1979 Legislative Session: ist Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 1979
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British Columbia Resources Investment Corporation Amendment Act, 1979 (Bill 12).
On the amendment to section 1.
Mr. Levi –– 235
Hon. Mr. Wolfe –– 236
Mr. Barber –– 237
Mr. Howard –– 238
Mr. Leggatt –– 241
Mr. Mitchell –– 241
Hon. Mr. Williams –– 242
Mr. Howard –– 243
Division on the amendment –– 244
On section 2.
Mr. Barber –– 244
Mr. Leggatt –– 245
Mr. Barrett –– 246
Division on motion to rise –– 247
Mr. Barrett –– 247
Division on motion that the Chairman leave the chair –– 248
Ms. Brown –– 248
Erratum –– 250
Appendix –– 250
The House met at 8:30 p.m.
MR. NICOLSON: Mr. Speaker, there is a serious error in volume 1, number 1 of Hansard. In the list of members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, I note that my name is followed by the letters "SC." [Laughter.] So, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you bring that to the attention of the Queen's Printer. I'm sure that it would also be welcomed by the other side of the House if that were attended to.
MR. SPEAKER: The member's remarks are noted.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to proceed to public bills and orders.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Committee on Bill 12, Mr. Speaker.
RESOURCES INVESTMENT CORPORATION
AMENDMENT ACT, 1979
The House in committee on Bill 12; Mr. Rogers in the chair.
On the amendment to section 1.
MR. LEVI: Mr. Chairman, I just want to go back to the somewhat weak explanation that we got from the minister about why it's not possible to accept the amendment and allow everyone with the free BCRIC shares to have a vote. He used the argument that it would be administratively impractical.
I would like to remind the minister that, even with companies having a much larger number of shareholders than BCRIC has — I have in mind, for instance, GenTel, which has something like 1.2 million shareholders in the United States. Certainly Bell Telephone in Canada has about 250,000 shareholders. And I think that it would be worthwhile looking at General Motors, who have something close to three million shareholders. All of these companies that I've just mentioned manage to have an annual shareholders' meeting. I don't accept the minister's explanation that this is impractical. You're not being asked to set up a general meeting to which something like two million people will come; it is not the practice that shareholders come to these meetings in such large numbers. What you need to provide is the opportunity for this to happen.
We've been told that this is a new corporation; it has a new style; the intent is different — and here is an opportunity for the government to do something a little bit different. The minister kept insisting that right from day one the Premier had told us exactly what was going to happen in terms of the shareholders and their voting privilege, and I'd suggest to him that he is mistaken; we were not told that from day one. What we were told from day one was that this would be an opportunity for people to purchase an equity position in it; it was only on day 380 or something that the Premier came up with the idea that he was going to have the free shares.
The government has not looked at the possibility of annual meetings any more than the corporation. I did have an opportunity to talk to Mr. Helliwell, who was very forthcoming on a number of matters. He did say the possibility had occurred to them to hold three or four meetings simultaneously around the province so that everybody who wanted to go would have an opportunity.
The minister's argument is simply not acceptable, particularly based on the kind of provocative statements made by the Premier when he issued his statement on January 11. He said: Our commitment is ownership for all our people on an individual basis, as opposed to big government ownership." He went on to say: "We want people to be able to see and feel their ownership in the form of a tangible share certificate. The share ownership will bring home to everyone, and particularly those who have never owned shares before, the value of ownership, which can pay rich, personal dividends.'' Well, he's not correct on the end one. There aren't going to be too many dividends of any kind for two or three years. As for the rich, personal dividends, it does not apply to people who have the free shares. They will not be entitled to anything other than to have what really amounts to five pieces of paper, which have some trading value, but that's all.
I remind the minister that a year ago there was a royal commission done on the whole question of corporate concentration. In one section they dealt with they had quite a lot to say about the role of the shareholder and shareholders' rights in corporations. They talked about the kind of thing that takes place in terms of minority control that can exist in a corporation. What we want to be able to do with this amendment is make it possible for everybody to have voting rights. No doubt there will be people who will be voting their shares through proxies, and that's okay too. But the main thing is: if the minister wants to go past the more than 60,000 people who have bought shares.... This is the information we have at the moment. That number coincides with the number Mr. Helliwell provided some months ago when he said up to the present time about 60,000 people in British Columbia involved themselves in the purchase of shares.
We now have the figures which are almost identical. I have no doubt that there are a few more people who have gone into purchasing shares who previously had not done so. But the major question is: what happens to all those people that the Premier wanted to get to? He was very keen in his statement that he wanted to be able to get to the young people. He said in the letter he sent to everybody in British Columbia: "I'm particularly hopeful that our young people will seize the opportunity for a practical education in individual ownership and recognize the potential it has for lifelong benefits." If he means by that statement that education means the sheer delight of having five free shares, and nothing else, not being able to participate in any of the company's operations in terms of the annual meeting or to receive the information about the corporation, what is he talking about, then?
There was a discussion in respect to the statement by the minister that the 100-share-board lot was the most practical. My understanding is some consideration was given to reducing that board lot to 50. I would suggest that a number
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of people who would have bought BCRIC shares in smaller lots have now been denied that opportunity. For example, people interested in buying 25 or 50 shares for their grandchildren or for their children, hoping to have some kind of participatory operation, are not able to do that.
What we have at the moment in this operation is something like the same number who have previously purchased shares in this province — some 60,000 to 65,000 people. The same kind of control is going to be there within that corporation, and we have to be concerned about that. That is why another point we are making is asking that as many people as possible be given the opportunity.
The minister says it is impractical, but he's not been able to demonstrate to us how impractical it is. We know some of the impractical things they've done in terms of the large amount of money that's been spent, either by the corporation or by the government, in promoting this operation. It seems to me that if you spent that kind of money to promote this operation — and it will probably come in at about $20 million to $25 million when everything is counted up — surely in the interests of furthering this corporation, and the interests of the people of British Columbia you talk about, you should go one step further and see that everyone has an opportunity to participate in this. That's why we've put the amendment forward.
Otherwise, what you've done is simply go through an exercise which I hope will not, but it looks as though it will, prove the very argument we've been making all the way through this operation: that control will remain in the hands of those who always control the corporations in this province. That will be a sad day for this province if the control of BCRIC goes to the usual minority share — that minority group who control most of the major corporations in this province. I'm talking about where they have controls and corporations, with as little as 10 percent and 12 percent of the shares issued.
I'd like the minister to tell us his estimate of the cost of having annual meetings — not in which two million people are coming, because that's just not the case. That is not the experience of General Motors; that is not the experience of GenTel. That is not the experience at all. Have they worked out some kind of cost of this operation? Or are they simply saying it is impractical? They're not prepared to give any details, and they simply want the corporation to go along as they have wanted it to go along, right from the beginning, with no intention of giving the large number of people in this province any possibility of participating in it at all. From the beginning people were excluded from getting into this on an equity basis where they could have some rights. If you want to be a shareholder and register you've got to spend some $600, and $600 is not something you can easily come by.
I ask the minister: have they been able to work out a figure? Has he got the information from BCRIC, or has the government worked up the information? What exactly would it cost to have an annual meeting of BCRIC and why is it so prohibitive? I know that we've had to deal with this minister before, Mr. Chairman, in terms of other bills in which he said: "We've done a certain amount of research.'' When they got rid of the succession duties, he said that they had information which would demonstrate that this would increase the investment in the province. He never produced one piece of information for us. Now what kind of information can he produce for us to substantiate the argument that it's impractical to have an annual meeting of this corporation and give voting rights to these people? He'd better give us some information as to how much they've found it would cost.
HON. MR. WOLFE: The major consideration in saying it's impractical is the cost associated with the obligations: the calling of the annual meetings, the notices required thereby, the proxies, the annual report requirements, et cetera. I'm told that these would equate to somewhere between $3 and $5 per shareholder. If you take 2.4 million shareholders, you're talking about an annual cost of something like $12 million per annum. Related to sales projections, I suggest this is an unfair burden initially which would reflect itself on the possible return that would equate to shareholders down the line in the very near future. In other words, it's going to place a burden on their initial operation, which you would have to agree would saddle them.
MR. LEVI: Would you repeat the figures again, please?
HON. MR. WOLFE: The cost of the calling the annual meeting, the notices, the annual report circulation, the proxies and all of these requirements today equals somewhere between $3 and $5 per shareholder.
MR. LEVI: On the basis of the number of shareholders that are identified at the moment as having purchased new shares, you're talking about $300,000. You don't send a separate notice out to each share if somebody's holding more than 100 shares. Some of these people have 100 shares to start with.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Bearer shares.
MR. LEVI: We have pretty close to two million people who have picked up the bearer shares. We had, for instance, the Premier who went to the trouble of sending out a letter. Have you any idea what that cost? We had that kind of information just hours before the election was called.
HON. MR. WOLFE: You're skirting around the whole thing.
MR. LEVI: I'm not skirting around it at all. We're looking for some mechanisms. What the minister is simply saying is that if we do everything, if we have to use letters and we have to use notices.... If you are prepared to go along with the idea that people have free shares, then the whole question is what we will deal with later on in the amendments about exclusions and having to publish annual reports, other than printing them in the newspapers. There are a number of ways around this which can reduce the cost, if you're talking about communicating with people. If you're going to use the reason of cost, then I'm suggesting to you that it could be done a lot cheaper than that if you're prepared to use the newspapers to get out all that information out.
So it is not impractical that these people could have a vote, if those are the arguments that your minister is using. I think that those are not sufficient arguments to justify that there could be no vote for the people who have the bearer
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shares. That's not true at all, because you have access to the media — that would take care of all of those problems. I know that there are many companies out there, many companies that are even on a buy-back basis, because they find that many of the requirements under the Companies Act are very arduous. It may very well be that we will have to look at the Companies Act and give some relief to those companies — the very kind of relief that in this bill, later on, is recommended to the government.
All right, that's fine. If we do that, then where is the great cost? That's eliminated. So what is the other objection to letting these people have a vote? I think you just don't want them to have a vote; that's all it is. If you're telling me it's cost, the cost can be reduced dramatically. So I don't buy the minister's argument at all, Mr. Chairman. He has not demonstrated to us that that cost argument prohibits people, making it impractical.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Mr. Chairman, in describing how this suggestion is ridiculous and impractical, I've explained that one of the reasons is that the cost of it is a burden on the new company. Now one thing that should be mentioned is that in maintaining a share register of that size and description you really have an impossible task to try to maintain and keep up to date the list of shareholders that we're talking about — in other words, some 2.5 million as opposed to, as you say, a figure of 60,000. I don’t know what the figure is now for what registered shareholders there will be, but you have some idea of the scope of the problem. The maintenance of a list or the share register of registered shareholders would be just mammoth.
MR. LEVI: You've already got, apparently, within the B.C. Systems Corporation arrangements that have been set up — not one list but three lists, which apparently can be merged, in which notification to everybody in the province was given. You presumably will know, by September or by August, those people who will have picked up the shares. You've already got a shareholders' list within the computer right now. Now you're not suggesting to me that if you get free shares, somehow the government would not make those kinds of lists available. You've already done that work. That's already been completed. Don't tell me that with all the work that can be done within the computer system that has obviously been done up to now, that should be so onerous, that kind of task. The government has done all that work.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Transfers.
MR. LEVI: Okay, so you’ll have transfers. All corporations have transfers; that’s the cost of doing business. But the point is that what you are doing is putting these hurdles in the way, which you are suggesting make it impossible for people to have a vote because we can't service them. I'm suggesting to you that you've already demonstrated that you can service these people, because you've serviced well over two million people in the province — with the use, presumably, of computers — and all of that information which is there could be made available to the corporation. We've reduced, again, some further expense. The transfers you will always get; you always get that in the operation of a company.
So that, Mr. Minister, is not a satisfactory answer, considering that an incredible amount of taxpayers' money has gone into the promotion of this company. The taxpayer also wants an opportunity to participate in the business of the corporation. After all, they've paid for the setting up of the corporation. Therefore it seems to me that it is quite logical for you to be able to do the kind of work that the corporation would require to maintain its shareholders lists. And if you are talking about the transfers, that will inevitably settle down. So I just cannot accept that argument at all, Mr. Minister.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Sorry about that.
MR. BARBER: I would like to draw a couple of other arguments to the attention of the minister. He tells us that there are significant problems associated with accepting our amendment, the burden and purpose of which is to guarantee that every shareholder, just like in private enterprise, has a voice and a vote. That is all we're asking — that you apply to your operation what private enterprise applies to theirs. That's all we’re asking in this amendment, nothing more, nothing less.
The minister tells us that there are problems. We tell the minister that it is his problem. He established the corporation; he created the problem; he created the difficulties; he created the hurdles. It is his problem, and we have one particular solution which is embodied in this amendment. The problem was created by this government; the problem must also be solved by the government. It is not a rational or competent excuse to tell us that it costs too much. If the paper burden costs too much, reduce the paper burden. My colleague for Coquitlam–Moody (Mr. Leggatt), has indicated some ways you could do that. Let me illustrate some other ways you could do that.
B.C. Government News — you flog that thing everywhere in the province. You pay a fortune to flog it. Use B.C. Government News. You use it for every other political purpose. Why don't you use it for this one? Reduce the cost; consider B.C. Government News. If your sole defence against democratizing this company is that it costs too much, and you don't want to pay for that much democracy, then reduce the cost. Use the other systems that are available. My colleague has demonstrated, I think more than adequately, that the very systems that you used to announce the corporation can be used to make it democratic. Those very systems can continue to be used for the purposes embodied in this amendment.
The government will have spent $20 million by August 6 to sell this corporation politically.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Where did you get that?
MR. BARBER: You admitted to $17.5 million.
HON. MR. WOLFE: I did not. Get off your $20 million; that's not right.
MR. BARBER: It's going to be more than $20 million — and we both know it — by the time the bills are all in.
HON. MR. WOLFE: That's a lie.
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MR. BARBER: If you include the bills from Motor Vehicles, from the Systems Corporation and from the Premier's office, it could well be more than $20 million.
HON. MR. WOLFE: You're absolutely wrong.
MR. BARBER: Wait until we get the public accounts; you'll have a chance to defend yourself then.
HON. MR. WOLFE: We'll see, all right. You don't know what you're talking about.
MR. BARBER: It's our estimate that $20 million-plus, not the $17 million admitted by the government — $17 million is surely enough — has already been spent to sell this corporation to British Columbia politically.
HON. MR. WOLFE: You're coming down now, Charlie.
MR. BARBER: If the government can spend $20 million-plus to set it up, why won't they spend $20,000 or $200,000 to make it democratic? You have the systems in place now. Mishandled as the B.C. Systems Corporation has been, it does at least exist in structure adequate to the purpose of guaranteeing that every shareholder shall have a vote, that every shareholder shall have an opportunity to stand up at an annual meeting and ask questions. If this kind of democracy costs too much, reduce the costs, don't reduce the democracy; that's no answer at all.
I think it must be fairly clear to the Chair that, as time has gone by debating our amendment, the grounds for the debate have become successively and progressively more narrow. No government member has suggested that the shareholders don't have a right to a vote — perhaps the member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf) would, but almost no one else would. No one challenges the democratic precept that every owner of a company, no matter how small that holding, has the right to question at an annual meeting the direction of his or her company. If they do, let them speak now; otherwise we can only presume that you agree with us that in private enterprise — so too in this enterprise — every shareholder should have a voice and a vote.
The grounds have become more narrowed, the debate more specific, the arguments more literal and pointed. The final argument the minister presents seems to be that this kind of democracy costs too much. I reply: reduce the cost; use the systems that are in place; use the facilities that already exist; take the opportunities that exist now within government and within its bureaucracy to enable this amendment to succeed. You haven't opposed it on principle; you've only opposed it because it costs too much.
May I point out that one of the reasons you guys were almost dumped is that the only thing you talked about for three and a half years was the bottom line. The only thing you talked about in human programs was how much they cost. The only thing you looked at was the ledger. This time look at something different. Look at the human value. Look at the human reward when so many people can participate in their company. The fact that you were so concerned about that ridiculous bottom line of yours and nothing else almost defeated you. If you wish to be defeated again, which we would certainly welcome, deny our amendment and allow us to go to the people and tell them: "For fear of democracy and spending a little more than they should, these guys voted down an amendment that would have given you a vote at the shareholders' meeting." If you want us to go to the people with that, deny our amendment. If in the first place you don't deny the principle of the amendment, then find a way to reduce the cost, and allow the amendment to pass tonight.
MR. HOWARD: I want to say how much I appreciate the applauding comments from my colleagues opposite, who are smiling and pleased to see me rise again. [Applause.] It was just a bit delayed, Mr. Chairman, but with practice it will improve.
There are a couple of points made by the minister which, I think, need to be examined here. They are spurious and incorrect, and leave a false or inaccurate impression with the Legislature.
While I am on the general subject, the committee voted earlier to say it is okay for this technical-legal adviser not to be a stranger and to stay in the House. And I wonder, looking at the display opposite me — I see the minister and two or three other people conferring over their desks — whether the Chair might not say to the gentleman who is this legal adviser from the B.C. Resources Investment Corporation, or to the minister, that he might as well sit next to the minister as be hunched over the desk — as he is doing there — leaving the impression with the gallery that he might even be a member. I'm serious, Mr. Chairman, in saying that if the hon. minister so needs that technical advice — and the House has decided already that the gentleman is not a stranger — he should sit next to the minister. Then he can get that advice that he so desperately needs.
HON. MR. WOLFE: That's pretty sick, Frank.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The matter has already been determined by this committee. Please proceed.
MR. HOWARD: I only mentioned it in that way, Mr. Chairman, because the minister was so engrossed in getting his legal and technical advice that he wasn't listening to what was happening in the chamber; and I thought that it was one of the functions of a minister to pay attention to what other people say. Perhaps that's an indication that he really has a blind ear for any suggestions made from this side as to how to proceed to preserve democracy in the corporate organization that is being set up here.
One of the arguments made was that, in addition to the cost of printing all this paper that has to go out to shareholders, there is the cost of transferring ownership on the records of the company. Perhaps the minister doesn't know that companies are moving very rapidly into the area of computerizing the transfer of ownership; the cost becomes negligible in that regard. Secondly, they are moving in the direction of actually eliminating the pieces of paper, the share certificates that evidence share ownership. This argument of the minister's means that he really isn't up to date on what is happening in the business community, and his argument about transfer falls flat on that one.
The intention of B.C. Resources Investment Corporation — because it is the handmaiden to this mechanism that we're dealing with here — is to set up a procedure different from the normal procedure in order to pay dividends to the
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holders of these five-share bearer certificates, if and when they do become payable. The mechanism being set up here contemplates an advertisement in the newspapers, or an advertisement somewhere, that....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Maybe I can have the opposition benches come to order so that their own member can be heard. Please continue.
MR. HOWARD: I'm never, never embarrassed when men of great intellect confer together in order to present something intelligent to hon. members opposite.
Already the corporation, Mr. Chairman, is going to set up a procedure to pay dividends that is at variance with the normal procedure of paying dividends. They're going to run advertisements some place in the newspapers which say to the holders of these bearer certificates: go to a certain place, a dividend-paying agency — and I don't know what that's going to be, but it will likely be a bank — with your five-share certificate and tell them who you are, give some proof as to who you are, or something of that sort, and that dividend-paying agency will pay dividends out of the corporation and on behalf of the corporation.
What's wrong with extending that concept of advertisements to annual meetings? What's wrong with advertising in newspapers to the holders of the five-share certificates, in saying that you're going to have an annual meeting, so that the person who has that five-share bearer certificate in his possession can walk into the annual meeting and say: "Here I am; I am a shareholder; I've got five shares. Here’s my certificate; it's in my possession."? It's exactly the same way as going into a bank or a dividend-paying agency and picking up his dividend. Why can't you do that? The cost of that is no greater than advertising with respect to the dividends. The prospectus issued by B.C. Resources Investment Corporation says that's precisely the way they're going to pay dividends.
What has occurred here is that the government made a decision based upon its philosophy as to how the economy should operate and said to the people of the province of British Columbia: "Even though you, the people of the province, acquire these particular assets, by paying for them in some instances, by guaranteeing debt in another — so far as Can-Cel is concerned — and even though you, the people of the province of B.C., put out money to acquire these assets, inasmuch as we are now going to transfer or give those assets to a corporation, if you, the people of B.C. who own those assets, want to have the right to vote you’re going to have to buy that right to vote. You're going to have to pay for that right to vote to deal with the assets that you already own and that we are giving away to B.C. Resources Investment Corporation."
That's the only way that holders, and those who apply just simply for the five shares, can possibly acquire the right to vote in this corporation which is going to own the resources the people themselves acquire. They either would have done it at the time of applying for the five shares, by digging into their pockets and forking out an additional minimum of $570 to buy the additional 95 shares necessary to make up a 100-share-lot, or sometime between now and any time into the future, scouring around and buying additional shares on the open market. Either way, the government is telling the people of British Columbia: "You've got to buy your right to vote with respect to the resources that you own." That's not out of sympathy with the philosophy of the party represented by the Minister of Finance and not out of sympathy with the philosophy of the Premier. It says to those individuals in our society who cannot afford the extra $570 — and there are some — "You are disfranchised: you do not have the right any longer to have a say with respect to this corporation and the resources which it owns and which you, at one time, used to own. Unless you can dig into your pockets and come up with the money, you lose your rights."
It is also saying to those in our society who do not have the inclination to own shares in a corporation: "If you want to have your right to vote, in addition to finding the money to buy it you're going to be forced to do something which you may not want to do.'' The individual's concept or philosophy may be at variance with the idea of share ownership. Yet if he desires to have that continuance of his right, to have a say in what happens to those particular resources, he has got to subdue that concept and that understanding. Both principles are wrong: for the government to insist that if people want the right to vote with respect to the resources they already own that they've got to pay for that right, or that they’ve got to combine that payment with subduing their own inclination as to whether or not they even want to own shares. Both those principles are wrong. They force people to do something which they may not want to do.
Another reason the minister gave the House was that everybody knew from day one that these five share certificates (called bearer certificates) did not contain within them the right to vote. Everybody knew that, he said. Well, Mr. Chairman, the Premier of this province wrote me a letter, sometime this past spring. And the Premier of this province led me to believe otherwise. The Premier of this province in fact misled me. The Premier of this province, in fact, wrote in that letter something which is not accurate; something that was deliberately misleading, something that was false.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: On a point of order, in the absence of the Premier I would be pleased if the hon. member would withdraw his statement that the Premier deliberately misled.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Skeena has been asked to withdraw the words "deliberately misled." There are many precedents in this House for it, so please withdraw it.
MR. HOWARD: Mr. Chairman, I am delighted to accede to your request, and I wonder about the sensitivity of honourable gentlemen opposite. Let me tell you what the Premier told me in the letter and draw your own conclusions. Now I'm not going to offend the sensitivities of the House by reading the whole letter.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, yes, read it.
MR. HOWARD: Do you want me to read it all?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Yes, read it!
MR. HOWARD: Oh, well, if you insist. Applaud at the appropriate moments, and I'm sure the members will know
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how to do that. If you're in doubt as to when to applaud, I'll hold up my hand and the members opposite will know that that's the point to applaud. We'll tell the Premier when he gets back who it was that applauded at the right moments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps the debate will be more appropriate if you address the Chair.
MR. HOWARD: Oh, yes, I'm getting to that. I'm just putting on my glasses to ensure that I have the correct words.
"In this richly endowed province of ours, continued economic development is the key to future growth and prosperity. I am writing today to personally invite you" — that's me — "and your family to participate in this development" — there are then three dots — "as shareholders in the British Columbia Resources Investment Corporation.
"Specifically, I" — now this is the Premier saying he's doing this — "am offering to every eligible man, woman and child in British Columbia five free shares in a company which was formed through legislation passed in 1977 to remove from government those investments which, it was felt, could be more properly operated and owned in the private sector.
"These investments include companies which between them operate a total of two pulp mills, five sawmills, one plywood mill and an interest in a gas pipeline system, and the government added to the new company's assets oil and gas exploration rights of more than two million acres in the northeast of British Columbia.
"An estimated 2.4 million British Columbians are eligible to receive free shares in BCRIC. If this vast number accepts the offer, as I sincerely hope they will, the corporation will be the most broadly based public company of Canada today. At a time when the control of industries is falling into fewer and fewer hands, this would truly be a positive step."
This is the point I want to comment upon, but the gentlemen insisted that I read through to it, and I think it was worthwhile:
"To you, the individual citizen, the shares represent real ownership of a portion of our resource industries."
What does real ownership mean? It must mean something exceptional to the Premier, because he underlined the words. Ownership — never mind real — has two fundamental aspects to it: one is possession and the other is the opportunity to do something with that which you possess. That's what it means: possession and the opportunity to deal with that which it is you possess. Here, insofar as these bearer certificates are concerned, they purport to be ownership of a portion of a company which owns some resources. All that's involved is that the individual will have possession of a piece of paper which will be called a bearer certificate. He cannot take that piece of paper to his company at its annual meeting and say: "I want to have a say; I want to deal with it; I want to say something about that which I'm supposed to own."
The second aspect of the ownership question is the opportunity and the ability to be able to deal with in some way that which you possess is gone and doesn't exist — unless the individual buys that right. When the Premier wrote to me and told me and others in this province that the shares represent real ownership, the Premier was not telling the truth. It's a partial truth and it's misleading. If the Minister of Labour (Hon. Mr. Williams) wants me to withdraw it, then he'll have the opportunity to request me to withdraw it. I say that letter was deliberately written to leave the impression that I would own something which I do not.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. The member has again alleged a deliberate statement on the part of the Premier, and I ask him to withdraw.
MR. HOWARD: The Minister of Labour has just now said that I made a reference to the Premier making a deliberate statement. He did make a deliberate statement, and I just read the letter to show what that deliberate statement was.
MR. CHAIRMAN: He asked you to withdraw that the Premier deliberately misled someone.
MR. HOWARD: I never said that. I said it once and I withdrew it on the first occasion. But if you want me to withdraw the fact that the Premier made a deliberate statement, you bet I'll gladly do that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like you to withdraw the fact that you said the Premier's letter was deliberately misleading.
MR. HOWARD: I did not say that. If that seemed to be what I said and hon. members are offended by that and have taken that interpretation from it, they're taking the incorrect interpretation. I'll withdraw what I said about the Premier making deliberate statements, if you insist upon that. The Premier wrote to everybody in this province and said to the individual citizen those five free shares represent real ownership. He said that deliberately. He wrote the letter. I assume he knows what he's doing.
If you want me to withdraw that as well I will. I assume the Premier knew what he was doing and knew what he was saying. The impression left in this letter is contrary to what the Minister of Finance said, namely that everybody knew from day one that these shares would not be voteable. This letter says otherwise.
Nowhere in that letter, Mr. Chairman, does the Premier tell the people of British Columbia that they can't vote those five shares. Another thing the Premier said was that he hoped every person who was eligible to apply for these five shares, would also take advantage of the opportunity to buy 5,000 additional shares. If every one of those 2.4 million people would have bought not the 5,000 shares but would have bought an extra 95, every one of them would have become holders of 100 shares. They would have been able to register them, and the company would have to mail out 2.4 million pieces of literature about the annual meeting. That seems okay, but not if they just hold the five-share certificates. They're entitled to receive notice of the annual meeting only if they own 100 shares.
Either way, it's still 2.4 million shareholders and it's still 2.4 million pieces of paper.
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MR. HOWARD: If they desire to say anything in this debate, they can take the opportunity to do so by standing up instead of chattering like a bunch of jackals from their seats.
As the member for Maillardville–Coquitlam (Mr. Levi) pointed out, every other corporation is required by law to send out these notices. They are required to have the shareholders attend the meetings. If anybody owns one share, never mind five, in B.C. Telephone Company, then that share is registerable on the books of the company. The holder of that share is entitled to receive, and does receive from the company, the various pieces of paper the company sends out from time to time. He doesn't even have to take that piece of paper with him — the certificate. He's entitled to go to the annual meeting and stand up and ask B.C. Telephone officers what they're doing with the company which he has one share in; but not here, not under this peculiar system that's being developed now. All, I am sure, it's designed to do is for this party and this government to say to the average people in this province: "You no longer are going to have the rights that you held before. Somebody else is going to have those rights and is going to exercise those rights." And that "somebody else" are going to be the ones, as was enunciated earlier, who control B.C. Telephone Company, who control MacMillan Bloedel, who control B.C. Sugar, and who control all the other corporations in this province. That is the shameful part about what's happening here.
It's very disgraceful, very disturbing; and while I've been asked to use language which is appropriate and doesn't impinge upon the sensitivities of the Liberal Minister of Labour, because I'm sure he's still a participant in that great party, the essence of it is here in the letter from the Premier; the essence of it is here in the attitude of the minister. No matter how valid the arguments put up in opposition to the idea, he comes down on the side that says he can't accept the amendment because the Premier said earlier in the campaign that from day one, whenever that was, no such amendments would be accepted. He can't accept the amendments, because he says it's going to cost the company a lot of money.
That corporation, B.C. Resources Investment Corporation, had handed to it on a silver or golden platter resources of this province, and it didn't cost that corporation one single cent to get them. Not a penny. They were given to them, and the corporation now gloats about having retained earnings of $15 million or $16 million. No wonder! You don't have to put out anything to acquire the assets that you get and they're generating dividend income and profits as those corporations are. No wonder they can gloat about retained earnings — retained earnings that should belong to the people of this province, but are not going to, and are not going to be distributed to the people of this province, no way whatever.
I'd just conclude by saying it's a shameful moment in the history, I think, of this Legislature and this government that the House should be asked to embark upon a provision in a bill — not by way of the amendment — which says, in its final analysis, that the people of this province don't have the right to have any say in whatever it is that’s going to happen to the corporation which has been given assets they once owned.
MR. LEGGATT: I want to add a word to my colleague's comments concerning the tragedy that the voting rights aren't transferred to the bearer shareholders. Just a point of history: these assets were transferred to this private corporation for a paper value of $151 million. Most objective assessments valued those assets at that time at about $300 million. Three hundred million dollars of the assets of the people of the province of British Columbia will now go into the hands of a small percentage, basically, of those 60,000 people who have applied to register as voting stock. That's the reality of this particular debate, and the reality of the government's refusal to accept this amendment is that they have confirmed this theft from the people of British Columbia to the few people who still own and control most of the assets in the province.
MR. MITCHELL: Mr. Speaker, I rise to participate in this debate with a positive note. I don't want to have the negative attitude that some of the members on my side have expounded. I know that the amendment will be accepted by the great majority of the private MLAs in this House. I'll tell you why: the members of this House had the opportunity and the responsibility when the assets of this company were Crown corporations to question every director of these companies and to keep on top of the business of the people's industries. There is no MLA in this House who wants to sluff off that responsibility. There is no one who denies what the Premier of this province said: there is no cost to approved private ownership. Money is not an object. The Premier stood up in this House and said that private ownership of these resources will be protected. If you are given private ownership, there is no such thing as free. You are given private responsibility. It is the responsibility of each shareholder of that company, if they are going to share in the profits of this company, to share in the responsibility of seeing that those who control these industries are doing an honest job. This is the responsibility that this amendment is giving back to the MLAs. It is ensuring that we are the ombudsmen, the Ralph Naders of this province. We have the responsibility to be on top of that company to protect the interests of the shareholders of this company.
I can't see any of my brothers across the House who want to shuck that responsibility. Most of them are like me. We represent the working people of this province, not those who can go out and spend $570. There are millions of people out there who cannot afford to put out $570, and we, the MLAs, represent those people.
I know a famous statement that was bandied across this province: "Not one dime without debate." I know there is not an MLA in this House who would allow this corporation to have one dime without debate. There is not an MLA who would do that — not on my side of the House, Mr. Chairman. I am sure that famous statement was credited to a person sitting on the other side of the House, and I know that the members over there will support his position of "not one dime without debate.''
There is no way we can sit back and not accept the amendment proposed on this side of the House, because it protects the interests, assets and the tradition that was established by this House and has been placed in the hands of the corporation. We cannot take that responsibility away from the private members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and lose it to a select group.
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We were elected to do a job. I know the responsibility must lie with the private members. I have confidence that there are enough members on both sides of the House who will accept that responsibility, who will support the Premier against the minister when he says there is no cost that should be used to deny the private ownership of these great resources of our province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. For the benefit for the member for Esquimalt–Port Renfrew (Mr. Mitchell), we are in committee now and have been for some time. Therefore it would be best if you would refer to me as Mr. Chairman.
MR. MITCHELL: I stand corrected, Mr. Chairman. I will not use that famous word "Rogers."
Getting back to what I was saying, there is no cost, and we must accept that responsibility. I can assure you that each one of us as MLAs has a job to do: to attend annual meetings, to stand up and to question the operation of this corporation. We have that responsibility because this corporation was created by this chamber. It was formed by this chamber. It was paid for by the people of this province. This responsibility must continue to rest on our shoulders.
I feel confident there are many people on both sides of this House who, deep down and underneath all their laughs and jokes and kidding, support the principle of "not one dime without debate."
When they go into caucus I know they will express that. How are they going to go back to their constituents? How are they going to justify that they would not accept the responsibility that was given to them by their election?
I ask you to honestly, in the name of justice and in the name of responsibility, accept the amendment as sincerely proposed and to give the people of this province not only something free but the opportunity to share in the responsibility of running this great corporation.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: In view of the misapprehensions some members have with respect to this amendment, perhaps I could make a few remarks.
It has been suggested by members opposite that somehow or other the bearer shares constitute a major departure from share ownership rights. While the issue of bearer shares is not one in general practice in North America, it is certainly found extensively in corporate organizations throughout other parts of the world. In the organization of our corporate affairs in this country, we can draw very heavily upon some of the favourable experiences which have been proven by long practice in other countries.
I would also, however, point out to you that the concept of non-voting shares is not in any way unique in this country. What we have in this corporation is a very happy marriage of two concepts: one where you can acquire shares which in bearer form are non-voting, but which in the fullness of time, and with the acquisition of additional shares, can, without any influence on the part of the corporation, become voting shares, an opportunity which all members should appreciate.
Aside from the obvious lack of understanding on the part of members with regard to corporate share structure, I find other aspects of the debate unusual, to say the least.
It was suggested by the hon. member for Skeena (Mr. Howard) that somehow or other the citizens of this province were misled with respect to the acquisition of these shares. I urge the member for Skeena to look back into the record as to when the first announcement was made with respect to the offering of five shares to each citizen of the province without consideration. I ask him to recognize that same announcement made it abundantly clear that acquisition of 100 shares in the corporation would be required in order to exercise voting rights. From the very outset, the opportunity has been available to citizens of this province to recognize precisely the conditions upon which the five free shares were offered to them and their rights with respect to the exercising of votes in the corporation's affairs. There was no misleading, unless the misleading comes from those members who find it politically opportune to leave the impression that somehow or other the citizens of the province have been dealt with unfairly by their government.
I offer another reason for opposing this amendment. Much has been said about "not a dime without debate," and the rights of members of this assembly. As the member for Esquimalt–Port Renfrew (Mr. Mitchell) was speaking, it occurred to me that two of the principal assets of BCRIC are shares in Westcoast Transmission and Can-Cel, shares which were acquired by the government of the province of British Columbia out of taxpayers' money. Whether as a member of this assembly or a citizen of this province, you had no say in the way in which those shares should be voted, not any say at all.
The right to vote those shares in the hands of the government was controlled by the cabinet of this province. Never once was there the opportunity in this House to debate how those shares should be voted. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Barrett) and his colleagues were the ones who decided if and when those shares should be voted, and how. Not even the caucus was given the opportunity to express its views as to how those shares should be voted. Don't come in this House, Mr. Member, and suggest that when 60,000-plus citizens in the province are going to be given the opportunity to vote in this corporation — in excess of 1.5 million people in this province will exercise ownership rights with regard to BCRIC — that the situation isn't massively changed from what it was in the days when the New Democratic Party were the government of this province. Don't talk to me about the way in which the people own these shares. The people's money may have been used to acquire those assets, but a small, select group who occupied seats in this House were the ones who decided what the fortunes of those corporations would be, and the manner in which those shares would be voted.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: That is the way it was done under the government which first acquired those shares. Don't try to mislead the people of the province of British Columbia that somehow or other there was the opportunity to influence in any significant way the manner in which the cabinet of the day would exercise its control over those two corporations.
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Mr. Chairman, the amendment which you have before you does not recognize the fact of corporate organization, but it does clearly indicate the very significant distinction between this side of the House and that one concerning the rights of citizens. I urge you all to defeat this amendment.
MR. HOWARD: I couldn't resist the invitation extended to me by the Minister of Labour (Hon. Mr. Williams). While he is quite accurate and correct in saying that the concept of non-voting shares is not new in this country, what he failed to tell the House was that non-voting shares are almost invariably confined to that class of shares called preferred or preference.
MR. HOWARD: The minister says: "Nonsense." Almost invariably, the class of shares called preferred or preference are non-voting shares. The holder of these shares is guaranteed, to the extent that earnings are available to pay it, first crack at dividends. If there is any money left over, the common shareholders or ordinary shareholders come next in line. Because the holder of preference or preferred shares is guaranteed a certain dividend, he forgoes the right to vote those shares, unless — and this depends upon the way the incorporation took place — the company falls in arrears of paying dividends on those preferred shares. If arrearages do occur....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, perhaps I could read you the amendment, because we are now straying quite a long way from the amendment. There was no previous reference made to preferred shares. It's just another facet of corporate organization which is not applicable in this particular amendment. It may be applicable in another time and another debate, but we are broadening the scope of the debate by getting into the various clauses and types of preferred shares, which is a brand new debate which you are just starting at this time. I find it difficult to find any relevance to this particular amendment.
MR. HOWARD: I accept that, Mr. Chairman. You did not find it so difficult in listening to the Minister of Labour (Hon. Mr. Williams), because he is the one who made reference to non-voting shares and failed or refused to take the next step and explain fully what it was he was talking about.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, the Chair will have to point out that there is such a thing as non-voting common shares, and I assumed that that was what the minister was talking about. The reference in this bill has been always to common shares throughout. If you want to widen that, I as the Chairman am duty-bound by this committee to ensure that the debate does not become wider than is absolutely necessary. By entering into discussion of various types of preferred shares — and, hon. member, I know how extensive this debate can be — I can inform you that this is beyond the scope of this particular amendment.
MR. HOWARD: I gladly accede, Mr. Chairman. All I was trying to do was put into balance the erroneous impression left in the chamber by the Minister of Labour. He suggested that the House might and I particularly — he was looking in my direction when he said it — might look at the original statement made by the Premier. The date of that, in case he has forgotten it, is January 11 of this year.
I say to the hon. minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, that I did in fact look at that, and I read it from back to front. Let me just say in brief reference to it, again to clear up an erroneous impression left by the minister, that in that statement of the Premier, without going into great detail quoting from it, in page after page, on the first page of it, he makes two references to these five shares. On the next page, page 2, he makes another couple of references to these five shares. On page 3 he makes four or five references to these five shares. On page 4 he talks about how they're going to get the shares from B.C. Resources Investment Corporation to pay off the note that B.C. Resources Investment Corporation gave to the government in return for the assets.
And then at the end of the fourth page — and this was a press statement by the Premier — there's a "30" indicating in, as I understand it anyway, normal media appreciation of these things, that that's the end of that statement. In that formal statement embracing four pages, nowhere does the Premier make one solitary single reference to these shares being non-voting.
Now we get, attached to it, another thing called "Background," and it talks about the background of B.C. Resources Investment Corporation, what its assets are, how it was set up, who the officers are and so on and says this, and this is the first intimation that maybe there is something different involved. On page 3 of the background material in this statement, it says: "On completion of the share issue at the next annual meeting, the new shareholders of record will have the opportunity to elect their own board of directors and so on, or expand the board of directors." Only there, to anybody having any knowledge about what a shareholder of record is, is the indication that maybe if you wanted to read it, you would find that a shareholder of record might not be the person who owned or had in his possession the five-share certificate. But there is no direct statement.
Again, at the end of that background material, there is another "30," indicating that's the end of that. Now we get some other pages called "Highlights of Share Distribution." In those highlights on the first page it says that each eligible resident may receive one unit of five common shares. There's no reference to voting at all.
On the next-to-the-last page of the whole document, down near the bottom, it does say and I knew this before because I had read it: "In order to significantly reduce registration costs, voting and registration rights are restricted to shareholders of 100 shares or more." I want to point out that in a whole range of conversation and discussion only at the very end, almost hidden from public view, was the reference that a person needed 100 shares in order to register them and have them vote. It doesn't say anything but the five-share certificates. If the Premier really wanted to disclose that in its full force, as it is a necessary thing, he would have done so at the beginning.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hidden from public view.
MR. HOWARD: Not hidden from public view, as my hon. friend opposite suggests. It may have been hidden from his view— and that's perfectly, perfectly understand-
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able. It would not be the first thing that's been hidden from his view, even though it was right in front of him.
In that statement of January 11 — B.C. Government News deals with the same subject matter in great detail later on — the Premier treats the question of possession of the five-share certificates in an offhand, cavalier way as if it just really didn't mean anything to him that people who owned or held those shares in their possession would not be able to vote. It meant nothing to the government that the citizens of this province who just happened to want to hold a five-share certificate would not have the right to have any say in the operation of the corporation.
I want to express my very, very extreme grateful thanks to the Minister of Labour (Hon. Mr. Williams) for having underlined that particular matter.
Amendment defeated on the following division:
YEAS — 23
NAYS — 27
Mr. Barber requested that leave be asked to record the division in the Journals of the House.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
MR. BARBER: Section 2 would repeal section 4 of the 1977 Act which reads as follows: "On any offering of shares of the company to the public at large, preference shall be given to orders received from residents of the province."
The government proposes in this amendment to abandon altogether even the pretence that British Columbia comes first. How can you defend that? You ran around this province during the campaign trying to persuade people that just because you sold the Gray Line to the Americans, just because you sold Panco's processing plant to Cargill, what you really meant all along was that B.C. wasn't for sale and B.C. came first. Look at the bill in front of us, Mr. Chairman. They propose to repeal the only guarantee that British Columbians ever did have: "On any offering of shares of the company to the public at large, preference shall be given to orders received from residents of the province."
[Mr. Davidson in the chair.]
Well, if the residents of B.C. no longer come first, who does? Your American friends running Gray Line? Your American friends in Cargill International? Your American friends who ship campaign donations up here every election time? Who does come first if the residents of British Columbia don't? What you're doing in section 2 of this bill is telling the people that they no longer come first at all.
What kind of a pattern is unfolding here, Mr. Chairman? What they can sell, they sell to Americans. What they give away, they give away to a company that's going to fall into the hands of a very small number of people and their corporations. What they can do they've done in this section, and they've eliminated altogether any preferential treatment for British Columbians. Now what's the point of that? Why would even this group of opportunists abandon within two months of the election a promise they made during the election? Even by the standards of those Liberals, this is, to say the least, just a little weird. During the campaign they said British Columbia would come first, and then the Irish. Now it appears British Columbia doesn't come first at all.
Now when this kind of change is made and when such magnitude is at hand during the making of it, you have to ask who stands to benefit. Why would they expose themselves to obvious and expected criticism? Why would they stand up and admit that they're repealing all preferential treatment for British Columbians? Because that's what the burden of this amendment does. They're not replacing it with something new or better; they've repealed it altogether.
Well, maybe you have to ask whose interests are served, and when you ask that, you have to ask whose interests are always served by Social Credit. What are those interests? They are corporate interests. And those corporate interests, it would appear, prefer not to have to deal with a section of a bill that gives preferential treatment to British Columbians, because their loyalties are centred in another part of the country, or in some other country altogether. Why would any government, even this group, abandon the only guarantee that British Columbians come first? Presumably they have to do it because their friends come firster. There's no other explanation. There's no other defence. There's no other way to interpret this wholesale abandonment of a commitment made by a Premier who was presumably supposed to be believed when he told us British Columbia would come first and British Columbians would get preference.
May I say it again? Section 2 of this bill reads: "Section 4 is repealed." When you read section 4, it says: "On any offering of shares of the company to the public at large, preference shall be given to orders received from residents of the province." Why would they do such a thing? Who asked them to do it? Who prompted them to do it? Who will obtain benefit from it having been done?
HON. MR. WOLFE: Can I explain it, Charlie?
MR. BARBER: In a moment. I have more questions. You may have more answers.
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I'm asking who stands to benefit from a repudiation of your own promise that British Columbians would come first. Now I presume that what the minister will tell us is that, because they got the five free shares, which are worthless in terms of votes, they had already gotten all that the people of British Columbia could reasonably expect and they shouldn’t ask for more — it's not polite to ask for more. He will also go on to tell us that the share offering with the up-to-5,000 limit, which expired on June 15, somehow compensates those who took them at their word, and somehow explains why the original section 4 of the 1977 Act has been repealed. I presume that will be their defence. If it is, let me tell you in advance: you needn't waste your breath. It's a wholly inadequate defence. No matter what you did by June 15, the corporation continues thereafter.
In subsequent offerings residents of British Columbia should come first, period — not second or third or last, but first. That's what the bill originally said. We liked that part of the bill and back in 1977 we said so. Now it's 1979. You've barely survived a provincial election. One of the reasons you just barely survived it was that a lot of people have become very cynical about Socred promises. Before and during the election the Premier told us the province wasn't for sale and that British Columbians came first. What does he do? As soon as he's back in office he's repealing the only guarantee that British Columbians ever had that they would come first.
Now I can only presume that's an accident. I can only presume that the Premier has been listening to the wrong folks and that he didn't really mean it. I couldn't believe for a moment that the Premier was fibbing; no one could persuade me of that. I couldn't believe for a moment that the Premier was trying to persuade people of a false premise. Not even the articulate member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf) could persuade me of that.
I can't believe for a moment that the Premier would have attempted to deceive the people of British Columbia — not this Premier, surely. So in order to perfect the legislation in front of us, in order to ascertain for once and for all that the Premier meant what he said when he said that British Columbians came first, I would move that section 2, line 1, be amended by adding after the word "repealed": "and the following substituted: 'On any offering of shares of the company to the public at large, orders shall only be received from residents of the province'." The legislation, as amended, would read as follows: "Section 4 is repealed and the following substituted: 'On any offering of shares of the company to the public at large, orders shall only be received from residents of the province'." I am sure the government would not object.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please continue.
MR. BARBER: Do you find the amendment in order, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are just deciding that, so would you like to continue while we do that?
MR. BARBER: Is that in order for me to do so?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, please continue.
MR. BARBER: While you are considering that, you might refer to Hansard, April 5, 1977, page 2560, in a decision of Gibson versus the government, in which an amendment proposed by Mr. Gibson was found in order. I think there are, to say the least, parallels between his and my own. Knowing that you will find it in order, I will continue to tell you that I can't see any reasonable grounds why you would oppose this amendment. It's your own Premier who made the promise; it's your own party that promoted it during the campaign; it's your own government that passed the 1977 legislation. If these guarantees were good enough in 1977, why aren't they good enough today? What is the matter with British Columbians coming first today? What objection do you have to that? What reasonable objection can you make to that?
The principle is very simple. Many of us will speak on it, but I won't speak much longer, because it is so simple it only needs to be said once. They should come first; they did come first in your own Act. Accept our amendment and let British Columbians come first again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The amendment is in order, Mr. Member.
On the amendment.
MR. LEGGATT: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to comment on a couple of things briefly. I won't add to the argument presented by the mover of the amendment, but I think we should inquire as to why the Premier decided to repeal section 4. I think it is worthwhile to look into the logic of this particular change from the old bill. During the course of the introduction of this amending bill by the Premier, he took me to task for suggesting that these shares could wind up in Zurich or in London or New York, and suggested that I hadn't done very much in the way of homework in examining the contents of the bill to see whether there wasn't some provision which prevented sales of these shares abroad.
In fact, I had looked at the bill. I am aware that the bill, as presently written, does provide restrictions upon transfers or sales of those shares outside of Canada. But when you examine the rationale for amending section 4 of the original bill, why would you take away the B.C. preference? Well, it's pretty clear you want a wider market. It is pretty clear, Mr. Chairman, that David Helliwell has said: "You've only got about 60,000 people buying these things, now we want to get out to the rest of the country to buy these things. We need to raise funds, and it's clearly more marketable to get into the rest of the country."
What is the next step, Mr. Chairman? What is the next step for the Premier? The next step is very clearly to further amend this bill and remove the restrictions on foreign ownership, with regard to these shares. There is just no other logic to the reason that this particular section was amended in the first place. Now if you want to demonstrate to the citizens of British Columbia that you are serious about keeping this corporation owned and controlled in British Columbia, it's simple. We'll quit debating right now if the Minister of Finance would just stand up and say: "We accept the amendment; we accept the logic behind it. It seems perfectly reasonable that we should try to keep the promises that we made to the people of the province of British Columbia. It is perfectly reasonable. We don't want
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you fellows raising this scare of foreign ownership; we can solve it right now. We'll go back to where we started."
But, Mr. Chairman, the people of this province have every right to examine the rationale behind this particular amendment, and the rationale is exactly the same one that will be on the floor of this House next year when the minister comes back with another amendment to remove the restrictions on the purchase of these shares by foreign investors. Then, Mr. Chairman, we will not only lose control of these shares in Canada, but the share ownership will be abroad. The assets themselves can now be transferred. There's no restriction on foreign investors to transfer these assets to buy the company. The only restriction is on the sale of the shares. I predict right now that restriction is going to come off next year anyway. So show your sincerity and accept the amendment.
MR. BARRETT: I regret that business circumstances have compelled the Premier not to be present in the House tonight. I appreciate that there are other pressing matters. I think it would be worthwhile on this particular section to hold the debate over until the Premier comes back. He's the one who expounded the theory that you as a government and a party tried to sell across this province that B.C. is not for sale.
We've offered an amendment to the legislation to ensure that the Premier's word is kept. All the minister has to do is nod and say he agrees, or get on the phone and call the Premier and tell him about the amendment, and we can get on with the business of the House. I don't think it's fair for us to debate this when the Premier is not here or at least have some signal from the minister that the Premier would reject this amendment. The minister has to carry the can all around this province for the fact that the Premier made one statement, but the legislation is going in an absolutely contradictory direction from the Premier's statement.
Do you know what could happen if we don't have this amendment, Mr. Minister? The Americans will be able to buy shares eventually; the Japanese will be able to buy shares; and something even worse, Ian Sinclair may be able to buy shares. What do you think of that — an eastern Canadian buying shares? You talk about foreign ownership. That's going too far. Who in this province defined that Ian Sinclair was not wanted with Canadian investment? I know who it was; it was the Premier of this province who said to the CPR, a Canadian company: "You stay out of British Columbia. B.C.'s not for sale." IBM is okay; IT&T is okay; so are Rayonier, Crown, or any other international organization. But I'm telling you that unless you pass this amendment, Ian Sinclair is going to buy shares in BCRIC and make the Premier look foolish. We cannot afford to have the Premier of this province made to look foolish so frequently.
I know that Ian Sinclair is sitting back there in Montreal right now monitoring this debate, and will go rushing down, and he'll buy shares in BCRIC and he'll stand up publicly in Vancouver and call a press conference and say: "Hey, Bill, I outfoxed you."
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: No, he just turned his monitor off.
MR. BARRETT: No, you're thinking about what's happening in the hospitals because of lack of staff. You've got it mixed up.
We saw the performance by the Premier: "This province is not for sale. I told Ian to head back to Montreal." Beat it, Big Julie. We saw him waving his hands around and doing the television number and saying: "I'm protecting the interests of this province."
We've offered an amendment tonight that challenges this government to prove they mean B.C.'s not for sale. If there was ever an opening for a monstrous sell-out of the resources of the province of British Columbia, we begin to see the story unfold step by step by the way you've handled the BCRIC shares.
My colleague, the member for Victoria (Mr. Barber), has put forward amendments that are in order. You can't dodge behind a question of upholding the Chairman. The issue is clear: it's not a ruling of the House; it's simply accepting these amendments to avoid any loss of control by the people of British Columbia, Canadian citizens residing in this province, of those assets that were bought in the first place by the people of British Columbia through their tax funds.
Do you think it was ever the intention of the taxpayers of this province to buy those assets, to have a government come into power and create a device to allow those assets to slip out of the control of the people of British Columbia into international hands?
Although I've referred to the exchange between the Premier and Ian Sinclair with some jest, it is a fact that the Premier did clearly say in all seriousness, in his sweatsuit, that B.C. was not for sale. Now we have an opportunity of taking shares of Westcoast Transmission, Plateau Mills, Kootenay Forest Products and unnamed gas leases, and we're going to hand them over, holus-bolus to anybody who appears in the marketplace, regardless of where they reside, their nationality, or the language they speak. And they with their money can take control of assets that 18 months ago were completely in the hands of the people of British Columbia.
During the election campaign I asked the Premier to come on television with me and we'd discuss these things. He wouldn't do it. Some people went around saying the Premier was afraid to do it. I never said he was afraid; I just kept on wondering why he didn't show up.
My colleague, the former Minister of Finance, the member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich), challenged the Minister of Finance to have a debate to discuss these issues and, at the last minute, the Minister of Finance didn't show up for a debate with my colleague. But by law they have to have a debate here in this House, and the questions that were not put in a public debate during the election campaign must now be put in this House. Those questions are: will you guarantee us that these assets will stay in the control of people who live and work and earn their life's bread in this province, or are you prepared to defeat these amendments and allow another massive sellout to take place in the province of British Columbia?
The government of the day is elected to defend the interests of the taxpayers of the jurisdiction they represent. You don't represent the taxpayers in New York; you don't represent the taxpayers in Tokyo or London. Can you tell me why we should leave a loophole to allow those taxpayers in another jurisdiction to reap the benefits of the profits of the resources of this province, while the people of this province are burdened with the debts of B.C. Hydro and B.C. Rail, inspired by previous Social Credit governments?
[ Page 247 ]
So, Mr. Minister, the challenge is very clear. You have two choices: one is to ask the committee chairman, who's an amiable person and who has my complete respect in all of his rulings — those that are supported by a vote of this House especially — to withdraw this particular bill and hold it over until the man who announced this whole scheme to the people of British Columbia is here in the House to defend it.
There is no reason why any person representing any jurisdiction or any constituency in this House should be asked to debate this particular section without the author of this whole idea being present in the House defending his position in front of the only court that he's forced to come to a debate in — not television he can run away from, not a committee meeting.
The Premier has a duty to the people of this province, and to this House, to be present when this debate takes place. Unless the bill is pulled suspicion is going to be around that the bill was deliberately called while the Premier was absent so he wouldn't have to face the heat on this bill.
Far be it from me to spread that suspicion around this province, but there are two great newspapers in Vancouver, who, once they begin to publish, may raise the question: why was it that when Big Julie was in town a skiing trip was interrupted, but when the chips were down and the bill was debated in the forum where even the Premier couldn't run away, the bill wasn't held over until the Premier came back? Shame! Just nod your head and tell me you are pulling the bill and waiting for the other Bill to come back.
MR. COCKE: If he nodded his head, it would fall off!
MR. BARRETT: It's very easy for us to make little jests. The opening is there for us to jibe the government a little bit, to tweak the minister's nose. We can't quite reach over there but we could, nonetheless, figuratively if not literally. The opportunity is here to remind the House of Big Julie and that charade.
In all seriousness, the question of the Premier's own word to the people of British Columbia is at stake right here in this particular amendment offered by my colleague for Victoria. We should not debate this without him being here. This House shouldn't be asked to pass this amendment or deal with it at 10:30 of an evening when the Premier is not here.
Who was it who bore the whole brunt of the inspirational birth of the BCRIC share concept but the Premier himself? Who was it who told the people of this province that this was an instrument for the people of British Columbia to have a direct ownership say in their own resources? Who was it who used as a campaign theme that B.C. was not for sale and BCRIC was a method of guaranteeing control of those assets? It was the Premier. And now, when my colleague for Victoria calls the crunch in the debate that the Premier deliberately avoided during the election campaign, that the Minister of Finance deliberately avoided during the campaign, a device is found to bring the bill forward when the Premier again avoids his direct face-to-face responsibility in this House to explain to us why he won't give this guarantee.
I've made the point very clear, and I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, with the understanding that this should be put over until the Premier comes back and sits in here and tells us why he's not protecting the people of this province.
[Mr. Rogers in the chair.]
Motion negatived on the following division:
YEAS — 23
NAYS — 27
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman. now that the government House Leader (Hon. Mr. Gardom) is back in the House, let me share with him my opinion that on this important debate it would be appropriate to stand this bill over and go on to other business, so that the Premier is back when this very important issue is being debated. It is the Premier who made the point that B.C. is not for sale, and this amendment makes that promise a reality. I suggest that if the government does not wish to carry over this bill, it will be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to protect the Premier from defending his position on this legislation and, on this bill, from accountability to this House.
There's lots of other legislation on the order paper, lots of other work that can be done. I'm sure that the opposition could find legislative devices to keep this going until the Premier comes back, which would only mean a useless waste of time. I have known it to happen in the past when Social Credit was in opposition and when there were some Liberals in this House.
I am suggesting to the government House Leader that the Premier himself should be here for the debate on this amendment. He should say that we will call the bill back when the Premier comes back.
Maybe he's not coming back. There are a couple of them who don't want him back. There is the first member — or is he the second member for Surrey....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could the hon. member please relate this to the amendment?
MR. BARRETT: His other ambitions are just temporarily bridled until the last cabinet posts are filled. You'll see them explode — tick, tick, tick.
[ Page 248 ]
It is obvious that the government has been instructed to protect the Premier from the delicacies of this kind of debate. Oh, yes, it's coming through because you know and I know that in committee stage of a bill it can be delayed and delayed and delayed until the Premier comes back. Bill 9 was ahead of it, and Bill 11 was ahead on the order paper. I've been waiting for three days to get my amendments on Bill 11.
MR. BARRETT: "Phooey," he says. I'm not interested in your stomach problems. I want some leadership in this House.
AN HON. MEMBER: You always make me sick!
MR. BARRETT: Shame on you for saying things like that. You don't mean that. The Premier of this province is accountable to this House. He runs away from television debates; he runs away from public statements, but he can't run away from his accountability in this House. I am suggesting that the bill be pulled, and we debate it when the Premier comes back. It was he who said: "B.C.'s not for sale." Here is an opportunity for us to record his vote on whether or not he meant that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, while I have your attention, we are on an amendment.
MR. BARRETT: That's correct, and the amendment's in order.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The amendment's in order, and standing orders do make reference to it being strictly relevant.
MR. BARRETT: Yes. Could you read it again so we understand how relevant I am, please?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe, hon. member, this amendment has been read before: "...by adding after the word 'repealed': 'and the following substituted: 'on any offering of shares by the company to the public at large, orders shall only be received from residents of the province'. "
MR. BARRETT: That is correct. Orders shall only be received from residents of the province. That means that we say that by passing this amendment, B.C. is not for sale. And if — quoting the Premier's words — "B.C. is not for sale," is not in order, I don't know what else is in order in this House.
The question I raise around this amendment is that the Premier should be here in the House, not protected by a new backbench whose ambitions may get in the way of understanding the responsibility of accountability in this statement, not protected by a House Leader who puts a list of bills in front of us and then pops out with number 12 before numbers 9 and 11 are available.
MR. HALL: Like bingo.
MR. BARRETT: It's worse than bingo: it's political manoeuvring.
Friday we didn't know that the Premier was going to Ottawa. Did you know it? The last to hear about it were the backbenchers. They never get to caucus because they're ordered not to leave their seats in case there's a vote. They're riveted to their seats.
Mr. Chairman, I move that the Chairman do now leave the chair.
Motion negatived on the following division:
YEAS — 23
NAYS — 27
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, I believe that we are really witnessing a coup. I believe that the Premier has been overthrown. I believe that the Premier really believes that British Columbia should not be sold, and because he disagrees with everyone over there who believes that it should be sold and should be given away, they got rid of him. What we are witnessing is the emergence of a new generalissimo from Vancouver–Little Mountain, the new leader. That, I believe, is the reason why he is not here.
In all seriousness, Mr. Chairman, I think this is much too serious an issue to be debated in the absence of the Premier. We should start out by reminding ourselves who these assets belonged to in the first place. Who purchased them? British Columbians purchased them. They belong to British Columbians. Although it is really strange to sell to people something that they already own, if we are going to sell something that we already own, I think we should start out by selling it to ourselves. In any event, we should give ourselves preference when we are selling it. I am quite sure that if the Premier were here he would be able to understand the logic of that illogical statement, that he would agree with us and he would accept the amendment.
I think that enough of these assets are being taken away from the people of British Columbia, simply by depriving those who only had the five shares which were allotted to them of their right to vote — as section 1 of this bill did. I think that it would be a travesty — if this particular section were allowed to go through, and if this amendment were lost — to add deprivation of their preferential position in terms of selling the shares.
[ Page 249 ]
So, Mr. Chairman, I would like to speak in support of this amendment. I would like to speak in support of the first member for Victoria (Mr. Barber), who suggested that when these shares are being sold they should be sold first of all to British Columbians; they should be sold first of all to Canadians.
Nobody has any control over the shares once they are sold. The five shares that each British Columbian has who applied for can be sold to anybody, so even if the shares which were still in the government's hands for sale were sold on a preferential basis to British Columbians, we still wouldn't be able to guarantee that we would have control of these assets.
But it would indeed be a travesty and we would be adding insult to injury if, having lost control once those five shares were given out to each person who has applied, we then turned around and sold the shares, Mr. Chairman, to anyone who wanted to purchase them, regardless of their place of residence, regardless of their place of birth, regardless of their inclination.
So I want to speak in support of this amendment, but most importantly, I don't believe that any of us should vote on this amendment, neither government or opposition, without the Premier being present.
It is my hope, Mr. Chairman, that the opposition is not going to have to be placed in the position of having to protect the Premier against his own colleagues by keeping this particular amendment going until the Premier returns. We don't want to find ourselves in a position of having to protect the Premier against himself and his friends and colleagues over there. We would just as soon see that coup succeed if that is the case.
But, Mr. Chairman, in the meantime I would like to move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, while the Chairman seriously considers pulling this amendment until the Premier returns to the chambers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is out of order.
MS. BROWN: No it's not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps I, for the benefit of all the members of the House, could read standing order 44:
"If Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman of a Committee of the Whole House, shall be of opinion that a motion for the adjournment of a debate, or of the House, during any debate, or that the Chairman, do report progress, or do leave the chair, is an abuse of the Rules and Privileges of the House, he may forthwith put the question thereupon from the chair, or he may decline to propose the question to the House." It is now four minutes prior to the normal hour of adjournment. We have within the last ten minutes had a similar motion.
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, this is a very serious issue. What the opposition is trying to do is to give the Premier of this province an opportunity to listen to this amendment, to listen to the discussion of this amendment and for once in his life to make a decision on behalf of the people of British Columbia instead of against them. Am I to understand that the Chairman is going to deprive the Premier of this province of that opportunity? Is that what your ruling means, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, hon. member. That is an attack on the Chair, which is out of order.
MS. BROWN: I wouldn't dream of attacking the Chair.
HON. MR. PHILLIPS: Yes, you would.
MS. BROWN: The hon. member for Peace River knows much more about my dreams than I do, obviously.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
HON. MR. PHILLIPS: Don't hide behind your fancy clothes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
AN HON. MEMBER: You know what he's suggesting.
MS. BROWN: Don't tell him, please. Mr. Chairman, I ask for the protection of the Chair.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Those who ask for the protection of the Chair should first ensure that they are in order.
MS. BROWN: I am in order, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please proceed.
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, this is too serious a decision for us to make in the absence of the Premier. It is not fair to the Premier, and it is not fair to the people of British Columbia for us to make this decision in his absence. For that reason and that reason only, I'm asking you, Mr. Chairman — through you to the House Leader or the minister involved — to withdraw this piece of legislation until the Premier returns, and we can debate this amendment and debate this issue while he is present in his chair.
Having been part of some intervening business, I now move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, it's not really a matter of intervening business. It's a question of the matter dealt with before.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Division ordered to be recorded in the Journals of the House.
Hon. Mr. Hewitt filed answers to questions 2, 3 and 4 on the order paper.
MR. KING: On a point of order, I wanted to ask the House leader what the order of business would be tomorrow. I'm sure that's in order.
MR. SPEAKER: Presumably that's something that can be handled by the Whips.
[ Page 250 ]
HON. MR. GARDOM: I can assure the hon. House Leader he's received every courtesy this session. He will continue to receive every courtesy. We'll have a discussion with him in the morning.
Hon. Mr. Gardom moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 11:02 p.m.
June 6, 1979, Hansard report — Page 4, col. 1. Report presented by Hon. H.A. Curtis reads:
Pacific National Exhibition, financial statements for the year ended November 30, 1978 — not 1931 as observed on the cover.
Pacific National Exhibition, financial statements for the year ended November 30, 1978 — not November 31 as observed on the cover.
2 Mr. D'Arcy asked the Hon. the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources the following questions:
1. Do the Directors of British Columbia Hydro Corporation receive any form of remuneration and/or expenses or per diem rates?
2. If the answer to No. 1 is yes, (a) in what form and in what amount and (b) in the case of each director what is their name and the total amount paid them in 1976, 1977, and 1978?
The Hon. J. J. Hewitt replied as follows:
"2. (a) The Directors, with the exception of Mr. Bonner and the Ministers, are paid $5,000 each per annum and all are entitled to be reimbursed for travel costs incurred on official business. Mr. Bonner does not receive payment as a Director but, by Order in Council, receives $48,000 per annum as Director and Chairman.
(b) Aggregate of amounts paid in 1976, 1977, and 1978:
|C. W. Brazier||$15,009|
|R. M. Hungerford (resigned January 1977)||5,417|
|J. H. Steede||14,384|
|Hon. J. Davis||Nil|
|Hon. E. M. Wolfe||Nil"|
3 Mr. D'Arcy asked the Hon. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources the following questions:
1. Do the Directors of the British Columbia Petroleum Corporation receive any form of remuneration and/or expenses or per diem rates?
2. If the answer to No. 1 is yes, (a) in what form and in what amount and (b) in the case of each director what is their name and the total amount paid them in 1976, 1977, and 1978?
The Hon. J. J. Hewitt replied as follows:
"Directors of British Columbia Petroleum Corporation, details of remuneration:
"1976 — G.R. Lechner, no remuneration as Director¹; J. Caplette (terminated in May), no remuneration as Director²; T. Waterland (terminated in November), no remuneration; J. Davis, no remuneration; J. Chabot (started in November), no remuneration; L. Mulholland (started in December), $200 per day for each day devoted to B.C.P.C. business plus reasonable travelling and out-of-pocket expenses, in accordance with section 3 (4)³ of the Petroleum Corporation Act.
"Total for 1976 — $400 per diem, $90.60 expenses.
"1977 — G. R. Lechner, no remuneration; J. Davis, no remuneration; J. Chabot, no remuneration; L. Mulholland, same as 1976.
[ Page 251 ]
"Total for 1977 — $3,600 per diem, $998.25 expenses.
"1978 — G. R. Lechner, no remuneration; J. Davis (terminated in April), no remuneration; J. Chabot (terminated in December), no remuneration; James J. Hewitt (started in December), no remuneration; L. Mulholland, same as 1976.
"Total for 1978 — $1,400 per diem, $131.20 expenses.
4 Mr. D'Arcy asked the Hon. the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources the following questions:
With reference to coal mined in 1978—
1. What was the total tonnage of coal mined?
2. What was the total amount of royalty or land tax in lieu of royalty paid on coal mined?
The Hon. J. J. Hewitt replied as follows:
"1. The tonnage of coal subject to royalty payments or land tax in 1978 was 8 460 752.68 tonnes.
"2. The total amount of royalty or land tax paid on this amount was $11,885,375.97."
"¹ Mr. Lechner receives a salary of $44,000 per annum as Chairman (effective February 1976), and as General Manager and President and Chief Executive Officer. For the month of January and up to February 19, 1976, Mr. Lechner's salary as General Manager and President and Chief Executive Officer was $41,000 per annum.
"The above is in accordance with section 6 (1) of the Petroleum Corporation Act: 'Subject to the approval of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, the board may, notwithstanding the Public Service Act, appoint a person, who may be a director, as manager of the corporation, and fix the remuneration and other expenses to be paid to him by the corporation."
"² Mr. Caplette received a salary of $16,672.50 as Vice-Chairman and full time employee for the period from January to May 1976.
"³ Section 3 (4) of the Petroleum Corporation Act: 'Each director shall be reimbursed by the corporation for any reasonable travelling and out-of-pocket expenses necessarily incurred by him in the discharge of his duties as a director, and, in addition, he may be paid such remuneration as the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may prescribe.' "