of contracts have been let: FPInnovations, $520,000 for work on competitiveness and innovation; the Receiver General for Canada, an improved quality of U.S. air traveller statistics, a statistical area; Canadian Tourism Commission, $122,000. You know, just a wide variety of different sorts of initiatives that we could certainly provide the member the detail on if she wants.
The other kind of big area is labour market contracts — which are significant because that's a very large budget, a $60-million-per-year budget — and service is provided to groups like SUCCESS and others.
J. Kwan: I would appreciate it if the minister provided that list to me. Does it provide on that list which contracts were direct-award contracts and which ones were not?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm sure we can provide that detail.
J. Kwan: Can the minister advise…? Between 2011-12, where the budget was $44 million plus, versus 2012-13, where it's $29 million plus, the difference between those two fiscal years…. Why is there such a difference?
Hon. P. Bell: The bulk of the change resulted from an accounting change for forest innovation investment. Previously it was deemed to be contract dollars, and that change was made. The reality of the balance of the two probably is fairly close to the previous year's amount, but the money was moved in a different manner — hence, no longer in the contract definition.
J. Kwan: For the direct-award contracts that the ministry had made, were those consistent with the guidelines that were set out for awarding such contracts? What was the reason for these direct-award contracts?
Hon. P. Bell: To the best of our knowledge, the rules
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have been followed with regards to all of the contracts that are tendered. Generally, it breaks down to one of two or three categories for direct-award contracts. Either they're very small contracts, or the contract service provider is the only provider that's able to provide the service.
As far as we know, all the rules have been followed. We do monitor that on a regular basis.
J. Kwan: And all the contracts except for, I guess, the direct-award contracts were posted on B.C. Bid? Am I right to assume that?
Hon. P. Bell: The policy of anything over $75,000 being posted on B.C. Bid is followed.
I should just highlight. I was reminded of the example of a recent contract that was let to a provider who is in Burns Lake and has been on site on behalf of government over the last little while. That was a direct-award contract. It was direct-awarded because of the urgency of the situation and the need to have someone on the ground quickly. That would be an example of where you would direct award a contract. That one in particular was just a single individual for a relatively short period of time. But that would be another example.
Yes, as far as we know, all of the contract rules, in terms of the B.C. Bid process, have been adhered to.
J. Kwan: The list that the minister is going to provide me with, the list of contracts, could he identify for me, then, those reasons why, where there was a direct contract, just so that I can get a sense, a flavour of where things are at and what's happened?
Hon. P. Bell: We'd be happy to.
J. Kwan: Thanks. That's very helpful indeed.
I'm going to ask the minister some questions around the Progress Board. As we know, that's shifted and changed over the last number of years to this new approach that the government has adopted. On the change that now has taken place, I wonder, first of all, if the minister could advise why the Progress Board was disbanded. Did the government view that the information in the reports that have been generated by the Progress Board is no longer relevant in some way? Why was there a shift?
Hon. P. Bell: The mandate between the two boards is a bit different. The Progress Board was there simply to measure a different set of numerics and then provide that information back to government along with some advice.
The Jobs and Investment Board we see as being far more proactive and engaging with international investors as well as domestic ones. We see this group of senior B.C. business and union leaders — it should be clear that there are a combination of aboriginal and union leaders as well as business leaders on this board — are there to help us ensure that British Columbia has the most vibrant economy that we can possibly create a platform for.
The mandate is a bit different. There are some members that have carried forward from the previous Progress Board onto the Jobs and Investment Board. There are, I think, two members that chose to carry on. We did ask all of the individuals that were on who would like to, but many of them had sat on the Progress Board in excess of ten years and felt like they had already made their contribution.
It is a different mandate. I think it's a progressive one. I think it's the type of mandate we should be engaging senior business, union and First Nations leaders with. I'm looking forward to some positive results.
I did participate in the first meeting that they had. Ray Castelli has provided a very strong mandate to a number of different groups within the Jobs and Investment Board. He's created a number of subcommittees that are working on different ideas and suggestions to help support government's activities as it relates to investment and improved economic outlook for the province.
J. Kwan: The budget. As I understand from the briefing that we had, the Jobs and Investment Board will be funded $600,000 in 2012-13, and for 2011-12 it was $277,000. I'm wondering: how does that compare in dollar figures in the support for this board versus that of the Progress Board of the past?
Hon. P. Bell: The previous Progress Board budget was $500,000 when they had a full year to deal with. Obviously, '11-12 was not a full year. So this is an increase of $100,000. I think it reflects the desire to have this board more engaged with the inbound investment community and have them help support our recruitment efforts for investment in British Columbia.
J. Kwan: How would the board go about recruiting potential investment opportunities? How would that work? Maybe the minister can walk me through that process.
Hon. P. Bell: As the day goes on, we may end up with a major investments office as part of the dialogue. That would be the logical place for the Jobs and Investment Board to be engaged and brought into the recruitment of potential investors. The major investments office is intended to work with a relatively small group of investors who bring big projects that will have a significant economic impact in the province.
Many of those are looking at the potential investments in a variety of jurisdictions. To connect those people with senior business, union and aboriginal leaders, for them to provide advice to the inbound investor as to the benefits of investing in British Columbia, we think that would be a positive thing.
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So that would be one of the primary ways that the Jobs and Investment Board members would engage with inbound investors, although I'm sure there are other opportunities further to engage as well.
J. Kwan: What process is in place to ensure that how those potential investors come in and how the board deals with them remains unbiased? In other words, is this a fair process? How does the board decide which investor to choose or potential investor that they would engage with?
Hon. P. Bell: Again, we're wandering into the purview of the major investments office. The major investments office, again, is intended only to deal with a relatively small number of projects. Cabinet is in the process of approving the criteria for what projects will be included and what won't. So that will be published shortly — I think in the next month or two — in terms of what the criteria are.
But there will be a structured set of criteria for projects that are accepted into the major investments office. If those criteria are met, the final decision will be made by cabinet, whether or not that project is included as a major investment project or not.
J. Kwan: So it's based on the political decision from government, through cabinet. Once that decision is made, then the board members are assisted to work with those potential investors from there. I gather that's the process. So then is the cabinet the direct contact with these potential investors?
Hon. P. Bell: No, the cabinet would not typically meet as an entire cabinet with any individual investors. We expect that the initial investors will come through our international trade reps that are located in India, China, Korea, Japan, Germany, England and the United States. That then will get funnelled through the economic development division of the ministry.
At some point in time, if the project is identified as being significant for the province and one that we want to put all of the horsepower behind that is necessary in order to deliver the project in B.C., then it would be raised to the major investments office. The major investments office would do the initial work on the project to determine whether or not it would meet the criteria for a major investment and then would advance it to cabinet for a decision on whether or not that project should be included.
J. Kwan: Did the minister say that the criteria, then, for assessing these potential investors will be made public soon? I'm assuming that that set of criteria would be utilized by the reps on the ground to make that assessment all the way through?
Hon. P. Bell: The member is correct.
J. Kwan: Okay. Did the minister say what the timeline might be when that material would be available? I wasn't sure if I caught it or not in the early answer from the minister.
Hon. P. Bell: That information has not been finalized at cabinet yet. When it is finalized, we'll make it public relatively shortly after that.
J. Kwan: The board members of the Jobs and Investment Board. Those were selected by OICs — right? So that's also a political vetting process of who is selected to be on that board?
Hon. P. Bell: It's actually done by ministerial appointment not order-in-council. And the member opposite might be surprised at who was consulted in the process of all the appointments, including someone who she will know quite well, with the initials J.N.S.
J. Kwan: Thanks for that answer there. Maybe I just need to make the minister say who those initials stand for — just for the fun of it.
Hon. P. Bell: It would be the head of the B.C. labour…. Whatever it's called.
J. Kwan: Come on now, Minister, in the spirit of cooperation. We've been doing so well so far. All right, I'm going to move on because, you know, there's no point in having too much fun in this process.
Let me ask the minister questions on the regulatory reform for a minute. I meant to actually ask these questions earlier on. Sorry, I'm jumping a little bit, but it's a broad enough question, I think, that the minister would be able to answer without having to shuffle staff around.
The regulatory reform process is a process that I know the government started some time ago, initiated through the small business realm. But now, in this ministry, can the minister advise: where will these reports come from? Is it this ministry, or is it Finance on reporting out on the regulatory reform changes that are taking place?
Hon. P. Bell: The Ministry of Finance actually does the calculations, and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation actually prepares and releases the report.
J. Kwan: Okay. So Finance does the calculation of how many regulatory changes or red tape is being cut, so to speak, but the report comes from the minister. So who's accountable on the report itself? Is it this ministry, or is it Finance?
Hon. P. Bell: The accountability is jointly held between the two ministries.
J. Kwan: Who funds the work of that regulatory reform process? Is it Finance, or is it this ministry?
Hon. P. Bell: The regulatory reporting staff are funded through the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
J. Kwan: You pay for it, but you're only half responsible for it. Okay.
When does the minister expect the first report to be released?
Hon. P. Bell: To the best of my recollection, it is the end of June each year, when the bill was debated and passed in the House, but we'll have to just double-check on that. We will for the member, but we can carry on. I think it was the end of June each year.
J. Kwan: How much of the budget has been allocated from this ministry's budget towards this work, seeing as you're paying for it?
Hon. P. Bell: The annual budget is $767,000 for this division.
J. Kwan: How many staff from the ministry are dedicated to do this work?
Hon. P. Bell: There are currently five staff in the ministry that have responsibilities in this area.
J. Kwan: Okay. Moving over to the jobs plan, in the briefing we talked a little bit about the jobs plan and the advertising plan that the ministry had planned on mapping out. Can the minister remind me, again: what is the budget set aside for the advertising component of the jobs plan?
Hon. P. Bell: The two-year budget for advertising the jobs strategy is $15 million, and it's actually not held within the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. The actual budget is held elsewhere.
J. Kwan: It's held elsewhere. Is that in Finance or the Premier's office?
Hon. P. Bell: The $15 million is held in the contingencies vote.
J. Kwan: Ultimately, the decision on, I suppose, the rollout plan will fall with Treasury Board, but it will be this minister who's responsible, then, for rolling out the program?
Hon. P. Bell: That's correct.
J. Kwan: The $15 million is set aside in contingency. Has it been approved for the spending or has it not yet been approved?
Hon. P. Bell: The answer, unfortunately, is yes and no. Last year's budget…. I did mention to the member opposite that it was $15 million over two years. That amount was $5 million in 2011-12 and $10 million in '12-13.
The $5 million, of course, was approved and has been spent. The $10 million is still held in contingencies and will be spent subject to Treasury Board approval.
J. Kwan: Maybe this is a question for the Minister of Finance. How is it that the announcement of the $15 million was in the budget document — it was announced in the budget speech — but the dollars are still held in contingency? Maybe the minister can clarify for me what seems to me a slight discrepancy on authority on dollars.
Hon. P. Bell: I don't think it's unusual to hold different elements of program spending — especially when it's one-time spending in nature — in contingencies subject to final approval of the program that is developed. I don't think that's an abnormal situation. The notional budget is $10 million, so it's earmarked for $10 million. The final approval is just subject to a review of the spending plan for those dollars.
J. Kwan: The spending plan of those dollars has not yet been submitted for final approval. Has that plan been completed?
Hon. P. Bell: I didn't say that the spending plan hadn't been submitted yet. I said it hadn't been approved yet.
J. Kwan: Okay, so the plan has been completed, submitted and is under consideration, then — or maybe I'm reading into this. Maybe the minister can be clear in answering the question. I would like to know exactly where that plan is at the moment.
What I have gotten so far is that there is $10 million in contingency, and the plan — I'm not clear whether or not it's completed and submitted for approval and therefore subject to approval. Or is it not complete at the moment, under development at the moment and waiting to go forward for approval? Maybe the minister can clarify for me.
Hon. P. Bell: I'm sure the member will recall her time in cabinet, that it would be inappropriate for me to identify the stage of documents as they move through the cabinet and Treasury Board processes, or she would have to start all over again with the estimates with a brand new minister starting tomorrow.
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J. Kwan: Okay, so the minister is saying that that's confidential information. He cannot release the information. Nonetheless, it is curious to me, though. Here we have a budget announced by the Minister of Finance with the dollars attached, but it seems to me that the programming for those dollars attached is not yet complete and the dollars are resting in contingency at the moment.
I gather I'm not going to get more out of the minister on this, because he's going to rely on the notion that it's confidential and therefore he cannot say.
Well, maybe let's go back to this. What we know is that $5 million has been spent. Can the minister provide, then, for this House — on that advertising plan to date, of that $5 million, how was it divided up in the sense that how much money was spent in domestic advertising, how much was spent in international markets in terms of advertising, how much was in print, radio, television — in whatever format the advertising took place?
Hon. P. Bell: The level of detail that the member is asking for will be included in the public accounts that is about two months away. I mean, we could kind of redo that work a second time, but I'm not sure it would be particularly productive.
What I can tell the member is that the majority of the initial dollars were spent domestically, not internationally, and the majority of the $10 million that we'll be spending this year will be internationally and not domestically.
The objective of the initial rollout of the advertising plan was to engage how local communities, in providing feedback and input into what sort of projects and plans they have within their respective jurisdictions, would like to be seen as advanced in the international community.
The objective in the second part of the strategy is to go out into the international community and let them know that we have got great projects and great opportunities for them in British Columbia to invest in. It is a logical transition through that place. I think the member will find that the bulk of this year's dollars will be focused on the international marketplace.
J. Kwan: Okay. For the $5 million that's been spent, the contracts for the advertising, were those in-house staff who have done that work? Were they tendered contracts or were they direct-award contracts?
Hon. P. Bell: We don't have that level of information that the member opposite is requesting with us here today. It will, of course, be available at public accounts. If there were some specific elements that she's looking for, certainly we can try and get that prior to the release of the public accounts as well, if there is some urgency behind it. My expectation is that all of the appropriate procurement rules would have been followed over that period of time.
J. Kwan: I'm just interested in looking to see how that work was rolled out, consistent with my earlier questions around tendered and untendered contracts and so on — right? This is one area that I know…. You know, $5 million is not an insignificant amount of dollars. I'm just interested in what process took place in the ministry in letting those contracts….
The minister says that all of that will be included in the public accounts document, so I will wait for that. But if the minister has that information available that he could pass along to me, with the other information that I requested earlier, I would appreciate it as well. I'm just curious in looking at that.
Does the minister have a sample or a record of what advertising took place? I didn't catch all of the advertising that took place, but I sure would be curious and interested in reviewing the advertising that took place. I wonder if the minister has a record of that which I could access.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
Hon. P. Bell: We're just actually checking the jobs plan website, but we think all of the ads are posted on the jobs plan website. If they're not, we can certainly provide links for the member opposite for any of the commercials that ran.
J. Kwan: That would be great. Thanks very much.
Okay. Into another realm. Just not very long ago out on the front steps of the Legislature, the minister announced the JobFest, and we were invited to come and participate in that. When I first saw it, I have to admit I thought it was a bouncy castle, and I thought: "Oh, I should have brought my kids, because they would have loved it."
On that initiative, can the minister advise: how much of the ministry's budget is allocated towards this program, the JobFest program?
Hon. P. Bell: The budget's broken down into a couple of different elements — the procurement, actually, of the bouncy castle, as the member opposite refers to it, and some of the other associated staging, then the event execution and then some advertising around attracting people out.
The event execution is $1.7 million. The member opposite will know there are about 50 different venues that this will be travelling to around the province. Advertising is about $700,000, and then last year there was a total of $1.1 million spent on procuring some of the necessary pieces associated with it. So attending about 50 different communities in the province in a very broad range, from Haida Gwaii — I think Atlin is even on there; or Dease Lake, maybe it was — down in the Kootenays, across the north into the larger centres as well.
The goal, the objective, of the JobFest tour is to try and
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bring out young people ages 18 to 25 and get them interested in career options and, hopefully, provide them with the type of information that they wouldn't normally go and look for unless you had an event to really attract them and bring them out and get them excited about the opportunity.
J. Kwan: What's the measurement of success for this program? Is it by way of saying this many young people were contacted and will be engaging in these career options? What's the measurable outcome of performance for the JobFest initiative?
Hon. P. Bell: Certainly, the total number of people that come out is a key measure of success, but because of the model that we're employing, we hope to be able to track these individuals and see who actually takes advantage of the information that we've provided them and uses that as an influence on their career objectives.
We certainly are encouraging them to provide us with tracking data so that they can advise us as to how this program has influenced them and whether or not they've taken advantage of the types of career opportunities that are being suggested to them. But the initial measure will be on the number of people that come out and attend the various events.
J. Kwan: I would certainly encourage the minister actually not just to use how many people come out to attend the events, because I'm not sure that's at all an accurate measure — right? I attended the announcement, but you know, in a real-life situation I may well be a person that's counted towards having attending the JobFest but not necessarily yielding the kind of result that I think the minister's hoping. Although, he might be hoping that I would leave politics and embark on a different career.
Hon. P. Bell: We're hoping to help you leave politics…
J. Kwan: And he's hoping to help me leave politics.
Hon. P. Bell: …although you do have a fairly safe seat, so that may be a challenge.
J. Kwan: I'll leave it to the government to determine whether or not they could assist in that process of career redirection for us. We'll sort of see how we could assist the government bench in that endeavour as well. Maybe the JobFest would just be in time and in place and ready for the usage of many of the MLAs in and around this building. I'll leave it at that — shall I say?
In terms of measurement, I think it's important, though, to note the follow-up on how successful it is. That is the real measurement of how many young people made that connection and then made a career choice.
Then, for the ministry and within government, how much support was given to them to access and to achieve those goals, I think, is really important and whether or not, also, the minister will be utilizing that information as a source to inform the government on the training that's required — for example, the training dollars that are invested for young people to get access to those kinds of career developments.
I'm wondering whether or not there are these long-term plans that are built into this JobFest. Or is it really just meant to be a road show to go around the province, get people talking about it, and then it kind of stops there?
Hon. P. Bell: I think, actually, the member opposite has articulated the same objective that I tried to, perhaps not as eloquently as she did. The objective is to carry forward with a tracking system and make sure that we understand exactly how many people are following the opportunities that they've discovered in their initial tour of the facilities and how we can help build upon the programming in a way that will create that interest and excitement around career options for young people.
I'm not sure I heard the member opposite correctly, but the objective, really, is to lay out the careers where there are significant gaps in terms of attraction of employees into those and encourage people to think about those types of careers, as opposed to having students entering programming that ends up in a dead end and there is no career option for them.
So as opposed to a market push, it's more of a market pull, in the sense that we're hoping to see people moving into the careers where there are job openings coming available in the next decade.
J. Kwan: Is the minister or the ministry working in conjunction, then, with post-secondary education institutions in this initiative? Is the minister also working with, presumably, industry in the private sector to identify where the latest skill shortage may exist?
Hon. P. Bell: In the tent — or the bouncy thing, as the member opposite refers to it — there were a number of iPads and laptops set up that had something called Career Trek on them. Career Trek has three different programs or three different elements to it.
The first one is Build a Career. I think that the member actually may have taken that quiz. That's a series of, I believe, 17 questions, and at the end of the conclusion it tells you what careers you might be interested in and what your best options are for a stimulating, exciting worklife in front of you.
The second one is something called Trend Tracker, and that's probably the more important one for this discussion. A trend tracker has collated all the data that has
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been provided to us by industry, by different sectors, by colleges, by universities, by the general workforce. It shows where the job openings are likely to occur by region and by job type, by career type. You can go into a specific region of the province and identify how many registered nurses would be required, how many lawyers would be required, how many plumbers would be required or how many loggers would be required, and the subsets of each of those.
That is very, very detailed work, and it's a very effective piece of software that's been developed. Certainly, if the member opposite would like more information on that, I'd be happy to have staff sit down and walk her through that software. It's very, very good demand-side data that we're able to use, and we can react quickly as a result of that. We just need to simply go in and ask the questions, and we can get the data out.
The third piece of it is something called Job Search. Job Search actually then would take someone who has a set of skills and is thinking about a career in a specific area and it would pull up all of the jobs that are available within the parameters of the search criteria that the person establishes.
If they're interested in being a great MLA in the riding of Prince George–Mackenzie, there's only one job there, so it would tell you that that one is currently filled and there is no opportunity. They may be thinking about another position somewhere else that is available to them.
That is a simple explanation of Job Trek, how that process works and the way that we intend to roll it out.
J. Kwan: In identifying, for example, the range of career opportunities that exist and so on, and the training that's required, is there a cross-reference between the capacity of the spaces that are available in the various post-secondary institutions to absorb the students that would be coming in? Has that work been done to match it up, in other words?
It's one thing to say, "Hey, here's a great opportunity. Go and get your training there," and then people are running around trying to secure a training spot or a space in the post-sec institution or wherever they go to get the training done — only to find out that out of, let's say, 2,500 jobs that are available in this career path, there are only a hundred spots or spaces available in the post-sec institutions to access training. It's a bit of a disconnect — right?
I'm just making these numbers up, as the minister could appreciate, but I'm wondering whether or not there's a matchup to make sure that one end meets the other to yield the end product that I think we're all hoping for.
Hon. P. Bell: That work is being done in two ways. One is through the workforce round tables. We have two of them active right now. We're initiating a third one shortly. The two that are active are in the northwest and in the Peace. Those are, again, where we pull together a wide variety of industrial experts, labour force individuals, unions, First Nations, local community leaders, as well as educational institutions, and do that matching work.
Both of those workforce round tables are active, but the second place that that work is going on is more generically across the province. The Minister of Advanced Education and I are working collaboratively on that to make sure that the data that we are providing in terms of the demand side matches the supply side that is coming through educational institutions.
That work is ongoing in two different ways. I think the issue that the member points to is one that we agree with, and we are working through the process of making sure that we meet that objective.
J. Kwan: I'm going to move to another area now, the Canadian-European trade agreement. The last time that we were in a set of estimates around this issue, the minister had just been appointed to his position — relatively new to the file, so to speak — and at that time I was asking the minister for some information about B.C.'s position and whether or not we've made a submission to the federal government around the CETA agreement.
I wonder if the minister can begin by giving me a quick update about what's happened since that time and whether or not B.C. has made a submission to the federal government on what our views are on the CETA agreement.
Hon. P. Bell: I recently attended a federal-provincial-territorial meeting in Ottawa with Minister Fast. One of the topics discussed was the CETA agreement. The CETA agreement is unique in that the federal government is engaging with all of the provinces in terms of discussing kind of the important issues in front of each of them. The ones that tend to be top of mind right now tend to revolve around things like local procurement, supply-managed products — those sorts of things.
The nature of the discussions are such that we are not at liberty to disclose the positions that the province has advanced to the federal government. That's the same for all ten provinces. They're all in the same situation, as well as the territories. So I am unable to provide that level of information to the member opposite, but B.C. has been active and at the table for all of the meetings.
J. Kwan: Has British Columbia made an official submission to the federal government on this?
Hon. P. Bell: We have.
J. Kwan: When was that done?
Hon. P. Bell: Submissions are ongoing. I have written
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a letter to Minister Fast, as well, to reinforce the position that we have. At each of the monthly meetings submissions are made by the provinces, so it is an ongoing, iterative process as opposed to a single-submission process.
J. Kwan: When was the first official submission made by the province of B.C.?
Hon. P. Bell: The first — I would characterize it as an unofficial submission — actually occurred before the CETA negotiations began in May of 2009.
J. Kwan: To my knowledge, the first provincial offers, if you will, that were due for the federal government was on March 28 of last year, because there was the flux that took place around ministerial changes and so on. I'm wondering: on the official written submission to the federal government on B.C.'s perspective on CETA — when was that done?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm not sure I'm characterizing properly for the member opposite what she is thinking of as a submission.
We have staff that sit at the table with the federal government. They ask us for advice all the time. Some of that may be in a written form, but the bulk of it is in a verbal form.
I think what the member opposite is asking for is: was there, or has there been, an official submission from the province? I think that the letter from me to Minister Fast would probably characterize what the member thinks of as an official submission, and that was in the fall of last year.
J. Kwan: Can the minister advise: has the window closed on when B.C. could express and provide to the federal government a list of items that B.C. would want to ensure is on the table for discussion for the CETA agreement and, likewise, the list of things that we want off of the table for the CETA discussion?
To my understanding, the provinces were asked to make this submission, to provide this information to the federal government officially. Has that been done? Then, also, has the window closed on what items could be considered — that B.C. would want to be considered — under the CETA agreement, and what items we want off of the table for the CETA agreement?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm not sure that I would characterize it quite in the way the member opposite has, as items on the table or off the table. Oftentimes it is about the negotiating strategy or position on a specific item and how that might be dealt with, as opposed to discussion that we're just not going to negotiate or talk about that specific area.
In terms of answering the question, "Has the time frame for discussion about what the negotiating positions are on various issues expired?" the answer is no. It is still active, and the time still allows for further submissions.
J. Kwan: Does the minister anticipate that there would be a deadline of when that window would close — that is to say, for example, procurement practices impacting local governments? Local governments expressed a point of view around that and the negotiation process for this with federal counterparts on this. Is there a timeline to which there will no longer be opportunities to negotiate whether or not that item would be included or excluded from the CETA agreement?
Hon. P. Bell: It's important for the member opposite to note that the responsibility for negotiations around international trade agreements is the sole purview of the federal government. The federal government chose in this circumstance to engage all provinces and territories in the discussions and have an active consultation table process that allows for provinces and territories to provide input into the negotiations. But at the end of the day, if the federal government chose to enter into an agreement, that is solely within the area of responsibility of the federal government.
They are providing the opportunity for the provinces and territories to engage at their sole discretion, so it's impossible for me to say if there will be a timeline at which there will be no further submissions. We've not been advised of one at this point. We're not aware of a specific timeline, but things can change around that. If the federal government believed that they had concluded the deal in the best interest of everyone, they could simply go ahead and sign it at that point in time.
I'm not aware that that is going to happen. I've not been advised. I don't believe that that is going to happen, but it is important to understand the authority of the two levels of government and how we interrelate.
We're pleased with Minister Fast's willingness to engage with the provinces and territories. We think they're doing a great job in the negotiation process. They've been very receptive to the submissions that we've brought forward to them.
We're hopeful that if there is an agreement concluded, it really will be in the best interest of British Columbia. We believe that is the case, given the current state of negotiations. All of the evidence points to a significant benefit accruing to the province of British Columbia.
J. Kwan: Yes, I'm fully aware that the federal government ultimately would sign the agreement. Nonetheless, the federal government is asking the provincial governments and the territorial governments for their input with respect to that. My understanding of the process was such that each province, each territory, was asked to pro-
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vide their input on areas they would like to see exempted from the agreement, as an example.
To my understanding, some provincial jurisdictions have gone forward with some fairly assertive language in an approach to try to negotiate that. So I'm wondering whether or not B.C. has seized on those opportunities to do exactly that.
At some point in time there would be a drop-dead date, I assume, when those negotiations would end, that the federal government would no longer entertain suggestions, negotiations or discussions of what should be left off the table, what should be on the table, etc. I'm just trying to get some clarity in the process here on what's happening with respect to that.
As the minister will well know, there is a chorus of voices that are out there where people want openness and accountability on what's going on, because this will impact us greatly in British Columbia. I know on the one hand the minister says: "Sorry, I can't tell you because this is all secretive negotiation that's going on."
At the same time, though, these discussions, these negotiations, will impact the livelihoods and the well-being of B.C. in a very significant way. Rightfully, the citizens of British Columbia, many of them, are asking for openness and accountability.
So to begin that process, I'm just trying to get some clarity on where we're at with that set of negotiations. Has the window of opportunity closed for B.C. to assert as best as we can in that negotiating format, to say that these are some of the items that we would like to see exempted from the CETA agreement?
The Chair: Just a gentle reminder about relevance to the ministry estimates.
Hon. P. Bell: Thanks for that notice.
No, the time frame has not passed, and I'm not aware that there's any imminent period of time in the near future where that window will close. I know for a fact that that window is not passed at this point in time, and I am not aware of any future date that that window has been defined as closing. I'm not aware that that would be in the near future, in any event.
J. Kwan: I just want to reassure everyone in the House that these issues and questions are entirely within the minister's purview. He's our, if you will, chief negotiator at the table on behalf of British Columbia, so therefore, it's within his ministry, although I'm sure he delegates that authority to his staff as well. Therefore, I'm canvassing these questions.
I'm wondering: does the ministry or the minister have a perspective on the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association's view with respect to drug patent extensions relative to the CETA agreement?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite is asking a question that would require me to reveal a negotiating position of the province, because it is one of the elements that is of concern for people and is a constant discussion. It is because there are two sides to it.
Clearly, those interested in primary drug research and those that develop new drugs are interested in a stronger form of patenting that would prevent generics from coming into the market at an earlier period of time. Those that have an interest in seeing the opportunity for generics to come in earlier on would prefer to see no change or reduced patent protection.
The argument, as I'm sure the member opposite knows, has two sides to it. The province certainly is in a position where it is one of the areas that we are aware of, concerned about and have made our thoughts known to the federal government.
J. Kwan: Can the minister confirm, then, if he agrees with this perspective? If not, maybe he can shed some light on what the minister's view is on this. That is to say that the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association has found that the EU demands for drug patent extensions would add at least $249 million per year to drug costs in B.C.
I wonder if the minister can advise: does he agree with this analysis, or does the research that has been done by his staff agree with this analysis? Or do they have some other information that points to the contrary?
Hon. P. Bell: I am aware of the study. The study does reflect the costs that would be associated with the proposal that the European Union has brought forward in its complete state.
I don't know that we've done a huge amount of research to validate whether those costs are absolutely accurate, but we're not questioning that data either. So I am aware of it. It is one of the documents that has helped frame our thinking around B.C.'s position on this issue.
J. Kwan: So the minister is saying the ministry does not have information that disputes this number, nor does the ministry have information that would validate it, although that is information that the minister is taking into consideration to inform him of B.C.'s position around this issue? Did I understand that correctly?
Hon. P. Bell: I am only able to release or today discuss a portion of the information because of the state of the negotiations right now and the requirements that the federal government has placed on the province for participation in those.
The generic drug manufacturers have produced a report the member points to. The name-brand drug companies have produced another report that points to a
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different set of facts and information. We have not internally, within the ministry, prepared any further reports.
As I said, it is one of the topics, certainly, that is of concern to British Columbians. We all know the impact of health care costs in British Columbia and what it's doing to our respective budgets, so it is top of mind for all of us.
J. Kwan: The federal government's conditions, if you will, around the negotiations of this agreement…. The minister alludes to the fact that it precludes him from disclosing what is being discussed. So that's a decision of the federal government, to say to the provincial and territorial governments that they cannot disclose what is under discussion or what the views are from those respective provinces and territorial governments on any particular items related to CETA? Am I understanding that correctly?
The Chair: Member, I fail to see the relevance of the discussion on policy to the budget estimates for this ministry.
Hon. P. Bell: Respecting the Chair's comments there, I'll just quickly answer this question. Perhaps we can move on.
We are required, by confidentiality agreement with the federal government, not to disclose positions taken by the province of British Columbia or any other provinces.
J. Kwan: I'm happy to provide the House how this discussion actually does fall under the minister's purview in estimates debate. His staff are the negotiators at this table that he has assigned, which is paid for by this budget. We're in the process of talking about accountability here — of how those dollars are spent in the ministry. Therefore, it is relevant within the estimates process — what the negotiators are talking about and how they're embarking on that work as they engage in this work, which is funded out of the budgetary support from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. That's how it links.
So I'm coming to a close with this as well, because I'm just, again, trying to get some flavour of understanding of where we're at on this. This has been ongoing for some time. There have been lots of points of view that have been expressed around this. People are very concerned, mostly because of the lack of accountability and openness around this.
I suspect that a lot of these issues or questions may well disappear if we could actually have an open dialogue around what is being discussed. What is B.C.'s position? What is British Columbia asking the federal government for? But we can't seem to be able to access that information, and the minister now advises that they are precluded from doing so because of the edict from the federal government, as each province and territory enters into negotiations on this.
So that makes it very difficult, you see. Secrecy always breeds, I think, distrust, if you will. I don't think that's really to anybody's benefit in that regard. That's why I'm just trying to get a sense of where we're at on this. It's been some time in terms of those discussions.
Let me just touch on very quickly…. There are other areas, as well, relative to the CETA agreement — for example, drinking water. There are huge implications with respect to that. Is that on the table for the discussion?
Hon. P. Bell: No, drinking water is not on the table in any way, shape or form.
J. Kwan: Local governments, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the B.C. School Trustees Association also advanced a perspective on this, and I'm wondering whether or not the minister and the government have taken their perspectives to heart and also advanced their concerns at the table?
The Chair: With all respect, Member, I listened to your comment in terms of staff and staff involvement. I could be incorrect, but it does seem to me that we're in an entire area of policy and policy direction rather than costs and budget estimates to the ministry.
The minister has said that this certain information is confidential, and the questions continue to ask about policy. So it doesn't seem like an appropriate line of questioning. I have been trying to consult with the Clerk, but I haven't got a clear ruling here. I haven't been convinced, so do you have something else to say?
J. Kwan: I do.
The British Columbia government advances a perspective on behalf of all British Columbians on these issues at the various different tables. In this instance, with respect to the CETA agreement, it is incumbent on the responsibility of this minister to advance B.C.'s perspective at the table.
In that process the minister is also responsible in consulting with British Columbians on their views related to the CETA agreement. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has brought forward their perspective on this, as has the BCSTA, among other stakeholder groups. These are the groups which the ministry and the ministry staff engage and spend time in consulting with them.
So my question is quite simple. Is the minister advancing their perspective at the table? I'm not asking him to disclose what is being discussed in terms of the negotiations at that table, other than to say: is he taking the time to ensure that these perspectives that have been offered by our stakeholders in British Columbia at the table…? Has he brought this forward to the federal government's
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Because the department and their dedicated staff that are assigned to do this work on our behalf — on each and every one of our behalf…. I would think that it is within the purview of this ministry to have some accountability through the estimates process of how that work is being done. If we don't find out through the estimates process how the work is being done in the programming and the delivery of programs — and the delivery of programs includes negotiations with the federal government — then I don't know what really falls under the estimates debate.
Surely, we have some responsibility and accountability to British Columbians to be able to shed some light on that. That's why I'm asking these questions.
The Chair: What I'm going to suggest perhaps, then, is that we haven't had a break, I don't think, this afternoon since 2:30.
Why don't we take a very brief recess. I'm happy to check with the Clerk's office, and I'll come back. But I think there's probably a break in order anyway. It's 20 to five. So with that, I'll just do a very brief recess of five minutes.
J. Kwan: No. Actually, with all due respect, I do not wish to have a recess. We have limited time to get through estimates debate. We're trying to get through it as much as we can. This is a big ministry with many, many areas. If the Chair wishes to go and consult with someone to get that information, I'm fine with that. I can move on to some other areas, but I do not wish to stand down for five minutes. I think five minutes is important time. For some MLAs, that's five minutes of constituency issues that they can bring up and have it dealt with through the estimates process.
The Chair: Okay, that's fine. Then please change the topic and carry on, and I'll consult later and get back to you with a ruling.
J. Kwan: I would appreciate that.
I find it quite astounding, really, on something as basic as this that we can't get some information on what the minister is doing at the table in reflecting the stakeholders' point of view in an area that's key.
Hon. P. Bell: In the meantime, I understand that the Chair wants to consult with the Clerk for clarity on this. I think that's appropriate. I'd suggest that we carry on to a different topic. But I would also offer to the member opposite — and I know that it wouldn't be done in a public forum — a detailed briefing and provide as much information as we can on this data of CETA negotiations.
We could do so, probably, in two realms: one that respects the confidence of members of this House and the confidential nature of the requirements of the oath that we all take for confidentiality, and then one separate, more detailed — or perhaps less detailed, but a briefing — on the information that can be made public as well. So I'd just offer that, and perhaps that circumvents the need for further disagreements on this and we can move on.
J. Kwan: All right, then we're moving someplace in the spirit of cooperation. That's why we get along so well. I like it. That sounds like a good solution. I'm always up for a good solution from any side of the House. I appreciate that from the minister, and I'll take that up.
So I will move on. Let's talk about something more fun, then, in that way and agreeable to the rules of the House.
Let's talk about the Premier's Technology Council. That has sort of evolved as well, so I wonder, given that innovation is in the minister's bailiwick, if the minister can advise what's happening and if he can give me a quick update on the Premier's Technology Council, which is now…. I'm not sure what it is called under the ministry.
Hon. P. Bell: The Premier's Technology Council is still called the Premier's Technology Council, oddly enough. The Premier co-chairs it, along with Greg Peet as the other co-chair. Greg has been the co-chair all the way along.
To the best of my knowledge, the Premier's been meeting with the Premier's Technology Council on a fairly regular basis, collecting input. Certainly, we have incorporated much of the information they've provided into the technology strategy that we'll be releasing shortly.
The Technology Council is actually funded through our ministry, but the Premier is the one that appoints the members to the council. So our primary role is as a funder, and then, certainly, we have a keen interest in the information provided through the council, given the nature of the responsibilities of our ministry.
J. Kwan: How much is dedicated to the Premier's Technology Council from this ministry's budget?
Hon. P. Bell: Madam Chair, $425,000.
J. Kwan: That's for the 2012-13 budget year. Is that right? What was it in the previous year?
Hon. P. Bell: The budget for 2011-12 was $425,000 as well, and the budget I just quoted was for '12-13.
J. Kwan: Who makes the appointment of who sits on the council? Is it this ministry, or is it the Premier who makes that selection? How does that work?
Hon. P. Bell: It's the Premier.
J. Kwan: What are the measurements of success for
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Hon. P. Bell: The measure that is used to determine the success of the council is the percentage of recommendations adopted by the ministry of the recommendations by the Technology Council. The measure that we seek to achieve is 90 percent.
J. Kwan: So what response has the government made to the most recent reports published by the Premier's Technology Council — namely, the 13th report and A Vision for 21st Century Education?
Hon. P. Bell: We just have a very quick summary of the report here. We don't have the entire report with us.
There were a number of recommendations ranging on venture capital. We actually had, I think, a very fruitful and positive discussion with the critic for small business earlier on, on the actions taken around venture capital and the increase in that budget.
Applying clean energy technology. I know the member opposite is aware of many of the initiatives: the ICE fund, the different programs that we've had as it relates to clean energy technology and decreasing what is being referred to as friction in commercialization — improving the commercialization rate. That has been a keen topic of interest within the ministry. The member opposite will be seeing some information in the near future around some of our thoughts on what we can do to enhance commercialization in the province.
J. Kwan: In the interest of time, I'd be interested if the minister can provide me with a list of the recommendations that the government has adopted. He measures success of the Premier's Technology Council by way of the number of recommendations, the percentage of recommendations, that have been adopted. So I would like to see, actually, the recommendations and then the ones that have been adopted and then, by way of adopting it, the concrete actions that followed and what the government has done to match that up. I would appreciate seeing that list.
Their programming. We talked about venture capital, the ICE fund, and so on. Those programs that have been in place, to match up those kinds of recommendations — if the staff could identify those programs as well and the dollars assigned to them, I would appreciate that so that I can see the direct link in terms of the recommendations to actions on the ground.
The Premier's Technology Council versus the B.C. Innovation Council. Can the minister advise: what is the difference between these two councils, and why the need for two separate councils?
Hon. P. Bell: The primary difference is the Premier's Technology Council really is an advisory council. The BCIC actually delivers programming on behalf of the province and has a budget that allows it to help support different sorts of innovation programming.
J. Kwan: That is to say, then, the Premier's Technology Council comes forward with the recommendations. The government adopts 90 percent of those recommendations, and then the B.C. Innovation Council implements them. Is that a quick summary of it, then?
Hon. P. Bell: If the programs that were recommended by the Premier's Technology Council fell within the mandate of the BCIC, which is a Crown corporation, then they would take those programs and implement them. But as was noted in my previous comments, clean energy…. Some of the elements around clean energy, or the bulk of them, fell actually to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the B.C. Bioenergy Network — different programs like that.
While the B.C. Innovation Council will deliver some of the recommendations provided by the Premier's Technology Council, they would not be exclusively responsible for the delivery.
J. Kwan: The Premier's Technology Council membership is chosen by the Premier. The B.C. Innovation Council — how is that membership…? Who decides who goes on the B.C. Innovation Council?
Hon. P. Bell: As minister responsible, I advance recommended names to cabinet, which will then make a final decision by order-in-council.
J. Kwan: The B.C. Innovation Council — has the board always consisted of 11 members?
Hon. P. Bell: The allocation for the B.C. Innovation Council is up to 15 board members.
J. Kwan: Are the board members compensated for their services, and if so, how are they compensated?
Hon. P. Bell: Board members are reimbursed for travel expenses, but there is no stipend associated with this particular board.
J. Kwan: Is that the case for the Premier's Technology Council as well?
Hon. P. Bell: That's correct.
J. Kwan: What is the budget to support the B.C. Innovation Council?
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Hon. P. Bell: It's $6.15 million this year.
J. Kwan: Is that fairly consistent over the years?
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
Hon. P. Bell: This was one of the areas where there was a change. As I said previously, the entire budget of the ministry remains consistent year over year, but money was reallocated from one area to another area. This particular area had a reduction of $2.35 million, so the previous year's budget was $2.35 million higher than this year's budget.
J. Kwan: Sorry. I forgot to ask, actually, about the jobs and investment board earlier. Am I assuming correctly, too, that the folks on that board are also not compensated, so therefore, they only are compensated to the extent of their expenses?
Hon. P. Bell: That's correct.
J. Kwan: Is it the anticipation that the B.C. Innovation Council would remain as a public entity for the foreseen future?
Hon. P. Bell: We don't have any plans to change it, so I think the member's assessment is correct.
J. Kwan: We didn't have the opportunity to canvass the major capital projects initiative, etc. I'm going to actually suggest that we do that in a different venue, perhaps through a briefing with staff just on that, to figure out what's going on in that ministry, rather than to spend time here.
There are some of my colleagues who are in dire need to get on with asking some questions of the minister. I'm going to yield the floor to them so that I can show them my generous spirit in sharing time with my colleagues while we engage in this process.
Hon. P. Bell: I've heard you're very generous.
J. Kwan: A lot of the times.
Over to you, member for Delta North.
G. Gentner: It is a pleasure to rise again relative to this ministry. In particular, I'm going to ask questions regarding the foreign trade zones, or the Feasibility of a British Columbia Foreign Trade Zone, hon. Chair. As you know, the last time I was here during estimates I asked questions on this issue, and the minister assured me that he'd have the answers after he and his ministry hired a consultant to look deeper into the issue.
Here we are. There has been money spent on that budget last year, and now the results have come in with the study. I believe it was at a cost of $76,785. My first question is, of course: did the ministry get its value out of such a study?
Hon. P. Bell: I think the study was substantive and certainly provided government with the basis for future considerations of whether or not it wanted to pursue the opportunity of foreign trade zones.
G. Gentner: I take it, therefore, that it's a positive response, an endorsement by the minister regarding this program that's being initiated by the government of British Columbia in consultation and in partnership with the federal government. Having read the report extensively, it seems to want to be consulting municipal governments, and there's a whole host of questions regarding that perspective.
First of all, just down to the housekeeping issues. Where in the silos of the ministry does this agenda rest, now that you have the information? Obviously, staff are conducting some work on it — investigative work, etc. Does it come under the trade and investment attraction part, or does it come under the economic development part of the ministry, or both? Can the minister explain to me what part of the program, or should we say under which silo, does the initiative take?
If those are the two — economic initiative analysis, for example — how much of that department is taken to look at this foreign trade zone and for trade and investment attraction? The people under the international trade and investment attraction part of his ministry — are they investigating this as well? I want a breakdown. What part of his ministry is investigating the pros and cons of foreign trade zones in British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm not certain that I heard what I heard from the member opposite, so I just need to make sure that it is clear that I am not endorsing the report. The member in his first question asked whether or not I believed that we got good value for the money that was spent on the report.
I said that I thought the report was substantive and provided government with good information on which to make decisions going forward. I in no way was suggesting whether or not I thought that the report pointed to a direction that government wanted to take.
The member asked about which divisions within the ministry had responsibility for this and were putting further thought into it, and it is the trade and investment attraction branch that's doing that work.
G. Gentner: Well, perhaps it's a cautious mood by the government relative to the foreign trade zone, the model, and I applaud that. Hopefully that is the case.
Obviously, with what's transpiring recently, particularly in my constituency and in the constituency that neighbours me, Delta South, and having seen and heard what's going on in Prince Rupert, there's no question that the Asia-Pacific gateway strategy is tied in with the foreign trade zone proposal.
The same players involved with the foreign trade zone coalition are the stakeholders involved, of course, with the Asia-Pacific gateway. There is a partnership and relationship.
Now, I want to know…. The review or the study by InterVISTAS undertook an assessment of the activity, particularly those of the foreign trade zones off the west coast of the United States. The data gathered to make such a compared analysis regarding the methods of the successful trade zone came forward. I want to know if the ministry is taking that example, primarily of the foreign trade zones on the west coast of the United States, or are you engaged and looking for trade zones throughout America and throughout the world?
Hon. P. Bell: We are not doing any further study at this time. We're simply reviewing the report.
G. Gentner: Glad the minister is still reviewing the report. Can the minister explain to me why the review or the report did not look at a substantial impact of communities relative to their infrastructure? Why did this report not consult or look deeper into the concerns of communities? It seems to me that this report was based on stakeholders who have an invested interest in foreign trade zones.
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite has alluded to, the federal government is currently doing a review of its policy around foreign trade zones. At this point we're really waiting for the federal government to advise us on what sorts of initiatives they're thinking about. This is not a terribly active file for us at this particular point in time. Our real interest is in finding out what the federal government is planning on doing.
G. Gentner: The minister is suggesting that he's waiting for, perhaps, changes to the foreign trade zone act federally. However, there are recommendations in this report whereby the province is playing a part.
My question is to the minister. Obviously, there is correspondence. There is staff time being conducted and consultation with federal government. Can the minister reflect upon how extensive that development is with the federal government? I mean, obviously you are still working with the federal government relative to the foreign trade zones.
Hon. P. Bell: The only thing that we have done at this point in terms of interaction with the federal government is to provide them with a copy of the report.
G. Gentner: The report suggests that "an enhanced federal foreign trade zone program would not fundamentally change the competitive balance between domestic firms and firms locating to a Canadian foreign trade zone." Can the minister explain this, since this came out of his ministry? What, exactly, is an enhanced federal foreign trade zone as proposed by British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: The InterVISTAS report recommended to the federal government a few key areas: introducing a single-window application process, expanding the range of activities allowed in foreign trade zones by reducing or eliminating value-added and domestic selling restrictions, developing federal incentives, continuing infrastructure support, and providing trade mission and marketing support. Those are the sorts of initiatives.
Again, the provincial government has simply forwarded a copy of the report. We thought it was useful for the federal government to consider that as they do their review of foreign trade zones.
G. Gentner: This is a type of discussion paper the ministry has spent money on and forwarded to the federal government. My question, therefore…. We're looking at attracting economic activity to British Columbia. We're looking at, perhaps, supply chain type of industry and activity. Has the ministry, having received this report, done some work earmarking, since there've been claims that we will see an enhanced secondary industry, value-added industry, because of foreign trade zones?
Obviously, the ministry has forwarded it, thinking that a foreign trade zone is good for British Columbia. Could the minister please explain to me exactly how value-added will occur with a foreign trade zone?
Hon. P. Bell: The member can read the report as easily as I can. There's been no further work done on it. So the ministry has not taken any position on this report.
G. Gentner: If I have this correct, the ministry is putting this whole thing on the shelf and it's no longer looking at a foreign trade zone.
Hon. P. Bell: I could re-read my remarks from Hansard from a few minutes ago, but I think what I said to member opposite was that we were awaiting the federal government to see what sorts of changes they're proposing, and at this point in time we're not doing any additional work.
G. Gentner: The report suggests that "all laws of the land are fully applied, including those related to labour, health, environment and immigration." Also, it's refer-
[ Page 10793 ]
ring to changes in property assessments, driven by, of course, local governments.
Can the minister explain to me, if all laws of the land are to be applied, what his position and the government's position is relative to revenue loss regarding the implementation of a foreign trade zone in British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite is asking a hypothetical question that is impossible to answer, nor deserving of an answer.
The Chair: Member, a question on the estimates of the ministry.
G. Gentner: Yes, hon. Chair. I will ask a question regarding recommendations that came from a report that the ministry paid for in his budget.
The staff is using some time to review it. Therefore, I think it's important that the minister answer questions regarding this report, which is quite substantial and could very well change the economic activity in the province of British Columbia. I will continue along that line of questioning.
If he hasn't engaged in that…. Obviously, there is a suggestion that there be a deferral of duty and sales tax. In this case I'm looking, perhaps, at provincial sales tax and GST until goods enter domestic commerce. In other words, with a supply chain foreign trade zone, goods will be coming in here, and substantially, some would be assembled under a value-added, which may be a good thing.
However, if it's going on to the market south of the line, there'll be no duties and there may not be provincial sales tax. Is the ministry considering to deny the use of provincial sales tax for goods that are coming in and out of the foreign trade zone?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm not sure which part of this the member opposite doesn't understand. We had a report prepared. The report was posted on the Internet. I provided a copy of the report to the member opposite for his reading leisure. I've advised him that we're not doing any further work on foreign trade zones and that we're waiting for federal government decisions. I'm not sure what else I can add to this discussion.
The Chair: Member, any question on the estimates in front of us?
G. Gentner: Let's ask the minister with regards to the terms of reference of the report that his ministry paid for.
It's interesting. Recently we received notice from the mayor of Ashcroft, who was wondering why it is that, after similar correspondence and inquiries to this ministry and the government looking at an intermodal yard for the Interior, which could make a lot of sense, he hasn't heard anything back. Could the minister confirm whether that's true?
Secondly, why is it that the suggestions in this report point to a foreign trade zone being conducted for Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Prince George but in not the interior of British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: Mr. Chair, you've pointed out to this member on several occasions that this line of questioning doesn't pertain to the estimates of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. I think that it would be appropriate for him to move on at this time.
The Chair: Member, can we focus back on the estimates of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation?
G. Gentner: Yes, certainly. I will, hon. Chair.
I am referring to a report that was paid for through a budget process by this ministry that's raised a number of questions regarding the policy direction this government is going. When the policy direction it's looking at is a revised foreign trade zone program and advice to the federal government, I think that is quite substantial. In fact, I'm quite concerned that, for whatever reason, the minister doesn't want to engage in this conversation.
We know very well that supply chain industries that are being proposed, industrialization in Delta, particularly with the Asia-Pacific gateway program is well underway. But let me ask a different question, since the minister doesn't want to answer regarding the money that was spent on a report that will fundamentally change the way we look at foreign trade zones, the way we look at economic activity in British Columbia — building a state within a state that does not have regulations per se like anywhere else, will not have labour regulations per se, will not have environment stewardship per se.
It will create different laws other than what the rest of the communities will see in British Columbia. I think that is worthy of some discussion here today, since this ministry has spent a substantial amount of money for just a review and spent very much staff time looking on what it's going to do.
However, I want to ask a question relative to how a foreign trade zone — it was mentioned in the review — will be impacted or cannot compete with free trade agreements. In other words, can the ministry point out to this member, since it's came out with this review, how such things as TILMA, the new west partnership trade agreement and, of course, NAFTA will play in the evolution of a foreign trade zone program for British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: You know, I find it interesting. The member just completely contradicted himself, as he so often does. He just said in his previous statements that all rules around labour laws and so on in a foreign trade zone also
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are applied in the same way that they would be in the rest of the province. Yet he just, in his rant, stated that that was not the case. I just find it amazing, the member's ability to contradict himself on an ongoing basis.
The rules around NAFTA, around TILMA, around the new west partnership are all consistent with foreign trade zones, as they are in the United States, where foreign trade zones already exist.
V. Huntington: My interest in foreign trade zones at this point, not knowing as much about the economics of them as I would like to, is whether or not we may see one on the agricultural lands in Delta, of course. There have been a number of discussions, I know, between firms in Delta and the federal government — I'm assuming, therefore, the provincial government is aware of them — on the development of foreign trade zones. I know that the individuals that are now consolidating or hoping to consolidate land purchases know about the possibility of a foreign trade zone in Delta.
Now, I can understand that the minister says his study is now awaiting response from the federal government. But I just wanted to clarify.
In the progress report for the B.C. jobs plan that was released by your department in March 2012, it mentioned that B.C. had "released a public study, conducted by InterVISTAS, providing options related to enhancing the province's competitiveness through foreign trade zones." Then it goes onto say: "B.C. has communicated with the government of Canada seeking improvements to existing federal foreign trade zone programs that would create business and investment opportunities in B.C."
Now, is it the report that that phrase refers to, or is there some other ongoing discussion or specifics related to the report that the provincial government has communicated with the feds?
Hon. P. Bell: It is simply the report that we've provided to the federal government and the points that are outlined inside it. There have been no further communications or work done on this issue.
V. Huntington: Is the ministry or the minister aware of any of the specific companies in British Columbia that are in communication with the federal government in terms of the potential for a foreign trade zone and thus working within the framework of your ministry?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm advised by staff that we've had no contact from any proponents that would be working towards a foreign trade zone.
V. Huntington: So can I just clarify that outside of the report, there have been no further discussions within the ministry about what a foreign trade zone might look like in British Columbia or what role the provincial government might play in its development?
Hon. P. Bell: The turning point, from our perspective, in terms of whether we should do more work on it or not was the decision by the federal government to review foreign trade zones to determine if they wanted to make any changes in them or not. Once they had made that decision, it was pencils down from our perspective. There was no point in continuing to do work without understanding what the federal government was going to do.
From a practical perspective, the bulk of the responsibility for any foreign trade zone does rest with the federal government, not the provincial government. While the province may be able to enhance foreign trade zone opportunities for people, it is unlikely that the province by itself could put policies forward in a way that would encourage foreign trade zones in an environment that didn't have federal policy that was also encouraging of foreign trade zones.
We thought it was prudent at the point in time when the federal government chose to do the review of their foreign trade zones to put pencils down and await the results of that work.
V. Huntington: I wonder if the minister could perhaps advise us on what types of incentives or opportunities that British Columbia might be able to offer in the development of a foreign trade zone that would be attractive to international businesses.
Hon. P. Bell: I think the member's question actually, really, points to one of the reasons why we chose not to pursue this much further at this point in time; that is, the InterVISTAS report really does suggest there's not much a province would do of substance to enhance a foreign trade zone.
We were just kind of trying to think of the more tangible things that a province could do. The majority of them are within the scope of the types of things that we would do anyway — infrastructure investments perhaps, additional marketing support, labour market programs. All of those things are things that we do anyways, regardless of whether or not it was a foreign trade zone or something else.
So the InterVISTAS report does largely suggest that the province doesn't have a significant role in foreign trade zones and really does, I think, point to the federal government as being the primary authority. The question that the member posed, I believe, was: can you give me some examples of what the province could do to enhance a foreign trade zone? I think, really, us asking that question on a regular basis led us to the conclusion that there wasn't a lot of work for us to do in this area.
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V. Huntington: I know that the member for Delta North would like to rise again, but I would like to just reserve an opportunity to ask a few further questions, if I may.
G. Gentner: The minister is somewhat correct relative to the fact that the federal government has to make some changes. But what the InterVISTAS report does say is that the provincial role…. It lists quite a lot of roles that the province is going to play, so I don't know if the minister is 100 percent correct on this. It says that the provincial role is to do "strategic advocacy in parallel with industry efforts to help shape federal policy." That's number one.
The provincial role regarding creating a single-window access is to "co-lead to work with federal government and municipalities to develop a multi-jurisdictional 'concierge' single-window service." The provincial role is to "continue to invest in infrastructure improvements to develop the Pacific gateway."
So to fulfil this notion of a foreign trade zone, it's recommended that this government "continue to invest in infrastructure improvements to develop the Pacific gateway." Further, on the incentive programs, it says to review the province's "potential new foreign trade zone specific economic development incentives and determine which, if any, should be implemented." It goes on to give other recommendations where the province has a significant role.
So I just wanted to correct the minister with that. It's all good to say that we're going to put it on the shelf, but there are some specific roles that the province is and has been playing — in particular, that of the Asia-Pacific gateway.
The minister is suggesting that you're going to wait for the federal government and that this ministry and government are going to do very, very little to initiate any foreign trade zone until it receives information from the federal government.
So my question is: when does the ministry expect to hear from the feds regarding its recommendations and, perhaps, even changes to the foreign trade zone, based on the recommendations it has now received in a draft report from InterVISTAS?
Hon. P. Bell: The member just pointed to several items — infrastructure, single-window advocacy — which are the types of things that I think I just articulated. So I'm not sure that there's any point of difference in those. The federal government has not given us any time frames on when they expect to come to conclusion on the investigation of the enhancements that they're thinking about.
N. Macdonald: So Burns Lake and just a few questions around that. I don't know if you need to change staff.
While you're doing that, I will say that I think we all understand that jobs are at stake throughout the Interior, with the mountain pine beetle infestation, and we have a midterm timber supply project to look at which backs that up. I understand that tourism and jobs fall under the mandate of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
The question of whether or not Hampton Affiliates will rebuild the Babine Forest Products mill at Burns Lake is wholly dependent on the available timber supply of the Lakes timber supply area, the TSA, over the next five to 15 years and on the willingness of the government to relax and change the policies and laws for forest stewardship and land use.
Now, on the one hand, it's widely recognized that this government has predicted the serious falldown of timber supply in the central Interior as a result of it having accelerated the rate of cut well into the future by logging the dead pine in those timber supply areas worst affected by the mountain pine beetle. The Lakes TSA is obviously no exception to that falldown.
On the other hand, I think Hampton Affiliates would want certainty and security of timber supply if it were to undertake a substantial investment in a new sawmill.
Would the minister, for the first question, tell the committee how many cubic metres a year does Hampton need to rebuild the mill? For how many years does Hampton require assurance and security that this timber volume will be made available annually?
Hon. P. Bell: The nature of the discussions that we're having with Hampton at this point, by necessity, are confidential, and there is propriety information in play.
I will tell the member opposite that typically a mill of the size that has been built or upgraded in the Interior over the past number of years is about a million cubic metres per year. Typically, an amortization period for a mill of that nature would be 15 to 20 years.
Those are kind of some of the elements. Rarely does a mill have 100 percent of the volume that they require under tenure. Typically, it's kind of a range — on the low side of 20 or 25 percent; on the high side of 70 or 75 percent. We're working with all of those different elements right now.
N. Macdonald: So in the range of between 800,000 and a million cubic metres and over a period between 15 and 20 years.
In 2011, then, the last chief forester set the current AAC, annual allowable cut, for the Lakes TSA at two million cubic metres. As the minister knows, this level of cut is elevated because the harvesting of dead pine artificially supports that level of cut. The next five-year timber supply review of the Lakes timber supply area will fall due in 2016, by which time the merchantable dead pine will have been exhausted.
One estimate of the falldown by 2016 is about 75 percent. That would mean an annual timber supply in the
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Lakes timber supply area of about half a million cubic metres in 2016.
Given that information and given what the minister has said, can the minister confirm that an annual timber supply of about half a million cubic metres for that area is not sufficient for Hampton Affiliates to invest in a new mill — if that's the information that is accurate?
Hon. P. Bell: I think the member's math is pretty good on that. I think roughly the expectations that he has articulated are accurate. If no changes were made and if there was no new information brought to bear, then I think the member opposite's assessment is correct.
What's important to note is that there are other potential sources of fibre. We are living within the world as described today. I'll just articulate a few of them for the member, because I suspect we'll kind of get to this level of question at some point. I know the member for Cariboo North will be interested in some of this as well.
One of the things that I think is worth noting is there are, depending on the estimates, somewhere between six and 12 million cubic metres of wood in Ootsa Lake that was submerged and is still viable wood and that has had various attempts over the years of harvesting.
What we've found in that area is that the wood is sound and that it still will make viable lumber. The challenge with it is it's very expensive to harvest.
In today's context of $300 lumber — or yesterday's context or six months' ago the context of $250 a thousand lumber — it's unlikely that that wood would be economic. But the potential for that six million to 12 million cubic metres to supplement the AAC within the 15- to 20-year time period…. I think there are some reasonable assumptions there that lumber prices will be high enough at some point during that period of time to access and utilize that fibre.
Another piece of information that we're currently looking at right now that is many of the stands…. The assumption that was made in the pine stands is that 100 percent of the wood would be killed and that you would not be able to recover any incremental value from those stands.
We have been doing a lot of resurveying of those stands over the past 60 days. We have done a lot of flying of those stands. What we're finding is that if you had a bioenergy industry that was capable of consuming the lower-grade portions of those stands, there still is sufficient fibre in them to extract incremental volume that could be used in a sawmill. That currently is not being considered as part of the future inventory that the member referred to earlier, in terms of the roughly half-million cubic metres that people think may exist in 2016 when the next determination is brought forward. So there is the potential for, some suggest, up to a couple hundred thousand metres per year from that source.
The mayors and councils from across the region, NCLGA, passed a resolution asking government to look at constraints throughout the region. That work has been done. The visual quality objectives in the Lakes TSA, if one were to completely turn off those objectives — and again, not suggesting that that would be the case — would yield about an additional 100,000 cubic metres of viable timber per year over the long term — not over a short period but over the long term.
Again, you might not want to do that. You might not want to do any of it. You might want to do part of it. But those are some examples of the work that's going on.
I think the member's math is good. There's nothing wrong with it. He's articulating it accurately. Our job is to look at all of the options that might be out there and to consider those and bring those forward for a public discussion once we have good information and we're able to do that in a way that is respectful for the local community.
I know there was some criticism around the timing around that discussion. I do think it's important to be respectful of the First Nations in the region. We have been doing our best to involve the First Nations with weekly meetings and keep them updated on the work that we're doing.
Again, it's because of their ownership stake in the Hampton and the Babine Forest Products mill…. The First Nations do own a percentage, I think, as the member opposite knows of that mill. So we thought it was appropriate to make sure we engage with them earlier, as well as the mayor and regional district reps and others.
I think it's work that we need to do. It's work that I was contemplating when I was Forests Minister, and that we were doing at the time. It was accelerated because of the fire. I think it's work that we need to do regardless. It's not just Burns Lake. It's Quesnel. It's Williams Lake. It's 100 Mile House. It's Prince George. It's Vanderhoof. It's Fort St. James. It's Houston. It's Fraser Lake. It's kind of all the primary areas that have been hit significantly by mountain pine beetles.
Very complex questions. There are differing views on it. We need to do lots of work. I think my real hope here is that that work can be done in an engaging and respectful way across all sectors, because the decisions will need to be made in a timely fashion if they're going to have a positive impact on communities like Burns Lake and like Quesnel.
I know that's a long answer, but I'm hoping that I was able to answer some of the questions that the member might be asking as a result of what would have been a short first answer.
B. Simpson: Just on the minister's point. On this particular point, the minister is talking about Ootsa Lake, resurveying stands, the visual quality restraints. In the Mid-Term Timber Supply Project document — the re-
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port that was short-lived, available via the Internet today — the ministry staff had looked at all of this for the four timber supply areas: Lakes, Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake. The ministry document doesn't talk about Ootsa Lake that I can see. It doesn't talk about the resurveying stands.
What it says is that if the people — hopefully, it is the people at some point, and I don't have my glasses, so I'm really struggling to read this — are willing to reduce visual quality objectives by one class, harvest old-growth management areas in all but the southern part of the TSA, redefine old forest, eliminate the requirements to limit the amount of young forest created, harvest wildlife connectivity corridors and make changes to the management practices for caribou and moose, they would get 100,000 cubic metres.
I'm trying to understand what the minister thinks that, overarching, the staff in the FLNRO have done to say that at most what you get is 100,000 cubic metres in the Lakes TSA. That's confirmed by what I've been told by planning foresters in West Fraser and Canfor and by ministry staff where I come from.
How does the minister suggest that you can actually get another $100,000 to $200,000 from resurveying Ootsa Lake, etc., when it's not mentioned in the technical appraisal of what's possible in the Lakes?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm actually not sure what document the member is referring to. I don't have a copy of it in front of me, so it's hard for me to speculate on what's in it. I didn't hear the member say that the timber in Ootsa Lake was considered and disregarded. I didn't hear him say that there was a resurvey of the stands and that was disregarded. I'm just a little unclear on what he's referring to.
I know the information that I have suggests that there is a significant amount of fibre in Ootsa Lake, that it will not be economic at today's lumber prices and would only be considered viable at higher lumber prices. We're trying to understand what those lumber prices might be, and if you might hit that level of market over a 15- to 20-year cycle. The work on resurveying the stands is work that's ongoing as well.
Again, I don't know what document the member is referring to, but those are the sorts of things that we're doing right now in order to make, I think, an intelligent representation publicly, to say: "Here's what we know, and what would you like to do?" At the end of the day, I think it's important for communities to engage in that discussion and determine what the appropriate direction is.
N. Macdonald: The document that was being referred to was something that was up on the website, the government website, then it was removed after question period today. It's just the midterm timber supply project report for the Minister and Deputy Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. It's 2012, 02-29, so if the minister wants to get that document, he can. It's, as I say….
Hon. P. Bell: Did you say 29?
N. Macdonald: It's 2012, 02-29. Like I say, it was on the government website, and it was removed after question period.
I'll just come back, just so that I'm clear…. I thank the minister for the answer on the other possibilities — and a fairly extensive answer. But as matters presently stand, can the minister confirm that around the year 2016, Hampton Affiliates would have to share a timber supply, which presently would be about half a million cubic metres for the Lakes TSA, with other licensees — I think the ones that I'm aware of are West Fraser, Canfor, L&M Lumber — as well as with First Nations?
Hon. P. Bell: I think the member opposite knows that, obviously, determinations are made by the chief forester, and that determination has not been made. I think that the numbers that the member is suggesting are certainly ones that I've heard as well. Let's accept that if the chief forester made a determination that aligned with a half-million-cubic-metre level of volume, then I think the member's assessment is correct.
N. Macdonald: Just to work with what we have so far. The need for Hampton Affiliates to rebuild is between 800,000 and a million cubic metres, and that's for a period between 15 and 20 years.
What presently seems to be available as of 2016 is in the range of half a million cubic metres, and that would need to be shared with West Fraser, Canfor, L&M Lumber, as well as First Nations.
If the government were determined to see Hampton Affiliates rebuild the mill at Burns Lake, then it really has to do one of two things. The minister has alluded to these things. It either has to increase the timber supply, firstly; or secondly, it has to secure a greater amount of the available timber supply in the Lakes TSA for Hampton Affiliates.
I guess the next question would be: would the minister elaborate on what he said the government is considering to increase the annual timber supply in the Lakes TSA? And would he also provide an estimate of how many cubic metres a year each proposed action would contribute?
Hon. P. Bell: I attempted to do that, I think, in my initial response. I assumed that's where we were going to land.
I think I pointed to…. There is some re-surveying going on around stands that were originally believed to not
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be viable, but now there is some assessment. The general assessment around that is potentially 200,000 to 250,000 cubic metres, but that is a very rough number. I don't want the member opposite to think that there has…. It's been as a result of some helicopter flights and some assessments from that perspective.
The visual quality objectives and the other constraints — I think that's a bit better data in terms of the potential for 100,000 cubic metres there. I didn't point out or suggest that there can be, at times, gains in different forms of management regimes. What I mean by that is shifting to an area-based management regime.
The member for Cariboo North will know of the Dunkley Lumber TFL that originally had an annual allowable cut of, I think, 156,000 cubic metres when it was converted from a volume-based tenure to an area-based tenure. As a result of a change in practices and refocus of some of the strategies, they were able to increase that volume, I think, to about 250,000 or 260,000 cubic metres, pre–mountain pine beetle uplift. I know in discussions with the Dunkley folks at one time, they thought they might be able to get it up as high as 300,000 cubic metres on a sustainable basis.
The notion, perhaps, of taking some area and converting it to area-based management, like a First Nations woodland licence, would be a community forest TFL. Those sorts of initiatives are things that are being contemplated as well, as a possibility. Again, no decisions have been made, but we just want to know what all the possibilities are.
I think what's important is that although the focus of this discussion, I know, has largely been around Burns Lake and Babine, really, we absolutely, fully understand this is a broader-based issue. This impacts Quesnel. It impacts Williams Lake. It impacts 100 Mile House.
As I said, that work, although it's been ongoing, has been accelerated as a result of the Hampton fire. I think that's appropriate. I think that's what we as government leaders are expected to do. What we need to do is make sure that we provide the best possible information so that people can sit down and look at it and say: "These are the things that we find acceptable. These are the things that we find unacceptable."
Then the decision on rebuilding Babine Forest Products won't be made by me. It will be made, in the end, by Hampton and the First Nations and the region, once they determine whether or not the decisions that have been taken by government, and by communities across the province, will allow them sufficient volume to make that decision.
I think those same decisions will take place in Quesnel and Williams Lake and 100 Mile House and Prince George, in Fort St. James and Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake, Houston — virtually every area.
It is a very difficult set of circumstances. It is one that's appropriate that we engage the public in. I support that engagement, but I do think we need to have good information that we can provide.
One of the things that concerns me at this point is that there is starting to be some kind of positional discussions, and not on the part of the critic. I'm not suggesting that. But there is starting to be positional discussions. I don't think that's healthy.
I think that actually leads to what we have seen in the past, which is discussions of this nature around land use plans that tend to be very protracted and take five or ten years to get to a conclusion. I think that occurs because people begin taking positions instead of sitting back and saying: "Let's hear all the facts, and then we'll make a presentation on our views."
N. Macdonald: I know you had gone through some of the figures before. What I want to do is I just want to make sure that I can get as much information as I can. I'm sort of following a series of questions, and if there's repetition, I appreciate the minister's patience in answering again.
I just want to understand this, then. If the government were to apportion more timber from the Lakes timber supply area to Hampton Affiliates, then obviously it would have to negotiate with West Fraser, Canfor, L&M Lumber to take less timber from the Lakes TSA and more timber from elsewhere. I'm just presuming that that would have to take place.
Would the minister please tell the House if the government is considering logging forest reserves in TSAs other than the Lakes TSA in order to compensate the other three licensees for moving aside in the Lakes TSA in deference to Hampton's bottom line for timber supply to feed a new mill.
Hon. P. Bell: I think the way I would characterize it is the government's not considering logging protected areas or areas that are currently constrained. We're collecting information so that we can have a logical and thoughtful discussion around this and determine what people believe is the most appropriate action to take given the context of where we are today.
The answer to that may be: nothing. The answer to that may be that we continue doing exactly what we've been doing and that the decisions that were taken around constrained areas were appropriate ones and that they continue to be appropriate ones today, or the decision may not be that. I don't know that, and I won't presuppose what that is.
What we had very quickly discovered was that changes to the Lakes TSA by themselves would not be sufficient to find enough additional fibre in order to allow for a rebuild of the Hampton mill. So we very quickly…. I was only listening to what the member for Cariboo North was reading, but I think what the document referred to — that the member for Cariboo North was reading…. It talked about other TSAs. We did very quickly move beyond simply the Lakes TSA and asked the broader ques-
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tion, which is: let's think about the other areas.
As we started to contemplate them, we very quickly realized that Quesnel had the same challenges coming at it. It was different because there wasn't an explosion. There wasn't a fire in the mill. But it's facing the same challenges that the Burns Lake operations are. Really, I think Burns Lake and Quesnel are probably the two epicentres.
Certainly, challenges in Williams Lake. Certainly, challenges in Vanderhoof and Fort St. James, Houston. But I think Burns Lake and Quesnel probably were the two communities where the mountain pine beetle, because of the mix of fibre supply in the areas, will be impacted the most.
So as our thinking around the mill continued to progress, we thought: "We need to look at the broader range to understand that." That's the kind of information that we look forward to presenting as soon as we think we have the right information and we don't start presenting something that is inaccurate and flawed. So it is important, I think, when information is disclosed that it is done in a way that it is factual, that it is accurate and that people can have confidence in the information that's provided.
N. Macdonald: Just so I understand. Does one of the actions under consideration to increase timber supply for Hampton Affiliates involve logging wildlife habitat areas, WHAs, and old-growth management areas, OGMAs, set aside as forest reserves to protect biodiversity and to manage the survival of ungulates such as deer, moose and caribou by providing winter shelter and food? Is that a yes or a no? Is that under consideration?
Hon. P. Bell: Again, we're not considering logging wildlife habitat areas or old-growth management areas or visual quality objective areas. What we are doing is collecting information so that we can present it publicly and have a logical discussion around that once that information is collected. But if the question is, "Are we collecting information on wildlife habitat areas, old-growth management areas, visual quality objective areas?" the answer is yes.
N. Macdonald: But the minister is collecting information on how much volume you would get if this scenario was looked at. What I hear the minister saying is that it is being contemplated. It is under consideration if the minister is gathering data on that.
Maybe the minister could reconfirm that another of the actions under consideration to increase timber supply for Hampton Affiliates involves logging the visual quality areas protected as forest reserves to enhance the tourism industry and to conserve wilderness values. There again, I think the minister has said publicly yes on this, but just to be clear, is it a yes or a no on that consideration?
Hon. P. Bell: Just to be really, really clear, the process that we're going through right now is considering each and every option that might be available in terms of midterm timber supply for what I would characterize as the broader mountain pine beetle zone — that includes the area, really, from 100 Mile House, Prince George, out to Houston; I don't think Smithers is really quite in there; we don't consider that to be part of the area — and collecting information.
At that point, then, we can all sit down and have a thoughtful, reasoned discussion on what areas should be considered, what areas shouldn't be considered. But nothing has been ruled out, with the exception, I should say, of parks, and protected areas have been ruled out.
Other than that, nothing has been ruled out. Everything is data that we are looking to collect so that we can present that. Then people can express their thoughts in terms of what they think is the most appropriate direction to take.
N. Macdonald: Would the minister tell the committee: how many cubic metres of timber a year does the task force that he has working on this estimate would be made available as additional timber supply by relaxing the constraints on land use in forest reserves in the Lakes TSA alone?
Hon. P. Bell: I don't have that data in front of me, but I've seen it enough times that I can say with a degree of confidence that the annual allowable cut would increase by 100,000 cubic metres if the constraints were completely turned off. I suspect that there would be little public support for something like that.
I think that what would be likely to occur in a discussion would be a debate around what level of constraints should be turned off, where decisions were made where those values are no longer as significant as they used to be and where it is that those values are critically important and should continue to be protected.
I don't describe this as, although the math generally leads you to a completely on or a completely off scenario…. That's how the math calculates the incremental fibre supply.
My sense, as I travel around the province, is that the direction would likely be something in between those two places. It may be that people don't want to pursue this at all. That's a public decision that people could make. That's fine. Or it could be that people see some sort of an opportunity to go partway in the discussion.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
A lot of these decisions were made some time ago. The values that existed 15 and 20 years ago, when a lot of these decisions were made, may continue to exist in the exact same way that they existed at the time the decision was made, or they may have changed in one way or another, just as we see species changes across the landscape.
In my hometown of Prince George, when I first moved
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there, moose were prevalent, very few deer and no elk. Today we actually have a significant elk population moving our way. We have a huge increase in the deer population, an enormous increase in the deer population, and moose continue to be prevalent in the area, but not at the levels that they used to be.
Those things all change over time, and it's important, I think, that we consider that whenever a decision is made with regards to midterm timber supply throughout that region.
N. Macdonald: Just in talking to forest professionals, I'm told that in the Lakes TSA…. Even if the Forests Ministry were (1) to step up reforestation of the not satisfactorily restocked lands, (2) to liberally apply fertilizer over young forests and (3) to take other actions to increase timber supply, the available sustainable level of timber supply in the Lakes TSA would still be insufficient to meet the needs of the new Babine Forest Products mill, unless the government allowed unsustainable harvesting of the midterm timber supply, which belongs, of course, as the minister knows, to future generations.
This course of action is one that the chief forester, whose responsibilities to the public interest are to sustainably manage the public forests, would be most unlikely to agree to. So to have Hampton Affiliates rebuild Babine Forest Products mill, then, we would likely have to enact special legislation that would provide a higher authority with powers to supersede those of the chief forester's under the Forest Act and to override his stewardship decisions on timber supply.
I wonder if the minister would tell the House if he is considering new legislation that would supersede the chief forester's stewardship oversight of sustainable forest management on publicly owned forest lands.
Hon. P. Bell: I have not contemplated any sort of legislative amendment. That would rest with the Minister of Forests, not myself, anyway.
The member actually mentioned a couple of other initiatives that we haven't discussed yet. One of them is fertilizer. We've done some analysis on fertilization of stands that are age class 3 and 4 stands in the Lakes TSA. The early indications we have are that there's the potential for about 25,000 or 30,000 cubic metres of incremental supply in the Lakes TSA. Then when we look beyond that at some of the other regions, that number actually goes up pretty significantly, but of course, there's a cost associated with that as well.
Again, the member is pointing out other possible considerations. I hope we don't kind of prejudice this process. I'm not, again, suggesting that the member opposite is. But I hope we don't prejudice the process of looking at all of the options prior to being able to put everything on the table and say, "Let's kind of have that broad-based discussion now," because I think that needs to be had. If we don't have it, I think we do a disservice to constituents spread throughout the Cariboo and out Highway 16.
In the end, I think it's important for the public to have that discussion and that debate. I'm sure there will be mixed views on it. I'm sure there will be wide-ranging views on where this should go. I just think it's our responsibility as legislators to ask the question. That's really what I think is important here. Let's make sure we have all the information, let's make sure we ask the right question, and then people can make their decisions on that basis.
You know, the member points to a couple of other systems that are possible. The end outcome of all of this, I think, is too early to predict. I can't understand why legislation might be required, but it may be. I don't know that. If you were going to create a TFL, that would require a legislative amendment, I believe. I don't believe there's a method of creating a TFL at this point in time without some sort of a legislative amendment. So that might be an example of a place where you would have to.
Those are all bridges that we will cross as we have this public discussion and really determine where we land. I think it's appropriate for the opposition, for independent members, for government members to all have this dialogue. It's our responsibility as legislators.
N. Macdonald: Just to be clear, the minister has said that it wouldn't come within his ministry but that the legislation would sit with another minister, and the minister would be aware of whether it is being contemplated. Just to be clear, just to make sure that there isn't a semantic misunderstanding here, is government considering legislation to deal with the problem that the chief forester would not be able to do some of the things that government is contemplating? Is government working on legislation that it intends to introduce in the near future?
The Chair: I would remind the member that current legislation before the House or future legislation actually is out of order in this.
Hon. P. Bell: I was just checking with my deputy. I'm actually not sure that I could say no, legally, because you're asking me to discuss…. Well, no, I think I can. No.
Maybe I'll get in trouble. If they fire me, I guess they fire me — right?
The Chair: To be clear, both legislation that is currently before the House and the need for legislation is not in order in this committee.
N. Macdonald: Okay. I mean, it was a question as to whether it's being contemplated. The minister said clearly that it's not in any way being contemplated.
Now, just on a different topic, the minister has repeatedly claimed in the media that in British Columbia the
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forest industry is logging to third-party forest certification standards. Those are standards that are based, in part, on forest stewardship, on sustainable forest management, on public involvement in open land use planning processes.
The question would be: how does the minister then expect forest industry associations, licensees such as West Fraser, Canfor and L&M Lumber, to react to the suggestion that they are to…? If the government moves to log forest reserves and risk the third-party certification, if the government were to relax forest stewardship actions and land use rules in British Columbia, especially if it was without public consultation….
I guess, as well: how does the minister think the Japanese, European and United States markets might react to reduced stewardship and possible loss of forest certification for some major licensees?
Hon. P. Bell: The questions that the member asks are all important ones that I don't have answers to. But they are the types of answers I think we would all be seeking through a process of discussion around this issue as we move into the summer months.
I actually think that the questions the member is asking are absolutely the right questions that we all need to understand the answers to.
N. Macdonald: In a recent Vancouver Sun article, when asked about the lack of public involvement in resolving the issue of whether or not to replace the Babine Forest Products mill at Burns Lake, the minister is on record as saying: "Until we have good information that we can sit down and provide to people who care about the region, then it's really premature to have those discussions." The minister has said much the same thing, repeatedly, here.
That's the quote. Can the minister assure the House and British Columbians that he and the hon. member for Kelowna-Mission have no immediate plans to ask cabinet for decisions on timber supply and land use that would secure the replacement of the Babine Forest Products sawmill at Burns Lake without first improving the quality of information and sharing it through extensive public consultation?
If the minister cannot provide that assurance, then when do he and the hon. member for Kelowna-Mission plan to go to cabinet for decision on timber supply and land use for a new Babine Forest Products mill?
Hon. P. Bell: Although the member opposite hasn't been in government, I think one of his colleagues has been in government and held a cabinet portfolio. If he were to confer with that member, he would know that the question that he has asked me I can't answer, or he would be talking to a new minister tomorrow. I would be breaching cabinet confidence, so I am simply unable to answer that question.
What I can tell the member is that this government, myself and the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations are committed to having good public discussion around that and being guided by that public discussion.
There are interests on this issue by a wide variety of individuals. Certainly the workers at the Babine mill, First Nations in the region, people from the Wilderness Tourism Association, guide-outfitters and trappers have a keen interest in this. So there is a wide variety of interests — the professional foresters association.
It's important that we have that discussion. That is the nature of our expectation. I would encourage the member opposite to participate in that dialogue. I'm relatively confident that the member for Cariboo North will want to participate in that. I think that's appropriate. That's what we should be doing.
B. Simpson: It's on that point that I have a question for the minister. The minister has indicated that he's concerned that we already have positions being taken. He's concerned that there may be people taking positions that would prejudice the outcome of even the work that the government is doing — work that the minister indicates he's not apprised of, yet it's the technical assessment that has been done.
The minister knows and he has referenced the B.C. Wildlife Federation, Wilderness Tourism, the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals, the Council of Forest Industries. They have all weighed in on this already, and some groups are saying no before the government even gets the chance to ask the question.
So my question to the minister is this. When exactly will the public process begin, and will there be a decision on Babine before a public process occurs? When is the government's intention to bring this into the public domain so that we can actually have the meaningful discussion that the minister indicates is absolutely necessary? When is that going to happen, and does the government contemplate a decision before that occurs in the Babine case?
Hon. P. Bell: The answer to the second question is no.
The answer to the first question is hard to predict. Sooner is better in my view. The sooner we can have a broader public dialogue, I think, the better. I am seeing…. I wasn't suggesting that the member opposite has taken a position. There have been some positions taken on this. I think that's unfair, because at this point we're just trying to ask the question.
There are 250 people whose lives are in turmoil right now. There are many more to follow — in the member's riding and in other ridings across this province. If you accept the Council of Forest Industries' predictions or International Wood Markets' predictions, it's potentially sevenish more mills. If you think 500 people, between the log-harvesting community and the people that work in
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the sawmill, that's about 3,500 direct jobs. Multiply that out many, many more times in terms of the jobs that are supported by the direct mill jobs and logging jobs. It's a significant hit to small, rural British Columbia.
So I think it is the responsible thing to do to have the discussion. I suspect that the member for Cariboo North in his own way has been advocating for this discussion for some time. I think he has. That's why I actually offered to get together and would still like to have a visit with him for me to better understand his perspective on the issue. And the critic as well — I'm happy to talk to both.
But I think we need to, hopefully, bring the temperature down a bit on this at this time and have a reasoned discussion around it. I can't suggest that Babine…. Babine may make their own decision. I don't think they will make their own decision, because it will be a very expensive one on their part, if they decide to rebuild the mill without the security of fibre supply.
I don't think that the security of fibre supply can happen without having a broader-based discussion than we're having right now. And that can only happen if we can present information that people can rely on, that they can have confidence in and that they know is factual.
D. Donaldson: Along the lines of bringing the temperature down, I have a question. I've been listening for 40 minutes to the discussion around this issue. Repeatedly the minister has talked about the need for good information and the danger of proceeding with inaccurate or flawed information, and people have to have confidence in information.
My question is around the collecting of the information that's going on right now. Much of the Lakes District is on the traditional territories of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation and the Morice, as well, and some of the Bulkley. But let's not get sidetracked on whether the Bulkley will be impacted by these decisions or Morice. But let's focus on the Lakes and the Wet'suwet'en First Nations traditional territories. They're represented — the hereditary chiefs in that area — by the office of the Wet'suwet'en chiefs in Smithers.
In collecting information and in trying to get good information, could the minister describe the consultation that has taken place to date on some of these topics around options about increasing the cut and discussions on consultations that have taken place with the office of the Wet'suwet'en chiefs?
Hon. P. Bell: The best legal advice that the province has at this point is that consultation should take place with elected chiefs. I know there is always a debate about hereditary versus elected, but I think that the bulk of the case law at this point points to the statutory obligation to consult with elected officials.
We're really in a data-collecting phase and not a decision phase. Therefore, consultation about what decisions might be made would not take place at this point in time. It would be simply an information-collecting phase.
The staff at FLNRO, as well contract staff that I have located in Burns Lake, have been meeting on a regular basis with the six chiefs that represent the Burns Lake Native Development Corp. — of which the Wet'suwet'en is a partner — and have been providing them with the best information that we have on an ongoing basis, understanding their keen interest as part owners of the Babine mill. But the actual physical consultations — the formal consultation obligations with First Nations — would take place after the information-gathering stage is complete.
D. Donaldson: The court rulings that I've studied to date have indicated it's a government-to-government relationship with First Nations, and with the Wet'suwet'en, as well as with the Gitxsan, this government has recognized the house group system as the entity for negotiations, which I think is a good step by the government.
So my question would be…. You're collecting information on options. Would the minister not agree that that would be very speculative if at the same time you're not collecting information on the views of the traditional First Nations landholders — the Office of the Wet'suwet'en in this case? Otherwise, you would be collecting inaccurate and flawed data in order to make the decisions that need to be made.
Would he not think that it would be important to have at least a parallel process of data collection with traditional territory holders at the same time in order to expedite the process and reduce — what were the words of the minister? — the tension that could be increased in the decision-making on this situation?
Hon. P. Bell: I would just say that, at this point in the process — noting that it's two and a bit months in; I guess maybe it's getting close to three months now into the process — we are collecting biophysical data. And then people's views, opinions and traditional uses are all important pieces of information that get collected later.
I am not an expert on the Crown's obligations around consultation, and certainly, I shouldn't probably enter the fray of that discussion. That's more appropriately left either to the Attorney General or to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, so I would prefer to leave the statutory obligations discussion to either of those ministers. But at this point, it's about physical data that we are collecting.
With that, Mr. Chair, noting the hour, I would suggest that we rise, report a little bit of progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:19 p.m.
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