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
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2011
The committee met at 4:03 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 would like to welcome everyone in the audience.
I guess that's you, Carol.
C. Fielding: Thank you.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you for taking time in this important process.
Each year, in preparation for 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 and economic challenges in Europe and the States. What we are seeing is that governments that have not been fiscally responsible are being punished. In B.C. we have maintained our triple-A credit rating and are committed to balancing our budget by fiscal 2013-14. This will serve, as well, to protect and grow our job base.
These challenging circumstances mean there are difficult questions ahead, and we look forward to hearing your priorities in these challenging times.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is the parliamentary committee which 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, this being the first. This is the third time we have tried this consultation method.
Last week in Vancouver. This week we have been in Fort Nelson, Smithers, Prince George, Williams Lake, Kamloops and Courtenay, before returning to Victoria today. 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 will 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. The deadline to receive submissions is Friday, October 14.
At today's meeting each presenter may speak for ten minutes, with up to five additional 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'd like to register for an open-mike spot, please check at your location.
Today's meeting is a public meeting which will be recorded and transcribed by Hansard Services. A copy of the transcript, along with the minutes of the hearing, will be printed and be made available on the committee's website. In addition to the meeting transcript, a live audio webcast of this session is also produced and available 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.
P. Pimm: I'm Pat Pimm, MLA for Peace River North.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, MLA for Cowichan Valley.
M. Stilwell: Moira Stilwell, MLA, Vancouver-Langara.
M. Elmore: Mable Elmore, MLA for Vancouver-Kensington.
D. Hayer: Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston, MLA, Surrey-Whalley.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine, and Deputy Chair of the Finance Committee.
R. Howard (Chair): Also joining us today, I'm pleased to introduce our Clerk, Susan Sourial. We have Hansard Services staff, Polly Vaughan and Jean Medland. We have Byron Plant in research with us as well.
One correction. Just back to…. If somebody is looking to sign up for the five-minute open-mike at the end of the program, they can phone in.
With that, I will finally get to our first witness: the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce — Carol Fielding.
C. Fielding: Thank you, because I'm happy to be here. What an opportunity this is for us.
R. Howard (Chair): I'm going to give you 15 minutes. At about ten minutes I'll give you a heads-up. Typically, you can wrap up around then, and we can ask questions, or you can go right through. It's your choice.
C. Fielding: Well, again, good afternoon and thank you all very much for offering this opportunity to the communities that lie beyond the Lower Mainland. We're very happy to participate today.
Just before I really get started I also wanted to say that we're very excited here in our corner of the province with respect to the Premier's recent announcements of the support for the Prince Rupert Port Authority and also for the Kitimat LNG project.
Having said that, though, I think we all understand that there are many issues that face government as we move along at every level, and the big one is revenue. I guess the question is how to get more, where to get more and how to make sure it keeps coming. Federal and provincial governments have many sources of revenue but in this day of economic uncertainty are running deficits to provide necessary services and support for their residents.
Municipal governments, on the other hand, for all intents and purposes have only one source — property taxes — and they must be balanced each and every year. In resource-based economies like ours and many other communities outside the Lower Mainland, an industry shutting down is devastating. Municipal revenues shrink, property values plummet, while fixed infrastructure costs remain, often resulting in serious service cuts, and/or taxes are increased substantially to try and maintain.
A town needs to maintain its infrastructure, however, and delaying necessary maintenance can often lead to greater costs. The city of Terrace has gone through this scenario over the past few years, struggling to maintain infrastructure in the face of tough times and resisting tax increases, by and large.
But now we face new challenges. There are potential capital investments planned for the northwest region of B.C., estimated between $8 billion and $25 billion over the next ten years, depending on whether you look at that conservatively or very optimistically.
Creation of between 3,000 and 5,000 jobs, all short term, will put severe stress on local infrastructure as well as on social services such as hospitals and the police. This influx of people to the region will not necessarily translate into additional tax revenue for municipalities right away or perhaps even later.
Sufficient funding for this increased demand could be provided, perhaps, by a Fair Share agreement, similar to that already in place in the northeast corner of British Columbia. It would help local municipalities with those additional costs that would accrue to them. This also provides a second source of revenue for municipalities, thereby helping to maintain our local structure.
Maintaining our communities, though, is often not enough. We need to strengthen them at the same time.
Much has been made of the 70 percent of wealth created in B.C. being generated outside the Lower Mainland. We can't do that if our rural communities are deteriorating and residents were to find themselves living in a substandard environment.
Rural economics require sustainable diversification if they are to survive the inevitable downturns in the economy. The provincial government can play a vital role in this regard.
We have one example that we've recently started to promote for the city of Terrace. The Terrace Chamber of Commerce has received the support of the city of Terrace to pursue having the PST administration centre being located here in our community. As the provincial government grapples with the mechanics of reinstituting the PST, there is an opportunity for the city of Terrace and our provincial government to stabilize and diversify our primarily resource-based economy while increasing long-term employment in this region.
We know that when the old PST centre was shut down, approximately 300 employees retired or went to work within other administrations, so we anticipate a similar number to be rehired or to be hired again in order to build on the PST.
The economic and social impact of 300 jobs in this region's hub will be to provide stability, sustainability and survivability for retailers, wholesalers, restaurants and service providers when the next inevitable downturn occurs in the economy. Those jobs will also help support city services, social programs and school activities.
We know that the numbers talk, and when our population decreased after numerous high-profile shutdowns in the last decade — Skeena Cellulose, Terrace Lumber Co. and Eurocan — well, so did all the attendant services.
To talk more about the PST administration centre and why we think it would be a great idea, I think we need to highlight a few of the areas that we can promote here right now.
The affordability of available commercial space. Lease rates in Terrace are anywhere from 15 to 40 percent cheaper than the Lower Mainland, and the school district also has square footage available here that they would be interested in looking at regarding leasing.
We have a readily available workforce. As of May 2006 there was a 30 percent First Nations presence in this region's population and an attendant unemployment rate of 20 to 30 percent. This is the worst aboriginal unemployment rate in the entire province. First Nations represent an underutilized, stabilized, non-transient labour force, something today's employers can't find in many locations.
The other group we need to be aware of is the single parents. In 2006, again, there were 945 single parents in Terrace, representing 28 percent of the family units with children. This group is unlikely to benefit from any direct out-of-town jobs from short-term construction projects.
Statistics for income levels in this area for single females, which we know will represent the vast majority of those single-parent families…. They receive 25 percent less income than the average for the same group in B.C. as a whole. This represents an opportunity to impact First Nations unemployment and, in the same stroke, provide opportunities for single parents to improve their families' standards of living.
With respect to training, we have the Northwest Community College here, standing ready to provide whatever specialized training may be required. They have the capability and the capacity to have the new workforce ready to go on opening day.
Connectivity. We have high-speed broadband as well as cell and cable services provided by our own regional service provider, CityWest, plus the usual national brands. And of course we know video-conferencing is also available through our Community Futures office, which is where I'm presenting from today.
We know that not all the employees would come from within our local resources, so we should have a look at what we offer to anyone wanting to move into the community of Terrace.
The cost of living in Terrace. The average price of residential real estate sold in Terrace in 2010 was just over $200,000, while in Vancouver it was almost $600,000 and in Victoria was over $600,000.
Our residential inventory rate. As of September, just this month, we have 156 properties listed for sale with realtors, and this doesn't include private listings, so I think it's fair to say that we have some capacity here that we can accommodate.
The commute time is five minutes to everywhere in town and ten minutes to the great outdoors, with minimal traffic — recreational activities with clean air, clean water, wildlife, fishing, hunting and many things that many people would enjoy, living in the north.
R. Howard (Chair): Carol, I should let you know…. I apologize for interrupting. I should let you know you're at about ten minutes, and we do have some questions. You're free to keep going, though.
C. Fielding: Just let me wrap up.
I was just saying that strategically locating the PST centre in Terrace will assist with ensuring infrastructure remains viable in the north, and the unending cycle of boom and bust of a resource community would begin to be mitigated.
I can stop there, if you like, if there are other questions.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, Carol. We do have a number of questions.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thank you, Carol, for your presentation and some of the topics that the chamber is concerned about.
I had a question about revenue sources and jobs. You rightly pointed out the lack of any mills in Terrace, compared to what used to be the case. From what I understand, in the Kalum district we're looking at almost 100 percent of logs being exported out of the area.
The Smithers chamber expressed concerns about raw log export. What's the opinion of the Terrace Chamber of Commerce on the level of raw log export?
C. Fielding: While we've not actually polled our chamber members to talk about that, we do have members that are actually involved with the exporting of the logs. While there are two positions to look at with respect to that, I think the employment aspect of it is minimal, because we're not employing the same amount of people. But I think as long as the community sees that there is some viability coming back to the community, because we do have companies in our town that are doing that…. To have a general statement from the chamber based on that — I don't have that.
P. Pimm: Thank you, Carol. Just a couple of things for me.
I don’t know the geography well enough. Where is Terrace compared to Kitimat and Rupert, distance-wise?
C. Fielding: We're about a 45-minute drive north of Kitimat. Kitimat is south of us. We're about a 90-minute drive east of Prince Rupert. With respect to that, we're actually in the hub of those. You have to sort of come to Terrace to get through to head out the rest of Highway 16 toward Smithers, which is another 2½ hours east of us.
P. Pimm: Okay, right on. Thank you for that.
You say you're excited about hearing about the announcements by the Premier this week. Has your chamber taken a position on the LNG and the mining projects in that area that are coming in the future?
C. Fielding: Again, not a position that we can say that we've polled our chamber membership about. But I think for the chamber in total, it's fair to say that we do support any of these projects that are coming into the region, because we understand and recognize how important they are for our business communities to sustain themselves.
We've had a very difficult time here in the past ten years with the closure of mills. We've had many of our small businesses just barely hanging on. Many of them are very excited about the B.C. Hydro NTL project and now the KLNG project being approved and, of course, everything that the port has always done.`
We also recognize the bigger the port gets, the more traffic we're going to get through Terrace and the bigger the infrastructure will start to build here to support those two locations. So I think it's safe to say we're in fairly good support of those projects.
P. Pimm: I think you have an exciting ten years coming.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, Carol. I have visited, actually, Terrace and Kitimat and Prince Rupert, and I've been there on the Finance Committee tours. I think that's a very exciting area, and I have seen big changes in the last ten years. I have seen ups and downs, and I think it's to ups again.
I'd like to find out, from your perspective, that if people from outside are looking for investing further funds, do you think one of the best places in the province to invest would be in Terrace and Kitimat and the Prince Rupert area because of all the new development that is coming? Or do you think they're not able to find all the workers they are looking for? When I was in some of the towns, they were saying that they couldn't find the workers. On the other hand, you seem to have the reverse. You seem to have more workers than jobs.
C. Fielding: I think we agree. The chamber is currently involved in many workshops going on in the region with respect to the lack of human resource availability to staff these positions that are going to be coming up. It's a bit daunting, actually, and I know that we have some community groups in Kitimat-Terrace Industrial Development group working with B.C. Hydro and the NTL people to look at how we're going to build that resource. What is it going to take?
I believe that the community has the infrastructure, or the buildable infrastructure, to support all the businesses that are coming, but we definitely do need more support from the government and from all the interested parties, as to getting the employees here, getting the people into the community, getting them trained, understanding what that dynamic is.
We're really hoping that the provincial government will look at maybe how we can streamline some of those aspects as well, because we know that getting someone who has no technical skill or trades skill trained to the point where they're actually viable is at least a two-year window.
With the B.C. Hydro project, we're already there. We don't have that two-year window. So how are we going to manage that? We'll be importing a lot of people, and we know there's some work being done now with the immigration factor as well, so we're really looking at what all those opportunities are going to be and how the chamber can support those.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent, Carol. Thank you very much. We've run you out of time, but we really appreciate you making the effort to meet with us through video conference.
Next up on our witness list, we have Kirby Azak, Terrace Kermode Friendship Centre.
Welcome, Kirby. You have 15 minutes. At about ten minutes I'll give you a heads-up. You can take some questions at that point, or if you choose, you can go right through and use it all yourself.
K. Azak: First of all, I'd like to say thank you for this opportunity. It's a great opportunity, especially for our friendship centres. My name is Kirby Azak. I'm Nisga'a, and I've been working with the Kermode Friendship Society for seven years. My most recent position at Kermode has been the executive director.
The Kermode Friendship Society is one of 23 friendship centres under the umbrella of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. We have been servicing Terrace and the surrounding area for over 35 years.
Terrace is the urban hub of five First Nations: Tsimshian, Nisga'a, Gitxsan, Haisla, Tahltan. Although we are an aboriginal organization and most of our funding is allocated for aboriginal people, we provide services to any and all individuals.
Since 2004 Kermode has grown from ten employees housed in one building to 48 employees housed in six buildings. We have expanded our services to include Kitimat and one program offered in Prince Rupert and the surrounding area.
Although our services have increased and our area of service has increased, our core funding has remained the same. Our administrative costs have doubled due to the increase of staff needed, and we have not received an increase in funding for many years.
In fact, our funding has decreased for our program director position, which impacts our ability to write proposals and grant applications for extra funding to supplement the programs that we currently provide. Therefore, we are supporting BCAAFC's efforts in establishing an off-reserve aboriginal strategy to include long-term, annualized funding of $3.1 million to friendship centres.
In our centre we provide parenting programs and programs for youth between the ages of 12 to 24. We have noted for many years the gaps in our services for our aboriginal children between ages seven to 12 and for adults without children and our elders. We do provide a soup and breakfast kitchen to the general public, but there are no meaningful programs such as advocacy or addictions counselling.
Kermode Nation's focus on developing and delivering programs has been on prevention strategies and early intervention. One of our strategies has been focused on providing tools to our youth and to our young parents to give them a fighting chance to succeed in the economy we live in.
One such program is our young parents program. The young parents program was a six-week program that ran for three days a week. The parents were referred by MCFD social workers to attend. The program was focused on the impacts of colonization, the impacts of residential school, and then it gave them a thorough understanding of who they were by exploring their history as aboriginal people and as individuals.
By exploring their culture, language, roles and responsibilities within their own families and their own culture and by identifying with their ancestry, the parents had a better understanding of what chances their parents had for success and to look at ways of changing the chances for their children to be self-sufficient.
Through this program…. We had 27 families complete the program. Eleven have gone on for further education and into college or trade programs, and six families had their files closed with MCFD completely within one year. These families have grown to become more independent and to take ownership of their actions and their lives. Sadly, this was a private project and has not been re-created in the same sense.
One of the major challenges we have faced is providing the same programs on the same budget with the increased costs of food, supplies and fuel. Other challenges include providing services for other areas, such as youth homelessness, aboriginal people being released from correction facilities with no support, elders programs and educational support.
Our goal has been to provide culturally relevant programs. We have tried mainstream programming, and it has proven to be inefficient within our community for our people. But to further develop these programs to be more culturally relevant, the funding to our sectors must increase. We have encountered difficulties such as inadequate supplies and high employee turnover because of the amount of funding we receive.
Kermode Friendship Society fully supports BCAAFC's campaign for an off-reserve aboriginal strategy for improved social and economic outcomes for our off-reserve residents. Friendship centres are often the first and the last points of contact for support in shelter, food and the sense of belonging.
We have members in our organization that have never been to their home community. They've never gone home to visit on a happy note. Most of the time the community is only an hour away, at the most. Additionally, we have elders that have only gone home when there's a death of a family member, and even then it is the Kermode Friendship Society that assists them in transportation arrangements.
Our support goes to increasing the capacity of our membership to become more self-sufficient and in regaining their identity.
I would just like to thank you for your time.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Kirby. We have a few questions.
M. Elmore: Thanks for your presentation, Kirby. Congratulations on the success of your young parents program. We've heard that the success of the aboriginal community accessing education is that it takes a more holistic approach to dealing with parenting, other counselling and other life skills. I think that the success of your program, with them being able to pursue other educational opportunities, really shows that.
Where did the funding come from for the program? You mentioned it was just a pilot program. Have you been able to partner with other colleges in the area?
K. Azak: The program was run out of our family skills worker contract. It's an MCFD contract. The contract specifically states that our clients must be referred by them. So it's a mandated program for families to attend. Now, we have a little bit of a surplus, and they had a little bit of a surplus at one point, so we combined those surpluses to develop a group program, because at that point we were only dealing with individual family members.
We developed the program based on the request of the families saying: "I don't know where I come from. I don't know what my language is. I don't even know where my family is." We started looking back. Okay. Well, let's start right from the beginning. If we're going to do this, we might as well go back to the beginning and bring them through it. It was just something that we put together as an organization — a lot of different people coming together.
The funding was only a pilot project through that one contract. When that pilot project was complete, we moved it over to another program called the aboriginal child and youth mental health program. It is now focused on the youth, probably from about ages 12 to 24. It's not sort of a drop-in. It's not mandatory that they come. We also are trying to…. Instead of just focusing on the youth, we're giving the same messages to their parents.
We just moved that program over, so we're not sure of the success of it yet.
R. Howard (Chair): We have another question.
P. Pimm: Thank you, Kirby. Very quickly, friendship centres do great work across the entire province. I see you've got a large friendship centre there, with 48 employees. Did I catch that right?
K. Azak: Yes.
P. Pimm: How many children or families do you provide services for? And the second part of that question: are there non-aboriginal families as well as First Nations families?
K. Azak: Yes, there are non-aboriginal. The one program that I was talking about is family skills. It depends on the need. It's a referred program from the social workers. Sometimes we can service up to — I don't know — 20-something clients in that one program alone. We have five contracts from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
There's one program that partners with another agency, and that's called a parent-child drop-in, where we bring in speakers to discuss issues that the parents want to discuss. That can range anywhere from five families to probably…. I think the most I've seen is 12 families in one sitting. That's just a program where we offer a service, like an hour workshop, and then provide them with a meal.
R. Howard (Chair): We have another question.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. We have a government that says it's concerned about families. You have an organization that provides many services around the support of families. From a provincial budget perspective and a government decision perspective, what would you say are some good reasons that the province should support friendship centres?
K. Azak: For one thing, a lot of our families do not know where they come from. They don't have a home community where they know people who they can get those supports from. They specifically depend on what kinds of services that we can provide to them.
Another is that we have individuals here that are not only from the five major nations that I just mentioned. We have people from Squamish. We have Cree. We have Métis. We even have…. One of our clients was Vietnamese. So having that service and being able to have that support in looking to address the needs that they're facing…. Kermode Friendship Society, or any friendship society, is the one that they come to first.
We try to do as much as we can with what we have. But for the most part, our whole intent is making our people more self-sufficient, and we need the tools to do that and the funds to help them do that.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, Kirby. We have just enough time for one last question.
D. Hayer: We have received many presentations, Kirby, from many of the friendship centres in the towns we have visited. Do you have an association that shares, maybe, some of the good practices, some of the challenges that different friendship centres have so that they can learn from each other and support each other?
Also, what percentage of your funding comes from the federal government, and what is from the provincial government? Is there also some fundraising part of that, or is it all mostly from the federal and provincial governments? Is there any third or fourth source of funding that you use in your programs?
K. Azak: I would say that we get about half of our funding from the province and half of our funding from federal programs. In terms of fundraising, we do fundraising for special events. We hold a community Christmas dinner every year. We host National Aboriginal Day every year.
There's a whole host of other agencies that we depend on in the community. Within the last two years I would say that we've been really, really reaching out, partnering with other community organizations so that we can spread our services further with the money that we have. We look for additional funding grants, proposals for new ideas, and we try to include the community as much as possible.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, Kirby. We've run you out of time. The committee really appreciates your participation in the process this afternoon.
Now, through the wonders of technology, we will hook up with Nelson.
Welcome, Nelson. With us, I believe, we have Selkirk College — Mike Dion and Barry Auliffe.
Gentlemen, you have 15 minutes. At about ten minutes I'll give you a heads-up. You can take some questions, or if you choose, you can just use it all yourself. Your choice.
B. Auliffe: Okay, thank you. Selkirk College wishes to thank the government for the opportunity to make a submission to your hearing today as you prepare your '12-13 provincial budget. We applaud this select standing committee for undertaking this consultative process as you develop your budget.
We recognize the fiscal challenges that the government has at this time, with the moderate economic growth, diminished revenues, recent changes in taxation policy, and the need to be prudent and thoughtful with the use of the public's money. We do also applaud you for your commitment to maintain and improve services in key areas such as health and education. Selkirk College certainly embraces the opportunity to collaborate with the government in meeting your key goals and objectives.
Now, Selkirk College is the oldest rural community college in British Columbia. We've been around for 45 years, providing accessible and affordable post-secondary education at nine locations throughout the Kootenay and Boundary region.
We have a comprehensive array of programs, plus some unique programs that line up very well with the identity of our area. As an example, we have a ski resort management program, peace studies, Kootenay School of the Arts. Selkirk is….
R. Howard (Chair): I'm sorry. If I can interrupt you gentlemen just for a second, with apologies. For Hansard, I should have clarified upfront who is actually speaking. We have two of you. I need to know who is actually talking right now.
B. Auliffe: Okay. My name is Barry Auliffe. I'm the director of communications and development, and Mike Dion, our vice-president of finance and administration, will pick up halfway through this presentation. Sorry.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. No, that's my fault. Please continue.
B. Auliffe: We want you to know that we're fully committed to achieving the goals of the government in terms of labour market development, education and economic goals. We are closely aligned with our communities in an effort to develop a skilled workforce; a next generation of effective citizens; and, of course, economic development in our area.
Selkirk College provides programming that serves students, their families, business, industry, trades and health, while driving the innovation in community development. We undertake this work with concerted attention to sound fiscal management of our college. We intend to maximize enrolment, and we're continually trying to improve our programs and services. We think this is particularly poignant at this particular time of economic uncertainty.
Now, the government has suggested that there's a growing imperative that we close the workforce gap associated with training and post-secondary education, both in a general sense and also in key areas. In our notes that we sent you, you can see on that pie chart that fully 77 percent of jobs that will be coming up in the next decade require some post-secondary education. Forty-two percent of all those jobs coming up are related to either technical or paraprofessional occupations, which require either a college or trade certification, and that's the business we're in.
Forecasted growth and the resulting need for trained and skilled workers in a variety of occupations is relevant to the region we serve, also, and to sectors that we serve outside our area. Our programming, we believe, aligns very well with the workforce and occupational needs.
Included in your presentation is a table that shows three particular occupational areas that are expected to grow faster than others: health occupations; trades, transport and equipment operation; and natural applied sciences. Those are all areas that we provide training in.
Also, in our own area the other table, if you have our presentation there, shows some of the key areas of job growth in this particular region. Once again, our programming aligns very well with that. Examples there are health occupations, arts and culture.
Now, many of the people that come to Selkirk College start off with programs such as basic literacy. Some of them will be into essential skills development, some adult basic education and continue on to retraining and trades apprenticeships, some for diplomas and applied degrees. Their goal is employment and wanting to open up for themselves new opportunities.
Other students start their university studies here. We provide them the opportunity to get a high quality of education at affordable prices, as they can stay close to home. They will transition after four years onto the four-year universities. In all cases we think we've demonstrated a high level of satisfaction and engagement with our learners.
I'm now going to turn the presentation over to my partner, Mike Dion, the vice-president of administration and finance.
M. Dion: Selkirk College has approached the issue of maintaining or improving capacity in a number of innovative ways, and I'll cover five ways in which we've done this.
The first one is cost containment. Selkirk College has had the ability over the last several years to reduce operational costs and realize efficiencies and savings. The focus has been to provide maximum resources into the classroom while minimizing administrative costs. Again, we want to maximize resources in the classroom while minimizing administrative costs. I think this is really important.
We have a balanced 2011-12 budget and no deficits from previous years to manage. At the same time, we continue to focus on student full-time-equivalents, otherwise known as FTEs, and the efficient delivery of programming.
We have community, regional and provincial partnerships. We continue to expand our network of partnerships with school districts, other post-secondary providers, community agencies and development trusts, in particular the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust and the Columbia Basin Trust.
Industry groups provide a capacity to respond and extend collective mandates. We continue, despite our relatively small size, to be a leader in state-of-the-art on-line learning, infrastructure and curriculum for our distributed learners.
A number of our program partnerships are directly involved in economic sustainability. For example, our commercial aviation program flight-training activity directly affects the continued operation of the commercial-level airport at Castlegar.
Our baccalaureate nursing program is estimated to produce approximately 70 percent of the nurses in the region. It bodes well. Those you educate in the area, you keep in the area. It's a way of retaining our young people in the area as well.
Selkirk's arts-related programming — including new media; music studio; specialty trade programming — clay, fibre, jewellery, metal, fine woodworking; and creative writing — continues to support the development of new sectors of our economy.
The third area — advanced skills and innovation. Selkirk College continues to develop its capacity for full cost recovery and revenue-generating approaches to solving real-world problems in our region and beyond.
Our applied research centres, the Selkirk Geospatial Centre and our Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute, align with our distinct programming and have assisted our region to diversify its economy and support our communities to make sound strategic decisions while contributing to assisting local businesses and industries to remain competitive.
We have research and support of small and medium enterprise, SME, in such fields as geomatics, new media and e-commerce, on-line health programming, the entrepreneurial arts and tourism management.
The fourth area that we're looking at is return on investment. Selkirk College continues to be a leading economic driver in the West Kootenay–Boundary region. We are a major employer in the region, with direct and indirect economic activity approximating $75 million. That's a matter of taking the multiplier to our total expenditures in the area.
Out-of-region students contribute $4.8 million directly to the local economy, and the increasing earning power of our graduates is estimated to be $220 million annually.
Fifth but not least, of course, the new markets, student demographics and revenue streams. Selkirk College is developing more cost recovery programs; working to deliver short-term, specific training programming to industry and the community; developing new international markets for our programs and services; and improving services to aboriginal students. These are just a few of the strategic efforts that expand our responsiveness and flexibility within the community worldwide.
The second section I will be covering is…. However, despite our focused efforts, capacity continues to challenge us. Challenges facing Selkirk are many and varied. The most pressing include…. I'll cover three of them here as you go through this.
The first one — the annual base operating grant. Funding levels continue to challenge our capacity to undertake our mandate and attract greater numbers of students. Static operating grants year over year do not allow us to adequately cover annual inflation costs. This inflationary shortfall amounts to approximately 1½ percent of the annual operating budget and thus adds further challenges in maintaining balanced budgets.
Our base grant allocation has a direct connection to government expectations in terms of FTE production. Thus, our ability to devote operating grant moneys to replace classroom, lab and shop equipment is extremely limited. The replacement of a single machine lathe, commercial pilot simulator or computer lab often completely utilizes our operating capital allocation in any given year.
For example, we had to replace a couple of simulators in our aviation program, to the tune of about half a million dollars. An increase to our operating grants would support us in meeting our FTE goals while allowing us to allocate greater funding for capital equipment. Students need to keep pace with the dramatic changes to new technology and equipment to adequately prepare for employment.
The second part of this is facilities. As alluded to earlier by Barry, the college is the oldest rural community college in B.C. Our facilities and major capital equipment are aging. Despite being aggressive at energy-efficiency improvements and upgrades to our buildings and resultant savings, we're still challenged in maintaining our facilities to the standard required.
A recent building assessment, which we undertook in 2009-10, was undertaken by Stantec Consulting, in which a building maintenance deficit of $80.8 million was identified. A recent reduction of our annual capital allowance, otherwise known as ACA, has challenged the college in addressing this maintenance deficit. Over time this deficit will only increase, as the college is not fiscally able to maintain its aging facilities due to the reduction in the ACA funding.
The third component of this is in relation to capital. In order to maintain aging facilities, capital reinvestment is required on a periodic basis. Selkirk's aging facilities — 40-plus years — are due for capital reinvestment.
Stantec identified a number of opportunities for reinvestment during their building assessments. The building assessments identified three areas for capital investment, the first one being renovations of the trades and technology facility and equipment — this is here in Nelson; improved learning spaces and development of the learning commons at the Castlegar campus and other main sites; and upgrades of the technology infrastructure to support learners.
Selkirk College has the vision, priorities, people and students to continue to make a remarkable contribution in building a great region and province by meeting the goals and objectives of the government. Our communities continue to be affected by the current period of economic recovery.
An increased level of investment will improve our capacity to be responsive and relevant in the region. We will ensure a healthy return on that investment and lead our region through the provision of education, training and services that develop empowered, effective and career-ready citizens.
We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in government and the community over the coming months and years to come.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, Mike. Thank you, Barry. We just have a few minutes left, but we do have some questions.
M. Stilwell: Thank you for your presentation. We don't have a copy of it, so if you could make sure that we get a copy. I have a bunch of questions. I thought, rather than taking up time, if I could give you all my questions and if you could send me the information, if it's not in your presentation — if that would be okay.
I was interested in…. First of all, you talked about partnerships and the labour market. I'm wondering about the quality of your local labour market information and your ability to map that back to making sure that you're training students for jobs that are open in the area.
Also, do you have a good sense of…? I'm now talking about equipment, and I appreciate the need for up-to-date equipment to make students work-ready and productivity-ready. Would you be able to map your local labour market information more specifically than our regional tool back to your capital needs?
I know there are capacity issues. It strikes me that some of the programs you mentioned — for example, managing the ski resorts — would be of interest to countries like China and India, where they have a growing middle class and discretionary income. It seems like those kinds of programs might be really worthwhile in terms of trying to sell international education. I want to know a little more about that.
Finally, on a different topic, I know that there are a lot of students who come for adult basic skills and that those are provided for free. Several institutions have said to me in the past that they would like to charge a small amount, not to discourage the students, but their sense is that students often overcommit and therefore register for spots that are not completed. Therefore, there are other students who don't get in. I wonder if there's a way of quantifying and balancing those two competing needs.
Those are a lot of questions, but if you want to send me the information, I would be interested in hearing your views about those things.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you, MLA Stilwell. We'll take that on notice.
We've got one last question.
B. Ralston: This is a new way of asking questions, so I take it that the Chair is sanctioning that. Presumably, we'll all get the opportunity to ask this many questions.
Secondly, those answers would be directed to the committee, not to the individual MLA, I presume.
R. Howard (Chair): Yes, of course. I apologize.
MLA Stilwell has just joined us, and I have not had the opportunity to brief her on our one-question rule. So we're going to bump the time a little bit for these gentlemen, and we'll pass the last question to MLA Donaldson.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thank you for the presentation, and congratulations on the good work you're doing in the Kootenays.
I had a question about your annual base operating grant and the shortcomings that you've pointed out, especially when it comes to access for local people to get local jobs. We've heard from other colleges around the province. If you were putting to us something that we could consider and recommendations, what would be some of the items you would list as far as the rural aspect of annual base operating grants?
M. Dion: In terms of clarification of the question, are you thinking in terms of what the shortcomings or the shortfalls are within the current institution in terms of meeting those needs? Is that where you're getting at?
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): I'm getting at the challenges you face as a college that services often remote and rural areas and what the shortcomings are in the annual base operating grant that could be addressed through a recommendation.
M. Dion: Well, what's basically happening now with the grant is because it isn't keeping up with inflationary pressures and that sort of thing, by maintaining it at zero it's in effect a cut or a reduction in terms of real dollar terms as you're moving, as the dollar value changes, and that sort of thing. So for example, in this last year and in previous years for the sake of argument we'll say it's about 2 percent — 1½ to 2 percent.
Now, what that really does to us in terms of an institution and meeting the needs of the community and access to programs which enable our students to better equip themselves for the changing economy is we're looking at a result in shortfall of probably anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000 per year, depending on the given year and inflation rates.
As well, the other point that affects that is within the salaries and wages — how much built-in increment into contracts there is. Also, if there's some turnover and that, that will skew it a bit one way or the other but not relatively to any great nature.
The greatest challenge for us is to maintain programs and services that are relevant to the community, meeting the needs of an ever-changing economy. What happens over time is we end up lagging behind because we can't keep the technology current in the classroom and relevant to an industry that's requiring trained students.
B. Auliffe: Yeah. I think that, on top of that, we service a very large geographic area. We have nine different sites that we have to maintain. I think we're judged on the same basis as a college — like, say, Vancouver Community College — that really has one central place.
Keeping up nine locations to provide accessibility, which is really important…. We have a campus in Nakusp, and we have one in Kaslo. They're very small. Grand Forks, Trail, Nelson, Castlegar. It just brings with it, on one hand, inefficiencies in keeping those sites going, but on the other hand, if we don't have them, we really are not providing accessibility to people.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, gentlemen. I know I speak for the entire committee when I say we really appreciate your participation with us this afternoon.
M. Dion: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
R. Howard (Chair): Now we will switch back to Terrace.
S. Tyers: Hi.
R. Howard (Chair): I expect that you are Stacey Tyers, from the Terrace and District Community Services Society.
S. Tyers: Yes, that is me.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Well, thank you, Stacey. As you may know, we will offer you 15 minutes. At about the ten-minute mark I'll give you a heads-up. You can either stop and take some questions, or you can keep going. Your choice how you use your time. The microphone is yours.
S. Tyers: Thank you. I'm a poverty-law advocate, so I deal with so many ranges of legislation and budget dealings with the current government. I handle cases from as far north as Iskut and Dease Lake to some from Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Smithers, Quesnel — a huge geographical region.
I think that overall, when you come from a rural area, you feel that government is definitely not taking note of the differences in budget and funding requirements to grant the same kinds of services that you would get in an urban centre like Vancouver or Prince George. I think that MLA Pimm clearly stated that when he had to ask where Terrace was. We feel that it is overlooked.
When you have to deal with a geographical region like we have…. We have more than 13 satellite reserves that feed into this community for services. With the budget cuts that have happened over the last ten years to the judicial system, to the social service sector, most recently to the community living sector, the budgets have not reflected a strong support for families, for the most vulnerable in the communities, for the people who need government to be looking after them or helping them out or giving them a hand up.
The budgets have reflected a strong support for business and economy, but it is clear from the unemployment rates and from the growing gap between lowest-income earners and highest-income earners and the child poverty rates that the focus on business and economy isn't providing the jobs necessary to look after families the way that they need to be looked after. It's not doing what it needs to do for the communities.
I know, as a poverty-law advocate, the challenges people face to get the assistance that they need, whether it's for disability or dental care or whether it is simply working and trying to make ends meet in a community where the cost of living isn't significantly high but the wages are no longer there either due to the shutdown of mills and decent-paying jobs, as our logs get exported raw.
This is a huge problem. The judicial system and the cuts to it. We have one of the two legal aid offices left in the province. It's simply not acceptable. The government needs to prioritize social services and make sure that those who cannot speak for themselves or who are unable to care for themselves are being taken care of.
The cuts to community living and making it so that they are not in group homes, that they are essentially being foster-cared out…. We've seen the problem with children in foster care repeatedly. Putting people who may not even be able to speak on their own behalf into a situation where they could be abused is horrible. They are being cared for in those homes, and budget cuts are not acceptable. They need to be cared for.
The current budgets have not produced the results that this government has been looking for, which are jobs and the ability of people to take care of themselves. A family-first initiative and a jobs initiative are great if you're actually considering families-first and jobs initiatives.
Student tuition fees are through the roof. What's the best way to get a job? It's to get an education. If you can't afford that education, then you're not going to get the good-paying jobs and you're not going to be able to care for your families, and then you will be more dependent on a government system.
We need to look at long-term solutions that get people in a place where they are safe, secure and don't need those systems anymore — not just throw them off and let them figure it out. I think the government's budget focus should be on making sure that those services are put back into place. There shouldn't need to be cuts based on the extinguishing of the HST, since it was supposed to be somewhat revenue-neutral. We need to focus again on the people.
We've had so many user fees and regressive taxes forced onto low- and moderate-income earners that they can't afford their hydro anymore because the costs are so high. People will choose to pay their heating bill instead of eat or take medication, and nobody should be put in that situation. Nobody should have to make that choice.
R. Howard (Chair): Thank you very much, Stacey. We have a few questions.
B. Routley: Thank you for your passion on these issues. A lot of what you said are the same kinds of comments we hear in various areas throughout the province. The issues about advocating for people in rural communities in British Columbia — can you elaborate on the kinds of challenges that you face? I assume some of that would be travel costs, but are there sufficient people on the ground to deal with the kinds of challenges that you talked about?
S. Tyers: No. Simply, there are not. Advocates are filling places and are almost expected to do the jobs that lawyers used to do. I can give one example of a tenancy issue from Granisle.
You have to take your forms to the residential tenancy branch or a B.C. Access Centre to be able to file for a fee waiver if you can't afford the $50 to apply on line. That's roughly a two-hour trip to Smithers, and you have to go back in two days to pick up the package to deliver it where it needs to be. So if you don't have a vehicle and you don't have a credit card — to actually have the access and right to dispute, which you should — it's an incredibly expensive task.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Hi, Stacey, and thanks for the presentation. Thanks for coming in, and good to hear from you again. We had a presentation earlier today in Courtenay by Mark Benton of the Legal Services Society. He outlined some of the innovative ways that you and he and the organization is looking at doing things.
My question is: can you give us an example of your work that helps in the bigger picture around productivity, around reducing demand for other services by the people that you help — in other words, the work that you do that leads to efficiencies overall?
S. Tyers: Well, I think it really depends, because I do such a broad spectrum of work. Some work will just…. You know, disability applications will always be disability applications. People have their disabilities. I do workshops to educate landlords and tenants on their rights and responsibilities as landlords and tenants, to try to have everybody following the act. I try to…. It depends on what capacity. As I used to be the executive director of a non-profit that lost its gaming funding and shut down after 30 years…. I'm just pointing that out.
You know, we're losing services, so we aren't able to provide the same kind of quality, long-term solutions that we used to be able to provide. We're simply providing band-aid after band-aid because we have no choice. The funding isn't there for long-term solutions. We want emergency shelters before homes. We want emergency health care before actual preventative health care. We're constantly looking at the crisis instead of the preventative and long-term measures to start changing these systems.
When you deduct dollar for dollar off somebody's welfare cheque when they get a job, they're no further ahead, so why would they get a job? If you deduct their child support, which is supposed to be there to maintain the standard of living for a child, that child is no further ahead and has no higher standard of living. So there are no incentives for people to really move forward.
R. Howard (Chair): Excellent. Thank you, Stacey. I know I speak for the whole committee. We appreciate your participation with us this afternoon.
That draws to a conclusion our session this afternoon. We'll adjourn, and I guess we reconvene October 5.
The committee adjourned at 5:09 p.m.
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