2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Best Western Westerly Hotel, Courtenay, B.C.
Present: John Les, MLA (Chair); Doug Donaldson, MLA (Deputy Chair); Norm Letnick, MLA; Don McRae, MLA; Michelle Mungall, MLA; Bruce Ralston, MLA; Bill Routley, MLA; John Rustad, MLA; Jane Thornthwaite, MLA; John van Dongen, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:29 a.m.
2. Opening statements by John Les, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
1) Comox Valley Economic Development Society
2) Comox Valley Air Force Museum Association
3) G.P. Vanier Secondary School business students
4) Comox Valley Child Development Association
5) Village of Cumberland
Mayor Fred Bates
6) North Island College
Dr. Jan Lindsay
7) Sage Hills Developments Ltd.
8) Comox Valley Transition Society
9) Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association
10) Comox Valley Baseball Association
11) Wachiay Friendship Centre
12) Comox Valley United Soccer Club
4. The Committee adjourned at 11:27 a.m. to the call of the Chair.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
Finance and Government Services
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Issue No. 32
* John Les (Chilliwack L)
* Doug Donaldson (Stikine NDP)
* Norm Letnick (Kelowna–Lake Country L)
* Don McRae (Comox Valley L)
* John Rustad (Nechako Lakes L)
* Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver–Seymour L)
* John van Dongen (Abbotsford South L)
* Michelle Mungall (Nelson-Creston NDP)
* Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley NDP)
* Bill Routley (Cowichan Valley NDP)
* denotes member present
Heather Warren (Committees Assistant)
Lorraine Aitken (Executive Director, Comox Valley Child Development Association)
Fred Bates (Mayor, Village of Cumberland)
Cora Beddows (President, Wachiay Friendship Centre)
Matthew Blecha (President, Comox Valley United Soccer Club)
Pamela Crowe (President, Comox Valley Child Development Association)
Anne Davis (Comox Valley Transition Society)
Pat English (Sage Hills Developments Ltd.)
Roger Kishi (Wachiay Friendship Centre)
Miranda Knox (G.P. Vanier Secondary School)
Dr. Jan Lindsay (President, North Island College)
Steve McNamee (President, Comox Valley Baseball Association)
Bob Mortimer (Comox Valley Air Force Museum Association)
Heather Ney (Executive Director, Comox Valley Transition Society)
Christina Paterson (G.P. Vanier Secondary School)
Paul Rebitt (G.P. Vanier Secondary School)
Gary Rolston (Comox Valley Economic Development Society)
David Russell (President, Sage Hills Developments Ltd.)
David Stinson (Comox Valley Air Force Museum Association)
Ron Watanabe (Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association)
John Watson (Executive Director, Comox Valley Economic Development Society)
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2010
The committee met at 8:29 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Good morning. I'm John Les, the Chair of the standing committee on Finance and Government Services. I'd like to welcome everyone who is here this morning.
Each year, in preparation for the oncoming year's budget, the Minister of Finance releases a budget consultation paper by September 15, which presents a current fiscal forecast and also identifies key issues that need to be addressed in the upcoming budget. The paper also provides a focus for the consultations of this committee, and it includes information on how members of the public may provide their views on budget priorities. Copies of that consultation paper are available on the information table in the room.
Our committee is the parliamentary committee which is responsible for conducting public consultations on the forthcoming provincial budget, and it's required to report back to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 15. This year we're holding 14 public hearings in each region of the province and also have scheduled three video conferencing sessions to hear from some of the remote and rural communities. We've been to a variety of places already. We're getting close to the end of our process.
In addition to public hearings, there are a number of other ways that British Columbians can share their ideas with us. We have accepted written submissions by letter and e-mail and also video and audio files. Further information on how folks may participate using one of these methods is available on our website.
We carefully consider all of the public input that we receive, whether it's oral and made in one of these types of meetings, on line through the survey form that's available there, a submission in writing, or an audio or video clip. The deadline for receipt of submissions is next week, Friday, October 15.
At today's meeting each presenter may speak for ten minutes, with up to five additional minutes allowed for members' questions. Again, as in Prince George yesterday, the schedule is very full, so there will be no benevolence exercised by the Chair. It's 15 minutes, and you're out. [Laughter.] And that applies to committee members as well, by the way.
If time permits, there will be an open-mike session at the end of the hearing, with five minutes allocated for each presentation.
Today's meeting is a public meeting. It'll be recorded and transcribed by Hansard. A copy of the transcript, along with the minutes of the meeting, will be printed and made available on the committees website.
In addition to the transcript, a live audio webcast of this meeting is also produced and is available on the committees website to enable interested listeners to hear the proceedings as they occur. An archived copy of that broadcast will also be retained on the website.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, MLA for the Cowichan Valley.
M. Mungall: Michelle Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston, Surrey-Whalley.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Doug Donaldson, MLA for Stikine in the northwest part of the province and Deputy Chair of the committee.
N. Letnick: Norm Letnick, Kelowna–Lake Country.
D. McRae: Don McRae, Comox Valley.
J. Rustad: John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, which is in the geographic centre of the province.
J. Thornthwaite: Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver–Seymour.
J. van Dongen: John van Dongen, MLA for Abbotsford South.
J. Les (Chair): Also, we have several staff members here this morning. To my right is Susan Sourial, who is the Clerk of the committee. Heather Warren is at the table at the back. She's looking after registration and greeting people as they come in. At the Hansard table we have Michael Baer and Jean Medland, who are recording for Hansard and who have done yeoman's work so far in packing up and setting up and just generally making sure that all of the technical stuff is well looked after.
With those formalities out of the way, we're ready to listen to our first delegation, which is from the Comox Valley Economic Development Society — John Watson and Gary Rolston.
J. Watson: Mr. Chairman, my name is John Watson. I'm the executive director of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society, the arm's-length tourism and economic development service for the Comox Valley regional district, the city of Courtenay and the village of Cumberland.
With me is Mr. Gary Rolston, our agricultural development officer. Mr. Rolston is a professional agrolo-
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gist with a degree in agricultural economics and over 25 years of experience in the agricultural industry, including 12 years as district agrologist with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I think the last time we were here before the committee was before 2001, so we've been a few times to speak to the committee. I think these consultations are very valuable. I congratulate you on doing that.
Our presentation to you today focuses on the agricultural sector of the provincial economy, which in our region includes a strong culinary focus, the majority of the province's shellfish industry and a wide range of operators, such as the largest blackberry producer in Canada, single malt whiskey production, sprouts, meat products, cranberries, cheeses — an incredibly diverse mix of traditional and value-added agriculture. There are well over 200 individual products grown in the valley for local, regional and export sales.
Our intent is to encourage the committee to consider current budget allocations to the Ministry of Agriculture and, in particular, to agrifood marketing activities, export-oriented agritrade, immigration and investment, as well as the development and expansion of public farmers markets throughout the province. In addition, policy changes are required in certain areas of the agricultural sector to encourage and support growth in emerging areas such as artisan distilling.
The Comox Valley Economic Development Society, in partnership with local industry and its partner municipalities and regional district, has prioritized the food and beverage sector, including shellfish farming, as a key cluster than can serve to drive future economic growth within the region.
Supporting this vision are simple land economics relating to the approximately 100,000 acres of farmland in the area, of which only one-third is being actively farmed. While the Lower Mainland ALR is estimated at 96 percent utilization rates, there are many areas throughout the province that could benefit from enhanced agricultural productivity.
This idea of increased land utilization can be realized, considering consumer trends that suggest increasing demand for local foods and the fact that the Island and, indeed, the province can support direct sales from growers to consumers — something that is not easy to do in the prairie provinces, for example.
This sector and the importance of local food must become not only more of a regional focus for communities throughout the province but a priority focus at the provincial level. Increased farm productivity, recapitalization and investment will result in significant economic impact and substantial increases to provincial revenue.
As I mentioned, our organization has embrace the notion that agriculture can and should be a driver of economic and community change. Beginning with the completion of regional agricultural plans supported by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2002, the society has embarked upon numerous marketing activities, research and strategic planning exercises, and has added a focus on supporting business development.
We have more traditional extension services, including organizing and supporting training and educational programs both with industry and North Island College. Soil mapping, vineyard capability analysis, direct farm marketing publications, trade show attendance and media traction have all been aspects of our multi-year strategy to build awareness of agricultural opportunities abroad and within the Comox Valley.
Our 2008 economic gap analysis for the Comox Valley indicates that the total direct value of local agrifood products is estimated in excess of $60 million annually. A similar review of agrifood-related economic impacts across the province would likely demonstrate a significant value that may be underestimated in regards to how we measure the importance of this sector.
The potential for the province to generate increased gains from the agrifood sector is a real potential. Increased funding allocations for existing marketing-related activities, export-oriented trade investment and immigration activities can impact agriculture and increase the acreage in active production within the ALR. Ideally, instead of debating the inclusion or exclusion of lands within the ALR, a more proactive strategy might be to support increased production and margins for the sector through innovation, new investment, export and immigration.
Currently the Comox Valley is focusing attention and resources to support the development of a permanent farm market facility. While funding programs in support for farm markets are certainly in place across British Columbia, it is worthwhile to mention the results of a study by Dr. David Connell at UNBC on the economic impact of farmers markets. Small-op markets, operating in most cases only a few hours a week, create a provincial impact in excess of $65 million.
The Comox Valley farmers market at the time was generating in excess of $1½ million towards the local economy and serving as an incredible test market and incubator for farm business throughout the region.
In 2008 the first study of the Canadian farmers market industry showed that the direct sales through these markets in 2008 was approximately $913 million. The economic impact of these markets in Canadian communities was almost $3 billion. These markets are sustaining farm-gate revenues; increasing employment in the sector; contributing to lower transportation costs for food consumption, thereby reducing carbon footprints; and providing local opportunities across the country for increased education and understanding of the sector to the more urban-oriented consumers.
These numbers are also important to mention as they provide a framework for communities such as ours, farm
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industry associations and the provincial government to utilize when prioritizing program spending and setting local economic development strategies. They are but the tip of the iceberg when evaluating the importance of agriculture to our communities and to our province.
If we look nationally to determine spending levels in relationship to GDP, we can discuss at a broad level where we wish to go in regards to our provincial priorities on agriculture and the larger food and beverage sector. While not recent numbers, we have previously reviewed ag GDP alongside provincial budgets, and I've attached these tables for your review.
The first table highlights gross domestic product for all industries by selected province in Canada between 2004 and 2007. The second compares provincial ag-related expenditures. Finally, we show the ratio of ag spending to GDP.
In 2007 agriculture made up the largest share of total provincial GDP in Saskatchewan at about 11 percent, while Newfoundland has the smallest share. British Columbia had the next-lowest ratio after Newfoundland at about 2 percent.
In absolute terms, the provinces with the largest agriculture GDP were Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. Collectively, those provinces accounted for 70 percent of the national agriculture GDP. British Columbia's contribution to the total was about 12 percent in 2007, while its contribution to the national ag was about 8 percent.
In comparison, in 2004 B.C.'s share of total GDP was again 12 percent, but its share of increased GDP was 7.4 percent. The province is gradually increasing its contribution to total national agriculture GDP over time. B.C., like Ontario, as you know, has a manufacturing sector much larger than the primary sector. The reverse is true for the other three western provinces, while Quebec's breakdown is equal. Over the 2004-2007 period the share of agriculture GDP to total GDP declined in all provinces except for Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
These expenditures represent consolidated operating expenditure. Accounts do not include revenue side or capital expenditures, which can vary widely year to year. In 2008-09 B.C. spent about 1 percent of its total expenditures on agriculture, less than all other provinces except for those in the Maritimes.
During 2005-2008 B.C. spent more on agriculture as a percentage of total expenditures than the maritime provinces, about the same as Ontario, less than Quebec and considerably less than the other three western provinces.
The three most western provinces saw the agricultural proportion of total expenditures decline, as did Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Ontario and Manitoba maintained their levels, while Newfoundland increased. The ratio of agriculture spending to agriculture GDP is shown in table 3. B.C. is again in the mid-range, with its spending slightly less than half that of GDP. Quebec and Alberta are well above that level.
It's important to take these numbers merely as illustrative, as they are obviously outdated. These particular tables were created utilizing figures taken from respective provincial government Ministry of Finance websites and reflect consolidated expenditure statements, as I've said. Agriculture expenditures are ministry budgets only and do not include programs or initiatives delivered by Crown agencies, corporations or other quasi-government organizations. However, they may suggest that we could be able to do more as a province to allocate spending to agriculture initiatives.
The Comox Valley, alongside other communities in the province such as Kelowna, Vernon and Cowichan, are all prioritizing agriculture and are demonstrating what can be done to facilitate economic impact with limited resources. We certainly recognize that like other levels of government, our own businesses or even our households, the decisions on how and where we spend our dollars must be made wisely. You have a difficult job in preparing your recommendations to the Minister of Finance in today's current economic climate.
We encourage you to consider the economic impact on our agricultural land reserve lands and investigate options to enhance agriculture-based economic development through increased investment in the sector. We will collectively support higher GDP levels, increased employment and diversification as well as provide provincial solutions to succession issues facing farm families and the agricultural economy throughout the province.
On behalf of our community and the Economic Development Society, we thank you for the opportunity to present these thoughts for the committee's consideration and can answer any questions.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, John. I have a question from John.
J. van Dongen: In the early part of your presentation, John, you talked about agrifood marketing and, particularly, international marketing. If you had some extra money through the ministry to put into agrifood marketing, where would you put it?
J. Watson: Provincial nominee immigration program, focused on European immigration to the province in the ag sector.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. My question is on marketing as well, but domestic and, more specifically, Vancouver Island and the valley. Do you have any numbers on what you believe is the potential saturation that you have in the Comox Valley market and then Vancouver Island for the products? Have you achieved what you think you can achieve?
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And would you believe a marketing program like Buy B.C. or something like that would help in improving the saturation?
G. Rolston: Right now the Comox Valley Farmers Market sells even…. It's a great institution. It's a critical part of the community, but it sells only about 0.5 percent of the food consumed in the Comox Valley, so there's a long way to go. The gap analysis showed we could probably go to 10 percent or 11 percent before we start to run into those kinds of issues. Finding a permanent home for it where it can be in people's faces every day of the week would certainly go a long way towards that and will help grow the industry to support that market.
D. McRae: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming. A statement you said early on was that a third of the land in the Comox Valley was being used for agriculture, so two-thirds obviously is not. Is there something the government could or should be doing to encourage that land to be used? Or would you argue that there's a fair chunk of that land that is not really usable for agricultural use?
J. Watson: I think it's largely suitable — the majority of that land. The question is: do we have the number of farmers willing to take on that, and is farming productive? I think that's the root of the question that's been discussed for generations, I would say.
I think, yes, the land is suitable for agricultural production, and there are opportunities to see it put into active production.
J. Thornthwaite: Thanks for your presentation. We did have a presentation by the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets up in Whistler. What was that? Last week? All the days run together.
I just wanted to mention that one of the ideas that was mentioned was to tap into the availability of extra classrooms and schools and school properties, both during school hours, obviously, during the day Monday to Friday, but also you've got a captive audience on fields, etc., for weekends. I would think that if you're looking for a permanent place for farmers markets to increase access, any kind of public area there that has a captive audience would be a good idea.
J. Rustad: Thank you very much for the presentation. I chaired a panel doing the farm assessment review back a couple of years ago. We made some recommendations, and I'm just wondering what your opinion is on those recommendations, as government is obviously looking at those and trying to move them forward.
J. Watson: That was around 2008, I guess. I would say that our focus at the economic development office is looking at where the ministry's programs tie into actual community economic development activities that result in increased agricultural production. In that case, I would say that it's difficult for us to see the connection.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your very succinct answer to MLA van Dongen, but if you could provide the committee with a little further detail on that first answer you gave around immigration and the European potential there, that would be great.
J. Watson: I've learned to be very succinct.
There is an awful lot we could do to market agriculture, and it's a big question. It's debated by many people. I can tell you that from what I've learned from an economic development side…. I'm not a farmer myself, and I don't have an agriculture or economics degree, such as Gary. From my perspective, I look at it merely from what we're doing in economic development and how we can drive change within the individual businesses in our community.
My feeling is that given scarce resources, we can't be everything to everybody or do everything that perhaps industry associations wish, communities wish. I think likely what we need in this province is increased capitalization. We need new investment into agriculture. Trade and marketing are valuable and important things, and I mentioned that in my presentation. But if I was to pick one thing that we could focus on, I would look at the province's provincial nominee program.
My take on it and many of my colleagues' take on it is that that program is one of the most successful programs operating within the province as it relates to economic development. I think a stronger focus on how that program can support agriculture — and, in particular, investment into rural communities predominately for on-farm operations from European communities specifically, as a priority — would be a valuable exercise.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. One more thing, John. You mentioned in passing — and I'm not expecting an answer now — artisan distillers. I know you have one or two of those in the valley here. If you could, maybe through the committees website, provide us with just a bit more background information and your thoughts on how that sector could be expanded, I'd appreciate that as well.
J. Watson: We'll certainly do that.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Thanks for coming.
Just a heads-up to the committee. There are, I think, two delegations. Vanier Secondary School will be here, and there will be a whole bunch of students coming into the room along with that delegation. We're not being mobbed or anything like that.
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While they come into the room, our next delegation is from the Comox Valley Air Force Museum Association. If they can make their way to the front. They're doing that as we speak. I'd like to introduce the committee to David Stinson and Bob Mortimer.
D. Stinson: I'd never get lost in this crowd. I haven't been in high school for a long time. But I'm delighted to see young people taking an interest in this sort of thing. That's really great.
J. Les (Chair): You bet.
This isn't school, you know. You have to behave here. [Laughter.] All right, away we go.
D. Stinson: Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'm David Stinson, and to all who are not from this area, welcome to the Comox Valley.
I'm speaking this morning for the Comox Valley Air Force Museum Association. We're a non-profit society incorporated under the Society Act of British Columbia in September of 1999. We have been an approved receiver of B.C. gaming funds since we were incorporated. As well, we have been an approved Canadian charity since 2002.
The association is the friends of the museum organization working in support of the Comox Air Force Museum at 19 Wing Comox. The association is independent, and we operate very much at arm's length from the Department of National Defence.
Every museum, as I think you would know, has two aims. First, collection, preservation, display and interpretation of artifacts related to history or some aspect of history. No museum, of course, can cover it all. Second is education — to give its visitors the opportunity to really learn something about the particular aspect of material that is covered, the particular aspect of history that's covered by that museum.
The mission of the museum is to collect, preserve, display and interpret the history of military aviation on the west coast of Canada, something we personally think is not well enough known. It's part of Canada's history. It's part of our military heritage.
The association supports the museum by being the source of all volunteer staff members and by raising money for two particular purposes. First is to provide our program manager and volunteer coordinator under contract. Second is to pay for those services essential to any volunteer society, particularly insurance, to advertise the museum throughout Vancouver Island and to pay for those projects which increase the attractiveness of the museum displays, particularly in its air park.
The museum got off the ground in 1982. This is an area where there are a lot of military retirees, and a small collection of artifacts grew almost like a mushroom field. It soon became clear that it was going to need some professional help — i.e., a curator — and there was no federal money to pay for the salary of that curator.
The folk who were organizing the museum said, "Okay, let's look for different sources of money," and went to the Comox Valley bingo association. They were rapidly accepted. They provided the folks to run bingo operations. I think it was two days a week every week for years and years.
Because they gave that help, they got the required revenue stream, hired a curator, and the museum was accredited in 1987. We don't have a curator as such any more, but our volunteer program manager, who the association provides under contract, functions as a curator, and we're particularly lucky in the man we now have.
The museum now is the most comprehensive air military museum in western Canada. The main displays cover the period from 1900 to the present. We have a reference library of over 8,000 volumes. We have over 20,000 photographs. We have an archive collection. We have five heritage vehicles, and we have 12 aircraft in the plan.
We also have a memorial site at which we commemorate members of the squadrons and members of 19 Wing Comox who have lost their lives in the service of Canada. It's also a place where members of the community can commemorate those family members who have had military careers of one kind or another. That includes the spouses of military members, who are as much a part of their career as the individuals themselves.
We're open to the public every day of the week except Monday. We get an average of 12,000 visitors a year. They come from all parts of Canada and from the United States and from countries as far dispersed as Switzerland, Argentina, Hong Kong and Australia. We ask all of our visitors to put comments and their locations in our visitors book, and it is just amazing the range of places that we get people from.
The museum is a well-established component of the tourist attractions of the Comox Valley. On behalf of 19 Wing, we are the co-sponsor of the Comox Valley school district annual heritage fair, which is a community event involving hundreds of elementary and secondary school students and many teachers and dozens of parents. We get a larger crowd at that every year, and we're very pleased to be able to help in that regard.
The association itself has a stable membership of around a hundred Comox Valley residents and a few from farther afield. About 40 of these members are active museum volunteers. They contribute an average of 10,000 hours of their time every year to greeting and guiding visitors, running the library and our gift shop, maintaining the aircraft and our vehicles, assisting with maintenance of displays and doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that's needed for accounting for any museum collection.
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It's a community activity. It involves dozens of local residents, almost all of them seniors who are dedicated to the effective functioning of this particular museum because it's a true Comox Valley and British Columbia asset. Like any workforce, volunteers of course must be organized, supervised and qualified to do the jobs that they're doing.
Continuing success of any of the volunteer activity depends very much on the quality of management, quality of leadership provided by our program manager. Again, we provide him under contract. Our problem, as I'm sure you've heard from other associations around the country, is money.
For about 22 years the association and its predecessor had a regular revenue stream based on our participation in the valley bingo society. We had a gaming fund licence. It was well supervised by the gaming policy branch and, formerly, the Gaming Commission. That continued in very steady order until about 2009. We were then in the second year of a three-year bingo affiliation grant which provided us with about $35,000 a year.
Those funds pay the manager's fee under his contract, the premium for directors insurance and part of the cost of advertising the museum. All of those things are completely within B.C. government policy.
Financial conditions in 2009, as you're very well aware, led the provincial government to change the rules governing gaming funds. In our case the grant for the current fiscal year — which is the transition between bingo funding and community gaming funding, the regime which will start up in 2011 — is $27,708, which is about 79 percent of the grant that we got the year ending 31 March 2010.
Next April we'll apply for a community gaming grant under the new rules. The information we have is that the maximum we as a museum support group for a community museum could expect to get is about 50 percent next year of what we got last year. So that will mean that our grant payable for the fiscal year 2011-12 will be about $17,500. These are not big amounts in the global picture of provincial finance, but they're very significant for a small organization like us, as I'm sure you appreciate.
We now have to figure out how to replace that revenue. Do we cut costs? Do we fundraise? Do we do some of both? We know there are some expenses we simply can't cut, the insurance for our volunteers being one. We're a volunteer organization. We have no administrative fat. We have no physical assets. We can't sell material we own to raise money.
Our biggest cost is the manager's contract. He brings high quality and caring leadership to the organization of our volunteer activities. In addition, he brings very good historic sense to our displays, either for the creation of new ones or for the renovation of ones that we've had for some years. He's paid, he's insured, and he's a highly experienced supervisor himself. He's an effective part of the museum senior leadership, and he could take charge of the place if necessary, if our director for some reason is not there.
Given all of his contributions, reducing his time to meet expenses would truly be our last resort. More fundraising is obviously in our future. We are not averse to that. We've run several specific projects over the last few years and have been good at it. We run some small projects on an almost continuous basis. The challenge is going to be to do a lot more of it with a much more increased requirement for money and to do it in a fundraising marketplace — I use that word — which is becoming more and more crowded. That's a challenge, and we'll do our best to meet it.
Our big concern is that if the fundraising is not successful and if the gaming fund grants happen to either die out or come in smaller than we currently enjoy, our ability to support the museum is going to decline. If we cannot pay the manager's hours, we may have to reduce his contract. That will probably mean that the museum may have to reduce its hours. That defeats our purpose, and we don't want to do that.
So we respectfully ask the provincial government, as its financial conditions of course permit, to consider restoring the grants of gaming funds to community museums to something approaching the former levels, if that's possible. We would respectfully ask that consideration be given to restoring multi-year funding, so we have a bit more of a basis for longer-term planning.
If those can't be taken up, then we would appreciate it if the government could consider creating a program under which it could, within limits — which would obviously have to be put in place — match the fundraising successes of volunteer organizations such as ours.
I thank you for your attention. I will answer your questions as best I can.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. I have a question from Michelle.
M. Mungall: Thank you very much for your presentation. Without a doubt, you point out the importance of that social contract that has seen gaming funding go right back into our communities, then to retain our heritage.
I am just wondering. You noted that you had a multi-year contract for the bingo funding, and now you are on an annual contract, if I understand, consistent with the existing policy. Was it when you moved to that annual contract…? Sorry, you said that final year of the three-year contract was when your funding started to decline.
D. Stinson: All of the rules changed for gaming funding late in 2009, early 2010. We were then on a three-year bingo affiliation contract. The second year was paid out at $35,000 as planned. We were told explicitly, as were all
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the organizations in the province who were getting gaming funds, what the transition grant would be. It was paid exactly as promised, and it was paid on time without any difficulty at all. So our three-year licence would have run out on the 31st of March, 2011.
The rules have changed, and it certainly is within government's power to do that, so we will now be applying annually under the community gaming grant rules beginning in the spring.
M. Mungall: Do you receive any funding through the B.C. Arts Council as well?
D. Stinson: No, we don't.
J. Les (Chair): The final question from Don.
D. McRae: First of all, thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming today, but also for all the work you do for the community.
A two-part question. One is very short. Do you receive any money for the museum from the federal government?
D. Stinson: The federal government owns the museum, but the association itself receives no funding whatsoever from the federal government.
D. McRae: The next question. The Finance Minister had good news to say that there's $600 million of unexpected revenues available to the ministry for the province. We're still in a deficit position. But with that $600 million, one of the questions we've been asked to go out into British Columbia and find out is where citizens and organizations wish those dollars to go. So would you, as part of your presentation, recommend that a portion of those dollars go back into gaming?
D. Stinson: Do you expect me to say no? There are thousands of organizations like us across the province, some of them large, some of them small, some of them very much involved in supporting people.
That's what government is to do. But particularly, the gaming grants have been helping a lot of smaller organizations that help people, some of whom truly need help desperately. If there was funding available to put back into those organizations, some of the revenue that has been reduced over the last year, I think that would be great. If, after setting out the people priorities within that category, there was some possibility of raising our particular grant, we'd be happy, but I fully understand that there are people across the province and in this community who need that money perhaps a little more than we do at this point.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming this morning. Well-made presentation.
Our next presentation is from G.P. Vanier Secondary School, and I understand that our presenters will be Miranda Knox, Paul Rebitt and Christina Paterson. So who is the lead spokesperson here?
M. Knox: My name is Miranda Knox, and this is Christina Paterson. We are here on behalf of the business 12 class from G.P. Vanier Secondary School. We have come forward to present our ideas to you on how the government should spend the 2011 budget.
As a group, we feel that B.C.'s productivity level needs to be addressed in order to enable our province to become more competitive in the future and to help increase Canada's total PPP.
In Canada over the past four years there has been a significant drop from No. 8 to No. 10 on the GDP chart from 2006 to 2010. Worse than this, Canada's productivity has dropped to No. 15, lower than countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, and France.
The main problem revolves around the fact that we as a province focus on primary resource extraction rather than the higher-value industry. In order to compete with these other countries, we must focus on more of these higher-value industries. To increase our total level of PPP, the government needs to spend money in these areas.
C. Paterson: We feel that by offering free or even more subsidized first-year university for all students wishing to attend, our economy will benefit, and the productivity levels in the future will increase.
It will increase the number of students attending post-secondary school in B.C. and attract more foreign students to come to school here. This will lead to an increased number of value-added or high-tech jobs in the future, resulting in a higher amount of income tax. It will also allow us to switch our focus from extracting or harvesting our natural resources that will become scarce in the future.
With this first year free, students will take less in student loans, and there will be less debt. Students can work toward paying off their second year. Although this will be costly for the government in the short term, with higher levels of education present there will be more productivity and more capital in the long term.
M. Knox: We also feel that the government should be investing or encouraging more tourist attractions and activities. This will attract a greater number of people to our communities. They will then be spending money at our small businesses, hotels, grocery stores and restaurants. These attractions will also help provide jobs.
For example, the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver were a massive tourist attraction and opened people's eyes
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to our province. Many small activities, like the Robson Square zip line, brought people downtown, which resulted in them spending money at restaurants and businesses.
In the Comox Valley, at Mount Washington, the Snow Leopard brought a large crowd to the mountain, which increased the number of people buying lift tickets and food or gifts at the lodge.
These tourist attractions were highly successful and exposed our province to the world. Now we need more attractions to encourage tourists to visit our province. Of course, these tourist attractions don't have to be as large or as expensive as the Olympics. They can include minor attractions such as outdoor skating rinks that act as a venue for hockey games or funded festivals that are free to the public to attend.
C. Paterson: We also feel that by offering business incentives and grants to young entrepreneurs, our economy will benefit. By giving grants to help cover all or most of the starting expenses of a young person's small business, more young entrepreneurs will be able to actively gain experience of owning and running a business. By gaining the experience hands-on and allowing the business to have a solid start, there is a potential for the owner to expand the business into something larger. These small businesses would enhance the economy both in the present and in the future.
These companies and businesses will also add to the amount of income tax and corporate tax dollars received by the government. These extra tax dollars could then be recycled and used again as grants for other young entrepreneurs. For example, if an 18-year-old person wishes to start a sports camp to run throughout the summer, they would be able to start it by acquiring a grant from the government. They would be able to pay for the equipment needed and rent the space and also other miscellaneous items.
The income generated from the camp would then be used to further develop the camp the following year. If the business is successful and the demand is high, the business owner would be able to expand into something even more, such as a dance studio or a daycare or a sports facility. With the increase of income tax, there would be higher amounts of businesses being able to pay taxes.
M. Knox: The question is: how are we going to pay for these initiatives? We could borrow money now and pay back later when the economy has been strengthened by these initiatives and more taxes have been received from the higher-tech or value-added jobs that were created from the higher levels of education.
We are also aware that the government has received an extra $600 million from last year that they didn't anticipate. We could use some of that now rather than paying down the debt at this time. Again, the economy would be stronger from the increase of higher-value-added jobs as well as the increased number of tourists spending money in our province.
The 2010-2011 estimates for the expense of social assistance were $1.5 billion. If the provincial government were to move some of this money into the creation of jobs such as furniture factories, it would not only provide a higher standard of living for those in need of social assistance; it would move B.C.'s economy from one of primary industry, where we essentially pillage our natural resources and destroy the tourism aspect of our province, to tertiary and allow us to create more value-added products.
Not only would this cut the expense for social assistance, but it could eventually turn to profit for B.C. and for paying for post-secondary. On average, every year of post-secondary generates $10,000 extra to the incomes of those who go. A four-year university student will make an additional $40,000 onto their normal income. Extra taxes generated could easily pay for the extra funds provided by the government.
C. Paterson: We feel that by spending money in these areas, our province and country will become more productive and gain a stronger economy. We understand that these are huge expenses for our province, but in the long term these initiatives will pay off. Taking these ideas into consideration, we could start a movement to improve B.C.'s financial future.
We appreciate this opportunity and your time. We hope you take our ideas into consideration when you decide how to spend the 2011 budget.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. Are you ready for some questions? Several of the members of the committee have questions, so brace yourselves. First, from someone you may know, your MLA.
D. McRae: Thank you, guys, very much. You did a fantastic job — unbelievable. I think you're probably the youngest presenters by at least ten years, except for your teacher, Mr. Rebitt, who's about the average age.
First of all, I really like the idea about the young entrepreneurship. I think that's brilliant. I was going to ask you a question that wasn't actually part of your presentation, though, if that's okay. Are you familiar with Passport to Education and the dollars you guys can apply for each year?
A Voice: Yes.
D. McRae: There's been a study recently saying that we need to have students think about post-secondary education earlier — like, not grade 10, 11 or 12 but maybe
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6, 7 and 8. Do you think there's some value, perhaps, in taking that program as it exists and moving it down to the younger ages — maybe keeping the dollars the same but allowing students at that age and their parents to start thinking about going into post-secondary?
M. Knox: Yeah, because I think a lot of people aren't…. Like, I know that people are told that they should attend post-secondary and they should go on to other schools, but there isn't enough encouragement. They were just told: "Oh yeah, you should." But when it comes down to it, they're told: "Oh, your grades aren't high enough. Oh, you need to take these courses." Meanwhile, those students end up not attending because they don't feel that they have been encouraged enough or they don't feel that they're good enough for university or they can't afford it.
J. Thornthwaite: Thanks very much. My daughter just graduated from grade 12, so I'm just in that end of it.
I just have a comment and then a question that leads into it. Your comment about tourism and the Robson Street zip line was very well taken. However, I think you realize, if you were over there, that it was free, and there were eight-hour lineups. I don't think we want to have free universities and have equivalent eight-hour lineups. It actually does decrease access to the number of classes that you may have if it was depending on costs.
My question really goes to your comment that this will increase the number of students attending post-secondary in B.C. and attract more foreign students to come to school here. Are you inferring that we should provide free university to foreign students as well?
C. Paterson: Not necessarily. It's just that as the schools get more recognition and their names get bigger, there will be more attraction for other people from other countries to come here.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks a lot for the presentation — very detailed and well-thought-out and well researched. Judging by the attendance here, I hope there's a percentage in the mark for attending this session today.
My question is around your suggestion of free post-secondary education. Other countries in the world — crazy countries like Scotland — offer free post-secondary education, and they have quite a good amount of access to the courses. Did you do some research into other countries that offer this kind of programming and how they do that? If you did, it would be great if you could forward that to the committee.
C. Paterson: Not in enough depth to give you that information.
M. Mungall: I should point out that my colleague, when he noted that Scotland is crazy…. Both he and his wife are from Scotland. Personal experience there.
My question is around your points on tourism. In the past B.C. has had a tourism program called Tourism B.C. that was mostly market-driven and involved a lot of the tourism market in deciding how we put forward our tourism opportunities to the rest of the world. Would you see reinstating that as a good investment for the province?
C. Paterson: For sure.
M. Knox: I think it's important for people to recognize us as not just a place where there's logging or agriculture but as somewhere where there's been the Olympics, where there's been MusicFest. People have been coming from…. Well, as far as I know, people all across Canada have heard about MusicFest and have come to it. Just because of a small festival like that, all the businesses around here benefited when people came and stayed at hotels or bought food or any of those sorts of things.
J. Rustad: Thanks very much for the presentation. It's great to see so many young people involved in this and coming out, and it's a great compliment to your teacher for doing that.
This isn't in your presentation, but one of the biggest concerns I have is the level of participation in democracy by our younger generations. The level of people voting below age 25 is extremely low relative to other age brackets, and that trend doesn't seem to be changing.
My question to you is: how do we engage younger people, students your age and up to age 25, in the democratic process? How do we get them engaged in it, thinking about it and actually participating by getting out and voting or getting involved?
C. Paterson: I feel like there are lots of young people who aren't aware of all of the things the government does and don't understand a lot of it. So maybe by offering a free or maybe by donation or just a low-cost workshop to give them that information, that would, I think, increase the number of people voting.
M. Knox: I think they also need to be convinced that they'll be heard. A lot of them are like: "Oh well, if I don't vote, it's not going to make a difference, because I'm just one person. I'm just a young adult. What does it matter if I vote or not?" I think a lot of people think that way.
As we're younger, we're told.... Well, we're not told, but we get the feeling that if we're not old enough, we can't do certain things and our opinion isn't as important or valued as someone who's older. But I think if we were convinced that our opinion was as important, then more people would be encouraged to vote.
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J. Les (Chair): I don't often get to ask a question, but I want to ask a question, and it's this. In your presentation you say: "So how are we going to pay for all of these initiatives?" I think you go on to suggest that we should borrow now and pay it back later.
Well, my generation has been doing that for generations. The "Don't worry; be happy; we'll pay it off sometime" has led to a national debt of about half a trillion dollars and a provincial debt of about $50 billion. I'm sure you're aware of the demographics of the future, where there's going to be a lot of old people, called the baby boom, and correspondingly fewer younger people like yourselves to first of all look after these old people and at the same time try to pay off that national debt.
I'm just wondering if you had any more thoughts on that. It's something I worry about. I've got kids and grandkids, and I wonder some days how they're going to be able to put up with us and at the same time pay off the debt that we accumulate.
If you don't have an answer, that's okay too. I think it is something that all of us need to think about. I don't want to leave behind a financial situation where you're going to say: "Thanks for nothing." You need to have a bright, prosperous future as well. I'm not sure that we've done you any favours that way.
M. Knox: Well, that's why we had the other options as well. The more we thought about it, it was: "They have been doing that for a long time." What we felt with these ideas was that they were going to generate more wealth for the country and the province, and with some of that, you could pay back the debt, although it isn't a guarantee that every idea is going to go through. With how we have looked at our ideas and how we feel about them, we feel that if we put our effort into these initiatives, it would benefit us in the future.
M. Mungall: Just to let you know, not everybody around this table here agrees — right? We have a very different perspective than perhaps what the Chair was putting forward. What you've suggested is called Keynesian economics, for example. There are a lot of different ideas of how the economics work and so on and so forth.
But sometimes we do agree, and I actually want to pick up on something that my colleague John Rustad was talking about, around young people voting. What I heard from you is education — right? There's a real lack of education, a lack of understanding of how government all impacts people. I mean, in my experience, it's regardless of age. The difference with young people is that they think they have to know it all before they can go cast a vote. There's a lot of research to actually back that up.
What happened in 2005, which actually saw one of the largest showings of young people voting…. In 2005 Elections B.C. actually did a very strong education campaign to get young people out to vote. Didn't do that in 2009; didn't do that before.
Would you perhaps recommend that Elections B.C. start doing that — that we start putting funding into programming to make sure that young people feel educated and have the tools that they need to go out and vote?
C. Paterson: I would agree with that.
M. Knox: Yeah, I think that's important.
J. Les (Chair): John Rustad has the final question.
J. Rustad: I want to float one other thing by you just in terms of involving students.
J. Les (Chair): And quickly, of course.
J. Rustad: I will do it as quickly as I can. Thank you, Chair, for the latitude.
If there was a mechanism where students from each region could bring forward, say, the top three ideas of what they'd like to see happen, and then another mechanism where students could then boil that down provincially to bring forward their top three ideas and then ultimately either vote on them or decide on what their number one idea would be, and then that were allowed to actually be part of a referendum question in the next election, is that something you think that you could actually engage students in, both locally and provincially?
C. Paterson: I think that would increase the people that would be getting involved in things like that, for sure.
M. Knox: I think it would also help them see that their opinion does matter, by doing that. It would involve everyone to come forth with their ideas, and if it actually did turn out that their top one was included in a referendum, then they'd be like: "Oh wow. I am actually included in this, and my opinion does actually matter."
J. Rustad: The key there is that you would actually have to go out and sell it, because it's not just students voting on it. It's the entire public that would be voting on the issue.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. With that, unfortunately, we have to give it a wrap. But on behalf of all us, let me say to Mr. Rebitt and the class that this has been a unique experience for us. We've never had a whole class come up before, and I want to tip my hat to your interest and making the effort to come out this morning and some of the interesting ideas that you've presented to us. Thank you very much.
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N. Letnick: Facebook, here we come. [Laughter.]
J. Rustad: Make sure you e-mail that to me.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Our next presentation is from the Comox Valley Child Development Association — Lorraine Aitken and Pamela Crowe.
Good morning. You're a much more modest delegation than the previous one.
L. Aitken: Between us we have years of experience.
J. Les (Chair): Yes, of course, absolutely. Whenever you're ready, just carry on. You know you've got 15 minutes altogether.
L. Aitken: That's right. I'm going to speak quickly.
Good morning. I am Lorraine Aitken, and I'm the executive director of the Comox Valley Child Development Association. This is Pamela Crowe, who is our board chair and association president. We're here today to talk about our submission to you, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
I'm going to tell you a little bit about us first. We are a non-profit association which has been operating in the Comox Valley, and we're now in our 36th year. We provide diagnostic developmental intervention and support services for young children, youth and now young adults with developmental delays and disabilities — the full range of special needs — and their families, their child care providers and other community support staff.
We are a member of the British Columbia Association of Child Development and Intervention, which will be making a presentation to you on our common provincial issues, so our focus today is on our local issues. But you'll be hearing some common threads from other child development associations around the province, I'm sure, and from BCACDI, as it's known.
We'll get straight to the recommendations first, I think. Do you have a copy of the submission in front of you?
J. Les (Chair): Yes, we do.
L. Aitken: Great.
Our number one priority is our wait-lists for early intervention therapy, and these are wait-lists for children who are from birth to school age. We offer physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology for young children. Our two biggest areas of concern are occupational therapy and speech therapy. We have long wait-lists. They never go away.
We have been creative in how we have adapted our services. We see children in blocks of time. We see children in groups. We've collaborated with our colleagues around the province. We've looked at the research. We've done everything we can. We still have long wait-lists.
What that means is that sometimes we have a child who's been on a wait-list for speech-language pathology. By the time they get to the top of our wait-list, they're going to kindergarten, and we don't get to see them. We've missed that critical window of opportunity to provide quality, effective early intervention.
We would really like to see additional funding for all the therapies but, in particular, speech-language pathology and occupational therapy. I think you're going to hear this from every community you go to around the province.
Our second priority is around children with autism spectrum disorder, and there are two areas here that we want to talk to you about. One is about services, and one is about assessment.
As you know, children with autism spectrum disorder, once they receive a diagnosis, are eligible for individualized funding. That funding is now $22,000 a year for children under six, $6,000 a year for children over six. Then parents are on their own to look in their community for resources to purchase to support their children.
As an association, we made the decision seven years ago to provide a program for children with autism and hoped that parents would bring their funds to us. That has happened, and it's a very successful program. However, the funds that parents have do not come close to covering the full cost of providing a bare-bones, effective service.
What that means is we're dependent on a gaming grant — which is, I think, recommendation 3 on the list — and our local fundraising. Without those two pieces, we would have to walk away from this program. As it is, it's as bare bones as it can be.
We have a shortfall in our small community. We're serving about 50 children and their families a year, and our shortfall runs around $45,000 to $50,000 a year, with $25,000 of that covered from gaming. The rest comes from our fundraising locally.
The second part of the concerns about autism spectrum disorder is the wait-lists for assessment, particularly for children over six. We hold the contract for assessment services for the Comox Valley, Campbell River and the north end of the Island. We're doing okay with children under six because they're a priority. The children over six seem to just sit on the wait-list. Right now we have a wait-list of 20 children and youth. The average wait time is around 18 months.
That means that families could have had intervention. They could have had funding. They could have had support. But they have to sit on a wait-list because we're restricted to 60 assessments a year. Children under six come first, and assessments for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder come first. So those kids over six just kind of hold out there in a holding pattern until a spot comes up for them.
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I'd like to see more funding going into assessment, as well, to address that backlog and get that support out to families and children and youth.
The other part that I want to mention around the autism funding is that we spend more time managing and trying to administer the funding and billing for those 50 children than we spend on any other program in our agency. The way it's set up with the autism funds–processing unit is an onerous — and it feels punitive at times — process.
We're an accredited agency. We've been providing services for over 35 years. We have accreditation with CARF, yet we have to provide enormous amounts of documentation, billing, forms going back and forth. It's a really, really onerous process, and I would just like to see that addressed.
Recommendation 3 is about gaming. As I mentioned, we wouldn't be able to continue to provide the services we do for families with autism without that gaming grant. We ask for $40,000; we get $25,000. We ask for $40,000; we get $25,000. We'd like to get more, but even with the $25,000, we just couldn't continue what we're doing without that gaming grant. You're going to hear that from many other communities around the province.
Not only the gaming grant, but other organizations such as Rotary and Lions and the Pythians, when they raise money through their gaming activities, that money flows through to us in their donations. And if they don't get their gaming grants, that reduces their ability to donate to us, so it's this multiplying effect. I really, really want to emphasize how important that gaming money is to agencies like ours.
Our fourth recommendation is about our day-to-day operations and our infrastructure and our capital costs. Early intervention is recognized as an essential service in the community, yet we get no funding to help us with our facility, our land, our buildings, our furniture, our equipment — all of those kinds of things.
The funding that we receive from government covers the costs of our wages and most of our benefits. It doesn't keep up. Again, we have to resort to fundraised dollars to provide these essential services that have been proven to be effective for children with developmental delays and disabilities.
None of the federal infrastructure funding that has flowed through to the provinces has come to non-profit agencies like ours. We would like to see some of that infrastructure money be available through our annual contracts for our services.
Recommendation 5 speaks to a specific program. It's the supported child development program, which supports children in any kind of child care setting from birth to age 12. So that's preschool, daycare, after-school, in-home, family care — to support families, to enable them to participate in the workforce and to support child development.
There is no such equivalent program for children over 12. Children with disabilities don't suddenly, at the age of 12, no longer need support in after-school settings so that their families can go to work.
I know that the Ministry of Children and Families is looking at creating a youth support program, but it also needs more than a title. It needs some funding to go along with it. Otherwise, we're going to be looking at jeopardizing the funding for children under 12. I fully support the new idea of a service for youth, but it has to come with funding attached to it.
Recommendation 6 is more of a provincial recommendation. We have had challenges with our recruiting over the past number of years because there's such a drastic shortage of pediatric therapists in the province. There are only…. I believe it's under 30 seats at UBC for occupational therapy and speech therapy. Physiotherapy was just recently increased. Out of those who graduate every year, maybe one or two or three go into pediatric therapy and stay in the province.
We have vacancies all over the province, which is why you're seeing organizations such as ours move to the different models of using therapy assistants. However, therapy assistants have to be trained and supervised by a qualified therapist.
We are using therapy assistants, but our therapists are getting older, and when they retire, we're going to be in the same boat as everyone else — trying to recruit from those one or two grads every year from our universities. So increasing the number of seats at the universities and adding seats at the University of Northern British Columbia and UVic, much like the medical school model, would be a huge step in that direction.
I'd just like to point out to you that we're small but mighty. Our Comox Valley population is somewhere around 65,000. We provided services to 384 unique children in the past fiscal year. We had over 11,000 visitors to our facility, including appointments for therapy, family support meetings, parent meetings, training events.
We're a very, very busy, active place, and we're bursting at the seams. We do a really good job. We have tremendous community support, but it's all pretty fragile, and we need more help, which is why we're here today.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much for a very good presentation. First question to John.
J. van Dongen: Thank you, Lorraine, for a good presentation. I work with my child development centre.
I just have a question around assessments. You talked about an 18-month wait for assessment. What's involved in an assessment? How costly is it, and who determines that a child should go on a waiting list? What percentage of the children that get assessed…? I assume that they've got some kind of issue that is actionable, requires intervention. Just tell me a bit about that.
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L. Aitken: The assessments for autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder have to come from a pediatrician. The child has to have been to their family doctor, their pediatrician. Typically, a speech-language pathologist's report is also required, documenting that there is a communication delay or disability that looks like, possibly, query autism.
All the intakes in our region go in to Victoria through the Vancouver Island Health Authority. They do a central intake for the Island. They determine if the intake is appropriate, and then they send it on to us. We coordinate the assessment with local psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, school district personnel. The whole is a multidisciplinary assessment.
J. van Dongen: Cost?
L. Aitken: The cost for those assessments typically is around $4,000 per child or youth. That includes the cost of assessment, coordination and the fees for all of the professionals involved.
B. Routley: First of all, thank you for what you do. I certainly concur with a number of your recommendations. I just wanted to find out, given that I'm also realistic about our chances of getting everything that everyone wants: what would be the priority areas?
I should add that I have a heart for this, because I have a grandson, who is now ten years old, with autism. He wouldn't have been where he is today without the intervention early on and the speech therapy in particular. I just want to thank you for what you do and for advocating on behalf of children. Good for you.
What would be the crisis areas? Definitely, government has to pay attention to the kids that are least able to defend themselves and the families that most desperately need help.
L. Aitken: Well, Nos. 1, 2 and 3: the therapy services for speech-language and occupational therapy — absolutely; the funds to get children off the wait-list for diagnosis — absolutely; and the funds to support the intervention that they need.
We can do that with a combination of gaming and fundraising. We'll plug along, but we can't do those things without additional funds.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Final question from Don.
D. McRae: A great presentation. I appreciate, from the whole community, everything that the child development centre does for the Comox Valley and beyond. I know you've mentioned several programs today, but you do so many more, obviously — everything from brand-new babies to grandparents.
L. Aitken: Yes. I put the grandparents in. I took them out. I thought: "No, that's too much information. Someone else is going to talk to you about grandparents." And I hope they do.
D. McRae: I guess one of the problems we always have on this committee is that the recommendations are always excellent, but sometimes the cost attached to them is the unknown. You don't have the answers now, I'm sure, but with your provincial organization, when you have these asks, if it's possible when you submit another presentation formally, if you could just have some dollar amounts attached to them.
L. Aitken: There are. There will be.
D. McRae: Okay, perfect. That allows us just to get more of a global sense. Otherwise, fantastic presentation.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. With that, on behalf of the committee, thank you very much for coming this morning.
The next presenter is His Worship Mayor Fred Bates from the village of Cumberland.
Good morning. How are things?
F. Bates: Very well, thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to comment, if I may, at first, that I'm going to also try and represent a bit for the municipalities of Courtenay and Comox, as they did not get an opportunity. We're working together and trying to present this together.
I'll start with Courtenay's concern, if I may, about funding for policing services. We wish to raise the matter of lack of real control over increases in annual policing contract costs. UBCM is working on this as well, but we believe it would be useful to add a local perspective.
Courtenay is also concerned that traffic fine revenue-sharing, which terminates at the end of 2010, will not be continued. The grant is needed to ensure current levels of policing in their municipality. Further details on these two concerns are provided as an attachment to this document.
I personally — and that's why I put my name, because I'm not representing anybody on this particular item, except to say…. I'm wondering if a model such as the Ambulance Service would be a better model for providing police services, where we can have them assigned as needed to a municipality by the province, instead of having areas where they have an unfair share of the burden of providing policing costs, such as Courtenay feels they do at this time. Just a thought for future.
From our perspective in Cumberland, the water service delivery in Comox Valley is, I believe, one of the most important things we can deal with as the basis of our whole future. We need a solution to the water supply
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issue that the province mandated when they formed the Comox Valley regional district.
The Comox Valley Regional Water Supply Commission has not produced solutions at this point, and with the potential and real development demands on Cumberland, we must move forward with a solution. It's imperative that the regional district arrive at a conclusion.
Cumberland needs to repair dams at this time. We need to add secondary treatment and pursue groundwater sources that are currently under development. Clearly, the regional solution is required prior to the municipality proceeding so that we can make an informed choice. We do not want to spend money on a project that will not be of any use in two years.
Our engineers have suggested a regional solution. It has not been considered by the regional district committee yet, yet the solution does have the interest of developers as well as B.C. Hydro, whom I spoke to last week at Whistler.
We're seeking provincial support, probably more than money — which maybe is not something you've been asked at these meetings too often, but the review is also about government services — to expedite a viable regional solution to the water supply issue for Comox Valley. We think of all the funding issues we have. Without a viable water source, none of it really matters. That is the most important issue to us.
On notes from the financial officers. Funding programs. As a small community, we're asking that you continue the unconditional grants to small communities. We're asking that you review grant procedures to allow advances on large-dollar grants. It's very difficult in a small community when you get, as much as it's appreciated, a large grant. Having the cash flow to actually start the work and wait for the grant payments can be very difficult without going into overdraft.
We're asking to structure funding programs to emphasize sustainability more than capacity-building. We truly believe, with the potential around Comox Valley, that the capacity-building can be accomplished by development, and that developers pay for that. But we need to work on our sustainable infrastructure.
For provincewide initiatives, could you please review the practicality of relying on each municipality to create the activity? What we're getting at is Cumberland was slow to join the carbon reduction process because we simply couldn't afford to do the original necessary audit. There are some very good tools the province has put out, some of which I've been aware of last week, but they still require staff. That is very difficult for us to manage.
The request is that perhaps we could have assistance in establishing those bases, because we have the same desire as everybody to reduce the carbon impact on our communities.
I've attached the Courtenay attachment on policing costs for you, the graph. I tried to rush through that so I'd leave you more time to pick the topics you want to deal with, but that's basically it.
B. Ralston: Two questions. The first one. You talked about delay while waiting for the grants. What's the typical delay after the grant receives final approval? Just to get an idea of the bridging fund.
Then the second one would be: what's the present source of drinking water for the valley here? You mention a number of infrastructure requirements to develop the water system here, but I'd be interested in knowing a little bit more about the drinking water issue.
F. Bates: On the first question, the typical delay is six months, roughly. It can go longer if there are questions or reviews necessary. That doesn't seem much to a larger community, but to a small community it can be a lot of dollars put out there on an advance basis.
On the second question about water, it's not: what is the water source? There are 11 sources in Comox Valley. We're supportive of the fact that the government has said: "Try and come up with a regional water supply that makes sense." But if you appreciate…. Cumberland is on its own water supply, and we also provide Royston. Courtenay, Comox and most of the rest of the valley are on a supply out of Comox Lake, and then there are some smaller ones throughout the valley.
Cumberland's system is aged and needs repair desperately. We also have a lot of development on the front door right now, if you will, but we don't wish to go forward with trying to resolve our water supply until we have a regional system, until we know what that option is, at least.
Our dams are in need of repair. We've been ordered to put secondary treatment on, as has the other part of the system. It seems to me we should be looking at a system that requires one treatment plant for Comox Valley, and I support the government's notion there.
We need that decision, though. We don't want to have a short-term solution that's going to be throwing money away.
D. McRae: Thank you, Mayor Bates, for the presentation. I want to ask you a question that might be outside of your area, because it's coming from the city of Courtenay, but if you could give it a shot.
In the attachment it talks about the provincial traffic fine revenue-sharing grant. Is there a more clear recommendation from that? Is there something you want in terms of a time frame that they'll need for the funding? Do they wish it for forever and a day, or are they trying to go for a block of years?
F. Bates: I think it's the assurance that this grant funding would go on. They're unsure if it ends in 2010, and if it's not there next year it's difficult for them to manage
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the police budget when they can't control the contract costs increases. Greg didn't have a specific time frame. I'd just like it to go on.
D. McRae: Right, and as a small community, you don't get traffic fine revenue?
F. Bates: No, but I support their concern.
J. Les (Chair): I don't see any further questions, so we're going to let you off easy this morning. Good presentation — succinct, to the point. Appreciate it very much.
Our next presentation is from North Island College — Dr. Jan Lindsay.
Good morning. Ready when you are.
J. Lindsay: Thank you very much. First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's prebudget consultation.
We certainly realize that the province is facing many challenges, and we are sensitive to the fact that you have many difficult decisions to make. I guess at the same time, though, we see very much the potential that B.C. colleges have to play a key role in responding to these challenges.
B.C.'s 11 community colleges provide students with advanced skills and education for employment training, which is essential to the recovery and growth of our provincial economy. B.C.'s 11 community colleges have a broad reach. They serve over 250,000 students annually and almost 70 communities throughout the province. North Island College alone serves 9,000 learners a year.
North Island College is the front-line provider of education for people living in the north Vancouver Island region as well as the central mainland coast. This is an area that includes a high percentage of traditionally under-represented groups, such as aboriginal, differently abled and first-generation learners. We have seen the demand for post-secondary education growing as the knowledge economy grows and baby boomers retire.
As president of North Island College, I'd like to take this opportunity, first of all, to introduce you to North Island College but also to provide an overview of the challenges that we face and the role we play in preparing B.C.'s workforce for the growing skills gap and to outline the commitment we require from the government to successfully train and educate B.C. students.
North Island College serves approximately 150,000 people who live in a geographic region of 80,000 square kilometres. Our region extends from Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island to Bella Coola on the central mainland coast. We have a budget of $29.4 million, of which $21.8 million is received from the provincial government of British Columbia. We operate four campuses located in Campbell River, the Comox Valley, Port Alberni, Port Hardy and, as well, four learning centres in Bella Coola, Cortes Island, Gold River and Ucluelet.
We offer a comprehensive mix of programs that includes adult upgrading, university transfer, career and technical programming, and trades and apprenticeship training. We provide certificates, diplomas, degrees and post-degree diplomas.
There are several things that make North Island College quite unique. First of all, we have a dispersed population across a large geographic area and therefore must rely heavily on distance education methods, all of which are very capital-intensive and costly.
Recently I'm sure many of you saw Bella Coola on the news with their flooding issues. I had luckily flown in and out — emphasis on the out — just prior to the flooding, to try and look at what more we could do for that area. Certainly, these are high-cost areas to serve.
We have 37 First Nation territories in our region, and over 10 percent of our student population are aboriginal learners. Our students are generally older, returning to education or retraining after having been in the workforce for a period of time. In the Campbell River campus, the average age of students is 26, and some of the other areas are higher as well.
We have a strong commitment to collaboration and partnership. We offer collaborative degrees with Vancouver Island University and Emily Carr University, and we hold dual admission agreements that were just recently established with Vancouver Island University, Royal Roads and the University of Victoria.
Through the Student Transitions Project we have partnered with all school districts in our region. This is a project that I think is hugely essential in that we're trying to bridge the gap for students coming from high school into the post-secondary system, where we often lose many of our learners.
North Island College plays a significant role in preparing skilled workers. There has been a steady shift from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy in the north Island region. Recently we completed a strategic plan. We did a very extensive environmental scan for this.
One of the things we found was that in 2001 we were below the provincial average for management and professional jobs at 8.9 percent of the jobs in our region. Then by 2006 — I'm sure it would have increased beyond that, but the stats were for 2006 — we had jumped 10 percent to 18.3 percent management and professional jobs.
I think that really shows the significant shift that we are experiencing. If you look at the stats in that same time frame, the proportion of management and economy jobs basically had not shifted throughout the province, but in our area it had quite dramatically.
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Enrolment across the college increased 19 percent last year and has been increased by another 5 percent this fall. We're experiencing rising student interest in university arts and science courses; business, interactive media and design programs; and adult education — just to mention a few. To meet student needs and this demand, the college is responding by mounting new sections in these areas as much as we are able.
Wait-lists continue to exist for many programs. In particular, our bachelor of science in nursing and practical nursing programs have two-year wait-lists.
Every indicator that we are looking at now, with both our strategic planning and by just monitoring enrolment, indicates that the enrolments in January will likely increase again. We have seen an increase in demand from both recent high school graduates and individuals returning to the college for retraining.
As more turn to the colleges for training or retraining, the college faces both physical and financial challenges that limit our ability to serve our community. Many of our students are learning on outdated equipment and technology, and many of them just don't get the time they need on this equipment.
The 75 percent reduction in our annual capital allowance grant has significantly reduced our ability to purchase new equipment and to maintain the upkeep of our buildings. To find cost-efficiencies, we need to modernize our facilities and upgrade our systems.
For example, our science labs were designed to accommodate only 16 students. Despite high demand for science programming, we cannot increase the enrolment in lab courses such as biology, which is very much a bottlenecked course for many of the health programs, because of the limitation to our labs.
I think it's so unfortunate, with our Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development indicating that this is the year of science, that we are seeing an increased demand for science and that we are just not able to address that demand.
There are a couple of major shifts, as I'm sure you're well aware, happening in both Canada and the province of B.C. The first is that the baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011, and many millions will follow thereafter. Our economy is moving, as I've already pointed out, particularly in our area, to a knowledge-based economy. There are simply not enough skilled individuals to replace the vast number of workers about to retire.
Two years ago government predicted the skills gap to be approximately 300,000 workers by 2015. The Conference Board of Canada predicts a shortage of 150,000 tradespeople in B.C. alone. We need to grow our workforce through a variety of strategies.
Firstly, we need to increase the percentage of workers with post-secondary education and advanced skill training. Again, I refer to our strategic planning and environmental scanning. In our particular area the number of students leaving the school system without high school graduation is significantly high, and it's something that we really must address.
Secondly, we need to increase participation of under-represented groups such as aboriginal and disabled workers.
Thirdly, we need to improve immigration transition to the workforce through credential transfer and education for employment.
However, as a college we're limited in doing this due to a lack of base funding. Some work can be done, of course, with labour market adjustment funding, and we are most appreciative of that funding. However, this is short-term funding. The time it takes to get a program going, the staff required to do that, only to have that program run for a very short period of time and collapse, and then try and start a different type of program…. It is just draining us entirely, and it's not allowing us to meet the long-term intensive training needs in some of our northern regions.
North Island College is struggling to respond to many budget challenges. The 75 percent reduction in annual capital allowance has meant that we can't maintain our buildings or update aging equipment. We have been forced to reduce the number of classes and programs offered, particularly in the outlying regions. This would be areas such as Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula, Port Alice, Port McNeill, and the list continues on, where we have had to, over the years, pull out of these regions in terms of the programming and course offerings that we used to provide.
We are working hard to do more on line and do more with what we call our ITV or interactive television network, but again, this is costly. It's capital-intensive. It requires the funding support.
We have also worked very hard — I think even quite exemplarily in many ways, when you look at the various colleges and universities around the province — in terms of forming partnerships as a way to expand offerings to students in the north Island and central coast region without adding in additional costs.
What I mean by this is that we have partnered with Emily Carr University to offer a bachelor of fine arts degree in this region. We've partnered with Vancouver Island University to offer a collaborative nursing degree, a liberal arts degree and are now working on an education degree. So we are certainly doing everything that we can to work with our partners to increase options.
We've also been very successful just recently in establishing dual-admission agreements with Emily Carr, Vancouver Island University and now University of Victoria and Royal Roads. This means that a student registering in North Island College in the university arts and sciences will be dually admitted to those other institutions, which certainly takes away their concerns and
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fears about getting into those institutions and allows them to attend education closer to home — at a more reasonable cost, I might add.
We have also worked very, very hard in partnering with Vancouver Island Health Authority, VIHA, to carefully plan health program offerings that meet specific community needs.
I'm pleased that we were able to get what we call one-time-only funding to offer a practical nursing access program in Port Hardy that will begin this January. Again, I emphasize — one-time-only money. We're scrambling. We're working hard to get that up and running, only to have it run for a very limited period of time.
We've expanded our international education in the hope, of course, of bringing in considerable revenue and also to increase the global awareness of our students. However, at the same time, we fear that the changes in government administrative and accounting policies that limit the use of surplus funds will restrict our ability to use the revenues effectively to meet the needs of students.
At a time when we need to be as adaptable as possible, these accounting policies are inhibiting our ability to respond flexibly and efficiently, and we call on the government to make the necessary changes so that we have that flexibility to use our earned revenues in ways that allow us to meet the needs of our students.
In a time when funds are so restricted, really the only option we have is to try and increase revenue through either international education or what we call contract training. Then if we're not able to use those funds or those surplus revenues in a flexible way, it really hampers us yet again.
North Island College is helping B.C.'s economy and investing in B.C.'s future in many ways. Ninety-six percent of B.C. college graduates stay and work in British Columbia. B.C. colleges, and their graduates contribute $7.7 billion in income to the provincial economy. In particular, North Island College returns $3.30 to the local economy for every dollar paid by the taxpayer.
Students from our college are now employed in many sectors of the local economy, such as health, tourism and hospitality, education, service occupations and construction. Also, we have many that have chosen to start their own business in the area.
We began a degree in business administration a few years back, and already we're seeing the impact of having the bachelor of business administration degree offered in the region, in Campbell River and the Comox Valley and Port Alberni. Already we're seeing graduates going out and starting businesses or working for local accounting firms as a result of that degree.
J. Les (Chair): At that point we're going to have it leave it there because of time.
J. Lindsay: I've got four closing points. Can I just quickly go through those?
J. Les (Chair): If you do it in a minute.
J. Lindsay: I'll do it in a minute. Okay.
What do we need from government? These are the most important points.
First and foremost, we require a stable operating base that allows us to meet the demand for new programming and deal with inflationary increases. For the '11-12 fiscal year there needs to be an increase in base budgets that accommodates inflation, contractual and statutory increases and supports expansion of program offerings. Government must address the administrative and accounting policies that I've already elaborated on. This is essential.
Government must look at restoring the annual capital allowance. We have buildings that are falling into disrepair. Government must also, hopefully, confirm that the funding provided through the aboriginal service plan will continue. Finally, we call on government to make an additional funding commitment to support the increase of post-secondary access and success of aboriginal, immigrant and disabled students.
I would like to thank you very much for your time. I'm open to any questions that you might have.
J. Les (Chair): That would be nice, but there just isn't time. Thank you for your presentation. It was very well put together.
Our next presentation is on behalf of Sage Hills Developments — David Russell and Pat English.
D. Russell: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, committee members and Susan as well.
My name is Dave Russell. I'm president of Sage Hills Developments. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to appear before you. We're, of course, not asking for money, but we did want to comment a bit on the government service side of things from a business perspective.
I'd like to start by giving you a bit of background on Sage Hills. This project was conceived and advanced by Vancouver Island investors. While our team is international in scope, the majority ownership remains in British Columbia. It is a proposed new sustainable community offering integrated sports, education and wellness programs on about 2,000 acres of land bordered in this region by the Trent River and the inland highway. It's about a ten-minute drive from this hotel.
The project is firmly located in the knowledge economy space. It features a private sports academy, which will open with 600 live-in students aged about eight to 16 years old and drawn from over 50 countries around the world. Our focus in the sports area is on soccer, ten-
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nis, basketball, hockey, golf and mountain sports, the latter in association with Mount Washington.
A private K-to-12 school complements the academy, as well as a university offering speciality programs and adult education — that, of course, is a private university — a wellness centre, a hotel and a corporate retreat centre for leadership training that builds on and takes advantage of the sports academy presence. Up to 5,000 housing units are to be constructed over 15 to 20 years catering primarily to on-site employees, to the families of students and to the global market.
The Sage Hills will create its own community employment base and offer several benefits to the region. First and foremost, it's a new export industry serving a global market, with total construction expenditures of about $3.1 billion and creating over 19,000 construction jobs over the life of the project. Those numbers were generated through your own provincial input-output models using B.C. Stats folks.
We propose to open in about five years with 700 full-time jobs in sports training, education, wellness and hospitality, and increasing to just over 2,000 jobs at build-out, which will be in about 15 to 20 years. We'll be supporting the tourism sector in the region, including making investments, strengthening the region's air access and working with John Watson's group, who you heard earlier this morning — destination marketing programs and things like that.
We also will be fostering national and international education and technology partnerships and training generated through our commitment to sustainable development. Part of that will, of course, be with folks like North Island College, Vancouver Island University, UBC and so on.
A project of this magnitude with a five-year development timeline for the first phase is…. We're very concerned with the impact of provincial policies on project implementation and long-term viability. During the last few years we've had a tough time. The upheaval in the international financial markets has not been easy and has increased the difficulty for us in completing project financing.
In the region itself local governance restructuring coincided with new regional planning criteria to create some uncertainty and to extend our own planning requirements. In this context, we have a few comments on these broad issues. As was recently highlighted by Minister Coleman and reported in the Vancouver Sun, regulatory requirements from local government and provincial agencies can put some burdens on already considerable development timelines, have an adverse impact on project viability and hinder efforts to attract financing.
However, if government is able to bring greater certainty through prescribed response timelines, with failure to meet such milestones triggering direct ministerial intervention, major projects such as ours would be better able to manage regulatory risk. We applaud that kind of comment that was in the media.
In the case of the recently introduced HST, that will not affect our viability in any way. In fact, we believe it's economically sound for the province to pursue that. The overall tax environment, however, does play an important role in attracting international investors and supporting knowledge economy development. Accordingly, we would encourage any reasonable decrease in the small business tax and similar kinds of mechanisms.
Now let me turn quickly to some observations concerning our investment in the context of the challenges this region faces.
We take the view that our project must be sustainable along economic, environmental, social and cultural lines at two levels. One is within our property boundaries for the project itself, and two is for the broader Comox Valley, contributing to its sustainability objectives.
This approach, for example, has led us to execute a long-term MOU with the K'ómoks First Nation on economic, social and cultural development support. We also plan to assist in fostering greater appreciation of KFN culture and its role in the region's economy. Proactive provincial policies would be welcome to support KFN economic development aspirations as they conclude their economic development strategies and treaty discussions.
The approach has also led us to initiate discussions with the region on many fronts, on everything from the sharing of Sage Hills' sports facilities, which will be considerable, with the community; park development programs, both on and off site — well have 600 kids with a lot of energy; hiking trails and bike trails and so on that we propose to work with the community to co-develop; local procurement policies favourable to the region; agricultural sector procurement; tourism marketing; and education linkages.
You just heard from North Island College. There are opportunities for partnerships in those kinds of areas.
We have a real interest in supporting the region's sustainability. We're actually making an investment in the region, and our success and their success are linked. We have a few comments about some of the issues.
The first is on coordinated regional services. We're a large project. We require a major infrastructure investment in water and sewer, and a regional perspective that the current regime of municipal DCCs is not designed to address. For our part, of course, we acknowledge the financial costs imposed by our project, and we'll work to accommodate local governments to ensure budget neutrality.
It's apparent, to us at least, that the province should assume more leadership in devising new funding formulas that are directly able to address the capital needs of large
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infrastructure investments with multi-jurisdictional implications.
The second relates to the matter of local government tax regimes. We're located in the regional district, and therefore we'll escape some of the costs that the Courtenay and Comox taxpayers have incurred to provide urban services for their communities. Yet our residents will shop in their centres, will drive on their roads, will cross their bridges and so on.
This, in our view, is not fair. So we're taking the unusual step of proposing to make a significant contribution beyond DCCs to a regional infrastructure fund or some similar mechanism. There isn't a mechanism at this stage. We have to work that out with them. Even though we're not legally obligated to do this, it's consistent with our view that our success is linked with their success.
One area that can help here, and we put it on the table for you, is harmonization of DCCs in the region. If the province can assist the region to move towards harmonization, that is something that will clarify investor requirements and inject greater fiscal fairness in the region.
The third area is governance at the regional level. We've noted frustration and challenges that local governments face here in working cooperatively. Many of the decisions that they're making have profound regional implications. The province has initiated a program which currently is involved with the regional growth strategy. It's a good first step.
We suggest that a logical next step is the formation of a regional municipality that represents and can speak on behalf of all residents of the Comox Valley. That can simplify service delivery and infrastructure funding decisions.
I'd just like to close by making a few comments on the broader economic outlook. As folks in the business community, we are facing a number of macro trends — in demographics, global warming and declining real prices for commodities — that are presenting some major challenges for us. In this environment, government's moral and program support for small and medium-sized businesses is essential as we transition from a commodity export economy to a knowledge-based economy.
Government spending, we think, needs to target infrastructure for that new economy and provide support for knowledge businesses as a source of added value. Such infrastructure spending has the additional advantage of supporting regional sustainability and offsetting employment declines associated with the natural resource economy.
Finally and generally, we would encourage more government attention on facilitating the transitions that local governments are struggling to make to strengthen regional decision-making within their areas. Of course, we're most familiar with the Comox Valley. It'll better serve the region's citizens and improve the investment climate.
That is it. Thank you very much for giving me the time.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you. There are a couple of questions.
M. Mungall: Thank you for your presentation. You answered my question later on in the presentation.
J. Les (Chair): There you go.
D. McRae: First of all, thank you, guys, very much for the presentation, and thank you for being such good community citizens on so many different levels. We don't have a project actually with shovels in the ground yet, so it's been nice to see you guys in our Comox Valley.
You talk in your first page about the private university. I know it's totally in the planning stages at this phase, but when you are dealing with that, are you thinking of drawing most of your students from, again, outside of British Columbia? Or would that be an internal pull that you would…?
D. Russell: We would do it at two levels. First would be coordination with Vancouver Island University, North Island College, UBC and UVic to make sure that we're coordinating. What we're looking at especially is programs. For example, we've already been approached by international university interests on things like a sports management program, a health and wellness program and that sort of thing, mainly because of the sports academy and the Performance Institute.
We'd like to make sure that we have that coordination in place and, with that in place, then look at a global market — really building from the ground up. We've already started that discussion in general terms, although it's a bit early days. But we will need that for the design process in any case.
J. Les (Chair): No further questions? Thank you very much for coming.
Our next presentation is from the Comox Valley Transition Society — Heather Ney and Anne Davis. Go ahead.
H. Ney: Good morning. I'm Heather Ney, and I'm the executive director at the Comox Valley Transition Society. With me is Anne Davis, who is a program coordinator. Just very briefly, I wanted to say what we do.
We run the shelter for abused women and children and the counselling programs for women and children who've been abused or exposed to violence. We have the police-based victim services program and the bridging
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employment program through the Ministry of Housing and Social Development. As well, we have opened a thrift store to generate some sustainable revenue, which is what we are talking about today. I'll get started right away.
We can all wrap our heads around funding for health services, policing, the justice system and education, but it is the social services sector within a community that wraps around these big public systems and holds it all together — preventing crisis, intervening when there is crisis and all the while saving the government loads of money.
This morning I'll be speaking about community social services for women who have experienced violence and their children. In 2005, 26 percent of all police-reported assaults in B.C. were related to spousal assault. In the Comox Valley between 2008 and 2009 there has been a 67 percent increase in domestic violence files. We are forecasting another 13 percent increase, all the while recognizing that domestic violence and sexual assaults are under-reported.
The numbers confirm that during economic crisis and uncertainty, family violence increases. In addition to the economic climate contributing to the increase in domestic violence files, local police are also paying attention in a very proactive manner. The local police are referring to social services to provide the support and counselling for these vulnerable victims.
Last year Lilli House, our shelter for women who've been abused and their children, received over 1,300 crisis calls and provided safety to 253 women and children. Since 1992, when the Comox Valley Transition Society was selected by the provincial government to provide social service to women who had been abused and their children, we have served over 10,000 individuals in our core programs, many more than have ever reported to police.
There is inconsistency in the levels of service between communities. In 2004 the provincial government funded 65 new outreach programs. The Comox Valley was not included when the outreach programs were doled out, and therefore women and children in our community do not receive the same level of service as in our neighbouring communities.
In the five years that I have been working in this sector, the requests for service have been increased, along with the costs of providing service, yet there have been very limited increases to funding. What increases we have had, have been limited to union-negotiated wage and benefit increases.
Service hours are being eroded in order to pay the increasing operating costs, and just when we thought we couldn't reduce any further and still maintain quality services to one of the province's most vulnerable populations, the government struck a devastating blow by announcing a sectorwide funding cut last year. Thankfully, you listened, and the decision was reversed.
We need more service, not less. Social service agencies like ours can provide the services economically, effectively and collaboratively. We are asking to be provided with adequate funding, funding which acknowledges inflation as well as the importance of and need for expanded services to victims of violence. These funds are an investment in the health and productivity of our citizens, and failure to invest in the safety and security of women and children is perpetuating the epidemic of violence against women in our own province.
There is evidence-based research that services are needed upstream, where they are most cost-effective. Violence is a vicious cycle, and without prevention and intervention provided at the community level, down the road there will be increased costs related to health issues, lost hours at work, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health concerns, child protection activity, and prosecution.
The Comox Valley Transition Society already embarks on a variety of fundraising activities to fill the deficits in funding and has done so for many years, but it is the government's responsibility to protect and support its citizens.
In your prioritizing of government investment, make it clear that women and children are a priority in our province by increasing the investment in community-based violence against women programs and services.
It has been brought to our attention that, in keeping with government procurement strategies, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General is contemplating the tendering of contracts for the counselling programs that serve women who are victims of violence and their children. It is my understanding that the government non-profit initiative, commitment to action, focuses on building capacity in the non-profit sector by simplifying processes, increasing sustainablility and realizing efficiencies. This commitment to action provides good rationale for not embarking on the RFP process, which will, without question, destabilize the sector and ultimately put women at risk.
Within each of our current contracts there exists a well-developed system of accountability. We have never had a complaint, but if we did, there is a formal process to follow. We, over the years, have invested extensively in training and supporting our staff to acquire the competencies required to work in this complex field. We've developed collaborative partnerships and networks within our community and beyond that have served women and children well.
While we cannot minimize the fear and isolation experienced by women who are living with violent partners, agencies such as ours have to exist a considerable amount of time to prove ourselves trustworthy in terms of confidentiality and consistent service delivery before
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some women will reach out for help. The whole notion of the RFP process and the possibility of services moving from one service provider to another is frightening, as a number of women will inevitably back away, thus increasing the risk of harm to themselves and children.
The cost of embarking on the procurement process would be great. The strain of the process on an agency which already operates on a lean budget would be burdensome and unnecessary. The process would no doubt detract from the actual work of assisting women and their children to cope with and move on from a life of violence.
The cost to a new service provider taking over would be excessive not only in tangible startup costs but in the cost of less tangible items, including building networks, reputation, partnerships, infrastructure and trust.
Are we willing to risk that women and children will fall through the cracks in this process? It is evidenced clearly in the Lee inquest that women who are experiencing violence and their children need the assistance of experienced, well-informed service providers who can use their long-established relationships with community partners to best serve their needs and protect them.
While we support an open tendering process for funding of new programs, where there are concerns regarding the quality of service being provided, we urge the government to rely on the existing system of accountability and complaint resolution.
We respectfully suggest that the most beneficial and cost-effective approach would be to exempt all currently funded and successfully operating programs from this RFP process and avert a situation that at best will be fiscally taxing as well as distracting to program delivery and at worst will be severely disruptive and potentially lethal for women and children who are victims of violence.
For many years we have received funds through the bingo affiliation. As per the guidelines, any program funded by gaming must receive 25 percent of its funding from other sources, and we cannot use those gaming funds to augment any programs for which we have a contract with the government. We cannot use those funds to help curb the deficits in the violence-against-women contracts.
We do raise the additional funds through the community, because the community believes in what CVTS is doing with gaming funds. We are able to provide a whole suite of services which complement our core violence-against-women contracts with the little money provided to us by gaming.
As with most of our programs funded by gaming, we have partnered with another agency to offer the grandparents raising grandchildren support circle — grandparents who have taken on the role of parenting again, often as a result of violence or the effects of violence in the lives of their own children. It's a lonely place, and there are many stressful issues to deal with when you begin parenting again at an advanced age.
The group is attended by 15 grandparents each week and has grown over the last three years. Many, many of the referrals come from the Ministry of Children and Families to this group. This is a place where support is given and information is shared. Gaming pays for this, and grandparents raising grandchildren is the underground welfare system and needs to be supported.
The work these grandparents do and the money they save the child welfare system are incredible. A little bit of gaming funding supports them while they do the important work of raising children. This is just one of many examples of what gaming funds provide in our community and, specifically, our organization.
I urge that the discussion during budgetary process be about lengthening the funding commitment of gaming grants to three years, which would provide stability — this would also reduce the administrative costs at the local and ministry levels; secondly, that the discussion include diverting funds away from service clubs and towards organizations that deliver services and programs directly to those who benefit from that investment in gaming funds.
Finally, the discussion needs to include increasing funding levels to well-established organizations with proven track records of delivering effective services in order that programming be expanded to meet the emerging and changing needs in a community.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. Social services and social service organizations save money and meet the needs of our community's most valuable. Please decide to invest where the funds will make the most difference.
Of course, I have many other things I could speak to, but….
J. Les (Chair): I sort of felt that somehow. We have three people with questions so far.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. In the work I've been doing with the violence-against-women sector, one of the things I've also been hearing, on top of the RFP process, that is likely to destabilize the sector is also the separation of counselling programs and transition homes in terms of ministry and government delivery. We have B.C. Housing doing the transition homes and Sol. Gen doing the counselling programs.
I'm just wondering: from your experience, that separation — has it been quite a hindrance in terms of service delivery on the ground?
H. Ney: Honestly, no. I don't think they should have been separated, because I think one government body needs to know what's happening and be able to coordin-
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ate that way. But really, on the ground level, I don't think we've had a disruption in service delivery because of that separation.
M. Mungall: How about at the administrative level within your organization? Has it put…? Is it more efficient or less efficient?
H. Ney: Probably less efficient. Two different…. Yeah, there are twice as many conference calls and twice as many reports to fill out. Yes.
B. Ralston: I think you made a compelling case against RFPs for existing programs, but you say that it's been brought to your attention that in keeping with government procurement strategies, the Ministry of Public Safety is contemplating the tendering of contracts.
Sometimes the word "contemplating" is used when the government has already made up its mind to do something. Do you know, in fact, that that is the plan? What advice have you been given by the ministry that this plan is in operation?
H. Ney: We've been told it is what they're thinking about doing and that it's likely to go in that direction, but we have been asking for a definitive answer, because it means a lot for our organization to get everything ready to start that process. We have not been told for sure that it's happening.
B. Ralston: If it were to start, when have you been told that it would start?
H. Ney: Well, the contracts end at the end of this fiscal year. They were to end in June this year, but they've been extended to end with the end of this next fiscal year. I think the process will start in January if we have to start writing RFPs.
B. Ralston: Has the ministry explained to you their view of the rationale for undertaking this disruptive process?
H. Ney: I'm sure they…. There has been lots of discussion about it. I've heard their rationale. Could I spew it off right now? No, I couldn't. But it doesn't make sense from a service delivery point of view.
A. Davis: May I add one comment?
J. Les (Chair): Okay, quickly.
A. Davis: Just for anyone who's not familiar with the process, if we have to complete RFPs for all of our programs, we are looking at hundreds of hours of work and many binders full of documents, and that's coming from people who are working flat out already doing front-line work.
J. van Dongen: Thank you for a good report.
My question is actually exactly the same as Bruce's. I appreciate the comments that you've made about the possibility of an RFP process. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.
D. McRae: Thank you very much. Great presentation.
Could you expand just a little bit, in the time provided, just on the grandparents raising grandchildren program and how it's been good for our community but also good for the children they look after?
H. Ney: Well, I had lots more, but I had to cut it down to fit in the ten minutes.
J. Les (Chair): Now you've got half a minute left.
H. Ney: Yeah. Grandparents are very challenged when they're isolated from their peers. This is a place to connect. There are just so many issues they're dealing with — fear of what's going to happen to their grandchildren if something were to happen to them. This provides a supportive place for them.
They're also not provided with the financial supports either, the same way that foster parents are. It's a big strain when they're feeding extra mouths, paying for extra dental bills and they do not have the same access to services or financial assistance as foster parents do. And we know it's better to keep children with their families rather than with non-relations.
J. Les (Chair): Great. Thank you very much for your presentations this morning.
Our next presentation is on behalf of the Courtenay fish and game society — Keith Mackenzie.
R. Watanabe: Good morning. It's not Keith Mackenzie. Keith Mackenzie is hunting, so he has downloaded this work to me.
J. Les (Chair): There are some of us who would rather be hunting too, I'm sure.
R. Watanabe: So is most of our association at the moment.
Good morning, and thank you for this opportunity to allow me to speak. My name is Ron Watanabe. I'm speaking on behalf of the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association. Currently our membership exceeds 2,300 outdoor enthusiasts coming from all walks of life and political affiliations.
This association is the largest affiliate of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. For 73 years this non-profit organiz-
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ation has been dedicated to the protection, conservation and management of fish and wildlife resources and their habitats. To that end we have partnered with many other non-governmental organizations, including the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Comox Valley Project Watershed and B.C. Hydro, to name a few.
In the past our members have enjoyed long and productive working relationships with the Comox Valley regional district, federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the provincial Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Forests and Range on numerous conservation projects. However, these opportunities are becoming fewer and fewer, even though the need is greater due to climate change, urbanization and increased economic and recreational demands on our natural resources.
There are several programs and services that have suffered due to the reductions in the budgets to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests and Range. First, we are concerned that there's been a reduction or a loss of funding for stocking of trout, including steelhead, in lakes and streams. This includes the protection, rehabilitation and maintenance of their habitats.
This association is concerned that the ministry has downloaded some of these responsibilities in this area to local NGOs. For example, this association, in order to enhance fishing opportunities for residents and visitors to the Comox Valley, has spent $15,000 and budgeted a further $15,000 to study the fish populations in Comox Lake.
This is being done in conjunction with one of the ministry's biologists, but the majority of the fieldwork is being completed by volunteers. Once the study is completed, we will make plans to enhance the fishing opportunities for the residents and the visitors to the Comox Valley.
Second, the Roosevelt elk translocation program has been discontinued. This species is on the province's blue list due to their vulnerability to human activity and therefore need to be captured live and moved to remote areas of Vancouver Island.
Third, we live in a vast province four times larger than Great Britain and with a coastline that with its inlets and islands is a total of 27,000 kilometres in length, well in excess of half the earth's equatorial circumference. Over this sprawling area, B.C.'s Environment Ministry deploys slightly more than 13 full-time staff to respond to oil and dangerous goods spills, of which there were nearly 4,000 in the province in the years 2008-2009.
Needless to say, this situation threatens fish and wildlife resources and their habitats simply because this ministry does not have the resources to respond quickly.
Fourth, due to staff reductions, ministry staff are not available to attend meetings with this association and other NGOs dealing with fish, wildlife and habitat issues, nor are they easily accessible by telephone or e-mail to answer any inquiries.
Fifth, with the increase in size of the province's population, the areas of compliance and enforcement of Ministry of Environment regulations have and will continue to suffer. Simply stated, this province requires more conservation officers.
Finally, the $200 million reduction in the Ministry of Forests and Lands budget over the next three years — especially in the areas of forest management, compliance and enforcement of the forestry act — will threaten our ability to boast that we have a "Beautiful B.C." For example, for every four hectares of forests that's lost due to harvesting, fires and disease, this ministry is only replanting about three hectares.
We acknowledge that health care, employment and debt reduction are important, but hunting and recreational fishing generate millions of dollars every year and create many new employment opportunities. The outdoor lifestyle, which is embraced by our membership and others, promotes a healthy lifestyle, maintains and improves physical and mental health thus having the potential to save the province millions in health care costs now and in the future.
Fish and wildlife are renewable resources and should be included in the vision of a healthy and wealthy B.C., but these resources can only be maintained and enhanced if both Ministries of Environment and Forests and Range can fulfil their mandates. This cannot be accomplished through budget cuts. We respectfully request that full funding be restored and/or increased to these ministries in future budgets.
Thank you for your kind indulgence.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. A question from Don.
D. McRae: Thank you, Ron. Two questions, if I may. First of all, just for the sake of maybe members who don't know, the province's blue list, in response to the Roosevelt elk issue. What does it mean to be on the blue list?
R. Watanabe: It's that they are a threatened species.
D. McRae: Great. Okay, fair enough.
Second of all, you get your funding, obviously, from lots of different organizations, but you didn't mention gaming grants. Are gaming grants something that the Courtenay fish and game club received dollars from in the past, or is it something that you guys…?
R. Watanabe: We have never received any gaming grants that I'm aware of — not since my tenure as vice-president.
D. McRae: Fair enough. Thank you.
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D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation, Ron. It was very informative. I notice you're the largest affiliate of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. We had a presentation from the executive director, Patti MacAhonic, and one of her points was the amount of fees that hunters pay in licensing and whether those fees are actually coming back to support some of the initiatives you spoke of here — habitat enhancement and protection and inventories of animals.
What's your sense of that in your association? Are you seeing the return of those dollars that you expected to do that kind of work?
R. Watanabe: The only thing we've heard is that it's gone back into general revenue. So I buy a fishing licence. That money is going to general revenue. We have no idea where it's gone to after that. That's why, I think, as you were alluding to, Patti has asked for an accounting of those moneys — to find out if they are being directed towards habitat, fish and wildlife restoration. She's asked that question, I know. But I've yet to hear an answer.
B. Routley: Thanks, Ron, for your presentation. My question is about enforcement and compliance issues. You mention in your fourth issue here that due to staff reductions, ministry staff are not available to attend meetings. But you also talk about dealing with fish, wildlife and habitat issues. It's certainly alarming to think that we would have legislation that the province isn't capable of enforcing.
Do you have some specific examples for us of issues that have occurred where compliance has been a problem? Are you talking about illegal hunting, fishing or what?
R. Watanabe: All of the above. From my understanding, in terms of poaching, there's as much poaching of fish and wildlife as…. The amount of fish and wildlife they're taking by poaching is almost equivalent to what's done legally. That, to me, is appalling. That's just because we don't have enough officers out in the field.
A case in point. Our nearest conservation officer servicing Comox Valley lives in Campbell River. Yet we have the larger population base here in the Comox Valley. So even if there is one here, that'd be great.
D. McRae: One last question. We've had some presenters worry about access to back country, specifically the Crown land areas. But in our case we don't have a lot of Crown land on the east coast of Vancouver Island. It's mostly privately held forest land. How has access to back country changed in the last five to ten years, if you could?
R. Watanabe: Well, it's my understanding that TimberWest controls most of the property around the lake. When they're logging, they put a rent-a-cop at the entrance to the roads and forbid any members of the public in there unless you're a resident or you have a radio and you have business in there. But there is a safety issue, and we can appreciate that. I don't want to run into a logging truck, so I think it makes good sense.
J. Les (Chair): Seeing no further questions, thank you very much, Ron, for coming this morning. Say hello to your friends that are hunting and fishing this morning.
Next presentation is from the Comox Valley Baseball Association — Steve McNamee.
S. McNamee: Morning, everyone. My name is Steve McNamee. I'm the president of the Comox Valley Baseball Association. As I understand it, the purpose of this meeting is for you to see and hear how people in our community can benefit from $600 million in extra revenue that has come about.
J. Les (Chair): Don't take it all, though.
S. McNamee: My job is to persuade you to spend at least some of that money on youth sports. Researchers at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State found that young people who play sports will actually be better students. They will do better in school. Their social skills are enhanced. The benefit of these sports, for girls especially, is particularly optimistic. It reports that athletically active girls develop increased self-esteem, confidence and have a healthier body image than girls who are not active athletically.
There is also evidence that athletic activity can decrease the likelihood of developing certain cancers — breast cancer, to be specific, in girls — as well as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Youth sports allow children to assume leadership roles. They learn to handle and resolve conflict as well as bonding with teammates and improving relationships with adults, basically helping them to become better citizens. As a coach of minor baseball and hockey, I have witnessed these characteristics being built firsthand over the last 25 years.
The obesity rate in this country is skyrocketing. We are fighting the battle with video games and computers, a battle we cannot win without better facilities.
As an example, I'm here today to mainly represent minor baseball. Our operating budget includes funds from gaming grants that allow us to run our organization fairly well. I say fairly because although our day-to-day operations are being handled well, at the end of the day, there is little or none to improve or maintain our fields. As a result, I would like see some of that $600 million spent on capital projects, specifically in and around the Comox Valley.
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Comox Valley Baseball Association is the only baseball association of our size that does not have a dedicated baseball field, one where only baseball is played, which makes maintenance of our fields and our diamonds very difficult. We do have a great deal of volunteer support to help with our maintenance and keeping our diamonds in the best shape that we have, but it is very difficult when we have football teams and soccer teams and adult baseball teams playing on them as well.
A capital projects budget would allow us to turn our existing fields into a place where we can be proud to host provincial and regional tournaments without risk of injury and have them be aesthetically pleasing to the people who come in to play on our fields. Hosting tournaments such as these allows us to raise funds in ways other than registration fees and government funding.
Revamping our fields would allow us to host high-calibre coaching clinics, thus reducing the cost of sending our coaches to other cities. This would enhance the learning environment of our players, allowing them the luxury of staying home to get the best instruction. We could invite teams from the Premier Baseball League, which is one of the top-rated amateur baseball leagues in the country — teams like the Victoria Mariners or the Parksville Royals — to play exhibition games in our showcase.
I also know soccer wishes to build an all-season turf field to enhance their program, to be competitive with the rest of the Island and the province. They were given the piece of property that they need to build this facility as well. The city made arrangements to make sure that that happened in their meeting on Monday night.
The Comox Valley Minor Hockey Association would love to have another ice surface or two. They have the largest registration, believe it or not, on the Island and the fewest ice surfaces with which to use those hockey players. That also makes complying with Hockey Canada's mandate of 21/2 to three practices for every game very difficult, when you're vying for ice time with over 700 or 800 hockey players.
These are just the sports that I'm involved in. I'm sure that football, rugby, track and field or swimming have their own concerns as well. As a community, we have produced many great athletes. Ty Wishart plays in the Tampa Bay Lightning farm system in Norfolk, Virginia. His twin sister, Tia, had a scholarship to play at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. She also played baseball for Canada's national team. She's the only representative from British Columbia that played on that team. Taylor Green is, as we speak, in Puerto Rico playing for Team Canada in baseball on his break from the Milwaukee Brewers farm system where he plays at the triple-A level in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Huntsville Stars.
These are just three examples of dozens of scholarships and professional athletes from the Comox Valley. The one thing they all have in common is that at some point they had to move to another community that had better facilities than we do. As a wise man once said: "You can have all the talent in the world, but if the arena or the field is not there, it doesn't matter."
Thank you for your time. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them now.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation. I'm a soccer mom, and I've volunteered for numerous volunteer sports before my political career, so I totally get what you're saying.
My question is: what have you done in the Comox Valley with regard to partnerships? You mentioned the municipality. You've mentioned that soccer field. But I'm talking municipality, school district, the feds and the province too — even getting industry partners to assist you to leverage multigovernment grants or funds to provide these sports facilities.
S. McNamee: The city of Courtenay does not allow us to go out and solicit funds from corporate donations because of the advertising that comes along with them. The town of Comox would allow us to do that, but our facilities in general are in Courtenay.
The gaming grants have come in for our organization through the province. The federal government has yet to provide us with an access to funding or an access to help.
When the gaming grant commission came through and said that our grants were going to probably either disappear or get smaller, we started looking for other venues for revenue. The biggest thing that we came up with was being able to host our own association coaching clinics and tournaments to increase the revenue for our association in general.
J. Thornthwaite: I've just got one follow-up. For the folks that disagree that industry should be allowed to advertise, they maybe should come into the Rogers Arena, or the GM Place, in Vancouver and see what we were able to accomplish over there with partnerships.
S. McNamee: You're preaching to the choir.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. We've heard from some sports organizations this year, and we heard from many last year in smaller communities like the ones you're representing that have had great difficulties with the gaming grant cuts, providing not just the excellence that you talk about but the opportunity — right? — which is, I think, highlighted in your presentation even more.
What have you heard…? What has the impact been on the gaming grant situation as far as your organiza-
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tion goes? What kinds of recommendations do you have along those lines?
S. McNamee: Well, our organization has been fairly lucky. We run our program on the money that's given to us as well as the registrations that we get, and our day-to-day functions are there without, really, too much of a problem. We have enough volunteer help and people that are doing things for us just in and around the community, as far as parents and coaches and things like that, that our day-to-day running of the organization is not affected by the cuts that were made to our gaming grants.
The problem we have — and it's increasing throughout the years I've been involved — is that there's not enough at the end of the day to squirrel away a little bit so that next year we can take a baseball diamond and level it, put new material in and make it safe for the players that are playing on it. The capital projects are the things that we're looking toward the government for funding, in a bigger way than the actual gaming grants right now.
D. McRae: Thank you very much for the presentation, Steve. I heard most of it from the back door.
S. McNamee: I have a very loud voice.
D. McRae: You've obviously talked about capital projects. One issue that I was going to ask for some more information about, actually, was coaching professional development. One thing is to have the actual infrastructure there to have the programs, but you also need to have great coaches. I know that you and many others in the Comox Valley have put so many hours into coaching, but is there the support for professional development of coaching that needs to be there?
S. McNamee: Up until three years ago we had a program here that was run by a gentleman by the name of Carl Bitonti. He was probably the premier coach that I've seen in my lifetime.
Believe it or not, he coached me when I was 16 years old. He ran a program called the Comox Valley Blizzard, a bantam triple-A program geared towards players at 13 and 14 years of age. It was their job to maintain the field. They started in January; they finished in September. They maintained the field and kept things in control. As his life progressed and his children got married, he decided to back off a little bit, and we really haven't had the opportunity to have anybody take over.
There are several people that I play baseball with and that I coach with throughout the Comox Valley who have made it their mission to bring that program back. In order for us to do that, we definitely have to send them away to clinics in other cities, not to gain the knowledge, because these men are baseball aficionados…. They all have an idea of what they are doing, and they do it very well.
But the high-level clinics that are involved…. Because of B.C. minor baseball's procedures and their rules, generally they have to go and take exams and be evaluated by the B.C. minor umbrella before they can get that designation. The opportunities are available.
We've made a mandate for Comox Valley Baseball that if you want to coach in our association, it's not going to cost you any money. So if you have to take a clinic, we send you to it, and we cover your expenses.
If we were to have the facilities here to be able to bring those clinics to our association, not only does it get our coaches the experience, the technique and the teaching that they need; they can be used as revenue generators for our association.
B.C. minor baseball sets out a price. "This is what we are going to charge you." We can add to that or take away from it — no matter — in any way we want, to make sure that our expenses are covered and maybe just make a little bit to pay for our umpires or do something similar to that.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you. I just have a question, Steve. I realize that in every community the traditions and history and background and what have you are very different. My experience, though, is that in most communities, when it comes to facilities of these types, whether it's soccer fields or baseball diamonds, the municipality is involved in the care and maintenance and making sure that they're in good shape.
I'm getting from your presentation that that's not quite the same here and that you're having to put a fair bit of your resources into that?
S. McNamee: I don't want to badmouth our community…
J. Les (Chair): I don't either, by the way.
S. McNamee: …but our association does put a lot of effort and a lot of money and time into making sure that our facilities are kept to the minimum standards that they are at this point, not necessarily the maximum standards. The city of Courtenay helps us as much as they possibly can, but we have large facilities that are old. Trying to keep up is a lot more difficult than it looks or sounds.
They bring in the material that they believe is usable for our associations. The problem is that it's inexpensive and costs us as an association roughly a hundred pairs of pants every year because it's made of a brown shale product which tears cloth and flesh very easily.
One of the ideas that we've come up with is to take that material out and bring in a product called red cinder, which is a little harder but has less impact on the equipment that we use and the material and the people
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that we use. They have balked at that because of the cost. They don't want to have to come up with that extra money. If we come up with the extra money, they will be more than happy to help us and do whatever it takes to make sure those fields are maintained and maintained properly.
J. Les (Chair): Has the municipality made any grant applications under the various programs that have been available over time to improve that recreational infrastructure?
S. McNamee: Not that I am aware of.
J. Les (Chair): All right. I guess that's all the time we have, Steve. Thank you for everything you do in minor sports, and thank you for your presentation.
That concludes all of the registered presenters we had this morning, but we have a couple of people who are here who wanted to come to the open-mike portion of our meeting. I believe Roger Kishi was actually here before anyone else this morning, so he has been very patient. He is joined by Cora Beddows, and they're here on behalf of the Wachiay Friendship Centre.
R. Kishi: Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee. I'd like to begin our presentation by acknowledging the traditional territory of the Comox First Nation.
The Wachiay Friendship Centre welcomes the opportunity to speak to the committee today. Wachiay has recently celebrated its 15th anniversary of providing services to the off-reserve urban aboriginal population in the Comox Valley. Our mission statement is "To build a strong community rooted in the philosophy and cultures of our peoples."
The theme of these public consultations is "Building B.C. for your family," and the government's partnership, through the new relationship with First Nations, is of particular importance to B.C.'s aboriginal friendship centres and off-reserve urban aboriginal population that we serve.
What we're here today to request is the consideration and perhaps the support of the standing committee in our effort to secure a long-term funding commitment from the government of British Columbia. We are requesting that Minister George Abbott, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, dedicate $3.1 million annually to sustain the vital role friendship centres play in the lives of over 145,000 aboriginal people living off reserve in this province. We think that the committee's support or endorsement will go a long way in securing this much-needed funding.
Lasting economic prosperity cannot be realized if the educational, health and housing needs of aboriginal people are not met. Aboriginal people rank at the bottom of almost every measure we use in Canada to gauge well-being, health and economic potential. Our friendship centre provides a wide variety of services that are proven to help off-reserve aboriginal people lead healthy and productive lives, including employment readiness; homeless outreach and prevention; and support programs for children, youth, families and elders.
B.C.'s friendship centres receive annual grants from the province's first citizens fund. For the past 20 years the annual allotment has been $720,000 for friendship centres, approximately $30,000 per centre. This fiscal year first citizens fund funding was reduced by 17 percent, which resulted in a reduction with each friendship centre only receiving $25,000.
These changes have the potential to perpetuate further social harm for generations to come and will result in significant cost increases for other government agencies — such as health, child protection and social services, the court system and the correction system — as child apprehension rates rise, poverty levels rise and overall hardship magnifies.
Now is not the time to roll back and restrict funding for friendship centres. Instead, the opportunity exists to capitalize on the considerable progress we've made over the decades and establish a level of funding that matches the level of need expressed by aboriginal people who live off reserve, a population that represents over 60 percent of B.C.'s total aboriginal population.
The B.C. government has made important investments in on-reserve First Nations communities, including a $100 million targeted investment in the new relationship trust. While it is essential that these investments continue to be made, it is equally important to invest in the capacity of the off-reserve population through this $3.1 million capacity fund for friendship centres.
Our proposal to the government is as follows: (1) establish a long-term capacity fund for B.C. friendship centres, protected within the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation baseline funding; (2) transfer the existing first citizens fund funding into the new long-term capacity fund; and (3) top up the long-term capacity fund to $3.1 million in order to match the annual sum we receive from the federal government's aboriginal friendship centre program.
As the province of British Columbia works to create more jobs that are good for the economy, the government of B.C. needs to consider B.C.'s fastest-growing population group, aboriginal people, as a significant source of future labour. Most aboriginal people in B.C. live off reserve, and friendship centres are in the best place to support this community through their employment support services, health services and resources for overall social and economic well-being.
In order to maintain a sustainable level of support for off-reserve and urban aboriginal people, it is important
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to invest in this $3.1 million annual capacity fund for B.C. friendship centres.
Thank you for listening to us today, and we would welcome any questions.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Roger.
N. Letnick: Thank you, Roger, for being with us all morning. It's good to see you in the audience.
Could you talk a little bit about the participation rates in post-secondary education amongst the First Nations communities in the province? You talked about the need for us to recognize the aboriginal population as being the fastest-growing population and to keep our economy driving forward. My understanding is that the participation rate of aboriginals is lower than the provincial average. Is there anything that we can do, any dollars that we can target specifically to improve that participation rate?
R. Kishi: I think you can go to a more basic level, and that is the graduation rate of aboriginal students. That demographic is one of the lowest for graduation rates.
We have a hugely successful program here in the Comox Valley that the friendship centre partners in through the school district. It's called the Nala'atsi program. It is an aboriginal alternate high school program and is part of the alternate high school programs, but it has an aboriginal focus to it.
I don't know the exact numbers, but they are graduating students through this alternate program, students who have fallen through the cracks of the mainstream programs and even through other alternate programs. Over the last four years we've probably graduated close to 75 aboriginal students who, without this program, would not have completed high school.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation. A lot of times what comes up when we're dealing with issues like this is the difference in funding or support on and off reserve. I know that isn't necessarily all us, the province. I know that the feds have something….
I'm just wondering. Could you give us — and you don't have to do this now; maybe in a submission that you could do later — some suggestions on how we can help solve that difference in support that we would give to, say, young folks on or off reserve?
C. Beddows: I'd like to just say something. My name is Cora Beddows. I'm the president of Wachiay Friendship Centre. I'm a very good example of an off-reserve aboriginal person. I am a status Indian. I have Kwakiutl status from Fort Rupert.
Friendship centres usually have people who have lived on reserve — or their families have lived on reserve — and maybe have come off of reserves. It could be from all parts of Canada.
When we come into the city or a town or something like that, we find that the supports that we had on reserve — family, chief and council — are no longer there, so we're kind of adrift. So now the friendship centre focuses on the culture and the well-being of aboriginal people off reserve.
I think that one of the best things that any government could do is support the friendship centres in their province. There are 23 friendship centres in British Columbia, plus the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, which oversees the programs that we have. The culture and the support that we give to these young people, I think, is one of the reasons these young people are graduating. It's also the good work of the teachers and the people that are doing that in the school system.
Also, one of the things that makes Nala'atsi a very good program is the support that they receive from the friendship centre here.
I don't know if that'll help you a little bit.
J. Thornthwaite: And they're all off reserve.
C. Beddows: They're 90 percent off reserve.
R. Kishi: If I can just give a short response to your question about it. I think that there's not a lot of awareness of how funding that comes through the federal government, through Indian and Northern Affairs, is to First Nations people and First Nations government who are on reserve. Even the federal funding that the friendship centres get does not come from Indian Affairs. It comes from Heritage Canada, so it's a separate ministry of the federal government.
Some of the frustration that the urban aboriginal and the off-reserve population in B.C. is facing right now is the number of tripartite processes that are going on with First Nations — between the federal government, the provincial government and First Nations — and that the voices of off-reserve urban aboriginal people are not at the table because we're not a part of the tripartite process.
Informally, we are involved in the discussions with our First Nations brothers and sisters who are at the table. But a formal voice for 60 percent of the aboriginal population is not at those tables.
J. Thornthwaite: That would be something that would be good to pass on to us.
D. McRae: Thank you very much for your presentation. Just for context, there are 65,000 people in the Comox Valley; Comox First Nations on reserve, about
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300. How many people would a friendship centre locally serve?
R. Kishi: That's an interesting question, because in the 2006 census it indicated that there were 2,400 people who self-disclosed as being aboriginal. But based on figures that we've been told from the school district, based on school enrolment and family size, the school district estimates that there are 4,000 aboriginal people living in the Comox Valley. So it's a big gap. We're thinking that it's around 4 percent to 5 percent of the overall population of the Comox Valley.
B. Routley: Thank you, Roger and Cora, for your presentation. Certainly, coming from the Cowichan Valley region, we're familiar with the fine as well as very supportive work that you do.
Could you give us some idea of some of the additional things that you would like to do? Obviously, when you're talking about a significant increase…. I know that we're all aware of the need to encourage youth to continue in school, and again, you're to be congratulated for your work in that regard. But what would be the additional kinds of programs that you would embark on to try to promote more education and other programs in friendship centres?
C. Beddows: If I could just answer that, in the last three months we've lost our two largest youth programs at the friendship centre from lack of funding. We have a very, very successful…. It's called Sled Dog Skool. It actually teaches youth how to do dog sledding here in the Comox Valley, and then they take them north, too.
The whole thing of it is for self-esteem, self-reliance, how to handle animals — just different things that actually build these kids from, sometimes, street kids that come into the friendship centre and put them on their feet and start them off in a leadership role within the community.
I'm going to turn this over to Roger, because he probably has some other ideas too. But of all things, we need funds for our youth that do not change yearly. You know, we put together a program, we hire good people, and then we lose them because we've run out of money.
R. Kishi: The request that we're presenting today — and, really, it's a provincial request for all friendship centres, the $3.1 million — is for a long-term capacity fund. That would work out to about $85,000 per friendship centre. That capacity funding really is to support the everyday functioning of the friendship centre. All the friendship centres, for the programs that they're offering, are looking wherever they can to get program funding.
Because it's social programming or social services that we're doing, 80 percent to 90 percent of that funding is to pay wages for the staff that delivers the programs. The sources for the actual programs that we deliver are coming from various provincial ministries, some through federal ministries, some through foundations, community foundations, grants. We receive gaming funding as well, so we've been tied in with all of the changes that have happened around gaming.
In particular, anyways, about this long-term capacity fund, it's really to support the everyday operations of our friendship centre, because it's only a small portion of each of the program funding that we get from different funders that we can actually allocate to administration or the operation of the friendship centre — paying the rent, paying the phone bill, having a bookkeeper, and things like that.
J. Les (Chair): Roger, we're going to have to leave it. Because you'd been waiting so long, I gave you the full 15 minutes that everybody else got. I appreciate your patience, and thank you for coming.
Next we will hear from Matthew Blecha, who, similarly, has been very patient and waiting a long time this morning.
M. Blecha: Mr. Chairman, Finance Committee members, colleagues and guests, my name is Matthew Blecha. I'm the president of the Comox Valley United Soccer Club. It's a very exciting time for us at the soccer club. We feel that we've come a very long way toward our goal to bring artificial turf fields to the Comox Valley. Here's a quick glimpse of what our hopes are.
Recently we've gained a lot of support for that project, and we feel now that our biggest hurdle is financial. I'm here today to inform you more about the project and ask for the provincial Ministry of Finance to consider us when you formulate your budget for next year.
To that end, I'd like to touch briefly on four points about the project. They include our club, why artificial turf, why the Comox Valley and the budget. So first, our club. The Comox Valley soccer club is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization whose primary goal is to promote the enjoyment of and participation in the sport of soccer.
In 2007 the Comox Valley–Strathcona regional district commissioned a study on upgrading local playing fields, and the resulting Yates report recommended the selection of a location for a major soccer field complex with two artificial turfs and amenities, at an estimated cost of $3 million. Last year, in 2009, our club made an official presentation to the CVRD with the goal of constructing just such a facility at the Valley View field here in the Comox Valley.
As Steve from baseball mentioned earlier, just on Monday in the Comox Valley Echo it's reported that the Courtenay city council voted unanimously to support the concept of an artificial turf complex with lights, located at the Valley View Park, opening the door for pro-
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ject planning to continue. So that's a little bit about our club.
Second, why artificial turf? Here are a few reasons. One is that it will help to increase participation in soccer, improving the overall health and well-being of our community. I note that it's a value promoted by the provincial ActNow B.C. program.
Two is that the artificial turf fields would enable us to host large, high-profile competition and events, which will increase tourism. We recently hosted the B.C. Seniors Games. We were the soccer venue, and it was a tremendous success. We had seniors from all across the province come and play, and they all spent their dollars in our Comox Valley region. I might point out also that the provincial Minister of Healthy Living, Ida Chong, was in Courtenay recently, and she advocated more high-quality sport-hosting events when she was here.
A third reason is that the overhead lighting towers that are proposed here would enable us to play after dark, which is huge in the fall and winter months. It enables us to play, basically, year-round. It's not just for us but for other clubs as well — football, rugby, baseball. Well, baseball….
S. McNamee: Be careful.
M. Blecha: I'll be careful with baseball, because you're watching.
Then lastly, the project will help to stimulate the local economy.
The third item is: why the Comox Valley? Soccer is huge in the Comox Valley. We have approximately 1,500 registered members playing soccer with our club, making us by far the biggest sports club in the area. An artificial turf field complex would bring us up to standard with neighbouring communities, including Nanaimo and Ladysmith. Other fields exist in Duncan and Powell River, and I understand Campbell River just had a referendum passed giving them approval to build their first field.
The last item I want to talk about is the budget. An estimated cost for a field like this, for phase 1, would be $1.2 million to $1.5 million, and that's just for this one field with four lights. For the whole thing, it would be from $2.4 million to $3 million. Our club has already set aside and committed $200,000 for this project, and in fact over time we plan and hope to be able to contribute double that amount using various means of our own fundraising.
We are hoping for funding collaboration from all levels of government, and we feel that the project is eligible for the national infrastructure funding program also intended to stimulate the economy.
In conclusion, in the last decade the Comox Valley soccer club has had an excellent reputation towards the betterment of our community, and our goal is to continue on that path and to bring a state-of-the-art artificial turf field to the valley. We hope that the provincial government will consider us as it formulates the budget for next year.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Matthew. I have a couple of questions, from Jane first.
J. Thornthwaite: Thanks, and I know you were here before, so I won't repeat my comment from before.
Is that close to a school?
M. Blecha: Yes. This is Mark Isfeld School right here, and Valley View School is right here as well.
J. Thornthwaite: So it could be used for the school kids as well.
M. Blecha: Absolutely. We've consulted with the school district, and they're conditionally on board as well.
J. Thornthwaite: Okay. Yeah, as I said before, if you can get all levels of government but also get some industry in there that's interested.... I know that the other gentlemen have mentioned some of the barriers. I know that that has worked really well in other areas, including my own in North Vancouver. We were able to actually put a turf on there as well, around it. So you could even hit the track and field people.
If you can get some industry people involved, that really increases…. And then shops. There are all sorts of potential for the partnerships.
D. McRae: When I was on the local government, there was the playing field initiative, where the cities of Courtenay and Comox and the regional district all contributed X number of dollars towards the playing field strategy, and it worked out really well. We got a whole bunch of new playing fields in the Comox Valley.
Is there a taste in the Comox Valley for that initiative to keep on going and basically reinvigorate it with new dollars, new projects — whether it's baseball, whether it's soccer?
M. Blecha: Absolutely. As you refer, in 2001 there was a phase 1 of the field implementation strategy, and that was only phase 1. This is basically phase 2. We've been working very closely with the municipalities, and they're endorsing the project. So in answer to your question, yes, very much so.
D. McRae: So are you looking for capital dollars, maybe from gaming grants or some other source, to sort of add to what your organization or other organizations have put forward, plus municipalities, plus maybe money from the federal government?
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M. Blecha: It's very much a collaborative affair. But in answer to your question, yes, we're looking for all sources of funding. Now that we've received approval-in-principle for the location, we're just embarking on approaching all levels of government. We feel confident that we will work together on this one.
D. McRae: Perfect. Thank you very much.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. I'm kind of wondering about how things are going from the municipal angle, and not because I'm provincial government trying to pass the buck by any stretch. Like many of my colleagues here, I come from municipal government.
In my experience on the Nelson city council, it was our responsibility to do most of the funding and most of the work around field and sports field use, and so on and so forth. That's kind of why the question went to Steve McNamee about where the municipality is on this.
On that end I'd like to know: where is the municipality on this? You explained a little bit to my colleague Don McRae, but if they're endorsing it, I want to know how much. Is there money tied to that, or is it goodwill?
M. Blecha: The answer to your question is that it's still in the early stages. Monday was a major step for us. I made a presentation to city council, not for the purpose of obtaining funding but more for the purpose of being permitted to have the land. Now that that has been granted, we're going to embark on the next stages of this.
It was just fortuitous that that moment occurred previous to this presentation. This is really our first major presentation seeking public funding. We have a good working relationship with the municipalities, and we will be approaching them, as well, on this front. Thus far there's no financial commitment.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Well, thank you, Matthew. That's an ambitious project. Good luck in your future campaign to put it all together. It's, I think, very worthwhile. No question about that. I appreciate you coming this morning, and I appreciate your patience as well.
That concludes the presentations that we have this morning.
The committee adjourned at 11:27 a.m.
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