Legislative Session: Fourth 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, OCTOBER 2, 2012
The committee met at 9:02 a.m.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
D. Horne (Chair): Good morning, everyone. I'm Douglas Horne, the MLA for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier of British Columbia.
This is an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly whose mandate includes conducting public consultations in the upcoming provincial budget.
I'd like to welcome everyone in the audience and thank you for taking time to participate in this process.
Every year in preparation for next year's budget the Minister of Finance releases a budget consultation paper. This paper presents the current fiscal and economic forecast and identifies key issues to be addressed in the next provincial budget. Printed copies of the Budget 2013 consultation paper are available for your information on the table at the back of the room.
Once the paper is released, this committee holds public consultations and invites British Columbians. Following the consultation period, this committee releases a report containing a series of recommendations for the upcoming budget. The report must be presented to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 15.
There are several ways that British Columbians can participate. This year the committee is scheduled to hold 18 public hearings across British Columbia. We've already visited Surrey, Castlegar, Cranbrook, Kelowna, Vernon, Vancouver and today in Coquitlam. As well, we did video conferencing to Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson and Salmon Arm. After today's meeting we're scheduled to travel to Fort St. John, Abbotsford, Quesnel, Kamloops, Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Smithers, Prince George, Courtenay, Parksville and Victoria.
In addition to the public hearings, British Columbians can also share their ideas by sending us a written submission through an on-line form on our website. We also accept written submissions by e-mail, letter and fax along with video or audio files. As well, British Columbians can fill out the on-line survey that I spoke about. It's on our website, which is at www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations.
I'd like to start by having the committee members here today introduce themselves, and then we'll get started. I'll start with John Slater.
J. Slater: John Slater. I'm the MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, and I live in Osoyoos.
P. Pimm: Pat Pimm. I'm the MLA for Peace River North and live in Fort St. John.
D. Hayer: Good morning. I'm Dave Hayer, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead. Surrey-Tynehead is where the widest — the Port Mann — bridge is in the world.
J. Les: John Les for Chilliwack.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Good morning. Mable Elmore for Vancouver-Kensington and Deputy Chair of the committee.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston, Surrey-Whalley.
G. Coons: Gary Coons, MLA for the North Coast, from Prince Rupert.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, MLA for the Cowichan Valley.
D. Horne (Chair): As well, joining us from the parliamentary committees office is our Clerk, Susan Sourial; as well as Jacqueline, who is at the back of the room, who registered you. Michael Baer and Jean Medland are at the Hansard Services desk there and are handling the recording and the audio portion of today's presentations.
At today's presentations each presenter will have ten minutes to make their presentation, followed by five minutes of questions.
At this time, I'll call our first presenter, which is the BCGEU — Darryl Walker and Michael Eso.
Welcome. You have ten minutes. You can begin anytime.
D. Walker: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity for input to the committee on the province's budget priorities for the upcoming year and beyond.
The BCGEU represents about 65,000 men and women who work in the public and broader public sector throughout the province of British Columbia. The members work in virtually every community around the province and in a variety of sectors. They deliver some of the most crucial services to the people of British Columbia.
Last week, together with the government, we achieved a tentative collective agreement for our 26,000 members who work in the public sector. We did this by rolling up our sleeves and working together to find practical solutions to real problems. We achieved an agreement that provides fairness for workers and meets the needs of the people of British Columbia and the government.
We want to continue that cooperative relationship. We want to continue to work with the government. We want to work with you to solve problems and ensure healthy and strong communities today and into the future, and we have suggestions as to how we might see that being done. You can read more in our submissions, but we would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of them.
First, we believe there are areas that the government could save costs and generate more revenues. Take, for example, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Permit backlogs mean lost revenues to the government of British Columbia and to the people of British Columbia. These backlogs are the result of staff cuts. We raised this issue with the committee last year. The government responded and allocated some additional temporary staff. However, the funding for these staff will run out at the end of this year, and the backlogs remain.
Last year there were an estimated 7,000 land, water and mining permits in the backlog system. As of July of this year we estimate that there are still 5,000 permits outstanding, and that is according to government numbers themselves. The ministry must continue to fund additional staff to see to eliminating these backlogs and to generate revenues that are available if these backlogs are removed.
Another example. For some time now we have been urging the government to open public liquor stores on Sunday. In a recent survey three out of four British Columbians said they would support Sunday openings. Currently of the 197 public stores in British Columbia, only 22 are open on Sundays. Opening the remaining stores would generate millions of dollars each year in annual revenues. We could also see to expanding hours, and there are opportunities to open new stores.
In Ontario Don Drummond, a pre-eminent economist in this country, identified a process for increasing revenues in Ontario. He said quite simply: "Build the business." Over the next two years Ontario plans to open an additional 70 to 80 new public stores and bring in revenues in that way. It just makes sense.
Another area where the government can save money is by reviewing current service delivery structures. We believe that to continue contracting out, privatization and the use of alternate service delivery is simply costing more money and really reducing services.
For example, when Community Living B.C. was established in 2005, there were 49 management exclusions in the new operation. Seven years later CLBC management ranks have swollen to 70. That's an increase of almost 40 percent, even though the number of front-line staff has been reduced by 150.
We recommend that the government order a broad, independent review of Crown agencies and contracted services that have been outsourced over the past decade. We believe government services can be performed better if they consult with the very people that actually perform those services — your employees and our members.
There's no better example of how a failure to involve front-line staff can end up costing money than the deeply flawed integrated case management system in MCFD and MSD. This system was introduced in the two ministries at a cost of over $180 million. It doesn't work, and the child and youth representative for British Columbia agrees with that.
Because of this failure, the government has had to spend millions more to try and not only upgrade the system and make it work but to bring in more social workers so that those who were to be trained on the system could be trained while services were delivered. This is money that is obviously much needed elsewhere and could have been saved if the government had simply sat down and listened to their own staff.
In other cases, the government actually does consult with staff, but often doesn't act on these ideas. For example, the parliamentary secretary for the Natural Resource Ministry conducted a review of that ministry. Our members welcomed that and provided input. Unfortunately, we have no idea where that input went or what the results will be. It's been over a year, and we have made several requests for that update. To date we're still told it's with the Premier's office.
Staff are keen to know what these findings are and to know that their input is something that's being represented and taken seriously. They're proud of the work that they do, and they're keen to participate in the improvements. We hope that the money that went into this review was not wasted.
Finally, we believe the government must rebuild the public service and invest in front-line workers. We acknowledge the pressure that government is under to balance the budget and to reduce the deficit, but cutting public services and jobs is not the solution. These cuts not only impede economic growth, but they cost more, and it penalizes the very people who rely on these vital services — the people of British Columbia. It leads to economic and social inequality.
The government must invest in the future. The government must invest in jobs and services. It must ensure adequate resources are provided for the social programs, and it must provide adequate funding to ensure negotiated, fair collective agreements and a stable workforce are in place.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your time and the opportunity to come to this consultation. The future of our province will depend on current budget decisions. The BCGEU and our members are committed to doing our part to help the government do what we need to do to continue to provide those services in a cost-effective manner.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks so much, Darryl. We'll start our questions with Bill.
B. Routley: Thank you, Darryl, for your leadership in the province in terms of collaboration and working together on positive solutions. I, too, agree that we've discovered in the forest industry that when you contract out, it isn't always the best solution. Obviously, there's a profit motive by whoever is responsible. Often if you sit down and work with the employees in a proactive way, people want to work together generally.
I wondered, in terms of the backlog, the more than 5,000 permits…. I, too, was surprised to hear the Premier speak in Nanaimo about backlogs in mining that had sat on somebody's desk for ten years. I was absolutely astonished to hear the Premier herself say this — that obviously there was additional money put in to try to clear that backlog — and I'm surprised to learn today that it's only gone from 7,000 to 5,000.
Do you know if your group has any further ideas in terms of how to deal with that backlog? Obviously, there's been some movement. But are there other ways to try to move the ball down the field as far as getting these permits dealt with?
D. Walker: Well, I think the first thing I identified was that, simply, you need staff on the ground in the offices to be able to functionally deal with the permits themselves. That's number one.
But the other piece of it is that you also need staff in the field to understand what is being asked here — whether it's a mining permit, a logging permit or a water permit, or whatever it happens to be. Our frustration tends to be that much of the time our members are spending on the job is literally in an office and not necessarily in the field trying to find out exactly what's going on there.
They have, I think, a two-fold responsibility. The first is obviously to the people of British Columbia to make sure that the resources are dealt with in a fair and equitable manner so that B.C. gets the money out of the resources. Number 2 is to make sure that somebody that walks in and wants a permit has some way of having that permit seen to very, very quickly.
I mean, that's what commerce is all about. If you've got a contract, it's probably for today and not for next year. You want to be able to go about dealing with it now. Often it means that we need people in the office doing the job there but also in the field doing the job there.
I think what happened was that additional workers came in and were doing some of that work. But as they're cut back — and at the end of this year, that money is gone — we're going to go back to the situation where we were a year ago, where we can't necessarily, as effectively as we should, be processing those permits.
I'm sure that commerce and industry is as frustrated with it as our members are.
J. Les: Thanks. I'm always appreciative when people point out where we can find more money. One of those that you have suggested is by opening liquor stores on Sundays — another $100 million. I presume, and I'm not sure what other presumption I could arrive at, that that would mean British Columbians would be drinking a lot more.
D. Walker: Well, I’m not sure that I would necessarily jump to that conclusion. The conclusion we're jumping to is that there are additional revenues available.
We've got — what did I say? — probably about 175 stores that are closed on Sundays. We're already paying the rent for them. We're already paying the hydro for them. What we need to do is open the doors and put the workers in there.
Often liquor stores are in conjunction with large malls. The one-stop shop is what people are into. They go to Safeway and get their groceries. They go to the liquor store and get their alcohol. They go to the drugstore for whatever their needs are there.
In many cases these are the single unit that's actually closed in large malls. So we believe that there is an additional opportunity, not only by opening the stores on Sunday, which will increase revenues, but by expanding the hours and also looking at new opportunities.
I'll give you an example. I live in South Surrey–White Rock on 24th Avenue. Over the last two years there has been major building going on there. A new mall has come in. Now a new private store has made its way in there. That's fine. I mean, there's a spot, I think, for both public and private. But had we looked ahead, that might have been a spot for a new government liquor store to have opened up.
Again, revenues are going to be available. People go and shop, and they stock shop for a number of things. We believe, similar to what Ontario is doing, where Mr. Drummond has said, "Grow the business," that that's a possibility for increasing revenues — and from our perspective, a very large one. You probably know that we brought that to the bargaining table.
Now again, with the decision by the government, which is a wonderful decision — we laud it — not to privatize the liquor distribution system, we believe this is an opportunity to build a business throughout the province of British Columbia.
We have distribution. We have the stores. Why are we not looking at some more? I think if it was a business opportunity and I was businessman or you and I were in business together, I suspect we would probably look at that. So we think it's a prime opportunity for additional revenues.
J. Les: Fundamentally, British Columbians today consume a given amount of alcohol, liquor — right? In order for government to gain another $100 million worth of revenue, British Columbians collectively would have to consume that much more alcohol. Is that not right?
D. Walker: No, I don’t think so. I think basically the shopping or the change of a process as to where they shop might fundamentally change. I don't think people are going to rush out and say: "Oh, look. There's a liquor store. Let's go buy some more alcohol and get drunk some more." I don't necessarily see that.
I see it as a revenue opportunity where people will shop at a government liquor store on Sunday. They shop there six days a week. Why would their habits take them someplace else on a Sunday? I would suggest to you that they would not.
D. Horne (Chair): I think we need to move on.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): My question was on permitting, so I'll pass it to Bruce.
B. Ralston: I was interested in your comments, because they are related, about the review of the reorganization of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which I think many people viewed rightly as a disaster. There was resistance, as you may recall, even from Liberal MLAs. I think Bill Bennett, before he went back into cabinet and became more decorous, actually spoke out on this.
The permit backlog is a troubling one because, as you point out, these are economic activities in the province. When you say that the money will run out at the end of the year, do you mean at the end of the budget year, March 31, or the end of the calendar year? How many employees are involved, and have layoff notices been given to those employees already?
We hear from the other side that this issue is all taken care of. From what you say, along with the Mining Association…. For example, Imperial Metals made a presentation at Terrace in our hearings last year. They are very, very troubled by this delay. So I'm really quite alarmed by the information that you conveyed here, which is very troubling.
D. Walker: It would run out at the end of the budget year. I'm told that about 100 additional staff were hired to see to the backlog. So that would be the number that I would guess would be no longer required at the end of the budget year.
I'm sorry. I think there was a third question there.
B. Ralston: The Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources, the ministry review — who was that, and when was that review allegedly initiated?
D. Walker: I believe it was Randy Hawes. Do you know what the date of the review was, Mike?
M. Eso: I think it was probably about a year ago.
D. Walker: About a year ago to the best of our understanding.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation and for being here.
We'll now call our next presenter, who is Tri-City Transitions Society and Carol Metz Murray, who I see in the audience there.
Morning, Carol. How are you?
C. Metz Murray: I'm good. How are you?
D. Horne (Chair): Good. I'm very well. You have ten minutes to present, and then we'll have about five minutes for questions thereafter. You can start any time.
C. Metz Murray: Okay. I'm Carol Metz Murray, and I'm with Tri-City Transitions Society. Our main office is located in Port Coquitlam. We serve all of the Tri-Cities, the three cities, plus the two villages of Anmore and Belcarra.
We have been in the Tri-Cities for over 37 years and serve a population of individuals, mainly women and children impacted by violence and abuse. We run a transition house that is located in Coquitlam.
One of the things I wanted to point out is that our population in the Tri-Cities, from the stats that I have, has increased by 137 percent since we started running our transition house in 1978. The population is now at 222,873 according to the 2011 stats.
We also provide women-centred services and wraparound services such as counselling for women and children; parenting for women and men; victim assistance services for women, men and children; outreach services; and school-based prevention services.
In 2006 we opened our doors to begin to provide services to men because we also see that if you're going to make any headway in helping individuals impacted by violence and abuse, you also have to provide services for men.
In my presentation I've really looked at what has worked well, what hasn't worked well and where to go from here. One of the things for Tri-Cities and for a lot of organizations in the social services was the increase in funding in the mid-2000s which helped us move the transition house services to 24-7. Prior to that we were actually operating less than 24-7, which was a real issue given the fact that we were stating that we were providing safe shelter for women when in fact we didn't have staff there 24-7. So that was an absolute plus for us.
There was also increased funding in the mid-2000s for the Stopping the Violence program and the Children Who Witness Abuse, and there were small outreach programs that were rolled out at that time. The funding model for Stopping the Violence and the Children Who Witness Abuse programs moved to $70,000 for one full-time employee.
What I also found during this period of time was that we were able to develop stronger relationships with funders and ministries, community agencies, service clubs and other for-profit organizations. We, as an organization, became known as a community player. We had, from my perspective, really great support from all MLAs and the MPs in the area.
One of the things that I thought was also really good in this time period was a transfer of the $5 million from the federal to provincial government, and the provincial government developed the government not-for-profit initiative to build HR capacity across the social service sector. I think that was a good initiative, and as we move forward, I would like to see more results from how that actually is building capacity.
Also one of the highlights for an organization like ours was the provincial review of the transition house program as well as second-stage and safe-house programs. This allowed us, I would say for the very first time in the transition house program history, to put a core framework in place that hadn't ever existed before.
We also worked on a funding model, but the funding model hasn't gone anywhere yet. I would just like to point out that there are huge disparities in how the programs are funded across the province.
In our transition house we provide ten beds and have since 1978. We provide 12 beds, so two of the beds are unfunded. We are one of the lower-funded transition house programs. We have other organizations providing ten beds who are getting $100,000 more than we do.
There are three 25-bed transition houses in the province. One is funded at $550,000, the other one at $900,000. So there are disparities in how programs are funded, which creates issues in service delivery within communities.
We've also had an opportunity to collaborate with other organizations on the Work B.C. project, which we see as a positive initiative for the whole community.
I personally had an opportunity to participate on the Community Social Services Employers Association provincial bargaining team for the last three years. That has given me huge insight into more than just, say, the local area but how we go about dealing with government mandates and moving social services forward.
With an increase in the minimum wage, that has somewhat helped women who are returning to work and, hopefully, helps them build the socioeconomic stability.
One of the other highlights for our organization was the provincial funding proposal for 3030 Gordon Avenue here in the Tri-Cities. We were a participant, although not a successful one, but that also helped us let the community know who we are.
When I look at what hasn't worked so well for the organization, I look at the…. Also, I'm going to speak for all social service organizations that provide similar services, because I know we're all impacted by that. Part of that is that there has been static funding since approximately 2007. Costs are going up. We are continually providing those services with the same dollars and have to figure out how we're going to do this to ensure that the services do get delivered.
One of the things that I also wanted to point out, which is in my presentation, is that the ministry, I guess back in 2006-07, did a gap analysis specifically for urban areas. That looked at how you fund community populations. That information is in your handout here.
Looking at a transition house program, that's based on seven beds per 100,000 people. It's 1.3 to 1.5 full-time STV counsellors for 100,000 residents. Now, if you look at how some communities have grown, we haven't kept pace with the demand for services.
From my perspective, I would like to be sitting here to tell each and every one of you that we'll be closing our doors tomorrow because we don't need our services anymore, yet I see the need for families. We continue to see the need for dealing with issues related to violence. They're continuing to grow instead of decrease. Throw into that the mix of dealing with the impacts of gang-related activities. That just has added to our workload exponentially.
As I mentioned earlier, the Tri-Cities population is now over 200,000. In essence, for a transition house…. We have one transition house in the Tri-Cities. I said we are funded for ten beds. We provide 12. When I look at the numbers, we should be at least at 14, if not 15 or 16.
D. Horne (Chair): You have about a minute left.
C. Metz Murray: Given all of that…. What I'm going to do is just go to the very end, then, looking where we go from here. One of the things I'd ask government to look at is to review the RFP procurement policy, because we are now facing the issue of having to go to proposal for all of our programs. I understand that policy. I've worked in government; I've worked with government. However, this really impacts community services at the local level.
I'd also ask government to have a look at the nearly $40 million sitting in the victims of crime surcharge account, determine how to best use it and see how that can be applied to increase the socioeconomic sustainability of victims and clients at the community level.
The other thing that I would like to have government look at is the wage parity between community social services and community health. I will send you a chart which indicates the differences. The social service sector in the province is considerably lower than even community health.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much. We'll move to some questions.
B. Ralston: I'm interested in your proposal of a review of the $40 million sitting in the victims of crime surcharge account. I'm familiar with how that's generated.
Have you made any inquiries about it? Is there some association of community service agencies that's spoken to that?
I'm not sure if your suggestion is that it's not being used, that it's not being accessed at all. It is a considerable amount of money, obviously, so that might be a source of some funds in the future.
C. Metz Murray: It's my understanding that the Ending Violence Association has been having some conversations in that regard. I do know that from time to time there are small proposal calls that come out in regards to where the funding comes from there. But perhaps it's something we could look at in a bigger context.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation. With respect to your second point, the recommendation to review the RFP proposal process for contracts, can you just talk about that a little bit more? When did that transition happen?
C. Metz Murray: Well, that transition is happening. We were told it was going to happen last year, and then it didn't. But it's sitting. It's kind of sitting there. Basically, everybody is waiting for it.
My concern is this. A lot of the organizations that provide services across the province are smaller organizations. They don't have the resources to put together the proposals. I know that you can look at that and say: "Well, that's not really a legitimate excuse."
However, the other thing is that if you're going to spend the time…. And you're going to have to spend the time to put a proposal together, and it's a substantial proposal because that's the way things are. That's the expectation. It does take time. Somebody else from somewhere else could come in and deliver the service. It's no longer a community service.
G. Coons: Thank you, Carol, for the work that you do. I work closely with our transition house in Prince Rupert and understand the problems and the amount of support they put in for the counselling, the parenting, the victim assistance and the outreach that they do.
In your presentation you mention that provincial funding has been static since 2007. So for five years, it sounds like, there's been some static funding there. How have you overcome that in trying to deliver the services that you put out there?
C. Metz Murray: Well, certainly what it has made us do…. There are positives and negatives of it, but you look at how you deliver the services, how you can reach the largest number of women and have a positive impact. From the counselling perspective, we certainly have really gone into providing more and more groups where we can bring…. If you have an hour and a half, you're working with ten or 15 women versus a one-on-one. So you're providing group counselling versus single.
In the transition house program, we have ten beds, provide 12, and that's it. But the thing is that there are more demands on that program, as I'm sure you're well aware if you're closely aligned to it in Prince Rupert. We have more and more demands because we're seeing more and more women coming in with mental health issues. We are seeing more and more women coming in with addiction issues.
From my perspective, one of the things is that we haven't kept step with the kinds of skill sets that we need to provide those services. That creates a funding issue because to deal with some of these matters and to help the women move forward, I think we need staff to have another complement of skill sets. That requires training. It may require a wage lift. It requires money.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for being here today. I really thank you for all the work that you do. You do a great service to the Tri-Cities, and I'll continue to give you any support I possibly can as well.
C. Metz Murray: Well, thank you very much for having me and providing this opportunity.
D. Horne (Chair): I'll now call our next presenter, who is Martin, who I see in the back there, from SHARE.
Good morning. How are you?
M. Wyant: I'm great, Doug. You?
D. Horne (Chair): I'm good. You have ten minutes, and then we'll take five minutes for questions. So begin anytime.
M. Wyant: I'll start with an apology to Douglas, because some of the information I'm going to share I'm sure he's quite familiar with. But a reminder is never a bad thing either.
Thank you for the opportunity to present today. As I was preparing for this, there were so many things I thought we could talk about, but I wanted to start just a little bit with an overview of who SHARE Family and Community Services is to give you a little bit of context and then move into some other pieces.
We began in 1972 as a clothing exchange for children and single moms in Coquitlam, and we quickly moved to become a focal point for community members who wanted to help themselves and help their neighbours in this area.
Right now the majority of our services are bundled into four key areas. One is counselling and support. We provide a lot of family counselling services, substance use counselling services for youth and adults, individual counselling for folks, and also support for problem gamblers.
We also have and we're quite known for our work in poverty reduction in the Tri-Cities. We operate three food banks in the Tri-Cities. We have a Christmas food hamper and toy program for children. We also offer legal advocacy support and operate a thrift store. We run a number of social housing sites on behalf of B.C. Housing, so we have five different social housing sites in the Tri-Cities.
We also have a focus on children and youth with special needs. That includes work that we do providing life skills and recreation support for children. We also provide speech and language and occupational and physical therapy support in the Tri-Cities. That's primarily for preschool children, and we offer a wide range of early childhood development services.
Finally, we have a group around community inclusion. Those are services, typically, that are related to newcomers and refugees in the Tri-Cities. As many of you know, we certainly are a hub for that in the Tri-Cities. In B.C. we have, I think, the largest number, percentage-wise, of people coming from out of country into the Tri-Cities. In that area we provide a number of programs and services, including English practice groups and parenting classes, and we run a number of family resource centres.
Our programs and services have changed. We have a list of more than 100 that we have developed and delivered over the years, but our focus has remained, typically, on working with those who are most vulnerable in the Tri-Cities. We've grown, also, from being a one-person operation over the years to one that has more than 100 employees at this point. We're the largest community-based social service provider in the community, and we have, in any given year, more than 1,500 volunteers that help us out.
I want to quickly give you some highlights of the last year so that, again, you can get some idea of what's happening in the Tri-Cities. We certainly don't speak for all of the Tri-Cities, but we have a handle on many things.
We provided service to 65,567 people overall in the Tri-Cities, which is an astounding number to me, when I see that. About 53 percent of our revenue comes from provincial sources; 15 percent of our revenue, and that's growing, comes from fundraising that we're active in, in the community because we want to extend our reach and our ability to help. We had almost 1,600 volunteers give us almost 50,000 hours of service, which is an astounding number.
Our food banks provided support to almost 9,000 people, and 43 percent of those were children under the age of 18, which is a disturbing trend. We've seen a growth curve of 59 percent since 2007-08, the initial recession that we had here. We also served almost 5,000 people in our Christmas programs. These are growth patterns that we don't want to see but that we're continuing to try and address.
We've served a number of people in adult and youth addiction; in our speech, occupational and physical therapy programs; and counselling. I won't go through all of those numbers necessarily. They're here in the package.
In terms of trends, some of the things that I have noticed since coming here — I came to British Columbia for this position about two years ago — is that funding has been undergoing pressure since the recession of 2007-08. We've been able to offset some of those challenges by doing a few different things. We have, as Carol mentioned, also introduced group work into a lot of our practice.
We've actually found, although we wouldn't encourage funding cuts, that in some cases, that's been a very good way forward, especially when we're talking about the therapeutic services that we provide to preschool children. Having group sessions with parents involved has been something that we're now moving forward with on a very regular basis.
We've also engaged a lot more volunteers to help augment what we're able to do. As I've said previously, we've increased our community-based fundraising, so in the last couple of years we've raised over $1 million in the Tri-Cities to help support the services and programs that we deliver. That's one trend.
Another trend, and I don't think it should be too much of a surprise, is that a growing number of people are feeling disconnected and isolated. I don't know how many of you have read the report from the Vancouver Foundation on this matter, but it's a good report. It's succinct. It tells the story that I think should resonate with most of us.
The bottom line is, especially in the Lower Mainland, that many of us live in one community and work in another. I know that in the Tri-Cities that number is one in five. One in five people in the Tri-Cities actually live and work in the same community. That in and of itself, if there was nothing else to talk about, is a huge number and a huge challenge for us.
There are other issues around immigration patterns that are contributing to this too. Again, I don't think it's just a Tri-Cities issue. I think it plays itself out a little more significantly here.
We're also getting a sense of people feeling more stretched and a little bit more nervous these days. We see people in our food bank lines on a regular basis that are fully employed, that are working multiple jobs but that can't find a way to make ends meet. We see others coming into our poverty-related services who are doing just fine and then experience some kind of personal or family calamity when a paycheque stopped coming, whether they were laid off or had an acute health issue.
There is this feeling of angst, I think it's fair to say, amongst certainly the people that we serve and even amongst our staff.
We see a fluid population in the Tri-Cities, and we know that needs are also changing. We talked a little bit about immigration and refugee patterns. That's an important influencer in this area.
We also, like other parts of British Columbia and Canada, have an aging population. In the Tri-Cities particularly, and I know that Doug will know this, we have a growing number of young families that are coming into the region. In Port Moody specifically, the numbers have been astronomical. We have a weird kind of bookending happening where we're getting a lot of young people coming into the region and a significant number of people leaving the workforce.
We looked at all of these things and put them together, and I thought about this day. I didn't want to come forward with a specific list of funding requests. I know you're going to get a lot of that. I did want to talk a little bit about some principles that we think are important, and here are some of them.
We think that focusing on the fundamentals is important. For us, that includes things like food and shelter, making sure people have reasonable access to the basics in life, and also that we support the most vulnerable among us. In our case, we look at children, certainly. Seniors we think are in a group that needs some support, and low-income and single-parent families.
If you look at single-parent families in particular, you can measure poverty rates just by the number of single-parent families you have in a given region. There's a direct correlation between those two patterns. There are also people with disabilities and people with chronic health and mental health issues. That's one principle.
We also think that providing longer-term funding for programs that work is important. We manage a number of smaller programs that have month-to-month funding in some cases, or six-month funding or single-year funding. They all require administrative support. They all require time spent to supervise people and make sure that we're delivering good service. If something is proven to work, we're hoping that we can find a new way forward to think about how we lengthen those out.
We also would encourage you to look at innovation in social service delivery. Our sector is not widely known as an area where innovation lives, at least from the technology perspective. We're very innovative in how we take little bits of resources and make them apply into service delivery, but our ability to leverage technology is quite limited. We just don't have the resources or the relationships, necessarily, to bring that together.
We also, and this is very strong for us, want to ensure that we promote and support made-in-community solutions. We've got one that we've been working on with a number of players called the Tri-Cities Planning Partnership, where we brought people together to look at developing a planning framework for the Tri-Cities to help identify priorities in health, social services, education, business and economic development.
We're trying to find financial support for that and get the community engaged in these conversations so that, hopefully, we can bring to the province, and to the feds and the municipal governments, a list of priorities that the community has arrived at.
D. Horne (Chair): You've got less than a minute left.
M. Wyant: Okay.
Harmonizing contracting requirements we think is important. Building capacity in our communities is important. Investing in information-gathering and analysis at the community level we think is important too.
I've got another piece here that lends a little bit more detail with respect to our emphasis on community planning. I'm an unabashed supporter of community. I think we have a lot of answers in our communities, and one of the points I would like to make is that I hope we can find a way where we can work with the province to promote that process and to bring some answers from community into policy-making and into decisions that can be made around budget.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much. We'll start with Pat.
P. Pimm: A couple of things. I was taken with your number, the 65,000 people that you see per year in the Tri-Cities. How many people are in the Tri-Cities?
M. Wyant: It depends on what source you look at, but roughly 225,000 in total.
P. Pimm: So one in four you're seeing, in the community?
M. Wyant: Yes.
P. Pimm: That's an amazing number.
Now, I didn't see anywhere in here where you actually showed your budget numbers. You show 53 percent of your budget coming from the government, but how much is your budget?
M. Wyant: It's $6 million, roughly.
P. Pimm: It's $6 million. Okay, thanks.
B. Ralston: I was interested in your reference…. You spoke about innovation in service delivery, and I think, generally, that people are interested in that if there's an opportunity to deliver the same or better service for less cost. Do you have any examples from other agencies that you're aware of which, if there were some seed funding given, your agency might be able to implement?
M. Wyant: We've worked on a few ideas. Some very basic examples would be looking at providing video conferencing services for our substance abuse counselling and group counselling processes — being able to provide remote support for people rather than having them come into our offices, engaging with them that way. That's one example.
Another one would be looking at taking our resources, especially our web-based resources, and making them multilingual, so not just having the print on the page look multilingual but having voice recognition capacity built into the website so that if people have a microphone, they can speak. If it turns out that they're speaking Farsi, then they're brought to, for example, a Farsi-enabled page.
There's a long list that we've worked on, but there are some very practical ones. Those are two examples, for sure.
D. Horne (Chair): We'll end with Dave.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, a very good presentation. You've been serving for 40 years right here and with over 1,587 volunteers. That says something for your organization when you get so many volunteers providing almost 50,000 hours every year.
One of the things I was looking at is that you said in here: "Developing a united approach to attract new investment and new business." That's something different than what I have been hearing from many of the non-profit organizations. This is really good to see. Do you have some ideas for how they can do it? Who are you working with in the community?
M. Wyant: I come from a background that includes economic development work, so I've split my career between private sector and public. I've been involved in community planning processes that combine economic planning along with social planning. What I'm advocating is looking at a model that would bring both of those streams together.
We do have a proposal in the Tri-Cities on a regional planning process that includes some specifics on that. Essentially, what it means is bringing together forums to engage with our business community to talk about how we work differently together in the Tri-Cities. How do we deal with their issues and concerns, whatever they may be — if it's red-tape at the local level, if it's lack of resources in certain areas or taxation policy — then working with them, also, to identify new opportunities for local investment in new business areas.
I am on the board of the chamber of commerce too. I see my work as trying to bring these pieces together so that we're not just talking about social service. We're also talking about building up our economy. I think that's a big part of the solution that can help us deal with some of the issues that we're seeing in our organization.
D. Horne (Chair): Martin, I want to thank you for your time today. You're a huge resource to our community. I think the opportunity that you bring to SHARE, having joined them just in the last little while, and the growth are just fantastic. Thank you so much for all the work that you do and all the work that SHARE does.
I'll now call our next presenter, which is the North Vancouver Teachers Association. I think Ian is there.
I. Cunliffe: Hi, everyone. Thanks for making the time for me on your agenda today.
D. Horne (Chair): You have ten minutes, and you can begin any time.
I. Cunliffe: Thanks, Douglas. I appreciate that.
When I came here today, I wanted to talk to you about a number. I wanted to talk to you about $3 billion. It's a big number. It's the amount of funding that's been removed from education over the last ten years. The problem is that the more I thought about this number, the more I realized that the number itself doesn't really tell a very good story about what's going on in schools around British Columbia.
This summer I did a speaking tour across B.C., trying to engage the general public in a meaningful discourse about education. While I was at Sparwood, a nice little town about ten kilometres from the Alberta border, I saw the Titan truck they have there. It's this giant dump truck for mining. While I was staring at it, a local said: "That holds 340 tonnes." I guess she must have seen my glazed expression, because she said: "Think about it this way. You could put 12 school buses and five garbage trucks in there." The light went on for me; it gave it context.
What I'd like to do for you today, with your permission, is to give you a little bit of context about what these cuts mean in my classroom and in classrooms around British Columbia. I'm going to refer to my notes here, because I didn't have too much time to prepare.
Let's see. Maybe I could start off with the fact that the B.C. provincial budget for education has been raised by $3 million. I want to assure you that if you were to cut me a cheque for $3 million personally, I'd be giving each one of you a very nice thank-you note, handwritten, because it's a lot of money for an individual.
But if we change the context on the dollar amount and we say, "What does it mean in terms of inflation for the costs that a public education system for a province has to face?" what it means is a shortfall of $134 million. So now we have to find $134 million to pull out of other essential services above and beyond the money that we've already had to cut.
Before going into teaching, I worked in the private sector. I worked at the national office for a very large real estate company in Canada, and from a business perspective the logic is simple. To fail to account for inflation on an annual basis is to plan to fail your business. You can't do that consistently and not expect to go broke. Yet in education we're consistently failing to plan for inflation. This is greatly alarming.
Some officials are saying that public education has never been better funded. But again, we're ignoring inflation. If you look at the share of B.C.'s education budget relative to the provincial budget, in 1991 we were 26 percent; 2001, 19 percent; 2009, 15 percent. And we continue to drop.
I want to know a little more about what it means, though, and here are some little vignettes that I picked up along the way. It means that one of the fastest-growing school districts in Canada is laying off teachers presently by the hundreds. How can your numbers of students be growing while you're laying off teachers — specifically learning-assistance teachers, the teachers that we rely on for our most vulnerable kids?
What else does it mean? It means that there are no more class-size limits for grades 4 and up. We know that class size is one of the most important factors for making sure that kids are successful in school. But under the unrelenting pressure of a decade's worth of funding cuts, those numbers continue to ratchet up. So the quality of the education that I can deliver is deteriorating because there are too many kids in my classroom.
It means that there are no more ratios for how many special needs kids can be in my class. I love my special needs kids, but the truth is that they have special needs. In order for me to meet those needs, I have to give up something else in my classroom. There are kids in the middle of my room, as I like to say it, who are not getting my help, and they would have been okay if I had a little more time.
There are no more guaranteed minimum levels of support for special needs kids. It used to be you could count on a small amount of guaranteed resources to help try and make sure that you could help that child with a special need and still have time to help everybody else in your classroom. Those are gone. We don't have that anymore.
It means we can find ourselves in a classroom of any size, with any number of special needs kids, with no guaranteed supports to make sure that classroom is a viable learning environment.
It means we've laid off over 800 learning-assistance teachers and arbitrarily removed the learning-disability designation from untold thousands of kids. Now, what this has allowed us to do is say: "We've never spent more money on special needs kids than we are right now." But that's because we've changed the definition of what constitutes special needs. These kids are still in my room, but they now no longer receive any support.
We have kids with severe behavioural and learning disabilities who are now completely unsupported in classrooms. For the last two years I've been experiencing this personally. Profound learning disabilities, profound behaviour problems — no support.
It means that our government has been talking about raising early literacy rates, and I'm very proud of their initiative and desire to do that. But while we talk about that on one hand, on the other hand we are systematically cutting the funding to school libraries and closing the door on school libraries across the province. The fact is that all the hard research shows, the real serious research, that school libraries and teacher-librarians raise literacy scores. I just don't understand how we can say we're putting $10 million towards a new literacy director, but we're cutting hundreds of millions of dollars to school libraries.
It means over the last ten years counsellors, the people who work with our most at-risk students, have seen their caseload maximums rocket from one counsellor to 340 students as a maximum to now as much as one counsellor for 1,200 students. What this means is we're putting more of our counsellors in what I call triage mode, where they're being forced to go to the most severe, most immediate cases at the expense of other kids who ten years ago never would have fallen through the cracks.
I'd like to just drill down one more step, what it meant for me in one of my classrooms. I can't talk about specifics because of privacy. I talk generally about one of my classrooms that I've run.
I had a student with a life-threatening disability, severe hemophilia on the worst end of the scale. This is a child who jumped off a one-foot stool and hemorrhaged in both ankles. This is a child who bumped his hip on a table, going to get the art supplies, and hemorrhaged in his kidneys at four o'clock in the morning.
This child gets an aide, but the aide is not full-time. It's not bell to bell. When the aide is away for personal illness or personal reasons, that aide is often not supported because of funding cuts. Suddenly I'm dealing with a child with a severe life-threatening illness in my classroom, and I have no support.
Now, also in this classroom is a child who has severe fetal alcohol syndrome — no impulse control, incredibly learning-disabled, violent, explosive. He gets no aide time. He's attacked teachers; he's attacked children. He's in a room with a hemophiliac. He gets no aide. There's something fundamentally wrong here.
I had a student with severe ADD, attention deficit disorder, who would require more than 20 prompts in a 30-minute period to complete part of a single sentence. He gets no aide time. But I can't provide 20 prompts in a 30-minute period to a child. I have a classroom to run.
I had students that I couldn't assess on report cards because they missed half the school year. So when I call the Ministry of Children and Families, they tell me that they're sorry, that it's not their mandate. I don't have the resources to go and drive this child to school in the mornings. This is pretty big crack that kids are falling through.
It meant I was buying lunch for many of the kids in my classroom because they were coming to school with no lunch. It meant I was spending more than $1,000 of my own take-home pay trying to bridge the funding shortfall for what my kids need versus what they actually get.
I apologize. This one is very emotional for me. It means I had a primary-age student talk about suicide in my room and got no counsellor. This should have been a no-brainer. A seven-year-old child talks about suicide, and they should have gotten a counsellor.
This is the pressure that our system is under due to a decade's worth of funding cuts. My fear is that we are no longer in a system that asks: "What is the right decision to do for kids? And what is the most economical decision way to reach that decision?" It's that we're operating off a spreadsheet and more and more being asked to adopt a position of see no evil, while travesties occur around us.
It means that people are slipping through the cracks like never before. I feel that my kids have a bright future, but we need to fund that future. A decade's worth of funding cuts, with more funding cuts on the horizon, is more than the system can bear. I'm asking you to consider to please stop cutting funding to public education and start putting money back into it.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks, Ian. But just to point out…. I know you're very, very passionate, but you used the words "funding cuts" about 30 times during your presentation. The funding for education is $1.4 billion more than it was ten years ago, and there are 65,000 less students in the system. So to say that there have been funding cuts is simply not founded in fact.
I. Cunliffe: I respectfully disagree.
P. Pimm: Thanks for your presentation. A couple of things here. You talk about the changes that have been made to the special needs children, and you talk about special needs…. I wrote down 15 times where you talked about special needs kids. So has the system completely gone sideways in regards to special needs? Do we have to look at special needs in a different way? Give me a little more light on what that means. There are, on average, three special needs kids in a classroom. Can you go into this a little deeper?
I. Cunliffe: Thank you, Pat. I would love to. Absolutely. Several years ago one of the things we did was we took the definition of special needs kids, and we shrunk it by over 50 percent. So kids a year before would've been designated special needs. Now they no longer have the designation, but they still have the same disability.
Another problem we have, too, is that many of the kids with special needs…. It's taking longer and longer for them to get designated. Districts are, either by accident or by design, bottlenecking the assessment process to slow down the number of designations being given.
I'm working with a child right now who I know will be found to be profoundly learning-disabled. He's in his third year in the system. All the research shows the sooner you put the money into the child, the better the results, but we're slowing down the processing.
We have all sorts of kids who we know will be found to be profoundly learning-disabled, but we just can't get the designation for them because funding has been cut, hours have been cut, to actually provide designation for these kids.
P. Pimm: I just want to go a little further into that.
I. Cunliffe: Please.
P. Pimm: When we say special needs…. I've got a little bit of a problem with this in some degree, because special needs to me is somebody that needs a lot, I think, more on a physical side of things rather than some of the kids that are now ADD. Are we not putting more kids into that special needs classification? I just don't quite understand that designation.
I. Cunliffe: I'd have to agree with you, Pat. Yes, I think there are more.
One of the problems, though, is that our society has changed profoundly. We've heard other people come up here and speak to the fact that the nature of families is changing. We're having more single parents. We're having more substance abuse. We're having more drugs. There are more families in crisis than ever before, and I think that might be a reflection of the economics that we're presently facing as a society.
The schools are being asked to deal with it. It's sort of the first place we go to for remedy. I think most professionals in the system are willing to step up to bat and to try and help with these things, but we need resources.
I mean, ten years ago there wasn't anything to talk about cyberbullying. We didn't even know what that was. Now I have to spend weeks working on that every year, to try and help kids and families through that. It's just one of the many things that's now sort of feeding into the system that ten years ago wasn't there.
In terms of special needs kids, any child that can't be successful in the classroom unassisted — that's a special needs child. So if a child gets frustrated because they don't understand the math and they have no impulse control — I'm using an exact example here — and flip over the desk, walk up to the blackboard and start punching it in the middle of my lesson, screaming, "I'm going to fucking kill you," that child has a special need. It may be purely behavioural, but it's what you call a hostage kid.
That child holds my room hostage. I can't teach unless that child's needs are addressed.
Does that adequately…?
P. Pimm: That helps me somewhat.
D. Horne (Chair): I think we need to move to Gary — sorry.
I. Cunliffe: Certainly.
G. Coons: Thank you, Ian, for your passion and dedication. I followed your marathon run for bringing up issues in education. We know that there are many changes to education in the last ten years. The funding formula has really impacted issues — the increases that should be funded that aren't funded. But they're mandated increases.
I can sort of see the issues as far as the cuts in counselling and special ed, library services. My wife is a librarian. I taught special ed for many years.
You mentioned from the outset that $3 billion is just something really hard to comprehend, and here we are today with an opportunity, with your presentation that was very passionate and well done.
If you can pick two or three things that you would like us to do here to listen to a plea from you…. After running close to 22 marathons in so many days to bring forward your issues and your concerns, and here you are, what would be the three key things you would want us to listen to you about and where we should be going?
I. Cunliffe: The three key things would be fairly simple. Please stop cuts to funding education. I realize we can't automatically restore the lost funding over ten years. I know that's not realistic, but if we could slowly, gradually move towards restoring some of that lost funding, it's so critical.
More attention for special needs kids, and please put a cap on class size. At a certain point it's not one extra student or 5 percent more work; it's a tipping point where the house of cards falls down and the room becomes inoperable. You spend so much time just trying to keep the lid on the room that the validity of the education…. It just sinks.
Thank you, Gary.
D. Horne (Chair): Ian, thanks so much for your time. Don't get my earlier comments wrong. I think that it's important — that education, public education, is extremely important to our province. I see how passionate you are, and you work very, very hard for the system. I think it's very important that we have a strong dialogue to figure out how we can make the system better, so thank you for being here today.
I. Cunliffe: Thanks, Douglas.
D. Horne (Chair): We'll now call our next presenter, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia.
R. Kool: Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to present to you today in person.
My name is Richard Kool. I'm the president of CUFABC, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. I'm also an associate professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Victoria. With me is Robert Clift, CUFABC's executive director and a doctoral candidate in higher education policy at the University of British Columbia.
CUFABC represents 4,600 professors, lecturers, instructors, librarians and other academic staff at B.C.'s five research-intensive and doctoral universities — that is, UBC, SFU, UNBC, UVic and my home institution of Royal Roads. Our purposes are to promote the quality of higher education and research in British Columbia and to advocate for the interests of our members. We've been agents of change in higher education in B.C. for more than 40 years.
Before I discuss our recommendations, I want to provide you with some context on the impact of higher education in B.C. We've provided you with a handout that has detailed information, so just let me summarize.
Economically, university graduates, on average, are less likely to be unemployed, have higher annual earnings, have lower rates of absenteeism, have higher pension earnings and are more resilient during economic downturns than workers with other levels of education. They also pay much more than the total cost of their education through income taxes over their lifetime earnings.
Now, it's true that the economic payoff of a university education is not as large as it was two decades ago. This is a consequence of increasing tuition fees and a stagnation of incomes. But a university degree remains a competitive advantage in the job market, and for certain careers, it's virtually a requirement.
A university degree is not just an investment in a career. It's also an investment in a better life, both individually and collectively. University graduates are more likely to volunteer, to belong to voluntary organizations, to attend public meetings and to be politically engaged than people without university degrees. Higher levels of education are also positively related to healthier lifestyles and less involvement in criminal activity.
The impact of universities goes far beyond individual benefits. B.C.'s research-intensive universities are also transforming our economy and society. Of UBC's $10 billion annual impact on B.C.'s economy — it's a very big number — about half results from its research activities. As a whole, the five research-intensive universities have about 10,000 funded research projects on the go at any given time.
This culture of investigation and exploration spills over into the wider community through graduate students. A 2006 survey of graduates found that 85 percent of B.C.'s doctoral program graduates and 45 percent of the master's program graduates conduct research after graduation.
At his recent address to the Vancouver Board of Trade, UBC President Stephen Toope used the metaphor of post-secondary education and research as being the soil from which our economy and society grows. Our brief overview of the impact of university education and research amply demonstrates this.
As our time is limited, we'll constrain the discussion of our recommendations to two areas: access and success, and innovation.
The intellectual capacity, work ethic and inquiring spirit necessary to succeed in university are not limited by social or economic background. For example, all of the presidents of the doctoral-granting university faculty associations, along with the president of CUFABC, are people who were the first in their families to attend any form of higher education.
Nonetheless, today people whose families are well educated and/or well off are disproportionally represented in B.C. universities. This is because as a province we've not made the necessary commitment to all of our citizens to provide them with the opportunity to start and successfully complete a post-secondary program, and in that, I don't just mean university but trade and technical programs at the colleges in the province.
For example, the success of aboriginal and Métis students once they reach university can be improved through institutional policies, programs, services and financial aid that support students holistically. That is, our institutions need to support aboriginal and Métis students — their intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs — within a context respectful of community, of their culture and of place.
There are many good examples of such efforts across the province, but there's room for improvement. In particular, more needs-based financial assistance is necessary to overcome the federal government's inadequate investment in helping capable aboriginal and Métis attend and graduate from post-secondary institutions.
When it comes to reducing financial barriers for all students, there have been successes. But we are losing ground because our efforts have not kept pace with rising costs.
A single student who receives the maximum available assistance through StudentAid B.C. has to live on $500 per month after paying tuition fees. Compare this to the basic welfare rate of $610 per month. The impossibility of living on this amount is compounded for rural students, who have to incur moving and travel costs associated with attending schools in a more urban area. It's funny to think of Prince George now as an urban area, but I guess it is.
Nor has StudentAid B.C. changed its policies to reflect the increasing demand for graduate programs. Although it's technically possible for a graduate student to receive student financial assistance, lifetime assistance limits and time limits for repayment mean that StudentAid B.C. is ineffective in supporting graduate students.
To address these matters we recommend increasing funding for institutional support programs and services and increased needs-based direct financial assistance for our aboriginal and Métis students, increasing the maximum StudentAid B.C. funding available to students, creating a StudentAid B.C. program to assist rural students with their extraordinary costs and renewing StudentAid B.C.'s programs to determine how they might be modified to better suit the needs of graduate and professional students.
Now, regarding innovation, governments have long made the mistake of assuming that innovation is a solitary act that can be encouraged by the right kind of grant or tax break to individual companies. The truth is that innovation takes place within a multidimensional web of economic, intellectual, social, institutional and regulatory contexts. The fabric of that web is people with embodied knowledge. Without these people there are no connections. There is no innovation.
These people are predominantly university graduates. Some of these people need to have advanced research skills that can only be developed through master's- and doctoral-level programs. Our province's record in supporting these graduate students through direct funding and through research opportunities is a poor one.
As already mentioned, StudentAid B.C.'s support for graduate studies is ineffective. B.C. also has the third-highest tuition fees for graduate students. Last year we were the second-highest. More detail on that is available in the handout.
It's not enough to simply loan graduate students money. There is intense national and international competition for top-notch graduate students, and B.C. lags behind other provinces in not providing any sort of graduate fellowships to help attract graduate students to our universities and to keep B.C. graduate students at home. We routinely lose students to Alberta, Ontario and Quebec universities that can offer provincial graduate fellowships.
We also lose promising graduate students because we don't provide them with enough opportunities for engaging in research. B.C. universities are very successful in obtaining research grants from the federal granting councils, but other provinces provide additional support in key research areas.
Of concern to us is that B.C. used to be a leader in funding forest science research, but this funding disappeared entirely in 2010. We have a strong reputation for health science research, but lack of stable and predictable funding for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research limits our ability to follow emerging fields of enquiry. We want to become a leader in green technologies and sustainability research, but money that could be used to develop such work is being drained away from our universities through the carbon tax.
To address these matters we recommend creating a B.C. graduate fellowship program, re-establishing the B.C. forest science program to support forest and ecosystem research, and guaranteeing stable and predictable funding for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. And while we support and indeed see as necessary a carbon tax, we recommend permitting public post-secondary institutions to use their carbon tax payments to fund research and development in green technologies and relevant sustainability research initiatives.
In conclusion, overarching these recommendations and the additional recommendations we'll make in our written submission is the need to ensure that the public post-secondary institutions have stable and predictable funding. You can imagine our shock when, in the 2012 budget, documents included projected budgets in 2013-14 and 2014-15 — this after years of stagnant funding. The assertion that these cuts can be realized through administrative savings without affecting students is not defensible.
We'll be making other recommendations and providing more details of our calculations in our final written submissions in a few weeks' time. We hope that what we've presented this morning will provide food for thought and will be helpful to you in the weeks ahead. We welcome any questions or comments that you might have on these or related matters.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much. I'll maybe, for a change, begin with myself. My wife is actually a member of the faculty of the University of the Fraser Valley, so I better watch what I'm saying and asking.
I know from speaking to her and in the last statement that you just made about the cuts to administration not being practical. From conversations I've had with her, I think her belief is that there is some opportunity in administration to perhaps make some savings. You don't share that view.
R. Kool: No, I think we can see that there are savings, but the quantity of funds that might be made available through that…. It's not going to change budgets, essentially, of institutions.
I think more so what we are also looking for, but not in the budget, would be to actually engage more with our administrations, probably at your wife's institution and at ours, to work much more collaboratively and collegially, to look for ways of better using the funds. I don't think we'll solve all these problems through simply looking at administrative costs.
R. Clift: We will point out in our written submission something we talked about at the beginning of September, which is that in fact administrative costs have increased because of an administrative burden from the provincial government. In fact, we have some proposals for cutting red tape from the provincial government that would help reduce administrative costs, but that will be in our written submission.
B. Ralston: I know that the proposal to better fund graduate fellowships is something that's been made, I think, by yourselves in the past and by the universities' council as well.
Probably you'll deal with this in your written submission, but to perhaps begin the process of convincing the group that this is a good idea, can you give a sense of what the importance is of graduate fellowships in attracting top-notch graduate students and its relation to innovation and to commercialization of research and building the kind of research clusters that can be recognized across the country and, indeed, internationally?
R. Kool: The graduate students tend to stay where they do their graduate studies. The best graduate students coming to British Columbia tend to stay here. They're the ones who tend to spin off companies that deal in all of the important areas for the future of British Columbia. Simply getting people to come here is almost enough to guarantee a tremendous benefit to the province in general. I guess that would be a very simple justification for doing it.
I would like to make sure…. It's not just the science and technology spinoffs that come. We have artists who come here. We have writers who come here. We have people who will become the teachers, like our previous speaker, who come here and who will be attracted here through a B.C. graduate fellowship and will enrich our communities, and not just the urban centres.
I think one of the great gifts that we were given back in the '90s and '80s was UNBC, which has really brought a tremendous stability to development of science, technology, and the arts and culture in the north. I think all of those would be enhanced through a graduate fellowship program.
R. Clift: I'd also point out that innovation, and we're talking holistically here, is also social innovation. Certainly, Gordon Hogg and the work he has done around this late last year and early this year is an indication. We heard two submissions earlier on while we were in the room about social service innovation — unfortunately at gunpoint, as those were cuts in funding. But this is the type of innovation we need to have.
If it were the case that no other provinces had a fellowship program, no problem. Then we compete assertively on the basis of what academic experience we can give students here. But if a student knows that he or she can do their program in B.C. or Alberta, and Alberta is ponying up $15,000 a year and has lower tuition fees than we are for graduate studies, it's a rational economic choice. What do you do? That's where we're stuck.
It's important to point out, as we did in the presentation and in this table we gave you, that our graduate student fees are well above the national average. We're doing well in undergraduate fees, and the government's to be congratulated for keeping those numbers down. Graduate fees have gone up through the roof. That's another competitive disadvantage we have in terms of attracting graduate students here.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, a very good presentation. My son is finishing his master's in public health at SFU, and I have two other ones in undergraduate.
Now, I was looking at the chart on page 4 which shows that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia have more expensive tuition fees than British Columbia. We are third from the bottom — the fees compared to the other one — which is good to see. On the other hand, my son said he wouldn't move out of the province because he'd have to rent a house. He'd have to stay somewhere, and the cost would be more expensive.
From your perspective, what can government do overall to make the fees more reasonable? Now, he's also a TA, so he tried to substitute his fee, and he loves his field.
R. Kool: I think there are lots of people who would like to go to university and who deal with those financial issues all the time. Something that we might put into our report that we'll present to you has to do with: how can you make things more affordable? There has been a very interesting study that came out in January, which looked at this question of how we pay for higher education.
One of the points I brought out was that male university graduates pay, over their lifetime, about $160,000 more in income tax alone than someone with a high school degree. Universities cost about $50,000. Tuition is about a third of that. So in fact, people who graduate from university are paying for their education and more, but at a time when they can afford it as opposed to the up-front costs, which is when…. It's tough for you as a dad. It's tough for me as a dad, and it's tough for kids to afford it at the front end.
You can actually look at taxation systems as a way of helping to lower costs at the front end. Most people who are high-income earners have post-secondary experience, whether they're really good carpenters or welders who've gone through BCIT or people who have become physicians and lawyers. So you have people pay proportionally over their life. I think that would be a very interesting consideration to examine in terms of people paying for the real cost of the university but just recognizing how they actually pay for it — not up front, but through taxes through their life.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation. We will now move to our next presenter, which is the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of British Columbia and Sharon Gregson.
Sharon, welcome to the committee. As you've, I believe, heard many times, you have ten minutes to present and five minutes for questions, and you can begin anytime.
S. Gregson: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here again this year. It's nice to see some of you are repeat members of this committee. I appreciate that you're in Coquitlam with free parking, so we're off to a good start.
My name is Sharon Gregson. I'm here today representing the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. In your package you will have a little purple brochure, which will tell you a little bit about the organization. We have presented many, many times to this committee and appreciate the opportunity to give you our perspective on the importance of the early years.
I'm a longtime child care advocate. I spent six years as a Vancouver school board trustee and am a mother of four, some of whom are in post-secondary at the moment. Interesting to hear your previous submissions. I work delivering child care services in East Vancouver, actually the largest child care provider in East Van.
I'm going to share some comments with you today a little bit more informally with a more formal written submission to follow, before your deadline. I'm going to talk with you about the state of child care in the province. Many of you might have grown up referring to it as daycare, but it is more typically now called child care.
I'm going to share with you two real women's stories, who have spoken publicly about the issue. I'm going to be very helpful, as the Coalition of Child Care Advocates is wont to be, and share with you the solution to the child care crisis in B.C.
It was a comment I read the other day that said: "When we were young, we lined up for concert tickets. A decade later we lined up for iPods, and today we're lining up for child care spaces."
This past Saturday, I was speaking at the Massey Theatre in New Westminster to about 300 people who had come to hear about the state of child care in B.C. I was presenting with a young woman who's 29 years old, very successful, an entrepreneur, a graduate of Ryerson. She has her own company and is doing very well.
As we started to talk about child care to our audience, she said that she cannot even contemplate the thought of having children at this point in her life — 29 years old, successful, a new company. But the thought of paying $1,900 a month for child care, which is what it costs now in Vancouver, is so out of the realm of possibility that she is putting off having children and perhaps will never have children.
When I got home I got an e-mail from a woman named Chantal Moore, and she's given me permission to share her story with you. She's professional; she has a university degree. She's a single mother of a one-year-old and earns $60,000 a year; $1,300 a month of her net income, her after-tax dollars, goes to pay for her child care space. That's almost one paycheque a month. The other paycheque goes towards her housing, and so every month she slips further into debt just putting food on the table, paying the utility bills and buying clothes. She says that she doesn't know why she bothers to go to work. She has a university degree, but she has no dignity anymore because of her child care dilemma.
The bottom line for each of you to know today when you walk away from here is that it is no longer affordable for young people to have children in this province. We hear lots of stories of about how people juggle things and make it work, but the bottom line is that for most young people, having children has become a period of time that they talk about having to suffer through and go into major debt because of.
In fact, child care services cost more than post-secondary services. In Vancouver now it's $1,900 a month — almost $2,000 a month, actually — for child care services for one child. Imagine if you had two children or three or four. People just don't do that anymore.
I am quite sure that each of you would like to find a solution to this child care crisis, and we have that for you. For those of you who were on the committee this time last year, you will have received a copy of the community plan for a public system of integrated early care and learning. Hopefully, it's not new to you by now.
What is new is the enclosure in that package, which gives you a list of the depth and breadth and diversity of support that the plan has garnered and continues to gather around the province. Endorsers from the Surrey Board of Trade to supportive resolutions again last week from the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the human early learning partnership at UBC…. The academics are on board.
If you look at the range of anti-poverty organizations, community organizations and the municipalities that are on board from Fort St. John to Dawson Creek to Surrey and Burnaby…. We continue to speak around the province, and we continue to receive endorsement and support from people who have nothing to do with child care in their day-to-day lives but recognize it's a crisis and support this solution.
If you're on Twitter, you might know that this is called the $10-a-day plan, and you might have heard that Quebec has $7-a-day plan. In fact, the architect of their $7-a-day plan, Pauline Marois, has just been elected Premier, which I'm sure you know, with promises to expand their system — a hugely popular piece of their social fabric in Quebec. We're delivering to you a made-in-B.C. plan for $10 a day — improving wages and education of those who deliver the services, but building a public system that moves us from the fragmented crisis that we have now.
We have some of our highest fees in B.C. being delivered by commercial child care chains, so please don't have any misconceptions that the way to solve the crisis is by expanding the commercial child care chains that are venturing into our province. You might have heard one of them from a company called Kids and Co. on the radio, on CBC, a couple of weeks ago talking about her child care chain being the Costco of child care. That is not what British Columbians want to have as services for their young children.
Many of you will be receiving these postcards to your Victoria addresses. We have 20,000 of them in circulation at the moment, with another 10,000 being printed because of the demand. They are being requested everywhere from South Slocan to Courtenay, Dawson Creek, all over the Kootenays and the Interior. People are hungry to let you know that they want this solution to the child care crisis.
You can make progress on this issue. We realize that you can't implement a full plan overnight, but you can make first steps. You can make a difference, and we've costed that out for you. If you were to make a first step of implementation to reduce the cost of every infant and toddler licensed space in the province, that would cost you $88 million. That would have an immediate economic impact of people being able to afford to use child care and afford, for women mostly, to enter and re-enter the labour market.
So $88 million is a very doable first step to reduce fees across the province and at the same time start to build infrastructure by designing some demonstration sites of this new model. You can make progress, and a smart government will give young people and young parents a reason to vote in the next provincial election.
I welcome your questions, and our organization will be submitting our written comments to you before the deadline.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now move to questions.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation, Sharon. Can you talk a little bit more in terms of your suggestion to reduce the fees for $88 million? Is that all the child care spaces? Just talk about that a little bit more.
S. Gregson: The senior staff at MCFD…. We have met with Deputy Minister Stephen Brown. His staff have been very helpful in supplying current numbers of spaces and the median fees across the province, so we've been able to cost out and extrapolate from those numbers the cost to you of reducing the fee to $10 a day for every licensed infant and toddler space across the province. That's the kind of licence that's for children under 36 months, the most difficult child care to find and the most expensive child care to afford. The implementations that would reduce every group's space, group centre space and family child care space in licensed facilities to $10 a day, and then also the demonstration sites that I referenced would need to be started.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): How many spaces are those, Sharon?
S. Gregson: That will be in our written submission.
J. Slater: One question. How much has it gone up in the last five years — child care spaces — with the new number of places across the province that are run by one organization?
S. Gregson: The prices continue to escalate annually. The child care operating fund, which is the only very tiny amount of funding that goes to child care operators, whether they're for-profit or not-for-profit, has not increased in years and years and years. It's a minuscule amount. About 85 percent of the cost of operating child care is borne by the users, and so fees escalate every year as other costs go up. The only way to cover those costs is by raising parent fees.
So $1,915 a month is the benchmark price in Vancouver now, certainly slightly less in other places around the province. But as commercial child care chains move into Kelowna, move onto the Island, we see that prices start to escalate. We've got a marketplace where we've got very high demand and very low supply, so it's ripe for those kinds of folks to move in who are there to make profit.
J. Slater: I guess that's my point. If we go $10 a day from government subsidizing everything else, those prices are going to go through the roof, because the companies that are running these chains are going: "Well, there's no resistance from the parents, because they're only paying $10 a day, and the government is going to supply the rest of the money." How do you control that, is my point.
S. Gregson: Well, it's not a limitless ceiling. There's a calculation that's involved around the cost of providing services.
When you have a chance to look at the plan, you'll see that there are some accountability measures that operators would agree to, the same way as they sign a contract now to accept child care operating fund dollars. They would enter into a contract to reduce parent fees to $10 a day and improve wages to $25 an hour, average, for people who have got post-secondary education. They would accept all children, despite having special needs. They would be part of a community plan, and they would follow the early learning framework that the Ministry of Education has already put out.
There's a calculation involved and an accountability measure, so it's not a limitless ceiling that government would be funding.
P. Pimm: So $1,900 a month for one child in Vancouver. How much is it in Fort St. John?
S. Gregson: The average range, depending on whether it's a for-profit provider or a not-for-profit provider…. If you look inside one of the fact sheets that are included…. You'll see there are three fact sheets. No. 1 is what the plan would mean for families. No. 2 is that it makes good dollars and cents, so the economic rationale.
You'll see on No. 3, by the numbers on page 3, there is a table that gives you some provincial medians of averages. While it doesn't lay out Fort St. John, you can see how it varies for age groups. That, of course, is the median, not the average.
P. Pimm: I'm trying to get my mind wrapped around that. For a child in Vancouver, is that every area in Vancouver — $1,900 per month?
S. Gregson: I give you that example as the price in a commercial child care chain called Kids and Co. If you are able to sit on a waiting list from the time you conceive, and you're lucky enough to be offered a space in a not-for-profit centre, you might be paying $1,200 or $1,300 a month — so cheaper than $1,900. Still, for most families, writing a cheque every month for $1,200 or $1,300 is outside of the realm of being affordable.
In fact, if you're a low-income family and you qualify for the provincial subsidy that assists low-income families with their child care fees so that they can get into the workforce and get off social assistance perhaps, the gap between the subsidy amount and the actual cost of fees is so huge that no poor family can possibly cover it. Fewer and fewer subsidized families are able to access child care spaces — in fact, licenced child care spaces. Those children are underground in unregulated, potentially very unsafe and illegal situations.
D. Horne (Chair): We've got less than a minute.
G. Coons: Thank you, Sharon. As you said, there is more and more support going for child care. We heard it from the Surrey Board of Trade when we were there and UBCM. It makes good sense, as you say. I'm reading the material here. There are about 88,000 spaces in 2008, and we'll get more information on that, but I can sort of see the dilemma of $10-a-day spaces and the number of spaces you're going to need.
I can see where, with your role here…. Where do you think we could get some money — the $88 million? Where should we be thinking of getting that money from?
S. Gregson: Well, as your last presenter talked to you about, there are some things that are best borne through our taxes over our lifetimes rather than up front as massive user fees when we can often least afford them. So we are fundamentally talking about a fair taxation system that people contribute what they can afford — or what's determined to be a fair taxation system.
There's lots of information that comes out of Quebec now about their $7-a-day plan — that, in fact, it is paying for itself. With the ability of women, particularly mothers, to enter and re-enter the labour market, what they contribute through their income taxes and what families are able then to purchase in their local economies and contribute in income taxes…. According to the economists, not according to the child care advocates like me, the Quebec child care system is paying for itself.
I'll just add that the work coming out of UBC says that were we to invest in a child care system in B.C., we could expect to have a boon to our GDP in B.C.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your time.
I will note it seems that British Columbians actually pay for child care in Quebec, as we give them transfer payments in total of $13 billion a year…
S. Gregson: Not for the child care system.
D. Horne (Chair): …but I digress.
Anyway, we'll now call our next presenter, the B.C. Food Processors Association.
As you've heard several times, I believe, at this point you have ten minutes to present. Please begin now.
D. Eto: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for giving us the opportunity. The B.C. Food Processors are very pleased to be here today. This is my second time, and I'm getting used to this process, and I'm finding it rather interesting. Hopefully, we can make an entertaining and somewhat interesting presentation to you which is not too long but to the point.
I'd like to start off by saying that the agrifood business in British Columbia is a $22 billion system employing over 280,000 people across this beautiful province, and really accounts for one in seven jobs.
That's over 16 percent of our GDP here in food processing. It totals $7.2 billion of a $10.4 billion industry, with an estimated 27,000 jobs directly related to food processing. Food processing is actually B.C.'s largest manufacturing sector, one that is frequently and notably mistaken or not recognized. But we are here, and we're feeding our population, I think, rather well.
The B.C. Food Processors was incorporated in 2004, so we're going into our eighth year of business, so to speak, and we are very dedicated to serving the needs of all segments of the food, beverage, nutraceutical and health products, and to coordinate common industry activities and resources under one umbrella.
Our core value is to be inclusive. We firmly believe that the only way government and industry can collaborate is to make sure that there is a single voice — not one that is trying to dominate everybody but one that is really inclusive. For examples, we have the B.C. poultry industry; we have associations with BCAC, the B.C. Agricultural Council; we have affiliations with the B.C. Bakers Association and the like. We are very inclusive.
We're delighted to report that the B.C. Food Processors has seen steady growth over the past year. I'll now hand it over to Nico to carry on.
N. Human: Our membership size is really growing nicely. We've now welcomed our 208th member company recently. Last year, when I sat in this chair, we were at 161 companies, so it's really growing. For the first time we've also now started counting the amount of people that actually work in our plants, and we're happy to say that our direct membership is 25,406 persons as of last month.
Our membership reach is also wide. We have our smallest members, our mom-and-pop operations, across the province, one or two employees starting off with a new food processing venture. We have 50 companies that are in what we call the small-scale food processor space, but the bulk of our members are in the 25-to-500 full-time-equivalents range. We call that the engine room of the economy. That's where the jobs are created. This is where the dollars are earned.
Our membership influence is also growing nicely. Our board is continuing to strengthen, and we focus on bringing leader CEOs onto the board. We have a 14-member board, and we have people from all the different sectors represented.
Also, recently we've seen that the CEOs are very much engaged now. When we had a particular request from government to show support for the Food Innovation Centre, a quick e-mail from myself to them resulted in 25 letters from individual companies overnight that we could give to government to show that this is something the industry needs and we need a quick response. So we are very happy that this is starting to happen.
As a value proposition to our members, I'll firmly focus on those that are really of consideration to government. We have these committees and peer groups that work across the province in different disciplines. Every month they come together. Regularly we invite government representatives to come in to make presentations but also to be an implementation partner in certain programs. This has been very successful. For the processors, it's also very good because they get together. They can share best practices, and they can help the industry grow.
If you look on page 3, our priorities and requests to government…. First of all, competitiveness is a huge thing that we're dealing with right now. It's tough to be in business in British Columbia. It's tough to be in an international market with our laws and our high quality and safety standards, but we are doing it, and competitiveness is the number one thing.
But something that we're concerned with is that such an overwhelming part of the Growing Forward 2 funding again this year is earmarked for business risk management for producers. While we recognize that it's important to keep our producers safe and help them if there are difficult times, we are also worried that 80 percent goes to that, and we need to be more forward-looking in job-creation strategies, etc. So that's something that we are promoting.
Secondly, for innovation we're very, very committed to the Food Innovation Centre in British Columbia. We want to make it become a viable entity. It's just in its infancy right now, and provisions should be made in Growing Forward 2 and subsequent programs to help support this essential service.
As far as training goes, we have gone kind of the private sector route at this stage. We've started a training program, and we get the members to pay for the training programs. Sometimes government comes in as a partner, but we don't depend on government as the partner. We see it as a…. We bring them together. Together we'll find value for them, and when it's of value to government, we go to government for some of them.
We appreciate this approach. Our members are willing to pay, and the people are coming to our training programs.
Then something that's a new thing for us but that's really important to us is the preventative health program. We recently had a visit from the Quebec Food Processors, and they've recently implemented a program called Melior into their province. This is to help the population, the processors and the makers of food to get involved in preventative health.
In our system today we have reactive health. You have to be a patient before you get help from government. We say: "Let's feed people products that are lower in sodium, sugar and trans fats, etc., and get them to exercise." And maybe the doctors should tell them: "First you have to walk around the block before you can get this pill."
That's the type of program we need, and we want to bring that to British Columbia. It's very successful. Whilst it was based on a French program that is now being implemented in Quebec and is very successful, in this thing best practices are shared between food processors, and that is then awarded in an awards program.
You have to get them all to work together, because if one guy drops his sodium levels in his soup, his soup won't sell. It has to be across the board, because the salt makes the soup tasty. So we have to do it across the board. This is something where I think we can save the government billions of dollars if we work together. It's a new program.
Then lastly, job creation. Resources spent in the engine room of the economy have a much better return on investment in the form of growth and job creation, so we suggest that government focus on the engine-room part of the economy, as I described earlier about our membership.
Over to Dave again.
D. Eto: In conclusion — I told you it was going to be short and sweet and to the point — we're not here to have our hands out asking for money. Much more so, we're looking for support. Sometimes it comes in the form of a partnership with industry. I think our association has done a really good job in engaging its membership, growing the membership and getting it to act more uniformly. So when government says, "We have a program that we think will help save health care costs," we would like to be engaged. We would like to see how we can partner with you.
Our CEOs of our corporations…. We're not talking about the one-and-twos and the mom-and-pops. We're talking about the premier brands of the world, the Original Cakeries, the Sun-Rypes, the Lilydales. So we're talking about big, big processors, companies that have hundreds of employees, thousands of employees, and I think we can really make a difference.
Our mandate is to be collaborative, and the two top priorities that we'd like you to refocus on are the preventative health program — because we feel that that has far-reaching implications for health care; for job creation; for product innovation in particular, creating new products and new lines and developing products sourced out of British Columbia as well, so vertically integrating that need and demand — and finally, the Food Innovation Centre, which has been a struggle for this province.
We are the only province in Canada not to have an innovation centre. The CEOs that wrote those letters of support export their resources, their time, their materials, to other provinces — Leduc, Guelph and beyond — to get product development research done, and they pay, in their B.C.-made dollars, other provinces to get that work done. I think it should be here.
Now, we're not talking about a facility that's bricks and mortar. We have a virtual centre that needs a little bit of funding. It has industry support. We have industry support, but we need a little bit of carryover, because no business can be profitable in year 1. Our five-year plan definitely will allow it to be profitable, but we need government interaction and involvement to make it successful.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks so much, Dave. We'll start our questions with our Deputy Chair, Mable.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation. I am interested in terms of one of your two main recommendations: to support the Food Innovation Centre. Can you tell me what the current status of that is, what you envision it to be, and what budget amount you would expect to make it successful?
D. Eto: I cannot speak specifically to the budget. We've gone through, I think, 57 different drafts and submissions to the Ministry of Agriculture. This draft business plan is currently sitting between Treasury and going from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. Minister Pat Bell has expressed his support for the program, but before any funding can be released, it must go through Treasury.
We have about two months of reserves left in our account. Our request for funding, that $650,000, was reduced by the government to $348,000. That's a drop of 40 percent. We have enough money, basically, to get us through to December by giving our employees a one-month working notice. So essentially, in the month of October, if we don't have a decision from the treasury and Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, we will start initiating shutdown.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): How long has it been functioning?
D. Eto: Less than one year. Well, I guess a year in September, actually. That's when we first got incorporated. I am currently on the board of directors and the vice-chair. Unfortunately, it's getting stuck and mired in some sort of political football or ping-pong somewhere. We don't know really what's going on. It's frustrating. Like Nico said, we have 25 executives that are wanting to put their money where their mouth is, but this innovation centre is not getting the chance to operate properly.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Do you have an amount in terms of what total products are exported outside B.C. and what are consumed within B.C. in terms of the industry?
N. Human: The industry is broken up so much. It's different for dairy, for beverages, for wines, so you have to be more specific. I would say that a ballpark figure would be…. Where we're growing, where jobs are created these days…. It's because we're so diverse and we have so many different products that we can bring. We're winning new markets in China and in Japan and overseas. That's where the real dollars are for export and job creation, but we supply locally as well.
We have a very, very diverse industry. We have more than 200 commodities that we can process, so we're actually in a very good position. But we have to do high-value products because our labour is so high.
B. Ralston: A friend of mine was saying on Facebook that she purchased B.C. blueberries — actually, blueberries from Surrey — in the Dallas food market, branded as being from Surrey.
My question is about the innovation centre. This has been a recommendation of this committee for many years. I was convinced of it long ago. It has been a bipartisan recommendation. I do recall it was in the Speech from the Throne, and there was some fanfare when it was begun, so I'm very disturbed to hear the news that this is stalled.
Can you explain just a little bit more clearly what an innovation centre does and why it's of assistance to developing agriculture in the niche industries, particularly that are export-oriented, that create jobs, that create further investment in the sector, and why it's such a good idea? I'm astonished that it's stalled in the way that you've described.
D. Eto: Well, thank you very much for asking that question. I've been a processor myself. An innovation centre is an opportunity to be, I would say, like a one-stop shop. Let's take…. For example, you're a brand-new company, and you don't know how to get your company registered. The Food Innovation Centre would do this.
Give them a phone call. "I need to register a company." Great. Here's who you call — the small business centre down on the waterfront. Do it there.
"Now I need to get some labels approved." Fair enough. We have a consultant who can help you develop labels that comply with both English and French.
Next thing: "I need some product development testing. I don't know where to go." Well, we have a company here who has some space. They can help you develop this product over here.
"Well, now I need some packaging." Yes, we have packaging manufacturers, because we are linked as a hub. We can give you that information, and you can go over here.
"I need some sales and marketing information. Where do I go?" We have people that do specialize in procurement and/or brokerage and/or export. Essentially, what they're doing is being a hub of information, a central database, which they currently have now, connecting themselves not just with academia but with co-packers, packaging companies, vendors, brokerage houses, distributors. They are your one-stop shop. They cut through all the lines of communication.
I would say that ten years ago it was a struggle to find out where you could go to get this information. They've helped, I think, over 100 different companies right now within the Vancouver area and have successfully linked them with opportunities for companies, small companies in particular, that have limited resources to grow their business. These companies, because they're small, are typically using B.C.-produced products as well, so there's this great vertical integration that goes on.
I hope that gives you a bit of an idea of the value that we see the Food Innovation Centre would have.
D. Horne (Chair): One last quick question, from John Slater.
J. Slater: You know, I think the innovation centre is a must. I think it's going to be great for the future of B.C. I'm really intrigued about your lowering the sodium and sugar and trans fats.
How do you envision that working with, you know, the Campbell Soups of the world? Are we going to be able to say: "No, you guys have got to keep your sodium down to 4 percent instead of 11"? You know what I mean? I really agree with you 100 percent. But like you say, soup that has no salt in it doesn't taste as good as the other stuff, so how do you compete?
N. Human: I can describe to you how the system works for Quebec and for France at this stage. It's about best practices. They sign up for certain things. They say, "We want to bring our sodium use in the company down by 5 percent over three years," for example. The company signs up for it. They can then put that on their labels. They can put that in their claims, so people will buy their product more.
Then we have the watchdogs that go in and see that they actually do it. "If I start doing this on some of my labels, people will start buying this. But if I do this in isolation, they won't." So it's really that best practice that you start and then give promotion to it. Then there's an awards program at the end of the year to give them further recognition, and they get into the media, so they sell more of their product.
It's really more the carrot than the stick. The stick normally follows too. With trans fats, we did it more with a stick approach, but this is more the carrot.
J. Slater: We do advertise right now on TV, saying, you know, "Check the label. Look for sodium," blah, blah, blah. But if you guys can help with that, that would really, really help us in health care.
N. Human: Yes.
D. Horne (Chair): Unfortunately, I have to cut it off there. We'll have to move to our next presenter, who is the B.C. Association for Community Living.
Thank you so much, Dave and Nico. That's great.
Annette, Faith and Sky, welcome to the committee. As you, I believe, have heard several times now, you have ten minutes to present, followed by five minutes of questions. You can begin any time.
A. Delaplace: Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. My name is Annette Delaplace, and I am the president of the B.C. Association for Community Living. I am here today with Sky Hendsbee, a fellow board member, and Faith Bodnar, the executive director of the B.C. Association for Community Living.
The B.C. Association for Community Living is a provincial non-profit federation that was founded in 1955 by a small group of families wanting a better life for their children living with developmental disabilities. Our federation now includes thousands of individuals, families and volunteers and over 70 community-based agencies dedicated to making sure that people with developmental disabilities are able to enjoy their right to lead active, productive lives participating as full citizens in their communities.
B.C. has been described as a province with diverse families. This includes families whose children live with developmental disabilities. The goal, I understand, is to better support all families in B.C. and build a foundation that can secure a brighter future for our children, our families and our province.
Nowhere is this goal more critical than in early intervention. The purpose of early intervention is to identify children with special needs as early as possible and to provide them with the supports and services they need to meet their physical growth and their social, emotional and intellectual development needs.
Some of the early intervention services provided by government include the infant development program, which serves children from birth to three years of age who are at risk for, or who already have, a delay in development; the supported child development program, which provides a range of consulting and support services to children, families and child care centres so that children with extra support needs can participate in fully inclusive child care centres; and the early intervention therapies, which include community-based occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech-language pathology and family support services.
Is early intervention successful? Absolutely. I can use my own family as an example. When our daughter was born with multiple disabilities, our family entered a world which is vastly different than the one we had anticipated. "Overwhelming" describes it best. Specialists; medical equipment; many, many unanswered questions; and coming to know that our daughter would be completely dependent on others for the rest of her life.
Through all of this, what made it possible for our family to gain understanding and skills needed to best support our daughter was access to a wonderful program called the infant development program or IDP. Our IDP consultant helped us to learn the best ways to interact with our daughter and to create an environment for learning. She introduced us to the early intervention therapy program, and physiotherapy soon became an important part of our daughter's schedule, keeping her strong and healthy.
What is often commented on is how difficult it is for families to navigate the systems of support available. Our IDP consultant created a framework for us or a road map, if you will, of what was ahead in services, school and adult life.
To this day, in our family's journey, the information she shared and the knowledge we gained help us to realize the best our system has to offer and a very good life for our daughter.
I must also mention the supported child development program. Because of the service the consultants provided, we as a family were able to choose an after-school care program in our neighbourhood, and a consultant made sure that the staff received necessary training in order for them to support our daughter in the best way possible. It was a process that included us as parents in planning and as key partners in decision-making.
I also think what is so important here is that the supported child development consultant did not only make it possible for our daughter to have a successful experience in after-school care, but they also developed the capacity of the child care centre. It is this building of capacity and knowledge that grows with each child supported that makes inclusion ever more successful. It impacts daycares, it impacts communities, and it impacts families.
It is important to know that the lifelong benefits of early intervention programs for children with developmental disabilities have been well documented for the last 20 years. The earlier a child's special needs can be identified and addressed, the more likely the child and family will experience meaningful results from intervention. In terms of dollars, a recent study conducted in 2011 by the non-profit research group RAND looked at 19 different early intervention programs and their cost-benefit to society. The study found that the returns to society for each dollar invested extended from $1.80 to $17.07.
Where are the returns? They are in better health outcomes, increased developmental and educational gains, reduction of support needs through school and after, and greater chances of employment and so lower welfare costs and increased tax returns.
Despite all we know about the benefits of early intervention, across B.C. our surveys indicate that thousands of children and youth with special needs are on wait-lists for urgent therapy services, infant development programs and the supported child development programs. B.C. is failing children and families who need early intervention so desperately. We have member agencies who provide early intervention services reporting long wait-lists — up to 200 children on a single list. What the wait-lists don't tell you is another reality. In a desperate attempt to see all the children who need their help, many consultants are reducing the time spent with each family and reducing the number of visits with each family.
One of our member agencies in Prince George, AiMHi, reports from its infant development program that given the steady rise in the referral rate, it is inevitable that consultants are not always able to visit families with as much frequency as in previous years. The lengths of the home visits have also been decreased in order to accommodate the bulging caseloads.
While the Ministry of Children and Family Development may report a decrease in the number of families waiting, another member agency explains this. On paper, children who are now receiving any kind of service are seen as active. Therefore the wait-list numbers seem to be dropping.
In actual fact, the depth of service has changed considerably. In the past a child was waiting until he became assigned to a caseload and received full service. Now, however, there is such pressure to reduce wait-lists that the documentation is changing, and a file is seen to be active as soon as it receives any kind of service, even a phone call. Although the family may still wait for a year to be in, let's say, speech therapy, for example, on paper the child is no longer waiting, and the family is seen to be receiving service. These wait-lists do not reflect the reality. The reality is that the situation is truly much worse. Precious time is passing, and possible outcomes are diminishing.
More than 20 years of research demonstrates conclusively that early intervention reaps immediate and long-term benefits for children with disabilities, their families and society. We cannot continue to deny our children access to these positive early experiences, which are essential prerequisites for success in school, the workplace and the community.
Fostering the growth and development of children is one of society's most important responsibilities. We urge you to address the situation now.
F. Bodnar: Hi, my name is Faith Bodnar. I am the executive director of the B.C. Association for Community Living, and I've had the privilege of advocating with families for the better part of 30 years. I have worked, also, in three different provinces, and it's a privilege to be in B.C.
The B.C. Association for Community Living is a grass-roots federation led by families, individuals with developmental disabilities and the community-based organizations that support and serve them. We are the largest social-serving sector in the province, celebrating almost 60 years of building strong, vibrant and diverse communities in B.C., in Canada and around the world.
We are a grass-roots-to-global movement for social change and human rights with a legacy that touches us all. From our groundbreaking work in early intervention, to closing institutions, to building inclusive education, to ensuring that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly names mental disability as a prohibited ground of discrimination, to advancing justice in real work for real pay, and to the Canadian Association for Community Living, diligence and leadership in the development of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities — to name a few of the milestones that set the bar high for us today.
We contribute to a broad, healthy and vital social discourse. We are not a special interest group. Nor are we a lobby organization. We are an integral part of our democratic process and bring perspectives, convene voices, advance issues and promote action.
There are about 750,000 citizens with developmental disabilities nationwide, with estimates for B.C. at more than 75,000. Along with their families at least 2½ million Canadians are directly affected by developmental disability. I know that all of us in this room do not have to look far beyond ourselves to begin to understand that developmental disability touches us all.
Issues impacting people with developmental disabilities are the canary in the coal mine for our communities. All of us have a stake in the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities, if we and the communities we live in are to reach our full potential.
There's been an unprecedented Community Living spring in B.C., building over the last two years. It represents a growing awareness that those who live with developmental disabilities and their families are claiming their rights. In our annual report you will see a summary of the impact of Community Living in B.C. and across the country.
We have made it clear that we have a long way to go. There are between 500 and 700 people becoming newly eligible for Community Living B.C. services every year, and yet only 200 of those will see anything near what they need to be safe and secure in their communities, never mind to have a good and productive life in their communities.
The cumulative impact will not decline. The wait-lists remain, even with the announcement of dollars last January, an estimated $20 million of which were new funds. While we appreciated it, it falls well short of the $75 million that is needed to annually keep up with just the wait-lists.
At BCACL we heard from hundreds of families. These same families stepped forward to tell stories that inspired your leadership as you make decisions about how to allocate funds and how to ensure that legislation, policy and practice are aligned, consistent and fair so that they do not get in the way of innovation.
We heard from service agencies across B.C. who are committed to the highest standards of service, who do not have efficiencies left in their service to be reclaimed. We continue to survey these voices and solicit new stories.
The community living movement is unique. It is built on the legacy of families. All of this is in spite of the prevailing attitudes that our systems and our communities have not always acknowledged the rights of their sons and daughters. While they move mountains to make B.C. the most progressive jurisdiction in Canada and continue to do so, we all know they will not stand by while precious ground is lost. The past two years are evidence of that.
This is their call to action. This is BCACL's call to action, and then, in the complexity of our lives and our physical realities, please let it be yours.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now move to questions.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thank you for your presentation, and thank you for the work you do. It's important, and I think it's also significant that it's an organization of parents across the province advocating on behalf of individuals and supporting families.
I'd just like to hear also from…. If I can ask Sky to share your experiences with us, I'd appreciate that.
S. Hendsbee: Hello, my name is Sky Hendsbee, and I'm on the BCACL board of directors. I'm also on the B.C. self-advocacy caucus. I work part-time, two days a week, at Denny's in Walnut Grove as a dishwasher. I make $10.25 an hour. I would like to work seven days a week, maybe 40 hours with full-time days. I want to work all day, then come home and relax. If I had a chance to work more, I would. I'm also a very hard worker.
I receive $906.42 per month for PWD benefits. Right now I'm living in a home-share provider. After I pay for rent, food, bills, I get $190.42 back. After I declare my work hours, I get about $170. The government changed it so I can work more and not get my benefits clawed back. This is good, but it's not enough. It will give me $20 per month with my leftover money. I buy things like clothes, shampoo and soap with extra. I can't do very many social things because it costs too much money.
When I was the chair for B.C. self-advocacy caucus, their biggest priority was PWD benefits. It was hard for people to live without money. It's hard for them to pay their own bills and live on their own when they don't have any money. They have to get someone to help them financially. If I was the MLA, I would listen to self-advocates and increase the PWD benefits.
You all have a copy of the report called Overdue. You will see that B.C. benefits are lower than most other provinces. But it costs a lot to live here. Thank you very much for listening.
D. Horne (Chair): Sky, thank you so much for that. That's great.
A quick question from Gary. We've got less than a minute.
G. Coons: Thank you so much for your presentation. I have one question, but I do want to comment on your annual report. A good friend of mine, Shelly Starr, is on page 13, a survivor of Woodlands from Prince Rupert. I'll have to take this to her.
You talk about establishing a shelter assistance program similar to SAFER. I'm just wondering if you could quickly expand on that.
F. Bodnar: Sure. The SAFER program targets low-income seniors. The reason we target that program is because it provides a subsidy for seniors and it also reflects regional differences in rent, so it's a sliding scale. It wouldn't be a new system to implement for people on PWD benefits. It would be an extension of an existing administrative program.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
I'll now call our next presenter, the Canadian Federation of Students B.C. office — Katie and Ian. Welcome, both, to the committee. You have ten minutes for presentation and five minutes for questions. Your time begins now.
K. Marocchi: Good morning. First, I'd like to thank the committee for hearing our presentation today and to note our appreciation for the opportunity to participate in this process.
My name is Katie Marocchi. I am a bachelor of arts student at Vancouver Island University, and I am the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–B.C. I am joined today by Ian Boyko, our research and communications officer.
The federation is British Columbia's provincial student organization. Our members represent college, university, urban, rural, domestic, international, academic and trades students at 16 post-secondary institutes in all regions of the province. Our mandate as a federation is to unite all students in the movement for a universally accessible, high-quality public post-secondary education system.
Our members continue to identify several priorities for improving access and quality of education in B.C.: (1) eliminate the interest rate on B.C. student loans; (2) establish an upfront, needs-based provincial students grants program; (3) progressively reduce tuition fees to 2001 levels; (4) restore operating funding to universities and colleges to 2001 levels, accounting for inflation; (5) maintain the commitment to keep adult basic education free; (6) reorganize Industry Training Authority governance and fund comprehensive trades education and capital equipment upgrades; and (7) increase funding to support the U-Pass B.C. program and service enhancements across British Columbia.
I would also like to just take a moment to commend the government for their continued funding and support of the U-Pass program.
The federation will be providing the committee with detailed support for these recommendations in our written submission. However, today I would like to take a few minutes to elaborate on the recommendations we have brought forward, starting with the B.C. student loans.
A majority of post-secondary students in B.C. cannot afford to pay for their tuition fees. Those students borrow money from the provincial government in the form of B.C. student loans. Currently, at prime plus 2.5 percent, B.C. charges more interest on student loans than anywhere else in the country. This revenue from student loan interest to the provincial government is negligible, roughly $30 million. Yet this represents a fundamental inequality to students forced to shoulder the burden of debt.
A student who can afford to pay for their tuition fees up front pays no interest to the government, but a low-income student who needs a loan will pay thousands of dollars in interest. This $30 million represents an extra fee charged to those who can least afford it. The combination of inherent inequality and the small cost of eliminating it makes charging interest on student loans indefensible.
By eliminating interest charged on student loans, just as the Conservative government in Newfoundland and Labrador has done, real progress will be made to relieving B.C.'s record student debt levels. In the broad scope of the budget it would not take substantial funding to rectify this inequality. The provincial government should immediately begin providing interest-free student loans to students.
Along with action on student loans, students recommend another measure to improve financial aid grants. After meeting with representatives of the Canadian Federation of Students, the Conservative federal government has acknowledged the burden of student debt across the country and implemented the Canada student grant program. In contrast, B.C. has the lowest level of non-repayable financial aid in the country.
Financial aid should be used to help those who cannot afford their post-secondary education enter the system and get a degree or diploma. If aid is distributed properly, students will be able to leave university or college without massive debt and be able to pay into tomorrow's education system through taxes.
However, most of B.C.'s non-repayable student financial assistance is administered through the loan reduction program, which does not provide upfront help for students. Thus, post-secondary education is no more accessible through the loan reduction program. However, B.C. was once a leading province in assisting students through a B.C. student grant program, and the establishment of a grant program would greatly increase accessibility to post-secondary education.
Complementary to grants, the reduction of tuition fees would also contribute to accessibility. In the last ten years B.C. has seen more and more rapid increases to tuition fees than any other part of the country. Since 2001 average tuition fees for a four-year degree program have increased by roughly $10,000.
A study by the Canadian Association of University Teachers rated B.C.'s system of post-secondary education the second-worst in Canada for accessibility. Accordingly, B.C. has the second-worst university participation rates in the country, 7 percent lower than the cross-country average. As the situation of accessibility grows more dire, the need to reduce tuition fees becomes more pressing.
Students are recommending a reduction in tuition fees to 2001 levels to provide much needed relief to students struggling to pay the rising costs of higher education. The most equitable way to finance a widely accessible system of post-secondary education is through the progressive income tax system, where affluent Canadians pay a higher percentage of their income in tax than lower-income Canadians.
Reducing tuition fees must be part of a larger strategy to ensure broad access to post-secondary education in B.C., a strategy that must also include provision of adequate institutional funding and student financial assistance, which leads me to my next point.
Moving on to the fifth recommendation we are putting forward. The provincial government has already committed to keeping adult basic education free from tuition fees. Yet at certain institutions, students are raising concerns about the maintenance of this commitment.
Camosun College recently adjusted several grade 12 courses to make them 100-level university courses so they could charge tuition fees. As a result, there is now no provision of biology, chemistry or physics 12 for those over high school age in the province's capital. Sufficient funding should be committed to ensure the provision of adult basic education across the province.
In another area of post-secondary education, trades and apprenticeship training, there is a need for action from the B.C. government. B.C. faces a skills shortage, yet funding for trades training is decreasing. At some institutions programs need capital upgrades to remain current, such as at Selkirk College where the archaic equipment that millwright students are trained on is no longer used in the industry.
There are also relatively inexpensive measures the provincial government can take to improve trades training. The Industry Training Authority, the governance body responsible for trades training, does not currently have representation from students or trade unions. Widening representation on the board of the ITA and placing the ITA under the purview of the Ministry of Advanced Education would better position B.C. to provide comprehensive education to tradespeople.
Another way to ensure comprehensive trades education is to reverse the trend of modularization. Modularization is the process that compresses education into short programs with less content. It turns well-rounded carpenters into poorly paid framers or removes chemical training from aestheticians for an end result that is worth less to workers and to the public. Ending modularization would help redirect trades training from the current trend that lowers the ability of British Columbians to end the skills shortage and gain meaningful employment.
Our last recommendation is to improve the transit in B.C. Students would like to see long-term funding to support the administration of the U-Pass B.C. program. This will prevent institutions from off-loading those costs to students in the form of fees.
Quality of service is a serious concern for students in rural areas, such as in the Kootenays and mid- and North Island. Students in these regions have not adopted the U-Pass B.C. program because there is simply not sufficient service to warrant the pass. Infrequent service, long and indirect routes and sometimes complete lack of late-night service makes the transit system useless to many.
In conclusion, I encourage the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services to listen to the voices of students and the public and make recommendations to improve post-secondary education in our province.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you, Katie, for your presentation.
We'll now move to questions, starting with Mable, our Deputy Chair.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation. The issue of accessibility and affordability is important. We've heard, and you're familiar, 80 percent of jobs of the future will require some type of post-secondary education.
I'm concerned about your reports in terms of…. I didn't know that B.C. had the second-worst university participation rate in the country, 7 percent lower than the cross-country average. Do you attribute that primarily to the affordability issue?
Then, also, do you have the comparison of the cost of undergraduate tuition rates — how that ranks in Canada, in terms of B.C.? Where is B.C. placed? We heard that graduate studies are the third most costly in Canada.
So those two issues: how B.C. ranks in terms of tuition costs and then, also, thoughts around our low participation rate in post-secondary education.
K. Marocchi: First, I'll speak to low participation rates, and then I'll pass it to Ian in terms of where British Columbia ranks.
In terms of participation, it's directly linked to accessibility and tuition fees. The increasing tuition fees in our province are directly linked to participation rates. It disproportionately affects those coming from lower-income families and backgrounds. Not only would reducing tuition fees increase accessibility, but it would increase equitably the demographics of students who would be able to get a higher education.
I. Boyko: Just quickly on the tuition fee issue. B.C. ranks today in the middle of the pack in terms of Canadian provinces. But I believe that in the last ten years, no province has increased tuition fees faster than British Columbia. We went from being very competitive on the affordability front to being mediocre, and then, as you mentioned, actually higher, much higher, for graduate students.
Just like we suggest that tuition fees can't be viewed in isolation of student financial aid, we don't think that student financial aid can be viewed in isolation of tuition fees. While B.C. may be in the middle of the pack for tuition fees, it eliminated our grants program in 2004. So in a lot of ways we are considerably worse off because we don't have the upfront grants program that can help mitigate some of the impacts of record-high tuition fees in B.C.
Those two factors combined are probably what make B.C. rank so poorly in terms of overall affordability.
D. Horne (Chair): We'll now move to a question from Pat.
P. Pimm: Just a couple of things. One, I'm kind of curious if you have any real representation on your board at all. One thing I don't see on here is….
I'll just go back to a situation of my own. When my kids went to college, I had to send them from Fort St. John to Vancouver, and tuition didn't even hardly play in the overall cost of things. It was the lodging. It was about a $1,500-a-month tab just to get them a place to stay and to be part of the system. The tuition itself really was…. I knew what that was going to be. It wasn't that huge an issue. But the other thing was the revolving cost. I don't see you saying anything about that in any of your presentations.
The other thing is on the Industry Training Authority. I've been involved in that very heavily. You make mention that all the training devices are outdated and really don't comply with modern society, sort of thing. But I have to tell you that it's about knowing how the device works. When you learn the basics of how a device works, you can then translate it into another device.
I'm a journeyman tradesman, so I can tell you a little bit about that. It's about knowing the device. It's about knowing a device and how the system works. That's a very important piece that you've got to get into your presentation somehow.
K. Marocchi: In terms of your questions around not seeing any data in terms of lodging and food costs and textbooks and things like that in the data, I think that accounts for…. When we're speaking of financial aid, that's what those things go to. I'm not sure when your kids went to school, but tuition fees in the early 2000s were completely deregulated, and we saw massive increases and spikes in tuition. Today, you know, we see that some students are able to afford tuition, but there are many, many students who struggle to pay for tuition upfront and are forced to take out student loans and in the end pay twice as much for their education than those that would otherwise be able to afford it.
Financial aid and restoring the grants program would alleviate the burden that students face when trying to make ends meet, taking full-time courses but also working two or three part-time jobs to cover costs of rent, food or residence, lodging — things like that. I think when we talk about the grants program and progressive financial aid, that's what we're speaking to.
D. Horne (Chair): We have less than a minute and about four people to ask questions, so I'm going to end it with Dave. So if we could keep it brief.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much. One thing I just want to…. I left a sheet with Ian that was given to us by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. that shows we pay the third-lowest tuition fees for undergraduate programs. That has the last six or seven years on it — how we have done.
I have three kids at university. One finished the Justice Institute. They all have student loans, even though they worked, and they are still working while they're going to university.
Do you know, once you finish university…? If you haven't found a job yet, do you have to start paying the student loan right away? What happens to interest? Is there any assistance available until you find a job, to defer the interest? Maybe you can help me out, just for myself to find out so that when I talk to them I'll be understanding from your side what help is available and when they have to start paying loans if they haven't found a job yet because nothing is available in the field currently.
I. Boyko: Just very briefly, you're right. B.C. has the fourth-lowest, so as I said, middle of the pack. It's in that middle band, around $5,000, but it's all quite clustered closely together.
In terms of student financial aid, I think Katie made a brief reference to it. The provincial government has just recently harmonized its loan repayment program with the federal system, which is an improvement. This new repayment assistance program is an improvement over what existed, but it still relies on helping students when they're in crisis, on the back end. What we're really trying to emphasize is the importance of adjusting student financial aid on the front end.
D. Hayer: How does it help?
D. Horne (Chair): Sorry. We've reached the end.
I. Boyko: We can talk off line about this.
D. Horne (Chair): If you want to have a conversation afterwards, that would be great. I'm sorry. We've reached beyond the time allotted, so I thank you for your presentation.
I'll now call the next presenter, that being the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce.
Bruce, on a point of privilege.
B. Ralston: I just wanted to recognize the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, Harry Bloy, who is in the room, an alumnus of this committee and obviously back for more, reviving those memories of the good old days on the Finance Committee.
D. Horne (Chair): Welcome to Harry.
The next two presenters are Dennis Marsden and Richard Rainey from the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce. Welcome, both. As you've heard many times at this point, I believe, you have ten minutes to present followed by five minutes of questions. You can begin now.
D. Marsden: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Dennis Marsden, co-chair of the public policy committee for the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, alongside Richard Rainey, past president and co-chair of our public policy committee. First off, I'd like to thank the committee for their time in providing the various groups around the province to voice their concerns and their priorities.
The chamber of commerce for the last number of years has had a very clear mission statement. We believe firmly in strong business and strong communities. It's with that in mind we come to you today to talk about some general overall objectives that we see and the priorities that we have. While we will not put cap in hand and ask for specific funding dollars today, we ask that you take forth our comments and considerations as you discuss how our upcoming $44 billion budget will be spent to best support our communities.
First and foremost, for the longest period of time, transportation and transit issues have been a priority in the Tri-Cities. Most recently I had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Greg Moore, and he — partially tongue in cheek — requested SkyTrain support Coquitlam. We recognize, in today's current financial environment, that is not on any short-term plans, but it does speak to the need. Recognizing that a number of our communities have done good jobs with regards to densification of key areas, now we want to see that the transportation initiatives are delivered to those key areas.
We're thrilled to see the initial bid process underway for the long-awaited Evergreen line. We thank you for that. We thank you for the funding commitment that has been in place for a long period of time, and we thank you now for the actual shovels in the ground as we get ready for that.
The overall transit issues. Again, it comes down to really looking at the structure of transit. We've heard from our mayors that we need sustainable funding. We've heard from TransLink that we need sustainable funding, and we recognize that in any endeavour, sustainable funding is a given. The challenge we have and the recognition we want to give to this current government is the request back to TransLink to ensure that the internal fiscal house is in order.
It is critical from a chamber of commerce perspective that all of our funding and all of our budgeting is done in a responsible manner. We believe in balanced budgets. We believe firmly in ensuring that we are taking care of our economy, taking care of putting in place the pieces that are going to ensure that we are not leaving an undue burden on our children. So transit issues regarding funding, regarding oversight and regarding the diligence of their budgets to ensure that taxpayer dollars are going in the proper directions.
In 2006 this chamber of commerce was very pleased…. Myself and Mr. Rainey presented to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, asking for recognition of the Riverview lands and recognition that it would be utilized for the maintenance of health care and wellness. It's 240 acres sitting here in beautiful Coquitlam-Maillardville, to put it from a riding perspective for our MLAs. This is an area that has been much talked about, and there's been much done, recognizing that there have been three facilities built on that site over the last number of years to provide health care and mental health in the manner that the experts feel is best — a community-based model.
We support that, but we recognize there's a significant piece of land there that can be utilized for health care, for wellness and for education opportunities that may present themselves — keeping that in mind on a go-forward basis, to say: "How can we ensure that we're delivering the services that our communities need?"
One of the other hats that I wear is that I've been fortunate enough to serve as the treasurer of the Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation for a number of years, and we are absolutely thrilled with the work that Fraser Health has been given in the last little while with the master site plan, to recognize the work and needs of the community at Eagle Ridge Hospital and Health Care. I've had the opportunity to speak to doctors and to the emergency room physicians, and they're working together with us to ensure that what we want to see is that the facilities are updated to where they need to be. We recently had 22 new beds opened. We're thrilled to see that funding come through — transitional care beds in the community where they belong, not in our acute care beds within the hospital. Again, we recognize and thank you for that.
As we move forward with the needs of Eagle Ridge Hospital — keeping in mind "Strong business, strong communities" from the chamber of commerce — we're going to ask for the continued funding and support that's going to be needed for the construction there.
The last item I will point out before I turn it over to Mr. Rainey. The chamber of commerce, both the Tri-Cities as well as the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, has spoken a lot about the need for a business property tax. The cities rely on property taxes as their primary source of revenue. We are obviously in a situation where we are seeing rising property values. That is driven by a limited resource, by limited land. We're certainly not making any more of it. We have to make sure that we provide the resources and supports to the cities with regards to funding mechanisms to deliver the services that they require and our communities require.
With that in mind, we are fully supportive of the auditor general for the municipalities to ensure that we move forward and that the funds are spent in a responsible manner. Let us encourage, from yourselves forward to our communities, that our civic politicians focus their efforts on where the cities should be doing their efforts — not at provincial levels, not at federal levels. But let's have them spending their time and resources mandating bylaws that are at the civic nature and don't belong at your table in Victoria.
I'd like to turn it over to Mr. Rainey for a moment to talk about transit pricing, transportation.
R. Rainey: In the 19 seconds you've left me, Dennis, I will….
D. Marsden: Sorry. Retired politician.
R. Rainey: Just by way of background — and I'll be fairly brief — the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce represents three communities: Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. We're somewhat unique in the sense that we're not specific to a particular city. We've got about 850 members, and they're fairly evenly spread between smaller businesses — one or two employees, family-run businesses — and our industrial membership.
Our industrial membership is spread across an area of Port Coquitlam, the Kingsway-Broadway area, and just down the road here in Coquitlam in the United Boulevard area.
Those businesses in those two industrial areas located there principally because it's an optimal location from a transportation perspective. Those businesses now are uniquely vulnerable because of the road-pricing strategy that's been in place with respect to the two toll bridges.
The Port Coquitlam and United Boulevard businesses that move goods east are going to have to use a toll bridge. I'll give you the example of Coca-Cola, which is the last business before you cross the bridge. Every truck that crosses the bridge from the Coca-Cola factory — nine bucks a shot each way.
You can imagine. I mean, those are trucks leaving constantly through that location. When the time comes for them to reconsider their commitment to be in our community, that's going to be a factor.
One of the concerns that we've got…. As much as we're very excited and grateful about both bridges and as much as we are very grateful for what we perceive to be the province embracing the road-pricing policy that the B.C. Chamber of Commerce presented a couple of years ago, we want you to be cognizant of the fact that our businesses are uniquely challenged by the way things are now.
The message that we'd like to send to you is: just as this was a bit of a paradigm shift to accept tolling on the first and then the second of the bridges in our community and just as it was a bit of a paradigm shift to embrace the idea, for example, of giving large trucks a reduced rate if they travel at night, we'd encourage you to consider that forward-thinking and to look at other road-pricing options in the Lower Mainland. That may involve revisiting the concept that tolling will only be an option when there is not a free, viable alternative. There really isn't in our community. Our heavy transport trucks cannot go the Pattullo Bridge route.
When we look at the region as a whole, as much as it may be politically distasteful to do and as much as it may be practically difficult, we'd really encourage you to look at other options of broadening the road-pricing strategy that we've started looking at in the region so that we can level the playing field among transport businesses in our community.
It's doable, and I think that would be something that would be embraced not just by the heavy and light industrial membership in our chamber of commerce but also throughout the region, because it's an inherently fair thing to do. Now that people have accepted tolling, let's look at it a little more forward-thinking and try to level the playing field a bit.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks so much. You actually had 30 seconds left. Questions?
B. Ralston: I was interested in your comments on the Riverview lands, Dennis. I just want to be clear on the position of your organization. As you know, the Finance Minister, in order to prospectively attempt to balance the 2013 budget and the 2014 budget, announced what he called an asset sale. There are hundreds of millions of dollars already allocated in the fiscal plan as a result of sales. Now, there have only been three properties that have been made public. He's spoken of 100 properties or so in that.
So I'm not sure whether Riverview lands is one of those properties or not, but if it were to be, I take it that the position of the chamber would be that you would oppose it unless it was being developed for what you described as, I think, health-related developments. Would that be accurate?
D. Marsden: We have made it clear that we support the utilization of that land for health and wellness. We've said that very clearly. The city task force was presented to us, and we were very pleased to be able to carry that forward.
Under that, there's recognition that there are opportunities on that site to deliver these mental health and wellness facilities. Under that, there may be opportunity for private partnerships.
When you look at the area immediately surrounding Royal Columbian Hospital as an example, you'll see a need for office space for the doctors. So they're not always on site at the hospital, but there is a need for office space. Whether that be funded through privates, through the opportunity to sell those buildings to a private developer — that construction — or the doctors through partnerships, we're open to that. We recognize that in the delivery of those services, there are a number of needs, but we see that as a gem and an opportunity to deliver a much-needed service to our province.
B. Ralston: If I might have on supplementary just to be clear then. If it were to be sold for a straight commercial real estate development, whether it was apartments or single family residences, you would oppose that.
D. Marsden: We have been very clear that we support the use of that land for mental health and wellness.
D. Hayer: My question is to Richard. Richard, I thank you very much for your remark about the Port Mann Bridge, the widest bridge in the world, that we have. Many people are happy with it, but the toll seems to be a certain concern. If you go to my website, I have a newsletter — davehayermla.ca. You can see in there that I have comments about that.
But if you can provide more input to the committee of how your members feel about it. Maybe it's different solutions that we would be happy to hear. I know I've received a lot of calls. I want to see if we are receiving calls from your chamber of commerce, your businesses and your residents too. We would really appreciate it.
R. Rainey: We haven't canvassed our members specifically about the tolls. I think that there's a lot of concern with the industrial membership.
I mean, it's an expensive toll if you're crossing the bridge often. Not so much…. It's a cost that you can pass on to your customers, but it puts you at a disadvantage versus, for example, somebody travelling east from Langley. The concern is to try to level the playing field. So $9 isn't ridiculous, but I guess if I were to make a specific proposal to you, it would be entirely logical that you could drop that to $4 if you had other road transportation pricing strategies in place.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks so much.
J. Slater: Just on that point, though. I mean, before the Golden Ears got built, Coca-Cola spent a fortune sitting in lineups or travelling around to take those paths. So you can't tell me that $9 per trip…. They're saving money today from what they were three years ago or four years ago.
R. Rainey: My point wasn't that the cost is too much. My point is that it's a cost that's being borne disproportionately by people in this community and that that doesn't have to be the case.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now call our next presenter. Our next presenter is the Alliance for Arts and Culture and Rob Gloor.
Welcome, Rob. I think you've heard a couple times now that you have ten minutes to present and five minutes for questions. You can begin now.
R. Gloor: Thank you very much. My name is Rob Gloor. I'm the executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture. The alliance represents over 300 organizations active in the cultural sector throughout the Lower Mainland.
Our members come from all disciplines of arts, culture and heritage and include both professional companies and community organizations. They employ artists and cultural workers by the thousands, and they engage volunteers who collectively invest hundreds of thousands of hours. Their combined budgets are tens of millions of dollars, much of it leveraged by small but critical investment from the provincial government.
First, I want to thank the government for increasing the community gaming grant program at the end of last fiscal, partially restoring the funds that have been deeply cut in previous years. Thanks also for reinstating the eligibility of adult arts and culture organizations. Finally, thank you for maintaining funding to the B.C. Arts Council this year.
All of these steps are a major relief to a sector that has endured devastating cuts over the last several years, cuts which have an impact on hundreds of organizations, thousands of workers and entire communities which depend on the important contributions of arts and culture organizations.
British Columbians live and breathe on the impact of culture in their communities. I'll come back to this, but first, let me give you a bit of the context on the cultural sector in relation to the labour force.
Cultural workers in Canada make up 3.3 percent of the overall labour force. That's over 600,000 workers, which compares to just 300,000 in forestry and only 135,000 in the automotive sector. Direct and indirect economic activity combined, the cultural sector generates $85 billion or 7½ percent of our GDP and impacts 1.1 million jobs, over 7 percent of total employment in Canada.
In B.C. cultural workers make up an even larger proportion than the national average — 3.7 percent of our workforce, which is 87,000 people, according to most recent census data. B.C. also has the highest rates of cultural donors. Over 125,000 people make donations to non-profit arts and culture organizations here. We have one of the highest rates of attendance and participation in culture by population, and we have the second-highest level of consumer spending on culture. So far this all seems like a very good-news story.
At the municipal level our cities in B.C. provide some of the strongest financial support to arts and culture in the entire country. Our cities get it.
Unfortunately, this does little to compensate for the harsh reality that our provincial government provides the least support per capita of any province. This in turn impacts federal investment into culture in B.C., which is also the lowest level of any province in Canada. So in spite of that municipal investment level, total government spending on culture in B.C. is the lowest in Canada. It has been for years now.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to change?
We know that arts and culture contribute to the economy — producing jobs, contributing strongly to the GDP, attracting skilled workers, building tourism, driving economic activity in small businesses around cultural activity, driving innovation in the corporate sector.
We also know that arts and culture develop healthy communities — promoting connections across diverse groups, increasing literacy, developing leadership and self-esteem in our children, reducing youth violence, promoting lifelong learning, increasing philanthropy and volunteerism.
All of these tangible, easily measured and proven effects of culture in the community are well known. Arts and culture work in tandem with all of our collective priorities for health, for education, for economic development.
But here's the challenge, I think. It's hard to measure the societal benefits of investment in arts and culture only in the very short term. One new dollar invested in culture today won't raise literacy rates tomorrow or cut health care costs next week or even before the next election. Wouldn't that be nice?
In politics we tend to overlook the great, overarching benefits of culture to society. It's not in our short-term interest. So what happens when we take culture for granted or pretend it's not really connected to all those other things that are our priorities?
It's like what happens when in a city, in a municipal system, we defer maintenance just to balance the budget in the short term. It contributes to a nice little campaign for election. Forget about fixing those roads and sewers for a while. We'll save some money now, and we won't even notice the problems — at least not for a long time.
But eventually we have disintegration, the collapse of infrastructure — far more costly, eventually, and devastating in the long run.
Culture is our societal infrastructure. It's the foundation of our society. It's our culture that connects us and defines us. Investing in culture is critical if we have any desire to build a better home for future generations.
I agree with our previous presenters who made the case that we should not leave our children and our future generations carrying the bag for us. But when we ignore culture and its importance, our children lose as that foundation of our society crumbles and all that stands on it is weakened.
Back to the good news. The amazing thing is we have a wonderful opportunity in B.C. All the points I mentioned before — the abundance of artists in B.C., the outstanding creativity of British Columbians…. We have great untapped potential to make a mark on the world in our own time and build an amazing, caring, healthy, creative and productive B.C. for our children. It takes so little, just like that ongoing investment in our homes and general infrastructure that creates a path for the future and saves us from having to play catch-up with the rest of the world.
With an increase to the B.C. Arts Council's grant programs to $32 million in 2013-14, we could start to address the backlog of demand already in the system, which exceeds that amount already by far. This would stimulate new creation and innovation in our arts community and leverage increased investment from other sectors — including, as I mentioned, the federal government, not to mention the corporate sector. In the longer term, grant funding of $40 million would make B.C. truly more competitive with other provinces.
Further to the B.C. Arts Council, we ask that community gaming grants be fully restored to $156 million, the peak levels before the cuts plus inflation, including reinstatement of the capital grants program.
These investments are very small in relation to the impact of arts and culture in our society and economy, small in relation to the budget of the province and especially small in relation to the long-term impact on the future of British Columbians.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now move to questions.
B. Ralston: You didn't have a written presentation, so I was just trying to follow the increase in the B.C. Arts Council grant. You said $32 million. Can you just quickly remind me what it is now? You also referred to a number of other smaller grants. That would be helpful for crafting a recommendation, if that's what we decide to do.
R. Gloor: Currently our B.C. Arts Council granting capacity is approximately $16.8 million. It seems audacious, but what we're asking for is to double that to $32 million. But the demand already in the system of applications from eligible organizations exceeds that, and this is consistent with what we have determined for several years now to be a level more competitive with other provinces' investment in arts and culture.
That's the main one — B.C. Arts Council. The other major program where arts and culture are part of a larger pool of the non-profit sector is community gaming grants, which are currently, after some increase last year, sitting at $130 million in total. We're looking for restoration to the $156 million that it was prior to the cuts.
The B.C. Arts Council figure is complicated because it includes a portion of the arts and culture legacy fund that was allocated to B.C. Arts Council to restore some amounts that had been cut previously.
We're looking for a long-term, stable commitment to funding of B.C. Arts Council's granting so that it's not subject to new and temporary programs that come and go and may be allocated in various ways. We believe the best way of investing in culture to sustain the growth of the sector is through an increase, long term, to the B.C. Arts Council.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you for your presentation.
We'll now call our next presenter, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. I see Shachi there. As well, Nicole, welcome. You have ten minutes to present and five minutes for questions, and you can begin anytime.
S. Kurl: Hello, committee members, and to those of you who are new to the committee this year, it is my pleasure to address you for the first time. For your benefit, I will go through a little bit about CFIB and who we are. We are 10,000 independent business members in British Columbia, about 110,000 across the country. We're a non-partisan, not-for-profit political advisory organization, and what is unique about us is that we represent all sectors and all regions. We speak for a very broad base of small business in this province.
Some facts about small business in B.C. More than 80 percent have fewer than five employees. So when we're talking about small, we're talking really small — microbusinesses. They may be small, but they're mighty. They represent a third of B.C.'s GDP and employ over half of B.C.'s private sector workforce. They're not only job creators; they're also job protectors. What we saw in the 2008 recession was that small businesses reduced employment by just 0.5 percent. By contrast, we saw larger employers reducing their employment levels by nearly 9 percent.
Finally, and not putting too much of a halo over our heads, 96 percent of small business owners do give, or support charitable causes or community causes where they live.
I think this time last year I came to you and talked to you about the small business perspective on the state of the economy. I described it in one word. I said it was "meh." Well, this year I'm going to say it's "blah."
What we're seeing is an optimism index for B.C. in terms of confidence about the state of the economy from the perspective of small business owners. It's sitting at about 59. That's almost a four-year low. Generally, we say that an index measure between 65 and 75 is a sign of a healthy and growing economy. We're below that, which is a concern. However, we're still well above the depths of despair, if you will, which we saw in January of 2009.
What is it that's stressing small business out? Well, we asked them this. We do a rolling index every two months, and we have numbers coming out. In fact, we have fresh numbers coming out tomorrow. What we know is that taxes and regulations still, for 60 percent of our members surveyed, are the main cost pressure, followed by fuel and energy costs and then — which is a fairly new one coming up the list — wages. They are starting to find that wages are becoming an increasing cost pressure for them.
As you'll remember, with those minimum-wage increases coming on line, it's not just the minimum-wage increase to the earner who has been earning less and is now coming up to a new level. Now you have longtime employees who are saying: "Look, Joe who just started in the shop three months ago is now making the same as I am, and I've been here five years. So what are you going to do for me?"
We call that the scope of wage creep. So the business owner, in order to keep things fair and level, is then bumping everyone's increase along. That does start to become one of many cost pressures along the way.
If you ask them about uncertainty, what you'll find is almost as many small business owners these days are saying that they are either somewhat or very pessimistic about the state and the future of B.C.'s economy as are saying that they're optimistic. The one thing that government, any government, can do to really restore and boost optimism in the state of business confidence is to keep the budget balanced. That's the one thing that we hear consistently from our members.
We ask for a lot of stuff. We're pretty effective at asking for a lot of stuff. But at the end of the day, you want to do something that puts a gold star up on the board for the small business owner. They will say: "If I know that my government is watching the state of the books, then I feel a lot better about the way things are going."
In terms of what government can do to ensure that those books are balanced every year, our members that we surveyed ahead of this submission did say they would like to see the line held on public sector wage increases. Almost as many are also saying: "Do that, and make changes to programming to reduce government spending." The other thing they would like to see is some movement to deal with the bigger issue, which is debt.
We're going to be looking at a debt in B.C. of $57 billion, with a B, by March of next year. One of the biggest outcomes for the small business owner when we say, "Well, what do you think about that? How is that going to have an effect on your business?" is that they're worried about future tax liabilities. Why are future tax liabilities important? Because when it comes to the main constraints that keep them from growing their business, just over half, and most surveyed, will be able to say to you that it's the overall tax burden.
If they're seeing a fiscal picture that may see them being forced to give more, to do more on the tax side, that definitely for them has an impact on whether or not they're deciding to grow their businesses. For many business owners, taxation can be a mere issue of survival, and they tell us that, especially at the municipal level. But overall it is the main constraint on business growth. We know that when we're growing business, we're growing the pie, we're growing government revenue, and we're growing the ability to pay for more programming and do more as a province and as a society.
It's not just the amount of tax that small business owners are dealing with. It's also the complications of tax. I know that we and other business groups have talked at length about the complications of PST. When we talk about simplifying taxation and what could be done to improve B.C.'s tax competitiveness, we know PST is coming back. Really, you have business owners who are coming now on bended knee saying: "For the love of God, please make it a more simplified and better tax than it was. If it has to come back, make it easier to deal with."
We did see some measures pertaining to transition earlier this year, about making it easier to go back to that tax in terms of the administrative work that has to be done around registering and that kind of thing, and we thank you for that. But there is more to do.
I'm going to give you an example. It's an example that I like to use a lot, and it comes directly from one of our members. That member says to me, "If we sell a pencil to both an architect and an artist and we have this social service tax exemption number, we charge the architect the tax but not the artist, because the tax is based on how a product is used. Somewhere in B.C. a pencil salesman silently weeps until his head explodes, because this is what they have to deal with." They are saying that you have to find a way to make this better.
I can go on. I mean, there's the yellow safety vest that's exempt and the orange safety vest that isn't exempt. There's the yellow slicker that's PST-applicable but the red one that isn't. I won't even get into sizing. There's a lot of scope to do well, and I promise you that if you make the recommended changes to simplify this tax, I will come back with pompoms next year, and I will say "yay," not "blah" or "meh."
Very quickly, in the interests of time, I would remind you that this government did make a commitment to eliminate the small business corporate tax rate. That was supposed to have happened this year. It did not happen. I would ask for that to be reaffirmed as a commitment once we are back into a balanced-budget framework.
I would exhort this committee to recommend that a full release of the results of the B.C. carbon tax review be done. We are appreciative of that review. We know we've had members who have had a lot to say about it, but it's also important that we have the discussion around that.
Finally, on the labour side, what I would like to point out to you is that it's not just a booming economy that puts pressure on small business owners around trying to find skilled or unskilled labour — the labour that they need, essentially, on the shop floor. It also affects them in a slower economy, and 58 percent of our membership says that they still have trouble finding employees in a slower economy. A lot of that has to do with what, to this point, is not enough emphasis on helping small business and helping unskilled workers come together.
We see a lot of emphasis right now on skills and skills training, apprenticeship. That's great; that's important. We appreciate it. But for our membership, they're saying that as important and as difficult for them is finding someone who can come in and start where the work needs doing — sweep the floor in the salon, run the till in the café, do the inventory lists in the manufacturing plant and stick around. That's the other thing.
For that we would propose what we'd call the B.C. training bonus. It's a made-in-B.C. solution. It's coming right out of our giant collective brains. Basically, it says that as the economy recovers, small business owners will continue to struggle to find and train qualified labour. What we're asking for is a bonus that is paid by government to the employee, not to the employer.
At the end of a six-month period a worker and an employer get together and say: "Okay, what skills are you going to work on over this period of time? You're a new employee. What do you want to work on?" If they complete those skills at the end of that time, they then get paid the bonus. The employer gets the benefit of having someone stick around. The employee gets the benefit of the bonus. The workplace and the labour market get the benefit of better trained, more work-ready employees who are then ready to move on to the next big thing.
In the interest of time, I am going to wrap it up there. You will see at the end of the package that we have five lovely recommendations for you. I won't go through them. I will leave some time for questions.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much. We'll start our questions with John Les.
J. Les: Thanks for your presentation, Shachi. It's always good to hear from you on behalf of the 10,000 businesses in British Columbia. I must say that you do a very good job of continuously, I think, surveying your membership, which gives a certain grounding to your findings and your recommendations.
A couple that stand out — one is dealing with the debt, a very high number there, and 81 percent of your membership feel that's very important. I wanted to focus on the one that seems next in terms of generating overwhelming support, and that is no further increases in carbon tax. It's something like, I think, 76 percent.
The committee has heard a lot of presentations from people that are elated about this new possibility of perhaps expanding this relatively new tax. It causes me concern, but obviously in the business sector in British Columbia, they perhaps have a different point of view. I wonder if you could elaborate.
S. Kurl: Well, you can look, John, at what's happened, for example, to our agriculture members who are dealing with greenhouses and how they've been affected. If you look at our members in the north who have been severely affected…. These are the guys, at the end of the day, who are driving heavy machinery, pickup trucks and transit — that kind of thing — and those types of alternatives are not there for them. These are real impediments. They are dollars coming out of their wallet. I say that at the end of the day, this isn't….
This tax was brought in. I was there; you were there. We were all there, and it was about trying to change behaviour — right? It was about behaviour change and modification and thinking twice, and that type of thing. I believe the intent is good. The effect on some of our membership has been devastating.
At the end of the day, there is one wallet. The business owner is paying for a number of different taxes, fees, services, regulations, labour costs out of that one wallet or that one till. At the end of the day, it all adds up, and it becomes one more pressure along the way. I think for those who have been hardest hit, who have been left with the least alternatives, it is difficult, and I think they are seeking some relief from that.
P. Pimm: It's a great segue to lead into this, because that's exactly what I was going to talk to you about. You list your top five recommendations in the back, but carbon tax doesn't hit that recommendation list. There were 76 percent of your members that endorsed that. I'm a little surprised it didn't hit that recommendation list.
The main question I have for you is — and I've asked this to all presenters: did you do a presentation to the Finance Minister, submit to his competitiveness review on the carbon tax?
S. Kurl: Nicole, I'm going to defer to you on that one.
N. Nash: We did not. Laura Jones, our executive vice-president, is on the tax competitiveness panel, so as part of that, we didn't put in an individual submission. Again, I think the results here are not saying lower. They're just saying: "Think carefully, and talk to the small business community before any further increases go forward."
P. Pimm: I'd recommend that you reconsider that and do a submission.
N. Nash: We'll go back to it.
D. Horne (Chair): We'll now end with a question from our Deputy Chair, Mable.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation. I was just interested…. With your recommendation for the B.C. training bonus to address the many challenges that businesses across B.C. face in terms of finding qualified employees, did you put some thought into the different sectors? What type of scope were you envisioning, or what was the feedback that you've heard from the members that this recommendation would apply to?
S. Kurl: The feedback that we're hearing, and the reason we've put this one forward specifically, is that we would prefer not to see such an initiative tied to a particular set of skills. You know, we don't want to see it applied to the Red Seal trades. We don't want to see it applied to something you can go and take a course in at BCIT, because what we're looking for is help for our members and, frankly, for employees who are facing barriers to work, who are maybe sometimes coming in to work for the first time because of their age or because of their language skills or because of other barriers they face in their lives.
We're talking about very low-skilled workers, and what you have sometimes is something that's…. It's a double-edged sword, where you've got these workers who are being enticed across the street by an employer that's prepared to pay them a dollar more an hour or something like that, and you've got perhaps a lack of inherent work skills that will enable a worker to be successful in, basically, any job. We come to work no matter what we're thrown into, but you know, we can more or less get it done. The work ethic is there. The inner strength is there.
I will never forget the business owner who said to me: "That's the new kid I hired, and I'm just having a hell of a time trying to get him to show up every day, show up on time every day, and show up dressed and ready to work and serve customers every day." This is the basics that we're talking about. We have business owners who are often the ones who are investing the time — and, of course, time is money; it's resources — into being the ones to train them up and get them to that level. Once they've been there for a while and they're on their own two feet and ready to go — well, they fly away, and the business owner is dealing with that. It's cyclical. It's over and over again.
I mean, you folks have some work to do around how you make it meaningful, how you make it not so wide in scope that it becomes a burdensome drain on coffers. How do you make it so that there are the effective checks and balances in place so that it doesn't become a free-for-all? We recognize those things, but what we also recognize is what we're hearing from our membership — that they need some help on that unskilled side.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): It's particularly on the low-skilled…?
S. Kurl: On the extremely low-skilled side.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Okay, entry.
D. Horne (Chair): Unfortunately, I have to cut us off there. Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now call our next presenter, Fortis British Columbia and David Bennett.
David, welcome to the committee. As you've heard several times now, you have ten minutes to present, followed by five minutes of questions, and your time begins now.
D. Bennett: I'm Dave Bennett, director of external relations with FortisBC. FortisBC is pleased to provide comments to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services as the committee builds its plans for the 2013 provincial budget. FortisBC is the largest energy utility in British Columbia, delivering natural gas, electricity and integrated energy solutions to over 1.1 million customers in 135 communities across the province. We employ over 2,300 British Columbians.
We are a subsidiary of Fortis Inc. based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Fortis is the largest investor-owned utility in Canada with over $13 billion in assets, over half of which are in British Columbia.
Over the past year B.C. has begun to take advantage of the extraordinary potential of our province's natural gas reserves. We believe that the newly identified shale gas reserves in northeast B.C. are an energy game changer and will drive economic growth, job creation and investment in our province for decades to come. As a cost-effective energy option, natural gas can help build new industries in British Columbia, including in remote areas.
Now, we've heard lots about liquefied natural gas for export, but liquefied natural gas is flexible, and it can be transported to remote areas in British Columbia and utilized for electric generation or distributed using piped energy infrastructure. This means that remote locations within British Columbia can now take advantage of new economic development opportunities, attracting investment and creating jobs while utilizing local energy resources.
Liquefied natural gas can increase the economic competitiveness within certain business sectors. For example, the mining sector will be able to realize these benefits, looking at lower fuel costs for things like mine haul trucks and even providing electricity into their operations through natural gas–fired generation. This leads to an overall decrease in operations costs as compared to other non-LNG-fuelled mine transportation.
The transportation sector is probably the largest growth opportunity in B.C. for natural gas use, offering significant economic and environmental benefits over diesel and gasoline. These benefits will transcend transportation sector customers by lowering overall costs of goods and services purchased within B.C., benefiting the province as a whole.
Natural gas is an ideal fuel choice for heavy-duty return-to-base fleets, which require high fuel volume and little refuelling infrastructure. This gets around the problem of not having enough vehicle fuelling stations, not having to duplicate the fuelling station infrastructure we have in the province for gasoline and diesel, and that's why we're focusing on that. Natural gas offers a 30-to-50 percent fuel savings relative to gasoline and diesel.
The transportation sector in British Columbia accounts for nearly 40 percent of provincial greenhouse gas emissions. I think most people are surprised to think that it's actually the biggest user of energy in the province. Natural gas offers a 20-to-30 percent emission reduction relative to gasoline and diesel fuels, depending on engines and applications.
Through a new regulation released by the provincial government earlier this year, FortisBC will provide vehicles incentive funding to assist heavy-duty fleet operators in changing their fleets from diesel or gasoline to natural gas. These incentives will help offset the slightly higher capital cost of natural gas vehicles, and applications are currently under review. The first round of funding — we're currently working with the parties that were interested — will provide up to $22 million in funding to over 19 independent fleet operators. That's about 400 vehicles that we've had interest in, just in the first round of this funding.
Natural gas is also a viable transportation fuel in the marine industry and rail sectors, and we'd encourage the provincial government to support the use of natural gas in these applications, which will reduce operating costs and, in turn, provide lower rates for B.C. consumers. I think B.C. Ferries is the one that pops to mind, struggling with costs. It's an opportunity for them to lower their fuel costs, if they can get natural gas working in their fleet.
Moving on to renewable natural gas, we believe that meeting our province's environmental goals must be achieved in a manner that is economically sustainable, keeping British Columbia on a path of economic growth and job creation.
FortisBC's renewable natural gas program provides our customers with an option to purchase a blend of renewable and conventional natural gas. The program was recently recognized by the climate action secretariat as a carbon-neutral energy source, which means that public sector organizations can now utilize renewable natural gas to meet their environmental goals. This committee recommended — I think it was a couple of years ago — that it be carbon tax–exempt, so we thank you for that. It has been carbon tax–exempt, I think, for a couple of years now.
Moving on to B.C.'s carbon tax, the carbon tax aims to reduce emissions by providing an economic incentive for doing so, and FortisBC encourages the government to explore further policies within the spirit of this legislative initiative. There are situations where businesses don't have options in terms of using fossil fuels, and one suggestion that we would have to improve the effectiveness of B.C.'s carbon tax would be providing an exemption to be granted for parties that invest in B.C.-based carbon offset projects through the purchase of verified and validated carbon credits.
Parties that offset their carbon emissions through this mechanism should not have to pay carbon tax. If this mechanism were put in place, we believe it would stimulate the creation of more offset projects that reduce carbon emissions in the province and give an opportunity to some of these businesses that are stuck — another way of being able to meet what the goal of the tax is.
Like many large employers in the province, FortisBC is challenged to meet workforce requirements due to evolving demographics and skills shortages. Many of our employees are eligible to retire over the next five years, and we must work together with the provincial government and educational institutions to prepare students for jobs in B.C.'s energy sector.
FortisBC looks to the provincial government to provide support that will increase the pool of students pursuing energy sector–related careers. We also encourage support for K-through-12 programs which focus on math and sciences, such as FortisBC-funded Green Bricks program, which assists in expanding the number of students considering post-secondary education in related subjects.
Last topic. We'd suggest that the provincial government continue to encourage public-private partnerships specific to developing integrated energy systems with public — that's provincial and municipal — buildings. Public-private collaboration can deliver value by drawing on the expertise and financial resources of the private sector, meeting the energy needs of the public sector. It will negate the need for government to invest in energy infrastructure upgrades and assist public entities in meeting their carbon-neutral goals.
FortisBC, in collaboration with the provincial government through the public sector energy conservation agreement, PSECA, has successfully developed one of these projects — an integrated energy solution for the Delta school district.
Through a combined investment of $6.4 million, FortisBC is replacing and upgrading the energy infrastructure in 19 buildings across the district. This project lowers costs for the district an estimated $180,000 per year as well as the school district's carbon footprint, reducing energy usage by 45 percent and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 69 percent.
I attended a groundbreaking event yesterday at Neilson Grove Elementary. They were actually drilling the loop field for the geothermal project there.
It's a great opportunity to free up resources that the government otherwise has to spend on energy and have the private sector provide that. We provide a utility-type cost that's known to the school district, and that money can be reinvested in classrooms.
It's also a great teaching opportunity. The students are very interested in seeing some of these new technologies. So we'd encourage that kind of investment to continue.
That's my comments for today. Thank you for listening.
D. Horne (Chair): Thanks, Dave, for your presentation.
D. Hayer: Thank you very much, David. You have offices in my constituency. We really appreciate the jobs you create there.
My question is B.C. Ferries. If they were to switch to natural gas, how much savings do you think they can probably make on the gasoline bills? What you're saying in here is a 30 to 50 percent decrease, dollarwise — right?
The second thing is that some constituents feel that if we have liquefied natural gas being sent overseas to Asia, maybe that will mean the natural gas price in B.C. will increase. Do you have any views on that? The supply will not affect the price…. Or will it actually affect the local price because we're sending it to Asia?
D. Bennett: Well, maybe I'll deal with the first one — the B.C. Ferries one. Yes, the pricing would be very similar for B.C. Ferries as we're seeing in the road trucking sector. Natural gas is just a lot less expensive.
The trick is that the ferries have to be redesigned, and it's more the fuelling systems. The engines run well on natural gas, but it's where you store the fuel.
So there's some work that needs to be done there, and B.C. Ferries will need support. You know, as you go through something new…. The long-term benefit is that lower fuel cost, definitely.
D. Hayer: So 50 percent lower?
D. Bennett: Yeah, it's 30 to 50. I mean, if you look at natural gas, the price per unit of energy, it's about 10 percent, I think, of the price of diesel. But when you add the cost of moving it and getting it in place, it works out to be 30 to 50 percent less expensive.
On the export market. I was formerly director of gas supply for FortisBC, so I know this subject pretty well.
The issue probably we have in North America right now with the changes in the technology is that the amount of supply we have available will make B.C. very challenged to be able to sell its natural gas domestically. So I think the export market is needed to a certain extent. It takes an awful lot of development before you would see it having an impact on prices.
The other thing you've got to keep in mind is that shale gas is also something that's happening worldwide. So we have to keep in mind we're competing with other suppliers, and the actual cost of producing the natural gas with this shale gas has dropped. It's a lot less expensive to produce than it formerly was when there were shortages.
G. Coons: Thank you, David. I was going to talk about Ferries also. The key issue is the transition of the machinery to be able to do that and the cost to the whole fleet.
I've got two questions. One, you talk about exemptions as far as the carbon tax, the exemptions granted to parties that are doing offset projects and contributing. I assume Fortis is doing that.
The other one is…. You talk about skills and training in the future and the challenge with that. What is Fortis doing right now as far as trying to meet their challenges as far as the workforce?
D. Bennett: You were asking about the offset projects. I guess probably the best examples are some of our demand-side management programs. We're actually working with Pacific Carbon Trust on our boiler programs, where we encourage people to convert their boilers to more efficient systems.
That actually creates a B.C.-based offset. It puts people to work in B.C. installing new boilers. That's where we're saying that it should be focused on B.C.-based projects, rather than looking at offsets outside the province. I think that's the goal of the carbon tax: to try and reduce emissions and reinvest in the province.
On the second question, we have a lot of training that we do as a company. We also encourage things…. We have things like programs for people who are disadvantaged, trying to teach them how to do energy efficiency upgrades. We run that program around the province jointly with B.C. Hydro.
I mentioned the Green Bricks program in K-through-12. We also work with UBC. They have a master's in engineering and clean energy, and we support that program. We have our own, supporting co-op students internally within the company, efforts like that — training, upgrading training for people who are employees. So we work across the board. But we're always looking for opportunities to do more, because it is a significant issue, getting those skilled workers.
D. Horne (Chair): We have less than a minute, and I'm going to let both Pat and Mable ask a question. I'll start with Pat, but please make both the questions and answers brief.
P. Pimm: I'll try to make this as quick as I can. I actually did a fairly substantial report on this stuff and gave it to the Minister of Energy quite a while back. One of the recommendations was to make some changes to section 18. I assume that is what happened on…. You have the new $19 million worth of funding.
I'll very familiar with the first round of Vedder funding. Can you explain the next round of that funding and how it could be applied for and affects communities?
D. Bennett: It's a five-year program — I'll make it short — with up to $105 million available of which, I think, about $62 million is directly available for incentive funding.
So our first round was just completed, and that's what I mentioned in my remarks, where we opened up for people to apply for the incentive funding. It was the section 18 that enabled this funding to take place.
The problem we may have, which is a good problem, is that the funding may be exhausted before the five years is up. But that's a good problem to have.
Our target is 1,500 vehicles, which would really get the natural gas for the transportation industry up and running in the province.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. My question was just following up on that in terms of the size of the industrial fleet in terms of the use of natural gas. So it sounds like it's pretty much just developing, and the retrofits would be a big contribution towards that.
Does the domestic…? Just cars and trucks — do they use natural gas at all? Is the cost in terms of retrofitting the fuel system primarily that it has to be pressurized?
D. Bennett: Well, it really is because there are fewer of them. It's just an incremental cost over the cost of a regular vehicle. We're focused on, rather than retrofitting vehicles, getting them from the manufacturer — like the Vedder vehicles. They're ordered directly from the truck manufacturer. They come with a full warranty. But because it's a unique system and there are fewer of them built, it's just supply and demand. There ends up being an incremental cost. There is really no reason in the long run why those fuelling systems should be a lot more expensive than a conventional gasoline fuelling system.
M. Elmore (Deputy Chair): So it's basically on the manufacturer end.
D. Bennett: It's on the manufacturing. And just very briefly, we are focused on the heavy-duty vehicle fleets because that's where the vehicles are available from the manufacturers. Right now in North America, for the small passenger vehicles, there's not the same supply available. In Europe you see them.
Heavy-duty vehicle fleets, if you're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are actually much better because they're running all the time. You think of passenger cars. They go for an hour, and then they stop all day, and then they go for an hour home again, so not the same impact. As a focus, that's something that will happen probably elsewhere in North America, bigger markets. Then if that's the right thing, we can adopt that. But we're focused on the heavy-duty sector.
D. Horne (Chair): Thank you so much for your presentation.
We'll now call our last presenter for the day. Well — for the day; I shouldn't say that — for Coquitlam. We're moving to Abbotsford later today. I'll call the Coquitlam Teachers Association. The CTA is represented by Jason and Teresa.
Welcome, both. As you've heard several times now, you have ten minutes to present followed by five minutes of questions, and you can begin now.
J. Giles: Excellent. Well, thank you for having us. We were on the wait-list, and then we got the call so we raced down here in my family-mobile and appreciate that you have time for us.
Over the past decade our education system has lost 1,500 specialist teachers, including 750 special needs teachers alone. This is happening when there are more children than ever requiring extra classroom attention. We need to ensure that every school has the learning-specialist teachers required to meet the needs of its diverse population. That means restoring teacher-librarian positions, ESL teachers as required, learning-assistance teachers, counsellors, special education teachers and more.
Last year over 1,500 classes in Coquitlam school district required Bill 33 consultations regarding class composition violations. Class compositions range with students who have mild to severe behaviour challenges, physical and neurological learning difficulties and adapted or modified IEPs. Not noted in these composition violations are the students who have language barriers, have social and emotional difficulties at school and/or live in poverty.
Times have changed, and Coquitlam teachers are being pulled in more directions than ever before. The chronic underfunding of the school system has drastically affected the teachers' ability to meet the needs of all their students. Wait times for student assessments continue to rise, yet our teachers are expected to continue on with little or no support. In Coquitlam class composition and the declining number of specialist teachers in the school are an enormous burden on the system and the educational community.
B.C. lags behind other provinces in improving funding support for public schools. While funding for elementary and secondary public schools increased across Canada between '05 and '06 and '09 and '10, B.C. ranked at or near the bottom in terms of the percentage of increases in education expenditures in all key areas.
On behalf of the teachers of Coquitlam, the Coquitlam Teachers Association would like to remind the Standing Committee on Finance about the most valuable resources on the planet. It's not gold, oil or minerals; it's the children who sit in our classrooms. The students are the most precious of resources, and teachers work to cultivate and nurture them to become active and meaningful contributors to our society as they grow.
We urge the government to restore proper levels of funding and support to public education so as to enhance the learning experience of every student in the province.
G. Coons: Thank you so much, Jason and Teresa. We had Ian Cunliffe in this morning, talking about his trials and tribulations of, you know, the marathons to bring forward the issues of the underfunding. There's a bit of a debate about cuts to education versus the underfunding, I imagine. So I guess we have to be careful in our determination of how we analyze it. But again, we've seen over the years the huge decreases in librarians and special ed teachers and counsellors — the list goes on.
We start looking at restoring the proper levels. I think that's a key right there, when Susan Lambert was in talking about developing a plan — a plan moving forward over the years, versus saying this is what we need or want right now. So I think it's imperative that we hear from teachers from all over the province. We're hearing right now that there are issues, and we have to deal with that and acknowledge that kids are a valuable resource to the province.
Now, as far as funding, where would you suggest…? Again, here we are listening to people put forward proposals to increase funding. Not too often do we get people coming in and saying: "I'm not here to ask to open up the vault." But where would you suggest, to the members here, we could access funding to ensure that we have the proper levels of funding for education?
T. Grandinetti: Well, that's the difficulty that you have. You only have a certain piece of pie — right? — and everyone comes in, and they ask for money. I'd be lying if I didn't say that health and education are the two biggest pieces of that pie. But when you look at the total percentage of the provincial budget over the years, less has been spent on education than was previously.
So how do you rejig that? I don't have a magic formula for that either. It's tricky. People have said to give school boards the ability to tax locally. That's one piece that could happen. There's a danger there, of course, with school boards, but then there's a question of re-election. They would obviously weigh that — whether or not they wish to be re-elected. But that would be one ability for a source of revenue as well.
There's the ability also within school district budgets. I know that previous people have talked about carbon taxes. I know that school districts also have, I believe, carbon offsets that they need to do as well. I know that our district is actually quite a leader in the province as far as green initiatives. They've actually won a number of awards from, previously, B.C. Hydro and Fortis as far as their green initiatives. They do lead the way on that. So those types of things.
An answer? I don't have an answer. It's a question, I guess, of prioritizing and deciding where that money needs to go.
D. Horne (Chair): Since there are no more questions, maybe I'll ask one myself. It is my district, as you know.
I thank you for your presentation. I think we have a great district here and, obviously, our superintendent. I think we're, as a district, actually very innovative in many of the things we do. I thank you very much for what you do.
One of the questions I did have…. More of a constructive dialogue is important as we move forward and try to get things right and better. I think, really, that's what all of us are trying to do. I asked Susan Lambert yesterday, as well, when she was leaving —that is, about the recognition of the teaching assistants. Obviously, from your standpoint, while we've cut some special needs teachers, the number of special needs teaching assistants has increased dramatically from, I think, very few many years ago to almost 12,000 in the system now.
In your opinion, is that the right way to go, or is that a wrong road to be on? What's your feeling?
T. Grandinetti: I think that the more teaching assistants you can have in your system…. It's a good idea. They're not teachers, however, so to assume that you would have an individual who could determine curriculum, the best teaching methods and then be able to teach children, I don't think is the way to go.
The number of assistants has increased for a number of reasons. Districts of the government have realized that it's not possible to teach the diverse students that are in classrooms with just one teacher, so there has been some increase. The other piece, of course, that's happened over the years is the increasing numbers of types of students that are now in classrooms, where 20 years ago they just wouldn't be there. You wouldn't have a physically dependent child who required a nurse in a classroom 25 years ago. That could not happen without assistance there.
The other piece, of course, is that broad range. You have someone with a mild intellectual difficulty that just needs somebody to give them a bit of a boost and to sort of keep them on track. And then you've got that other end, where it's more about having the children see that these individuals are valuable and deserve time and should be included in society. There's that range.
I would say the greater the number of education assistants you can have in a classroom, the greater your ability to service a greater need, a greater variety of children, and the ability to create different programs so that you could, at the same time, have a half-dozen or a dozen different programs going with some additional assistants that were in there.
Is it the absolute answer? No. Is it a help? Absolutely. I would never say no to extra help.
D. Horne (Chair): Sure. Yeah, a balance is what you're saying. That's great.
J. Giles: Yeah, and I would add, too, that the education assistants are often assigned to particular students. And as I sort of touched on, there are the grey-area students that are not identified on any list but need the help just as much. Even the student who is maybe getting an average mark could be well above average by just having a little more attention.
D. Horne (Chair): More support. That's great. Well, thank you so much for being here today and for your presentation.
As I don't see anyone further in the audience who would be interested in speaking on the open mike, I'll look for a motion to adjourn.
The committee adjourned at 12:48 p.m.
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