1975 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 30th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 1975
[ Page 3573 ]
Department of Municipal Affairs estimates On vote 178. — 3573
The House met at 10 a.m.
CLERK: Hon. Members, in the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Speaker has taken the chair.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Liden in the, chair.
DEPARTMENT OF MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS
On vote 178: Minister's office, $76,172.
MR. H.A. CURTIS (Saanich and the Islands): The Minister appears to be awake, Mr. Chairman, which is an accomplishment in itself.
Because of a bill which is presently before the House dealing with amendments to the Municipal Act, I think it's going to be a little difficult to get into some of the points which could be covered otherwise. I don't believe that I am transgressing the rule regarding debate on the amendments to the Municipal Act by asking if this morning the Minister would just spend a few minutes with the committee to reassure us, to set at rest some doubts which, certainly, I hold, and which I believe are held by other Members on this side of the House, regarding the degree of co-ordination which exists between the Department of Municipal Affairs and such other departments or agencies as the Land Commission, the Department of Housing, the Energy Commission, the B.C. Development Corp., Department of Highways, and the land branch insofar as initiatives in land assembly are concerned.
In other words, I wonder if the Minister would indicate to the committee if he sees the role of the Department of Municipal Affairs, under his guidance, as one which is primarily concerned with offering assistance to municipalities in the narrow sense, on strictly municipal matters regarding the Act and interpretation of the Act, or if he recognizes that with the growth of government over the past number of years a number of agencies and departments make decisions, seek information and implement policies which, in fact, directly affect cities, district municipalities, towns and villages in the province. What is the input from his department? I could carry on a little later after the Minister, if he chooses, responds to that question and comment.
HON. J.G. LORIMER (Minister of Municipal Affairs): Mr. Chairman, I see the department as a basic liaison between all departments of government and any particular municipality. The day-to-day business of approval of bylaws and that sort of thing has to carry on in its normal course, but I don't see that as the major function of the department at all.
The question of co-ordination between departments, the question of co-ordination between commissions, municipalities and the department, I believe it is improving. We are working at it, at any rate, to try and get more consultation before things do happen. It's certainly not perfect; I do believe that it is improving, but I will accept the suggestion that we still have a fair distance to go to get it where it should be. There are a lot of things that do go on that you don't find about until after it's happened. All I'd say is that we're working at it and trying to improve it.
MR. CURTIS: Okay, that is understandable as far as it goes.
I think it's a matter of public record, Mr. Chairman, that soon after his appointment to this portfolio, in the fall of 1972, the Minister said — and I have to paraphrase — but, in effect, his message to the municipalities of British Columbia was that if you have a problem with another department of government, or if you seek information or answers or guidance from another department or agency — the Land Commission wasn't established at that point — whether it be B.C. Hydro or any department of government, do so through my office and we will assist you.
Now he can correct me if I am mistaken but I think he also implied that we will send someone with you as you go to see these other people in order to keep this degree of co-ordination in effect.
If I am wrong about how the Minister interpreted his position or task in the fall of 1972, then would he tell me? If so, has he managed to follow through on that suggestion or guide that was given to the municipalities of the province?
HON. MR. LORIMER: Basically I think the function of the department is to assist the municipalities in their dealings with other departments of government. As you say, I did state that I would do all I can to assist them in dealing with other departments. I don't actually walk with them from one department to another, but if they do not get satisfaction in one department I generally hear back and suggest that they notify me so I can check it out here. But when they are in Victoria I certainly don't go around with them, hand in hand, to the departments. I don't do that.
MR. CURTIS: Would someone take them, though?
HON. MR. LORIMER: On occasion. Generally what happens is that a council will come down from the interior or somewhere and want to see four or five departments in one or two days. We try to
[ Page 3574 ]
arrange a satisfactory time to see them all. Sometimes the MLAs for the particular constituency will do this themselves, but by and large it is done through our department. We line up meetings — some joint meetings and so on — so the work of the municipality can be done in one trip and maybe in one or two days so they can get down, have a full two days and get back home.
MR. CURTIS: Yesterday, when we were discussing the estimates of the Department of Highways with that Minister, there was considerable discussion relating to the approving officer or the approving function that still rests with that department. The Minister was here for that discussion, I believe. I wonder if we could hear his attitude this morning with respect to leaving that approving authority in the Department of Highways. How would he respond to the transfer of that authority to his department or to some other department?
It seemed to me, reviewing Hansard this morning, that the Minister of Highways (Hon. Mr. Lea) was quite sympathetic to the comments that were made about the approving officer and the merits of examining the transfer of that function out of the Highways department to elsewhere.
HON. MR. LORIMER: I don't believe there are any conflicts between the Minister of Highways and myself regarding the approval system. Historically it has been in the Department of Highways because the Department of Highways has people in the field throughout the province, whereas in our department we have a very limited number of people in the field.
I believe that eventually the approving function should be within Municipal Affairs because it is basically a neutral department where the interests of a variety of matters can be looked at. Basically the Highways department is concerned with the question of pressures on highways and looks only at one aspect of the whole planning function. I agree that it should be in Municipal Affairs, but I can't foresee it in the immediate future. We do not have the personnel to handle it. The delays that people complain about now would be much greater until we have trained people in the field. I think it is not too far down the road, but I think it is still a few years away.
MR. J.R. CHABOT (Columbia River): Just a brief question to the Minister. I was questioning the Minister of Housing (Hon. Mr. Nicolson) regarding an unusual situation which has developed in the community of Burns Lake where the government is in the process of establish ing a state-owned forest industry — Babine Forest Products. There was an unusual grant or subsidy, call it what you may, given to that community of approximately $350,000. That is over and beyond the on-site and off-site servicing of these state-owned lots, state-owned trailer parks and state-owned homes which are being established in that community. This is a most unusual precedent that has been established.
As I was questioning the Minister of Housing he informed me that there was no grant given from his department; it was given by the Department of Lands, Forests and Water Resources. I seem to be bounced on and on down the road. When I questioned the Minister of Lands (Hon. R.A. Williams) about this unusual precedent which was established in that community, he suggested that they will be looking after the interests of other municipalities relative to systems for water systems. Then he suggested that this would be done under the Department of Municipal Affairs.
Now I can't relate to you just what kind of assistance this is on a per capita basis, but it is substantial, I must admit. I'm wondering what kind of proposal the Minister has to give the kind of equal treatment which should exist from government vis-à-vis junior government in relation to what took place in Burns Lake.
In fact, the Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources suggested to me that there is a possibility — I believe you were nodding your head at the time as well — that legislation will be introduced or some form of proposal will take place that will ensure that other municipalities will get financial assistance for water systems, that this will not only pertain to communities that have state-owned forest industries underway. I'm wondering whether there will be legislation this session, legislation this fall, or what kind of assistance and what means do you propose to utilize to ensure there is fair treatment for municipalities in this province?
HON. MR. LORIMER: Well, as you mentioned, any funds spent in Burns Lake were not sent from our department. As I understand it, this was done as a water programme through the water rights branch, basically. Bill 110 does give provision for water assistance to all municipalities in the province. There is no question but that there will be equal treatment for all municipalities in this province.
Mind you, some municipalities do have the basic services already established and in place. The costs over the past few years have mounted steadily and rapidly. Some areas do require those facilities to be put in place either to replace worn out utilities or new ones completely. I think we have to look at these actual facts of life. Some municipalities require more funds than others just to keep the standard of living at basically the same level.
I would say the smaller communities, places like Golden and some of those areas, maybe need more in their share in assisting them in those programmes than I would say the larger cities, who probably have
[ Page 3575 ]
their facilities in place and don't require the assistance that some of the other communities do.
MR. A.V. FRASER (Cariboo): I just have a few observations to make here.
The Minister has not too controversial a department, and I am like the Member for Saanich and the Islands (Mr. Curtis): I think there is controversy in some of the bills and in a goof-up bill you have. So there will be some remarks made at that time.
The municipalities, it seems, this year....
HON. MR. LORIMER: Is that singular?
MR. FRASER: No, plural. There are quite a few wrinkles in that.
The taxes are up all over the province, and everybody in the municipalities is finding that out right about now, if they haven't already found out through their tax notices. I think they still have the usual difficulties acknowledging the fact that they did get extra assistance this year. I'm quite concerned that in a lot of municipalities the taxpayers aren't getting what they are paying for, but more on that later.
I'd like to deal for a minute with the transit services division that comes under this Minister, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to know how many buses you have in the system, which is mainly in the lower mainland, Victoria, Vancouver and so on, and what it costs to operate them. I don't know what is the latest you have, but apparently you have just made a statement that they have had a loss of $21 million. I don't know what year that referred to. The last I heard was $17 million. I think that was the fiscal year ending March 31, 1974. So I would ask the Minister when he is replying what.... He is quoted as saying, I believe, that there has been a loss of $21 million in the transit division of the Hydro operations. What does that mean — to the end of December, 1974, or the end of March, 1975, for the total fiscal year? I'm not too clear.
I would like to say, Mr. Chairman, that we over here don't deny the fact that there will have to be an operating loss. I think there has been some improvement in the transit service. But what I am really leading up to is that I'd like the Minister to consider some compensating effect for everything north of Hope in the Province of British Columbia. I think that these people are getting an extra subsidy that is not going to the people in the interior and the north of the province, for the simple reason that there are very few transit operations in the interior and the north.
While I am on that subject, I would like to know how many communities you are subsidizing on transit beyond, say, Hope and the Fraser Valley throughout the whole province.
I am aware of the fact that the City of Prince George has just had a plebiscite and they want to opt in. But I don't think there are very many actually in it in the interior — probably only Kamloops and Kelowna, if they are in. That's the point I'm trying to make.
The other thing is that this Minister, Mr. Chairman, is a director of B.C. Hydro. While we've whopped that pretty good, I recall that when we were dealing with a B.C. Hydro borrowing power increase, I raised the inadequacy of grants from the rural electrification assistance programme. It's been $3 million for some time. The Premier replied to me that he would see that it was put on the next board of directors' meeting for discussion. As this Minister is a member of the board of directors of Hydro I'd like to know if that really has been scheduled, because this $3 million is totally inadequate in view of the inflation that's happened over the years. I believe that $3 million vote has been the same now for four or five years, and really in effect it's only worth about $1 million today. Because of this, rural electrification is almost coming to a standstill in the rural areas of the province. I'd like to know just where that is at.
The reason I tie that into transit is that rural electrification is being subsidized out of the public Treasury. I know this is not this Minister's department; it comes out of Finance, but as a member of the board of directors of Hydro he should be hollering at the Finance department to increase this allocation in line particularly with the fact of the $21 million that he says the lower mainland transit system is getting. I think there should be some relativity there. I'm not suggesting it be the same, because we're dealing with a lot more citizens, but where one area of the province is getting a $21 million subsidy and three-quarters of the geographical area of the province is getting $3 million, there seems to be some inequity there of some kind.
I was happy, Mr. Chairman, to hear this Minister say that he'd like to see the highway approvals taken away and put in his department. I can assure you now that his department has nothing whatsoever to do with approvals of land use in the rural area, because Municipal Affairs send plans from the regional districts and municipalities and so on to the Highways department with their approval on them and they're killed when they get to the Highways department. They definitely have the final and last say on subdivision approvals. As the Minister said, all they think about is how many more vehicles are going to go on the highways. We need more space to live and we should dispersing the population of the province better then we have, and here we have the Highways policy really against this happening under the set-up that is there. They have absolute, full control and they veto more than they approve over a period of
[ Page 3576 ]
time. In fact I would say that of every 10 that go to the Highways department for approval nine of them are rejected because they don't like the access they're applying for; the highways approving officer doesn't like the access they're applying for based on the fact that it will put more vehicles on the road. I think the Highways department should take a different look and decide to upgrade the highways to look after this increased traffic. That would be the reply. I wish the Minister would exert some more pressure within cabinet to really have more to say than you have now on approving subdivisions in relation to the Highways department.
The last item. Again, this is not his department, but it affects every municipality, and I refer to the assessment authority levy this year throughout the province on municipalities and the rural areas of 1.17 mills to operate that assessment authority. I don't know whether the Minister has analyzed this or not, but it appears that some municipalities have had their assessment costs tripled through this blanket levy. In other words they have their own assessment departments. The assessment authority has taken this completely over and levied the 1.17 mills. I'd like to ask the Minister in closing if his department has had any time to analyse this. I understand the City of Vancouver have had hundreds of thousands of dollars increase for them. I am aware of several interior municipalities that have been increased substantially. I'd like to know just overall if it has been a benefit to the municipalities of the province or an increased liability.
HON. MR. LORIMER: Mr. Chairman, the amount of the transit deficit is for the fiscal year 74/75. The deficit for 75/76 will be larger than last year as there are more services given out into the more rural areas.
Areas which have received services outside of the metropolitan areas in 1974 were Kitimat, Nanaimo, Nelson and Powell River. In 1975 there will be Port Alberni, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, Kitimat, Nanaimo, Nelson and Powell River. So there is a substantial increase between '74 and '75. Those areas will not make money; there's no financial gain in the transit system. Where the profits are made, if there are any to be made, is in the charters and in express, but in local areas there isn't that much express and there may be some charter service.
With regard to rural electrification, the question will be coming before the Hydro board meeting at the next meeting. Although work has been continuing on rural electrification, I'm in agreement with you that the amount spent on that aspect may be low.
Assessments, as you know, are not within my frame of reference. I do have complaints from the cities — quite a number of them — that the costs to them appear to be greater than they were before. I have no way of arguing with that assumption. I'm told that the amount paid by the provincial government is also greater. Presumably the function itself is costing more as inflation takes hold. As you know, the assessment authority was set up in consultation and by request of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in conjunction with a committee report — I think you were a member as well as myself. I don't know what to say in regard to the costs. They do seem to be higher than was anticipated and we hope that something can be done. I have advised the authority that we are getting complaints from the municipalities. We are looking into the matter, but I can't promise any end result.
Of course, one other problem is that the municipalities do look at what they have figured out the cost to be and what it's costing them now, but on the other side of the ledger some of them may be not analyzing the rents that are being paid to the municipality for the use of the space or, if space is not being used, the fact that the municipality has this extra space for other services. I don't know if that's true in all cases or not, but I think it does apply in some areas so that the additional costs may not be as great as some of the municipalities think, but I do believe that the costs are greater.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON (Victoria): Mr. Chairman, I'd like to start off this morning by mentioning a problem which is of increasing importance to the City of Victoria, and which is essentially under this Minister's department, namely the problem that comes up with the 15-mill freeze on provincial government grants to the city in lieu of taxes, In the old days it may have made sense, Mr. Minister; I am sure you realize that. It may have made sense when the mill rate was lower and therefore the gap would be less between 15 mills and whatever the mill rate of the city might be. But the mill rate has gone up very, very substantially. The margin has increased enormously, and a 15-mill rate for provincial property, or I should say grant in lieu of tax, simply has become totally inadequate.
Now this is a problem throughout the province. The Minister is fully aware of this. It's a problem in every community where there happens to be provincial buildings or provincial land, but in the City of Victoria it has become a problem of absolutely crushing and critical importance. The City of Victoria has within its boundaries 106 properties listed as belonging to the provincial government — 106 properties. The provincial assessed value of the land is $2,778,000 and the assessed value of the improvements is $22,838,560. Now since that date for which I gave those figures, which is December 31, the province has purchased more properties, some of which are vacant, and in addition the province has announced the construction of a new complex which will be somewhat under S20 million and will be 2.5 million feet of office space in the downtown area,
[ Page 3577 ]
virtually doubling the office space in the Victoria area.
Now for the City of Victoria this is one of those offers you can't refuse. It's going to be a very attractive building. They have been involved to a certain extent, and I congratulate the Minister for his efforts along this line, in some discussions on the building that there will be and on the plan of it, but in terms of the tax rate it's an absolute disaster for the citizens of Victoria, Why? Because while they can't afford to turn down an attractive complex of this nature, they can hardly afford to have it within the city boundaries when they only get, at the present, one-third of the money they would otherwise receive.
Now school costs, hospital costs and what-have-you are the same — no difference whether you have a provincial government building or whether you have a private building. Policing is the same; water is the same; sewerage is the same. All these things are the same and they hit the City of Victoria very hard; they hit it in the neck.
In the Victoria area we now lose some hundreds of thousands of dollars from the provincial government's failure to provide the full tax rate. Very shortly, this figure will reach $2 million to $3 million in lost tax revenue. I speak for my constituents when I say that we're not a wealthy community. We have an enormous number of people on fixed incomes, the highest percentage of people who are elderly and on old age pensions of probably any community in the country. The only possible exception might be Oak Bay, but I doubt it. I think that Oak Bay and ourselves have this enormous number of people who are senior citizens on fixed incomes. Oak Bay certainly does not have our problem of the government loading us with these new gifts, these great new provincial buildings which in turn are a constant hemorrhage on the financial health of the City of Victoria, and which in turn must be put on the backs of those senior citizens who are resident here.
The situation, Mr. Minister, as I mentioned, has become worse, not better, since this government took over. It is not something that you can blandly blame on the previous administration. Sure, the system was set up by the previous administration. The system was set up by them, and it was a bad system. But because of the increasing mill rate, and the fixed level of the provincial one, the gap is widening. As the federal government did some years ago after similar outcry, it's time that the provincial government faced up to the fact that provincial buildings should pay their way. We now get more money from the federal....
I wonder whether the Member from.... Would you mind just toning it down just a little? You're fairly close to me and you make a lot of noise.
I wonder whether if the Minister is aware of the fact that at the present time grants in lieu from the federal government are greater than those from the provincial in the capital city of the Province of British Columbia. They don't have as much, as far as I can see, in the way of installations here, yet they pay more. There just seems to be no earthly reason for that at all, Mr. Minister. I do feel that you should, as Minister of Municipal Affairs, look into this situation which, of all cities in the province, is far the worst in the City of Victoria.
I would point out that you've been in touch with the mayor on this, and you've been in touch with the council. Because of the emergency situation they face, the council has had to set up a special committee of Alderman Mike Young, the city manager and the City Comptroller, Mr. Sheldrake. They are having another look at this because of the enormous tax burden which you are shafting onto the ordinary citizens of our community.
I can only urge the Minister at this time to come up with something a little more concrete than the normal noises of sympathy which he is so good at making. Now I know this is a sympathetic Minister, and I realize that lie does understand the problem, but it's something more than just a few words of kindness that we need. It's action. The Minister's concern really isn't going to do very much for the city. The Minister's action might, and it sure is time we had a little action in this area. Mr. Chairman, perhaps as a first point, the Minister would look at that.
I'd just like to read into the record a letter of a little over a year ago to me from the Mayor of Victoria, Peter Pollen. It's a letter about this matter which, I believe, I've not read to the Minister before, but the situation's unchanged — I shouldn't say it's unchanged, it's worse than it was at that time. I'm surprised that over a year later I have to again bring it to his attention, The second paragraph of the mayor's letter to me, dated April 2, 1974:
"I would point out, however, there is a very serious question confronting the City of Victoria, that is the question of the 15 mill tax paid by the provincial government. The answer to this problem, of course, is that the provincial government should follow the practice currently followed by the federal government, which is to pay a grant in lieu of full taxes. The growing presence of the provincial government within the City of Victoria constitutes a continuing erosion of our tax base from the normal, approximately, 48 mill level to the 15 mill level granted by the government."
The mayor is right. It's just a continual erosion of the tax base. If it was simply money that was not received, and that was all there was to it, fine, but it's actually money that's not received which must be
[ Page 3578 ]
made up elsewhere. The way to make it up elsewhere, because of the way our federal-provincial-municipal structure is constituted, is by an increased burden upon the backs of the local taxpayers.
So I urge the Minister to get up and give me some concrete information, better than what he gave last year, about the problem of the capital city and the refusal of the provincial government to pay its fair share. It is a major municipal problem and should be the major concern of this Minister.
The second point I would like to ask the Minister about is the province's role in the development of the capital city. The provincial authorities have made some statements — sometimes they come from the Minister of Public Works (Hon. Mr. Hartley); sometimes they come from the Member for Esquimalt (Mr. Gorst); sometimes they come from the Premier. Essentially it is a municipal matter, and I would like to know from this Minister what is going to happen in the way of the province setting up a provincially constituted agency in this area to handle either just the legislative precinct or all provincially owned property in the greater Victoria area.
We now have land that was formerly Marathon land that was owned by other principals on the harbour, provincial government property stretching throughout James Bay, provincial government property in a minimum of 106 other sites in town. Are you setting up some sort of authority to take care of this? If so, what is the connection with civic authorities? I believe the civic authorities have the best planning unit of any in the area. It is better than the regional board and the provincial government's planning authority for the area, to my mind. Certainly, they should be fully involved. We live here and we have some idea, expressed through our aldermen, as to what we want. For the provincial government to ignore this, as they have done, and to have such a poor record, as they have, of cooperation with the civic authorities, is most disappointing for me as the provincial Member.
I would like to read you an excerpt from the Planning Institute of British Columbia. It is a press release of February 7, 1974, in which they talk about this problem. They talk about Provincial Secretary Ernie Hall, who is another involved in this area. We have more Ministers involved, with more little empires and less co-ordination, than you can shake a stick at.
"The recent news reports of Provincial Secretary Hall's remarks on new controls of development in the province's capital are both puzzling and disturbing."
This is from the Planning Institute of British Columbia who claim that provincial talk of controls on development are "puzzling and disturbing."
"There appears to be recognition that local development controls have been inadequate in the past, and we can agree with this. However, the problem is not limited to Victoria, and a thorough revision of the philosophy and content of the Municipal Act is the most logical and immediate method of overcoming the basic deficiencies.
"We understand that the government is perturbed about so-called high-rises adjacent to the Legislature and are considering special legislation to place additional authority in a provincially constituted agency. We wonder if this is either necessary or desirable. Most local governments in British Columbia have faced their development problems reasonably well within the constraints of the prevailing attitudes of society, very limited legislation, few programmes of financial assistance and a poor record of cooperation in the development actions of the provincial government. The latter has been a particular problem in Victoria where the province is, in effect, the largest developer of all.
[Mr. Dent in the chair.]
"Community attitudes have changed dramatically in recent years and Victoria's response to these changes has been remarkably rapid and pioneering in many respects. Policies in the process of implementation include termination of the high-rise development close to the Legislature.
"Perhaps Mr. Hall is not familiar with the city's work. It must therefore be particularly galling for Victoria's aldermen to hear of a new system being considered that implies distrust of their ability to pursue particular development objectives."
I am quoting, Mr. Minister, from the Planning Institute of British Columbia, which is headquartered in Vancouver. The Minister knows it and shakes his head in agreement with me because he knows they are a responsible body. They are talking about this city; it is not about their own city. They are perfectly clear in pointing out that we do not need to have a provincial authority set up in this area which is outside of the municipal structure. What we need is for the province to face up to its responsibilities to the municipality, not the province to go out and set things up on their own. I wonder if the Minister would like to consider that.
I might add, Mr. Chairman, that this is also important with respect to the Marathon holdings and the Princess Marguerite. Once again I would like to quote from a paragraph of a letter signed by Mayor Peter Pollen, dated April 9, 1975, and addressed to the Hon. David Barrett.
[ Page 3579 ]
"Dear Mr. Premier:
"Re: provincial acquisition of Marathon holdings and the Princess Marguerite:
"The Victoria City Council was very pleased to hear of the province's decision to acquire Marathon holdings, the federal lands in the Inner Harbour and the Princess Marguerite. We congratulate you most sincerely for making this decision.
"The press release, or perhaps more euphemistically the fact sheet dealing with the purchase, has been reviewed by council and we are gravely concerned, notwithstanding your personal assurances, that no reference whatsoever has been made to the city's position with respect to the development of this property, Although the possibility of the removal of the Black Ball ferry to the Marguerite docks was mentioned, no other suggestion of cooperation was outlined.
"We now have four agencies, perhaps even five, including the federal government, working in the Inner Harbour apparently for their own partisan aggrandizement — the City of Victoria Capital Improvement District Commission, Department of Public Works, Department of Lands, Forests and Water Resources. Surely in the name of intelligence and in the spirit of cooperation, and above all, in the interests of our total community, some co-ordination must be undertaken. May I extend to you the utmost and unqualified support of the city in the establishment of this instrumentality."
Well, that's the offer from the mayor. I'd like to know from the Minister, since April 9 when this offer was made, what has been done to get together with the other governments and authorities to work out some cooperative arrangements for planning and development of the harbour. I think it's most important that this be done. I think the mayor's offer should be acted upon. The letter was addressed to the Premier, not to this Minister, but, clearly, as municipal Minister he should be involved and have the primary responsibility. Indeed I think that he should have, because of the attitude of this Minister. He has been sympathetic in the past; I think he's the type of person the city could work with quite well. I hope that he will indeed be given the authority and can indicate to us today that he is taking steps himself to make sure that the cooperation that Mayor Pollen talks about comes to pass.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Before the Hon. Member proceeds too far, I would call his attention to Bill 127 on the order paper which deals with some of these areas. I would ask him to realize that he may debate these matters under Bill 127.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: Mr. Chairman, I'm looking forward to debating them under this Bill 127, but I'm also interested in having the Minister of Municipal Affairs say a word or two because Bill 127 is under the authority of the Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources (Hon. K.A. Williams). The very point I'm trying to make to you — which apparently you haven't quite grasped yet, but the Minister has — is that the Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources should get his grubby hands off the property in the Inner Harbour and allow this Minister, the Municipal Affairs Minister, to take on primary responsibility for provincial government co-ordination with the City of Victoria.
I have no reason, Mr. Chairman, to doubt that your caution is well meant. I certainly will not discuss this bill which the explanatory notes indicate is to amend the Department of Lands, Forests and Water Resources Act to enable the Minister to incorporate a company to carry out ferry and shipping services, Crown land planning, development and management, and incorporate some subsidiary companies as may be necessary in other jurisdictions to operate a ferry and shipping service.
Now you have indicated, by your statement on that bill, something which I didn't realize — that perhaps under that omnibus bill, that awesome, sweeping powers bill, the little power that's left to this poor Minister of Municipal Affairs may indeed be greatly eroded. I didn't think so, but you've indicated that that may be the case, and in which case I'm disappointed because I like this Minister. I would think he should have more opportunity in the municipal field, and not have that grasping Minister who sits next to him move outwards and take over the municipal relationship with Victoria which should be under this particular Minister.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: The Member for Kamloops (Mr. G.H. Anderson) is trying to suggest something about the Inner Harbour in Victoria. He can speak later in this debate at any time he likes.
Mr. Chairman, the second point is the question of amalgamation. On July 10, I believe — it's either 10th or 9th, about that time — there was an article which had the headline: "Municipal Status May Come Within Year, Says Lorimer." Well, the year's getting on; we have less than a month to go. I wonder what his plans are for Colwood, Langford and View Royal. These areas are not organized as a municipality, and as the deadline is fast approaching, it's time the Minister came up with information on what his plans are for Colwood, Langford and View Royal.
A year ago the Minister had a meeting with representatives of the seven greater Victoria municipalities and the regional board of directors
[ Page 3580 ]
representing those unorganized communities. He told a press conference after the meeting that the directors of the capital regional board agreed to take definite steps towards cooperation of Colwood, Langford and View Royal. At the same time he expressed his disappointment that the municipal officials were opposed to any form of amalgamation of two or more of the seven municipalities, namely Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney.
Now there are two distinct questions here. One is that area which was the subject of the headline in the Daily Colonist. The other was the question of the seven existing municipalities being brought together. Now he made these statements a year ago. He put a year's deadline on this. He talked about a possible referendum or possible government decree, laying down the amalgamation as happened elsewhere in the province. He's indicated there would be the promise of financial assistance as an incentive towards amalgamation. All these things were brought out by the Minister at that time and yet nothing really seems to have happened.
Perhaps he will report not only on what the situation is, but what his attitude is, because apparently his attitude is going to be particularly important.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: The Minister would like my opinion? I'll be happy to consult with him in his office right after this, because I have some excellent material for him on this matter. I appreciate the Minister offering. That's the type of generous response to the opposition this Minister shows.
I remember once, Mr. Chairman, if I can digress here for a moment, when the Minister was trying to figure out some system of busing, and he said on the air: "You know, I am having a meeting with the mayor of Vancouver and a few other people and I sure hope they've got some ideas, because I don't have very many myself." That's the type of candid, honest approach which we appreciate in this Minister. That's why we far prefer to have him dealing with the municipalities, in particular the municipality of Victoria, than the Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources (Hon. R.A. Williams) because he is open to other people's opinions and ideas. I genuinely wish to congratulate him for this outward-looking, expansive view that he has, because it really is encouraging as an MLA for the Minister to ask opposition Members for their views.
MR. G.S. WALLACE (Oak Bay): I'll tell him what I think of amalgamation!
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: I'll be in his office at 12 o'clock, if that suits the Minister. We'll go over this in some detail.
Now the question of bus service has come up. B.C. Hydro has lost a packet of money, I believe $17 million, on bus services. We have the new Fastbus painted all those pretty colours — none of that old Socred green and all that stuff.
HON. MR. LORIMER: It's alive!
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: It's alive, the Minister said. Excellent. They're nice, clean, new buses purchased without tender from Flyer Industries and other places, but the fact of the matter is we now have a bus service which is simply costing us more and more and more money.
I hope the Minister will get up and give some clear figures on what is the increase in use of the buses. We have this province owning everything from double-decker buses here in Victoria, right through to express services up-island. The next thing I expect them to take over is the Tally-Ho horse-drawn carriages. He's taken over pretty well everything else.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: The Member says they have already got one part of the horse, but when they take over those two-horse power vehicles that plod the streets of Victoria with non-polluting — or at least bio-degradable — exhaust, well upholstered in leather, I'll be interested.
But before then, could he tell me how much there has been in the way of an increase in use of the buses? Can he tell me whether we are in a position to predict a break-even point for transit in the future? Can he tell me whether we are in a position to look forward to where the bus utilization, the number of passengers per bus during rush hours and outside of rush hours, is considered to be an adequate one? At the current time it is totally inadequate. The Minister and I both know this from travelling on the bus, from being one of three or four or five people on the bus.
Are we moving up? Are we slowly changing public attitudes towards public transit? Are we getting to a situation where it is not just a question of enormously increasing the number of buses and the deficit, and only taking a dozen or two dozen or three dozen cars off the road when you are leaving thousands of cars on the road? Are we getting to a position where we can see public transit being a genuine factor in decreasing congestion, a genuine factor in reducing the use of non-renewable fuel resources, a genuine factor in reducing the requirements for bridges, roads, parking and other things?
Now the Minister is most interested in this. He's taken a keen personal interest, and public transit, and
[ Page 3581 ]
I am sure he knows this, was a major factor in many of his speeches prior to election. He knows something about it and he is interested in it, but at the present time we seem to have the worst of everything. We are neither taking enough people out of the cars on the road, nor are we creating a system which is economical. We are getting large numbers of buses, even larger numbers of cars, and vast deficits. So the Minister should be able to let us know what is going to happen in the near future.
As I have a minute or two more, Mr. Chairman, I wonder whether the Minister could indicate also what plans are for bike paths, because that is another area where you can take people out of their cars and not only give them an opportunity for cutting down on congestion, but give them an opportunity for more exercise. What steps is he taking to encourage bike paths in Vancouver, Victoria or in any other city?
Another point would be the Highland district. Mr. Minister, I've questioned on that district time after time and have received no real decision. Are you planning your 30,000-person development in the Highland area? Are you planning to continue that original proposal to make the Highland area the new growth centre for subdivisions, probably either condominium or apartment or high-rise, in the greater Victoria area? Is the Highland area, which is now virtually unpopulated — only two or three thousand people — to become a new city of 30,000?
I'm running short of time, but that's something I'll leave with the Minister. What is happening with the Highland area? People there don't know what is going to happen in the future. They don't know what to do to develop their land. There's a 10-acre freeze on at the present time. They're simply left in limbo and the Minister knows that a home is probably the major investment of any citizen. They just don't know whether to make improvements or whether they should sell out and turn it over to some other use. So I wonder whether the Minister would go into that.
Mr. Chairman, another quick point, as the green light is on, and that is the money paid to the municipalities out of this so-called gas revenue. When are we going to get that fiction wiped out and when are we going to get revenues to the municipalities not based upon the fluctuating returns of a non-renewable resource? When are we going to have fixed expenditures of the municipalities met by fixed amounts of money according to a decent formula based upon regular revenue instead of fluctuating revenue? When are we going to switch this gas revenue to the regular general revenue of the province as it should be and when are the municipalities going to get a chunk of the standard taxes raised within their communities such as income tax, such as liquor profits, such as gasoline tax? There's no way, Mr. Chairman, that the gas revenues to the municipalities make any sense at all, in light of the fact that this is a fluctuating revenue which will inevitably go down in the future and the expenditures of the municipalities are essentially fixed and steady from year to year, steadily increasing from year to year.
HON. MR. LORIMER: Mr. Chairman, first of all on the taxation question, you understand that's not within my terms of reference but I will make a few remarks on it. Regarding the 15-mill grant, you've never heard me speak in support of that proposition. I would say that parts of the McMath terms of reference deal specifically with this subject. We will undoubtedly have a report back from that commission in the near future.
On the question of development of land in Victoria, from our department's point of view we have no more authority or control in Victoria than we have in any other municipality. Any provincial activity in Victoria is basically through other departments and not through Municipal Affairs. It's true that the City of Victoria doesn't get its full share of taxes due to the grant representing basically 15 mills, but you might be surprised to know that probably Victoria's not the worst-hit city in that connection. I think you'll find that Burnaby, for one, probably loses more financial support than Victoria. There is far more acreage of government-owned land in that area than here — likewise in Coquitlam.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: Including improvements?
HON. MR. LORIMER: Not improvements, no. In land acreage, which is basically where your problem is. One of the problems is extension of services where there are no consumers. You have areas like Oakalla, the Woodlands, Essondale and those areas. It's a very expensive operation for a municipality. But I've never defended this proposition and I expect that we will get a recommendation from the commission.
As far as lack of cooperation with the City of Victoria in development of provincial lands, I don't think that's accurate. I know a number of people make statements at different times. However, I think that there has been substantial cooperation and I've had no problems with the mayor of Victoria or the council in any of my dealings. I think we've been able to resolve any problems that existed quite amiably. I don't know of any specific instance where there has in fact not been cooperation. I may be incorrect on that; I don't really know. I know there have been a number of stories in the newspapers about complaints and so on of that kind, but I don't think that too many of the complaints have been valid.
As far as the letter from the mayor to the Premier, I'm not aware of that matter but I'll meet with the mayor any time he wants to discuss any of these problems that seem to be bothering the city.
[ Page 3582 ]
Amalgamation. I did have a meeting with the mayors of all seven communities in the greater Victoria area, together with the regional district representatives of Colwood, Langford and View Royal, with reference to a possible political realignment of the communities to take into consideration the changes that have developed over the last 50 years, and to recognize the fact that things have turned around and that possibly they should be looking at a new alignment. I might say that the reception was not that warm — the city fathers were quite happy the way things were. So, basically, I dropped the matter until they decide on their own, or the people decide for them, that they want to have a realignment.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: No legislation like Kamloops or Kelowna?
AN HON. MEMBER: You got burned there.
HON. MR. LORIMER: No, there was no burning there, As a matter of fact, it was necessary and it was done. Certainly, in the Victoria area I don't think it is necessary. If people want to live in their small communities, then that's their choice. In certain areas the time had run by and the choices weren't available, that's in the case of Kamloops and Kelowna.
As far as Colwood, Langford and View Royal are concerned, the committee has been set up and is working towards determining what is necessary, what could be done, what the likely cost would be and what the changes in the taxation would be for the individuals residing in those areas. Public meetings will be held shortly so that the public can....
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: One month, two months, three months, four months?
HON. MR. LORIMER: About six weeks.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: Six weeks. Thank you.
HON. MR. LORIMER: As far as the transit breaking point, I don't think there is a break-even point. I don't think there's any profit in transit. You may get the odd line that shows a profit, and we have a number in Vancouver that show a profit, but when you start expanding and go farther into the smaller communities, the costs involved there are going to more than offset any profit that might be made.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: The deficits are going to go up increasingly.
HON. MR. LORIMER: I would say that the deficits will keep increasing, due to the fact that the costs are increasing. In an urban transit situation, you have peak period two times a day and a smaller peak period at noon, so you're paying your drivers for an eight-hour day, or whatever, and it's very, very difficult to have an efficient, complete usage of your drivers and your vehicles in relation to the total number of people you have to carry in a day. The total number is basically peaked in two periods of the day; it's not an even flow.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: You then expect the total deficit as well as the per passenger deficit to continue increasing?
HON. MR. LORIMER: The total deficit certainly, but the passenger, no, I don't think that would necessarily increase. I don't think it should.
You asked what increases there have been. In the new Gordon Head service there is an increase of 17 per cent over last year. General increase in the province is about 11 per cent. In Coquitlam it's moved from 10 rides per capita to 45 per capita, that's in a year — 45 rides per year for every individual in that community. In North Vancouver it's basically the same as in Coquitlam. So there's certainly a greater number of people using the transit system. It's a very successful operation — more and more people are leaving their cars at home. But it's an expensive operation. There's no use trying to fool ourselves that it's a money maker, because it isn't. Where the money is made is in your express, if you have an inter-city operation.
MR. D.A. ANDERSON: But at least they're going on the buses.
HON. MR. LORIMER: That's right, yes.
The Highlands. We're basically not doing very many studies in the Highlands. There's a study by the regional district taking place, and the Department of Housing is cooperating with the regional district on the study. We are informed of what's going on, but we are not initiating any particular studies in the area. Any plans at the present time, I would say, are just in the study sector — no definite plans at all for the Highland area.
The revenue from natural gas — that is an area in which we are the first in Canada to share natural resource revenue with the municipalities of the province. You may say it's a non-renewable resource, and that's true, but that's a start. When you run out of natural gas, if you want to go down the road that far, obviously, there will be some other system, whatever government is there at the time, to look after making sure that the municipalities get the necessary revenues for their operation.
This is a first step. The municipalities, I might say, are very, very happy about the sharing of this revenue. Next year, of course, the revenue will be for
[ Page 3583 ]
a period of a total year rather than for just a few months as it will be this year. So next year the revenues will be substantially greater, I would expect.
MR. WALLACE: I am certainly pleased that the Minister has agreed that municipal residents should choose their own destiny as far as amalgamation is concerned. I welcome his statement that if the people in the communities in the greater Victoria area choose not to amalgamate he will not consider imposing any kind of situation on them.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS (West Vancouver–Howe Sound): That's not what he said.
MR. WALLACE: I think that is what he said, or words to that effect. If I am mistaken....
MR. WALLACE: Maybe I had better ask the question again. Would the Minister then consider that in his mind there might be a situation which would make amalgamation necessary, or would the Minister agree that in the greater Victoria area the residents should be left to make their own decision in regard to amalgamation? I certainly get the strong feeling in my riding that we don't believe that bigger is better or that by having a bigger organization — whether police, fire, or other services — we are not convinced that Oak Bay would be any better off by becoming part of a much larger unit. At least, most of the people who take the trouble to talk to me on the subject give me this clear impression.
HON. MR. LORIMER: Amalgamation if necessary, but not necessarily amalgamation.
MR. WALLACE: There we go; that's what we had on conscription away back when.
At any rate, I think it should be very clear, from Oak Bay's point of view, that we are not interested in amalgamation unless there can be greater and proven evidence of the degree to which the residents of Oak Bay would benefit. After all, that is surely the basic reason that anyone would want to change boundaries or otherwise.
I was interested in the Minister's response to the Liberal leader's question on the development of the City of Victoria. He pointed out that he has no more control over Victoria than any other municipality. This is correct, but I wonder if the Minister has any plans to amend the Municipal Act to in fact bring about a greater authority to control development in municipalities.
The letter from the Planning Institute of British Columbia, from which the Liberal leader quoted, was very interesting. They recommend that maybe it isn't just the capital city that might benefit from a greater measure of centralized control in developing their facilities, land, transportation corridors, and so on. This letter from the planning institute suggested that the Minister should amend the Municipal Act. I'm sure the Minister received a copy of that letter. It would be interesting to know if that is the direction in which he wants to move.
I really just wanted to speak very quickly and briefly about the bus system. I don't think this government is at all consistent in what it is doing in relation to buses. We surely have the most ridiculous example right here in the lower mainland where we have this government taking away the licence from a private bus operator because the bus operator was providing an inadequate service and it was a line that was losing money. The government held a hearing and took away the licence.
At about the same time, the Member for Esquimalt (Mr. Gorst), in the area involved, said that the government would continue the present level of bus services and bus fares. I am particularly talking about Colwood, Langford, Metchosin and Happy Valley. The residents of that area were gratified that bus service would be maintained and that it would be at least as good in terms of frequency and fares. But what do we discover? We discover that the Metchosin and Happy Valley residents lined up to wait for the bus on the first day the government took over and the bus never arrived.
MR. CURTIS: They were bused right down the garden path.
MR. WALLACE: They sure were. The interesting thing was that it was the Metchosin and Happy Valley residents who created the fuss in the first place because the privately operated bus system was inadequate. The government said they would take away the licence and see that the residents get the same or better bus service at the same fares. This has been a complete breach of faith by this government. They have maintained the line that doesn't lose money — the Langford-Colwood — and they have stopped altogether the Metchosin-Happy Valley line.
There is a statement here from Vic Parker that is quoted in the Times of June 2. He says: "We looked at the Happy Valley, Metchosin, Rocky Point district and found it would be a loss to run." So they just don't run any buses out there. I thought the philosophy....
HON. MR. LORIMER: That's not true, you know.
MR. WALLACE: It is what is stated here. This is June 2. Has the bus started to Metchosin since June 2?
[ Page 3584 ]
HON. MR. LORIMER: I think it was off for three days. There's regular service there.
MR. WALLACE: Well, okay, it was only off for three days. But this was the statement made by the director of transit, and that was the very reason that the private operator wasn't doing a very good job and wasn't happy to persist — because he was losing money. I thought the government was prepared, as it appears to be, to the tune of $17 million a year to provide bus service. If the people need the bus service and it loses money, that is part of the responsibility of the provincial government.
The other point about which I think the Minister is not being consistent is that he talks about incentives to get people out of their car and on the buses. That very incentive also existed on this line that there were bus passes which were cheaper than the unit rate per journey. The Minister has discontinued the use of these passes — which he's already answered partially in question period — but I would think that the whole question of bus passes should be looked at on a province-wide basis.
I don't think anybody over there is really listening to what I'm saying. They're all having a great tête à tête.
HON. MR. LORIMER: We're trying to get your answer.
MR. WALLACE: Pardon me?
HON. MR. LORIMER: We're trying to get your answer.
MR. WALLACE: I beg your pardon. And the Minister of Transport and Communications (Hon. Mr. Strachan) is interested.
I'm not being, I don't think, unfairly critical, because the Minister has pointed out that you can't have passes on one route exclusively which gives a tremendous financial advantage in that area — when what do we do in other parts of the province?
My point is that if we're really trying to get people out of their cars and onto the buses, surely some financial incentive has to be a very worthwhile direction to go. If the bus pass situation on the Sooke run appeared to be attractive and useful, could the Minister tell us how quickly we can anticipate a general policy of bus passes, presumably on a 30-day-a-month basis, which would make it attractive for more people to travel back and forth to work on the buses?
I just wonder if that point is near, because I keep getting letters and phone calls about this controversial situation in the Metchosin–Happy Valley region. They feel that they've been duped. They were told that the system under the private operator would be continued by the government, and this is not being done. Now if the Minister can tell us that within a month or whatever it will be reinstituted, I'm sure they will be very happy about that.
The other aspect of buses: I wonder if the Minister can tell us if decisions are being made to manufacture our own buses in British Columbia. There was some publicity given at the time that the former Dominion Bridge Co. premises were purchased in Burnaby, and the Minister made the statement that it was thought that we might manufacture buses under a licence arrangement from Volvo. I understand that it was stated that some decision was to be made in May of this year. I wonder if the Minister can tell us whether, in fact, he plans to proceed with the actual manufacturing of buses here. I understand that it was to provide about 250 jobs, which in itself would be a very important aspect of the plan. I gather that there was some contact made with two other countries — one I think was West Germany and the other was Yugoslavia — with regard to arrangements to manufacture buses in Burnaby.
The Minister made the statement some months ago that those businesses which benefited most from the introduction of new bus services would perhaps have a special tax applied to them. At the time this seemed to invoke quite a bit of concern in business communities. The obvious question is: how do you ever measure specifically and accurately the kind of benefits that certain businesses might derive from the introduction of a new bus run? But it is a novel idea and I wonder if the Minister is still pursuing it, or did he buckle under to the kind of criticisms that were pretty rampant at the time?
The other point on the bus service: I wonder if the Minister is keeping the kind of records where he can determine a point at which a loss does not justify a line being maintained. He mentioned in question period the other day to me that inevitably between peak periods you have empty buses with one or two passengers. But I wonder what degree of detailed monitoring is done on the service so that if one line is clearly inordinately expensive and losing so much money that it just doesn't make sense to continue it.... How accurate are the records and how well is that kind of service monitored to make the decision as to the point it just is not financially sensible to keep the line going?
Just two other points before I sit down. I'm very interested that things have been so silent in relation to this municipal taxation commission which was set up and the members named at the end of February, as I recall.
The House knows well the problems we got into with deciding to go the 100 per cent assessment route and so on. Because the problems were difficult, this commission was set up. There has been so little heard from that commission that I am just wondering what
[ Page 3585 ]
happened to it. I have the clipping here of all the people who were nominated and the chairman, Mr. McMath. There just seems to have been a tremendous lack of activity; maybe there hasn't, but certainly there has been little publicity. I wonder if the Minister could tell us what the commission is doing. As far as I know, there have not yet been any public hearings or meetings, or public hearings planned.
Earlier on this year, the Minister was asked if the report would be tabled in the House. He said that it would be a report to government. I wonder if cabinet or the Minister has made up his mind that this commission report is of such importance, with such far reaching ramifications, that we should be assured of nothing less than that it will be tabled in the House so all the Members will have full access to that.
The last question I have is the point that was also raised in question period — that the Minister had a real concern about certain people running for council office. He was concerned enough that he wondered if legislation might be necessary to preclude people involved in the real estate business from serving on councils. The Minister made the other statement at that point that when you start with one group of people who might be very clearly identified with property, where do you draw the line? Other people are perhaps less directly involved but might stand to gain by inside information through their role as aldermen.
At the time, this quite rightly caused quite a bit of outcry from many aldermen. The Minister admitted that there were few of any complaints he investigated that had proven to be sound in their content. But it is a very disturbing thought that the system is perhaps not working as well as we all would like to believe with respect to complete and total integrity of aldermen on councils. With the Minister's statement, it certainly makes us in the opposition wonder if legislation is being prepared. If so, who is being consulted to determine which groups of people and which professions or occupations are the ones that the Minister will initially consider should be excluded from holding municipal office? It is a difficult question, but is the Minister, in fact, still planning to bring in legislation with this kind of restrictive effect and, if so, who is he consulting with at the present time to determine the precise terms of the amendment?
HON. MR. LORIMER: With regard to the question of amalgamation in the greater Victoria area, what I have said is that I feel if the existing municipalities wish to live separate and apart, that's their decision. It appears to me that basically each municipality in this area is providing the necessary recreational and educational facilities, and so on, for that community. In other words, one isn't really living off the taxpayers of another municipality. That might have been the case a few years back, but I think at the present time most of the areas do provide the needed services for that particular community. As such, I don't see that there is any provincial interest in doing anything further.
I think where there is a case of one municipality or area living off another municipality, then action has to be taken, in my opinion.
The Colwood, Langford and View Royal area is a different kettle of fish. Here is a city, in fact, that is completely urbanized but is still an unorganized territory. In my opinion, action should have been taken here many, many years ago. It hasn't been, and it gets more difficult as years go by. That is the reason that we are having a study done now — to determine what action is necessary in this particular urban area.
On the question of the planning report and the question of decentralization, I think we have attempted to decentralize as much as possible in Municipal Affairs. We have given a number of decision-making powers to local councils under the Municipal Act. Most of our amendments have been aimed at decentralizing rather than centralizing. We may be going in the wrong direction; maybe it should be a reverse process. But I think that the public at large prefer a decentralized operation to allow their local people to make more decisions.
Now I admit that when a decision is made at a local level, I get a number of letters suggesting that they not be empowered to do so. It depends on what the decisions are in the local areas as to what should be done. I think, generally speaking, we have gone into a decentralization direction.
I want to explain the question about licences being taken away from transit operators. I might assure the Member that the Metchosin–Happy Valley–Sooke-Colwood transit run was one of the last in the province we wanted to have any part of because it is a difficult area to service and it is an obvious loser. What we say is this: most of the companies that operate transit services have a charter service to help to finance the loser. The chartered service is the winner. They get the charter service, then use the money-maker to help finance the loser. What has been happening lately is that applications have been made to discontinue the transit operation but hang on to the charter service. The situation now is that, by and large, if the transit service is dropped, the commission also cancels the charter service. That's basically what the situation is.
In the Metchosin run we only had a few day's notice to re-do this service. There were two or three days that the service to Metchosin didn't operate. But I might point out to you that the previous operator had no set schedule of operation. He might come by at 8 o'clock in the morning one day, 10 the next and 2 the next. Maybe the next day he didn't go.
[ Page 3586 ]
HON. MR. LORIMER: That's right. That was the service we were trying to look at, so we had to do a basic planning service, obtain vehicles, which are not easily come by, and put in the service within a very short time. We didn't do it for three or four days, which is when they had no service.
[Mr. G.H. Anderson in the chair.]
The question of rates in Sooke is a very difficult problem, and we are still studying that one. When you are running a provincial service it is very difficult to set aside one area and say: "Well, we'll give special privileges to this particular area, but it doesn't apply anywhere else in the province." I don't think we can do it. Now I agree that was a service they did have; they did have, basically, half-rates for regular users. I don't think we can do that without doing it throughout the province.
MR. WALLACE: Are you planning other areas for passenger passes?
HON. MR. LORIMER: Yes, we are hoping to get the whole province under passes. That is under consideration, and has been under consideration for some time.
The manufacturing of vehicles — we're proceeding on that. We've had further consultations and discussions with the Volvo company. They have sent their experts over to examine our buildings at the Dominion Bridge plant. We are told that with a few modifications it will be one of the best areas for construction of vehicles anywhere in the world.
We are now awaiting a complete breakdown of the dollar cost and a licence with Volvo, and we hope to have that almost any day now, at least by the end of the month, we hope. At that time we can assess whether or not we should be proceeding into transit construction.
MR. WALLACE: So the decision to build has not yet been made.
HON. MR. LORIMER: No, it has not yet been made because we haven't had a financial breakdown as to whether.... We don't worry too much about a profit-maker, but we certainly want to be able to compete equitably, because there will be a number of indirect benefits.
The question of benefiting areas paying for transit. I like the idea myself; I think they should. The mechanics of working it out are not that simple, and there are no changes contemplated immediately.
Monitoring services. Those services are monitored regularly — probably not as regularly as they should be, but throughout the year they are monitored. During the summer we get summer students under employment, and we do a much more in-depth monitoring during the summer period.
Conflict of interest — certainly legislation is required on that. It is not an easy thing to legislate.
I think anyone who runs for office.... During this strike with the municipalities at the moment, on which your total time is spent on dealing with land, I think you should decide whether you're in the land business or whether you are an alderman. I think that decision has to be made by the individual. How you legislate is another question. I don't know how you legislate.
MR. WALLACE: But are you going to legislate?
HON. MR. LORIMER: I'm certainly studying it. There's no proposal for this particular term for legislation, but I'm working at it.
AN HON. MEMBER: What about the taxation commission?
HON. MR. LORIMER: The taxation commission — I attended their first meeting, which would be about two months ago, just to thank them for allowing their names to stand. I was there for about 10 minutes....
MRS. P.J. JORDAN (North Okanagan): Did they thank you for picking up their cheques?
HON. MR. LORIMER: I met them and I don't intend to attend any other meetings. It's an independent commission and is meeting regularly. They have had no public meetings yet, but I understand that they intend to start probably before the end of summer.
MR. WALLACE: Any projected date for their report?
HON. MR. LORIMER: No, they told me that they would advise me in due course of a date when they hoped that they might be able to get the report.
Now this commission is under the Department of Finance, as you know. I can't answer for them about tabling the report, but I have no doubt that the report will be tabled. It will be a public report and I have no doubt that it will be tabled, but I cannot speak for the Department of Finance.
I think that was your question.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS: I have a few matters to raise.
[ Page 3587 ]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have not been informed of any commitment whatsoever.
MRS. JORDAN: May I respectfully suggest that you consult with the previous Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There's no rule that binds the Chair. I recognize the Hon. Member for West Vancouver–Howe Sound.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS: I've been here all morning, Mr. Chairman — on the point of order. Two Members of the official opposition have spoken, followed by the Member of the Liberal Party, followed by the Member of the Conservative Party; and I think the independents still have some rights in this House.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS: Well, maybe in a few moments. I never speak at length, as you all know.
I want to compliment the Minister on the reasonable way in which he is responding to the questions posed to him today. He's a dynamic Minister, and if it weren't contrary to the rules of the committee, I'm sure that there would be a motion to increase the size of his vote. But, Mr. Minister, our hands are tied by the rules of this House.
HON. MR. LORIMER: A pity.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS: A pity, that's right.
I was going also to ask some questions about the committee dealing with tax. I think that the difficulty being experienced with regard to this committee characterizes the problem that local governments are facing in British Columbia today.
First of all, the committee was announced by the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Now he tells us that the committee is under the responsibility of the Department of Finance, so he doesn't have any control over it. When the committee had its first meeting, the Minister went to the committee and thanked them for allowing their names to be put forward and take a role in this committee. But, Mr. Minister, what you should have done was to have gone to that committee and as well as thinking them you should have explained in detail to them how important and how urgent the work was that they were being asked to undertake.
As widespread as the problems are for the municipalities, it is unfortunate that those problems are characterized by financial burdens and the conflict that that creates for the municipalities between themselves and their taxpayers and between themselves and the provincial government. This is the task that is being given to this committee — in some major way to assist in unraveling part of this problem. I would have thought that the Minister would have pointed this out to that committee and said: "We know it's a difficult task, but we wish you to bend every effort to provide us with a report at the earliest possible moment."
MR. CURTIS: The year is half over now.
MR. L.A. WILLIAMS: Well, Mr. Chairman, the Member for Saanich and the Islands (Mr. Curtis) well knows, and the Minister knows, that a similar study — broader but similar study — was carried out in the Province of Ontario that took five years. After the five years was spent, they finally produced the first legislation evolving from the report, and after it was introduced they had to cancel it all because it was a catastrophe. We're looking at a five-to-seven-year task that these men may be embarked upon. Quite frankly, Mr. Chairman, the municipalities can't wait that long for a resolution of some of the problems — I'm not saying they can resolve them all - which are facing municipalities today.
Now the Second Member for Victoria (Mr. D.A. Anderson) raised one. The question is whether or not the Government of the Province of British Columbia and the Crown agencies are going to pay taxes in the same way as everybody else. Now I can admit that the committee should be studying the matter of those properties which are exempted under our laws from the responsibility to pay real property tax. But quite frankly, Mr. Chairman, I don't seem to have any problem about this particular class of property which is owned by the provincial government or the Crown agencies.
I would think that this Minister, even though this committee has not made its report and will study this matter, should be able to indicate to the committee and to his cabinet colleagues that the simplest way of resolving that particular problem is to put an end to it and say that provincial government and Crown agencies will pay to the municipalities the taxes in the same way as any other taxpayer. They get the same services, they get the same benefits, they cause the same problems as any other taxpayer who owns property in the Province of British Columbia. The historic justification for exempting the Crown from taxes in this respect has long since passed.
The interference with and increasing burdens on the operation of the provincial government offices in the City of Victoria are the clearest example of why that historic situation cannot be allowed to exist. If you take it to extremes, the government could expand its facilities in the City of Victoria and the environs to such an extent that it was 99 per cent of the whole city. Does that mean that it shouldn't pay any taxes, that the water doesn't have to be collected, water and sewer services provided.... . ? I know that the Minister just wouldn't engage in such an exercise.
[ Page 3588 ]
I think that the Minister can make a positive step forward and say: "We're going to be treated the same as any other taxpayer."
Now if the committee comes down with recommendations which might modify that in some respect, then that's a matter for the committee to report upon and for the government to consider in a matter of subsequent legislative change, but surely it would be a positive step forward for this Minister to say: "From now on, this government is going to pay its fair share of taxes."
This, of course, creates another problem, and the committee is also looking into this as well. It's the question as to the extent to which any particular municipal area should be obliged to share with surrounding municipal areas the tax revenues that might obtain from the existence of particular developments within that first municipal area. Now that the Minister's already recognized the problem, I know he understands it and this year he has taken a plainly hesitant but first step towards the resolution of this problem. Now that also applies with regard to this other matter of the government getting involved in the payment of taxes. But obviously if the government were to pay to the City of Victoria taxes on all of the government lands and improvements, there is some justification for those municipalities which surround Victoria and provide the bedroom services, if you will, for the people who work here, to have a share in that matter as well.
I don't want to transgress on the bill, but I disagree with the suggestion that somehow the municipalities have to get together and work this out. Some leadership has to be shown in this respect by the government. The extension of these problems throughout the length and breadth of the province is enough to make one concerned about the direction in which we're going in this province with regard to our inter-municipal relationships and relationships between the municipalities and the provincial government.
While we're talking about the matter of finance, let me raise another matter which has already been discussed this morning, and again by the Second Member for Victoria (Mr. D.A. Anderson). We have a strange conflict between so many departments of government when it comes to dealing with municipalities — Lands, Forests and Water Resources in the harbour, Municipal Affairs, Public Works, Finance. There seems to be no way of drawing together the several intrusions that the provincial government makes upon local government and providing some easier method of resolving the conflicts that result.
We've got a classic instance of this also before us in another bill. I won't transgress upon that, but it has to do with the school tax removal grant, the resources grant — legislation introduced by the Department of Finance, notified to the municipalities by the Department of Municipal Affairs, and yet alleged to be a grant which is under the control of the Department of Housing. Now when the municipalities try to come to grips with this problem, it's the Housing department's responsibility as far as the grant is concerned, so they go to them, and they say: "Oh, no, you have to deal with the Department of Finance — it's their legislation." Municipal Affairs is involved too. It seems to me that the government has got to recognize that some of the things it is doing are impeding rather than assisting municipalities in the resolution of their problems.
There's also the problem as between municipalities, and there are some classic cases, one between the city and district of North Vancouver, whereby developments are taking place in one municipality at or near its boundary with another, which thrusts burdens upon the services of the adjoining municipality, and which brings about development which is not in accordance with zoning regulations of that second municipality, yet they can't do anything about it. There's no way of rationalizing this conflict of jurisdiction within narrow geographical boundaries.
Again, you can go to extremes to understand a problem, but it is quite clear that in one municipality you could have a change in zoning which gives you all industrial along its borders, right next to an area in another municipality which is all residential. You could have an abattoir on one side of the street and homes on the other. We don't have this sort of inter-municipal system of cooperation, nor communication either.
I would think that it would go a long way to resolving these difficulties if the government, through the Department of Municipal Affairs — let me make that clear, through the Department of Municipal Affairs — would establish an interdepartmental and inter-municipal committee. Not a committee of politicians, but one of persons who are appointed to serve a function which would enable them to break down some of these arbitrary, unrealistic barriers that exist between governmental departments and between municipalities and their inter-relationship. I say we don't want politicians; it shouldn't be elected people. It should be people who have had some experience in provincial and municipal governmental affairs. It should be designed, as I say, solely to break down some of the barriers to this communication that should be between these levels of government.
I suggest to you, Mr. Chairman, that arising out of the functioning of such a group you would perhaps have the nucleus of an organization which could bring about discussion between the municipalities and the provincial government on the other major issues which are interfering with the job of each of those governments as they serve the local taxpayer.
[ Page 3589 ]
The easy one to come to mind is this question of finance. How do we resolve the financing problems that exist? How do we break down the situation where the municipalities always appear to be saying gimme, gimme, gimme — where the provincial government always appears to be saying that they can't have it, but they will make some grants? That's the image the local taxpayer has of these two levels of government — local government always demanding more and more and more; the provincial government always saying: "No you can't have it unless we give it out in some kind of special grant which serves our own purpose."
As an example: why should it be that the provincial government would decide to take over all the costs of courts and police services in a municipality without discussing this with the municipalities? Maybe this was the last thing that the municipalities wanted done; maybe it was the first, or maybe it was the middle. The fact of the matter is: why wasn't there any discussion between these two levels of government before such a step was taken? Maybe there are other priorities for provincial government assistance, other than the ones the provincial government might choose. I think that without giving up any of their authority, these two levels of government can be brought together and can provide better communication and a better resolution of some conflicts which are, as I said, affecting the way in which these governments discharge their responsibility and the consequences of that failure upon the local taxpayer.
HON. MR. LORIMER: I have commented on some of the points raised by the Hon. Member. I would certainly point out that the commission on taxation is very much aware of the problems involved in the taxation field. As a matter of fact, one of the members was a member on the Ontario commission. I am convinced that there will not be a five- or seven-year wait before the report is filed.
As far as the variety of interested groups dealing within municipalities is concerned, I recognize the problem. I've mentioned earlier that we have been trying to act as a liaison between the municipalities and the interested groups.
I think we have performed some service and reduced the amount of conflict that may have been there before. We are reorganizing and redirecting the planning group in our department in recognition of co-ordinating the needs of the municipalities with the provincial needs. I think our planning function will be much more effective as we are able to develop a new direction in our planning services.
The question of taxation and development on the boundaries of other communities is a real problem. It seems to happen regularly throughout the province. I'm not convinced that the answer is in sharing the tax from any new shopping centre, or something of that sort, with the municipalities. I'm not sure it's a feasible solution. I think you have to go totally or not at all. If the municipalities do not agree among themselves on a sharing proposal, I think it would be a mistake to try and bring it in. If you were looking at the suggestion that industrial taxation be shared throughout the province as a policy, or something of that sort, I think you would have to go the whole way. You couldn't just go part-way on that one. I think it would have to be very seriously considered before any action was taken along those lines.
In regard to the Attorney-General's department taking over the function of court activities in the province, I would point out that there were discussions. I attended some of the meetings with the Union of B.C. Municipalities prior to the matter being brought before this House. There were complete discussions and, as a result, some of the sections of the bill were subsequently drafted or re-drafted at the request of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again because I want the rest of you to have a chance here.
The House resumed; Deputy Speaker in the chair.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Speaker, the committee reports progress and asks leave to sit again.
Hon. Mrs. Dailly moves adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 11:59 a.m.