Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 39th Parliament
Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
The committee met at 4:06 p.m.
[R. Howard in the chair.]
R. Howard (Chair): Good afternoon. I'm Rob Howard, MLA for Richmond Centre and Chair of this parliamentary committee. I'd like to welcome everyone in the audience and thank you for taking the time to participate in this important process.
Each year, in preparation for the next year's budget, the Minister of Finance releases a budget consultation paper which guides the committee's annual consultation process. The budget consultation paper presents a current fiscal and economic forecast. It also identifies key issues that need to be addressed in the next budget.
There are well-published global economic challenges in Europe and the States. What we are seeing is that governments who have not been fiscally responsible are being punished. In B.C. we have maintained our triple-A credit rating, and we are committed to balancing our budget in 2013-2014, which will serve us well to protect and grow our job base.
These challenging circumstances mean that there are difficult questions ahead. We look forward to hearing about your priorities in these challenging times.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is the parliamentary committee that is responsible to conduct public consultations on the forthcoming provincial budget. Our all-party committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 15 of this year.
This year we will hold 13 public hearings in each region of the province. We have also scheduled two video conference sessions to hear from residents of eight additional rural communities. It is the third time we have tried this consultation method.
Last week in Vancouver; this week in Fort Nelson and Smithers; now in Prince George; soon to be in Williams Lake, Kamloops and Courtenay before returning to Victoria. In the weeks that follow we will also be meeting in Surrey, Chilliwack, Cranbrook, Kelowna and Richmond.
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 or audio files. Further information on how you may participate using one of these methods is available on our website: www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations.
Committee members carefully consider all the public input 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 14.
At today's meeting each presenter may speak for ten minutes, with up to an additional five minutes allotted for members' questions. Time permitting, we may also have an open-mike session near the end of the hearing, with five minutes allocated for each presentation. If you would like to register for an open-mike spot, please check with Arlene at the information table at the back of the room.
Today's meeting is a public meeting which will be recorded and transcribed by Hansard Services. A copy of this transcript, along with the minutes of the meeting, will be printed and will be made available on the committee website. In addition to the meeting transcript, a live audio webcast of this meeting is also produced and available also on the committee's website. This enables interested listeners to hear the proceedings as they occur. An archived copy of the audio broadcast will also be retained on the committee's website.
I'll now ask the other members of the Finance Committee to introduce themselves. I'll jump back and forth, starting with Mr. Bennett.
B. Bennett: Bill Bennett, MLA from Kootenay East.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, MLA for the Cowichan Valley.
P. Pimm: I'm Pat Pimm, MLA for Peace River North.
M. Elmore: Good afternoon. Mable Elmore, MLA for Vancouver-Kensington.
J. Thornthwaite: Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver–Seymour.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston. I'm the MLA for Surrey-Whalley.
D. Hayer: Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead. Good afternoon.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Doug Donaldson, MLA Stikine. I live in Hazelton. I'm Deputy Chair of the Finance Committee.
R. Howard (Chair): Also joining us today is our Clerk, Susan Sourial, and with us again is Arlene Carlson, staffing the registration desk at the back of the room. We're also joined by Hansard Services staff, Michael Baer and Monique Goffinet Miller, who will record and prepare the written transcript of this meeting.
With that said, I would now call our first witness, the College of New Caledonia — Bob Murray and Randall Heidt.
As you were getting set, you undoubtedly heard. You've got 15 minutes. At about ten I'll give you a heads-up, and you can either stop for questions or keep going — your choice.
R. Murray: Thanks. Good afternoon. My name is Bob Murray. I'm currently one of the vice-chairs of the board of governors for the College of New Caledonia. With me is Randall Heidt, the director of communications and development for CNC.
To begin, we want to thank the committee for coming to Prince George. We appreciate the opportunity to share with you our thoughts regarding the 2012-13 provincial budget and the government policies and funding for the post-secondary education system. We'd like to briefly provide you with information regarding three topics.
First, we will comment on the important roles that our college plays in economic community development across the north and central Interior. Second, we will identify the priority budgeting and policy issues that are of concern to CNC as well as our ten sister colleges. Finally, we offer a few recommendations for consideration in the development of the 2012-13 provincial budget. We kept our prepared remarks brief in order to leave time for questions regarding the points we will raise.
First of all, the important roles of the CNC college and other colleges. CNC and British Columbia's ten other regional colleges are educating and training a workforce of today and tomorrow. Our colleges prepare people to work in literally hundreds of occupations, such as nurses, welders, construction trades, business people, technologists — to mention just a few.
Any government policy emphasis on jobs for British Columbia must include the emphasis on B.C. colleges. Colleges develop and offer programs that reflect and anticipate change in social, economic and labour market realities. In fact, B.C.'s colleges are the largest provider of highly skilled, job-ready graduates for the employers in the province.
By adapting the needs of local communities, B.C. colleges continue to be at the forefront of economic development. The development of grass-root programs to effectively meet the needs of a new and challenging workforce ensures B.C. colleges will continue to be a strong catalyst for the province's continuing economic growth and job creation.
CNC has campuses in six communities: Prince George, Quesnel, Mackenzie, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Burns Lake. We support and strengthen these communities by providing affordable access to higher education and skills training close to home. Our college currently provides 50 different programs leading to a certificate, diploma or degree. CNC is the largest of the six rural colleges in B.C. In 2011-12 we enrolled a total of 4,000 full-time-equivalent students, or approximately 10,000 individual learners.
At our institution we are justifiably proud of our progress over the past several years: responding quickly and comprehensively to economic recession by reallocating resources to programs and communities where the needs were greatest; assisting hundreds of displaced workers to upgrade and retain new employment; growing the diversity of our small campuses to serve 87 percent more students since 2005; increasing enrolment and participation of aboriginal learners by 33 percent in the regular credit program since 2005 and by over 80 percent in the program service areas; increasing the number of trades and apprenticeships and foundation-level training student space delivered; increasing health-related training provided within the region, including expanded registered nursing, practical nursing and health care assistants training; and graduating the first students from the medical laboratory technology program. This year we have enrolled the first class of students in the new medical radiography technology program.
Our college is working closely with industry, First Nations and educational institutions in addressing the labour market requirements in the central Interior and across the north.
Two of the many collaborative partnerships and initiatives that we are leading currently include the introduction to civil engineering technology program — in cooperation with Camosun College, Northern Lights College, Northwest Community College and UNBC — which urgently requires funding as well, and the implementation of the new cost recovery aviation business program, in partnership with the University of the Fraser Valley and a local flight school in Vanderhoof and other community partners.
Time does not permit us to go into details. However, we feel it's important that this committee and government recognize the extensive collaboration and partnerships existing among colleges and other educational institutions, as well as the business and community organizations.
I'll turn it over to Randall to continue.
R. Heidt: Thanks, Bob.
I'd like to talk about priority budget and policy issues. One of the first things is the skills gap in college capacity. As we all know, Canada is facing a skills shortage as the baby boomers age, and we will need to recruit more workers to these fields, including those from traditionally under-represented groups, and arm them with advanced skills for employment.
As more people turn to colleges for training or retraining, our colleges face both physical and financial capacity challenges that limit our ability to serve our communities.
I'd like to talk about aboriginal education. Aboriginal citizens make up a large and growing segment of the population — currently 13 percent, or about 18,000 individuals. Those are 2006 numbers.
Twenty-one First Nations communities in our college catchment area need and want to increase participation and successful completion of post-secondary education and training programs. A large portion of these potential students will be interested in the programs and services offered by the college system.
I am sure that we will all agree it is critical that many more aboriginal learners succeed in post-secondary education and contribute to the economic and social health of their communities and the province as a whole.
Annual capital allowance. In 2009 CNC received a major capital funding commitment, totalling nearly $30 million, for the knowledge infrastructure program, for the construction of the new technical education centre in Prince George and phase 2 of our Quesnel campus. We thank you very much for that funding.
However, the majority of our college's 600,000 square feet of facilities, which were constructed in the 1970s and '80s are now, 30 to 40 years later, reaching the stage where significant maintenance and improvements are needed. They don't all age as well as Bob here, so we do need a little bit of money for upkeep.
During the past year we have updated our inventory of repairs, upgrades and energy conservation projects that we believe will be required over the next five years. We estimate that the total cost of those projects is approximately $10 million.
Now, to be realistic, we don't expect that you'll give us $10 million to complete all of these projects, given that our annual capital allowance for this year is only $374,000, which is more than a million dollars less than it was two years ago, in 2009. However, we are concerned that our aging facilities may become a fiscal crisis if we are unable to invest in preventative maintenance and renewal of critical building systems.
I guess, before I go on, I want to remind the government that these are your buildings that we want to look after and maintain.
Accounting policies and standards. Changes in government administrative and accounting policies that limit the use of prior years' surplus funds are restricting institutions' abilities to respond effectively to the changing requirements of students and communities.
At a time when there is an increased need for flexibility and nimbleness, government administrative requirements and changes to accounting policies and standards are restrictive and may have a dramatic impact on our institution's future ability to respond effectively to changing education and training requirements within our communities.
We are concerned that the unintended consequences of these changes will be to discourage entrepreneurialism by institutions as well as to foster a "spend it or lose it" mentality, which would certainly run counter to prudent fiscal management and not be in the best interests of students, communities and achievement of government priorities.
Recommendations. The College of New Caledonia and our sister colleges recognize the difficult fiscal circumstances facing the province and the significant challenges government will face over the next years. However, growing the investment in provincial colleges for 2012-13 and beyond will be critical for the province to have the highly skilled workforce to meet both current and future needs.
B.C.'s colleges play a vital role in providing advanced skills and education for B.C.'s knowledge-based economy. We therefore urge the committee and the provincial government to continue to preserve and enhance operational funding provided to the B.C. college system in the 2012-13 budget.
I'd just like to mention that even the status quo puts us about 2 percent in the hole every year because, with the cost of living and inflation at about 2 percent, even status quo is actually a reduction of 2 percent for us.
Address the administrative and accounting policy issues that may negatively impact the post-secondary education institutions' abilities to provide the education programs and services required for students.
Please start to restore the annual capital allowance back to pre-2009 levels, which were more than $1 million more than the current level. Obviously, those costs have increased in that time as well.
Finally, make sure of renewed funding commitment to support increased educational access and success for aboriginal people. Our ASP funding was recently restored, and we thank you very much for that. However, it was for a one-year commitment, and we would like something more like three to five years. The program was very successful, but it's difficult to plan long term when funding is one year and not three to five, like the original funding was.
Thank you for your time and attention. We would be pleased to answer any questions.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you. Well, my first question is: the comment you made about aging and Bob — was that a compliment?
R. Heidt: Absolutely. [Laughter.]
R. Howard (Chair): Just curious.
When you talk about the flexibility of providing programs that actually result in jobs, how long does it take you to…? If you heard of a new skill set required in the workforce today, how long would it take you to get to market with a product that would train?
R. Heidt: It really depends on the product. Currently we're doing our medical radiography program. That's obviously a very difficult program to deliver. It's kind of tough to say. I would say anywhere from two to three years, but it really depends on how difficult the program is and how intricate the program is to deliver.
With our medical radiography, we had to literally do lead-lined walls, lead-lined doors and things to prevent radiation from leaking out of the room. The changes to the building were extensive. As well, it's obviously a very difficult program to deliver. You can see it would be much more than, say, an English program.
R. Murray: In the cost recovery scenario in some of the regional campuses — like Burns Lake, where we're working with industry — we can turn that around fairly quickly and set up programs to do the skills and training that are required to meet the needs of the particular industry. We do a lot of that cost recovery stuff. That can take place in six months or even quicker, at the end of the day, but it depends upon fiscal funding and what type of skill training that you need.
R. Heidt: That's a great point. Our regional campuses are much more nimble and agile to be able to make very quick changes based on community needs.
R. Howard (Chair): We've got a few more questions.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the very succinct presentation with some very good recommendations. I'm familiar with the work in Burns Lake especially, and well done to the people at your campus there.
Two access questions, one being the ASP, aboriginal student funding. You said it was renewed for one year. Was it renewed to previous levels, and were those levels adequate for the need and the goals that you're trying to achieve?
Secondly, on the capital funding. You mentioned, under your skills gap and college capacity, the physical capacity challenges that you're facing. With a million less than in 2009, is that physical space limiting access, especially to northern and rural students for access to college?
R. Heidt: Our ASP funding was returned, yes, to very similar levels to the past. But the original funding was three years, and this has been extended for one year. We've shown exceptional results in terms of aboriginal employment — over 80 percent, I believe, for students that were in the program.
Really, this is about changing lives for those students. There's all kinds of research that shows that it's much more likely that other siblings and other people in the home will go to post-secondary education after someone in their family has successfully completed it. It's important that while we have seen that increase….
If we don't restore those, then we won't have that spinoff. We won't have those people going and wanting to do like their big brother or their mom or their dad. That's why it's crucial that we have that funding restored to at least a three- or five-year limit.
Your other question was on ACA funding — right? Basically, when you're talking about six campuses in six different cities and over 600,000 square feet and less than $400,000 to upkeep it, we're doing very basic things, such as paint.
Structural fixes, other things like that — there simply isn't that money, with less than $400,000 and all of those buildings in six different cities. It's really surface things that we're allowed to take care of, and having that funding reduced by more than a million dollars in the last two years.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for a very….
R. Murray: I was just going to make a comment on the First Nations stuff. The other thing we're working on is relationships with First Nations and partnerships with them to turn around and get their educational model in place so that they can move forward. As we do that, we're going to probably wind up with more First Nations in the queue to wind up…. As a result of that, more people — more funding.
But right now, we're very pleased with getting what we got back again because it's an important piece for those communities at the end of the day.
R. Heidt: That's a great point, Bob, and it's so important with these First Nations communities that we've established these relationships. It takes time to do that. To be able to continue that is vital, I think, to the future of First Nations people in B.C.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much for your presentation. My first question is on your point numbered second on your recommendations addressed there — administrative and accounting policy issues. Can you make some suggestions? What type of policy are you looking at? Will that save you some money, or will you be able to use your funds more effectively?
The second part is on this brochure, on the back page, you have: "International Education Students Head Count." If you were to increase international students, to double their numbers, how will that affect your college?
R. Heidt: So the first one was on accounting policies — was that correct?
D. Hayer: Yeah — administrative and accounting policies. Your point 2.
R. Heidt: Right. Currently we are restricted in how we can spend the money that we have in surplus. We can't spend it necessarily on things that we want to spend it on. So in doing that, while it was great that we had almost a million dollar surplus last year, we can't spend it on things that we want to for this year.
So then you have to spend it on things strategically — such as equipment, say — so that you don't have to buy it next year. But that's not necessarily the best way to spend the money. We would like more flexibility with the money that we've basically earned by being fiscally prudent — to be able to spend that in a way that allows us to continue to be fiscally responsible rather than heavily legislated in red tape so that we can't manage our own funds.
The other question — I'm sorry — was…?
D. Hayer: On the….
R. Heidt: Oh, on the…. Yes. We currently have…. It's kind of rough numbers. Those are 2009-10 numbers. I apologize. The 2010-11 numbers aren't out yet. We're probably more than the 221 students, I believe, that are on there.
The government actually just released this morning a plan to increase access for us to the China market in terms of students. We're currently, at CNC, hosting six vice-presidents from six different Chinese institutions, and they were actually so impressed with us over the last ten days that we're moving right into the MOU stage with them. That's actually breaking news. People in our organization don't even necessarily know that yet. We're actually moving to the MOU stage with them.
So I think that we can drastically improve the number of international students. They obviously bring a lot of revenue into the post-secondary system, but I think even more importantly than that is the cultural impact they have in the organization with other students, especially in our business programs, who might then go on to international business exposure because of having worked with those students.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, gentlemen. I'll have to let it go at that. We've run over time. I know MLA Elmore has a question. Perhaps she can catch up with you outside of the session here. Thank you, Bob, thank you, Randall, for coming.
Next up we have PacificSport Northern B.C. — Dr. Anne Pousette. Welcome, Anne. I think you probably know you have 15 minutes. At about ten, I'll give you a heads-up, and you can either allow for some questions or go straight through. Your call.
A. Pousette: Okay — great.
Good afternoon. On behalf of the board of directors of PacificSport Northern B.C. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to come and present to you. My name is Anne Pousette, as you know. I was born in Prince George, and I've spent the majority of my life here raising my family and working as a family physician and being involved in the sports sector as a volunteer through all the various ways you get roped into as a parent.
I can tell you from both personal experience and as a parent, as well as a physician working with families, that sport is a very important vehicle for communities and families in providing physical activity, healthy social activities, leadership models, development of respect and overall healthy lifestyle models for children, youth and adults of all ages.
Today I just want to focus on two things. One is the value of the investment in the sports sector and the other is the opportunity for northern B.C., through the hosting of the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
Last year we presented to this committee a detailed rationale around dollars and where dollars went and how valuable that investment was, and I'm going to just highlight a few of the things we focused on last year. We looked at the cost of inactivity based on the 2004 study that was commissioned by the province of B.C., where it estimated that $573 million per year, in 2004 dollars, was the cost of inactivity in B.C.
Estimates at that time indicated that a 10 percent increase in physical activity in our population would result in a savings of $49.4 million per year, and that was kind of the impetus for some of those goals that were set around the 2010 Olympics and increasing physical activity by 10 percent. We didn't achieve that, but we actually didn't get a lot worse, whereas some other provinces slipped. Again, it's a place where we can save some money, and I know that one of the agendas for this year's budget consultation is: how can we save some money?
Last year we also reviewed the well-recognized social benefits of sport to families and communities. I'm not going to go into those, but I know that, again, the Premier is concerned about addressing the needs of families and communities. Sport is one of those vehicles that does a good job of that.
We looked at the economics of sport from the perspectives of government investment, volunteer investment, and then the risks of these investments, and we noted that the return on government's investment in sport related to absenteeism in the workplace is significant as well.
When you look at the value of work done by sport volunteers in B.C., last year it was estimated at $1.2 billion per year. That's based on the number of sport volunteers, based on an average salary of $60,000 a year, and then looking at the hours they put in. The government investment in the sport sector in the 2010-2011 service plan was $69 million, so that represents a return of $17 from the volunteer sector for every dollar of government spending.
Then there's also return on this investment through other government funding programs at the federal and municipal level, and also from the corporate sector. So there's a lot leveraged from that investment in sport.
We looked at the fact that the current investment, based on numbers last year, was actually related on a national basis to a 2 percent reduction in sport participation per year. We didn't have the breakout numbers for B.C., but in the past it's been pretty similar to the national average. So that money that we're putting in…. While we're doing a great job and leveraging a lot of volunteer investment to run a good sport system, we're still actually getting decreased sport participation. So that shows kind of the fragility of the system. If we don't have enough in there, we don't get that investment from all those volunteers, and we start to lose our capacity.
So when you consider the value of investment in the sport and physical activity sector to the health and well-being of our families and communities, and then that tremendous return on investment through the voluntary sector, our message today is that this is not a good time to be cutting funding to the sport sector.
Then, considering the return on investment, it might be a very good time to be increasing the investment, with a view to potential savings in health care, the court system, absenteeism, sick benefits, workplace injuries and then the increased productivity that occurs through that, and then, ultimately, to boost the provincial economy.
Investment in sport also provides cross-sector benefits to health and education sectors. Sometimes we don't recognize that when we cut things in the sport sector, we're actually cutting some of those cross-sector benefits. Alternatively, if we put a little extra in, we get an exponential benefit back by contributing there as well.
Again, given the fact that health and education are significant priorities and have significant costs, the role of the sport and physical activity sector is an area that we just encourage government to consider carefully in its budget deliberations, because you get a lot back for your dollar put in.
Switching topics, I want to focus on the 2015 Canada Games. In northern B.C. we have the privilege, in 3½ years, to bring Canada's games here. This is a once-in-40-year opportunity for British Columbia, and it's probably a once-in-100-year opportunity for us in northern B.C. to have this kind of an opportunity.
We're very thankful to decision-makers that allowed us to have this opportunity, but we also want to say that we've got 3½ years to maximize that opportunity and to look at how we can use the games as a catalyst for some great changes in northern British Columbia.
Remember the power of the 2010 Winter Olympics to unite a nation? Remember the successes of the athletes, the hospitality of the volunteers, the appreciation of the international community for our Canadian culture, the way we do things in Canada? All of those things we won't be soon forgetting. They've been an inspiration to individuals, families and communities across Canada.
Now it's British Columbia's turn, and northern B.C. in particular, to take the next 3½ years and try to simulate that kind of experience for northern B.C. It's our opportunity to engage youth and families and communities, to use the power of sport to increase physical activity, to change some perceptions in communities, to build infrastructure. By infrastructure, I don't mean just bricks and mortar but the capacity to have more coaches, have more sport programs, more recreation programs, to increase our capacity for sustainability beyond 2015.
The games will also provide new areas for economic development in the areas related to culture, sport and tourism. Continued adequate support and investment in the sport sector and in these games initiatives at this time is critical to being able to maximize the long-term benefits for northern B.C. of hosting these games.
Again, I just want to…. Those would be the two things, from PacificSport Northern B.C.'s perspective, that we would encourage you to look at. One is what's really critical to ensuring that British Columbia, and northern B.C. in particular, can maximize this catalytic effect of hosting the games here, and two, the very powerful benefit of sport to communities and families and to our health and education sectors.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you. We have a couple of questions.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation again this year, and congratulations on 2015. I know I wrote a letter of support that Dan Rogers requested, and it's great to see. It's going to be pretty exciting.
I had a question about the funding you were able to acquire. We've had presentations on the social determinants of health, and I know access to recreational services is in there. Did you receive gaming grant funding at all, and if so, how has that gone recently? Were you able to make your case around gaming grants to the review that's going on right now?
A. Pousette: The PacificSport centres — there are five of them in the province — in terms of negotiating and doing applications for grants, have worked together as a group, because we really are the sector that supports the sport system. So there's been a joint application to gaming by the five centres as a group. In the initial round they were awarded half of what our routine core funding had been for a long time. That was quite a shock to everyone because we've had stable funding through that process for a long time. However, when the Premier restored a significant amount of gaming funding, we were restored back to our traditional funding levels that we've had for probably six or seven years.
So at this point in time we didn't have any losses. Our presentation to the review was done, again, at the level of the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific representing all of us. The key message was around sustainable, long-term funding formulas that allow us to be a stable sector that can actually deliver, and the application process and the up-and-down things that we haven't actually had too much difficulty with, but we know that many of our sport partners have had that roller-coaster effect. So we certainly recommended a different way of rolling out funds so that people can actually plan and build sustainability.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation. I did attend Skip Triplett's review session, a portion of it, last week, and that was a very common recommendation. He heard that loud and clear. So if your group did, he heard it.
My question is with regards to the 2015 Canada Games. You've given us a request for support, but you haven't actually given us specifics. I'm just wondering what specifically you're asking us with regards to financial commitment.
A. Pousette: Well, I think there will be…. There are some very clear-cut things that will be coming from the host society, and I don't want to tread there, but there's a bigger picture of collaborative opportunities around the games that will be going forward.
There has been a northern sports strategy document prepared. There are people in Victoria who have copies of that. This is an opportunity to create a strategy across the entire north, to create sustainability as well as almost like a mini–Own the Podium that increases the athletes' chances in northern B.C. of having access to the things that allow them to be the best that they can be, and hopefully in time for the games so that we can increase the number of kids from northern B.C. on Team B.C. Also, Team B.C. would like to be the number one province in 2015 if that's possible. So that is one of the things that's an ask.
J. Thornthwaite: So it's like Own the Podium. That's what you said?
A. Pousette: It's a mini–Own the Podium, but it's more than that. It's really to create a sustainable infrastructure in the north. We did a study a year ago where we were looking at why we have so few northern athletes on Team B.C. What we discovered is there's quite a big disconnect from north to south in terms of transfer of information and access to resources.
So with the games coming, we then hired the same consultants to go back out and say: "Okay, what would it take to turn this around?" They did quite an elaborate document. It has been called the northern sports strategy. Most of the mayors and communities in the north have actually seen it. I don't know that the MLAs have all seen it, but it is sort of working its way through the system right now.
B. Ralston: Earlier today we heard someone in Smithers speak about opportunities for play and recreation for aboriginal youth. Do you see, as part of your strategy, any particular place for aboriginal youth in what you called a mini–Own the Podium, preparing for the games in 2015?
A. Pousette: The northern sports strategy includes a significant component looking for ways to maximize opportunities for aboriginal youth as well. An example is that when they went around and looked at who our athletes are in northern B.C. and what sports they do, they discovered that we have a tremendous number of fantastic archers and target shooters. B.C. has actually never done terribly well in that at Canada Games, and we've got people already with almost the skills to look at being able to win medals in 2015 with the right kinds of supports put in place.
So it's kind of a targeted strategy around the games and looking for some places to really highlight opportunities. In addition to that, there are also connections through the partners council. They're just rolling their program out, and that will integrate with PacificSport's athlete development program once they get rolling.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Doctor, we had such a marvellous experience in Richmond, where I'm from, with respect to the Olympics, and so many positive legacies came out of that. One of the biggest was in the volunteers. Do you have an overarching volunteer strategy in the workup that will survive the 2015 games?
A. Pousette: In the sports sector, typically, your parents and the communities that surround kids will end up becoming a large part of that volunteer base. So if Smithers has four kids who are going to make it to the games, I'll bet those parents and all the people connected to them will want to be volunteers in those sports at the games.
Because the north is together trying to work on this opportunity, we envision that our volunteer base will be coming not just from Prince George but from around the north, particularly as it pertains to the hosting of those sporting events.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Well, we've run you out of time. We very much appreciate you attending today and making a presentation. Thank you.
Next up we have Initiatives Prince George — Tim McEwan.
Hello, Tim. You probably know, but you've got 15 minutes. I'll give you a little heads-up around ten minutes, and you can either stop for questions or keep going.
T. McEwan: Great. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. I want to thank you for the opportunity to provide some thoughts on the forthcoming 2012-2013 budget cycle.
By way of background, Initiatives Prince George Development Corp. is the economic development authority for Prince George. In full partnership with our sole shareholder, the city of Prince George, our organization works to build Prince George, in synergy with its vast service base over the northern two-thirds of British Columbia, as a sustainable, knowledge-based, resource economy connected to the world.
As the largest and hub city in northern British Columbia, Prince George stands at the crossroads of the world's two great market economies: those in the Asia-Pacific and those in the United States. Our staggering resource endowment locally and regionally is required by the global marketplace, and our international city stands right in the middle of one of the world's fastest-emerging supply chains.
This week's $15 million contribution by the province of British Columbia toward the Port of Prince Rupert's road-rail-utility corridor is a welcome down payment on ongoing investments in the Prince Rupert–Prince George corridor that will be required to enable resource-based exports and to develop the corridor's inherent role as a supply chain route between China and the U.S. heartland markets.
At the outset of today's remarks, I would also like to express our sincere appreciation for Premier Clark's announcement last week to proceed with a request for expression of interest in a long-sought wood design and innovation centre and associated programming.
In addition to setting Prince George up as a true global centre of excellence in wood design and innovation and complementary education programming, the wood innovation and design centre is a key part of local efforts to improve our city's downtown core. The wood design centre will also provide the impetus to proceed with engineering programming sought by the University of Northern British Columbia in partnership with the College of New Caledonia.
We also look forward to the forthcoming job strategy and look forward to doing our part to accelerate the development of Prince George and northern British Columbia. We are excited about the export focus of the forthcoming plan. We do, however, urge senior governments to do everything practical to smooth the way for the multiple billions of dollars of planned investment in northern British Columbia so that these may be converted into real economic development and jobs.
In this regard, we wish to draw your attention to three critical focuses. The first is continued and concerted focus on streamlining approvals and permitting processes between and within governments.
Second is ensuring that northern skilled, professional, technical and trades needs are met with timely investments in northern post-secondary institutions; leveraging the provincial nominee program to deliver skilled immigrants for northern projects; and helping to promote available job openings in the north to workers traditionally rooted in B.C.'s south.
Third is maintaining a watching brief on northern transportation's supply chain infrastructure and regulatory requirements to ensure that export- and job-destroying bottlenecks are dealt with expeditiously.
In terms of the current cycle beyond those broad issues that I've raised, there are three specific priorities that we would like to key on for this round of budget consultations.
First is Highway 97 improvements — the Pine Pass technical and safety improvement completion. This relates to Prince George service and supply businesses that would like to be able to take full advantage of procurement opportunities associated with the construction of the Site C clean energy project, ongoing gas industry development in the Peace region and new interprovincial trade flowing from the terms of the new west partnership.
Physical barriers, including hairpin turns and low rail overheads between Quesnel and Dawson Creek, currently impede central British Columbia firms from fully participating in procurement opportunities within the Peace region.
So we recommend that the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services recommend to the province, in partnership wherever with the federal government, to expedite required safety and technical improvements to the Pine Pass — again, so the Prince George service and supply businesses can take part in the megaproject developments and investments that are planned for the Peace region.
The second key item is Prince George downtown development and renewal. Downtown development and renewal is a key focus of our corporation, our sole shareholder, the city of Prince George. We recommend that the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services support the city of Prince George's request for provincial contribution to capital funding for the Prince George regional performing arts centre project.
There may be opportunities for synergy with the recently announced wood design and innovation centre. These possibilities should be explored as part of the recently announced request for expressions of interest for the same. The performing arts centre has been identified by the city of Prince George as a catalyst project for the downtown and as their key project for the city centenary in 2015.
We also recommend that the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services recommend that the provincial government examine program and administrative functions for relocation to Prince George from southwestern B.C.
Prince George offers full urban amenities, lower lease rates, an attractive four-season lifestyle, superior transportation connectivity to Vancouver with nine flights a day, lower housing costs and a well-skilled and educated workforce supported by outstanding post-secondary institutions. Leading candidates for consideration should be functions within the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
The third item that I'd like to highlight today is Prince George Airport Authority regulatory requirements. The Prince George Airport Authority continues to build and market its trans-Pacific refuelling and air cargo offering tied to existing road and rail infrastructure in all directions. Senior governments have been very supportive with significant investments in infrastructure, especially the Prince George Airport Authority runway extension and the Boundary Road connector project, which is associated with the logistics part to the west of the airport.
However, federal regulation in a few key areas is presenting significant hurdles to realizing the full potential of the infrastructure that is already in place.
Key regulatory hurdles standing in the way of realizing the latent potential of the Prince George Airport Authority and environs that require provincial intergovernmental relations assistance include Nav Canada fees for tech stop; Canada border security services regulation — and the issue here is that we are the only airport in Canada that doesn't have pre-9/11 CBSA coverage; Open Skies policy; air bilaterals; and within the text we also make reference to free trade zone policy initiatives that are underway. There's a coalition that's got some work underway nationally, and we've just become part of that coalition.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, we wish to thank you for the opportunity to share our organization's immediate and medium-term economic development priorities, which are listed in further detail within this brief.
I now stand open for any questions that you may have at this time.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Tim. We have a few.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks again, Tim, for another presentation.
I recently was up in Stewart, touring the site there after Highway 37A washed out. There were some major challenges there, but the northern regional manager for the Ministry of Transportation was with me and explained that in the Pine Pass it's still pilot-controlled single lane in areas of that road. I hope there's enough effort put into that to bring it back to two lanes exactly for the reasons you talk about — access to the developments further north.
My question is around the timely investments in northern post-secondary institutions, around trades training especially. We heard in a presentation in Smithers this morning that the college that services the northwest part of the area had their trades-training budget cut by 74 percent.
I'm wondering if you're seeing a similar lack of access for trades training in the Prince George region and therefore a skills gap for northern residents.
T. McEwan: Thanks very much for your question, Mr. Donaldson.
The issue that Initiatives Prince George is keying on for northern British Columbia really relates to the multiple billions of dollars that are planned for construction in the north. If even a quarter of those that are planned convert into the underway column, we're going to have some significant skills challenges.
When you look at Prince George and central British Columbia, your unemployment rate is hovering around 6.5 to 7 percent. It was down just a few months ago as low as 5.8. So we're already at full employment. The issue is that we need to keep a watching brief on how we are going to meet the skilled labour needs in central British Columbia.
The Peace is a perennial challenge, but you know, in your neck of the woods, in northwest British Columbia, you look at all the capital projects that are in the "planned" column. Again, if a quarter of those convert, we've got some significant challenges. So we've just got to keep a keen eye attuned to that.
B. Bennett: Thank you for your presentation.
I'm trying to get through the longer submission here. You mentioned the northwest transmission line somewhere in here.
T. McEwan: It may not be in this brief, but we certainly referenced it in previous ones, and we're very grateful to senior government commitment to that project.
B. Bennett: I would like you, Tim, to flesh out a little bit the context for your first recommendation dealing with streamlining approvals and permitting processes. It's a theme for the committee. It's not like we haven't heard it before, but it would be nice for you, given the position that you have in this region, to kind of flesh out for us what you hear about the permitting processes.
T. McEwan: Sure. It begins with the larger projects and the whole question of environmental assessment harmonization with the federal government. So that's an issue, whether it's related to the….
We all know the Prosperity case south of us, near Williams Lake. That is an issue that I think in any major project, to the greatest extent possible, there needs to be a one-project, one-process approach.
The other thing we are hearing repeatedly throughout the region is procedural delays around permitting, getting them through the mill in government and holding back on-the-ground investment. These range from those that are associated with environmental permitting to…. And there's no easy answer to this latter one that I'm about to mention — First Nations consultation and accommodation.
It seems to me, through the various involvements I have — one is being a governor of the Business Council of British Columbia — that one of the things I think we need to think about collectively is having some kind of matrix that sort of sets out the various degrees of intensity of First Nations consultation and accommodation that's required and, if necessary, test those in the courts to get some certainty around what's required, given specific case examples.
B. Bennett: I don't usually do this, but with the indulgence of the Chair…. That is exactly what strategic engagement agreements do. We only have…. I don't even know if we have a half-dozen yet in the province. We have one where I come from, and that is precisely what they do. They set out, almost in a codified way, the level of consultation and, therefore, accommodation that's required for each kind of activity that might take place on the land. It really should help.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): How'd that work for Prosperity?
B. Bennett: I don't think they had one in place.
R. Howard (Chair): Gentlemen, address the Chair, please.
Sorry. You can keep going. Did you have more to say, Bill?
B. Bennett: I was just responding to my friend over here.
R. Howard (Chair): We're here to listen.
T. McEwan: If I may, may I respond to that? I'm aware of those, and I'm aware of the great lengths that government officials are going to in the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations to address the challenges.
I've got a column — I think it's appearing tomorrow in the Vancouver Sun — that talks about these, that frames out these major projects that we've got. Again, if we get a quarter of them that can convert, we're going to have these skilled-trades challenges, and we're going to have potential bottlenecking as well. We've talked about that in the brief.
Even getting there, you know we need more certainty around, certainly, a process and process outcome. I acknowledge that there are no easy answers to, particularly, the First Nations consultation and accommodation issue, but it is one that's worth referencing in this forum.
M. Elmore: Thank you for your presentation. Just wondering if you can elaborate a little bit on your third priority. That's with regards to the Prince George Airport Authority and the reinstatement to the pre-9/11. You mentioned that Prince George is the only airport that currently doesn't have that status.
T. McEwan: Yeah. We've been working in sharp partnership with the Prince George Airport Authority to build the fourth mode in a multimodal corridor here. So we've got Prince Rupert functioning very highly now and expanding CN Rail. Our transload facility here has experienced exponential growth within the last year. We have road connections in all directions as well.
So the airport authority…. The issue there is that we have investment in place, the third-longest commercial runway in Canada now, and there's disalignment between that and a host of regulatory issues.
Nav Canada fees for tech stop are too onerous, juxtaposed to our competitors. The main one is Anchorage, Alaska.
The second thing with respect to CBSA is we don't have what we had in terms of pre-9/11 coverage. The other thing that there is with CBSA that's challenging, particularly in the air cargo environment, is a disalignment between their hours of work provisions and the itinerant nature of the air cargo business. All those things add costs, and all those things work to the detriment and the competitiveness of the product.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Tim. I appreciate you taking the time to come out and present to us.
I'd just like to remind the members that this is the forum not for debate between MLAs but for a listening exercise to B.C. citizens.
Welcome, gentlemen. AiMHi Prince George Association for Community Living — Alain LeFebvre and Rory Summers.
Gentlemen, you probably know you have 15 minutes. At about ten minutes I'll give you a heads-up, and you can take some questions or you can keep going. Your choice.
A. LeFebvre: Thank you. It shouldn't take us much longer than that.
We appreciate this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Al LeFebvre, and I'm the president of AiMHi, the Prince George Association for Community Living, and one of the board of directors of the British Columbia Association for Community Living. I'm joined here today by Rory Summers, who also sits on the board of directors for both AiMHi and BCACL.
We will present to you jointly this evening, and together we'll be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
By way of background, AiMHi has been providing services to the Prince George and surrounding communities for more than 50 years. We provide a broad range of services to people who have special needs, including infants, children, adults, seniors and family members. These services cover a broad range, including infant development, life skills, family support, residential, community inclusion and employment.
AiMHi is a member of the British Columbia Association for Community Living, and both organizations were founded by small groups of families wanting a better life for their children living with developmental disabilities. Today AiMHi provides support and services to hundreds of families and employs over 400 people in this community. We are proud of the work that we have done and continue to do in assisting people to live good lives as contributing members to society.
Our organization has grown significantly since the years of inception, and today we are serving an increasing number of people each year. Unfortunately, our funding resources from government have not kept up with this increase, and we find ourselves today having to constantly adjust how we utilize the funding we have to ensure that the needs of the community are met. More recently, we feel we are losing the battle of balancing our budget against the needs of the people who require the services.
The recent announcement by government that an additional $8.9 million, $2.9 million of which was reallocated, has been invested in the community living services of CLBC is a welcomed announcement. Thank you for that. We hope to see many people and their families who have been waiting for extended periods of time benefit from this investment.
Recently, the Hon. Kevin Falcon, Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier, commented in a news article on his expectations when organizations like ours are requesting additional funds to be allocated from government to specific areas. His comments included an expectation that groups such as ours would come prepared to talk about the work they have done in already finding savings and efficiencies before asking for further investment of funds, and we have come prepared to do that tonight.
Over the past several years AiMHi has participated in various funding reduction initiatives. Some of these have been initiated by government in the forms of cutbacks and clawbacks of funding, and some have been initiated by AiMHi in an effort to increase our efficiencies and provide services to families who are waiting.
Over the past year AiMHi worked cooperatively with CLBC in developing and implementing a service redesign plan to once again reduce our costs and serve additional people. This included the closure of several staffed homes in Prince George, the introduction of the less costly home-sharing program here at AiMHi and the reduction of supports and services to some people to allow other families to receive services.
This one initiative resulted in AiMHi reducing our costs to CLBC by almost $1 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year, an annualized savings to CLBC of approximately $1.5 million. We believe you will acknowledge from the $22 million that was saved by CLBC over the past year as a result of their service redesign initiatives that AiMHi has contributed our fair share.
In 2009 AiMHi was servicing a total of 825 people in various program areas. Today we are servicing 1,060 in the same service areas. However, since 2009 our overall funding from government has been reduced.
We actively participate in various fundraising ventures throughout the year in an effort to close the widening gaps in services that are not funded by government. By way of one example only, we operate a skill-building toy library that all community members can access, with funds raised in this community by AiMHi.
Not all of the supports and services that are provided to the people in the community living sector in this province are funded by government. In addition, this does not include significant financial contributions that many families continue to make in supporting their children, including those that are now adults and seniors.
As you are no doubt aware from the recent news articles, the community living sector is currently in a funding crisis. We all recognize that we have an aging population in Canada, and this holds equally true for people supported in this sector. Families are aging, and there are an increasing number of parents who no longer can care for their adult children at home. People currently being served are aging and are requiring additional supports, not less. Many children turning 19 each year present themselves for services that quite simply are often not available for many of them.
While there are many people who enjoy various housing options outside the staffed-home model, there are other families who seek this model for various reasons. Choice for people and their families was a cornerstone in the development of CLBC.
We can all appreciate the need to feel that our ability to remain in our homes is a fundamental right that we all have. It is no less important for people that have a developmental disability. They need to feel that it's their right to remain in their homes and that this is protected by government and by society in general.
The wait-lists for services in the community living sector are growing. Whether you have been provided with specific wait-list numbers or not by government, we can assure you these wait-lists are growing in our community. We are able to easily gauge this not only by the increasing number of people we have had to serve each year but also by the number of people who are requesting assistance to access various services.
AiMHi is not in a position to continue to serve an increasing number of people each year, reduce our costs, increase our efficiencies and participate in ongoing reviews by government.
The signing by Canada in 2010 of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities was an exciting development in Canadian history. This was and continues to be written recognition that the rights afforded to people who have a disability are not different from what each of us enjoys as citizens of society.
It is imperative that we bear this UN convention in mind when we are making decisions on whether or not to provide for all the needs of citizens. To do so would ensure that we are fair and equitable in decisions we make and that we are adhering to this legislation as written and approved.
We respectfully ask that you recommend an immediate and ongoing investment of funds be put into the community living sector, which will address the current funding crisis, while making some effort to keep these critical supports to be provided to the ever-increasing number of people who require them.
We are pleased to answer any questions that you may have at this point.
P. Pimm: Thanks very much for your presentation. This is a theme that we've heard a bit about across the province. I'm trying to get a little better handle on the scope of the problem, I guess. You say that you've got 400 people in this community that are working with AiMHi. Then you have about 1,060 folks that you're servicing. So is that like a 3-to-1 ratio? How does that work?
The second portion of that question would be: how many kids that are over the 18 age bracket are coming into the system?
R. Summers: In the province there are between 600 and 800 kids per year that are turning 19, that are receiving services from MCFD and that when they're turning 19 are on a wait-list for CLBC.
P. Pimm: I was specifically asking about this region.
R. Summers: Specifically this region?
A. LeFebvre: We only know the provincial numbers, to be honest. We don't know the local numbers. But we do know, because of the number of parents that do come to us, that obviously there are families in the Prince George area. But I can't give you an exact number on that.
Your question related to the number of staff and the number of people serviced. We have a number of staff in all areas, as we identified in our initial opening. We provide services for life skills, family support, community inclusion and employment. So a lot of our staff are hired in those areas. They're not providing direct support to one or two individuals. They are providing support to a number of individuals.
There are other people, though, that are specifically working in our staffed residential homes or as supervisors of family-model homes and all of those others where…. For the staffed homes, of course they are a 24-hour operation in all cases.
Some of them are licensed facilities that require people with special skills to handle people who are violent or whatever is the issue. We have some instances where there may be two people required on shift at all times to deal with one individual. So it's not a number that we can just say it's a 3-to-1 ratio. We're not just in the service of providing support in homes.
M. Elmore: Thank you for your presentation. Just to follow up on the point that you raised in your presentation about the closure of group homes, have you had reports on the impacts to clients and also families?
A. LeFebvre: Yes, and they've been very…. Well, they are specific, of course, to individuals. Well, I guess we'll be blunt to the committee. We have incidents where CLBC has demanded individuals go into a family-model home, and after a very short time they've had to come back out and go back into…
R. Summers: …a supported, staffed home because they have been unsuccessful in the other model.
A. LeFebvre: Then we've also had successful cases where people have moved from a serviced home to a family-model home. So we're not saying that there's only one approach. We as a board of our local agency have told our staff that we have to adjust to the current models. We certainly see the benefits of family-model homes.
The key point we want to make is that it's choice. It's the choice of families. The families know their children better than the government does, to be honest, and we believe that they should have a say in the selection of the model. We do not believe that they get that right now. We believe that CLBC is focused on the family-model home.
J. Thornthwaite: Maybe you could specifically tell us what those differences are.
I just wanted to thank you for your obvious efforts in efficiencies — if you are servicing so many more people with less or the same funds — as well as your fundraising efforts. Thank you for that. That will and does not go unnoticed.
Perhaps you could give us a feeling of what the difference is between the so-called family-share model and the group home model. I get what you're saying — that they need a choice — but for us, for the committee members, it would be very helpful for us to know what the difference is.
A. LeFebvre: In a staffed residential home, of course, there are staff that are in the home. They become the family of the individual. In a family-model home an individual is placed into a home with a family. The difference that we see is that in our shared homes the staff are trained. The staff have all had some education, and they will have a lot of different training in a lot of areas regarding first aid and handling people with disabilities.
A family home is not necessarily that way. Under our model, though, at AiMHi, for any family-model home that we are involved in, we ensure that the family has been reviewed to ensure that they can handle the individual.
R. Summers: Another example would be that if there was an issue that arose, in a staffed residential home the staff person would leave. In a family-model home if there's an issue that arises, it's the individual that has to leave. They don't have a choice. It's not their home.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, gentlemen, both. We really appreciate you taking the time to come and see us.
Next up we have the city of Prince George finance and audit committee — Garth Frizzell.
Welcome. Garth, you've got 15 minutes. At about ten minutes I'll give you a heads-up. If you want to go to questions, you can, or you can keep going.
G. Frizzell: Excellent. Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, Mr. Howard and committee members. On behalf of the citizens of Prince George, I want to welcome you to our city and thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation to the select standing committee.
First of all, I want to start by complimenting the province of B.C. for maintaining its triple-A credit rating and its commitment to return to a balanced budget by 2013-2014. The city of Prince George appreciates B.C.'s fiscally conservative approach to managing taxpayers' money and its focus on strengthening the economy and creating jobs.
The city of Prince George's vision centres on creating a resilient and sustainable city. Its 2011-to-2012 strategic plan includes core focus areas, such as improving our health and safety; taking care of our air, water and land resources; strengthening and diversifying our economy; increasing civic pride; and continuing progressive and responsible fiscal management.
The strategic plan also includes the following priority projects: revitalizing the downtown; constructing the Boundary Road connector; preparing to host the 2015 Canada Winter Games; constructing the district energy system; implementing flood mitigation and control measures; maintaining effective, sustainable and affordable infrastructure; and exploring potential funding sources for our regional performing arts centre.
The city of Prince George is very thankful for the 7½ million provincial dollars and $7½ million federal contribution to our Boundary Road connector project. This project serves as an important link in Prince George's regional road network, providing safer and more efficient connectivity between the provincial highways, railways and the airport.
It'll allow our city to move toward corporate and community objectives which include economic growth and diversification, greenhouse gas reduction and energy management. It doesn't say it in the presentation, but our runway is the third-longest in Canada as well.
The city of Prince George is extremely proud and honoured to have won the rights to host the 2015 Canada Winter Games and looks forward to representing British Columbia and hosting these national games for the first time in the province's history. As you may be aware, our successful bid was based on expected contributions of $8 million each by the provincial and federal governments towards operating costs and just over $3 million each towards capital improvements.
We truly appreciate the province's advance of $1 million on its total $8 million operating-fund contribution. On behalf of our host society, we request that the province continue to work with its federal counterparts to expedite the sign-off of a final contribution agreement for the 2015 games and the flow of expected funding to the host society.
I look forward to seeing you here in 2015, because that's also going to be our hundredth anniversary.
The city is really pleased that the province is proceeding with the proposed wood innovation and design centre in downtown Prince George. We consider this to be a major catalyst project that aligns strongly with our efforts to improve downtown.
Our agreement to provide the land for this project will enable the building to connect to a district energy system to obtain green energy, contribute to the revitalization of historic George Street and enhance the educational presence in downtown. We believe this centre will position our community as a world leader in wood construction, design and education, and we look forward to construction of it, beginning in 2012.
Mr. Chair, this afternoon I'd like to present comments on seven issues related to the city of Prince George's strategic plan for the standing committee's consideration.
First, flood mitigation. With the help of funding from the provincial government through emergency management B.C., the city of Prince George has completed a comprehensive flood risk evaluation and flood control solutions report to assess flood risk in the city and potential solutions through which that risk may be managed.
As a result of this assessment, city council has adopted a flood mitigation strategic plan. It's a multi-year plan identifying work that's valued at $42½ million. It'll help to manage flood risk in our city.
In past years the EMBC flood protection funding program was structured to exclude specific costs associated with flood solutions, like the design of civil works and land acquisition. This has been problematic, as it has prevented key work from moving forward. Our recommendation is to structure the EMBC flood protection program to include a broader range of eligible costs.
Second, on sustainable infrastructure. The infrastructure gap is the difference between the amount required for reinvestment in our existing infrastructure and the amount actually reinvested — the amount required every year for the city of Prince George core infrastructure. That's including our sidewalks, roads, buried pipe networks.
It's estimated at almost $17 million. As our average reinvestment over the last seven years has been about $5 million per year, our infrastructure gap is $12 million a year.
Joint federal, provincial and local government infrastructure programs have been really beneficial to municipal governments, which on their own…. We don't have enough resources to fund required investment and reinvestment.
However, the recent program criteria have favoured projects that result in new infrastructure or whose expenditures are incremental to current planned expenditures. This can result in municipalities increasing their assets and diverting the limited resources from needed asset reinvestment.
Local governments have often been given very short timelines to apply for infrastructure programs. The added step of environmental review related to federal portions of infrastructure funds can be problematic. Recent good examples of environment-reviewed timelines have occurred for funding which has been delivered through Transport Canada and locally through the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
Recent infrastructure programs have required that funded projects be constructed within very short time frames. Major facility projects may take up to two years to design and up to two years to construct. Given these design-and-build time frames, quick project completion deadlines may prevent municipalities from accessing this much-needed funding.
Although their funding is appreciated, new infrastructure programs often set new directions that are short-lived. This creates a moving target for municipal infrastructure planning. It's difficult to manage. It creates uncertainty regarding the funding of core functions and increases administrative effort and cost. Good examples of continuity in funding are the federal gas tax and the provincial infrastructure study grant programs.
Our recommendations are to contribute to municipal asset investment and reinvestment by tailoring infrastructure programs criteria to our local government priorities.
Second, encourage the federal government to review the Transport Canada and NDI Trust–managed environmental review processes and consider requiring federal ministers and ministries to adopt similar processes.
Third, develop and implement long-term programs for municipal facility development.
Finally, continue successful funding programs, and when new programs are created, structure them to be compatible with the previous programs.
On public transit. Well, mayors and community leaders throughout B.C. have expressed concern to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom over limited local oversight in B.C. Transit's decision-making and over B.C. Transit's rising costs. Our recommendation is to conduct an independent review of B.C. Transit, which includes reviewing sustainable financing models — for example, allocation of a portion of gas taxes to local transit services — so that we can create financial certainty for our transit systems.
NextBus. That uses satellite technology and computer modelling to track buses on their routes by having each bus fitted with a satellite tracking system. The information is then made available on the Internet and to Internet-capable cell phones, including text messaging. Wireless signs displaying NextBus information at bus stops and businesses can also be utilized.
B.C. Transit has indicated it will be approximately two years before NextBus or similar technology is implemented in the Prince George transit system. So our recommendation is to consider implementing NextBus in the Prince George transit system in 2012 — or to raise the average temperature in winter when people are waiting for the bus.
Background on policing. Prince George RCMP detachment has historically had, and currently has, 125 rural members. Requests for additional members have been responded to by indicating that the province does not have funds available for them. Additional rural members would assist in dealing with crime in the city of Prince George, as criminal activity doesn't recognize administrative boundaries. Our recommendation is to increase provincial policing funding to enable municipal RCMP detachments to add rural members. So that is correct.
On the volunteer criminal record check, the city of Prince George encourages the contributions of volunteer organizations which build and sustain community pride. In the most recent Canadian survey that broke out volunteer participation rates by city, Prince George had the highest rate — 62 percent — in B.C. When individuals are required to provide criminal record checks to non-profit groups for which they volunteer, in support of volunteerism the city of Prince George waives the criminal record check fee. Doing so results in forgone revenue — about $200,000 per year.
Our recommendations…. Well, we're looking forward to hearing more about the social innovation model that was referred to by the Premier in a speech to UBCM in 2010. We're especially interested in the proposal that a criminal records check would only be done once and that the province would provide financial support for them.
Regional performing arts centre. The Prince George Regional Performing Arts Centre Society commissioned a needs assessment for a regional performing arts centre. That was February 2008 by Webb Management. It concluded that there is a basis for the creation of a performing arts centre in the downtown.
On behalf of the society, Webb Management also completed physical and business plans for the centre. The centre would be the city's centennial facility project, in recognition of Prince George's 2015 centenary. The project has potential to support downtown revitalization, cultural tourism opportunities, mixed-use developments that centralize arts to create a community gathering place and to enhance educational opportunities in the downtown.
Our recommendation is to consider contributing capital funding to the regional performing arts centre. Doing so would assist Prince George and B.C. to build their creative economies, as in the words of the Keep B.C. Strong document: "Art, theatre, culture, sport, design and other creative enterprises are integral components of a thriving technology industry and a vibrant society that can attract and retain highly skilled workers."
This concludes my presentation. The city of Prince George thanks you for the opportunity to provide our comments, and we look forward to continuing to work with the province to address these issues.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Garth. We have a question.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. Congratulations on the 2015 Winter Games. I see Mayor Rogers in the back. It was a great presentation you did at the North Central Municipal Association this spring.
Two questions on the recommendations. On policing, the gang task force that makes appearances here on a limited basis — I understand there are some difficulties with that. Are you making a pitch, through government negotiations with RCMP contract, to see that gang task force on a more permanent basis in Prince George?
Secondly, on transportation, on missing women, they did an inquiry across the northwest here recently, and transportation was on the top of the list — public transportation on Highway 16. In 2006 there was a major symposium here in Prince George, with 500 people focusing on that. Transportation was part of the recommendations. I'm not sure how that fits in with the transportation topics you're talking about in Prince George as well.
G. Frizzell: We have people heading up both of those regions, and it happens to be the same person, MLA Donaldson. You identified him in the crowd.
Mayor Rogers, would you like to come up and comment?
R. Howard (Chair): If you'd like to join us, Mayor, just briefly.
D. Rogers: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the time and the questions.
If I could, just very quickly, on the first part of that question — and Councillor Frizzell can jump in to add…. I can't address the second one, which is the transportation. That's a much broader one on a regional perspective in addressing those issues that are being raised in relation to the tragedy that's occurred along Highway 16 and an ongoing review of those issues.
On the issue of the RCMP and the gang task force, we certainly are pleased with the support that we've received. Gang-related violence and activity and criminal activity are significant in this community, as everywhere else. Only by an integrated approach that has support from all orders of government will we actually have some success.
Some of the initiatives brought about by the government in dealing with that integrated approach have been successful and have made a difference. But there is a continued need for that. We will continue to express that to the Solicitor General, as with the case among my other colleagues across northern B.C., to continued efforts on grow ops — large grow ops particularly — as we understand the CRIME team, as it's referred to in the Cariboo, know they have connections to organized crime. So getting at some of those grow ops will also help in an integrated and strategic approach to that organized crime related to gang activity.
G. Frizzell: If I can add on top of that, one of my other roles is as the chair for the B.C. caucus for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. When we met in Nelson about three weeks ago, one of the common themes around the table for municipal councillors and mayors around the province was how pleased we were that B.C., in the federal RCMP negotiations, had not settled independently like other provinces had. We are eager to see what's going to happen down that path, but we were pleased to see that B.C. had stayed the course.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you. Unfortunately, we're out of time. I appreciate your taking the time to come and present to us.
Next up we have the Child Development Centre of Prince George and District — Darrell Roze.
Welcome. You probably know from observing that you've got 15 minutes. At about ten minutes, I'll give you a heads-up, and you can either stop for questions or keep going.
D. Roze: Okay. The Child Development Centre is one of the largest and longest-serving child development agencies in the province. Each year we provide services to over 1,100 children in the communities of Prince George, McBride, Valemount and Mackenzie. The vast majority of the children that we see are in their preschool years. Putting this in perspective, we provide services to approximately one in five of the region's preschool children.
Most of the services that we provide are designed to reduce or eliminate the presence of special needs and developmental delays. I am here to talk to you today most primarily about delays that we're finding in Prince George and resourcing issues relating to the prevalence of delays.
The human early learning project out of UBC recently indicated that some of the neighbourhoods in Prince George have the highest levels of vulnerabilities to delays of any neighbourhoods in B.C. Almost two in three children in some of the neighbourhoods that we provide services to are entering kindergarten in a delayed state.
These children lack very, very basic abilities, such as being able to hold pens, use scissors, interact with their peers in a productive way, follow basic instructions. If you look at the biologically necessary delays — people that have biological reasons for delays — that only covers 10 percent of the population. So with these neighbourhoods, we have 50 percent of the children coming out of these high-risk neighbourhoods with unnecessary delays. This is costing a tremendous amount in downstream or future costs, as well as providing these children with a lifetime of unnecessary delays.
The province has been making short-term savings by insufficiently resourcing a number of high-level developmental services to children, and these savings are coming at the expense of much greater future costs. Recently that same human early learning project out of UBC released a paper in 2009 that estimated the future costs of allowing children to enter kindergarten with unnecessary delays would cost $401.5 billion to the province over the next 60 years.
From an early developmental perspective, one of the most important programs that we have is our early intervention therapy program. This provides occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech language pathology, and those provide assistance to children that have gross motor delays, fine motor skill delays, hand-eye coordination delays and speech language delays such as understanding speech, speaking and using non-verbal communication.
In the last year we provided services to 695 children at a cost of $1,857 per child. Over the last ten years this program has experienced a doubling in demand, but we still have the same number of therapists on the ground serving those children. What this comes out to be is that we are only able to provide half as much services per child today as we were a decade ago. For relatively small amounts of funding on a per-child basis, this would make a tremendous difference in the lives of the children that we serve.
The recommendation that I have, that I hope you take forward, is that we get back to where we were at least a decade ago, and that would be to double the funding for this program. That would require an additional $1.2 million in funding for the program. Any increase would be tremendously welcome at this point, though, as things have become quite critical.
When we look at the numbers of children that are entering, that are coming to us and being referred — newborn children, for instance — those numbers have increased so dramatically over the last few years that we can foresee, if this issue isn't dealt with, that there'll be a time when we can only provide physiotherapy to newborns. That's the area where we can make the most difference, but it's definitely not the only benefit that we can provide to these children. Similar cost pressures are facing our other therapies as well.
Over the last few weeks, I understand, a number of the child development centres in the province have been approached by the Ministry of Children and Family Development to see if there's any funding that the ministry can claw back to deal with ministerial deficits. Given the fact that all of these centres are underfunded at this period of time and given the fact that all of the services that they provide have a tremendous financial payback to the province in future years, I would like to suggest that the province stop trying to take back funds from child development agencies, from agencies that are centred on providing services for children and youth with special needs and services for children that are vulnerable to developing delays as well.
That's my second recommendation: to maintain or increase all funding levels for MCFD-contracted services that either assist children and youth with special needs or help reduce the incidence of delays.
One of the areas where they're asking for money back is deferred revenues. If my child development agency is unable to do something, such as fill a maternity leave, then MCFD is asking for that money back. It's not to say that we wouldn't be able to do something with that money that would provide similar benefits as if that therapist hadn't gone on mat leave. All the centres are resource-poor, and they could definitely make good use of any deferred funds that they have right at this time.
I have some additional rationale within the next pages. I am assuming that the great goals that were set up for B.C. in the past are still a focus of the government. One of those was to make B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent. Everything about our services is about preparing children for success in the education system.
The second one was leading the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness. The areas that we undertake for physiotherapy, for gross motor function and for fine motor skills…. Children that have delays in those areas are much more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and becoming less physically active, so definitely that goes along with that provincial goal.
Three was building the best support in Canada for persons with disabilities and special needs, children at risk and seniors. The program that I've talked about, the early intervention therapy program, is definitely one of the best ways to help mitigate or eliminate the presence of special needs in children that are served through it, so I would think that the best type of support is in that, in reducing or eliminating delays and special needs.
Number 4 was to create more jobs per capita than anywhere else in Canada. According to the 15 by 15 report out of the human early learning project…. They indicated that allowing children to enter kindergarten with delays will reduce our growth in B.C. by 20 percent over the next 60 years, so it definitely has everything to do with ensuring that we have a vibrant, healthy economy in years to come.
I do have some additional analysis that you can take a look at, but that would be the end of my presentation.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you. I really appreciate it. We have a question from MLA Donaldson.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): The question I had was regarding how the children in the early intervention therapy are actually referred to your therapists. What's the identification process within the community? And is that something that is adequate?
D. Roze: Well, anyone can refer to our services. If a parent believes that their child has a delay, they can come into our services and have the child assessed. The majority of the children that do come in, though, are referred by other professionals. We receive a large number of referrals from the neonatal intensive care unit, and we also receive referrals from the local pediatricians as well. That would be where we get the majority of them.
So yeah, it's definitely adequate, but if you look to the future, if the province goes ahead with things such as the junior kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, that will cause a huge increase in the assessment of children with delays. Right now the services are really overstretched, but if those junior kindergartens come in place, it'll be huge.
A large number of the children that.... We work closely with the school district, and a number of times we get calls from them that say: "Do you have any information on this child? We can't believe that no one has known about this child before they hit us." So we're providing a lot of services, but absolutely there are a lot of children out there that we don't get referred.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Darrell. Thanks for taking the time to come and meet with us today.
Next up we have the British Columbia Trappers Association — Mike Morris.
Hello, Mike. As you know from watching, you've got 15 minutes, and at about ten, I'll give you a heads-up.
M. Morris: You bet — not a problem at all.
The B.C. Trappers Association is longstanding in British Columbia. It's been running since 1945, and we currently represent approximately 800 licensed trappers within the province.
The B.C. Trappers has recently looked at the entire trapping industry within the province. We've seen a significant decline over the years. Back in approximately 1980 we had close to 3,400 licensed trappers trapping in the province of British Columbia. Today we have probably somewhere around 900. That's a significant decline. These are jobs. It's supplemental income for many, but it's the actual, main source of income for a lot of the trappers that are out there.
B.C. wild fur production, as a result of that, also suffers. The graph on page 1 shows that back in the mid-'80s, 1985 or so, we were producing over 100,000, close to 120,000, pelts. Now we're down to maybe 20,000 or 25,000 or 30,000 — somewhere in that area. There's a significant drop there. Provinces like New Brunswick outproduce British Columbia in wild fur production. New Brunswick only has 8 percent of the land mass of British Columbia, so there are some issues there that I'll talk about a little bit later on here.
The fur production and value in dollars. That second graph that I've got on the page there — the blue line is the actual dollar figure, according to Stats Canada, that B.C. generated in wild fur over that period of time. What I did was I calculated, using the consumer price index, so we could look at how much we were bringing in 20 years ago in comparison to today's dollar. It was significant.
There's no reason why B.C. should be producing a million dollars' worth of fur in a year. We should be producing $20 million worth of fur in a year. We've got the capacity. We've got the habitat it, and we should be contributing to that.
As I said, trapping licences sold in B.C…. On the next page, that third graph I have there shows the significant decline that we've got in British Columbia with trapping licences sold across the province.
I hold a registered trapline. I've been a trapper myself for 35 years, and my trapline…. I'm the only one that can legally trap on that line. So when I get my licence, that trapline is occupied. But there's nothing stopping me from giving my two sons an opportunity to trap.
They also will get assistant trapper licences, so those numbers will be included in this figure. So if we have 900 trapping licences issued across the province, that indicates we have 900 or less traplines being trapped at the current time.
In 1926 B.C. led the way in Canada and implemented the registered trapline system in B.C. Initially we started off in the province with about 2,900 registered traplines. Recent information that I've received from the wildlife branch is that we're down to approximately 2,600 traplines. I don't know the reason why — whether there've been some amalgamations or some have been removed from the registered trapline program within the province.
Looking at those figures, we have 900 out of 2,600 traplines being currently trapped in the province. That's been the trend for a number of years now. We're just going steadily downhill.
We're concerned over that. B.C. Trappers administers and delivers a mandatory trappers program. In British Columbia since 1984 it's been mandatory that anybody who traps in the province takes the provincial trapping course.
We administer that, and we probably train 150 to 200 new trappers every year. The common complaint from these guys and ladies — there's quite a mixture of people that take it — is that they can't find any available trapline to trap within the province of B.C.
The administrative responsibilities for trapping have fallen within the wildlife branch under the Ministry of Environment — now of course under the new Ministry of Resource Operations. Some of the duties and responsibilities they have are ensuring that the traplines are being used in the manner that they're supposed to be used.
When you're allotted a trapline, we pay money for the registered trapline. We have some statutory obligations that we as trappers have to follow. That has to be monitored by a government agency — wildlife branch.
I've talked to some folks within the wildlife branch, and they just haven't had the resources to expend on trapping. It hasn't been a priority for them. As a result, some of the regional wildlife offices in the province….
Down in the Kootenays I was talking with one of the regional biologists there. He feels that he's at least five or eight years behind on paperwork that's come in, which nobody has paid attention to, in relation to trapline registrations and trapline use and those kinds of things.
As a result of that, it leads to some serious deficiencies — inaccurate and outdated lists of registered trappers in the province. Forest licensees, mining tenures, oil and gas folks — all rely on that list from the wildlife branch in order to contact any trappers so that we can discuss and mitigate any of the cross-tenure issues that come up. That list is so outdated that it's not worth the paper it's printed on anymore.
There's widespread non-compliance with the provincial Wildlife Act commercial activities regulations. Trapping falls under the commercial activities regulations within the province, and over the past number of years…. Again, the Kootenays and the Okanagan are rife with situations like this, where people have bought up a trapline under the guise of trapping, but instead they convert it to their personal use.
A trapline cabin can only be used for trapping purposes, yet it's being used for recreational purposes in some of the more tourist-friendly areas in the province. They're used in some areas for commercial activities. They are being rented out. They are being used for purposes other than what they're intended for, which is contrary to Land Act regulations and whatnot.
Currently approximately 60 percent of all the traplines in the province are inactive and non-producing. Abandoned traplines aren't being made available to qualified trappers. We've got trappers all the time contacting the B.C. Trappers Association, advertising for the availability of lines, and they're just not out there.
I included a little bit of the legislation under here as well. The abandonment of a trapline is defined under the Wildlife Act commercial activities. It states that no person shall continue to hold a registered trapline unless he or she renews his or her licence. Well, we have trappers out there that have owned a line for 30 years and haven't renewed their licence in 25 years. It's just sitting there dormant, doing nothing.
They must carry on active trapping to the satisfaction of the regional manager. They have to obtain permission from the regional manager if they're not going to trap, and that permission is only valid for a couple of years, not for much longer than that. When a person fails to comply, the manager "shall cancel the registration of his or her trapline."
The use of a trapline is defined under the regulations as well. We have to produce fur to a value of $200, or we have to get 50 pelts off that line every year. If we don't, then the regional manager can seize that line, and he can sell it at public auction and make it available to other trappers that do want to get out on the land and trap it.
Tangible benefits of trapping. There are a bunch of them here. I put this together quite quickly here. One of the significant areas that we help out on is in flood mitigation.
In the Lower Mainland particularly, a lot of our trappers down there are very busy throughout the Fraser Valley, looking after beaver problems and muskrat problems and flooding. A lot of the watersheds and sources of drinking water in municipalities are impacted by beaver and muskrat, and it involves hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.
Resource roads. This is another area. You get a company hauling, spending $10,000 to take an excavator out when they can hire a trapper for $1,000 to go out there and get rid of the beavers and make sure that that flooding doesn't take place.
Cariboo recovery projects that we have in the province, the ungulate enhancement projects that we might have. Sheep and cattle producers are also facing a problem with wolf predation, and trappers can help out there.
We see a distinct correlation between the increase in wolf predation across the province over the last decade or two and the decrease in the number of trappers that we have across the province. If you've only got 900 guys out there right now trapping when before we had 3,000, that has some bearing on that area.
We have the expertise that we often offer to wildlife biologists and whatnot, and universities. We're also a valuable resource out there. Search and rescue. We have an intimate knowledge of the area that we trap in.
Economic benefits of trapping. Of course, it's a job. It puts families out there. Trapping has become a family-oriented business, and it creates a family source of money.
The spinoff of that. Every trapper requires a pickup truck, snowmobile, ATV, two-way radio, GPS, chainsaws, power generators — all of that. So the spinoff associated with the trapping industry is significant. If you have currently 900 trappers purchasing this type of equipment and in five years time we've got 2,000 or 3,000 trappers purchasing this equipment, it's going to make quite a difference overall within the economy.
The wild fur outlook for the future. I've attached some attachments from NAFA, North American Fur Auctions. They're the main outlet for B.C. wild fur. They sell approximately 80 to 85 percent of all B.C. wild fur. In fact, the NAFA fur depot in Prince George probably ships most of that. Their outlook is very optimistic.
China bought 97 percent of all the wild fur produced last year, and it looks like that market is going to expand. They're going to buy every bit of fur that we can produce in this province for the foreseeable future. Korea is another contender and also Russia. With the increase in oil prices in Russia, they're seeing a lot of higher incomes looking for more of the luxury items over there.
R. Howard (Chair): Mike, you're at 11 minutes — just so you know.
M. Morris: Okay. Thank you very much.
What we're asking government for at this particular time, the options for consideration, is that we need government to recognize the wild fur industry as a viable industry within the province and a contributing industry to the Canadian economy, to jobs.
One of the options we're looking at is that we need the provincial government to adequately fund the wildlife branch so that they can properly administer trapping in the province and so that we can put a thousand to 2,000 trappers back on the land here over the next four to five years. I'd like to see it happen sooner, but there's a lot of work involved in doing that.
We need dedicated people within the wildlife branch to look after trapping. It can't be done off the side of somebody's plate any longer. You know, we're not looking for every regional office to have a fur specialist, but we are looking for, perhaps, Victoria to have one or two folks down there and maybe somebody in the larger regions to spend half-time on fur-related issues.
If the wildlife branch isn't in a position to do that, and if this government is not in a position to provide the necessary funding for the wildlife branch — they are years behind; it's going to take quite a while to dig out of that hole — then the BCTA is saying: give it to us.
Give us a one-time loan of about $650,000 so that we can get the necessary infrastructure set up. We can pay that money back once we start auctioning off the traplines. Once we start getting more trappers out on the line, I think that the BCTA could pay that money back, probably within a five-year time, very handily, and we'll get trapping up and running in the province.
That's basically the message I want to leave. I've made it relatively short. I have been working with folks both within the Ministry of Environment and within Natural Resource Operations on these issues over the last while. We're making some headway, but I think we need a little bit of support from you folks and from cabinet.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you. We're running out of time, but just a few quick questions.
B. Bennett: Concentrating on the issue of all these traplines out there not being used and having trappers that can't find a trapline, and your last suggestion about the industry being prepared to take it on, if you worked with government and you came up with a permit cost, based on an assumption of, say, instead of…. What did you say — 600 trappers out there or 900?
M. Morris: There are 900 right now.
B. Bennett: So go from 900 to, say, 2,000. If you worked out an annual permit cost to make the cost of administration sustainable, is that another approach that might work?
M. Morris: Yes, it is.
B. Bennett: Do you have any sense of what your permit fee would have to be?
M. Morris: It would have to probably at least double from what the current licence fee is right now.
B. Bennett: Which is how much?
M. Morris: It's $40, so we'd have to double it to around $80. We haven't heard much push-back from most of the trappers that are out there.
B. Bennett: How hard would it be to take it from 900 to 2,000?
M. Morris: It would take about two years of fairly significant work. There's a due process that has to be followed. We've had these trappers that have been sitting on the line for 30 years, and nobody has done anything about it. To come up and say, "You're out of here, George, because you haven't complied…." We'd have to work with the province to implement proper due process so that they have their chance to have their say in court, so to speak.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. You hit some very good points. I know many people that make part of their livelihood or all their livelihood trapping, and it's an important economic contribution in rural areas to keep people working on the land.
It's a disturbing tale about the abandonment, basically, by government around the oversight of this. I appreciate your suggestions about how your association could perhaps alleviate that.
One question I had was around the selling at public auction. I've been told by certain people that there have been problems in that area, even in regard to fairness. Are you getting that feedback from your association members, about the public auction difficulties?
M. Morris: Just the lack of it. This year, with our insistence, we had two traplines come up for auction on Vancouver Island, and we had one come up for auction in the north-central part of the province here last year. Those are the only ones in recent memory. We had no problem. It wasn't advertised. From our perspective, it wasn't broadly enough advertised, but we had no problem with any of the members that saw it and were able to put their bids in on it.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Mike. I appreciate your taking the time to come out.
Prince George Chamber of Commerce is next. We have Dr. Bill McGill, Derek Dougherty and Bill Phillips. Welcome, gentlemen. As you probably know, you've got 15 minutes. I'll give you a little heads-up around ten, and you can either take some questions or push right through — your choice.
B. McGill: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, hon. Members. I'm joined this evening by two of my colleagues: Derek Dougherty, vice-president of finance at the chamber, and Vice-President Bill Phillips of the chamber. We will take turns in presenting some of the material to you. Copies have been left with the committee.
First of all, we want to commend the province for the investments it has made and to note some of the successes that have enhanced the business environment in this region. I'll just mention a few of them.
The Boundary Road is underway, and completion of that will certainly enhance Prince George and the region as a transportation hub.
The cancer centre for the north is underway. That will certainly assist residents in the north, moving them away from episodic treatment to integrated and continuous care close to home.
The diversification of forest product markets is a very good and welcome development. Funding to promote sales of the province's forest products in markets such as China is certainly improving access to this growing market. We applaud that.
We're equally enthusiastic about the support for Geoscience B.C. because that, as well, allows companies and prospectors to find mineral resources, which eventually leads to jobs and increased economic activity in the region.
Recognition of foreign credentials is important to our efforts to obtain the skilled and professional workforce that we need.
The comments in support of a municipal auditor general are welcomed. We believe that, if implemented, this would certainly assist in creating equity in the property tax system and bring transparency to local government.
Finally, tourism. Collaboration by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers on priorities for new or expanded air service agreements will enhance tourism growth and competitiveness, and we recognize that with appreciation.
The members of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce are aware of and highly appreciate these investments. The advice that follows is aimed at building on the aforementioned provincial contributions to what has become a strong foundation.
D. Dougherty: The current global circumstances and the extinguishing of the HST require cautious allocation of the fiscal resources of the province. As we transition back to a balanced budget, it is critical that cuts to expenditures avoid crippling future growth. Equally important are strategic new investments in this region, where they can maintain momentum toward a sustainable, knowledge-based resource economy connected to the world.
Examples would include the Ridley Terminals, the Fairview terminals, the wood innovation resource centre located here in Prince George, and of course the UNBC engineering faculty.
The Prince George Chamber of Commerce believes that investments in the future of the region and in the province are best guided by core principles rather than another wish list of expenditures. Also, the business community in Prince George sees a complementary connection between the economic bottom line and the social and environmental bottom lines.
In the context of the above two observations, the Prince George Chamber of Commerce offers the following principles and examples, in no particular order, as its advice to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
Principle 1. Balance the budget before undertaking new expenditures. In a recent survey of the chamber members respecting priorities, the response rate for the "most important priority" were the 40 percent return for health care and 30 percent for infrastructure. In addition, there is a debt which also has to be serviced. This, in conjunction with the HST being rescinded while the economy is progressing slower than originally thought, will make balancing the budget difficult.
We recommend that any new revenues should first be applied toward reducing the deficit. Half of any such revenues, in surplus of current budget needs, should be used to pay down the debt. The other half should go toward strategic investments that will continue to move the province forward as we see economic recovery.
B. Phillips: Principle 2. Community sustainability and business stability require economic diversification around areas of strength. Human resources are our biggest and most important asset. Those are followed closely by the primary sectors of our resource-based economy of the north: forestry, mining, oil and gas, agriculture and tourism. We also have a burgeoning education centre.
Forestry, however, still dominates. Continued support for economic diversification during transformation of the forest sector is critical.
Recent growth in the mining sector is applauded and should continue.
The energy sector should be encouraged to expand its participation in renewable energy developments. As a specific example pertinent to this region, we recommend continued attention to biomass energy. Where feasible and appropriate, investigate additional renewable resources, such as wind; solar; water, whether run of river or hydroelectric energy; and/or geothermal energy.
Two further principles should guide energy development. Firstly, all possible efforts should be made to increase efficiency of energy use, regardless of the sources. Secondly, all such developments should meet rigorous standards respecting a triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social sustainability.
As we are a forestry-dominated region, continued investments in silviculture, from innovative research into enhancing growth to putting trees in the ground, is encouraged. Consideration should also be given to supporting the expansion of food production and processing through agricultural research in this region.
Principle 3. Support businesses through effective infrastructure, both locally and regionally. When asked about priorities, 79 percent of Chamber of Commerce respondents described regional infrastructure as very important or most important.
Moving forward with the electrification of Highway 37, continued work on completing the Cariboo connector project, the Boundary Road project here in Prince George and upgrades to Highway 16 are all key components to the successes of our economy, from forestry and mining to tourism.
We applaud recent announcements regarding the provision of broadband access to all rural areas and remote regions, as this is crucial to business success in these areas, and urge that this initiative be continued.
Development of safe, reliable and affordable interurban transit should also be considered.
B. McGill: Principle 4. Education and skills development in Prince George and region are key foundations. A robust civil society and a sustainable business environment both require people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to the central and northern parts of B.C.
Recent experience has shown that people who are educated in the north are likely to stay there. In a recent survey of our members respecting priorities, 66 percent described education — i.e., expanded engineering and technology training — as very important or most important.
To build on past successes, we recommend development of civil and mechanical engineering at UNBC, of civil and mechanical or mining technologies at CNC. In the K-to-12 system serious efforts are needed to provide a more effective balance of participation between science and math courses on one hand and alternative offerings on the other.
Principle 5. Healthy communities are necessary for healthy businesses. In a recent survey of our members 76 percent described health — i.e., treatment centres, access to medical services — as very important or most important.
Despite recent advances in health care delivery, we are still faced with a serious homelessness problem and associated inadequate mental health care. A renewed emphasis on healthy life choices and mental health is recommended as part of a healthy community.
Community organizations have provided important voluntary services supporting community health. Such organizations depend in part on provincial funding from gaming and lotteries. We have recently seen a loss of such support to critical organizations. We recommend that it be reinstated.
D. Dougherty: Principle 6. Land claims need to be settled.
Once the Cohen Commission concludes, we need to return to the treaty table with Canada and First Nations. All citizens need to be treated justly, and settling land claims in mutually agreeable ways would be a step in that direction.
We need to reduce the barriers to conducting business as well as remove the uncertainty surrounding land claims. Business needs to know what the rules are, who has jurisdiction and that there is stability respecting the use of land.
Non-aboriginal businesses wish to work with First Nations people and businesses and to respect their rights and title as appropriate. Settlement of land claims will assist us to achieve economic opportunities and social justice.
B. Phillips: In conclusion, infinite horizons. The Prince George Chamber of Commerce looks to the future of our northern region with pride and optimism, recognizing that the government is attempting to use available resources in ways that reflect the priorities of the people of the province.
The Prince George Chamber of Commerce has attempted to communicate to the committee not a list of spending priorities but a modest list of principles against which we ask the government to weigh all of its spending decisions.
Like the families and businesses across our region — and, indeed, the entire province — have to do during times of financial constraint, we urge the government to focus on needs and wise investments rather than on optional wants. From this period of tough economic times, we must apply measures that set the foundation for greater successes in the decades to come.
We applaud the time you've put into this consultative process and ask that you consider the six basic principles that we have outlined for you today as you move forward in developing your budget for 2012. Good luck with your endeavours.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, gentlemen. We have a few questions.
B. Bennett: Thanks, guys. That was a good presentation. It was well done. I liked the way you put it together and the approach that you took with your principles. You have advised us to recommend to government that we not take on any new expenditures. I'm curious as to whether or not you see any places where we can take existing expenditures and move them to different places.
We do hear at this committee some really good ideas for spending public money that would help people an awful lot. Do you know of any? Do you see any areas within government that you'd like to see us not spend money?
Let the record show that all three witnesses are smiling.
B. McGill: I'll speak for myself, and my colleagues can respond individually as they see fit. I would be quite willing to leave it to the wisdom of the committee to determine that.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much for your presentation. I want to congratulate you on the…. I see that your Prince George Chamber of Commerce here put forward a resolution urging improvements to the process of attracting skilled workers, to address the shortage of workers. That was adopted and agreed to and passed at the convention for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, so congratulations for that.
B. McGill: Yes, it was. Thank you.
M. Elmore: You did reference, as well, the need to streamline and improve the recognition of foreign credentials. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
B. McGill: We noticed that there has been an effort made in order to do that. Certainly, anything that can be done to advance that process would benefit businesses in this region.
We realize that some of the considerations involved in that pertain to national accreditation agencies. They operate under separate acts that have to be respected, so we realize that one can't simply go in and hack and slash and carry on with abandon.
However, ways in which we could find tools to allow people to write exams more quickly or set up protocols that would allow people, maybe even before they arrive in Canada, to have some of their credential checking done would be helpful.
Again, I suspect — and Derek and Bill can add to it — progress in that area is going to be incremental, but we mustn't give up. We have to keep at it and keep working on it. It's very, very important.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent, gentlemen. Well, we've run you out of time. We've left three people on the question list — Donaldson, Routley and myself — so we'll have to catch up with you outside of this hearing. But I thank the three of you for taking the time to come and present to us today. It was a great presentation.
B. McGill: Our pleasure.
R. Howard (Chair): Next up we have the Quesnel and District Child Development Centre — Kurt Pedersen.
Welcome, Kurt. You'll know, because you were sitting there for awhile, I think, that you have 15 minutes. Somewhere around ten I'll give you a heads-up, and you can either stop for questions or go on. It's your choice.
K. Pedersen: I've never taken the opportunity to do something like this before. I probably won't read my whole presentation, because I doubt very much that I could get it in, in even 15 minutes. So I'm probably going to just skip around a bit. You have my presentation, at any rate, and can catch the pieces that I miss.
First, a little bit about the Quesnel and District Child Development Centre. We're a registered charity, delivering a range of preventive and tertiary programs to children with disabilities, developmental delays and to children who are at risk of developmental delays — and, as well, their families.
Our accredited centre has been serving children and families in the North Cariboo, in the Quesnel area, for 35 years. Our catchment area stretches from Nazko in the west, to Wells in the east, to Strathnaver or Hixon in the north and Alexandria in the south. This is an area of roughly 27,000 square kilometres and has a population of roughly 24,000 people.
We have a staff of 32 people and an annual budgeted salary of just over a million dollars. Leaving aside any administrative costs, considering only program salaries and benefits, we're very close to 82 percent of our total contracts. That means we've been fundraising, and we have been fundraising for all of our 35 years. Last year we raised $60,000 and still finished with a $16,000 deficit.
I'd like to just now skip ahead to my recommendations. The first one is that the government honour agreements with its unionized contractors. Zero net is a misnomer. In fact, it does not excuse employers like us from implementing annual pay increases due employees working their way through pay grids.
It does not excuse employers from paying negotiated benefits, many of which we have absolutely no control over. Nor should it excuse government from reimbursing contracts. There are those costs. If you remember, back in 2001 that took place, with devastating results, especially in hospitals.
Recruitment and retention is a very complex issue, especially in the rural north. Northern communities are the places that new grads often get work, and that's great, because they come with a huge amount of enthusiasm to learn and develop their practice skills. But you can imagine that there is a learning curve involved with new grads, and there's a cost of bringing them along those learning curves, for new grads.
We have a couple of recommendations. One is that isolated child development centres, especially ones in the north, have access to funds to increase the amount of training available to new grads.
We give employees $600, a training allowance. They only get that if they sign up, and we encourage them not to take anything frivolous, because we are in tight city since 2008. But $600 is not going to get you to Vancouver for a two-day workshop. It just isn't. So we need help that way — that the province make available to new grads some incentive program to practise in the north.
I know that UNBC has done some great work with doctors and nurses. We would like to see them do the same with early intervention therapists.
That was our fourth recommendation. That's just that the government work with us to try and find ways to increase the numbers of therapists practising.
I know that Darrell spoke about his early intervention program. Ours is much the same, but smaller, of course, because we're in a smaller centre. We run into problems attracting therapists that he probably doesn't run into because he's in a central city with a university, etc.
Our physical structure. I know I'm being a little bit facetious when I say that the government concedes the fact that buildings don't appear magically, nor do they repair themselves. That costs real money, and that money has never been included in our contracts.
Government can get on the phone and call — well, it used to be BCBC; now it's someone else — and have their buildings repaired, and they don't see the bill. If my HVAC system goes out and I get on the phone and call Canadian Western, they're going to send me a bill. If my roof has a hole in it, I'm going to call someone to repair it, and they are going to send me a bill. These are big bills, and our infrastructure is wearing out.
Again, Darrell talked about dollars and cents and clients. Well, I have a graph here that shows that in the past ten years our funding has increased 47 percent, which sounds good — 47 percent. Our client load, though, has increased 144 percent.
I'll echo something else that Darrell said, and that is that the kids who are coming to us are coming to us with much more complex issues. We're hearing from kindergarten teachers about kids — and not just one or two — who are arriving in kindergarten, and they're not even potty-trained. So never mind holding hands. We've neglected children for too long.
This particular government…. I don't mean to pick on it. It's just the one that's in power. If it was the NDP, I would…. Ten years ago I was saying the same thing to a different set of faces. Most of those ten years have been ones of prosperity. Despite that wealth, very little has trickled down to the most vulnerable children.
I just want to say that child development centres have implemented early childhood development strategies. We have a spectrum of services that we put together from conception through to 19, and you know, I wish that government would take advantage of that expertise when they make plans.
R. Howard (Chair): Kurt, you're at 11 minutes, plus or minus, just so you know.
K. Pedersen: Okay, then my last recommendation is that government recognize the tremendous expertise housed in child development centres strategically located around the province, these one-stop centres where a variety of programs can be accessed by parents on behalf of their children. So rather than chase after the latest fad, we would like to see, I would like to see government build on strong, existing programs.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you. We have a question from MLA Thornthwaite.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation. Just a question about continuing education and your comment that it's difficult to get down to Vancouver and travel for continuing education.
I'm just wondering if the child development centres had organized any kind of system that your education upgrades could be done either virtually or through the Internet or through classes that you can see — video conference or something like that — if you had embraced the new technology that we're all kind of doing right now, including the Finance Committee. We're doing it now too. We're not going everywhere. We're actually doing videos.
K. Pedersen: The short answer is that yes, whenever we can, we go down to…. We don't have the equipment ourselves for video conferencing, but the local Ministry of Children and Family Development office does, and they're very good at letting us tap into workshops coming out of Sunny Hill, for example.
There are webinairs that our staff tap into, so we are doing our best to embrace those. But there are also times when, darn it, I'd like to send my speech-language pathologist to a workshop on swallowing because she's got a kid with exactly that problem, and she needs an…
J. Thornthwaite: …update. Yeah.
R. Howard (Chair): One more question.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. In an earlier presentation from a child development centre of Prince George and district there was a comment about….
Over the last couple of weeks provincial child development agencies have been receiving calls from Ministry of Children and Family Development reps looking to claw back funds to deal with the ministry's budgetary shortfall. An alarming example was given around mat leaves and trying to claw back on cost savings because of mat leaves. Has your agency received any of these calls? Or do you have other examples of that that you've heard about provincially?
K. Pedersen: Oh, I've heard…. We have quite an extensive network, and we get e-mails from other child development centres daily. Most of those e-mails that I've received myself are coming out of Vancouver Island and the coast region — the Fraser Valley.
I don't have any vacancies, so I haven't had any of those asks, I guess you could say. I have been told that I pay one of my employees too much, but on the other hand, she's got a master's degree, and she's hot stuff.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent, Kurt. Thank you very much for taking the time to come to present to us today.
Next up we have the Faculty Association of the College of New Caledonia — Jan Mastromatteo and David Rourke.
Welcome. As you probably know, you have 15 minutes. I'll give you a little heads-up around ten. You can either take some questions or push right through — your choice.
D. Rourke: Good evening, and welcome to Prince George. We appreciate the opportunity to detail some of the concerns that the Faculty Association of the College of New Caledonia has about the funding and support of post-secondary education in general and, more specifically, the challenges facing our institution.
By way of introduction, let me give you some context. The College of New Caledonia is the oldest public post-secondary institution in Prince George. We have an enrolment base of close to 4,000 students, and our faculty association speaks on behalf of 300 full- and part-time faculty who work and teach at CNC's five campuses here in the central Interior.
CNC provides an important and increasingly unique post-secondary service to this region. CNC, along with other community colleges throughout the province, provides a critical path for thousands of adult learners who are not part of the direct-entry system of students who move from high school to the post-secondary institutions.
CNC is committed to bridging the gap that exists between the high-skill demands of employers in this region and how those demands can be filled by students living here. To fill that gap, we provide a variety of certificate, diploma and degree, as well as full apprenticeship, programs. Those program areas are extensive. Let me give you a few examples.
We have a number of business diploma and certificate programs, including accounting and finance, applied business technology and business administration. We have an extensive list of health care programs, such as the northern collaborative bachelor-of-nursing program, the practical nursing program, medical radiography, medical lab technology, two dental programs, and a home support and resident care aide program.
We also deliver a number of programs designed to support the natural resource industries in this region — programs like the mining industry certificate program, the natural resources and environmental technology program and the horticulture technology program offered in Quesnel.
CNC also provides a number of unique programs that have evolved from consultation with the local community. Our heritage-building restoration program would be a good example of that. CNC provides the most diverse access to university credit programs of any institution in the north.
Finally, CNC is home to most of the trades-training programs that are so critical to the high-skill demands that we see across so many industries here in the central Interior — skills like power engineering, electrical, millwrights, machinists, welding, carpentry, automotive and heavy-duty automotive, as well as plumbing.
In 2010-11 CNC provided seats for over 1,700 trades students in north central B.C. In short, CNC provides a critical path to knowledge and skill and career development for thousands of students. We know from longstanding research that public investment that the province makes in creating those opportunities to learn and acquire new skills provides direct benefits to the provincial treasury.
They're benefits that come in the form of higher incomes, increased labour mobility and lower unemployment. Most of that research has been well documented by the Canadian Council on Learning, and we will provide the committee staff with references to that research in our written summary to the committee.
It's not surprising, in our view, that polling data consistently shows a strong degree of public support for greater investments by the provincial government in our public colleges and universities. A recent Ipsos-Reid poll showed over 60 percent strong support for the proposition that government should invest more in post-secondary institutions, even if that investment meant paying more in taxes.
Why this strong support? Well, most families see the connection between higher skills and a better future for their kids, and most adults see that correlation as well, a correlation that explains in part why CNC is the important entry point for adult learners in our community.
Where we face the greatest challenge, however, is on the funding side. The provincial government's most direct investment in our institution, the provincial operating grant, is not keeping pace with either the growing demands for higher skills in the region or the basic cost pressures that arise from inflation.
We know, at a provincial level, that real per-student operating grants for public post-secondary institutions have fallen by about 8.8 percent since 2001. In 2011 the provincial operating grant for CNC will be about half a million dollars less than it was in 2010. That decline comes despite the pressures of inflation, pressures that mean we have to once again do more with less. That decline in operating grant comes despite the long list of programs that we know students in this region want to access and employers in this region want to see students complete.
One of the frustrations we face in the post-secondary system is that there is a constant push for bricks and mortar of our system, but less priority is given for the dollars needed to operate those classrooms and buildings. New facilities are always welcome, but if they come without the dollars needed to run the programs, it undermines the true potential of what we're trying to achieve.
There's a strong case to be made that B.C. will underachieve on a variety of economic and social indicators if we are not adequately funding the operating side of our institutions. Knowledge and skill acquisition are more than just a source of innovation. They are becoming the starting line for what makes a modern economy successful.
So the challenge is twofold. We not only have to constantly revise and refresh the programs that we deliver, to ensure that they're relevant. We also have to ensure that funding is sufficient to support those changes. However, the challenge isn't simply one of better funding for the institution. The challenge is also one of affordability.
For the last ten years the public policy approach has been to have students paying an increasingly larger share of the cost of their post-secondary education. In 2002 tuition fees were deregulated and have since then more than doubled for many programs and courses. Not surprisingly, students now shoulder a much greater burden in terms of costs and much higher debt loads once they have completed a program.
At CNC, for example, tuition fees now occupy 22 percent of the revenue pie, versus 16 percent a decade ago. Over that same time we haven't seen any corresponding increase in the wages or incomes of students or their families, an outcome that is consistent with the rise in student debt that we've seen during this period. Our faculty association shares the concerns of many student organizations within our post-secondary institutions that B.C. needs to address the affordability problem.
A year ago this committee recommended that the government look at mechanisms to lower the cost of student debt by lowering the interest rate charged on that debt and developing a system for needs-based student grants. Unfortunately, the government didn't implement those recommendations, but that shouldn't discourage the committee members from advancing those same recommendations this year.
The committee should also recommend that, from a funding perspective, it's time to make a serious and deliberate commitment to improve the operating grants that post-secondary institutions receive.
A first step in that direction would be to recommend changes that would prevent the erosion of current per-student grants by the effects of inflation. Another consideration would be to consult with post-secondary stakeholders on how best to revise the funding formula for post-secondary institutions. That formula doesn't always capture the true costs of operating programs, especially for institutions like ours that have satellite programs in various communities.
In summary, CNC will continue to play a critical role in the economic and social success of this region. However, we will underachieve on those important goals without better funding support from the province to improve the affordability measures for our students.
The public support for those measures is strong, and we hope this committee's report will provide the leadership to make those changes a reality in the February 2012 budget.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you, and we would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you.
B. Routley: Thank you for your presentation. Just on your final point there about the past recommendations, are you aware of students that have been turned away? Like right now, we face a situation in the province where we need to encourage skills development and, certainly, post-secondary education. Have there been situations where students have not continued their education or not completed additional years because of not having sufficient funding to carry them through or needs-based grants? Are you actually aware of situations that have occurred?
J. Mastromatteo: Well, I think we have, as instructors, anecdotal information from past students that can no longer come. I don't have a list of those kinds of anecdotes. What I can say is that I think we've seen a strong trend towards a growth in part-time students away from full-time students — students taking many more years to complete a program than they did in former times. They're working more part-time jobs or working more in the summer or even full-time work to complete a program. I think that clearly indicates that affordability has become an increasing question in our institution and others.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation. Your comment about reassessing the funding formula for colleges…. I'm wondering if the province did consider revamping the funding formula, would you have any recommendations for us as to where we could adjust funding maybe to cut? In other words, where do you see a better use of money, as opposed to adding extra money, given the fact that you commented that it would require an increase in taxes?
J. Mastromatteo: That's a difficult question when we're asked where would we see cuts.
J. Thornthwaite: How about if I rephrased that? Where would you see suggestions for efficiencies, in other words, priorities with regards to the current budget that you already have?
J. Mastromatteo: I think it's still a difficult question, particularly because in the regional areas of the province, and certainly here in north central B.C., we've seen dramatic cuts occur since 2002. David was able to give you some examples of technology programs that we're very proud of. Nonetheless, we've lost the lion's share of our industrial technology programs — things like computer information systems, electronics, wood manufacturing, wood technology, geographic information services and our engineering design technology.
So to say that we could look at more cuts or create more efficiency and that would somehow address the funding formula for a comprehensive institution, I think that is a very difficult question. What we need to look at in a funding formula, or what we'd recommend that the government would look at in a funding formula, is not a new suggestion.
It needs to take into account — the formula does — underpopulated areas, or less densely populated areas in the province. We need to provide comprehensive programming, and certainly, there has to be focus on programs that are currently required.
David mentioned the trades. Yes, there has been a dramatic skill shortage in the trades, but there are ups and downs in the labour market. We need to keep funding the basic foundational programs so that people can go on to careers, whatever that might be, in years where health care or trades may require additional funding.
But I think, again, we need a funding formula that addresses our ability at the college to provide comprehensive programming, and that has to be tied to population. We simply don't have the numbers of students that are there in the Lower Mainland.
Sorry I couldn't provide the example.
R. Howard (Chair): That's great. Thank you. David and Jan, thank you both very much for taking the time to come and present to us today.
Next up we have the University of Northern British Columbia — Dr. George Iwama and Nadia Nowak.
Welcome to you both. You have 15 minutes. At about ten minutes, I'll give you a little heads-up, and you can either stop for questions or you can push right through to the end of 15 minutes. Your choice.
G. Iwama: Thank you for having us, and welcome to Prince George. I'm sure it's been a long day, and certainly, it's been a great pleasure for us to have this opportunity.
I've been two years on the job as the president of the University of Northern British Columbia, and it truly has been a great honour. Today is a very special day in many ways, because we've just been admitted to play in the Canada West league. So we're moving on from colleges to play in the CIS.
It's a school that's 20 years old, and it was born of 16,000 citizens in the north that paid $5 and signed a petition to say: "We need a university up here."
Having lived down south and across the country, I've been struck with the ownership of the people in the north. I was getting my muffler changed, and the owner came around and said, "You're from the university, and I'm one of those 16,000 people." He said, "You know, we're a giving community, so you tell us what you need," and I said: "Some of that I'm reading to be 'Don't screw it up.'"
So it's been a marvellous two years. The main campus here is in Prince George. I should, first of all, say that I'd like to make a few comments which really set the context for Nadia to make her comments. Nadia is in her last year in our environmental planning program. Also, can I share that you hail from the Sunshine Coast? But I think you're a northerner now. She's also president of our Northern Undergraduate Student Society.
In learning about the north through UNBC, I've come to appreciate the diversity and the vast region that we serve. The main campus here is in Prince George. We have 4,200 students, but we have campuses also in Terrace and in the northeast in Fort St. John and in Quesnel.
We present a comprehensive set of programming, but also, we are very research active. We were ranked No. 1 in the country for research of universities our size by Maclean's and No. 3 overall. We're a very active, forward-thinking community, and it's a great privilege to be here.
We feel that our greatest impact in our community has been through our graduates. We feel that whether it's the Prince Rupert Port Authority or Northern Health or the banks or the commercial sector, the mills, you will find our graduates throughout the north and, indeed, throughout the world.
We realize that the ecosystem that supports economic development really has some foundational aspects: health care and education for the children of workers of any company thinking of moving into any area, as well as the skills that are trained in our post-secondary system, both at the university and, certainly, at the colleges. Both are vital needs.
I'd like to make four points. I wanted to point out…. These reflect the priorities of the university as we see them now, particularly in the context of developing the economy in the north. It's a resource-based economy but certainly one that's heading towards one that's more knowledge-based.
First are the professional programs. We certainly have, as I mentioned, a comprehensive undergraduate suite of programs.
We have the northern medical program. But there again, there's a unique northern thrust. We have a Northern Medical Program Trust, where the communities have contributed funds to the amount of $6½ million. The proceeds of that help attract and retain and keep stimulated the young health care students that we have.
We aspire to have an engineering program, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, to assist our industries and our companies to compete and to succeed.
Although we have a medical program, we aspire to have the other allied medical sciences, such as speech pathology. We are about to launch a physiotherapy program, in partnership with UBC, but occupational therapy and audiology are other areas that we certainly want to develop.
We're very excited about renewable energy systems for small and rural communities right now. As we see fossil fuel reserves being limited and costs rising and the persistence of diesel tanks in many small communities, particularly aboriginal communities in remote areas, we see that the solutions for renewable energy for these communities will help them.
But it truly is a global issue, whether you're on a small island in the South Pacific or another small northern community in the Arctic Circle. So we imagine that yes, there are technologies for wind, solar, geothermal and so on, but every community will have a unique solution to their sustainable energy in the future. It might be wind and tidal in Haida Gwaii. It might be sun and geothermal in New Aiyansh in the Nass.
We believe strongly that we would like to build the expertise around the solutions for these communities. The new north centre is a rubric for all our institutes — in health, the environment, First Nations, as well as for energy.
Finally, I want to mention student success and a segue to Nadia's comments, particularly aboriginal students. We are dedicated…. We have a 13 percent population of aboriginal students, representing the diversity of nations across the north. We look forward to continuing our efforts — whether it's the wilp wilxo'oskwhl Nisga'a program in the Nass or weekend university, which unfortunately just ended, in Williams Lake — in reaching out and helping students from aboriginal communities.
With that, I will end my comments. There's so much more to say, but I think Nadia will say it even better.
N. Nowak: Thanks, George.
Hi, my name is Nadia. Thank you for the opportunity to present this evening. I'm always honoured to speak on behalf of students. I'm here on behalf of students at UNBC this evening — in our Prince George campus but also, as George has mentioned, in our regional campuses in Quesnel, Fort St. John and Terrace.
I'm going to touch on some of the unique attributes of UNBC, some of which George has mentioned, but I think what we've witnessed at UNBC in the recent past is just a convergence of student goals lining up with the university's goals. I'll just reiterate some of those things, because they are of importance to students as well, of course.
Broadly speaking, UNBC has become a strong asset for this province. We have a vibrant economic presence here. We're contributing to the social well-being of this region, and we're working to address some of the environmental and energy challenges that we'll be seeing in the future of today's students.
We've been consistent in our achievement of excellence at the regional, national and international levels, and we look forward to continuing those achievements into the future.
We recognize that the provincial government has made significant contributions to post-secondary education and research and infrastructure over the past several years. We're just excited to build on that strong base.
Some of the unique attributes that UNBC has. First is the role that we play and will continue to play in the economic development and diversification of this region. In northern B.C. we need to prepare students for a new future, a future that I think needs to recognize that our fossil fuel energy sources are depleting and that we need to reimagine the way that we build our communities. As Canada's green university, we're working hard to be a leader in renewable energy and to recognize that change.
We recognize that all students are part of this solution. The dual challenge of climate change and building renewable energy systems requires a diversity of knowledge. We need a cultural perspective, a First Nations perspective. We need economics students and commerce students and history students. Everyone needs to get on board for this, so we're really excited about the direction the university is going in that way.
Our research is largely in line with this. We're making significant contributions to the solutions to these issues and also identifying the problems.
For example, some of our research chairs are looking at the consequences of climate change on the water cycle in northern B.C., the carbon impact of the mountain pine beetle, economic and social transition in small resource-based towns in northern B.C., mercury toxicity levels in indigenous food sources and the integration of health into environmental decision-making.
As a student that recognizes these challenges and is quite concerned, I feel a greater sense of hope knowing that UNBC is working to address these problems now, problems that will mostly be felt by my generation and generations to come.
Lastly, our small size and our geographical location makes us more appealing and more accessible to northern students and particularly to aboriginal students.
For all these reasons, I hope that your support for our university will continue as we move forward as Canada's green university, as we work to enhance our northern medical program, our engineering programs, and we continue to educate students so that they have the knowledge and skills to address the jobs that will happen for a new future.
I'm just going to touch on a few issues of particular relevance that are related to student access. To ensure access to post-secondary education for young people of the north around B.C. and Canada and for underrepresented populations such as aboriginal students, we must ensure accessibility.
The prospect of significant debt can prevent students in medium- to low-income families or students that would not traditionally enrol from considering post-secondary education.
I encourage a reduction in the student loan interest rates. The debt that students can incur will grow significantly after graduation. This is particularly challenging when students find themselves entering the job market and having to take jobs that are foot-in-the-door jobs or volunteering to build up their experience and then not getting the income they need to pay off their loans while also taking care of themselves and, if they have families, their families.
Further, as the aboriginal population grows in Canada and as an institution that values the contribution of indigenous people in B.C. and around the world, I look forward to the maintenance of the support to aboriginal students in B.C.
Lastly, protecting the funding for adult basic education. If adults are finding they need to retrain to be competitive in the job market again, they need to have access to those courses that will get them into university so that they can contribute to building strong communities.
To conclude, investment in UNBC will ensure the economic prosperity, social well-being and environmental health that will strengthen our communities and improve the quality of life for the diversity of people that live in this region now and into the future.
As a student representative, it's my greatest hope that students will graduate as developers of innovative ideas, as leaders for sustainability, as change-makers, as critical thinkers and as ethical decision-makers.
I hope you share those same hopes and that you will take UNBC's priorities into consideration when you're putting the budget together for 2012. Thanks again for your attention and your time.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you.
We have a long list of questioners and only a couple of minutes left, so we'll probably just get to a few.
B. Bennett: I'm interested in the extent to which the university has done research or has noticed anecdotally the benefits of training people, educating people, here in the north in terms of having them stay here — health care professionals, technical people and so forth. I'm a rural MLA, and I'm convinced, anecdotally, that if you train people in a place, they're far more likely to stay there than they are if they go away and then we ask them to come back.
G. Iwama: Yes, I appreciate that. I thought at one time Cranbrook was going to be my last stop. It's a beautiful place. I worked at the Kootenay Trout Hatchery for a long time.
The doctor, for example, that we celebrated setting up her practice in Fort St. John in our last UPDATE magazine is an example of a student that was engaged because we were in the north, graduated, did a residency and started her practice there. That's one example.
An elder said to me the other day: "You know, Dr. Iwama, we have over 50 certificates and over 30 degrees now in our community." I said: "That's wonderful, but sometimes we get criticized for being vendors of degrees. Does it really help?" She said: "Well, it does, but that's not the main point. My grandson said to me the other day, 'You know, Grandma, Mom has got her degree and Auntie is in school, and I feel I can do it now.'"
That sense of confidence that somehow loses the spotlight sometimes is critically important to building this important enterprise that we're engaged in.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. If we could keep it brief. We're out of time, but the last question to MLA Donaldson.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I'll be brief.
Thank you for your comments, Nadia, about access — very good points, especially around the ABE funding in the northern areas. That's particularly important.
I had a couple of questions for George. Quickly, the community energy systems that you alluded to and the need to build expertise in those. How difficult is that without a school of engineering, and what other efforts have you undertaken in that area?
Secondly, and this relates to student access, you alluded to a First Nations program that has — I think I heard you right — ceased to exist, in Williams Lake, so could you give a little background detail on that?
G. Iwama: All right. Quickly, let me try to do the last one first. For the last 12 years or so there has been a weakened university in Williams Lake. We've collaborated with TRU to provide the curriculum for First Nations students to spend Friday to Sunday coming to that place and getting their degrees over seven or eight years.
Funding and, frankly, student numbers have dropped as well, and that stopped. But we've come back from that thinking that that format has to be available through UNBC's continuing ed or whatever format it is for people throughout the north so that they can work on their credentials over time.
On the first one, yes. For example, we have our bioenergy facility that heats the Prince George campus completely. It's the enterprise that got us first place in North America, recognized along with and tied with Harvard University on this recognition. We have many activities starting.
Our chancellor, John MacDonald, put it this way: "We're not after building an engineering school — period. We have a problem, for which, by the way, we need engineering."
I must include the college's role here, because it's the technologists to the degreed and professional engineers that will be needed. So we have engaged the B.C. Bioenergy Network and a number of groups like that. We have dedicated one of our Canada research chairs to this area of renewable energy systems.
The Linnaeus University in Sweden, with whom we have an agreement, is coming over to visit because they want to deliver their masters of engineering in programs like those named "Wood Products Development" and "Innovation In Wood" here in Prince George, in the context of what has recently been announced: the wood innovation and design centre.
Yes. I said to John MacDonald: "If we had all the money in the world, could we find the expert engineers to come and do this systems work?" He said: "George, that's not an easy thing. We need to develop it from now." So we're joining projects, like taking north island Haida Gwaii onto renewable energy with the National Research Council, with the Haida Nation, and moving with communities like that, which are willing and, frankly, well on their way towards exploring this.
We want to add the kind of engineering that's not just civil and mechanical that you'll find in other places. But as the dean at UBC said: "If you could develop a unique niche, we'd love to send our students to you." That niche has to do with a biobase. Bio is one kind of renewable energy, but we are sitting here in the middle of this bioresource. So engineering that has that flavour, that has renewable energy with a bioemphasis and wood innovation, is the kind of engineering we want to see installed here. That's what we're working on, on many fronts.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Nadia. Thank you, Dr. Iwama. We really appreciate your taking the time.
So we'll adjourn now. We'll reconvene tomorrow in Williams Lake.
The committee adjourned at 7:06 p.m.
[ Return to:
Committee Home Page ]
Hansard Services publishes transcripts both
in print and on the Internet.
Chamber debates are broadcast on television and webcast on the Internet.
Question Period podcasts are available on the Internet.
Copyright (c) 2011: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada