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
Friday, October 8, 2010
Douglas Fir Committee Room
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, 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 9:06 a.m.
2. Opening statements by John Les, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
1) North Okanagan Neurological Association (NONA) Child Development Centre
4. The Committee recessed from 9:26 a.m. to 9:35 a.m.
2) North Island Community Services Society
3) Board Voice Society of B.C.
4) British Columbia Aboriginal Mine Training Association
5) Mount Waddington Health Network — housing committee
Councillor Nikki Shaw
6) Childhood Obesity Foundation
Dr. Tom Warshawski
5. The Committee recessed from 10:59 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
7) Rodrick Baziw
6. The Committee recessed from 11:10 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
8) Conayt Friendship Society
7. The Committee adjourned at 11:33 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
Friday, October 8, 2010
Issue No. 35
* 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
George Girouard (Executive Director, Conayt Friendship Society)
|Leonard Jackson (B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association)|
|Laurie Sterritt (Executive Director, B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association)|
Witnesses (Port McNeill):
|George Ewald (Mount Waddington Health Network — Housing Committee)|
|Traci Fontana-Wegelin (Executive Director, North Island Community Services)|
Alyson Hagan-Johnson (Board Voice Society of B.C.)
|Nikki Shaw (District of Port Hardy; Mount Waddington Health Network — Housing Committee)|
Helen Armstrong (Executive Director, NONA Child Development Centre)
Dr. Tom Warshawski (Chair, Childhood Obesity Foundation)
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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2010
The committee met at 9:06 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Good morning to everyone. My name is John Les. I'm the MLA for Chilliwack and the Chair of this parliamentary committee.
I'd like to welcome everyone here this morning and thank you for taking the time to participate in this process.
Each year in preparation for the next year's budget, the Minister of Finance releases a prebudget consultation paper by September 15. That paper presents a current fiscal forecast and also identifies key issues that need to be addressed in the next budget. It provides a focus for the consultations of this committee and includes information on how members of the public may provide their views on budget priorities. Copies of that consultation paper are available for everyone, either in the room here or on line.
The Committee on Finance and Government Services is the parliamentary committee which is responsible for conducting public consultations on the forthcoming provincial budget. Our committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 15 of this year.
In total we are holding 14 public hearings, in each region of the province, and we've also scheduled three video conferencing sessions to hear from residents of the more rural communities living in remote areas of B.C. This is the second year that we have tried this consultation process.
As I said, we are going to be holding hearings in 14 different locations, and in addition to public hearings, there are a variety of other ways that British Columbians can share their ideas with us. We accept written submissions by letter or 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.
Committee members carefully consider all the public input that we receive, whether it's an oral presentation made here today, an on-line survey form, a submission in writing or an audio or video clip. Our deadline to receive submissions is Friday, October 15.
At today's meeting each presenter speaks for ten minutes, with up to five additional minutes allowed for members' questions. Time permitting, there will also be an open-mike session near 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 Services. 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 a meeting transcript, a live audio webcast of this meeting is also produced and available on the committees website to enable interested listeners to hear the proceedings as they occur, and an archived copy of the audio broadcast will also be retained on the committees website.
At this point I'd like to ask the members of the Finance Committee to introduce themselves.
J. van Dongen: John van Dongen, MLA for Abbotsford South.
J. Thornthwaite: Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver–Seymour.
J. Rustad: John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes.
D. McRae: Don McRae, MLA for the Comox Valley.
N. Letnick: Norm Letnick, MLA for Kelowna–Lake Country.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Good morning. Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine; Deputy Chair of the committee.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston. I represent Surrey-Whalley.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, for the Cowichan Valley.
J. Les (Chair): Also joining us today is the Clerk to our committee, Susan Sourial, as well as Kate Ryan-Lloyd. Also, staffing the Hansard desk are Monique Miller and Jean Medland, who will be recording and preparing the written transcript of this meeting.
With that, I would like to call our first witness. In Vernon this morning is Helen Armstrong.
Helen, please go ahead.
H. Armstrong: I have to start off my presentation by apologizing that you don't have my written submission in front of you. I was not aware that I had to send it in advance. I thought I was actually doing something different, so I brought it with me. If I can ask your patience, I would like to speak to it, and then I will send it to you as soon as I get out of this meeting.
J. Les (Chair): That'll be fine.
H. Armstrong: First of all, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you this morning. I'm here on behalf of the North Okanagan Neurological Association, which in Vernon is known as the NONA Child Development Centre. We have been around since
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1975. This is our 35th anniversary of providing service to children and youth with special needs.
As a non-profit charity, NONA has also received most of its funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development. We also partner with the Interior Health Authority in providing assessments to children under the age of six and over the age of six for autism spectrum and fetal alcohol. Additionally, we partner with the Ministry of Education through our Early Childhood Development Coalition.
Today I bring to you three recommendations I would like to you to consider as members of the Select Standing Committee on Finance.
Recommendation 1 is that the B.C. government allocate a minimum of $30 million to address and eliminate the wait-list for early intervention and school therapies. These include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. These funds should be allocated in a timely, equitable and consistent manner throughout the regions of the province.
The issue at hand with early intervention therapies is that while there has been a real dollar increase over the last few years in funding, over the last eight years the demand for these services has been far greater than the funding increases. Simply put, we are continually falling behind.
I speak locally, now, around our wait-lists. We have 99 children under the age of six waiting for speech services. That equates to approximately a 15-month wait. We have 66 children that are waiting for physiotherapy or occupational therapy. These children who are waiting to get these services are sitting there not being prepared to go to school.
Either they will age out prior to going to school and not receive any service, or they will be pushed into a group situation so that we can get something done in the last six months prior to kindergarten. If they were properly funded, these children would receive this required service and intervention and be ready to learn when they show up at the school door.
As per the strategic plan from the province of British Columbia, the goal is that the percentage of vulnerable children entering the school system be down to 15 percent by 2015. This is known as the 15 by 15 — an excellent goal for us to strive for. However, if we are going to be able to reach that goal, we have to have a dramatic investment in our services for children.
Currently, as per the B.C. smart family report card for 2010, over 53 school districts, our vulnerable children are at 30 percent and over — the first time ever to be that high. Early vulnerability includes children that struggle with holding a pencil or following instructions, or children that have difficulty communicating, speech delays, that leads them to high levels of frustration and anxiety.
Early intervention therapy services can address these things, and a child can be ready for school and ready to succeed. The number of $30 million is a provincial number, and it is a number that comes from the tracking and cost history of children currently receiving service. As a member of the B.C. Association of Child Development and Intervention, NONA supports this costing.
I understand that next week you will be receiving a more thorough costing from Bruce Sandy, who is the provincial advocate for BCACDI. I also understand that you have received presentations from Comox and Prince George. Hopefully, you will receive more from child development centres that encourage this investment in our children so 15 by 15 can be met.
The second recommendation is to maintain or increase the service levels of all MCFD-contracted services for children and youth with special needs. While the investment in early intervention therapy is our priority, we don't want to see the other services be reduced. As a matter of fact, we would love to see them increased.
We have many wonderful programs that support families and children. We have the infant development program that sees children from birth to three. We have supported child development and family support that help and assist families to be able to possibly go back to work or to be able develop their parenting skills. These programs are vital to families and vital to children and youth with special needs.
We also have fetal alcohol programs and key worker programs. All of these are successful in helping families, and their demand for them is vast.
Over the last year we have watched MCFD and our local office struggle with their budget targets, and they're doing a valiant job in trying to meet those targets. We at NONA, as well, have tried very hard to reduce anything that we can in order to meet the rising costs that are still being funded at the same level.
There is just not anything else to be done at NONA. All of the fat has gone, and we are hoping that when you come to decisions around distribution of funds, you will leave those services for children and youth with special needs alone.
The third and last recommendation regards children over the age of 12. We would like to see the increase of available funding for services for children and youth over the age of 12. Currently in the North Okanagan there are very limited services for children and youth with special needs over the age of 12. It is like a door closes on these youth and their families at a time when learning life skills is so important.
We see children here in Vernon that are sent off, and they are bullied. Or they have no friends, they have no boundaries, they have no abilities, and they have no training in order to be able to go into the adult world as a working individual, as an employed individual. The supported
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child development program does not have the funding to be able to provide any service to the children of that age group.
Additionally, there needs to be a program that is developed with an investment of funds to meet the appropriate service level for this age group and provide a continuum for them to be successful into adulthood.
The ministry is currently looking at creating a youth program. We support the development of a youth program. However, if there is no funding attached, we are very concerned that it will not be implemented or that the funding will be taken from an existing program that is vital to the success of the children they currently serve.
So we are asking for more money in our recommendation 1. We are asking for more money but no cuts, at the very least, in recommendation 2. And we are asking for you to look out for those children that are over the age of 12 and have a special need.
The children and youth that we serve and their families need timely and effective service. To wait for 15 months for a child that is three is unacceptable. We can do better. We can meet our targets, our great goals. But we need an investment, and we need support at the ground level.
I have come here today to ask you to consider these recommendations, recommendations that we feel would help us in the North Okanagan, would help us provincially and would help us with our most vulnerable children and help them to be successful and contributing members of our society.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Helen. I have several members who have questions for you.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation.
I just want to get this clear as far as your asks. As you had mentioned, we had people from Comox and Prince George as well. You are requesting $30 million for early intervention to prevent wait-lists. You are asking the MCFD to either maintain or, obviously, increase what they're already doing, which you are happy with. Then you want additional funding, but you haven't specified how much, for the supported child program for over-12-year-olds.
In your submission that you give us in the near future, if you could specifically answer those questions, that would be helpful.
H. Armstrong: Okay. I would just like to say that in the first recommendation you're correct. We're asking for more money to eliminate those wait-lists for early intervention therapies. In the second recommendation we certainly are asking you to maintain or increase provincial service. I think I heard you say that I'm satisfied with the level of service that there is, and I would disagree with that. We would always want to increase that service, because we have high demand for it.
The third recommendation, and I will point this out when you get my written presentation. I don't know if the program that would serve children over the age of 12 is properly housed in supported child development. I believe it could well be a separate youth program, which I do think the ministry is currently investigating. I wouldn't want to leave you with the understanding that I feel that would be an increase to supported child development.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much for the presentation. We've heard similar presentations from around the province. It's very disturbing that there are 99 children under the age of six waiting for services. And the 15-month wait-list — I find that very, very concerning.
You mentioned an eight-times increase in demand for services. Can you give me some idea about why you think that is? Sorry, it was over the last eight years maybe — an increase in services and demand. Is it because of other cuts to other areas that people are now looking to your organization? What do you think is behind that demand increase?
H. Armstrong: It is over the last eight years since we've been tracking wait-lists. It's not eight times. I think it is that we are identifying children far better now than we were eight years ago. We have many programs at the community level, out in the community, and identifying children through preschool to community groups. We have also done an excellent job in educating all of the people that work with children and identifying that a speech delay can be addressed.
Our assessments. We have an IHCAN assessment clinic in our building on the third floor. That didn't exist in our North Okanagan area eight years ago.
We might be a victim of our own success, because we are identifying these children and wanting to provide service to them, and I think that's a wonderful thing. What's not wonderful is that we identify them, and then we don't serve them. You have to wonder how that can be acceptable to a parent.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Helen. There are no further questions. I want to thank you for taking the time to present this morning to the committee. You have probably noticed that we're having a few technical issues, and we apologize for that. Thanks for persevering.
H. Armstrong: Well, thank you for hearing me. I appreciate the time, and happy Thanksgiving.
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J. Les (Chair): Likewise.
We will now move to Merritt and see if we have a presenter there. We have a room in Merritt. I don't see anybody there.
Port McNeill would be the next one. There's no one there yet, either, so why don't we recess for ten minutes.
The committee recessed from 9:26 a.m. to 9:35 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): In Port McNeill I believe we have Traci Fontana-Wegelin all set and ready to go.
T. Fontana-Wegelin: Good morning, and thank you for being available to hear my voice. It is my hope this morning that in doing so you will hear the voice of our communities here on the north Island on Vancouver Island.
My name, as you heard, is Traci Fontana-Wegelin, and I am the executive director of North Island Community Services society. This morning I'll be talking about community social services, because I think what's happening to the network of services in B.C. that help people through challenging times really does need to be talked about.
I believe the social safety net is being slowly unravelled, and our children and our grandchildren may pay dearly for that. To introduce our agency, North Island Community Services is a small community social services agency that was founded in 1978. We serve over nine communities in our region of Mount Waddington, and for those of you that are unfamiliar with this region, it's two hours north of Campbell River.
Our agency serves diverse needs in our community. We offer programming from a thrift store to a daycare to a local paratransit. Currently we have 12 different programs in our agency. This morning I'll be focusing on some pressing issues within three of those programs in particular — our family centre, Huckleberry House daycare and our Community Links program.
Our family centre is located in an old school building in Port McNeill. It is a centre that is open and available to families, teens, toddlers and has programming within the community for parenting courses, Toddler Time and Promising Babies. The coordinator who manages the family centre is only part-time. She does what she can within that time, but sadly, programming for teens is not available within the time she has.
Currently we have volunteers who run our teen centre through the family centre. They do their best to create a welcoming space in an effort to try to keep kids off of the street and away from drugs and alcohol. As with many communities, teen drug and alcohol use is a concern here in our community.
I noted in a 2009 report by UVic's Centre for Addictions for the McReary Centre Society that by age 18, 78 percent of students have tried alcohol, 50 percent have tried marijuana, 15 percent have tried Ecstasy, 10 percent have tried cocaine and 3 percent go on to try crystal meth.
We are concerned about drug and alcohol use with our teens in this community. This centre, our teen centre, currently serves upwards of 15 teens every Friday night, and because of volunteers, we are able to offer this programming once a week. I'm worried, ladies and gentlemen, because my volunteers are burning out. These are parents, grandparents, concerned community members, and their energy is lacking right now.
In order to keep the teen centre running, I would like to see annual sustainable funding of $15,000 to increase the family centre coordinator to full time. Doing so will give that coordinator the opportunity to arrange and coordinate activities, not only on Friday night but on Saturday nights as well.
Moving on to the next program, our Huckleberry House daycare was started in Port McNeill by local parents over ten years ago. It started with one child and two parents. In 2000 our agency took over the program. Originally it was just a daycare. But the needs of the community prompted creation of an infant toddler space, a preschool space as well as an after-school care.
What started with one child and two parents has now grown to 100 children and wait-lists of up to eight to ten per program. There is a lot of community pride in Huckleberry House. It's supported fervently by community parents, grandparents and by the staff of North Island Community Services society.
We are now, I believe, the sole licensed daycare in Port McNeill. As with most non-profit daycares, we are funded via cost recovery, child care operating subsidy and Gaming Commission grants. Ladies and gentlemen, when we hear about cuts to those Gaming Commission grants, we do get scared.
Currently I have a moratorium on drop-ins and new registrations at this daycare because I do not have the number of qualified early childhood educator and infant-toddler staff that I need for licensing. It's difficult to attract staff in this region because of our low wages.
I read in the 2005 Child Care Human Resources Sector Council report by authors Beach and Costigliola: "The low wages and poor benefits of the child care workforce are important factors in this sector's recruitment problems and high staff turnover, resulting in lower-quality child care."
Those of us that are parents and grandparents leave our children at these centres every day, and quality child care is necessary to encourage development of these children so that they can go on to succeed.
In 2003-2004 B.C. saw a 14.5 percent spending cut to child care. I can tell you that in 2003 we almost cut the
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program of Huckleberry House. We were at a $53,000 deficit. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to see the money put back into daycare here, and it is our wish for our agency that we see that child care funding cut of 14.5 percent returned to us.
The last program I'm going to talk about is our Community Links program. Community Links provides community and social supports to developmentally delayed adults over the age of 19.
I want to explain developmental delays here so that everyone understands. There are some visual delays, like Down syndrome, and there are many that are not visual — things like autism and other undesignated delays. There are currently 11 disabilities identified by Stats Canada, and nearly 6 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 have a severe delay or a disability.
Our Community Links program was started 17 years ago with two clients. We now have 16 clients, with a wait-list of six. Our clients within this program are very special to us. We've spent many happy moments with them hiking and camping, and each year we are filled with pride to take them to Operation Trackshoes in Victoria. For those of you that aren't aware of this event, it's been going on for over 40 years, and it's a Special Olympics type of event that's held at UVic annually.
We share our clients' joys and tears, ladies and gentlemen, and we understand their parents' concerns about their future. Any client in the Community Links program has to be 19 in order to receive funding via Community Living B.C.
Let me put this into perspective for you. You're a parent or a grandparent, and you're sitting at graduation, and your 18-year-old child with a delay or a disability is on stage beaming. They're happy, they're proud, and so are you, because you understand what they've had to go through to get to where they are.
But in the back of your mind, you're worried because you realize that the structure and continuum of support that was available at the high school is no longer available. This child will return to your home, and other than what you can do after your workday or in any spare time you have, they will have no support or structure.
Ladies and gentlemen, a transition gap exists between the age of graduation and when they're eligible — if they're eligible — for the Community Living B.C. program through our agency. There is a need for support and funding to assist 18-year-olds with delays, who are no longer children but aren't yet adults. They need support to help them with the transition that is taking place in their lives.
Within our community there are currently 14 who could benefit from the transition-gap funding, and there are more graduating every year. We would love to see a funded program to address the transition gap in our communities and help parents and caregivers and clients to plan for their future.
This morning you've heard me talk about three of our programs, and you've heard me ask for additional funding to see a full-time coordinator organize activities for our teen centre, an increase to child care funding amounts and a funding to realize supports during the transition gap for youth with developmental delays. Ladies and gentlemen, these all stem from my concern in providing needed services within our communities.
As an executive director for a social services agency, I share the belief that one in three of us will use social services at some point during our life. Hardly a surprise, really, once you realize just how many different kinds of support are available under the social services umbrella.
I want to thank you for the chance to speak to you today. I hope I've reached you somehow, enough to inspire you to get to know some of the social services who might be helping you in some way or helping someone you love.
I believe social services save money and lives, ladies and gentlemen. They give us the kind of B.C. we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren. In my humble opinion, eroding social services any further will have serious repercussions for decades to come.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Traci, for your presentation this morning.
B. Routley: Good morning, and thank you for your advocacy on behalf of children. I, too, as MLA for the Cowichan Valley have experienced the gap, as you call it, for 18-year-olds. My question is regarding how to deal with that gap. Should it be that kids are covered at 18 years under the Community Living program? Or do you have some other ideas on how to deal with that?
T. Fontana-Wegelin: Thank you for your question. It used to be that Community Living B.C. did have funding for this type of coverage, for the transition gap. I'm not sure exactly when that lapsed, but I know that as of the last five years it hasn't been in place. My logical thought on that one would be that it would via Community Living B.C. that that funding happens.
Transition actually needs to take place probably by the age of 16 right through high school, and they need to have a support network around them. By that I mean social services within the community, any practitioners that work with them — whether it's mental health or speech pathologist or occupational therapist. That transition gap and the resulting committee that deals with it needs to be multifaceted. There needs to be a good support net around them.
So I think that by the age of 16, funding actually needs to start, and it has to be through CLBC.
B. Routley: My other question would be: do you have wait-lists for kids with autism?
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T. Fontana-Wegelin: Within this community we have two on our wait-list right now that are autistic.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Thank you very much, Traci. I suspect the lady to your left, Alyson Hagan-Johnson, is our next presenter.
T. Fontana-Wegelin: She is indeed.
A. Hagan-Johnson: Good morning. My name is Alyson Hagan-Johnson, and I am very pleased to have an opportunity to address this committee today. I am the chair of North Island Community Services society, the non-aboriginal co-chair of the Mount Waddington Health Network and a board member of the Board Voice Society of B.C.
I know that my colleague Jenelle Cooper addressed you yesterday about Board Voice, and I won't repeat everything that she said about the new organization. But I will tell you that it's about time the social services began to build a citizens' voice for support for those wonderful people working in this field and the people they support.
Most other sectors have substantial lobbies at their command. Teachers, doctors, nurses and business sectors like forestry, gas, mining and pharmaceuticals all have a big voice in the province. We need a citizens' voice speaking up for the social services community, and our hope is that Board Voice will take on that role.
Part of the problem in the social services sector is that it is so large and diverse and operates below the radar of most people until they need the service. So parents that require daycare services become acutely aware of those particular services but may have no idea about the youth justice program operating across the street or the Meals on Wheels program that assists their senior neighbour.
We who are involved as community volunteers are the face of our agencies and must speak up and let others know about the values our service programs provide. Most people in this province will be involved in some way with some kind of social service in their lifetime. The web of services operating quietly in all of our communities is essential to the health and well-being of our citizens and, frankly, critical to the economic health of our province.
One need only look to the botched response to mental health and addictions problems in B.C. and the resultant outcry from businesses concerned about the homeless folks sleeping in their doorways to get a sense of how poor social policy can begin to affect things at the street level.
The lowest minimum wage in the country and low welfare rates also figure into this mix. You will be hearing later from another presenter who will be telling you about a north Island project that is directly addressing youth homelessness. I hope you hear them.
The social services field employs about 64,000 people, per Stats Canada, in the province of B.C., so they represent a significant part of the labour force. On the whole, this is a highly educated workforce with most workers having post-secondary education. Unfortunately, the wages do not reflect this. B.C. Stats indicates that the average wage of a social worker in 2008 was only $18.54, compared to the average wage in B.C. of $22.13 per hour.
We all know that the first few years of a child's life are absolutely critical to the future success of that child. Why is it, then, that we pay the worst wages to the early childhood educators who have responsibility for our children of this age group? The medium annual salary for this group with the ECE credentials, from the census in 2006, was $26,145 — compare the average salary of a teacher, at $63,879.
Here in Port McNeill the Huckleberry House Children's Centre recently had five positions open. Finally, they were able to fill four of them and are hoping to fill the position of team lead soon. The competition for educated, certified ECE and IT educators is intense and costly due to the education and cost, certification requirements for the educator and licensing requirements for the agency.
One of our biggest challenges in the coming years will be to attract qualified people into this field. As I'm sure you all are aware, we will be facing a recruitment crunch across the board over the next decade as the boomers retire. The way things stand, we are going to have difficulty sustaining our workforce with non-competitive wages.
We think that it's high time for the government to take a long look at the wage structure of community social services so that they don't end up with degraded services provided by unqualified people.
One other point I would like to make here today is the issue of infrastructure costs in this sector. Most agencies which deliver services have received no increases related to the cost-of-living increases over the past decade. What this means is that agencies have been forced to eat into their administrative capacity and even their programs to stay afloat.
Non-profit agencies are the experts in stretching a dime to the limit.
Sustainability is a critical issue for the sector. It would almost be laughable if it weren't so serious. Think about all the things agencies have had to address in this context — for example, new technology, gas prices, leasing costs. None have been addressed by the government funding for the social services.
Last year when agencies were told that they would have to cough up money to pay for a new pension plan — for their work is critical to our ability to attract new
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employees — a number of agency boards were ready to close their doors. Thankfully, this decision was reversed, but not for non-union agencies, and that is what most of us here on the real north Island are — non-union.
Organizations need management, and administration needs to be funded adequately to accomplish this. Some people seem to think that all the money should go to the people being served. Consider this in another context. Imagine a bank where all the operational dollars were to be spent on bank tellers. It's not the best analogy, given today's economic climate, but it paints the pictures I want you to see.
We have hopes that the government/non-profit initiative will begin to address some of these issues and develop policies which will address the administrative burdens of these public organizations. So far there have been no changes in this strategic plan for those of us providing not-for-profit social service programs.
In addition, here we have the rural-remote factor that creates even more competition with the larger communities and their ability to offer higher wages to both their front-line workers and administrative staff. Due to this freeze on the administrative funding, our agency is unable to have a full-time executive director, although that is what the agency needs.
Citizens like me, and likely you, have volunteered for many communities' agencies for years. We do this because we understand the great value they bring to our communities and to our community members.
We now know that community social services are supported by the people of British Columbia. A recently released poll indicated that 83 percent of British Columbians agree with the statement that community social services provide a network of support that benefits everyone in our community, including business. When these services are cut, we all lose. This is significant. The same poll also indicates that 65 percent think that community social services are underfunded — also very important.
Mary Polak, Minister of Children and Family Development, stated recently that the increase in funding for the Ministry of Health last year — $2 billion — was more than the entire budget for her ministry. We need to think about this more and how comparatively low-cost community social services can positively impact the downstream health care cost.
Ladies and gentleman, as you consider your recommendations to the government, I hope that you remember the points I have raised today. They amount to an intelligent rethinking of the funding needed to sustain an important feature of the health and well-being of our communities. These are investments that we cannot afford to bungle.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Alyson.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. Coming from the non-profit sector, I know from firsthand a lot of what you're talking about. I'm really glad to see a Board Voice come together and start bringing forward that voice for the social service sector.
Maybe it's too soon for you to have done this analysis, but I thought I'd ask and see if you have. How many hours are going into the fundraising by staff people who are actually supposed to, according to contracts, be doing something else, to be doing the front-line work, but in fact they have to do a lot of fundraising just so that they can do their job?
A. Hagan-Johnson: I'm sorry. I'm going to have to ask you to repeat. There's been a real breakup. In fact, I almost lost you totally, including the picture. So I really am not sure what you are asking me.
J. Les (Chair): Let's try it one more time.
M. Mungall: All right. I don't mind an opportunity to talk even more.
Coming from the non-profit sector, I know exactly what you're talking about, and I'm really glad that Board Voice has come together. I'm wondering if it's too soon or if you have done this analysis of how many hours are going into staff doing fundraising just so that they can do their jobs, which is the front-line service work.
A. Hagan-Johnson: If I understand your question, then you're asking how much time has gone into fundraising for the agency that needs the funding to continue its work.
M. Mungall: Well, yes. Maybe I'll clarify a little bit. In my experience, there's a certain level of funding that comes from a major funder such as government, which is what we're talking about here today, but staff people, just to meet their budget needs, do an incredible amount of fundraising out in the community.
I'm wondering if it's gotten to the point where staff people are actually doing more fundraising than they are doing the actual work which they've been hired to do.
A. Hagan-Johnson: I was just looking at my executive director, Traci, here. One of the things that I can honestly tell you as the board chair for North Island Community Services society is that one of the reasons why we need Traci full-time is because we need her out there trying to raise funds for some of our programs. And of course, because we don't have the funds, we can't even send her out to do that because she's so busy with other things in the agency. So there's a lot of time spent on that.
Our team lead over at Huckleberry Children's Centre worked full-time, but she also spent a lot of her time —
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and I don't know how many hours — doing just that: going out and raising funds for our children's centre. We have a lot of moneys that have come into the children's centre because she has gone out and gotten them.
So I would say, yes, there's a bit of time put into going looking for money, because there isn't enough there to continue or to fully fund the programs we have.
I'll give you another example that Traci brought up: the Community Links people going down to Operation Trackshoes. Every year they start very early, working on finding funding to take all of the Trackshoes people down to Victoria for that program — again, taking time out of working with the clients in order to find funding to get the clients down into doing something, but still, they're taking time out of the programs to get the money.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Alyson, for your presentation this morning. Let me apologize on behalf of the committee for the audio quality this morning, which is not that great, but it's circumstances beyond our control.
A. Hagan-Johnson: Well, that's okay. Thank you. I believe it was clarified, and I was able to answer it.
J. Les (Chair): Good. Thank you.
Next we are going back to Merritt. We have Laurie Sterritt and Leonard Jackson presenting on behalf of the B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association. Good morning to you.
L. Sterritt: Good morning, and thanks very much for giving us the opportunity to speak with you this morning. My name is Laurie Sterritt. I'm the executive director for the B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association. I'm here today with one of our original program coaches and our regional manager, Leonard Jackson, who works out of our Kamloops office.
The British Columbia Aboriginal Mine Training Association, or BCAMTA, is an aboriginal skills employment partnership created in 2009 by the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., the Mining Association of B.C., First Nations communities in Kamloops and Dease Lake, the federal government, and a number of mining and exploration companies and educational institutions.
Our collective goal is to build sustainable employment for aboriginal people in the exploration and mining sectors. Why are we doing this? For three key reasons.
First, the population in B.C. is aging, and across industries we anticipate significant skill shortages as baby boomers retire. The mining industry is no exception, with 25 percent of its workforce anticipated to retire within the next five years.
Second, we live in a resource-rich province. Sixty percent of Canada's mining and exploration companies are headquartered in B.C. Today we already have 45 operating mines, with 30 more planned. Of this number, close to a quarter are in final permitting and near production.
Third, we have a young aboriginal population. In 2006 the median age of the First Nations population was 25, as compared to 40 among non-aboriginals. Some aboriginal communities are in desperate need to work and to find opportunities, many of them in close proximity to B.C.'s exploration and mining projects.
BCAMTA's partners see an opportunity to bridge a gap to everyone's benefit, to address the issues of an aging workforce, a province rich with resources to be harvested and aboriginal communities struggling to participate fully in the labour market.
Increasing aboriginal participation in education and in related employment will not only help fill labour and skills shortages in the provincial economy. It will also positively affect individuals, families and whole communities as well as B.C.'s overall economic and social prosperity. But it costs money to do this, and while BCAMTA has received funding, with significant contributions coming from its industry partners, the huge success of our program in the central Interior means that we require more in order to expand our services to meet the growing demand.
To give you a clearer idea of what BCAMTA actually does, I like to think of it this way. We exist to connect aboriginal people to jobs in B.C.'s exploration and mining industries. How do we do this? By making connections, finding solutions and getting results.
We work with employers to determine skills requirements and job profiles and understand what they really are looking for in employees. We work with educators to develop training and education programs that meet industry needs but are also tailored to meet the needs of aboriginal learners. And we work with aboriginal communities to connect them to education and employment opportunities.
However, First Nations communities continue to face barriers to entry into the sector, and it's BCAMTA's job to find ways to remove these barriers. Barriers can include academic and certificate requirements at a jobsite. Financial barriers exist for those who can't afford to pay for child care while they're in training nor buy themselves workboots or tools. Even the requirement of having a driver's licence can pose a barrier. And the whole recruitment, assessment and selection process can be a barrier for those who are totally unfamiliar with a formal workplace.
In order to accomplish our objectives, BCAMTA has identified several services and training programs directly aimed at increasing employment for our clients. I will tell you about a couple in my prepared remarks and can
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provide more information on these and other programs in the question period.
One of our core initiatives is our recruitment, assessment and candidate preparation program. BCAMTA has assumed some of the traditional HR functions to work alongside mining companies through recruiting, assessing and screening potential employees for baseline qualifications and then advising candidates on how to increase the likelihood of gaining employment at any of our partner mines.
Traditionally, many of our candidates have not been involved in rigorous testing and interview processes and can sometimes be screened out of opportunities because of a mere lack of confidence. BCAMTA is proactively finding solutions for them and is creating a pool of prescreened candidates that are quickly becoming the best and most qualified for jobs with our industry partners.
We know that many of our employers utilize assessment tools, such as the test of workplace essential skills, otherwise known as TOWES, and they judge applicants on scores for numeracy, literacy and document use. With a clear understanding of these and other formal assessment processes, BCAMTA has been able to take some of the mystery out of the process and prepare candidates for what's coming.
We do this by administering assessments upfront and providing tutoring, essential skills upgrading and interview preparation to increase their familiarity with hiring processes. Mostly we create an understanding of expectations for both sides. In short, with the support and guidance of our program coaches, our candidates become ready for the intake process at the mines.
Another key program we're developing is called Pathways to Dogwood. A clear employment barrier I mentioned earlier is the minimum education requirement for many occupations in the sectors. The fact that many of our clients do not have a Dogwood certificate or grade 12 equivalency and often have low levels of essential skills means that they face challenges to entry even prior to making an application.
To address this, our adult learning specialist is working with Thompson Rivers University to create the Pathways to Dogwood program, which will allow our clients to work toward their Dogwood certificate either before their employment begins or while they are employed.
We're creating a culturally sensitive and relevant program that meets the needs of candidates regardless of the current education or skill level. Our research tells us that Pathways to Dogwood program will answer a market need that has been woefully underserved in recent history. Today 23 percent of our candidates, or 61 clients, need to get their grade 12, and 33 of them have already committed to doing that.
With a real focus on preparation and skills upgrading, BCAMTA is building workforce capacity with and for communities. We are also building an aboriginal-specific heavy equipment operators training program that includes classroom, simulator and practical training with donated land from two mines. It represents a real partnership that will ensure very high-quality training that will immediately apply to an industry need.
BCAMTA is working tirelessly to be a leader in creating employable, job-ready aboriginal candidates for the mining sector and beyond, and in doing so, we've become an essential force in the hiring process for our partner mines. Our results speak for themselves. To date we have sourced 253 candidates. We have 68 currently enrolled in training and close to 65 employed candidates in a six-month effort.
But while we exist to connect aboriginal people to employment, this is all about more than jobs. BCAMTA is offering another way for communities to shape their own social and economic development.
Before I finish, I want to share a number with you: $401 billion. This is the potential cumulative effect on Canada's GDP over a 25-year period if we can increase the levels of aboriginal education and participation in the labour market. It's the best-case-scenario result in a study that examined the impact of different levels of education and employment in the aboriginal population. This number assumes that aboriginal educational levels meet the same level as non-aboriginals in 2001, and it also assumes that average aboriginal earnings reach parity with non-aboriginal Canadians within the same time frame.
Whether or not this is likely or possible is not important to the point that I am making. What's important is the potential impact. It is unambiguous. Increase education and education-specific employment in First Nations communities, and Canada's output and productivity will increase substantially. That poses a huge benefit to British Columbia and to all Canadians. And it's about more than that. I think we all agree that getting an education has a positive impact not only on a person's ability to find work but also on how they are able to live.
By that logic, increased education and employment for our First Nations will in turn lead to increased government tax revenues and reduced government expenditures for programs aimed at improving standards of living, providing adequate health care and preventing crime. And it doesn't stop there. A 2010 Assembly of First Nations discussion paper about access to post-secondary education stated that the education of the parents of a First Nations child, especially the mother, is a better indicator of whether a child will go on to higher education than anything else.
So when you look at BCAMTA's funding and put it into the context of what providing job-ready training and employment opportunities can mean to aboriginal communities, you can start to see that BCAMTA is about far more than training a couple of hundred
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candidates today. It's about leaving a legacy to facilitate progress and success for tomorrow. The BCAMTA program is not just a feel-good program, and I hope that some of what I've shared today has illustrated that a program like ours is not a handout, nor is it a public relations exercise.
Programs like this one have the power to change the status quo, but we need funding to do so. That's why we are asking the province to invest in capacity-building for our First Nations communities.
We would now like to entertain questions.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Laurie. We have a couple of questions.
J. Rustad: Thanks very much, Laurie. I very much appreciate your presentation and what you are trying to do. I think there is an enormous potential for First Nations people, as well as the province, in the mining industry by combining those opportunities through some education and through employment opportunities.
The question I have for you is…. In Smithers we have a mining and exploration program that is specifically targeted to First Nations, that brings in a lot of them. They have an 82 percent success rate in terms of graduates being hired in the industry. I'm wondering if you're tied in with that program and if you're looking at trying to promote that program in other areas of the province.
L. Sterritt: Yes. That's a very good question. We are partners with Northwest Community College, and we already have candidates that are in that program right now.
J. Les (Chair): Good, and our next question is from Doug Donaldson.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Hi, Laurie. Thanks for the presentation. We met up in Dease Lake in July, I think that was. Good to see you again.
L. Sterritt: That's right, yeah.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): My question is around Dease Lake campus. I'm quite concerned about the lack of progress between the colleges and the Ministry of Advanced Ed in creating a seamless transition in services up there. We met with the Minister of Advanced Ed last week at UBCM. I don't believe that a lot of work has been done on that file, so I'll be following up on that.
Can you just let me know what discussions you've had with Advanced Ed in that regard? Also, in a bigger picture, does AMTA get any funding support from the province right now?
L. Sterritt: Two very good questions. Currently we have done sort of the same thing that you've done. We've researched all different angles of trying to get some traction in the north with that Dease Lake campus. We haven't had any success. Unfortunately, we haven't had any updates, so you've probably had the more recent discussion with Advanced Education.
The chair of our board works for AMEBC, and she is continually in touch with both the Minister of State for Mining and the advanced education council. She's working very hard to get some traction. A number of our community partners in the north are also continually lobbying to get some traction there, so any update from the committee would be helpful for us as well. It's definitely causing some concern and is slowing down our progress in the north and our ability to actually provide services to candidates.
One other note on that is that our program coach in Dease Lake is actually physically situated at the Northern Lights College. We are renting a space there for her to use the technology and the facility.
As far as provincial funding for our program, there was at one time a $2.4 million commitment made by the province. I wasn't in the process at that time. I hadn't yet been hired. But for one reason or another, there was some confusion around what the funding could apply to. That money was set aside for Northwest Community College and one other stakeholder. I'm not sure who it was. At the end of the day, we actually didn't get any funding from the province, which was a real shame.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Laurie, for a very interesting presentation.
L. Sterritt: You're very welcome. Thank you.
J. Les (Chair): We are now going to go back to Port McNeill, where I understand we have George Ewald ready to make a presentation.
G. Ewald: Yes, I'm here, along with Nikki Shaw.
N. Shaw: Good morning. My name is Nikki Shaw, and I'm a member of the council for the district of Port Hardy. My role here today will be to sort of outline the steps we've taken to try to meet some of the housing needs within the regional district and in particular in Port Hardy. Then George Ewald will talk more from his position as a front-line worker dealing with some of the housing situations we have. We have some documents that we haven't sent you but which we will, by e-mail, later on today.
We started as the Mount Waddington Health Network. We formed our housing committee a year ago. The original incentive for that came out of a coroner's report which identified the needs of some people who were homeless or at risk of being homeless who were ending
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up being incarcerated or hospitalized due to their lack of housing, basically.
The Mount Waddington Health Net created the steering committee for housing, which includes the health network itself; the district of Port Hardy; the Vancouver Island Health Authority; Providence Place, which is George Ewald here; the Salvation Army; the local RCMP; our MLA, Claire Trevena; three First Nations — Fort Rupert, Quatsino and the Gwa'sala-Nakwaxda'xw; the 'Namgis First Nation restorative justice department; and North Island Crisis and Counselling.
Since that time we've embarked on two initiatives. One is a youth housing project. We received a $35,000 grant from VIHA to do a three-month pilot to meet the needs of youth who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. One of the things that we would really like to request is ongoing funding for that.
We also have serious constraints because there is one person, one provincial representative from the Ministry of Housing, for the 15,000 people in the Mount Waddington regional district, who because of the big caseload, of course, can only come to Port Hardy once a month for a few days. So we also recognize the need to have a permanent position in Port Hardy or in the regional district to help us really assess our housing needs, to get the data we need to move forward.
We have needs in aboriginal housing. We have overcrowding on the reserve, no off-reserve housing since the early 1970s and a lack of suitable family accommodations, although there is a large stock of unoccupied housing in the Port Hardy area. There are over a thousand units of unoccupied housing, including apartments. We need transitional housing, supportive housing. We need some independent living. We have a lack of seniors housing, or a shortfall in it.
In terms of demographics, we have two distinct trends in our area. One is engaging the non-native population, and the young aboriginal population, who are going to have different housing needs into the future.
Port Hardy is about to embark on our official community plan. As part of that planning process, we would really like to be able to look at our housing needs in a very concentrated manner. However, like I was saying, we don't have the staffing. We're all doing it a committee level. So although we're able to come up with good plans and recommendations, we really require some expert help in the next little while to see some of those plans come to fruition.
I think that gives you a bit of an overview, and I'm going to turn it over to George. Working at the front lines, he has more understanding of the immediate needs on a daily basis.
G. Ewald: I'd like to touch on a few areas. I'm a pastor in Port Hardy. I've lived up here for 20 years. I also sit on many committees, and we have a non-profit society. Our church recently bought a hotel complex, a rather notorious one, and we're engaged right now in many areas of housing seniors, housing the mobility-challenged. The youth housing, the pilot project — we're running that out of here right now.
But what I want to touch on is just some of the things that I've seen over the years as I've worked with the homeless, as we're focused on here right now. One is in the area of seniors supportive living. When you look at what is available for housing right now, our region is so huge and so diverse. It goes up the coast to many of the First Nations village communities. What we're seeing is that the dollars and cents don't line up.
As I look at the list of places that are available, the closest one to us is Campbell River. That means that someone, whether from Kingcome Inlet or Alert Bay or any of the offshore villages…. They not only have to be disconnected from their families, but they have to be disconnected in rather a large way.
They're having to go to Campbell River south, because Campbell River, as we've checked, is full, and they have waiting lists. Some of them are going as far as Victoria. As their health problems increase — they're not necessarily terminal in that sense — they do need to have ongoing help and that. So they wind up moving out, and they're disconnected from family and from village and support that they have and that they've known forever.
Another area is the cost there. The minimum cost that we see in these housing places for supportive living is $1,500 a month. If you look at what you get from CPP and old age security — even someone 65 — they're barely going to meet that. What happens is that they have a place to live, but they have no life. So what we're looking at is…. Again, that full-time housing coordinator could look at that and address that, and perhaps we can get some kind of supportive assistance from the government as far as subsidized housing and that sort of thing for seniors.
Another place that I see it is the working poor. I work at the food bank pretty much every Friday. What I see there is that probably 30 percent plus are working poor that we're feeding. I go into people's homes, and I see dysfunctional families. The children are being babysat, sometimes by older siblings; sometimes by other relatives, friends, neighbours; sometimes by themselves. The family becomes dysfunctional. Both parents are trying to work to pay the bills.
An example would be a three-bedroom townhouse in Port Hardy that is renting for about $700 or $750 a month. You get someone who's making minimum wage. They're bringing in just over $1,200. So you wind up that…. It's far above what CMHC looks at as being reasonable for your housing needs as far as the percentage that they're
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paying out. Again, that need is there for some type of supported housing or subsidized housing.
One thing that we were talking about, this morning even, was the idea of a housing corporation, so to speak, for the area that could buy up houses and then sell them at a reduced rate to people that would take over the place. They would never be able to sell it again for more money, but it would just be a place where they could now have a sense of worth and value, plant roots and have something that's not going to strap them in paying for this.
One other one is the youth housing. We had a survey that was done through our youth leadership council in the Mount Waddington district and the north Island region. What they found as they went through and polled kids in the high schools was that over 30 percent of the teens had been displaced from their home in the last year, and of those, I believe the statistic was 28 percent of those were for more than 30 days.
The government, and understandably so, is gun-shy to open up that can of worms from the MCFD standpoint, where they don't want to start trying to assess every single argument between a parent and teen. But at the same time, there are people like ourselves who are willing to take on some of those things.
The goal would be restoration in the home. If that's not possible, then we would move forward with the teen and try to plug them in. The possibility in our own location is for up to eight rooms for teen housing so that we could get some of those kids who are couch-surfing. They wind up dropping out of school. They get disconnected. They don't get the training they need for jobs. We can help and assist with those types of things. Those are some of the programs we're working with.
From the seniors standpoint, we're committed at this point to 18 rooms of housing in a complex that's basically ready to go, with very little having to increase the facilities. Again, that need is there in the north Island, but we also need assistance.
We're a taxed thing. The only tax break we get is on the portion of the building that is church. And so that subsidized housing, again, for seniors would be an awesome thing for our north Island people and would allow us to get people in there at a cost that's affordable to them and not detrimental to them.
I think that kind of covers, in a nutshell, some of the areas that we see as key up here. I'd be glad to take any questions you might have.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. We do indeed have a couple of questions.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. I don't necessarily have a question but just wanted to let you know that my master's thesis, which I completed in 2009, election time in 2009, was on solutions to rural homelessness. If you would like a copy of it, you can give my office a call, and they'll happily send you one.
G. Ewald: That would be very much appreciated. Thank you.
M. Mungall: No problem. Just give us a call.
J. van Dongen: Thank you to both of you for your presentation today detailing some of the challenges you have in your region. Am I correct in assuming, George in particular…? Do you know that there is a rental assistance program available through B.C. Housing for the working poor family that you describe?
Also, there's a SAFER program for seniors, but in my experience, the existence of the program for families for rental assistance is not necessarily well known, and it really is undersubscribed. But the situation you described should be eligible, as far as I know.
G. Ewald: I know we did look at that. We actually have a poster from the ministry that we hung up in our church to help. What we found was…. We didn't find any that qualified, unfortunately. Maybe we were assuming things and should have just sent in the application and allowed them to be disqualified. That's what we looked at when we read what the prerequisites were, if you will. We'd gladly look at it again, though.
J. van Dongen: Well, if I could encourage you to send them in regardless. Now, a lot of these programs depend on income tax returns being filed and being submitted. So you have to really look at why they're being disqualified. I would encourage you to send them in anyway, because I would like the ministry to see….
I know there are some qualification issues. I'd like to see the examples of what they are. So if you could revisit that and if you have some examples where you think the qualifications issues are unreasonable, then I would like you to forward that to the committee, or even if you send it to me after the work of the committee is over.
G. Ewald: Okay. Thank you.
N. Shaw: I'd like to respond to that a bit as well.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Go ahead.
N. Shaw: Yes, I've looked at that program, but the situation we're looking at on the ground in Port Hardy is that we have housing stock. We would really like to have some help in guaranteeing that there will be affordable, subsidized and other forms of housing. The rental assistance program was great, but it doesn't really get at the concern we have of underutilized housing units that we
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would like to see there for low-rental, for affordable, for supported, different kinds of living, aside from the rental assistance program.
B. Routley: Good morning, and thank you for your work on behalf of the people in your region that most need a voice. Do you have any idea of the numbers of people that could be helped by the programs that you'd like to see? For example, how many units are necessary in your area at this time to house the homeless?
N. Shaw: This is the kind of work we want to see done by a housing coordinator. Probably 25 percent of the working people in Port Hardy could use some sort of assistance with the cost of housing overall.
G. Ewald: What we see are…. An example is my son. Both he and his partner are working, but they both have entry-level jobs. They have two children together, and the fabric of the family winds up being torn apart because they're trying to make ends meet with minimum-wage jobs, basically to try and exist. That's the type of thing we're…. We'd like to see that availability for housing increased, I guess you'd say, subsidy-wise.
J. Les (Chair): One final quick question from Norm Letnick.
N. Letnick: Thank you for dedicating your life to this purpose. One thing I hear from some landlords is that when they rent housing to people on social assistance, they find sometimes they have difficulty in collecting the rents on time during the month. Have you found that experience in your career? If so, how does government help those landlords so that they have more security in their rental income?
G. Ewald: I do see that quite often. I have a lady that was in our church and moved to Vancouver. She's renting her place out, and she phones me almost monthly to go up. She has some people. The one spouse is on assistance; the other spouse is working sometimes. She's constantly chasing them for a good $200, at least, of the rent. They'll pay part of it but not all of it. I see it in a number of other places as well.
I think what they can do there…. You know, they make room for the person to sign over rents to somebody. We have some instances with people that are mobility-challenged that we have in ours, and their rent comes right from the ministry. What happens, though, is that they, at their whim, can redirect that to themselves, and that's what happens quite often. The tenant will start on that program but then will opt out of it.
To me, with something as simple as an agreement between a landlord and a tenant that can't be broken except by both of them…. That could be taken away and give that landlord some confidence. What happens, because it can broken simply by the tenant, is that they can go a month or two between eviction notices and everything else before they ever get caught up on it. Something as simple as that would resolve that issue, I believe.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. We appreciated it very much.
We are now going to shift over to Vernon, where we have Dr. Tom Warshawski on behalf of the Childhood Obesity Foundation. Good morning to you.
T. Warshawski: Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to present to the Finance Committee this morning. I really appreciate that. I hope that the committee has had a chance, or at least received the brief that we had sent out by e-mail on preventing unhealthy weights — a proposal to tax sugar-sweetened beverages as part of the solution.
What I am going to speak to today is largely going to refer to the body of this text. I'll probably just go through the key messages. There's a lot in this little briefing document, and we've only got about ten minutes for me to talk and then five minutes to answer questions. Hopefully, I can cover off what I'd like to cover off in that time.
Just a quick word about the Childhood Obesity Foundation. We were formed in 2004 and received our charitable status in 2006. We've been quite busy since that time. In 2005 we organized a two-day forum on childhood obesity that was held in Richmond and was kicked off by the Premier.
Since that time, we have also been very active in the Indo-Canadian community and the Chinese-Canadian community, doing programs, going out, giving forums and discussing with parents and children different ways to achieve healthy weights and promote healthy, active living.
We also helped create a preventative program for school kids called Sip Smart, which teaches parents and kids about appropriate beverage choices. The brief is really about beverage choices and ways that we can improve that.
Currently we're part of a group called Collaborative Action on Childhood Obesity — CACO — which received a $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer to promote best practices in the prevention of childhood obesity. Part of our aims — one of them — is to develop a program called Screen Smart to teach kids and parents about appropriate use of media time and also to disseminate our Sip Smart program about choosing beverages.
The third major aim that we have is to discuss with policy-makers promising policy initiatives that can help
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on a broader societal level to reduce the instances of childhood obesity.
My own background is that I am a consultant pediatrician here in Kelowna. I deal with children with overweight and obesity all of the time. Usually one or more parents also has overweight or obesity. It is a very difficult problem to tackle individually, and I think there have to be broader societal things put into place as well.
That sense of sort of being involved in bigger initiatives has led me to be involved with the B.C. Pediatric Society. I was the past president of the society's specialist physicians and surgeons. I'm also on the healthy active living committee of the Canadian Pediatric Society.
In this ten minutes I want to just give you an introduction to what we think is a promising policy initiative, and that is taxing sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages, for the purpose of this discussion, refer to all beverages with added sugars. That could be high-fructose corn syrup, regular sugar — any caloric sweetener. That means pop, fruit drinks, energy drinks and vitamin waters.
The idea of cutting back the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has gotten a lot of traction not just in Canada but in North America and worldwide. This has been endorsed by the Institute of Medicine in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Canadian Pediatric Society.
The concept of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce consumption has been heavily discussed in the U.S. It was initially part of the Senate proposal on health care reform. It was eventually withdrawn from that broader Senate proposal in the U.S. under strong lobbying from the beverage industry. It is currently being considered in California and has been instituted in the city of Washington, D.C., as well as Boston, Massachusetts.
What I'd like to do, then, is just go through our key messages from the front page of that briefing document. I'll start off with saying that the health and economic burden of obesity and the associated chronic diseases has the potential to overwhelm our province and our population in the coming years.
We know that obesity and overweight markedly increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, cancers, diabetes and strokes. We also know that currently 29 percent of Canadian youth are either overweight or obese; 59 percent of adults are also overweight or obese. So the cost of this to B.C. alone, directly, is $450 million per year, plus probably another $410 million a year in indirect costs.
It's not just a dollar cost, but we know that an adult who is overweight at age 40 years loses three years of life on average. If they're obese, they lose seven years of life. So the cost is extreme both in dollars and in lifespan.
Where do sugar-sweetened beverages come in? Well, bullet 2 is that there is very strong and convincing evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with excess weight gain, both in children and adults.
Obesity is a complicated problem. It's due to an excess of calories in and not enough calories being burnt off. It's a complicated problem with a number of different facets. The way we have to tackle it, though, is to identify ones with the most promising potential for change. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is one of those.
We know that one serving of sugar-sweetened beverage per day, for kids — if they on average do that on a daily basis — increases their risk of overweight and obesity by 60 percent. In an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently, it was stated that curbing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is probably the single most promising step to reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity in the U.S., and the Canadian population is similar.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, we know, are a problem. The academic research is biologically plausible. The reason why sugar-sweetened beverages are probably the worst of all discretionary calories we take in is that they don't cause us to feel full.
These products are marketed as beverages to be consumed with meals. In fact, they add an additional 300 to 500 calories, depending on the size of the serving that you consume with your meals, and you'll eat as much at your dinner if you drank a pop as you would if you drank water. So all these additional calories are saved as fat in most people.
Bullet 3. We talked about that there is a significant portion of the Canadian population who in childhood begin consuming sugar-sweetened beverages. The data from Quebec is that 17 percent of preschoolers consume a sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis. From Canadian data we know that 50 percent of teenage boys will report having drunk a sugar-sweetened beverage in the previous 24 hours. The average serving size is 700 millilitres, so that's about 300 calories.
The beverage industry has stated that the average consumption in soft drink in Canada is 66 litres per person per year. That's very, very significant because there is a large portion of the population that hardly drinks sugar-sweetened beverages, and there is a part of the population that drinks even more than 66 litres per person per year. Sixty-six litres per year gives you about an extra 30,000 calories, so that's about a pound of fat per month that you can put on.
We know that this is a problem with sugar-sweetened beverages. We know that the research is plausible, that there is a strong link, epidemiologically, with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and development of overweight and obesity.
We also know, from our experience with tobacco, that simply telling people — informing the public — while
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necessary, is not going to be sufficient to dramatically change people's behaviour, that we need to have other forces such as taxation or some sort of price disincentive to the purchase of these products.
The purpose of this brief, then, is to talk about a health promotion tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that would do four things. One is it would capture the societal cost, or the externality, of these products.
Currently, we have a situation where regular consumers of these products put themselves at risk for developing overweight and obesity — and probably, in fact, do develop overweight and obesity — therefore, incurring a large or increased cost to the health care system which all of us pay for. The person who is incurring that extra cost to the system doesn't bear the increased cost.
It captures that externality, but it also, then, facilitates personal responsibility for this, because the more you consume of these products and the greater risk you take, well, then the greater cost it is going to incur. Your personal responsibility…. The cost to you is going to be proportional to the increased risk.
We also know that taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could generate revenue for prevention, so this could be money that could be set aside to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport for education or providing physical activity opportunities for underprivileged children.
The other thing that we know that it will do is reduce the consumption of these products. We can't really say for sure how much it would reduce the consumption of these products. We have the experience from tobacco, where you can look at, over years, as the tobacco prices increased due to taxation, the consumption of tobacco decreased.
There have been several modelling studies done on sugar-sweetened beverage taxation, including some real-life small studies of populations in hospitals and other institutions, and it shows a price elasticity of around 80 percent. So if you increase the price by about 30 percent, you would see a decrease in consumption by 24 percent. That would probably have very significant effects on a population level.
I've got about a minute left. I want to just go to two points before I open up for questions. One is just to look at the graph on page 4. Hopefully, you folks have the document. The graph on page 4 looks at the consumer price index over the last, probably, 20 years in the U.S., but the Canadian situation mirrors this.
It shows why portion sizes have increased so much in the U.S. That's because the cost of production of sugar-sweetened beverages has actually fallen relative to the consumer price index over the last 20 years, whereas the price of healthier options, such as fruit and vegetables, has gradually gotten more and more expensive.
This is probably due to the fact that high-fructose corn syrup is a product of corn. The corn industry is heavily subsidized in the U.S. to the tune of around $9 billion to $11 billion per year. I wanted to bring your attention to that graph.
The last point I wanted to make is about the effect of the HST on sugar-sweetened beverages. One of the biggest problems with sugar-sweetened beverages is that they are consumed in portion sizes which are too large and that there's differential pricing. So if you go to Save-On Foods, you can buy a two-litre bottle of Coca-Cola, and the price per litre is about $1.10. If you get a 235-millilitre can, the price per litre works out to be about $2.50 per litre — so over double the cost.
When you institute a proportional tax like an HST, you take $1.40 differential initially and actually widen that differential to almost $1.60, because the 12 percent increase on that $2.50 litre price point is more significant than a 12 percent increase on that $1.10 litre. So you're actually pushing people more in a direction that we would not want to see them go, which is to buy bigger and bigger portions.
The concept of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one that our group has taken forward. We've mentioned it. We've met with people from the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. Within the bureaucracy they're quite interested. We met with Minister Falcon and discussed this. He was quite interested. We also met with Minister Hansen to discuss this. We hope to keep bringing this forward on a broader platform over the next 12 to 14 months.
This is just an introduction to this topic. I realize you guys have a lot on your plates this morning. I appreciate being able to give you this brief and to open it up for questions.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much for an interesting presentation. I think it's captured the attention of the committee, because we've got four people who would like to ask you some questions.
N. Letnick: Thank you, Dr. Warshawski, for this presentation. I find your ideas very interesting.
The issue of personal responsibility that you mentioned through your presentation…. Could you touch on other items that you think government should look at in the area of personal responsibility for health, that you might have talked to your colleagues at conferences or whatever, where we can get people to make the decisions today that impact their health in the long term — like watching what they eat and exercising more?
Is there any other recommendation we can make to the Finance Minister that would help us achieve more personal responsibility for our lifestyle choices?
T. Warshawski: Well, it's difficult. I mean, what we try to do is work with things which are somewhat evidence-based, and there's the mantra within the health profession
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you probably all have heard, which is making the healthy choice the easy choice.
Human beings have evolved over one or two million years to basically eat a lot whenever we can, because there are often periods of scarcity. We've also evolved to take it easy. There's no point in knocking yourself out in any physical activity because you're going to have to run after an antelope sooner or later.
That's what we're starting with. We've got a society now where we're filled…. We've got cheap, low-cost, delicious food everywhere, and we've got plenty of opportunity to be sedentary.
In terms of personal responsibility, I think what we need to do is, number one, educate consumers, educate the public. We've been trying to do that with screen time, which is a very important positive factor of obesity in both kids and adults. Not only does it stop you from doing things, but you're heavily marketed there. You tend to buy products which…. Probably, it's not broccoli and apples that they're advertising on these kids' shows. It's snack food — right? It's stuff that's not good for you.
In terms of personal responsibility, I think number one is to educate people as to where the pitfalls are, and a health promotion tax could do that. These products are heavily, heavily marketed. There's an information asymmetry. People are told that "Coke adds life," that Pepsi makes you young and hip, but they're not telling you what it does to your hips and the fact that it's going to actually, probably, detract from your life.
I think the number one thing to facilitate personal responsibility is to make sure that consumers are informed and that they're also informed about the cost, not just to their health but also to the system at large.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation. As a dietitian-nutritionist in my other life, I totally get what you're saying. My concern is the limitations and the criteria.
Why have you excluded diet soft drinks? From a healthy perspective, I don't think they are probably any better. Some have argued they could potentially be worse as far as the artificial sweeteners are concerned.
Then the other issue is that it's not necessarily sugars that are always the problem in the diet. It's the fat content and the cheapness of, maybe, junk food in general. I'm just wondering if you could maybe comment on those two issues.
T. Warshawski: In our brief, on page 9, I allude briefly to the issue about diet drinks but also junk food escapes.
As much as possible, we want to be evidence-based, and the strongest evidence that I think clinician scientists across the globe have arrived at are these simple sugars, particularly in the form of fluids, because they don't induce satiety. Not to get too technical, they also cause an insulin surge, which you understand, and you get a rebound of low sugar, so you may actually eat more than you would have otherwise.
Those other junk foods can be a problem. There are people that gain excess weight because they eat too many candy bars or too many chips — that sort of stuff. But on a population basis, the biggest bang for the buck is going to be sugar-sweetened beverages. There's just not this good, hard data that we would want to see to say that yes, we should tax candy bars and this sort of thing. There may be later, but at this point the evidence really crystallizes around junk about sugar-sweetened beverages.
With regard to diet drinks, I look at the data on the safety of sweeteners a lot. There are regular consensus statements which come out. It's hard to imagine these things are actually good for you — aspartame, sucralose, mannitol, these other sweeteners — but there's no strong evidence that they are bad for you, nowhere near the evidence that exists for sugar-sweetened beverages.
The potential link between diet drinks and overweight and obesity. If you tease out and look at those studies, I think they're compounders. One of the things that, to my mind, helps rule out the fact that diet drinks are not a problem is….
There was a big study done in the U.S., which was done in Boston — overweight teenage girls and boys, actually. They had to sign a contract that they would not drink any sugar-sweetened beverages for six months. They were only going to drink diet drinks and flavoured waters.
The ones that signed the contract and did that for six months lost weight over six months. The ones who did their regular pattern gained weight. So there's not the science to support diet drink restrictions or taxation, and there's not the epidemiology at this point.
J. van Dongen: Thank you, Doctor, for your presentation. Your paper mentioned that New York had proposed a 33-cent-a-litre tax, as you talked about. What happened to that proposal? Are there any jurisdictions that you know of in North America or further afield that have this kind of a tax in place?
T. Warshawski: The proposal in New York that the governor, who supported it, as did the mayor of New York City…. It was withdrawn after heavy — well, I have my bias here — lobbying by the beverage industry, so it actually didn't get to a vote at the New York state legislature.
Washington, D.C. has instituted this tax. Boston is going to institute this tax, and my understanding is that California is considering this tax as this point. So in terms of other jurisdictions in North America, that's where we're at.
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We have a sister group, the Coalition Québecoise sur la Problématique du Poids, CQPP, that works with us. They are currently briefing the Ministry of Finance and Health Ministry in Quebec on this same issue. So what we're hoping to do is get some traction in these two provinces. Our reach also extends to the Northwest Territories.
It's a slow process. We want to just keep working at each level, informing policy-makers such as yourselves.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thank you for the presentation — very informative. Before I ask my question, on page 9 under your potential criticisms of the HPT, I quite enjoy your social engineering line: "Social engineering for the public good is as acceptable as social engineering for private profit." I think that puts the perspective on personal responsibility versus making policy as a government.
My question is: in rural areas type 2 diabetes is…. Well, we're no longer on the verge of an epidemic; we are in one. You point out that a 30-cent-per-litre tax is a possibility or a proposal. That seems to me…. You know, on a beverage, that would possibly make it less than a 15-cent increase in cost, yet you say on page 10 that the evidence shows this could actually make a difference. Could you expand on that a bit? It seems like a little increase in cost to actually cause a behaviour change.
T. Warshawski: The evidence on the amount of increase in cost and behaviour change that we have is really from tobacco, and those, of course, were huge tax increases. There was a recent study done in Boston where they increased the price at the point of purchase by 30 percent and saw a 24 percent reduction in sales in this particular model.
The reason why 30 cents a litre…. This is just an excise tax which we put out for consideration, because it would be the experts that need to look at this — how you'd actually implement it. But it would have its greatest impact on the bigger volumes sold.
Quite frankly, I know we don't mind if someone goes to the store and buys the 100-millilitre small cans of Coke, Pepsi or whatever it is that are being promoted or at least produced these days by the companies. That's a relatively insignificant amount of calories.
As you get bigger…. The average serving size now is 560 millilitres. My son came home the other day — he should know better — to show this to me: a 715-millilitre bottle of Coke. That’s a single-serving size, and the two-litre size, as I mentioned, is $1.10 a litre. So if you put on a 30-cent-a-litre excise tax, that'd be 30 cents on $1.10, so that's almost a 30 percent increase on the bigger volume. On the smaller volume, it's a much smaller increase. It's only about a 12-cent increase. So it helps drive people towards better-proportion purchases.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much for a very interesting presentation.
T. Warshawski: I had a great time.
J. Les (Chair): If you'd look around the room for us, there is another presenter who is probably getting ready to present to us as well.
A Voice: We actually haven't had any other speakers arrive yet at our space.
J. Les (Chair): There's no one else there at the moment.
A Voice: Not in Vernon, no.
J. Les (Chair): Then let's have a look in Merritt and see if we have somebody there. No, there's nobody there, so the committee will recess for ten minutes.
The committee recessed from 10:59 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Rodrick Baziw is standing by and waiting to present to us.
Go ahead, Rodrick.
R. Baziw: Yes, my first question to the budgetary committee is: have any of you tried to live on a thousand dollars a month? That's what I receive from disability.
Two — this is just a point — the MLAs received approximately a 25 percent increase and the Premier received a 50 percent increase. We on disability received a 10 percent increase, and that was taken up by the carbon tax. After doing my books, it worked out that it cost me an extra $1,100. So if I added the hundred dollars that I did receive, it would be $1,200.
Three, the cost of things has risen by 17 percent in the last six months alone. In the last year it's been about a 30 percent increase.
My last point, I don't know whether it affects the budgetary committee, but…. The generic drugs do not all work as per what the company says. Mine, in particular, has probably cost the government an extra 25 percent because the drug is not working properly. I have to take five times as much in order for it to work. My doctor has agreed to it. I'm seeing two specialists, and we're trying to get it changed through the bureaucratic system. I'm trying to be reasonable here. I'm trying to help cut costs, and I'm running into roadblocks.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you.
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D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the points you make, some specific ones. I think what you're getting at overall is trying to live on disability benefits. Do you have a recommendation overall about how that relates provincewide, or would you have more specific ones, for instance, around hydro bills, which I assume is part of those great increases in costs?
R. Baziw: That 17 percent I was talking about included hydro bills, B.C. Tel with the carbon tax and this new HST stuff. We have no way of getting it back. The $230 I'm going to…. My accountant has already said that the $230 is not even coming close to it by the end of the year, to cover the cost.
I'm also including...in this.
D. McRae: If I get this right, you say that you live on a thousand dollars a month. So you have a $12,000-a-year income, and you say the carbon tax costs you $1,100 of that $12,000.
R. Baziw: Roughly, yes.
D. McRae: What is the major expense from the carbon tax that's going to lead to that $1,100? No disrespect to you; I'm not saying you're wrong. But I don't spend that much money on carbon tax expenses at all during the year, and I obviously make a little bit more than $12,000.
R. Baziw: I run a small business. I run a small bobcat business when I do get some work. I've got to run the bobcat, the truck. The carbon tax is included in my phone bill, it's included in my hydro, and it's included in all my groceries. It's a hidden cost when you're talking groceries, though. The carbon tax has gone nothing but up since it was implemented.
D. McRae: So if I may, you make $12,000 a year based on disability assistance, and you have a job on the side, or is that the combined wage of the two?
R. Baziw: No. I probably take in an extra maybe $6,000 a year through my small business.
D. McRae: Okay. Well, I wish you luck with your accountant. If you don't mind, you can always feel free to contact my office in Comox Valley, if you want to look at some of the dollars. I could see perhaps if there's a way, if there are some errors that have been made either on our part or on your part, we could help you have more dollars in your pocket.
R. Baziw: My accountant has said I'm living on bare minimum as it is.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Rodrick, for presenting to the committee this morning.
We will now move on to Merritt. I believe I saw somebody on the screen who was about to get ready for the presentation.
All right, we will recess until Merritt is ready to go.
The committee recessed from 11:10 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): I see that in Merritt we have George Girouard there speaking on behalf of the aboriginal friendship centre.
Good morning, George. Go ahead, whenever you're ready.
G. Girouard: My name is George Girouard. I'm the executive director of the Conayt friendship centre in Merritt here, and I'm here on a double level. What I'm going to do is I'm going to talk on a macro level about the friendship centre movement in British Columbia and then also go back to a micro level and talk about the friendship centre movement here in Conayt and some of the issues that we're facing here.
The friendship centre movement has over $40 million invested in British Columbia. There are 23 centres throughout British Columbia, and we deliver social sector programming to all people within the community environment that we're in.
Now, we're burdened with a lot of what I would say are financial demands and growing demands from the community itself with respect to the friendship centre. We deal with about 60 percent of the aboriginal population base off reserve, and that's quite a significant number. There seems to be a larger number of people coming off reserve and living in urban environments. And of course with the economic conditions the way they are, there seems to be a larger increase of non-aboriginal people coming into our centres, too, to receive services. So there seems to be quite a large issue of non–service sector challenges.
The most important thing here about the aboriginal friendship centres is that we provide services on what I would even say is a multicultural level. With our centre here in Merritt, it's open to everybody. We do have people coming in constantly from various sectors.
With the friendship centre movement, currently the provincial government contributes $575,000 to our movement. That doesn't seem to be enough for all of our centres here across British Columbia. That's 23 centres. Like I said, we struggle on a day-to-day basis to try and provide the services that are required by our community groups.
I guess the ask here from the friendship centre movement is $3.1 million as an increase in capacity funding for our centres. We've got so many different needs that
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are out there, and this is where I'm going to go back into a micro level and talk about the needs within our community here.
Right now we're seeing a marked increase in the numbers of people coming into our centres. We've got quite probably the most active centre in the Interior with respect to community programming. We actually have a ton of people coming in to look for work, to try and…. We don't run an employment centre per se, but people are coming in. They're looking for work. They want to go to work. There's no work out here anywhere. What happens is that we have a large number of people who are falling into a large segment of cracks and fissures that are out there, with no real emergency services available.
We're here as a centre now, looking at it from the perspective that we don't have enough resources to do a whole lot of anything. We don't have the resources there even for our staffing to try and perform to the level that's required right now. If you look at it from a mainstream service sector…. I'll use apples and apples. If you're looking at it from a health service sector or a community service sector, a child and family service sector, anything like that, the staff actually get a lot more resourcing that's available to them. I don't begrudge that or fault that or anything like that.
Within our centres our staff members that are there don't receive any more than…. I'm just going to be straight-up. None of our staff members within our centre receive any more than $50,000 per annum. We don't have a benefits plan. We don't have a janitor. Our staff members are janitors. We don't have a union. People aren't in the friendship centre movement to become rich. They're here because they're concerned about what's happening in the communities and at the community level.
Rom the friendship centre perspective here in Merritt…. I know that this is very common across the Peace and right across British Columbia. There is not enough resourcing to actually be able to maintain a good complement of staff members and to provide them with the required assistance to provide those services to our community members.
That's a real challenge for us, you know, as we're looking at growing and expanding within various sectors within our economy here to try and meet need. Here in Merritt we have, I think, 15 different programs. We have child and family service programs. We have some health-related programming. We've got A-and-D counselling. We've got a home care initiative. We've got a homelessness initiative. We have a youth program. They're all seeing marked increases in requests.
Just so that you're aware, here within our sector we have 42 housing units that are providing low-income, affordable housing to our community members. We've had these units for roughly 15 years now, and what's happening is that because of the economy and the large number of people coming in here, we service 42 different families with those units. That's all the units that we have. We have 65 families on a waiting list. That does not include the single individuals that are here or any youth that have come in asking for assistance for housing. We only service the family environment. The demand in that sector has just expanded totally.
Within the friendship centre movement, as you're aware, there has been a request for a $3.1 million increase in our capacity funding. From that perspective, if you're looking at it from a macro level through 23 centres throughout British Columbia, it's not a lot of resourcing, but I can tell you that for a small centre like ours, which services a larger number of people within this area than most of the centres that are…. Actually, I don't even think our health centre services as many people as we service through our centre.
Our numbers, like I said, have increased exponentially. We're up to now, on a yearly basis, servicing and points of contact, about 22,000 people within our Merritt environment. For a small centre like us, capacity funding is important. It would be great to be able to afford even a janitor. It would be even better to be able to afford to provide the services in some of our community programming to augment those services so that we can provide a greater need — service that sector a lot better than we are right now.
With that, the $3.1 million, like I said, for funding that is requested on a provincial level it isn't a great deal. Here within the Merritt environment we are looking for some assistance within the next year. We are going to be building another 120 housing units within this environment here, so we'll be coming to the government, too, saying: "You know, we're going to need help here. We're going to need $6 million to do this."
The fact of the matter is that we have a ton of people who don't have a place to stay in this environment, and they're stuck in a catch-22 situation. We have people that are rooming with six or seven people and two or three families in the community of Merritt, so we know that the housing is one of the primary areas of concern that we're focusing our attention on. Like I said, I'll be coming to meet with the government on this to talk about our needs within this community environment here.
I think that's basically the gist of where we're at. We're looking at it, like I said, on a provincial basis, to provide an augmentation to our service capacity within all of our friendship centres, and then at a community level, the need to expand our services here. There's quite a demand, and it's not going to decrease as far as that goes.
You know, we're struggling as a smaller centre, even sitting down with the ministry to try and get resourcing. As I'm sure you're aware, every single sector has been hit with this economic downturn and budget restrictions
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and budget cutbacks. And it makes it really challenging to try and do anything as far as advancing the required sectors that we need within our environment here.
You know, the demand for mental health and addictions services is just going through the roof here within our centre. We've got three individuals that work within that environment to some context, and they've got a large number of clientele that come in on a regular basis. It makes it really challenging for them.
Those are some of the key things, and you've probably all heard this all the way across British Columbia. From the British Columbia association, we'd like to have that $3.1 million capacity increase, and from our centre's perspective, we definitely would like to have better access to some housing resourcing at a community level here.
I think that's it for me.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, George. We have a question from Doug Donaldson.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. It reinforced some of the information we have received already in presentations on behalf of friendship centres.
Can you just remind me of the provincial support right now for friendship centres? I know it was quoted in the presentation, but it'd be good for me to hear that again. Then, where are you looking for the additional dollars from? Is it specifically from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation?
G. Girouard: Right now the province contributes $575,000 in capacity funds throughout British Columbia for the 23 centres.
J. Les (Chair): Okay, thank you very much, George. There are no further questions, so thank you for your presentation. We'll carefully consider it as we put our report together.
G. Girouard: Okay, perfect. Remember, I'll be coming to talk to the government about our housing initiative here. We are going to put the shovel in the ground either which way. If we have to go into debt as an organization to try and provide to our community members, we are prepared to do that. But I'd like to be able to say that somebody is helping us — okay? All right, thanks.
J. Les (Chair): That concludes the public hearing for today. Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. We will see you next week, Friday, in Abbotsford.
The committee adjourned at 11:33 a.m.
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