1976 Legislative Session: 1st Session, 31st Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MAY 17, 1976
[ Page 1751 ]
Restriction of the Use of Spring Traps Act, 1976 (Bill 43). Mr. Gibson.
Introduction and first reading — 1751
Guaranteed Available Income for Need Act (Bill 28). Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm.
Introduction and first reading — 1751
Gulf Island ferry rates. Ms. Sanford — 1751
Hospitals strike. Mr. Wallace — 1752
Vancouver East by-election campaign. Mr. Gibson — 1752
Free ferry service for Sunshine Coast and Powell River. Mr. Lockstead — 1753
Cancellation of Special Needs Programme. Mr. Levi — 1753
Washington Trident submarine base. Mr. Skelly — 1753
Abortion practices inquiry. Mr. Wallace — 1753
Prince Rupert Can-Cel meeting. Mr. Lea — 1754
Extended-care increases. Mrs. Wallace — 1754
Details of meeting with U.S. state governors. Hon. Mr. Bennett — 1755
Mr. King — 1755
Status of Haney Correctional Centre. Hon. Mr. Gardom — 1756
Mr. Macdonald — 1756
Mr. Gibson — 1756
Mr. Wallace — 1756
Committee of Supply: Department of Education estimates.
On vote 39.
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1756
Mr. Cocke — 1760
Mr. Gibson — 1764
Mr. Macdonald — 1767
Mr. Wallace — 1768
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1768
Mr. Macdonald — 1770
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1771
Mr. Lea — 1771
Mr. Wallace — 1773
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1776
Mr. Cocke — 1779
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1780
Mr. Cocke — 1781
Mr. Wallace — 1781
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1782
Mr. Gibson — 1783
Hon. Mr. McGeer — 1785
Mr. Wallace — 1785
MONDAY, MAY 17, 1976
The House met at 2 p.m.
HON. W.S. KING (Leader of the Opposition): Mr. Speaker, in the gallery today we have a small group of senior secondary students from the great city of Revelstoke, along with their teacher, Mr. Mark Bowden. I would like at this time to thank the member for Columbia River (Mr. Chabot) for his assistance in gaining them seating in the gallery, and I'd like the House to welcome them.
MR. J.J. KEMPF (Omineca): We have with us in the gallery this afternoon, from that great constituency of Omineca, 41 students from Fraser Lake Secondary School. With them is their able teacher and his good wife, Mr. and Mrs. Ponsford, and I ask the House to make them welcome.
MS. K.E. SANFORD (Comox): At 3 o'clock this afternoon there'll be a group of students from Cumberland Junior Secondary School, accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Bob Riley, who will be coming in to watch the House in session. I would like the House to join me in welcoming them at this time.
Introduction of bills.
RESTRICTION OF THE USE OF
SPRING TRAPS ACT, 1976
On a motion by Mr. Gibson, Bill 43, Restriction of the Use of Spring Traps Act, 1976, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
INCOME FOR NEED ACT
Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm presents a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Guaranteed Available Income for Need Act.
Bill 28 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. Mr. Phillips files the Agricultural Aid to Developing Countries and World Disaster Fund annual report.
GULF ISLAND FERRY RATES
MS. K.E. SANFORD (Comox): Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Highways. Inter-island ferries are now free for the residents of the southern Gulf Islands, and I would like to ask the minister if he has any intention of applying the same consideration to the ferries in the northern gulf — that is, Hornby, Cortes, Alert Bay and Sointula.
HON. A.V. FRASER (Minister of Highways): Mr. Speaker, all the ferries under the highways system in the north Gulf Islands are under study at the present time.
MS. SANFORD: Supplemental. I'm asking whether or not this particular issue is under consideration as well, in view of the fact that the southern Gulf Island ferries are now free for inter-island travel.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. Member, I believe the hon. minister indicated that the ferries that come under the jurisdiction of his department are under study at the present time, and that would be an answer to your question.
MS. SANFORD: I was just wondering if this was part of the study.
MR. G.R. LEA (Prince Rupert): Supplementary, to the Minister of Highways. When the Departmental Act brought in the Department of Transportation and Communications all salt-water ferries were taken under the jurisdiction of Transport and Communications: I would like to ask the minister whether he is aware of that and whether the study he referred to is going on in his department or the Department of Transport and Communications.
HON. MR. FRASER: Well, the study is going on in conjunction with the Department of Transport and Communications and the Department of Highways.
MR. LEA: Further supplemental. Is the minister aware that those ferries are not under his jurisdiction, but under the Minister of Transport and Communications?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! I think the minister indicated that the study was being completed.
MR. LEA: I would like to ask if he is aware of that. It's a supplemental. It's a jurisdictional question between those two departments.
[ Page 1752 ]
MR. G.S. WALLACE (Oak Bay): Mr. Speaker, in view of the escalating nature of the hospital strike and the fact that hospitals can only maintain the present service for a limited period of time without danger to patients requiring admission, and since the deputy minister reported — failure at the weekend to bring both sides together, could the Minister of Labour tell the House what further steps he is now taking in an attempt to bring the serious labour dispute to a halt?
HON. L.A. WILLIAMS (Minister of Labour): Mr. Speaker, I could answer the question better if I could accept the accuracy of the member's pre-statement. The fact of the matter is that I was advised this morning that the essential services are being maintained. Members of the medical profession have commented on the high level of medical care that is available in the hospitals presently under strike, and my department is in hourly touch with those hospitals to ensure that the essential services are being maintained. So far as the meetings between the parties are concerned, that is a matter of continuing effort on the part of the Department of Labour to ensure that the principals of this dispute, namely the representatives of the employers and the employees, get back to discussions for the purpose of producing a settlement at the earliest possible moment.
MR. WALLACE: Supplemental. Mr. Speaker, we may differ on the statements made prior to question period, but the fact of the matter is that it's extremely difficult to assess what's happening to people outside of the hospital, and I included that in my preamble to my question. I acknowledge that the minister can't measure that, but that leads to my supplemental question: with the escalating nature of the strike and the use of more and more labour relations staff to designate essential services, is the minister able to assure the House, with more hospitals on strike and more and more monitoring required, that in fact the Labour Relations Board can continue to provide skilled staff in adequate numbers to carry out this amount of monitoring where a new hospital or an additional hospital goes on strike each day?
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, to the member, I am advised that adequate personnel are available in the Department of Labour, and through the Labour Relations Board, to carry out this very onerous responsibility. This is one of the matters which is giving us concern. If we are unable to discharge that responsibility, it will be taken into account in determining what action this government should take in the circumstances.
MR. WALLACE: In the light of the minister's answer and the fact that no new meetings are assured between the two parties — in other words, there does appear to be an impasse or a real failure to bring the sides together — and since there is this difficulty in assessing the risk of life and health to people who other wise would be admitted to the hospitals, has the minister reached the point of making any recommendation to cabinet that section 73(7)(a) of the Labour Code be invoked to provide a 21-day cooling off period?
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the member is asking me to speculate on a matter which might be government policy.
VANCOUVER EAST BY-ELECTION CAMPAIGN
MR. G.F. GIBSON (North Vancouver–Capilano): Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the Premier if he agrees with suggestions by his candidate in Vancouver East last Thursday that a government backbencher could do more for the riding because he's on the right side. I want to ask if he'll repudiate this kind of political blackmail of the voters of Vancouver East.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! It's an improper question that's seeking information about something that is not government policy.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. Speaker, with respect, this candidate is the Premier's candidate, and he made the statement: "A government backbencher can do more for this riding."
HON. K.R. MAIR (Minister of Consumer Services): Political bluster.
HON. P.L. McGEER (Minister of Education): Don't be so protective.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Let me bring to the attention of the hon. member for North Vancouver–Capilano that the question he poses is not one seeking information concerning, first of all, the responsibility of the hon. Premier to this House, or information concerning something that affects or is involved with any member of this House. Therefore I have told you the question is improper, and quite properly so.
MR. GIBSON: Perhaps I could rephrase it, then, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! If the member wishes to rephrase the question as one that is in
[ Page 1753 ]
keeping with the rules of question period, do so.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the Premier if he will assure the House that Vancouver East will be equally well treated no matter who is elected.
HON. W.R. BENNETT (Premier): Mr. Speaker, in response to the member for North Vancouver–Capilano's first and second questions....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The first question is out of order. The second one, perhaps, is in order.
HON. MR. BENNETT: The government will recognize the abilities of all members of this House in the way they can represent their constituencies. I must add and give an aside that I've assessed the qualifications of the candidates in Vancouver East and, in my view, the candidate that made that statement could do a better job in this House.
FREE FERRY SERVICE FOR
SUNSHINE COAST AND POWELL RIVER
MR. D.F. LOCKSTEAD (Mackenzie): Mr. Speaker, a question to the Minister of Transport. In view of the fact that two constituencies now represented by government members, the hon. Minister of Municipal Affairs (Hon. Mr. Curtis) and the hon. Minister of Labour (Hon. Mr. Williams), will be receiving commuter rates and free ferry service, is the minister now prepared to apply the same consideration to residents of theSunshine Coast and Powell River regional areas?
HON. J. DAVIS (Minister of Transport and Communications): Mr. Speaker, broadly speaking, all ferry rates, regardless of whether they're called commuter rates or otherwise, have been doubled. The Sunshine Coast does not differ in any respect from the others.
MR. LOCKSTEAD: I don't think that answer's quite correct, but I will ask: can the minister explain why in one breath he argues that huge increases are necessary because of rising costs, and then in the next breath he tells B.C. taxpayers that they must subsidize ferry service 100 per cent for constituents of two government ministers by providing unprecedented free service on salt-water ferries?
AN HON. MEMBER: Free service?
MR. L. NICOLSON (Nelson-Creston): It's between islands — free service between islands.
HON. MR. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, no area is being subsidized unduly as compared to another with the new ferry rate structure.
SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAMME
MR. N. LEVI (Vancouver-Burrard): To the Minister of Human Resources: having announced the cancellation of the Special Needs Programme that provided up to $500 for families with special emergency needs, such as the need to purchase furniture by people who were burned out or have leaking roofs, what arrangement does the minister's department have for meeting the needs of people in the future?
HON. W.N. VANDER ZALM (Minister of Human Resources): Mr. Speaker, the suspension is only temporary until we have an opportunity to review the programme. In the meantime, should there be a hardship application, it will be dealt with through the regional director.
MR. LEA: The policy never changes — political rhetoric. You're beautiful!
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
WASHINGTON TRIDENT SUBMARINE BASE
MR. R.E. SKELLY (Alberni): Mr. Speaker, my question is directed to the Premier. I understand the Premier will be meeting with Governor Dan Evans of Washington state on June 1. In view of the spreading concern in British Columbia over the location of a first-strike nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Washington, and the possible use of coastal waters by those nuclear submarines, I wonder if the Premier is including discussion of that Trident submarine base on his agenda.
HON. MR. BENNETT: To the member for Alberni: Governor Dan Evans will be attending this House and will once again have an opportunity to address the members. All matters relevant to British Columbia-Washington relations, including that topic, will be explored.
ABORTION PRACTICES INQUIRY
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Health with regard to the minister's commitment to carry out an inquiry into abortion practices in British Columbia: could I ask the minister if he has appointed a chairman of that inquiry? Will the chairman be choosing the members of the committee, or does the minister intend that he will appoint all the members to that inquiry?
[ Page 1754 ]
HON. R.H. McCLELLAND (Minister of Health): Mr. Speaker, to the member for Oak Bay: it is an in-department committee which will be looking into the brief that was presented to my department from the Pro-Life Society. There will not be an independent committee set up outside the department, and I never said there would be.
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Speaker, I apologize if I misunderstood what was intended and I accept the minister's statement. But could the minister assure the House then that the scope of the investigation will include an in-depth review of all hospitals carrying out abortions in the province, and will not just refer to the Vancouver General Hospital?
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: Mr. Speaker, to the member: it will not just refer to one hospital in the province. We'll have to be very careful that we make sure we are within our own jurisdiction. We can't step on federal jurisdiction. Those areas over which we have control and jurisdiction will be province-wide, and it will be an interdepartmental review.
MR. WALLACE: A very quick final supplementary, Mr. Speaker. Can I take it then that the minister either has been or will be in touch with the federal authorities seeking their assistance and cooperation in this study?
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: Well, if it becomes necessary, Mr. Speaker, yes.
PRINCE RUPERT CAN-CEL MEETING
MR. LEA: Mr. Speaker, a question to the Minister of Forests: some weeks ago I asked him if there was going to be a meeting arranged between government, the management of Canadian Cellulose and the workers in the mill at Prince Rupert, and which was promised for January during the last election campaign. The meeting has not been held yet. He said he would take the question as notice and get back — that was some weeks ago. Has the meeting now been arranged? If so, when?
HON. T.M. WATERLAND (Minister of Forests): Mr. Speaker, to the member for Prince Rupert: that particular meeting has not yet been arranged. I have in the meantime been meeting with management and labour representatives of various Crown corporations. I have been at Plateau Mills and Kootenay Forest Products. I have been to the Can-Cel Celgar operations and later this afternoon I am going up to Ocean Falls. I will, as soon as I possibly can, arrange to be making such a visit to Prince Rupert.
MR. LEA: I am fairly sure that there wasn't a campaign promise mad, for all of those, but there was a definite campaign promise made to the people of Prince Rupert that that meeting would be held in January. It would seem to me that the first priority should be that meeting. I ask you: what is your priority and when will it be held between the three parties?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The hon. minister replied to the original question.
MRS. B.B. WALLACE (Cowichan-Malahat): To the Minister of Health: I have raised the question previously, and to him by letter, in connection with the extended-care increases. I have still to have a firm answer as to what is to be done about those people who simply cannot afford the $7. I am getting more and more cases every day. I wonder if the minister could give me a firm answer as to when he expects to act on this particular question.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: Mr. Speaker, I replied to the member as best I could at the present time. The matter is under review.
MR. SPEAKER: That terminates the question period for today. The hon. member for Prince Rupert on a point of order.
MR. LEA: Mr. Speaker, during the question period you ruled one of my questions out of order. The question was: does the Minister of Highways (Hon. Mr. Fraser) understand under whose jurisdiction the salt-water ferries fall?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. That's not a point of order. What is your point of order?
MR. LEA: The point of order is that I would like to know why you ruled it out of order.
MR. SPEAKER: Because the question was irregular.
MR. LEA: In what way, Mr. Speaker? Mr. Speaker, I would like to find out the reason you ruled it out of order.
AN HON. MEMBER: You are always out of order.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. If the hon. member would care to refer to Beauchesne, 4th edition, 1958, included on a number of pages are items which do not come within the proper limits of questions and have been ruled out of order or irregular. I refer you to that text.
[ Page 1755 ]
MR. LEA: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that help from the Chair. I would like, though, to ascertain which category you feel that particular question falls under so that I....
MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. member would refer to Beauchesne, I am sure that he will see where it will....
MR. LEA: Could you not help me, Mr. Speaker, and in some way...
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
MR. LEA: ...explain to me why that question was out of order? It seems to me it was in order and you just ruled it out of order. I would like some help.
MR. SPEAKER: It's quite irregular and it is contained in Beauchesne if the hon. member would like to refer to it.
MR. LEA: I would like to know why it is irregular, though.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! The hon. Premier.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker....
MR. SPEAKER: One moment, please. A point of order by the first member for Vancouver Centre.
MR. G.V. LAUK (Vancouver Centre): Mr. Speaker, I draw the Speaker's attention to standing order 9, which states:
"Mr. Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and shall decide questions of order, subject to an appeal to the House without debate. In explaining a point of order or practice, he shall state the standing order or authority applicable to the case."
That, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, means a specific ruling on each specific case. Otherwise, Mr. Speaker is not doing his duty in the House, which....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
MR. LAUK: I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. May I finish my remarks?
MR. LAUK: The standing orders of this House must be obeyed by all of us, and I'm suggesting to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is disrespectful to a member of this House to refer him to a general area of research when a specific question was ruled out of order. Standing order 9 is applicable to yourself, Sir.
[Mr. Speaker rises.]
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. Member, on your point of order, I referred you to the source — Beauchesne, 4th edition, 1958 — which is applicable to questions and answers in question period.
[Mr. Speaker resumes his seat.]
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a short statement to the House.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Tomorrow, Tuesday morning, in the World Trade Room of Seattle-Tacoma airport I will be meeting with Governor Bob Straub of Oregon, Governor Jay Hammond of Alaska and Governor Dan Evans of Washington. This meeting is a follow-up of other meetings and conversations regarding various problems affecting the Pacific Northwest. There is no rigid agenda and probably such topics as the Haines road, tankers on the coast, the Skagit, the Alcan pipeline and others will be discussed between the various governments.
MR. SKELLY: The Trident?
HON. MR. BENNETT: And the Trident. If anything conclusive comes out of the meeting I will be reporting to the House later in the day.
MR. KING: I want to thank the Premier for his statement, and certainly commend the government for continuing the kind of dialogue that was developed under our administration with neighbouring states south of the 49th parallel. I think this is valuable in terms of maintaining a dialogue on matters of reciprocal interests to all of these jurisdictions, and I want to advocate and urge to the Premier that he place very, very high on his agenda the priority of the Trident missile base, which is not only a matter of concern to this House, but a matter of grave concern to all British Columbians and many people south of the border also. So I look forward to hearing the report back from the Premier at his convenience as to the kind of reception he receives from the state governors.
HON. G.B. GARDOM (Attorney-General): May I have leave to make a statement, Mr. Speaker?
[ Page 1756 ]
HON. MR. GARDOM: Hon. members, this deals with the newspaper report on the weekend concerning the holding of juveniles at the Haney Correctional Centre. As some of the members will recall, in April of 1974 the corrections branch assumed responsibility for the juvenile detention home on Yale Street in Vancouver. The facilities there were, of course, very, very bad. Several proposals were made during the 1974-1975 fiscal year for physical improvement and additional staff, but for various reasons there was a considerable lack of action.
The matter came to a head in October, 1975, when the boiler at the Yale Street facility broke down and there was an immediate need to place the juveniles elsewhere. At that time, the Haney Correctional Centre was not being used for adults. So a decision was made then to use it as a juvenile detention facility temporarily until additional facilities could be found — although, at the same period of time that that decision was made, Haney was still officially gazetted as an adult centre. So it was agreed then, in October of last year, that it could be used for juveniles on the undertaking from the corrections branch that no adults would be held there — this was the situation — and also with the formal consent of a family court judge. This was formalized in a memorandum from His Honour, Judge Lewis, on October 28 of last year.
Now with the, change in government, a decision was made in December to develop the former Willingdon School for Girls as a juvenile remand and reception centre, and we indeed hope that that facility will be available for use within the next few weeks. We came to grips with the thing as quickly as we could.
On Friday of last week, the supreme court, however, ruled that the Haney Correctional Centre could not be designated as a juvenile detention centre while officially gazetted as an adult correctional centre, and the juvenile persons by the order of the court were not to be received in that centre without specific court orders. So it became necessary — as the hon. members will see — that we had to decommission Haney as an adult centre and make it available for juveniles over a fairly short period of time. Temporary arrangements were entered into over the weekend and those proved to be satisfactory.
Steps have been taken today to formally decommission the main building at the Haney Correctional Centre as an adult correctional centre. This will allow those buildings to be used and to be authorized for the purposes of juveniles, so we will be rectifying the record to that extent.
MR. A.B. MACDONALD (Vancouver East): Mr. Speaker, I'm glad that no adults are being held in Haney correctional and that that policy has not changed. Plans to close that as an institution for adults and juveniles are, I hope, proceeding, and I hope it will be — the old Haney correctional — a major educational institution in the Fraser Valley in the very near future as the needed resources are developed for the treatment of a few juveniles.
MR. G.F. GIBSON (North Vancouver–Capilano): Mr. Speaker, I'd just like to welcome the Attorney-General's interim statement and hope that he will soon bring forward a comprehensive policy for juvenile offenders from all points of view — not purely the specific, although important, issue of detention.
MR. G.S. WALLACE (Oak Bay): Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank the Attorney-General for this initiative of giving us all the facts at a very early date after a newspaper report. I hope that he will also take into account the concerns expressed on this side of the House that not only are these facilities being reorganized and different arrangements made but that we can minimize the very unacceptable kinds of detention of juveniles that I've already referred to in this House, whether they be at Willingdon or Victoria or Haney or anywhere else.
Orders of the day.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Schroeder in the chair.
ESTIMATES: DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
On vote 30: minister's office, $126,940 — continued.
HON. P.L. McGEER (Minister of Education): Mr. Chairman, at adjournment on Friday there were some questions with respect to ICBC raised by the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke), a former director of the corporation, that had not been answered. I would like to take just a very brief time this afternoon to complete those answers.
The basic question with ICBC that we have to deal with, Mr. Chairman, is: how could it have been possible that a corporation could get itself into such a monumental financial mess in such a short period of time and, in the end, be left with a situation from which Solomon himself could not have extricated himself without being hung in effigy?
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, I quite agree with that, but we've certainly had no wisdom shed on this by the member for North Vancouver–Capilano (Mr.
[ Page 1757 ]
Gibson), who may not have been hung in effigy but got roundly booed for his suggestion that premiums should be increased at all. He was an advocate of an increase in the gasoline tax, and perhaps we'll say a word or two about that this afternoon.
But, Mr. Chairman, it isn't just the fact that this corporation was in a monumental financial — mess; the other side of it was that we were left with a totally unsatisfactory premium-rating system. We did the best to introduce fairness and equity consistent with fiscal responsibility. We know we're going to have to introduce a great many more refinements in the future, but this all derives back to a series of policies which were instituted not by responsible insurance officials, not by insurance consultants to the corporation, but by the political involvement of the NDP, its cabinet members who were directors of the corporation, the cabinet itself, and the NDP caucus.
I want to remind the members that in March, 1973, when the ICBC legislation, the Automobile Insurance Act, was introduced to this House, hon. members were told by Mr. Strachan, the former Minister of Transport who was the sponsor of those bills, that the premiums were to be set by regulation. I'm quoting from them: "The premiums to be set by regulation later will not be subsidized by any tax dollars and will be based on actuarial principles."
AN HON. MEMBER: Did he say that?
HON. MR. McGEER: That was at the time these bills were introduced.
The public of British Columbia and the members of the Legislature who spoke in debate on those bills and voted on them in the House were given this commitment by the sponsoring minister on behalf of the government. Mr. Chairman, on that basis the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, in concert with some consultants, drew up a premium rate structure designed so that the corporation would break even in its first year of operation.
HON. MR. McGEER: In the first year?
HON. MR. McGEER: When did this come up?
MR. G.S. WALLACE (Oak Bay): Don't talk nonsense. That's months ago.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Proceed.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, those rates were never published, never made available to the public or made available to members of this House. Those rates were presented in only one place — to the caucus of the NDP, and some of the members opposite were present when those rates were presented. They weren't presented to any independent actuary; they weren't presented to the House; they weren't presented to the public. They were presented to a selected group of representatives who repudiated those rates, backed up by the cabinet of the day, and which resulted in a repudiation of the promise made by the former Minister of Transport when he introduced that legislation into the House.
Why, Mr. Chairman? Well, the reason why is fairly obvious: because prior to the introduction of Autoplan there were different insurance premium rates in British Columbia, based on the driving record of the insurers. People who had a five-year clear record had lower premiums, as they should have, than those who had four, three, two, one or no clear record in their driving.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!
HON. MR. McGEER: Those with five-year clear records on the average were enjoying premiums, as a reward for care on the road, 54 per cent lower than those with no clear record at all. But what was the NDP determined to do in introducing new rates? They were determined, first of all, to wipe out these rewards for responsible driving, but at the same time not make it appear that anyone would have to pay a higher rate because of government insurance.
That meant that the rates for everyone had to be reduced, not to what was actually sound but to agree with the political prejudices of the New Democratic Party caucus. What was the end result of that, Mr. Chairman? When you took into consideration the different territories, the different use classifications and the different driving records of the people who were seeking insurance, there was a fivefold spread in the previous rates. The NDP said: "Oh, no. No awards for good driving, What we must do is give everybody the same." And that meant the lowest rates.
Even at that, they didn't quite succeed. The candidate for Vancouver East, who was then the Premier of the province, went on an open-line show and said that anybody who had to pay more would get a refund. As a consequence of that, a whole bureau had to be set up at ICBC — department R. That little open-line show cost the public of British Columbia $838,000 plus administration costs, which can show you the penalty that can be paid by carelessness and irresponsibility on the part of people who are in power. When they make a careless statement, the public has to pay the bill.
[ Page 1758 ]
HON. MR. McGEER: No, Mr. Member, I'll table the exact amount, because the records of how much was returned are available.
MR. G.F. GIBSON (North Vancouver–Capilano): But how do you get there? That's the problem.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, people wrote in and said: "I paid last year." We said: "Well, if you paid last year, we'll give you your money back" — $838,000 of it. That'a a measure of the carelessness and irresponsibility of the people who were in charge of this mammoth operation.
The consequences of this political interference on the part of the New Democratic Party caucus resulted in a rate structure which was not actually sound. It was no longer to break even, and by the time the notices went out as to what the first premiums would be for Autoplan, a budget had been presented to the then board of directors, including the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke), the Minister of Transport (Mr. Strachan) and the former Provincial Secretary (Mr. Hall), estimating that the corporation in its first year would lose $27.7 million. That, Mr. Chairman, was before the doors of Autoplan ever opened. The rates were not actually sound, they were fiddled with, in secret, by the members of the New Democratic Party caucus, and that's why ICBC, in its first year of operation, got off to that disastrous start.
AN HON. MEMBER: Behind closed doors?
HON. MR. McGEER: All behind the closed caucus doors and the closed cabinet doors.
The member, Mr. Chairman, said something about the rates paid to the insurance agents. I have to remind him again of his own record as a director. On September 27, 1973, a resolution was passed by the board of directors, of which he was a member, saying that the commission rates going to insurance agents in 1974 should be 8 per cent for basic coverage and 10 per cent for extension, in 1975 it should be 7 per cent for basic coverage and 10 per cent for extension, and in 1976, 5 per cent for basic coverage and 10 per cent for extension. Mr. Chairman, what happened at the very next board of directors meeting? At the next board of directors meeting they increased the commission to be paid to agents from 8 per cent to 9 per cent and held the extension at 10 per cent.
Mr. Chairman, who held the commission of the insurance agents to the level of that original proposal? Not the NDP, Mr. Chairman, but Social Credit. When we went to the insurance agents, we got the commission down to the very level that they had proposed in their original resolution, something that they were unable to do themselves. Yet who criticizes us? The very man who couldn't follow up his own plan criticizes us for following it up. Mr. Chairman, we're going to examine the whole structure again next year, and we've told the insurance agents. I want to tell you, Mr. Chairman, we don't take very kindly to criticism coming from that member when he couldn't stand by his own resolution and criticizes us for doing so.
MR. GIBSON: Tell us about the absolute amounts of commission payable.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, Mr. Chairman, we'll be happy to tell you in dollars, as soon as we know that.
MR. GIBSON: You don't know?
HON. MR. McGEER: No, we don't know yet. We inherited their system for processing the data. I told you only on Friday that we didn't know exactly how many cars were registered in British Columbia. But I'm going to give you some statistics today about....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, may I just interrupt you long enough to say that the debate can only continue on an orderly basis as long as we only have one person on his feet and speaking at a time. If he is interrupted from across the floor and he is enticed into answering questions directly across the floor, then our debate is disorderly. I would encourage hon. members on both sides of the House not to interrupt the minister as he speaks. Please proceed.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, I'm just reviewing for you the difficulties that ICBC got into in its operation in the first year, because of the fiscal irresponsibility not of the corporation itself, but of the board of directors, of the caucus and, we suspect as well — and it's just a speculation — of one of the executive assistants,
In the first speech I gave on the problems created for the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia you heard me tell of Plan Z. Plan Z and its partial implementation led to the second $147 million loss experienced by ICBC. Again, it represented political interference on the part of the NDP cabinet. We still don't know who is the author and we don't know why it was called Plan Z. All we know is that suddenly this plan appeared which said there should be flat rating of all insurance. Again, there was no attention paid to territory, to use class, to driving record or to fiscal responsibility. Just set the premiums low so that everybody will think they are getting automobile insurance free and let the gasoline tax and the motor vehicle tax pay the difference.
In this case, officials of the corporation denied that built into Plan Z was the necessity for massive transfers from the treasury of British Columbia to
[ Page 1759 ]
ICBC. The former president of the corporation denied as late as August, 1974, that he had any evidence that there would be losses in that corporation. Yet in January of the previous year he had had evidence that there would be a $27 million loss.
Mr. Chairman, this flat-rate scheme that required the massive transfers of gasoline and motor vehicle tax not only in the second year but in the first year was nowhere covered in the budgets presented to this assembly, which would have made these subsidies public knowledge and which would have allowed the people of British Columbia to realize the extent to which their bashed fenders were being subsidized by general taxes. It is all very well to come and talk about the massive increases in ICBC premiums and how unfair it is, but the consequence of those policies and of NDP interference has been that people without cars, who can't afford them through their general taxes, are subsidizing those bashed fenders. There are limited amounts of money that we have available for schools and hospitals and other human programmes that now have to be subsidized out of general taxes because of those losses in automobiles.
It was politically irresponsible, economically irresponsible and socially irresponsible. It resulted as a direct consequence of political interference which had as its only motivation votes and not responsibility.
The member opposite, Mr. Chairman, talked about investments and that marvelous policy they had of taking all the money they collected in premiums and investing it in British Columbia corporations. Mr. Chairman, you cannot invest money that you don't have. Far from collecting vast investments from premium income in British Columbia, at the end of last year we were actually paying bank interest for money we had to borrow.
MR. GIBSON: How come you can write cheques you don't have if you can't invest money you don't have?
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, the member is the expert on rubber cheques.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
HON. MR. McGEER: Did a cheque ever bounce? No, because the president of ICBC was a responsible person and he didn't cash that cheque, Mr. Chairman, until the Legislature had passed the authorization for it.
MR. GIBSON: You mean he knew it was rubber!
HON. MR. McGEER: That's fiscal responsibility.
MR. GIBSON: You mean you knew it was rubber all along and you didn't tell us.
HON. MR. McGEER: The premise, Mr. Chairman, upon which that cheque had been written was that the government as a whole would be totally responsible fiscally, but that only applied to the government side in this House.
Mr. Chairman, I don't want to dwell further on the sorry past of ICBC. I'd like, if I may, to dwell for a few minutes of the bright future, because there are some optimistic indicators from the early experience of this year.
Mr. Chairman, the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) got up on Friday and castigated us for the policies that we had introduced which did that dreadful thing of suggesting that motorists should pay their own way and that the automobile should not be subsidized. In the view of the New Democratic Party, that's a very sinful position to take. The implication was that because of this irresponsible action we took that automobiles should not be subsidized there had been a massive movement of vehicles off the road.
I explained to the hon. member that we don't really know, because of the system that they had introduced, exactly how many vehicles there are on the road. But that didn't constrain The Vancouver Sun from writing an editorial saying there were 200,000 less automobiles on the road. They are not bothered by that sort of thing any more than the NDP is bothered.
But what we do have....
MR. GIBSON: What if they're right and you're wrong?
HON. MR. McGEER: What?
MR. GIBSON: The numbers.
HON. MR. McGEER: Just listen to the statistics that I'm going to tell you. Listen, please.
We do have, Mr. Chairman, statistics on the number of gallons of gasoline sold in British Columbia, which is an indication of the amount of driving that's going on. March, 1974, 54.5 million gallons sold; March, 1975, 54.4 million gallons sold — I don't know why there were fewer gallons sold in 1975 than 1974 — March, 1976, 58.6 million gallons sold, which is an increase of 7 per cent and which we take as an indication that the public of British Columbia is still able to drive.
The encouraging thing, Mr. Chairman, is that while the amount of driving has increased in British Columbia, the number of accidents is going down. It means simply this: if you set policies which encourage individual responsibility, then you get individual responsibility back.
[ Page 1760 ]
Let me give you some accident statistics from the Victoria region as one: 1973, before Autoplan, 167 accidents; 1974, under Autoplan, 237; 1975, under further subsidy from Autoplan, 246; 1976,167 — a dramatic drop in the number of accidents. Burnaby: 1973, 364; then with the subsidies under Autoplan, 517 in 1974 and 514 in 1975; but in 1976 back to 494 again. Kamloops: 167 accidents in 1973; then 152 and 122; 1976, 153. Prince George, a growth area: in 1973, 86 accidents; 1974, 125; 1975, 164, escalating away up; 1976, back down to 149.
Well, Mr. Chairman, I'm not going to go through every area in British Columbia reading the accident statistics that we've been able to get from the RCMP. But what is emerging, Mr. Chairman, so far is this: the cars are registered and the people are driving. They are taking our plea seriously that people should drive carefully for social as well as economic reasons. The accident statistics are showing fewer accidents on the road and the claim statistics in our claims centre are showing a dramatic decline.
It's early, Mr. Chairman, in the insurance year, but if for the remaining 10 months people continue to drive as safely as they have been driving so far in this insurance year, if they continue to show the kind of restraint that is now being demonstrated in the use of Autoplan as far as claims are concerned, and if we are as effective as we've tried to be so far in making the corporation more efficient, in keeping the costs of the corporation, the services it buys from towing operators and bodyshops and so on, down, then at the end of the year we will be able to give to all those who have had a safe driving record in British Columbia a safe-driving dividend.
Mr. Chairman, it won't be anything phony. It won't be based on cover-up. It won't be based on political considerations. What it will be based on, Mr. Chairman, is performance. That's the bright side of what's happening in insurance, and I commend to all the people of British Columbia to keep it up, because it means money at the end of the year.
MR. D.G. COCKE (New Westminster): Well, Mr. Chairman, we were given a fine speech by the Minister of Education, the minister in charge of ICBC, and it's very interesting that that minister is admittedly still in charge of ICBC, the representative of the coalition who on election decided that there would be no political interference with ICBC — that was their promise. Promises broken, promises broken, Mr. Chairman. We're a number of months down the line from that election, but anyway, now that we have his admission that he is intimately involved with the direction of ICBC, an admission that I would have given shamefacedly had I been him, let's go over some of the questions that he answered and some of the claims he made.
He asked, Mr. Chairman, how the corporation could have got itself into such difficulty in such a short time. Well, Mr. Chairman, that minister knows better than anyone else how the corporation could get itself into difficulty.
That minister, Mr. Chairman, has had a great deal of difficulty himself with that corporation, which is the largest insurance corporation — general insurance corporation — in Canada. He knows full well. He's checked the history of the corporation and he knows that there has been no — and I say no — assistance given from the outgoing corporations, none given from the private insurance industry. As a matter of fact, the reason ICBC had to come onstream so quickly was because they left the province as quickly as they did.
HON. G.B. GARDOM (Attorney-General): Oh, oh!
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, such.... And the Attorney-General says: "Oh, oh." Remember Safeco? Remember Allstate, all of those companies that just pulled the pin and left? As a matter of fact, ICBC had to take over Fruit Growers Mutual in order to afford people in this province an opportunity to buy insurance during that very short interim period. We had the plug pulled on us by the private industries that this minister represents in this House today. How could we have difficulty? Well, we had difficulty.
He said we were left with a totally unsatisfactory premium structure. No doubt about it, absolutely no doubt. There is a law in this province, and that law states — as a matter of fact, that law in consistent across the country — that the private insurance must keep up what is called the green book. It gives all the statistics for all the past, but, you know, they published the green book for all of Canada except British Columbia. We had no statistics to go on, and that minister knows it. It was a rotten shame and if I did nothing else but castigate the industry for that little omission here I would have, I think, done a half-decent job and I think it would be.... It's remiss of the minister not saying that that was part of the problem.
MR. J.R. CHABOT (Columbia River): You kicked them out and they took the green book with them.
MR. COCKE: Oh, yes, the member for Columbia River (Mr. Chabot) can pontificate from his chair all he likes, but he knows deep in his heart...because he's been around here long enough to know that fair play is fair play. Because the fine was so low the industry just took their five fingers and let us have them in the usual fashion. It was just unsatisfactory.
This question about the cabinet and caucus making the decisions, I'd like to contrast that with who made the decision for the Socred rates —
[ Page 1761 ]
and let's not call them anything different than the coalition or the Socred rates. There it was made in total isolation by the cabinet. The caucus was screaming its lungs out up there in Omineca and up in Skeena and up in Okanagan North.
AN HON. MEMBER: Fort George.
MR. COCKE: Fort George. We were hearing news reports that the caucus members said: "Why weren't we consulted?" They were having difficulty in their constituency. Yes, we consulted our caucus. Yes, Mr. Chairman, we are a democratic party. We consulted our caucus as best we could. We had very little to work with, however, and it was very unsatisfactory.
MR. COCKE: No, no. We had very little to work with in giving them an opportunity to view it.
HON. MR. McGEER: Who's the author of Plan Z?
MR. COCKE: Three people. It wasn't Plan Z. Plan Z was the thing that ICBC drew up in contrast. Whatever this was.... And I heard on Saturday that you were looking for it, so I thought I'd bring it in. Three people — — and I'm not going to tell you who they are, but one from the Department of Finance and two others who have a good knowledge of the insurance industry. Go looking for them yourself.
HON. MR. McGEER: John Mika?
MR. COCKE: No, John Mika doesn't have that kind of basic knowledge of insurance, and that minister knows that, any more so than the minister has himself, although he was a student of it for longer than the minister. I would suggest today that he would know a great deal more about it than the minister does.
Mr. Chairman, the members were told in this House — yes, I'll admit that — by the former president that ICBC would not be subsidized. He said it would be based on actuarial principles and, unfortunately, it was very difficult to work out actuarial principles for this kind of insurance. Anybody knows perfectly well that there are only about three actuaries in all of Canada that have any kind of real input into any insurance corporation. They just go on statistics. It's not like life insurance Mr. Minister,
But, Mr. Chairman, look at that man, that minister, standing up and pontificating in this House about, somebody that reversed policy. We reversed policy by vote, and it was a large vote. I wonder how many of their caucus had an input into their change in their housing commitment, where there'll be virtually no subsidization of new housing in the larger urban centres by that government — purely against their whole policy.
What about their school taxes, Mr. Chairman? School taxes have gone up despite the fact that their policy was to take school taxes off. So let's not start talking about somebody who changes policy, because the policies have changed so often since the coalition has been in this House that one can't even keep up with their policy changes.
MR. COCKE: Ferry rates, every kind of rate, Mr. Member.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, our original rates were never published.
MR. COCKE: Of course they weren't published prior to being made public, nor were the rates of the coalition published. Mr. Chairman, the coalition rates weren't even satisfactory as far as their own actuary was concerned. He went on record immediately after those rates came into being and he said what the minister said a moment ago: "They are too high." He admitted that they were too high, because he said that they are going to get a dividend at the end of the year, How can you give somebody a dividend at the end of the year if you're not charging him too high rates in the first place? So he admits that the rates are too high, and that substantiates everything that Byron Straight, their actuary, said. So hang your head, Mr. Minister. The rates are repudiated already, and you've done it yourself today in this House.
Mr. Chairman, he talked of garbled records. Oh, certainly, the old insurance companies used to tie your driving record to your car, but cars don't have a bad driving record, Mr. Member for Columbia River (Mr. Chabot), through you, Mr. Chairman. Do they? No, it's the person who has the bad driving record. So we set up a separate thing altogether so people with bad driving records could be charged through their personal driving policy.
MR. COCKE: The record has been kept and you have, Mr. Chairman, right now those records that have been built up fastidiously for the last three or four years. But I could tell you that prior to that we had difficulty finding the driving records that had been maintained by those astute insurance companies. When they left they took their files with
[ Page 1762 ]
them, Mr. Chairman. They disappeared over the mountains into the east. They had been making all their decisions for the province in New York, in Hartford, Connecticut and London, England. Mr. Chairman, that's what irks the present coalition, because those decisions have to be made now at home and that's a shame.
Mr. Chairman, we thought it best to tie the increased rates for bad driving habits directly to the driver and not to a car. It's foolishness to attach it to a car.
Mr. Chairman, the refund situation — talk about a careless statement! I would rather have a careless statement speaking in terms of people's benefits than a careless statement like that minister made when he was first made director of the corporation. You remember his careless statement. He said: "Let them sell their cars." Talk about a careless statement, Mr. Minister of Education...!
MR. COCKE: "Let them sell their cars" — and then he took off in a 747...
MR. W.S. KING (Leader of the Opposition): Idle rich.
MR. COCKE: ...which flapped its wings all the way to Hawaii where he spent four or five days with his family. Mr. Chairman, careless statements, yes. Careless statements are made by a lot of people, but I would opt the first one not for a careless statement, but the second one, yes.
MR. G.H. KERSTER (Coquitlam): You set the record for arrogance.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, the commission — oh, don't we raise a good one here?
AN HON. MEMBER: No....
MR. COCKE: Don't we raise a smokescreen that has no peer in this House? He said they have given the agent.... They've reduced the agents' commissions down to the level that we set for 1975-76. Yes, Mr. Chairman, they have. They've reduced the commission on the basic coverage to 5 per cent. But when you more than double the premiums, what's the absolute value of this reduction in commissions? You don't have to be a mathematician like the member for Hawaii to know that you have increased substantially the commission — as a matter of fact, by 70 per cent. Mr. Chairman, I withdraw the member for Hawaii....
MR. KERSTER: On a point of order, I would like to remind the hon. member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) that I am, in fact, the member for Coquitlam.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The point is well taken.
MR. COCKE: Then, Mr. Chairman, listen to this foy a plum. They take out collision as part of the basic coverage, which would normally have been 5 per cent commission, and they put it into the optional coverage, which puts it into the 10 per cent class. Wow, what a bonanza! Mr. Chairman, it was a bonanza. From that minister a gift that will be remembered forever.
MR. G.V. LAUK (Vancouver Centre): A bonanza from a banana.
MR. COCKE: It will be remembered forever, Mr. Chairman. Anybody who wants to sharpen their pencils, all you have to do is work out your own and then you add that up and multiply it by 1,200,000 policies in this province, and you've got yourself a big bonanza.
Mr. Chairman, I suggest to you that there was an absolute increase — a major absolute increase. The minister was talking about claims. Claims are cyclical. We've seen periods of increased claims; we've seen periods of lower claims. As most of you know, I spent a good many years in the insurance industry and have just a little bit of information in that regard. I happened to be one of those doves on the board, I was only one of the number of people on that board, but I happened to be one of those doves that felt that the kind of increases that we had seen were irrational kinds of increases and that there would be a reduction, and now we're into the other end of the cycle at the present time.
Mr. Chairman, other than having driven a lot of people into driving without insurance because they can't afford it, and also having driven people into not making claims and therefore driving around with cars that are all bashed up, I don't really think that they've done any more. That really isn't all that socially gratifying, as far a I'm concerned. I suggest to you that it's quite the contrary.
Mr. Chairman, the minister went on to say that there was nothing in our budget for motive fuel tax transfer. Agreed, but you had before you — those of you who were here in this House — a bill that permitted the transfer, and that's all we needed.
MR. CHABOT: You can't transfer what you haven't got.
[ Page 1763 ]
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, they gave $181 million to ICBC and it was a rubber cheque, and he says "you can't transfer what you haven't got." Well now, that's the biggest joke I've heard.
Mr. Chairman, let's get on with that for just a second. We decided that it was fiscally better for us not to make that transfer last year. The whole western world was smarting and you're still smarting. You can't run your budget now, you're cutting down services, you're getting out of housing grants, you're getting out of all the areas you promised to help in, and then you start throwing stones at the other government.
Mr. Chairman, we were interested in providing people services with that money. It was there to transfer. Why did we have the right to make that kind of a transfer? We had the foresight to charge a proper price....
MR. COCKE: Just a minute, Mr. Member. Think — for once.
Mr. Chairman, we found $200 million of increased revenue for this province through one area alone, and that was the increased price for natural gas and the increased royalty for petroleum products — a bonanza to this province.
Mr. Chairman, I listen to that heckling of a group who sat idly by and watched coal being taken out of this province for zilch, for nothing, for 10 cents a ton — enough to buy a pencil. When we came in we found that a royalty on coal was quite right and it also produced a revenue.
Mr. Chairman, the minister also talked about investments. His own investment manager is working now with ICBC. There was an article on March 17, 1976, about Jim Fletcher: "More than $1 billion of British Columbians' money has passed through Jim Fletcher's hands in the past two years — not literally, of course, but Fletcher as director of investments for the insurance corporation is responsible for putting our insurance premiums to work in the short-term money market and in the bond market to earn as much interest as possible for ICBC." That's a man working as the investment man for ICBC, and he went on to be quoted as having said: "Our basic policy is to keep the dollars invested in B.C. Only a small portion of our funds go east."
Mr. Chairman, that's consistent to what we set up in the first place, but that's not consistent with the remarks that minister made recently in this House.
MR. LAUK: The Premier says it all went to eastern banks.
MR. COCKE: What the Premier said yesterday about seat belts I think is consistent with what he said about....
Mr. Chairman, the bright future of ICBC is the bright future which we predicted from the outset. The only thing that worries me about one of the minister's remarks is that he said that there a~e, more gallons of gas sold this year. If that's true, and I'm sure it is, if there are more gallons of gas sold this year — and the best kinds of figures that ICBC can come up with is that there are 20,000 cars less insured — that makes me quiver because that means there are a lot of people out there, uninsured, buying gas. That could be of considerable....
MR. COCKE: How could they be uninsured?
MS. R. BROWN (Vancouver-Burrard): They're driving cars without insurance.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, they can be uninsured, it strikes me, by not paying the second premium, and this is what concerns me a great deal because I understand that they haven't even been asked for their second premium. Now the minister might check that out, but I've yet to find someone who has had their second premium taken from their bank account. I think it should be checked out. Very quietly the other day ICBC announced that there would be no more of that financing of premiums; so I suggest to you that the minister has got them into so much trouble with his policy, his convoluted policy, in this whole question that they haven't even been able to charge those premiums back.
So, Mr. Chairman, what kind of shape are we in? What's this great future we're hearing? We hope there's a bright future for ICBC; we hope that there's a future for ICBC to carry on exactly what we started it for, and that is to keep the premiums down. We would like the transfer of motive-fuel tax because we think it's the fair way to go, but if this government decides no, that's on their heads. But we want them to keep those invested dollars in this province.
Mr. Chairman, one last word. The minister takes all the credit for the drop in accidents. I would like to say that my colleague who sits beside me, who was the first Minister of Highways in this country who had the courage to reduce the speed limits in our province, who had the real courage to stand up and be counted in that regard, had more to do with the reduction of accidents in this province and the turnaround in consciousness that takes place when people start thinking in these terms. That's important, Mr. Chairman — extremely important.
MR. KEMPF: He flew over the roads in helicopters.
[ Page 1764 ]
MR. COCKE: Don't give me the "flew over"! That minister produced for this province, and I'm proud of it.
Mr. Chairman, I hope the people do show restraint; I hope at the end of this year they can get a safe-driving dividend, as it is called. I wish, however, that they could have been given that dividend at the very outset, because the actuary said that those rates are uncalled for — said it publicly and, I think, had a great deal of courage in order to do that.
Mr. Chairman, I have a number of other questions I'd like to ask, but I won't take too long. I think probably the minister has one or two words to reflect at this time. Okay? Well, I'll continue for a moment and I'll ask a couple of questions.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to know how many ex gratia payments have been made since December 12, 1975. If that's too tough, then I'll be glad to put it on the order paper.
HON. MR. McGEER: Put it on the order paper.
MR. COCKE: I'll put it on the order paper, Mr. Minister, okay. I just thought that possibly you might have those records with you.
Mr. Chairman, I would also like to know what steps have been taken to develop the permanent headquarters offices in New Westminster. I'd like to know how far ahead you are with that. Has this been studied or discussed with private industry?
One other question I would like the minister to answer is: forgetting about taking the $181 million out of general revenue and transferring it — that is, in the form of a debt — why is the $12 million for those under 25, who will be given a rebate if they have a safe driving record, being given out of government funds as opposed to ICBC funds? Is not this $12 million a further subsidization of ICBC by general revenue? Why wasn't it ICBC that gave the $12 million?
MR. COCKE: No, it's not; it's poor little MVD — the motor vehicle branch over here that we will have to vote when we get to that minister's vote under our estimates.
Mr. Chairman, another question is: what is ICBC's dollar provision for commission payments this year? Just a ball-park figure, a round figure, if the minister can remember. If not, then I can also put that on the order paper. Just the ball-park figure in your budget for commissions in ICBC's current fiscal year.
Mr. Chairman, one final question: has there been a large increase in your general insurance premiums? With that, I will wait for some answers.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. Chairman, I hadn't really intended to say very much about ICBC at all, but after the minister's talk I felt impelled to go out and get my files. For the moment I will simply comment on some of the things that he said when he stood up in this House earlier on this afternoon.
He was still fighting the last election, Mr. Chairman. I was surprised. He doesn't understand yet that the sins of the past, of which there were many...
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Order!
MR. GIBSON: ...do not pardon the sins of the present, of which there are more than a few, Mr. Member, as well. There are a couple of particular items of policy that the minister articulated that puzzled me very much, Mr. Chairman. Why is the minister against territorial equalization in this province? Why does he feel that your insurance premium should be based on where you happen to live? Why does the minister feel that? Why did he eliminate the territorial discount?
AN HON. MEMBER: One-timer.
MR. GIBSON: We were moving in British Columbia towards a postage stamp rate in insurance, which was a good thing.
AN HON. MEMBER: Is that what you want?
MR. GIBSON: That's what I want, in terms of territories, yes. That's what I want in terms of territories, not in terms of driving records. I'll get to that later. Equal risks in different parts of the province....
MR. GIBSON: Equal risks in different parts of the province should pay the same rate in different parts of the province.
MR. J.J. KEMPF (Omineca): Prejudicial to the north.
MR. GIBSON: Not prejudicial to the north, Mr. Member, and you know it. That member, Mr. Chairman, knows perfectly well that the northern territorial discount was eliminated by this government.
MR. LAUK: I'm not sure he does.
MR. GIBSON: Nothing that he may say can expunge that from the record, and the voters in his
[ Page 1765 ]
riding will remember that when the next time comes around.
AN HON. MEMBER: You bet they will.
MR. GIBSON: I suggest, Mr. Chairman, that where people live in this province is largely a matter beyond their control if they happen to be working people. If they are retired people, they may have some more control about it. But if they are working people — they have a job, they have a home and likely a family there — then it's not a small matter to move, and you're not going to move just to get lower insurance rates in some other part of the province. We should be pleased that people are ready to live in the more remote regions of this province, to do the kinds of things which exploit the resources which make British Columbia reasonably prosperous, which pay the salaries of all of us in this House. We should give people prepared to live in remote regions at least an equal break in terms of insurance.
HON. K.R. MAIR (Minister of Consumer Services): What's remote?
MR. KING: Your government's remote — remote from the people.
MR. GIBSON: That was a splendid exchange, Mr. Chairman, which should be put in Hansard: The Minister of Consumer Services said: "What's remote?" The hon. Leader of the Opposition said: "Your government's remote — remote from the people." I think that's a worthwhile exchange; I thank the Minister of Consumer Services for having initiated it. I hope that he will afford us further wisdom as this debate progresses.
AN HON. MEMBER: He will. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBSON: Mr. Chairman, the principle is clear: the insurance costs you pay in this province should not be determined by where you live — that is absolutely wrong.
MR. LAUK: On-the-job training.
MR. GIBSON: It has to be done if you have competition. I am talking now about the basic primary insurance — the public liability insurance that everyone has to carry and must have to carry. If you have competition in that area, naturally you have to have rate categories depending on territory, because otherwise one group or another will come in and cream off the particularly profitable area. But as long as you have a monopoly, which we do this year and which the government has not yet moved to eliminate and which the minister claims no policy decision has been made to eliminate, even though companies are once again being registered with the right to sell insurance in this province, as long as you're in that situation, your insurance costs should not depend on where you live.
Secondly, if the minister feels that your insurance should be conditioned by where you live, why does he also feel that it should be conditioned by who you are? These are both things that people have no control over. The fact that somebody happens to be a single male under 25 is something they have no control over. What they have control over is whether or not they have a good driving record. That should be the basis — the sole basis — for the determination of rates in that category.
MR. KING: Discrimination!
MR. KERSTER: How can you assess it without the records?
MR. GIBSON: The member for Coquitlam asked us: "How do you assess it without the records?" The ICBC, Mr. Member, has been in business for a few years now. There was definitely a problem there at the beginning with no records, but those records should be available now. It's just automatic that there should not be an assessment of that kind. It should depend on your driving record.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. May I remind the hon. member for Coquitlam (Mr. Kerster) of standing order 17(2)? Perhaps you should review it now. Please proceed, Mr. Member.
MR. LAUK: Get somebody to read if for him.
MR. GIBSON: So, Mr. Chairman, there is the second principle of the minister with which I disagree: people should not pay more because of who they are; they cannot control that.
What should premiums be based on? They should be based on the driving record. And to the extent that that record is not available for a first-time driver, then what you have to do is make it high for that first year or two, but offer that person a rebate, because after a couple of years you will have their driving record — a rebate if there's been a good, safe driving record maintained, a positive incentive towards cautious driving, even in the first two years of your driving career. Then, of course, as you get on and lengthier and lengthier record is established, the discount that can be given is greater and greater. So there's point No. I which should determine premiums:
[ Page 1766 ]
Point No. 2 that should determine premiums, obviously, is the damageability of the vehicle you drive. We're talking here about premiums related to collision, obviously, and this aspect of it. By damageability one means not only the cost of the vehicle but the repair costs in particular.
Then the third principle that has to determine it is time spent at risk — time on the road, the number of miles driven in a year. It just makes sense.
You know, Mr. Chairman, when you add up all of these ways of determining premiums it becomes crystal clear — the way out that the government had in this transitional year, the ways and means that the government had of cushioning the impact on the ordinary citizen of this province. I've suggested before and I'll say again in this debate, because of the various options that were open to them, that government took the most brutal possible way of redressing the insurance picture in this province.
I have no quarrel at all with the argument that insurance has to be put on a paying basis this year. I agree with that. I agree as well that appropriation of the historic gasoline tax revenue and motor vehicle licence revenue is not the way to do that, because that is built into consolidated revenue, and it means you are taking away from one aspect of expenditure to put it into another. What should be done — or what should have been done, because it's clear that this government is not about to do it — is to raise premiums somewhat this year, but not nearly the 139 per cent average it was actually done, and cover the balance with an extra gasoline tax. I suggested the exact figure to the minister. My goodness, I gave him this advice early in January, and had he taken it, he could have avoided so much grief. He could have been a hero in this province. He could have become a folk figure, a living legend in his own time.
MR. LAUK: Marie Antoinette!
MR. GIBSON: Instead, Mr. Chairman, when mothers put their kids to bed — and we get a little bit to the education field here — they say: "If you aren't good, the Minister of Education's going to getcha!" (Laughter.) No, an enlightened mother wouldn't say that, Mr. Chairman. An enlightened mother wouldn't raise the subject at all, because some things should not be mentioned to little ears.
But we in this House have to deal with these questions, unfortunately, and the minister could have taken that advice, because it would have allowed people to pay for these extra insurance costs gradually over the year — at the gasoline pumps, as they actually drove, and at their option. If people just couldn't afford that little extra bit, then they could have cut their driving that little bit and it would have been their choice as to how and when they cut their driving instead of the minister's choice. I believe that there are a lot of cars off the road, and I don't care what the minister tells us about the figures; I'll get back to that later.
That would have been the way to do it, Mr. Chairman, and the minister declined to do it. I think part of the reason for that was that he thought he was going to increase the popularity of his government by proving to people how terrible the other government had been. But you don't make yourself bigger by tearing down others, Mr. Chairman, I don't believe. I don't think that's the right way to proceed.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!
MR. GIBSON: Now the minister was talking about percentage of commissions paid. He told us how Social Credit had cleverly gone after the agents and pulled down their commission percentage. The hon. member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) raised this at the end of his remarks a moment ago, because the minister was very careful, in taking credit for his harsh action with the insurance agents, not to tell us the total dollar commission paid — which in the end is the only question that counts, isn't it, Mr. Chairman? You can calculate a person's take-home pay in many kinds of ways, but the important thing is what your take-home pay is.
If this is a bottom-line government, what's the bottom line on this particular question? What is the dollar volume of commissions paid this year as compared to last, compared to the total amount of insurance risk? If the minister is going to tell me that that figure isn't available, I just find that unbelievable. It's just incredible. If he knows how much money is in the bank, Mr. Chairman — and he tells us he knows how much money is in the bank, because he told me they are very financially prudent in the ICBC — then he must know what their premium revenue has been. He must know that. You can't possibly know how much money you have in the bank unless you know what came in and what went out.
Now I take it that you have some rough account of what goes out. I take it that someone makes a note on their shirt sleeve every time a cheque is issued, at the very minimum, somewhere in the bowels of the ICBC.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please proceed, Mr. Member. Don't be distracted by....
MR. GIBSON: I'm not distracted, Mr. Chairman. I'm puzzled. The minister is over there saying they pay them in bulk. But don't you keep a total of the bulk? You must surely. If you know your bank
[ Page 1767 ]
account, you must know what cheques are paid out and you must know what deposits go in. There's just no question about that at all, and you simply can't convince me otherwise. So you know what your revenues have been up until this particular day.
MR. GIBSON: And you know what cheques have gone out to agents. You know that. What's the average commission? That's all we want to know, Mr. Chairman.
MR. LAUK: Do you know anything?
MR. GIBSON: I'll tell you this. Based on the extraordinarily higher rates, the dollar volume of the commission is higher for this year. It's higher for this year, Mr. Minister, isn't it? The minister thinks it would be. Then why don't you tell us that? Why don't you give us some estimate? I can't believe that anyone who claims to be as good a manager as this government, and as this minister in this government, wouldn't have these very rough, ball-park figures.
You know, I was looking at what he said Friday morning in Hansard. I wasn't actually here to see it because I was over at Jericho Hill School, because I was very concerned about what the minister's been saying about Jericho Hill School. So they were having an open house Friday morning and I went there to see with my own eyes. I'll be talking about that later on today when we get back to education. But he made this remarkable statement that I saw in a diligent reading of Hansard. He said: "I don't think we know at this stage within 20 per cent the number of cars registered in British Columbia." Can you believe that, Mr. Chairman — not to know within 20 per cent how many cars are registered in British Columbia?
MR. LAUK; Another unbelievable statement.
MR. GIBSON: From an unbelievable minister.
Doesn't the motor vehicle branch keep a record of moneys received?
AN HON. MEMBER: Even the back bench is shocked.
MR. GIBSON: Surely there's a record of money received, and if you have a record of money received and you know roughly how much the registration cost is, then surely you know roughly — maybe not within one-half of I per cent, maybe not within I per cent, but certainly within 20 per cent — how many vehicles are operating on the roads of the province of British Columbia. I suggest that if the government really wanted that information, they could dig it out and make a pretty good estimate, and the fact that they're not is that they know it would be a thoroughgoing embarrassment to them.
The gas-consumption figures the minister gave us do not provide the answers at all. They don't provide the answers at all. You know, gas consumption can vary as much as the minister proposed within any given month, particularly the month of March. It's just purely a matter of climatic factors how much driving can be done in this province or how much driving people feel they have to do. That doesn't prove anything. What will prove something is the registration figures. I say the minister should have those figures, and I would be very glad if he would stand up and take a second look, have his accountants take a second look, and give those figures to us.
MR. A.B. MACDONALD (Vancouver East): Mr. Chairman, I think we'd get along better if the minister would answer questions.
HON. MR. McGEER: Just waiting for....
MR. MACDONALD: Oh, you were waiting for the vote to slip through to get off the subject. The subject's an embarrassment to the minister. The speeches are distressing to him.
MR. MACDONALD: I want to add two questions. The first is on ICBC. As the minister knows, collision coverage is no longer compulsory. Now when that decision was made, did the Minister of Education (Hon. Mr. McGeer) request a report from the Attorney-General (Hon. Mr. Gardom) as to the impact on the courts of the province in terms of litigation? That's a very important cost factor because, as we all know, Mr. Justice Wootton in his famous report brought in the concept of no-fault — penalize people by points or suspensions if you will, but get the civil litigation about bent fenders and intersections out of the courts. The NDP government, which made collision insurance compulsory within limits — I think it was up to the eight-year-old car — went a long way in eliminating civil litigation in the higher courts of the province of British Columbia with a great tax saving in the costs of justice and allowing the courts to grapple with the many other cases that should be there as these ones should not.
Have you given any consideration to what kind of impact you've had on the courts? Because before, it was small claims court where you go in and try to get your deductible. That's a fairly simple procedure, if you go at all. But when you have no-collision — and increasingly that will be the case — then you have imposed an additional burden on the courts. I want to know whether any study was made of that.
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They can still be settled, but they're very often not settled. They could have been settled in the old days when this kind of intersection case was clogging up our courts. Even though the clients settle, sometimes the lawyers don't. Let me put it this way — you've added a tremendous burden to the courts, which are already congested. That's the first point I make.
The second point I want to make is — and I don't think you answered the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) — what about this rebate to people under 25? Is it based on no claim being made against ICBC?
HON. MR. McGEER: No blameworthy claim.
MR. MACDONALD: That's very vague. You'll have t o again discuss this over with the Attorney-General, because I suggest to you that you've no machinery to give any kind of due process to those to decide whether their accident was blameworthy or not. Who's going to to that? Some faceless bureaucrat in ICBC? Or will there be some kind of a hearing? You've got to give people who are claiming a substantial rebate in their insurance premiums a fair hearing. You cannot just do it in a bureaucratic way by the decision of some civil servant in ICBC.
What strikes me is that this government hasn't even given thought to this kind of question. I'd like the minister to get up and say just what he means by "blameworthy" and "not blameworthy" — this is my second question — and who's going to decide that point. Under what form of fair hearing? I don't say it has to be the courts, but there's got to be some chance for a person to put his case, even though he is under 25 and heavily disliked by this government — not in a personal way, but all your governmental policy indicates that you're against youth. That's my second point.
The third one, you might say, was a problem that we had too, not like the first two. That is that points accumulate against drivers by the superintendent of motor vehicles, if there's been a conviction, but that doesn't tell the whole story by any means. Maybe there was no conviction. Maybe there was a finding after a civil case that somebody was civilly negligent. That doesn't count. Maybe the person was negligent as the dickens out on the highway, but unless there was a criminal case and a criminal conviction — no points.
So really there are big gaps in the points system. If you want to approach the thing in a socially useful way, without having tremendously high premiums, but still having equity and cutting down on the accident hazard, then you've got to have a proper points system. Nothing the minister has said has indicated that that kind of machinery for a fair hearing on what the points should be has been developed by this government. So that's my third question.
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to get on to education.
MR. WALLACE: Well, I'm very much willing to cooperate, if you want to answer about ICBC.
MR. WALLACE: Well, I've just got one small question about ICBC.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please! Only one member can have the floor.
MR. WALLACE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm not trying to be awkward; I'm just trying to make things flow reasonably smoothly in the House.
I just wanted to raise the question of the minister's policy, and whether there's any change in the offing regarding the ICBC dealing with the handicapped. One of the people in my riding works tremendously hard at presenting the needs of the handicapped to the government of the day, and there's one particular instance where this particular person has only the use of one arm and one leg and, with the technical description of ICBC, does not qualify for the reduced premium. Because we've gone on to this issue I'm not as well versed in the details of the problem as I would otherwise be, but I'm talking about a letter from Mr. Ron Olfrey, who wrote to the minister in March outlining his particular position and that of many other handicapped people who are handicapped but don't necessarily have hand controls on their vehicles. It would seem to me that ICBC's attitude to the criteria for qualifying for some reduced premium because of a handicap should be a little more flexible. Perhaps it would quickly answer the matter, Mr. Chairman, if the minister would tell us what his reply to Mr. Olfrey's letter was in that particular respect. This person has a very substantial handicap — in this case one arm and one leg he cannot use — but his vehicle isn't actually equipped with only hand controls, and I'm told that he was disqualified from the reduced premium on that basis. Would the minister care to comment?
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, just to deal quickly with the questions that have been raised, the headquarters office is something which is under active study at the present time. I can't really tell you what the final outcome will be. First of all, we want to
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gauge what the ultimate size of the corporation is going to be because that's going to determine how big a permanent headquarters will be required. I want to assure you that there will be an insurance corporation so that there will be a need for permanent headquarters, and having made that decision we want to go through the economics of the operation.
I realize that there is an important impact that could potentially take place in New Westminster from having that head office there. I quite understand that situation and certainly it's under very active consideration at the present time.
Let me say a word about the general insurance premiums. We're still losing money on general insurance, and I'm darned if I can understand why.
MR. COCKE: Because the private insurance companies are dumping all the bad risks on us.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, that may be, but the other side of it is that if ICBC sets its general insurance premiums too low then the privates get out. So those are the two sides of the story. I quite confess I'm no insurance man and I just don't know the answer to that.
With regard to the commissions, the insurance agents are going to make more money this year — that's perfectly true. I honestly can't tell you how much, and it comes back to the methods — the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) understands this, but the member for North Vancouver–Capilano (Mr. Gibson) is apparently unaware of the way the thing is handled. When the applications come back the cheque is cleared immediately so that we know the total amount of money cleared, but you don't know any more than that. You don't know how much of this is for basic and how much is for extension. You don't know which agent made the sale. It's weeks before the data actually gets programmed onto the permanent computer, so a lot of the material is still sitting in cardboard boxes on the 17th floor of ICBC, not yet processed. The disadvantage, of course, is that everybody has renewals at the same time. I said that there would be legislation coming down and all the members would have an opportunity to help solve this problem by spreading the workload over the year. It's going to make it far more efficient.
We didn't inherit all this, and even if we had wanted to solve the problem overnight we couldn't have done it because you can't hire 50 more programmers to process the data in half the time. This is a technical operation. It sounds very simple, but when there are one and a half million pieces of paper coming in at the same time you just can't handle them immediately. So that's why we can't present you with figures.
As a matter of fact, in the past the insurance agents have not been paid on the basis of summing up the individual policies that they sold. It's all on the basis of estimates. They've been paid that way in the past and I would take it this year they would be paid that way again. The amount of money will be more. It will depend on the amount of extension versus the amount of basic coverage which is sold. I just can't give any answer — nobody can. But we'll know it in another couple of months.
The member talked about territorial equalizations and here I've just got to differ very sharply with the member, Mr. Chairman, because there isn't a single jurisdiction where actuarial rates are kept where the urban rates aren't higher than the rural rates. Really what the member's asking for is that the rural territories of British Columbia — the north — pay a surcharge to subsidize the lower mainland.
AN HON. MEMBER: Victoria is far lower.
HON. MR. McGEER: Yes, but remember you don't have the density of traffic here. It's an isolated place.
So what we did, Mr. Chairman, and what we will continue to do, despite the proposal of that member, is not to manipulate the rates but to base the rates on what the drivers themselves determine by their accident statistics.
It so happens that the most expensive area in British Columbia is in the lower mainland. It's like the most expensive area in Quebec being Montreal and the most expensive are in Ontario being Toronto. The traffic density is higher. There are more accidents and it costs more.
Now we're not going to stick the people in the north with the bills of the people in Vancouver. The idea of territorial ratings was an artificiality that was introduced by the NDP, not by us. We're starting to do it on a perfectly fair basis — namely, what the accident rate is. In a very real sense the drivers, as groups, set their own rates.
The member for Vancouver East (Mr. Macdonald) asked about the safe-driving dividends. Why was that a government programme rather than ICBC programme? ICBC rates were set without any political interference, without manipulation. They were set on the basis of the statistics of ICBC itself.
HON. MR. McGEER: Yes, the cabinet by regulation ratified the rates. But I want to say, Mr. Member, that the rates that cabinet ratified were those that were provided on a statistical basis. There wasn't, say, "let's get this group more" or "let's get that group less," though there was tremendous pressure, as you can imagine, from all kinds of groups to get a special deal here, a special deal there. Those
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were resisted, and there were a lot of complaints from the under-25s, as everybody knows, specifically to me, and I was invited to stick it in my ear and elsewhere.
HON. MR. McGEER: This was just the way the numbers came out and it was the only fair and unbiased way to do it. Had we given the safe-driving dividend out of the ICBC funds, then it would have been a rate manipulation which would have required that other rating groups pay for that dividend. The government agreed that it was improper to interfere politically, and, therefore, this is a programme that's being financed on its own. If, as the government calculates, the impact of this programme is a positive one and ICBC is able to save as a result of fewer claims being made by the under-25 group, then it won't cost the treasury anything, because the rates for the under-25s were based on the assumption that claims would continue to be 63 per 100 vehicles, or roughly two-and-a-half times the average of the over-25 pleasure driver.
Now if the under-25s respond as the government anticipates they will, it won't cost the treasury anything. That will be saved out of improved driving over the performance of the two years previous to that. Remember that in the first year of operations the under-25 was responsible — only 9 per cent of the drivers — for 50 per cent of the losses of ICBC. Over two years it was less than that; it was about a quarter of all the losses for this 9 per cent of the drivers.
The total subsidy per car that went into the under-25 group was about $468 per car. I've given the statistics in the House before, but it's a very, very substantial subsidy that's been given. Now we've said the time has come when people in the under-25 group have got to drive responsibly. If they're going to continue having that kind of a claims record and accident record, then the rates will have to reflect that.
Now finally, the member for Oak Bay (Mr. Wallace) asked about the handicapped person. They may have a letter back from me, but it would be along this line: if you can give us a definition, we'll accept it. When we sought advice on a definition of the handicapped originally from the Department of Human Resources, we found that the handicapped person included the alcoholic, the drug addict and the mentally ill. We felt that these would not be wise criteria on which to base a discount for driving. That was why it was set in a more restrictive stance to hand-controlled vehicles.
HON. MR. McGEER: Yes, it could easily be that. If we got a good definition we'd be quite prepared to broaden it, just so long as it's something which isn't sort of based on an individual judgment by somebody who would then be subjected to criticism. If it is something that can be placed by definition, we'd be more than pleased to do so.
HON. MR. McGEER: Oh, yes, the courts. I didn't answer the member about the courts. When the proposal was made that we reduce compulsory collision, the opinion was offered by some knowledgeable people that this would gut ICBC. The feeling was that unless you forced people to buy collision then there would be these continual disputes in the small claims court and, in effect, the system would break down and the courts would be bogged down by everybody arguing about who was responsible for the collision.
We didn't accept that advice, which I think must have come from a legal mind somewhere, and I'm glad we didn't because it's made it possible for us to sell insurance without forcing people to buy this very high-cost aspect of it. It's had, as I've said before, a dramatic effect on the number of claims that have been made, and, as far as we can tell, it's involved no unfavourable result as far as the small claims courts are concerned.
I know the lawyers always get very, very concerned about the rights of people to sue one another over automobile matters. Indeed, 50 per cent of all supreme court cases in British Columbia involve automobile litigation. What we want to do is reduce this further and further. We think, by the kinds of changes that we're contemplating in the insurance field, that we're going to substantially reduce the number of cases going not just to small claims court but to the supreme court. In so doing, we'll relieve the judges of British Columbia of the heavy burden of work they now carry.
That will rescue that downtown court house building which was redesigned at such tremendous expense, but without providing the additional courtrooms that it was contemplated would be needed. And by better approaches to automobile insurance, we can relieve the necessity, we think, for all those extra courtrooms to the benefit of the motoring public of British Columbia, because it will reduce their actual cost as well as their hidden costs.
MR. MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I want to congratulate the minister on the straightforward way he dodges the issues. (Laughter.) Just let me say on that last comment that the NDP government, through this plan, reduced very substantially the load of cases in the higher courts of B.C. You're going in the exact opposite direction now. In spite of the flowery
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words, you're encouraging lawyers and litigation and the crowding of our courts — that's the point I made.
The other point that the minister dodged was who decides whether it's a blame where they claim. In the case of a young person, who's going to decide that? If it's blameworthy, he doesn't get the money; if it's not a blameworthy claim, he gets the rebate. Who makes that decision? Who's going to do it? Is there going to be fair process? To whom does he appeal? Because if we are forever seeing Big Brother, you know, and denying people natural justice because they're young, presumably, and it doesn't matter — some will get it, some will not, by the decision of the Social Credit government. They may not be the most important cases in the world; they might involve maybe $75 for this young Smith who gets the rebate, and $75 for Jones who doesn't. But are you going to decide that as politicians in a bureaucratic way without giving these people fair process?
I don't know what section or claim, except for a political speech, under which you could give them fair process. You are not doing it, and that is a denial of justice to a section of our population — in this case, the young. You just tell me then, Mr. Minister, who will make that decision as to whether it is blameworthy or not.
HON. MR. McGEER: The process is no different now, Mr. Member...
MR. MACDONALD: Of course it is.
HON. MR. McGEER: ...than it has always been.
MR. MACDONALD: Who makes the decision?
HON. MR. McGEER: The original assessment is made at the claims centre. If the people dispute the judgment at the claims centre, then they are quite free to take either the corporation or the other individual to small claims court. It has always been this way and it is absolutely no different. There have been no changes at all in that.
MR. MACDONALD: Are you saying that somebody whose claim was paid at the beginning of the year — and he doesn't have any controversy about that, the damage — might have to go to court and kind of relitigate that old accident to try and show that he is not blameworthy in it? A court wouldn't listen to that. It would just be for a declaration: that accident where all the finances have been cleared up and settled and forgotten about — "but I do want to say to the government of the Social Credit that I was not blameworthy; therefore I must try and find a judge who will listen to that kind of a case." That's my appeal? That is no appeal at all! You are saying, in effect, that the decision is going to be politically made as to which young people can get that rebate and which cannot. It will be made by an official of the government or it will be made by the Social Credit minister. That is a denial of natural justice.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Member, I find that you are saying very condemnatory things about the system your government set up, because there is no alteration at all in the system which is in existence today over what was in existence a year or two ago.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, this applies with adequate notice. It was given by your government, Mr. Member, back in October, 1975, that accident records were being kept and that people who had blameworthy accidents would be faced with a surcharge. That wasn't any announcement that was made by our governmento that's what you did yourselves. From the very beginning all the blame has been kept through the claim centres; there has been an assignment of blame in every claim.
HON. MR. McGEER: But there is appeal to the small debts court. The fact that people would be faced with a surcharge if they accepted blame for a claim when they really weren't to blame, in their view, was something that was given by notice by your government. If you thought that the method was wrong, the time that you should have complained and done something about it was when you were in office.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. members, before I recognize the next member, I know that in committee it is very, very difficult to recognize the Chair with direct questions being asked and direct answers being given. But please assist me, if you would, in maintaining order.
MR. G.R. LEA (Prince Rupert): Mr. Chairman, there are one or two points I would like to touch on. I would like to first of all mention the territorial rate differentials, and suggest to you, Mr. Chairman, that the argument being put forward by the Minister of Education doesn't hold up to scrutiny. On the one hand, you can't claim to have concern about the rights of the individuals and that individuals should be treated as individuals in society and by government, and at the same time say that you are not going to look at a person's individual driving record and make some assessment as to what his insurance rate should be based on — a formula — and, on the other hand, put forward that because you live in a geographic area you should be assessed on your
[ Page 1772 ]
insurance premiums an extra amount because you happen to live within an area where there have been more accidents than in another geographic area.
I mean, why should an individual who has had no driving accident and no charges on his licence be charged more than someone living in Victoria, for instance, who has had driving charges and accidents? It just doesn't hold up and make any sense at all. It doesn't make any sense, and it is against the individual right in society to do just that. So it doesn't make sense. I'd like to point that out, and when you are starting to talk about the rights of individuals in society, I can recall sitting on the government benches and having the ministers who were in opposition at that time liken us to Orwell's 1984. I suggest to you, Mr. Chairman, that we now see here Animal Farm, where once the animals are in they start walking around on their hind legs and changing slogans and changing philosophy and changing direction in midstream.
You know, I can't see where this government has any concern at all for the rights of individuals. They are pure statistics and pure computers. That's all they are! They make decisions based on computers, technology, and they have no concern at all about the individuals in this society. It is evident in every policy that they hand down.
One other matter.... Oh, just before I leave that subject, Mr. Chairman, getting back to the fact of postage stamp rates in insurance. You know, I'm not here to argue that there may be people in Vancouver paying more at this present time than there are people in the north. It falls back on the argument that I just made, that you shouldn't be judged by where you live in terms of the rate of insurance that you are going to pay. There should be one blanket-rate postage stamp rate for insurance coverage for each individual on the make of car that he may drive. Then, based on the driving record, you assess whether that person should pay more for his insurance. But to say you pay more just because you live in a certain geographic region of the province is ludicrous, and I don't see how anybody can put that argument forward without having his tongue in cheek. You know, it's just absolutely silly.
Getting back now to traffic accidents — either those causing injury or traffic accidents causing fatalities — I would like, through you, Mr. Chairman, to ask the Minister of Education, with his responsibility for the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, not to listen to the Minister of Highways (Hon. Mr. Fraser) who, shortly after being sworn into office, said that he felt that most accidents were caused by slow drivers. He said he was considering maybe raising the speed limit.
I would just ask, even though I know it's within the jurisdiction, Mr. Chairman, of the Minister of Highways to either change the speed limits or make recommendations to cabinet to change the speed limits, that cabinet not listen to the Minister of Highways when he puts forward that kind of argument, which he did publicly, because I don't think statistics would back up that kind of statement.
The first year of statistics that we've had since the lowering of the speed limit in British Columbia are very hopeful statistics to look at. In 1975 there were 127 fewer fatalities in British Columbia than the year previous. There were 844 the year previous and 717 in 1975 — 127 fewer. I would recognize that not all of these fatalities, the decrease, could be attributed to the lowering of the speed limit, but I would suggest that a great many of them can.
I think the accident statistics and injuries would point that. out also, because there were 3,696 more injuries. There were more accidents and more injuries but fewer fatalities, and I would suggest that that is because the impact of a car striking another car or another object...that the fatality rate lowered because there wasn't as severe an accident because of the lowering of the speed limit.
So I would implore that the minister not listen to the Minister of Highways in that regard, and if there is some suggestion that the Minister of Highways is going to raise the speed limits in British Columbia, I would ask that the Minister of Education at least bring that up in cabinet and try to have it stopped.
But I would like to hear the minister's views once more of why individuals should be.... Well, it's just like a fine! You know, it's like a fine for living in a certain geographic area of the province. I remember, Mr. Chairman, during the last campaign that those people who backed Social Credit...there were hotliners doing that, talking about the rights of the individual. Now for this party to form government and take this kind of action against the individual when the former government was trying to make it better for the individual and not fine that person for living in a geographic area — I just don't know how the minister can explain that kind of rationale if it is one, indeed.
[Mr. Veitch in the chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Oak Bay.
MR. KERSTER: The three stooges!
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I would ask that the member for Coquitlam (Mr. Kerster) withdraw the remark that there are three stooges on this side of the House.
MR. KERSTER: I've been asked to withdraw. I
[ Page 1773 ]
would withdraw the word "three." (Laughter.)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. Member, to withdraw, you have to withdraw without any equivocation whatsoever.
MR. KERSTER: Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman, if the word "stooges" was taken personally by any particular member on the opposite side of the House, I will therefore withdraw totally the word "stooges."
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Hon. Member.
MR. WALLACE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the member's courtesy. I want to get on to education, and there are many questions that need to be asked. But specifically, Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister about the proposed 240-bed hospital on the campus of UBC. This issue, in my view, is not getting the overall public concern and reaction that it deserves.
First of all, the decision was made in a very arbitrary and high-handed way by the minister, who gave the university 60 days, a sentence of 60 days, to come up with a commitment. First of all, that kind of ministerial approach to an issue with such far-reaching ramifications, I think, does not do his office any honour or dignity.
The attitude was very much a statement to UBC to "take it or leave it." Worse than that, there was an added threat that if there was no answer within 60 days, the medical school for which the added beds were needed would be given to Victoria.
Now, Mr. Chairman, first of all, that attitude, I think, deserves criticism.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!
MR. WALLACE: I want to make one point very plain. I agree completely that the medical school at UBC should be expanded. The difficulty that the sons and daughters of native residents of British Columbia encounter in trying to get a medical education in their home province has been difficult, and so the whole thrust of my comments is, yes, we need a larger medical school; no, we do not necessarily need a 250-acute-bed hospital on the campus of UBC.
In case the minister has forgotten, Mr. Chairman, there were numerous studies in the last several years in Vancouver which show that Vancouver doesn't need any acute beds to start with. The need, as I've said repeatedly, till I'm almost blue in the face, is primarily for lesser levels of care, and not acute beds.
Secondly, we've had the Premier, and just about every other minister in the cabinet, remind us of the need for financial restraint, and here we have a rather dictatorial statement by the Minister of Education: "Yes, we can make $25 million available for an acute-bed hospital on UBC campus if you come up with the proposals for it within 60 days." This is without any kind of even acknowledgement, let alone commitment, that the teaching facilities to the University of British Columbia, use a number of hospitals in the downtown area, and elsewhere, which themselves are very much in need of funding for upgrading and modernization and expansion,
I might interject that I understand that not too long ago Vancouver General Hospital itself suggested that it needed a minimum of $50 million to keep up with the kind of services that it was expected to provide in the teaching of medical students.
So the need for acute beds is very much in question. The advisability of locating the extending teaching facilities on the campus leaves the inescapable conclusion that the primary motive is to look after the needs only of teaching the students, and only of the teachers in the university campus.
Hospitals, Mr. Chairman, are built for people — patients. However important the teaching of medical students must be, it's very difficult to understand how, at a time of such severe financial restraint, we have the minister making what at least on the surface appeared to be a unilateral decision, in isolation in his own department, that $25 million worth of money would be allocated towards a hospital on the campus of UBC, built according to very specific criteria in his department — and a decision on all that within 60 days as to proceeding with such a plan.
Beyond the points that I've raised, Mr. Chairman, there is the very central aspect also of the physical location of such a hospital, some distance from the population centres which the minister presumably assumes would use the new hospital.
In other words, I think it's very valid to ask whether the minister can be confident that the patient load — that's an unfortunate choice of word — the patient population that he would expect to be used as teaching material in the new hospital...what kind of likely assumption is there that these patients would take the trouble to travel from the highly populated areas in Vancouver and the lower mainland out to the campus at UBC?
It's one of the most difficult places transit-wise to reach at any time. And here, at a time when we're talking about the great shortage of funding for all kinds of social services — hospitals, schools, highways and so on — the minister almost glibly says: "Well, you can have $25 million if you build a hospital in this location, under these circumstances, and if you don't take longer than 60 days to tell me how you're going to do it."
This came across, Mr. Chairman, as just one more of these lightning-rod, shotgun decisions for which this minister has become very well renowned. Just a little bit like the deliberate statement that "if you can't afford car insurance, sell your car." "If you
[ Page 1774 ]
can't get this hospital decision in 60 days we'll give the medical school to Victoria." That is an incredible kind of irresponsible attitude in the spending, first of all, of $24 million worth of money and, secondly, in an issue that cannot be decided in such an impromptu or hasty manner.
The minister is to be congratulated for pushing the idea of an enlargement of medical student training in British Columbia, and I re-emphasize that and I agree with him entirely. But the manner in which he appears to be pushing it forward and with the issue which appears to be contingent on this acceptance of a 240-acute-bed hospital on the UBC campus is leaving many people, not just the doctors, but many people wondering whether that's the most appropriate way to go about spending $25 million, which will be matched by another $25 million from the Federal Health Resources Fund. I understand the commitment has to be made by 1980 but the actual facilities do not have to be constructed by 1980.
HON. MR. McGEER: That's wrong.
MR. WALLACE: Well, if that's wrong, let the minister correct it. But I've made some inquiries and researched the federal legislation, and the basic thrust of that legislation is that the commitment for the funds has to be made by 1980.
Anyway, that isn't as important as the question of building a $25 million facility, or whatever precise amount of money will be involved on that particular site, when in point of fact there could be no assurance that patients whom the university might wish to utilize as teaching patients will ever take the trouble to go out to that particular hospital.
Since we're all being made more and more aware of the need for efficient transportation systems in urban and metropolitan areas, and since we already have teaching facilities in two or three other hospitals that desperately need upgrading, and since the minister and the Premier, and the Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Wolfe) in particular, have emphasized the overall shortage of funds for any social purpose, does this seem the most appropriate route to follow? Although we want to expand the medical school, should we put this kind of money into an acute-care hospital in that location?
I would hope that just because the university has responded within the 60 days and given the minister an answer — and I think it's the worst kind of coercion that was applied — and the minister, being a hallowed member of the ivory towers at UBC, must know with what fear academics tremble when governments put the gun to their head in relation to expanding facilities on their campus.... It would be very difficult...and the assistant minister's laughing and obviously enjoying my comments, whether it's for better or worse.
But it's no mystery to this minister, or to many other people in this chamber or elsewhere across this province, that your threats to a university can be of the positive or negative nature: "If you don't do something we won't give you the money you need, and if you do something we'll provide you with money to enlarge your empire."
There's a lot of people in this province very concerned that this abrupt announcement by the Minister of Education (Hon. Mr. McGeer) was just another empire-building manoeuvre. And there are many people very knowledgeable about the real hospital needs in this province who are very concerned that this university hospital could very well become a white elephant.
MR. WALLACE: Not in the sense that it wouldn't be used at all — because obviously it would to a greater or lesser degree — but in all the overall context of the money available and the total need for beds in this province. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that when Vancouver is proven to have enough acute beds for many years to come, and desperately needs other kinds of beds at other levels of care, and money is short, this minister glibly says that we'll have $25 million for an acute-care hospital on the UBC campus. It just adds to the impression that I'm certainly getting from a lot of the decisions coming out of this government, in relation to hospitals, that there's far more politics involved in settling the matter to the advantage of certain groups than there is to looking after the overall, broad, general hospital needs of the greatest number of people in the province, rather than settling it, or laying plans that clearly favour certain minority groups.
I believe the task force has been set up. I wonder just how much window-dressing that will prove to be, because there is no doubt, if anybody wants to be fair in looking at the situation, or even being fair, that with restriction of the total amount of money available for hospitals, it's inescapable that if $25 million goes into an acute-care hospital on the UBC campus, it inevitably restricts capital funding available for other hospitals equally or more urgently needed in other communities, and also providing other levels of care.
But I gather that the task force has been set up. I understand the downtown hospitals are desperately hoping that a certain amount of money will be guaranteed by the government to ensure that the construction of that hospital on the UBC campus will not hopelessly impede or restrict the kind of upgrading and modernization that is required in the acute hospitals already providing teaching for the students at UBC.
[ Page 1775 ]
The other element that seems to be almost overlooked by the minister is that about 85 per cent of the teaching at UBC is done by clinical staff instructors being paid some small honorarium — $100 a year or some such figure. I wonder to what degree, if any, the minister took the trouble to consult that solid core of medical instructors who at UBC, like many medical schools all across the whole country, contribute their time and effort not for monetary gain, but because they are truly dedicated and interested in teaching medical students. At the moment, I understand, there are about 300 such medical practitioners in Vancouver who provide about 85 per cent of the teaching to the medical students, and many of them at the downtown hospitals — not out in the ivory tower at the UBC campus, but in the downtown hospitals.
I wonder if the minister has read some of the more up-to-date advice being offered by very well-known medical teachers like Dr. Charles H. Hollenberg, chairman of the department of medicine of the University of Toronto. Or can the minister not get his thoughts over the mountains to find out what's going on in other medical centres? Do we want to repeat the white elephant situation at McMaster University in Hamilton? There they developed an on-campus site, and it just isn't being used for providing the kind of cross-section of experience in medical teaching that should be an integral part of any medical school — the whole cross-section of patient needs. But, no,
Dr. Hollenberg, for example, makes the point that since medical care is de-emphasizing in-hospital management and progressively emphasizing the ambulatory-care problems — people who can be managed on an ambulatory basis — any planning for future teaching facilities should lay more and more emphasis on the ambulatory-care patients, which brings me back to the transit problem. What ambulatory-care patient will choose to try and get on a bus or drive, or whatever, from Burnaby or New Westminster or Richmond, or wherever, to go out to the campus of UBC simply to avail himself or herself of the university hospital that teaches medical students? That is far from an automatic conclusion that this minister, or any of us, can come to.
If we cannot learn from the examples of other expanded medical teaching facilities in other cities, then really we're all wasting our time in this chamber; we might as well, perhaps, go out and improve our physical fitness like the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. McClelland) quite rightly encourages us to do.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. WALLACE: I think that's a very valid point, that if we can't learn from some of the very relatively recent examples of medical teaching facilities that have been expanded rather within the physical, geographical location of the university, rather than where the patients are, or rather in a way which will give easier access of patients to hospitals and to teaching facilities in the areas of urban population....
I haven't read any recent report in the press to suggest that the minister has even given any thought to reconsidering that earlier decision that the 240-bed hospital will be built on the campus at UBC. His attitude seems to be very much to all the parties concerned — UBC, the downtown hospitals, the doctors, the GVRD and all the other parties who are inevitably involved in the planning of hospital facilities, which is a very complicated matter — his attitude is: "Take it or leave it, fellas. That's where the hospital is going; you just tell me how you can come up with the plans that best seem to fit this edict." And an edict it was indeed.
I suppose, if you can judge from one of the comments the minister made — something about the fact that there's a great deal of medical politics involved in a situation like this — and I don't deny that, but there's more than just politics involved in this; there's a great deal of money involved. If the money is spent on an ill-advised acute-care hospital on the campus, with longer restriction of facilities to be built elsewhere, and for the patients' need, not just for the teachers' need, then I think this House deserves to know, first of all, whether in fact the decision is unalterable.
I hope the minister will take that question directly, as it's offered to him, and give us a direct answer. Is the decision to build that hospital at UBC campus unalterable? If the minister is shown evidence by a variety of other groups that it might well be an ill-advised expenditure of that kind of money, will he reconsider, first of all, diverting money to the existing teaching hospitals to provide modern, adequate and efficient facilities, and then perhaps look at the concept of the next move, which may or may not involve a hospital on the university site?
To what degree has the minister included this decision in any kind of master plan for the overall facilities, both in providing care to patients in the highly populated area in Vancouver and in regard to the essential need to provide more teaching facilities?
It's pretty well agreed, and again I'd like a direct answer: does the minister agree that the present teaching facilities in St. Paul's and Vancouver General are inadequate, and that anyone who is involved in the use of these facilities has agreed, or has he got any information to the contrary that everything is just fine and that we don't need any more money spent on the existing facilities?
I'd like to know whether before he issued his statement about "you take it or leave it or I'll give it to Victoria," the minister had any consultation with
[ Page 1776 ]
UVic at all. My information is that he didn't — just off the head, off the cuff: do as I say in Vancouver or I'll give it to somebody else.
Here we're talking about the construction of a facility that would cost $20 million to $40 million, and the operating costs, presumably, would be $15 million to $20 million a year. How can the people of the province, or the members of the opposition, square all that kind of off-the-cuff disbursement of many millions of dollars on a pet project of the ministers with the overall policy the Premier and the Minister of Finance have given us about how difficult it is to lay your hands on any money for anything by this government. It's much easier to stop paying a welfare recipient for a flooded basement than it is to disburse $25 million to build a hospital.
I've got an example in my riding this afternoon — a woman on welfare who has flooding in her basement. She goes to the welfare worker and he says: "Well, the minister has just cut off all the emergency funding for this kind of situation." Then I phone and find out that that is correct, so I phone the supervisor and he confirms that that's correct....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Vote 39, Hon. Member.
MR. WALLACE: Yes, I'm relating this to vote 39. Don't get too excited, Mr. Chairman; I'm just trying to point out the question of priorities. I'm trying to point out that sometimes it's so easy to talk in millions of dollars that you forget the $10s and $20s for some woman on social assistance who is just trying to get her basement dried out.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that this kind of decision, which the Minister of Education made in isolation.... I don't even know if he consulted the Minister of Health, but he certainly didn't consult the people at UVic. Yet he held a threat over the heads of UBC faculty: "Do it my way, or else."
That was wrong. The attitude was wrong, and I am not at all convinced that the decision in itself, regardless of the style with which the minister thumped the UBC people...I'm not even sure that the facts and figures and the costs are in keeping with the chosen location.
The minister knows very well that university hospitals, if you look at them in different cities, tend to finish up as major referral hospitals. In other words, the cross-section of clinical experience which a medical student should receive is very limited, simply by the fact that a university hospital is readily looked upon as a major referral centre where all the complicated, difficult diagnostic and treatment facilities should be located and where there's a very high level of specialized care. Again, I just make the point that if that should prove to be the case in this proposed hospital, you again are limiting the funding available for hospitals throughout the rest of the province where the great majority of patients require their care and where they require a much less specialized and much more readily accessible hospital.
I just want to finish, Mr. Chairman, and make three or four points. It's very difficult, in a time of financial restraint and in view of the fact that Vancouver does not for some years need new acute beds to justify the minister's proposal in that location.
It is difficult for authorities at the existing teaching facilities to feel confident that they will be given an adequate share of the financial pie to upgrade existing teaching facilities if, in fact, this kind of money goes to a hospital on the campus.
The suggestion that you double the medical school right away is not only impractical but certainly would leave one wondering, even if it were attainable, what kind of credibility the medical school would have in that first two or three years where by sudden political decision they turn on a switch and they turn on $25 million and you've got an instant medical school, twice the size it was last year. Certainly the medical profession are clearly on record as recommending that any kind of expansion is welcome, but it should be phased in over a period of years, and you don't just suddenly go from 80 students to 160.
Certainly the minister's final point to try and win his way, that if they don't do it in Vancouver, well, he'll give it to Victoria.... Much as I would like to see a medical school in Victoria sometime in the future, it certainly would be premature when we have archaic facilities at Vancouver General and St. Paul's and an inadequate overall plan for the development of hospital and teaching facilities. It would be very premature — in fact, foolish in the extreme — to embark upon another medical school at great cost in Victoria when you haven't really stabilized or upgraded and made adequate the facilities we already have.
So, Mr. Chairman, I think that the minister owes it to the people of the province to answer some of these questions I've raised and, above all, tell us or hopefully give us some assurance that he is in close consultation with the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. McClelland) and his department to fit in, in a realistic and sober and well-considered way, not just where the new facility should go, but how the amount of money spent on these new teaching facilities influences the money that will be available for desperately needed hospital facilities at all levels in many other parts of the province. I think that's a very fair question and we would expect an answer.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, just to deal with the matters that were raised on insurance before moving to the subjects raised by the member for Oak Bay, the member for Prince Rupert (Mr. Lea) talked about the unfairness of territories. I recall that he,
[ Page 1777 ]
along with a number of other members, just two or three days after the House opened, stood up and made an eloquent plea that we should have these territorial discounts, but the members at that time evidently didn't have in front of them what the rates were. Before they came into the House and started into this elaborate debate, they hadn't done their homework and prepared their case, because the statistics came out that driving was safer in the north and in the rural regions of British Columbia than it was in the lower mainland, and the people that were paying higher rates were the ones in the lower mainland, and, far from territorial discounts, it was the reverse of this. There were cheaper rates in the rural areas because the driving was safer and because they deserved them.
I can't think of a better argument for keeping fair and proper statistics, because if we were to accept the argument of the member for Prince Rupert (Mr. Lea) it would discriminate against the drivers from his area in favour of the drivers in the lower mainland.
MR. LEA: No, it would not!
HON. MR. McGEER: We think that is completely incorrect. You could go ahead with your postage-stamp concept and spread it right across the country, but rates do differ on the Prairies from those in the urban regions of Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver where the density of traffic is high, where the repair costs are high, where the frequency of accidents is greater.
This is the whole concept of insurance — trying in the best possible way to assign risks. We believe that people who drive carefully and are in a low-risk area deserve lower premium rates, and they are going to get it. But if the claim statistics of a given group or a given region are high, there is no reason why others should subsidize them.
As far as the territories are concerned, the areas that are going to have lower rates justifiably are those areas like Prince Rupert, because the risk of accident in those smaller towns is not as great as it is in the rush traffic of the lower mainland.
MR. GIBSON: The northern rate is the second highest in the whole province — second out of six.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, Mr. Member, I can only tell you that most of the rural areas in British Columbia are closely comparable. It wasn't anything that was invented or fiddled. This is just the actual driving experience and repair cost of these particular regions. I am sure that as the statistics are developed in this coming year it is going to reflect much the same thing. It may be, Mr. Chairman, that the Prince George area comes out particularly well because they've got this very excellent safety programme"Carnage" taking place in that area. Now if the citizens of that area undertake a safe-driving programme and if it results in lower accidents, isn't it fair that their premiums should reflect that better experience?
AN HON. MEMBER: No.
HON. MR. McGEER: You say "no" and the member for North Vancouver (Mr. Gibson) says "no," but we say "yes." We say that that is fair and proper.
Mr. Chairman, I can only go once more on the accident statistics that we have obtained so far showing a very dramatic drop this year over last year in accidents on the road. I am sure that this, too, will be reflected in fewer deaths on the highway. When the compulsory seatbelt legislation comes in, that should have further dramatic improvement. Not only is that going to be of social benefit, that, too, should have a beneficial effect on the cost of running the insurance operation.
I want to complement the member for Prince Rupert (Mr. Lea) . It was a very worthwhile move to introduce reduced speed limits on the highways. I am sure that had a beneficial effect on the number of deaths. But, Mr. Member, the accidents all over British Columbia last year relative to the year before and the year before that were dramatically up — dramatically up.
MR. LEA: They were up.
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, they were up very substantially. It's a question of semantics here but, be that as it may, so far — and let's keep our fingers crossed — this year they are down. If this trend continues — if the public, with our encouragement, can maintain that for the rest of the year — then there will be money left over. It's not, Mr. Member, because there is some quarrel about whether the rates that ICBC recommended, which were 4 per cent higher than the actuary, Mr. Byron Straight, thought appropriate — whether that is correct or incorrect, they were both based on the motion that the accident rate this year would approximately be equal to what it was the year before. But that is not taking place. There is this dramatic drop. It is that that will permit us, hopefully, Mr. Chairman, to have some money left over for a safe-driving dividend for everybody. It is nothing that we could have predicted. It's just a beneficial side-effect of establishing policy that people who are driving automobiles should pay what the insurance for those automobiles costs and not that people should pay out of general taxes for the support of the driver.
Now I want to come, Mr. Chairman, to the issue raised by the member for Oak Bay (Mr. Wallace),
[ Page 1778 ]
which is an extremely important issue. I am sure the member realizes, as a physician trained outside of British Columbia and then coming to this province, that the majority of physicians here in British Columbia are trained outside this province. Last year there were 470 physicians registered in British Columbia. Of this 470,100 came from the United Kingdom; only 79 of them came from the province of British Columbia. We've been taking about one applicant in 10 into our single medical school in this province. The number of people who are being registered as graduates of our own province at the present time is only about 15 per cent of the total in the province.
Mr. Chairman, if we were to say to the politicians in this province that there are 55 seats in the Legislature but only 15 per cent of those seats could go to native British Columbians, while the remainder came from outside of the province, because we could get all the politicians we need from outside British Columbia; or if you were to say to the lawyers that the places in the future...and remember that the physicians who come to British Columbia are supported by public funds. After all, that's the way physicians' bills are paid.
MR. WALLACE: That's not the issue I raised. Get to the issue.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, this is precisely the issue that that member raised — precisely the issue. If we're to give the several hundred young British Columbians that we turn away each year from our medical school an opportunity....
AN HON. MEMBER: Why are they turned away?
HON. MR. McGEER: Because the medical school is limited in size to 80 students.
MR. WALLACE: It should be enlarged.
HON. MR. McGEER: We're turning away several hundred qualified people per year. If the medical school is enlarged it will be 1982 or 1983 before there's any impact at all of that enlargement on the physician population in British Columbia. The number of physicians each year that is being registered in the province — and it's been going on for many, many years — has been severalfold more from people outside of British Columbia than from people from within our province. I've maintained many times in the Legislature in the past, in opposition, that we were turning away better young British Columbians from medical schools than we would be able to get as trained physicians taking their medical training outside of British Columbia. So the proposal to enlarge the medical school was merely to alleviate a situation that to me makes bad medical sense, in addition to making poor social sense.
Mr. Member, we only have one medical school in British Columbia, and they have jurisdiction over their size. It's not determined by the government. The government can't order that the medical school be 100 or 120 or 160 without interfering in the affairs of that university, with whatever political consequences that might bring about. But what one can do is to ask a university what it would need to enlarge its medical school — to double it. Essentially that's what the government did. It was a cabinet decision to say to the University of British Columbia: "Come forward with the plan as to how you can enlarge your medical school, and the government will give it serious consideration."
MR. WALLACE: That wouldn't be interfering, would it?
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, I can only remind the member that the building of a hospital has been policy of the University of British Columbia since 1946. It's been a condition of enlarging the medical school, I think, for as long as people can remember. The medical school has been in operation for some 26 years now, and this has been an essential condition for the enlargement of that medical school.
You say a gun was held to the University of British Columbia. Far from it, Mr. Chairman. The university had approached the government to release, for the purposes of enlarging the medical school, the health resources funds that had been held in escrow. This health resources fund was set up, Mr. Chairman, 10 years ago. The only province that has failed to make proper use of these funds until this time has been the province of British Columbia, which now has something close to 11 per cent of the population, but graduates only 4 per cent of the doctors in this country.
The university had made it clear that a hospital on the campus was a condition they felt essential for enlarging the medical school. The health resources funds had been held in escrow in this province, pending some reasonable agreement among the parties that would be intimately involved in their expenditure. I must say that the University of British Columbia gave no indication that they felt a gun had been held to its head. It submitted its report within 60 days. It's able to double its medical school, according to the report, perhaps not as fast as the government might have wished, but at any event they certainly met the target. They came up with a firm plan, and that plan is now under study by a task force which includes, Mr. Chairman, a representative of the B.C. Medical Association. I think their point of view is well understood, and the member has expressed
[ Page 1779 ]
that point of view well. But we will hope that the task force, which includes the downtown teaching hospital and the B.C. Medical Association, as well as representatives from the University of British Columbia, is going to come up with a harmonious plan that everyone can agree to so that these funds can be released and we can start on with the business of getting more medical students trained in British Columbia.
The member raised the subject of the University of Victoria. No threat was made to the University of British Columbia, to the B.C. Medical Association, or to the University of Victoria.
I personally hope that, as the member expressed, one day there will be a medical school at the University of Victoria, but that's nothing that the government can force on that university. They would have to be prepared to undertake such a programme on their own and make proposals to the government.
But it must be remembered that even if this plan goes ahead to create, in effect, a second medical school in Vancouver by doubling it from 80 to 160, we would still only be registering a third of the number of physicians that were registered this year. We would still be turning away hundreds of young British Columbians each year, and by 1982 or 1983, when these people might be graduating, we could be turning away thousands while at the same time continuing to depend on the United Kingdom and other countries of the world to supply our physician needs.
I would like to think, Mr. Chairman, that one day this province will be self-sufficient in its production of physicians. After all, we're an extremely wealthy province. We're at least the second wealthiest in Canada — maybe the wealthiest — and Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. If we are unable to permit our own youngsters an opportunity to enter this profession, and if we're unable to carry our full load in the responsibility of training people to look after the health of our own citizens, then I think that we've adopted very poor policies indeed.
When we look down the road 15 or 20 years we are going to be extremely well served by policies that we've put in place now that will allow this flow of our outstanding youngsters, here in this province, to enter into a profession that ultimately might be critical to the health of each one of us. It's been a history of shameful neglect, Mr. Chairman, and I don't think one that anyone can take satisfaction in — the medical school, the medical profession, government or anybody — but hopefully if we can understand that this is an extremely important responsibility, looking down 10, 15 and 20 years, not just to do this particular job of doubling the medical school at UBC, but getting on with at least one other medical school here in this province so that we will have total self-sufficiency ourselves in looking after our health needs, but we will be able to give a fair opportunity to our own youngsters, then we will have adopted the kind of policy that in retrospect people will be proud of.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, I had planned to deal with the question of the medical school and the university hospital in the Minister of Health's (Hon. Mr. McClelland's) estimates. Sometimes I wonder why. As a matter of fact, when this minister got up for his estimates I was going to ask him whether I should bring all questions relating to health into his estimates, because he seems to have been making some of the major announcements around health care and the training of health-care people in B.C., much to the chagrin, I am sure, of the Minister of Health.
The question is: what's best for medical training in our province and what's best put together health training in B.C.? Mr. Chairman, they had the vehicle. They had a vehicle that would provide them with the most effective way of providing this training and to see to it that it was totally co-ordinated. But no, Mr. Chairman, we chose the elitist route. We chose the route that would only fortify the needs of the people at the university, and I think that their needs are ill-thought-out.
The suggestion was going around that the B.C. Medical Centre was something that was dreamed up on a moment's notice. The B.C. Medical Centre was something that was very carefully worked out in consultation with some of the best minds in Canada on the question of how health-care training can best be delivered in our province. I met with officials from the province of Quebec, and what did they have to contrast? They had two things. They had the Sherbrooke Hospital, the university hospital that was built on campus by the former deputy minister of Health for Canada, who admits candidly that it was the biggest mistake in his career. Yet on the other hand they have in Quebec City Laval University, with its six university hospital concept. Mr. Chairman, which is the best? The best hospital concept is the hospital that is closest to the people.
How can you expect the people in the lower mainland to find themselves on the very periphery of the delivery system? It's not in accordance with any kind of good judgment, Mr. Chairman. That's why we find so much fault. If there was fault to be found with the medical centre, then put it back together in a more efficient way if, in fact, you can do that. But we have such notable business people as Jack Christensen, Gordon Dresky and others that are notably qualified to make business judgments with respect to how you can best put together a co-ordinated agency, and you have something there, Mr. Chairman. But instead, what do you do? You feed it to the lions.
I would suggest the people who are very well
[ Page 1780 ]
qualified to make these judgments are the people who are delivering care in this province. You can go across the province from doctor to doctor, from nurse to nurse, and find real support for the old medical centre concept, that concept that was just torn asunder at the drop of a hat with no real thought. Obviously, a commitment by the Minister of Education to his former colleagues or old colleagues or present colleagues out at UBC and not unanimity there either — not by a long shot.
So, Mr. Chairman, I think it's unfortunate. I'm going to be dealing with it to a far, far greater extent when we get to the Minister of Health's estimates, but all I can say is that that history of neglect that we've enjoyed for so long in health care in B.C. has been restored by the present coalition. I can see no other answer to it.
Things were happening in health care, Mr. Chairman. Things were happening in the development of health-care training programmes, and it takes time for the development. We would have started on the children and maternal concept on Shaughnessy which...incidentally, the Minister of Health has changed his mind and is coming back to Shaughnessy....
HON. R.H. McCLELLAND (Minister of Health): Never left.
MR. COCKE: Never left. You didn't know where it was going to be when you announced the children's hospital concept. The children and maternal hospital concept was down the drain.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: So that's democracy.
MR. COCKE: Okay, it's democracy.
MR. COCKE: It's democracy. Mr. Chairman, you know, the Minister of Health is getting a little upset. But wait until your estimates. You're going to get plenty upset.
MR. COCKE: You were a disaster to do that kind of thing, and a disaster backed up by the Minister of Education.
MR. KING: A total disaster.
MR. LAUK: Are you the real Minister of Health?
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, I think that the member is trying to defend something which, in retrospect, is impossible to defend, because all that happened during three years of his tenure was that $5 million was wasted on plans with no on....
MR. COCKE: You never even saw those plans.
HON. MR. McGEER: There was, Mr. Chairman, $5 million spent by that minister — health resources funds. Three more years in escrow, so their purchasing power has dropped to 60 per cent of what it was; no action on the medical school; no useful data of any kind on the training of health professionals — three years, $5 million, a total waste. That's why the Minister of Health moved as he did, and I'm proud he did, Mr. Chairman, because it was responsible.
Now the member can get up and he can speak now and he can speak later, but I think it should be very clear that what's involved in the education of people in the health field is something which involves education and educational jurisdiction as well as health and its services. And the whole purpose in establishing a task force to examine the education plans put forward by the University of British Columbia.... Remember, Mr. Chairman, it is in the jurisdiction of each institution that puts on its education programme what the nature of that programme shall be and what are the appropriate standards for successful completion of the programme. That's education, and it properly belongs in the jurisdiction of the institutions that are responsible for the programme.
Now service is another matter, and if you're trying to operate a hospital, no matter how good it may be from an educational point of view, if it's not satisfactory from a service point of view, then it's not a viable project. But by the same token you cannot have the people who are involved in service trying to dictate to the educational institutions what their programme should be like or where they should be, because that fails too. So it's very important that the views of the B.C. Medical Associations, for example, be taken into account as far as the construction of any new hospital might be concerned. It's very important.
On the other hand, one cannot expect the B.C. Medical Association to be responsible for the educational programmes of doctors, nurses or any health professionals. Those are going to come under the jurisdiction of the individual institutions: BCIT, Simon Fraser for the clinical biochemist, UBC for doctors. The government isn't going to be in the position, I can assure you, of attempting to dictate to any educational institution what it should do in the way of putting on programmes or the way in which they are operated. That's properly the jurisdiction of those individual institutions.
[ Page 1781 ]
There does have to be co-ordination, yes, co-ordination from an educational point of view and co-ordination from the service point of view. That's where cooperation must take place between the departments. But you can't do the kind of thing, Mr. Chairman, that the former Minister of Health (Mr. Cocke) attempted to do in establishing an education committee under a superboard, such as BCNC was, because it was making no progress at all on the educational side, Mr. Chairman. All it was doing was spending the public millions on planning that was, in the end, unsatisfactory and unproductive. I totally support the move the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. McClelland) made in government in disbanding that unnecessary organization.
MR. COCKE: A supplementary. Mr. Chairman, all this I could buy, except for one thing: that is, the minister stands up and talks about costs.
The proposal for the university hospital is a 2,500-square-foot-per-bed hospital, and they talk about that 2,500 square feet per bed as a general practice — that's the teaching community hospital approach. Oh, Lord, if we can only afford this government for the length of their tenure — that's all I can say, because, Mr. Chairman, so much could be done....
MR. COCKE: Oh, don't give us all those smart remarks. The facts are well established now: your budget is up and services are cut. That's enough said.
MR. LAUK: Pay more for less.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, as I said before, I want to go on with this under the Minister of Health's estimates. I believe the whole question is one of a very quick decision which was an unfortunate decision. I believe the route that is outlined about us taking care of our medical needs in this province is one that that government won't do as long as B.C. Is as attractive a place as it was. It was the old Socreds that got us into a position where we would never train more than a very small fraction of our needs — 275 doctors per year is roughly the attrition in this province. More than 275 come in from elsewhere, so we're actually making giant strides ahead, but we're not doing our share in training. That's what this medical centre was set up for, and I suggest to you that it's just unfortunate it's gone.
I blame the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education for having made a very quick decision that was based on some of the thoughts and some of the needs of their colleagues. How can you say $5 million down the drain when it was the fault of the present ministers that let the planning, which would have started immediately in May... ? The first hospital was to be started in May; ready to go; the plans are there. And the plans were plans of a very outstanding architect in B.C. Yes, that's right. Confer all you like, but that's precisely what was ready, and ready in May.
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I don't wish to greatly prolong this debate, but the minister's initial response to my comments certainly cannot be ignored. He tried to make the situation appear to be a contesting as to whether we should expand the medical school, and that is absolutely extraneous to the argument. We are all agreed, and we've talked in this House for years when he was on this side of the House, and I backed him 100 per cent. Yes, we definitely need more facilities and openings and numbers to train medical students, so let's get that out of the way right away. There is no debate about the fact that British Columbia is not educating enough young people to become doctors within our own boundaries. I hope he won't indulge in another long harangue about that. We're not arguing about that.
We are arguing about a very essential issue which is the issue of this government in this session, and that is the order of priorities in government spending to get the best value for your dollar for the most people. That's what we're debating. And when we see cutbacks and restraints in a variety of other directions, we have to be certain on our side of the House that, whatever money is to be put into financing expanded facilities to teach medical students, it should be done in the best possible way to meet the requirements of many different groups in addition to the students, not the least of which is the needs of patients.
If you build a hospital away out on the Point Grey campus at a certain cost, and these dollars would otherwise have been spent in the community hospitals that are needed in this province, then I would have to say that that is a decision that is unwise, taking into consideration all the elements, all the cost factors and the total amount of money that is presently available.
I just repeat, Mr. Chairman, that it isn't an argument about needing a larger medical school. That is agreed by all of us and by anybody who knows the situation or anybody who has a son or daughter trying to get into UBC medical school.
As recently as this morning, on the phone, was a young man wanting to look at the concept of going to the United Kingdom because he can't get into a medical school near at hand. So that's not an issue. We're all dedicated to bringing that about, but to do it in some sort of isolation from so many of the other reasons and so many of the other factors as to needs in other parts of the teaching centres — VGH and St. Paul's — and to suggest....
[ Page 1782 ]
MR. WALLACE: Well, that's fine. You know, a lot of the people over there, Mr. Chairman, shake their heads. But when the minister gets up to answer, why won't he get up and just give a commitment that $15 million will be made available to VGH, or X million to St. Paul's? Oh, no, it's always some kind of ill-defined assurance that these hospitals needn't worry — they'll get the money.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: That's what the task force is for.
MR. WALLACE: The Minister of Health chirps in that the task force will look after that problem. But the decision, Mr. Chairman, has already been made to build a hospital on the UBC campus. Now the task force can't reverse that decision. Or can they? Say yes. Tell me that if the task force....
MR. LEA: He doesn't know.
MR. WALLACE: Tell me that if the task force says that idea is not a good one, the minister will turn around and say: "Well, let's spend the money at VGH and St. Paul's; maybe we'll involve Richmond and a few other hospitals in teaching community medicine, " because that's where the new teaching should go on — not in the highly specialized, sophisticated halls of a referral hospital on a university campus.
Where have you been, Mr. Minister, when reading the journals lately? Oh, the emphasis is away from the big ivory-halled university type hospital setting where you see nothing but super-duper, highly sophisticated cardiac catheterization and dialysis units and all the very expensive highly sophisticated care which really is not the kind of basic training that a medical student needs. The medical student needs the basic training on the everyday kind of diseases that afflict most of the people, not that esoteric half of 1 per cent that affects people with highly complicated problems that need specialists from a variety of disciplines to deal with.
That is the point, Mr. Chairman: can the task force listen to the kind of arguments that I am putting forward, and other people are putting forward, and say to the minister: "We think that if it's teaching facilities you really want to provide, you could serve two essential goals by teaching the medical student the kind of basic, down-to-earth medicine he really needs to know and at the same time provide community hospital beds, not a very sophisticated hospital on a university campus "? That's the issue we're debating.
It's not a question of what the BCMA think or don't think; it is a question of participation by many different interested groups, not the least of which is the taxpayer, to find out the best way we can achieve these many goals, not just the goal of providing another 80 places for medical students. That is surely one part of a much wider goal by this minister. But the very arbitrary and sudden and hasty way in which he said: "Yes, we want more places and we shall do it this way...."
To finish, Mr. Chairman, could the minister please answer my question: is the decision unalterable to build the hospital on the campus site, or is it alterable? If the task force comes back with a report to the minister which says it would be better to build another 100 beds at two different sites in the centre of greatest population where the patients are, will the minister reconsider what appears to be an unchangeable decision that the $25 million resource fund money will only be spent if the hospital is built on the UBC campus? Now that question is very simple. I am sure the minister will give me an answer to it.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, we can't predict in any way what the task force might say. I can only say to the member what we have said before — namely, that the health resources funds, which are to provide for training and research in medicine are.... I don't know whether the member is listening to this, but I think it is kind of important that he does. These funds have been held in British Columbia for over 10 years...
MR. WALLACE: That's not what I asked.
HON. MR. McGEER: ...because there is a disagreement. Mr. Chairman, let me go on. If we are to use those funds....
HON. MR. McGEER: Would you let me pursue...?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The hon. minister has the floor.
HON. MR. McGEER: If, Mr. Chairman, you are to use these funds for the enlargement of the medical school, then obviously the medical school must be prepared to accept the plan to enlarge it. Otherwise, you are in the position of the government trying to dictate to a university, which we don't intend to do. Therefore....
AN HON. MEMBER: What else have you done?
HON. MR. McGEER: We have not dictated to anybody. Mr. Chairman, if you could ask the member to stop and listen, let's go over it step by step again.
[ Page 1783 ]
The universities and all the other educational institutions establish their own standards for the health education programmes. We think that is appropriate; it is going to stay that way. Because there has been disagreement for these many years, the health resources funds have been spent in every other province but British Columbia. The history is that under the NDP there were some very expensive and expansive plans made to spend the health resources fund and several hundred million dollars more. There were not plans at all to enlarge the medical school — none.
One never really got to the critical position as to what would have happened had there been a proposal to spend the health resources funds, but not to use it for the training of medical personnel. But that day never came. All that happened was that three years was wasted while the value of these health resources dollars shrunk to approximately half, Now, Mr. Chairman, I can only plead that an opportunity be given to let the people who are concerned reach a mutually agreeable decision so that these funds can be released in time. The date is running out. The health resources fund was established some 10 years ago with a cut-off date of December 31, 1980. I don't know what kind of advice the member has received, but if he studies the legislation he'll see that the money must be spent by December 31, 1980. That doesn't leave too much more time for disputatious argument. I'm not at all certain, Mr. Chairman, that we would be serving the interest of medical education at all by trying to prejudge what a task force might in its wisdom decide to do in the next little while.
I think that everyone has agreed — and I'm pleased to hear this — that the medical school must be enlarged. People, I hope, are agreed that the money should be spent in the most efficient and effective way. It's up to people to give advice to government. They've been invited to. The University of British Columbia has certainly done its part by responding within the time limit suggested by the government. The only reason for a time limit is because the deadline on the utilization of these funds is so rapidly approaching. Here are three years under the NDP when there was no progress of any kind made, so that was three lost years and one is trying to make up for that. The university responded not in anger but by coming up with a positive plan as to how the medical school could be doubled. It's now under study by the other interested groups, and they have until June 18, again for the reason of time running out on the utilization of these funds. I think if these groups, Mr. Chairman, are left to do their job without the interference of politicians, they're going to do their job well, in the best interests of British Columbians, and we can look forward to receiving their deliberations in the next little while.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. Chairman, I'm certainly no expert at all in this debate that's been going back and forth about the university hospital, but I've been listening carefully, and just before talking about some other things, I would ask the minister if he would clarify something for me when he stands up next.
He mentioned a few moments ago letting the committees go ahead and do their job. There's something I'm not clear on at the moment: will the minister accept the report of the task force if it suggests that this hospital not be built at the University of British Columbia, or is that decision now firmly made and irrevocable? I would be grateful if the minister would clarify that.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Chairman, the University of British Columbia, at the time it asked for the release of the health resources funds, had made it very clear that it would be impossible for the university to expand to that size without having a campus teaching unit. Now, of course, if the task force can persuade the University of British Columbia to alter that position so that the money could be spent....
AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, oh!
HON. MR. McGEER: Well, obviously the government is quite prepared to go along with whatever plan is mutually recommended, but what the government is not prepared to do, Mr. Member, is try and force the university to do something that it has said it cannot do, because you just introduce all kinds of problems if you try and interfere with the autonomy of educational institutions. That's one thing we won't do.
AN HON. MEMBER: Even if it's in the public interest?
HON. MR. McGEER: It's a question, Mr. Member, of whether it is in the public interest ever to interfere with the autonomy of institutions, as you well know.
AN HON, MEMBER: Oh, come along!
MR. GIBSON: I'd like to return briefly at this point to some of the things the minister was saying about the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, and specifically two subjects: agents' commissions and territorial equalization.
Now on the subject of agents' commissions, the minister was telling us that he just couldn't advise the House of the percentage that those commissions were running as to total premiums, but he did tell us that the dollar value is known — the dollar value of the premiums is known — because he told us that as soon as the cheque comes in it's deposited. He said: "We
[ Page 1784 ]
don't know anything else. We don't know the agent's name. We don't know the class of insurance, and so on. Those things are lying around in boxes on the 17th floor."
Now, Mr. Chairman, the minister is a scientist. He knows about sampling. He's a brain scientist, indeed, Mr. Chairman. He's given the people of British Columbia a sample of his brain already. I would ask him if he doesn't feel that it's possible for some of his ICBC staff to dive into these boxes and rummage around a little bit. As the minister knows as a scientist, if you can just take 1,000 or 2,000 cases out of those million and more returns, you can come up with a very good representation, a very good indicator of the actual percentage of agents' commissions that is going to be paid. I would find it very puzzling if an enormous corporation with the financial responsibilities of the ICBC does not have that kind of forecast. If they don't, Mr. Chairman, they're just telling us they have no idea how they're going to come out this year. They have no idea what that particular cost factor is going to be, which is going to range somewhere between 5 or 10 per cent. This is important.
I have another matter here on the question of territorial equalization. I hope I wrote this quote down reasonably well. The minister said: "There is not a single area where statistics are kept where rural areas aren't lower than urban in terms of accident experience."
Mr. Chairman, if that's the case, why is it that the north is the second-highest of the six rating groups in this province and Victoria, which is clearly an urban area, is the lowest? I suggest the minister just doesn't know his facts on territorial equalization, and I say again that the premium paid in this province, if you are an equal risk, should not depend on where you live.
I'd like to raise the subject with the minister and indirectly, Mr. Chairman, with his deputy who is sitting here today, because his deputy is going to be involved in a meeting on this subject tomorrow night. So I am raising it as a matter of some urgency. That is the question of Jericho Hill School.
The minister should be aware, Mr. Chairman, that there is enormous concern both among the parents of the children at Jericho Hill School and the staff of that school about the nebulous plans of the government which, in a general way, appear to be to move as many of those children as possible out of the Jericho Hill setting into the community setting, which sounds on the face of it a useful kind of thing to do. But there are difficulties with that.
Let me talk first of all about the procedure that's been followed. There was a press release on May 7 which, as I said, was a nebulous one, Mr. Chairman, but gave rise to fears. There was no advice to the staff of the school, none whatsoever. I have ascertained that. I took the opportunity of visiting the school on Friday. There was no advice to the union. There was not even any advice to the parents, the people who are most concerned with the future and the education of these children.
I'm concerned, Mr. Chairman, as to why this kind of procedure was followed. I'm delighted that the deputy is meeting with a group concerned with the school tomorrow night. I implore him to take an open mind on what should happen there and not necessarily follow the predetermined plan which his department is pushing on him and the minister — or, more particularly, a special branch of that department.
I'd like the deputy, too, to look into this situation. There was until last fall a joint board, a lay board largely, concerned with the affairs of Jericho Hill School. They had no power. They were advisory in nature. They don't feel that they're still there, sir. They don't feel that any attention is being paid to them.
MR. LAUK: I think we'd rather have you speak than the minister, Walter.
MR. GIBSON: I'd like the minister to confirm that that board, which represented the parents, the staff, the Deaf Institute, the Children's Hospital Diagnostic Centre, will be consulted on a regular basis by the members of the special programme branch of the department with respect to the operation of the Jericho Hill School.
On the deaf and hard-of-hearing side of the school, Mr. Chairman, there are over 180 children, but that's all. It's not a large population. It's not a population out of which it is easy to move children out into the community and form educational groups which give the child concerned a real opportunity to learn in a group of his or her peers.
You know, it's a wonderful thing to talk about giving a person a chance to grow up in their own community, but if that person is a deaf person and they talk only with their hands and there's no one in that community to talk to, then you're not doing a service to that child. If that child is different and if there's a small group of different children at a school, sometimes those different children can be isolated by other children. They get forced into their own little world and the real community socialization hope that was sought doesn't materialize. What I'm pleading with the minister and his department to do is to go slow on this.
You know, there was a document circulated to people of the school and it started out with the phrase "acting upon the best professional advice." It goes on to explain the philosophy of the special programmes branch of the department. I want to tell the minister that it is not the opinion of many people
[ Page 1785 ]
at the school that this is, in fact, the best professional advice that had been given. Since this programme apparently came on them out of the blue, I'm not surprised at that.
On the next page we hear of the enthusiasm on the part of the district personnel where these programmes are operating. These are programmes that have been spread out into the community for communicatively impaired children, so-called, under this programme. But I have to report to the minister that some of the school districts that are now being consulted by his departmental staff and told that they are going to have communicatively impaired children assigned to their districts next year are bewildered. They don't know how they're going to handle the situation.
Those districts, too, think that the move has been a little quick. This particular document goes on to say: "As far as the Jericho buildings are concerned, some new and exciting ways of utilizing some of the unused space will have to be found." It then goes on to assure us: "At this time we do want to assure the public that the first consideration will always be those children who will remain at school, and their needs." I ask the minister to ensure that that remains the absolute first priority and that covetous eyes aren't cast on those buildings in that lovely setting for some kind of research programme or something like that. Use them first and foremost for the use that has been made of them, as long as that is to the maximum advantage of the children there.
I do not in any way suggest that this is an issue on which the minister has made a mistake or exercised any bad faith or anything like that. I'm just trying to sensitize him to the very great concern that is there, and particularly sensitize his deputy, who will be attending this meeting tomorrow night, for which I very much congratulate him, to the feeling among many people associated with that school that the government is not necessarily going in the right direction. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, because this is of absolutely crucial. Importance to over 200 children when you count the blind school, and hundreds and hundreds more when you count their relatives around the province, my prayer is: don't move too fast. For God's sake, talk to the people concerned in great depth, obtain their consent, and to the best of your professional ability follow their wishes. They are very deeply concerned with their own children, and the staff are very deeply concerned with the children with whom they have been involved over the years. So I make that prayer to the minister; I hope that he will receive it in the spirit in which it is delivered.
HON. MR. McGEER: I'll just deal with this very quickly. It's too bad the member wasn't here on Friday morning when this was pretty extensively canvassed. I don't want to repeat everything that was in the Blues; I would just refer the member to the things we had to say there.
As far as the union people are concerned, the Civil Service Commission was first notified, and the staff union there was notified so that the number of employees who would be affected by the growing attrition, which is something that's being going on for four or five years now, would be able to make a satisfactory adjustment. The parent groups, too, were consulted, and, indeed, their function has been expanded, so that they're now advisory groups for the whole of the province, rather than just Jericho itself. Something like 40 per cent of deaf people now are being trained in their own communities, so that there's a good comparison between the results of people who remain within their own communities versus those who are gathered together and institutionalized, and the record is pretty clear as to the best way to proceed.
It's on this basis, of course, that we're developing our teacher policy. That doesn't mean to say that there won't continue to be maintained a school at Jericho to take care of the hard-core cases or any students who can't otherwise better be managed within the system. Certainly if the member can tell us of one single instance of a youngster who has a problem because there's been a recommendation to train at the local level, we'll put maximum effort into any individual cases. To our knowledge there are none, but bring it up, case by case, if you have individuals, and we'll certainly look right into it, Mr. Member. I
There's one other thing. You mentioned the statistics and agents' commissions in ICBC. It's because we're a little bit scientifically oriented that we just don't toss careless numbers out. I really regret having given the House estimates on the probable number of vehicles that were licensed, because I had two different numbers, both based on going into the box and taking a sample of 1,000, and the numbers came out 20 per cent different. But that, as I said, didn't deter The Vancouver Sun from writing an editorial as if the numbers that had been given were accurate. So all we're going to do is provide a debate based on what may be false information. When the figures are available, certainly the members will have the benefit of them.
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, first of all I want to assure the minister, or tell the minister, that I share some of the concern expressed by the Liberal leader (Mr. Gibson) regarding the change of direction in the management and education of children born with hearing disability. I would just like to make it very plain that there are parents who received a letter, which the minister sent out on May 3, outlining the concept. I've a copy of the letter here; if the minister has any doubt about what was in the letter I'd be glad to read it, because presumably he may not have seen
[ Page 1786 ]
it — it was sent out under the name of John Walsh, superintendent, integrated and supportive services, Department of Education.
I certainly want to quote part of the letter, Mr. Chairman. It says:
"Since your child has been attending Jericho Hill, I want to assure you that any intensification of special services in your school district which might make it possible for your child to attend a local school will be discussed personally with you."
The deputy minister is nodding his head in agreement. The letter goes on:
"If a class for the hearing or visually impaired, properly, staffed, equipped and supervised is a possibility in your district, you will be informed and will be consulted as to whether or not the local programme might be appropriate for your child."
And the next sentence in the letter indeed must be read into the record:
"The special need of each child will be the prime consideration in the recommended placement of each child. Members of the staff of the local school district and of the department will be in touch with you about any specific changes which may affect your child."
Then there is the rest of the letter.
I'm glad that the deputy minister is well aware of the very solemn commitment in that letter to the parents of children at Jericho Hill, that the special need of each child will be the prime consideration. The important words are "special," "each," and "prime," because I've already been approached publicly on the ferries, as a matter of fact, travelling between Vancouver and Victoria, by just such a parent of a child who was born completely deaf through a birth defect, and who is very happy at the progress made by her child as a result of the services provided at Jericho Hill School. This parent well recognizes that it would very nice if there weren't these weekend trips back and forward and if the child could receive the same kind of benefits right in his own school district.
But this mother sees the tremendous assets and advantages of having a very skilled, specialized staff at Jericho Hill doing, obviously, a very successful job. The message she wanted me to convey to the minister in the clearest of terms was that despite all the disadvantages of not having the child at home and not being able to participate in many of the activities that would be available to the child living at home, the ultimate and most important element in the child's management is that child's capacity to fit into society in later years as a result of receiving the most highly skilled education available right now in the early years.
I think the minister may be well motivated in trying to provide as much service as possible at the local level, but as a scientist with a great degree of training in the central nervous system, he of all people must know, and I'm sure he does know well, what an immense handicap it is to be totally deaf, and how vital it is to provide young children with the most efficient and highly skilled kind of training in the early years. And if that can only be done by unfortunately having the child away from home, then the utmost priority must surely be given to the effectiveness with which that child can be trained to utilize the other senses as a very inadequate substitute for the sense that is missing.
One of the other areas that I want to get into in the minister's salary vote, Mr. Chairman, relates back to some of the issues that have occurred in this session already in relation to discrimination against women in the education system.
If the minister would rather that we rise now and continue later, I don't mind. But one of the concerns which I'm sure many people in the House, particularly in the opposition, have was: what is the role now of the lady who was initially a special advisor to the minister on an advisory committee on sex discrimination? I gather that the minister has relocated her to a different role in his department. But as I stated in the throne speech debate, Mr. Chairman, it seems that some of the requests that the Status of Women group, the rally for action, which attended the Legislature earlier this session...some of their requests were extremely straightforward and fair and based on fact. We find that out of about 3,800 government employees — 55 per cent of whom are women — there's not a single deputy in the whole government that's a woman and there's not an associate deputy that is a woman and there are only 8 women at the level of programme manager 1.
Now the point that was made by the women's brief is: how can you expect too much difference from that when, in the early phase starting in the elementary and kindergarten schools, the whole thrust of textbooks and many other influences on the child are to emphasize that men are destined for certain so-called superior roles and the women are just not expected to be either able or involved or interested in certain other roles — and when you consider that, without stretching credulity at all, half the population, by and large, are women.
The Minister of Agriculture (Hon. Mr. Phillips) is looking puzzled. Unless the figures have changed, but.... I beg your pardon. He's puzzled about something else, not the....
MR. KING: He's puzzled all his life.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
[ Page 1787 ]
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. Mrs. McCarthy moves adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 6:00 p.m.