1979 Legislative Session: ist Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 1979
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Resort Municipality of Whistler Amendment Act, 1979 (Bill 34). Hon. Mr. Vander
Introduction and first reading –– 907
Motions and adjourned debates on motions.
On Motion 7.
Hon. Mr. Curtis –– 907
Attorney-General Statutes Amendment Act, 1979 (Bill 29).
Second reading –– 907
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1979 (Bill 301).
Second reading –– 907
Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 1979 (Bill 31).
Second reading –– 907
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Human Resources estimates.
On vote 140.
Ms. Brown –– 908
Mr. Mitchell –– 910
Mr. Brummet –– 910
Mrs. Dailly –– 910
Mr. Nicolson –– 911
Mrs. Wallace –– 911
Mr. Barnes –– 913
Hon. Mrs. McCarthy –– 913
Ms. Brown –– 917
Mr. Cocke –– 919
Mrs. Wallace –– 920
Ms. Brown –– 921
Hon. Mrs. McCarthy –– 921
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Labour estimates.
On vote 150.
Hon. Mr. Williams –– 922
Mr. Howard –– 922
Appendix –– 925
The House met at 10 a.m.
HON. MR. CURTIS: It's always a pleasure in this chamber to offer a special welcome to colleagues from other provinces. This morning we are very pleased to have in British Columbia, and in the assembly for a few minutes, a minister from Saskatchewan and a minister from Manitoba. I would like the House to recognize the Hon. Ned Shillington, Minister of Culture and Youth for the province of Saskatchewan, and the Hon. Robert Banman, Minister of Recreation and Sports for the province of Manitoba.
Inasmuch as this is Friday and we intend to work very hard through the course of the day discussing matters of concern to the representative from Alberta, I had hoped we would be able to show them some British Columbia salmon, but we'll have to invite them back again for that opportunity at some other time.
MR. SPEAKER: I have some in the freezer, hon. Provincial Secretary.
MR. RITCHIE: It is my pleasure and I am proud this morning to introduce a very good friend. He is Dr. Craig Seaton, vice-president of Trinity Western College. Would you please welcome Dr. Seaton.
Introduction of Bills
RESORT MUNICIPALITY OF WHISTLER
AMENDMENT ACT, 1979
Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Resort Municipality of Whistler Amendment Act, 1979.
Bill 34 introduced, read a first time, and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. GARDOM: I ask leave to proceed to motions.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I call Motion 7, standing in the name of the hon. Provincial Secretary.
HON. MR. CURTIS: I move Motion 7, which appears on page 3 of Orders of the Day for today, standing in my name. [See appendix.]
HON. MR. GARDOM: I ask leave to proceed to Motion 8.
Leave not granted.
HON. MR. GARDOM: There's a surprise a day in this business.
Mr. Speaker, I call second reading of Bills 29, 30 and 31. These are three bills which are best debated in committee, and I can assume the House that we'll have an opportunity for as much debate as we wish in committee.
MR. SPEAKER: With respect, Mr. Attorney-General, we can only call one bill at a time.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 29, Mr. Speaker.
AMENDMENT ACT, 1979
Bill 29, Attorney-General Statutes Amendment Act, 1979, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 30, Mr. Speaker.
AMENDMENT ACT, 1979
Bill 30, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1979, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 31, Mr. Speaker.
AMENDMENT ACT, 1979
Bill 31, Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 1979, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Orders of the Day
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Rogers in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
On vote 140: minister's office, $206,837 — continued.
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I raised a number of questions yesterday in speaking on the minister's estimates, and she assured me that she would be tabling some responses in the House. Would it be possible to have the responses tabled before we are through discussing the estimates?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It may be possible for the minister to send something to you on a personal basis, but we cannot table items during committee.
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MS. BROWN: Then I would really prefer that the minister answer the questions which were raised, Mr. Chairman. They have been sitting on the order paper for some time. They are very basic kinds of information that we must know about the ministry. If she doesn't want to table them or can't table them under the rules during estimates, certainly she can give an oral response to the questions that were raised.
In regard to a couple of things that the minister dealt with last night, I pointed out that during this International Year of the Child and the Family, she had chosen to eliminate the special-needs category for those recipients, which benefited children more than anyone else on welfare. She assured me that this was not the case.
If the minister will read her own press release which was issued when the whole new structure was introduced — the new system of funding — she will see that it states quite clearly that the special-needs section has been eliminated. In a crisis situation, a job-related move, or if the life of a child or another member of the family is endangered, a person can apply for special needs. But the basic things that were covered by special needs, such as additional warm clothing, blankets, shoes — these kinds of things which the children use — are no longer covered by special needs. They have to be purchased out of tax credits from the federal government which the families receive in lieu of the original fund allowance they used to get each month. It's a much more demeaning process that the person on welfare has to go through. People have to keep all of their bills, project their expenses, and present these to the department or to the social worker each time before a decision is made about whether they qualify for special needs.
This is another of the areas during this International Year of the Child where services to children have been cut by this government rather than extended. In speaking on the budget speech, and in speaking in the response to the throne speech, I also mentioned that the minister failed to protect the rights of children born in this province after June 15, when she did not insist that her government allow them to qualify for their BCRIC shares as well.
So I think, all and all, we will remember this International Year of the Child, once it has passed, for the things the ministry did not do, for the things the government didn't do, and for the ways in which the policies of the government hurt the children of British Columbia rather than enhancing them or assisting them in any way.
It's interesting that when one goes to children themselves, and asks them how they would like to see the International Year of the Child celebrated — which is a word the minister likes to use — or honoured, the children themselves talk about food. They talk about home. They talk about needing clothes. They talk about needing sleep. They talk about needing care. A survey was done by the B.C. Teachers Federation this year in which children in the school system were asked. These were quite young children, in grade 2, at the George Jay Elementary School right here in Victoria.
When they were asked how they thought the International Year of the Child should be celebrated, and what the things were that children needed this year, they said food, a home, clothes, pencils, drink, meat and milk. I think children need clothes and money. They need pets to take care of, a piano, a school, someone to play with and a house to live in. They talked about how they need to learn to be nice, or else they won't like one another. They need mothers and fathers and grandparents. They need a dry home. They need food to eat. They need clothing. They need shoes. They need socks. These are the kinds of things the children themselves said they needed. Not one of these children mentioned needing a medal. Not one of them mentioned needing a song book. Not one of these children said he or she would appreciate a scroll to be sent to anyone. Not one of them talked about any public relations activities.
When the boys in the Boys' and Girls' Club of the Central Saanich area made their presentation to the government caucus, as well as to the opposition caucus, the very same things surfaced. The children themselves, when you talk to them about what they need this year, deal with very basic things — the same kind of basic things the United Nations talked about when they said this is the way in which this year should be treated. But, of course, as I mentioned earlier — and I'm not going to belabour the point — the minister and her department did see fit to respond in that way. Instead, it has been made a PR event in which the minister could do a number of public relations acts which brought glory to herself rather than enhancing the life of the children.
So I just want to make a couple of suggestions, because the year is not yet over, of ways in which the minister could probably bring a little bit more meaning to this whole concept of the International Year of the Child.
I want to start out by talking about nutritional needs, one of the major areas in which everyone who's looked at the children of British Columbia agrees that there is great need for something to be done.
Nutrition. If the minister could ensure that the day-care centres and the child-care centres in British Columbia find it within their budgets to make it possible to have at least one meal a day for every child staying there, that would be one way of enhancing the lives of those children in British Columbia who have to use the child-care system and who are under the protection of the Ministry of Human Resources. Do something about the budgets for the child-care and day-care centres. The nutritional needs of children in their very early years has to be one of our priorities. Nutrition is really critical in the very early years when the bones are built and the teeth are formed. If the funding used for other things could be redirected to ensure that at least the children who use the child-care centres and the day-care centres have one decent meal a day, that would be one way in which this government could enhance the lives of those children in British Columbia who have to use the child-care and the day-care facilities. This is a project which has to be faced. I realize that it's not going to be possible to go straight across the board and put a meal in all of the schools from kindergarten right through elementary school. But we should start in the pre-schools; we should start in the day-care centres.
In terms of child care, I would like the minister to consider opening more centres for the under-3-year-olds and more crisis-type places where people can leave their children 24 hours a day. Those certainly are areas of great shortage.
The imbalance in the whole structuring of delivery of services in day care, and in the supplement, sees to it that the people who have can afford day care, and the people who don't have cannot. The minister talks about day-care centres closing down in some areas because there is no need
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for them. That is not the reason they closed down; they closed down because the people living in those areas can't afford to supplement the day-care supplement. There is no shortage of day care in the middle- and upper-class areas of greater Vancouver, Victoria, or throughout British Columbia. The parents in those areas can afford to place their children in day care, but in those areas where the parents are totally dependent on the supplement, the supplement is not enough. So the day-care centres have to add a fee to that, the parents cannot afford the additional fee and the children do not have the opportunity of day care. Those day-care centres are the ones that have vacancies; they are the ones that are closing down. I'm hoping that the minister, although she is listening to her deputy, is also listening to what I am trying to say. We will not accept an explanation that there are lots of day-care centres closing down because there is no need for them. It's the imbalance in the subsidy system that's at fault, not the shortage of day care.
My third recommendation to the minister is to take a good hard look at the handicapped child. I'm speaking of the children who are handicapped mentally as well as physically. You should not have the kind of fiscal restraint in the funding that goes into Woodlands and other centres for retarded children that you have in other areas. These are children with special needs. This is as good a year as ever to bend over backwards to meet the special needs of those children. The idea of retarded children being deprived of a two-week holiday at Golden Ears Park is not something that can ever be explained or justified by this government, no matter what kind of explanation the minister chooses to make. It's simply a matter of the money not being there to pay for that kind of service. In this particular year the minister should take a special look at children with special needs — the physically and mentally handicapped, and those with psychological handicaps. I know this crosses into other ministries, such as Health and Education. This is certainly something that the intergovernmental services to children committee should be looking at and dealing with in this particular year.
The fourth recommendation I would like to make to the minister is to take another look at the Berger report. The very first recommendation there was, I think, the easiest one to implement. It called for the government to make a clear statement on its commitment to the rights of the children of British Columbia to some very basic things: good housing, a good, nutritional diet, and protection under the law. Those are very basic rights, and all the government has to do is make a verbal public commitment to those rights. We recognize that it is going to take a number of years before one can guarantee all of those rights for the children of British Columbia, but this year is as good as any in which to start by making that verbal public commitment to work towards ensuring that no child in this province goes to bed hungry, goes to bed cold, or has to make do with the kind of lunch bucket that contains only cold french fries or potato chips, and ensuring that their clothing needs, educational needs, and their recreational as well as cultural needs are a priority of this government and will be met.
The final recommendation that I would like to make, Mr. Chairman, to the minister, for the International Year of the Child is that it is important to know where the children of British Columbia are. There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of separate studies. SPARC is doing a study; TRACY is doing a study; United Way is doing a study;
UBC's Department of Early Childhood Education is doing a study; UVic is doing a study. Everyone is studying, but no one is pulling all of those studies together to give us, in the final analysis, the kind of report that we as women in this country have.... In recognition of International Women's Year, the federal government funded the bringing together and collation of all of that information, so that we now have a book in this country that you can turn to and say: "This is where women stand in terms of their economic status, their social status, their educational status, their political status, et cetera."
There's a lot of information out there. There is no need to set up a royal commission to have hearings on it. All we need is a task force, or one or two people who have the responsibility for collecting all of that information and bringing it together in one place, so that we can know where the children of British Columbia are, how many of those children are poor, how many are in need, how many have special needs, how many fit into families and how many don't, and so that we can get started on working towards guaranteeing their rights.
If we don't do anything more than those four things this year, Mr. Chairman — through you to the minister — we would have taken our first step in really making this International Year of the Child meet the kind of criteria laid down by the United Nations, and we would have begun to enhance the lives of all the children of British Columbia, not just those children who come under the purview of the Minister of Human Resources.
Mr. Chairman, I want to apologize to the member from Fort St. John because I have bored him, as I do whenever I talk about children in this House. But I'm not speaking to him; I'm speaking to the minister, who is listening and who has the responsibility.
MR. BRUMMET: You're talking about another study.
MS. BROWN: I did not say another study. You know, Mr. Chairman, this is a school principal. This is someone who is responsible for the education of the children of this province, but who can listen and not even hear, can hear and not even understand. If you wonder what's wrong with the educational system in this province, the living proof of it is sitting right over there. That's what's wrong with the educational system.
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, why am I responding to that man? Can anyone explain it to me?
The four points which I laid out, Mr. Chairman through you to the Minister of Human Resources — are, as I stated earlier, concrete ways in which we can deal with the needs of children.
The recommendation on nutrition is not a study; it's a very concrete way in which we can deal with the children. The recommendation on day-care facilities is not a study; that's a concrete way in which we can deal with the needs of children. The declaration of the Berger report is not a study; that's a way in which we can deal with children. The simple putting together of where the children of British Columbia are, so that we can have a serious and collective and concerted look at them, is not a study; it's a concrete way in
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which we can begin to deal with the needs of the children of British Columbia.
I hope, Mr. Chairman — through you to the minister that the minister, unlike her colleague, has at least some understanding of what I have been trying to say.
MR. MITCHELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't want to drag out this debate. I feel that the previous speaker has covered a lot of the points that have been brought to my attention, but there is one item that has not been mentioned. It is a problem that I have been faced with as the MLA for the area, and that is the new system that you have set up for your welfare grants.
In it you have a section covering hydro bills. I have been dealing with cases where people, prior to coming on to welfare under the Human Resources ministry because of unemployment, marriage breakups or illness, have accumulated a lot of bills. One of these bills appears to be a hydro bill, and they come to the position where Hydro says they are cutting them off. They go on to welfare, but the ministry will not cover the back bills. I have attempted to intercede with Hydro, but they told me that they are a money-making corporation; they are not the Ministry of Human Resources. I feel, when a person does apply for coverage under the Ministry of Human Resources, that some of these back bills should be taken into consideration for special needs. They are essential in living, and in the city where we have a lot of the modern conveniences — electric heating and cooking — without hydro the family is in the cold. I've had one family where the mother has been feeding the children sandwiches for two and a half weeks.
I have another family coming in at 1 o'clock today. They have had their power shut off a week and a half because of unpaid bills. They are not on welfare. They will be going on welfare but they will still have this bill facing them, and they will still be in the dark. I ask you to modify the regulations which you have given out in the ministry, so that they will take into consideration some of the vital and essential necessities of a family before they go on the welfare allowance. They should consider if there is any catch-up needed, and they should see that they are covered. They should be taken into consideration at the beginning of their time on welfare. I feel it is really important, and I think it would save a lot of inconveniences for a family, embarrassment to children, and inconveniences to Hydro, because they have to shut power off and then turn it on. It is one of the financial consultations that the ministry can give to the clients when they come on welfare. I know I've had really good cooperation from your executive assistant. I appreciate that, and I think it can be straightened out from the ministry down to the workers.
MR. BRUMMET: I would like to comment and reply very briefly to some of the accusations which were made.
My job has been to work with children, to do something and get something done, not to talk about it. I have developed a feeling against studies after studies. They seem to set up the types of bureaucracies where you will end up with eight or ten paid employees to look after three or four children. They spend most of the time writing reports and studies to spend the money in order to justify their own existence. That is why I question this business of spending more money on studies. In the last couple of weeks in this House I've heard millions of dollars worth of studies proposed, and now we want to study children. I've seen enough of studying children, labelling them, classifying them and building up the bureaucracies. What I'm interested in is working with children, and I always have been. I am highly in favour of any effort to do something for the children themselves.
I might add, in conclusion, that I was also one of these spoiled people. When a student needed help, I would accept the phone call and not worry about getting two days off in lieu of it. It didn't matter when the phone call came. That is the type of thing that I think we need a little more of, instead of studies, regulations and specifications to protect the people who are working with children. I would very much like to see the children protected.
MRS. DAILLY: First of all, before I bring up some points to the minister, I was listening to the hon. member who just took his seat, and I can't quite understand what he is talking about. I've been listening to most of these speeches, and I don't recall once when the member for Burnaby-Edmonds (Ms. Brown) suggested a major study, and that seemed to be the source of your objection to her remarks. May I also say that I had hoped that on an important occasion, such as the discussion of the Human Resources estimates — particularly in the year, Mr. Chairman, when the whole focus is on the child — we would have had an opportunity to hear more positive contributions from the backbenchers of the Social Credit Party ranks. Surely particularly those with an educational background would have had some positive comments to make, instead of just knocking what the official opposition is attempting to do in a positive manner — bringing to the attention of the minister the basic concerns we all have for children today. So I would hope we can get more positive, speeches, particularly — I want to repeat — from those involved in education in this province.
Mr. Chairman, my main concern in this debate at this time is to discuss briefly with the minister the areas she opened up yesterday, and which have been very well articulated by our own critic from Burnaby-Edmonds (Ms. Brown) — the rights and the needs of children.
The first thing I want to mention to the minister is and I know, being a former minister myself, that one is limited in the time one has to read anything in detail — that there is a major book which has been released this year. I hope the minister has heard of "Admittance Restricted." It is about the child as a citizen in Canada, and it is by the Canadian Council on Children and Youth. It was published in 1978, and it was a task force which was set up on the child as a citizen. Mr. Justice Emmett Hall was the honorary chairman. I would hope — perhaps your deputy has had an opportunity to read it — the minister would perhaps, in her busy schedule, find time to read it. There are some comments in this book on the very topic which she brought to our attention last night — the whole matter of removing children from protective custody and getting them back into a family situation. This book discusses this in considerable detail.
I believe also, and I agree with the minister, that it's best for a child to be in a family situation if that family situation is such that the child is going to have emotional and financial security. Therefore my concern — and I was trying to check the Hansard Blues from last night just before I had to take my place — is the statements the minister
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made with reference, I believe, to removal of children from foster care into adoption. I would like her to elaborate on that, because if that is so, I think I know what her ultimate objective is. She's hoping, as we all do, that a child will have a permanent feeling of security, which they may not have in a foster home. That is no reflection on the treatment by the foster parent.
But my concern in the statement which she has made is that many foster parents, as we know, are excellent parents. They take these children and they grow to love them as, indeed, their own children. When the time comes, though, for adoption, when the Human Resources administration feel they can find a permanent adoptive home, often the foster parents, who have grown to love and to nurture these children who have been put in their care, sometimes cannot qualify, even though they wish to, as adoptive parents, because of some rather arbitrary restrictions placed upon them by the ministry — and I'm not just referring to B.C.; this is across Canada — where you must have a certain basic financial situation, and other things.
I know from personal experience that one has to be checked out very carefully by social workers if you wish to adopt a child. I'm wondering if perhaps the restrictions placed on the foster parent who wishes to permanently adopt have sometimes been too rigid, when they are ready to give the love and the comfort but perhaps can't quite come up to the rigid financial standards. So when the minister suggests removing children from foster homes, I wonder if she would elaborate on whether, at the same time, she is going to give foster parents the opportunity to adopt children even though they may not meet some of the rigid requirements. The main things we want to give children are love and security. If the foster parent can give it, I'm inclined to believe that perhaps it would be better for the child to stay with the foster parent than be moved, maybe to another part of Canada, by an adoptive parent who happens to have better qualifications. I was particularly concerned with that.
I have some other questions, but I wonder if the minister would comment on that part.
MR. NICOLSON: I have just a few brief items. The Cerebral Palsy Association has spoken and made some public announcements about what they see as a shortfall in funding. While it's true that the amount of funding has actually increased..... Well, I guess the minister wants to make a point, perhaps it should be brought up under Health. But while the amount of funding has increased, the funding per child, or per client, has not increased. It has actually gone down because of increased participation in the program. I would hope that in the Year of the Child that will be looked at. I think the minister might, quite rightly, get up and say that I should have brought it up under the Minister of Health's estimates. Since the Minister of Health is here, I would point out that part of their brief said that the Nelson situation was one very special and critical situation where there had been hopes to expand from the Trail-Castlegar area-based program into Nelson. There are presently about half of the children in Nelson not being served just simply because of transportation difficulties.
The other thing I'd like to bring up particularly is this whole business of people in the 55-to-64 age category. Because of the multiplicity of rates in that part of the classifications, when the most recent increases were announced, some of the workers kept clients on the old rates, because to put them on the new rates would have indeed meant a loss of income for them. I think that there should be a move toward restoring the concept which existed under Mincome where all of those seniors were under a uniform rate, where it was not nearly as complicated as it is today — complicated to the point that people in the field can't just give you things off the top of their head. Workers have to refer to their manual constantly and can't just give you responses off the top of their head. Things are so complicated with shelter portions and age categories and whether you are getting GAIN because you're in a certain age category or because you are proven handicapped.
Another item which I'd like to bring to the attention of the minister is the designation of the W-card for medical benefits. If a person has been on social assistance and has turned 65, they carry this through, which I think is good because when they're faced with special needs like dentures and things, they don't have to go to special-needs application, which is a demeaning kind of a thing; they can get that through their W-card. I just would hope that all seniors over the age of 65 should be issued a W-card. It's seen as a real unfairness by seniors, knowing that some of them have it and some of them don't. The only difference in their present circumstances is not income — they might have identical incomes — but their history. I don't think that a thing like that should be decided by history.
I would hope that the minister would wage unholy war with the federal government on UIC. It's nice to go back east and be well met and rub elbows with these people, but what we are doing to our citizens in terms of the procrastination.... Of course, the burden falls on your ministry. I think, frankly, that your ministry should take up a little bit more of this, but you've certainly got to fight and you've got to draw attention to what I consider is just criminal — what is being done to good, hard-working people. I just have so many of them come in. They get two cheques, then all of a sudden they're asked to send in a form. They send it in four times and two months go by with no cheques. They're absolutely destitute, so they come into the Ministry of Human Resources to get special-needs vouchers and then, of course, they have to jump through hoops to do that, quite often having to resort to coming to the MLA to kind of pave the way.
So those are our four items. I realize the first one is maybe a little bit off the mark in terms of the area of responsibility, but I'm sure the minister is concerned with children.
MRS. WALLACE: This has been an interesting debate. Certainly I think that my colleague from Burnaby-Edmonds (Ms. Brown) is working under a bit of a handicap inasmuch as she hasn't had made available to her the information that she's been trying to get. I can't understand why the minister is not prepared to give her those answers, unless there is something that she really doesn't want the opposition to know. It seems to carry through with the general trend in this House that we discuss the estimates of a particular minister and then after those estimates are finished, all the information pertaining to that ministry is filed in the House. That's a procedure that is becoming more and more prevalent here, and it's a procedure that, I think, we should move away from, because it certainly doesn't make for fair and democratic discussion of any given ministry.
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I want to just tell that minister that the unfortunate people who have to come within her purview are not as well cared for as she apparently thinks they are. I have many letters that indicate the kind of problems that are facing people in this province who are trying to make do on the very, very minimal allowances that come from this ministry.
The minister talked about the increases that she had brought about last April 1. If you look at the percent increase, particularly in the support portion, it is eaten up three or four times over by the inflation rate, and yet people are trying to provide adequate diets. When her colleague, the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. McClelland), stresses the need for good nutrition and issues bulletins indicating the cost of food, sometimes the cost of food alone is more than the revised support portion of the allowance for any given family. Many times it is a dollar or two less than the very figure that her colleague, the Minister of Health, is saying is required for just a nutritious diet for a family of that particular size.
I refer the minister to the little bulletins that the nutrition department of the Ministry of Health puts out every month or so. If she checks it out, and I challenge her to check it out, she will find that a family of four — a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a child of 8 or so — is not actually getting, in their support portion, as many dollars as the Minister of Health says are required right here in Victoria to provide a nutritious diet.
That's very short-sighted. If those people are not fed properly, they are not going to grow into healthy citizens, and we're going to have increased medical costs and continuing Human Resources costs. People who are not well are not able to participate as fully in the economic life of the community. Certainly we're going to have continuing social problems as long as we have people who are undernourished. Food is a very important item in anyone's lifestyle, and when there's not enough money to provide that food, then certainly those children, particularly, are going to suffer. They're not going to be adequately and properly nourished. There are going to be problems with teeth. There will be all kinds of problems. Obesity is one problem, because starchy foods are cheaper. Lack of protein is another problem. All those things are happening to the people who receive aid from Human Resources because there is not enough money to provide for an adequate diet.
I have a letter here from a mother whose husband has a back injury and is not able to work. As she puts it: "My husband cannot work because of a back injury, and he is going through hell because he feels and he knows that he cannot give us the things we need." She talks about the Christmas bonus — $25, and they have two children. That's not enough even to buy a Christmas turkey, with children expecting or hoping for Christmas gifts. There is not enough to provide or to maintain a happy home atmosphere. Her daughter came home and said: "Mom, my shoe is broken." What did the mother do? She got angry and struck the child because she knew that she couldn't afford to buy her another pair of shoes. That's why it is such a sad thing that this minister has seen fit to do away with the special-needs grants. Formerly those kinds of funds could be obtained if shoes were needed, if clothing was needed, if a better diet was needed. Those kinds of things could be obtained, and now they are no longer available.
Can you imagine the mother's feelings, and how upset she was afterwards to realize that she had struck her child for something for which the child was not at fault? Her shoes were worn out. She had broken them, and she needed new ones, and the mother's response was to strike her. You know that does not make for a good family atmosphere. Our marriage breakups and our family breakups are growing steadily, and the higher statistics are among the low-income groups. That's strictly an economic problem. These kinds of policies are aiding and abetting marriage breakups. In this, the Year of the Child, when our young people should be the most important thing that we're looking to, we should be trying to keep the family together and to keep and maintain a good-home atmosphere. That's not happening in those low-income groups that through no fault of their own have to depend on this minister and this ministry for their sustenance. In this instance, we have a family where the father has a back injury and cannot work.
Another area of concern I would like to point out is that of the older woman under 60 who is forced, again through no fault of her own, to go on the labour market. There is no assistance for them. There is plenty of assistance for young people — student loans, and all those kinds of things. Those are the people who are getting the jobs, and I'm not knocking that. But there should be some assistance for the woman between 45 and 55 who has to re-enter the job market, so she won't be forced to sell her home, as in this instance. This woman has driven taxi, and she's tried to get work in any way she can in order to support herself and maintain her home. She is now faced with the almost inevitable result that she's going to have to sell her home and move into goodness knows what. She has too much money to get any assistance from Human Resources — no little boost. I think that's an age group the minister could well give some attention to.
Speaking of the amounts that the minister is giving under her Human Resources legislation and regulations, there was a survey done back in January 1979 that set the poverty levels across Canada. These were '78 prices, but I think the minister would do well to have a look at these and compare what the Senate study did with the dollars that she's providing for families. For example, for a family of four, which is our average family, the Senate study came up with a figure of $12,433 annual income to even maintain the poverty level. Now I would challenge the minister to compare that figure to the amount of money that she is providing for a family of four.
There is one specific item that I wanted to speak about, and I've dealt with it previously under the Ministry of Health. That is the Cowichan Lake Activity Centre. The history there is certainly not a very pleasant one, because here we have a centre that has been really and truly the centre of that community in so many ways, and the minister has seen fit to cut the funding by something like 60 percent on the pretext that it's serving people other than those that come under her purview. Yet it's 100 percent supported in the community. She and I have both had a ream of correspondence from community groups, from school boards, from city councils, from various groups in that area, urging, that the funding be continued. It's been pointed out Canada-wide as an outstanding example by the Canadian Mental Health Association. In spite of all the efforts of all in the community to have those funds increased, they were cut effective April 1.
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Then we got into an election, and it was apparently more from political convenience than any feeling of humanitarianism that the Social Credit candidate in that constituency was able to obtain an interim grant to carry it through until the end of June. But when, the election was over, the funds were removed. Now I can't really believe that minister is that partisan, that she would make that grant for three months and then remove it. But the people of Lake Cowichan believe that, Mr. Chairman. The people of Lake Cowichan are convinced that the reason the funding is not coming in for that centre is that they were not persuaded to support the Social Credit Party during the last election. I challenge that minister to prove that they're wrong. I challenge her to make funding available to ensure that centre can continue to operate.
MR. BARNES: The minister has before her a note I sent respecting a social assistance recipient, Mrs. Jeanette Melnychuk. I really wanted the minister to respond to her situation, although I have already indicated to the minister that I realize the ministry hasn't the specific authority to assist in this particular case. She has an orthodontic problem that does not come under the regulations which provide, I believe, that the younger recipients can receive assistance under the Human Resources program.
What I would like the minister to do, though, is indicate what happens in similar situations in which the regulations don't apply. For example, a person is on social assistance and has no other means of income and has to resolve this problem, which in this case seems to be causing considerable pain and discomfort and is of long-standing duration. It is really just a question of attempting to get some indication of what options or resources are available to a person who has simply not been able to fit into any category under existing regulations. What options does this person have to resolve this problem?
Moving on from that I just wanted to ask the minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, one other question, mainly for clarification. Perhaps you could assist me. I'm interested in getting information from the Provincial Secretary, perhaps when his estimates are before the committee. Some of the matters I am interested in occurred during the tenure of the present Minister of Human Resources when she was the Provincial Secretary. So rather than be ruled out of order for asking questions that are not appropriate under these estimates, I would like the Chair to indicate to me whether or not I would be able to pursue my line of questioning at some later time, when the appropriate ministry is before this committee. As you know, there was a cabinet rearrangement recently, and therefore there could be a problem in trying to get answers, Mr. Chairman. This is why I preface my remarks before asking a question to get an indication from you what grounds I would have in making inquiries.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Chair cannot counsel members on when or what time to speak, other than to say that during the throne speech and budget address almost anything is in order, and after that time it depends upon which particular ministry is involved. If someone objects to it, or the minister being questioned objects, or if the Chairman finds that we are straying a long way from the subject, then the usual procedure applies, but because the House has been in inordinately good humour recently, we seem to have allowed a little straying from the subject as long as we're not varying too far from the ministry involved. That is the best advice I think the Chair can offer all hon. members at this time.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In that respect I shall attempt to elicit from
the minister a few brief clarification comments, so that I might be
better able to pursue my questioning under the appropriate ministry.
I would like to ask her if she, during her tenure as Provincial Secretary, hired the present chairman of the Summer and Winter Games committee, Mr. Ron Butlin, and if she would further indicate to the House the salary and the duration of his contract....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Those questions would be more appropriate under the minister who is now responsible, whose estimates are yet to come. That would be the appropriate time.
MR. BARNES: You can appreciate my concern, because I recall that in the past we've had difficulty trying to pursue lines of questioning where a minister no longer has that responsibility and there is no basis in which to engage him in a debate on the matter.
MR. CHAIRMAN: However, in this particular case the ministry which you seek to question has yet to come before this committee. Therefore you will have ample opportunity, I should think, within the next several weeks to question the appropriate minister.
MR. BARNES: Of course, should that minister indicate that he was not responsible at the time that I am interested in, I would have a difficult time in trying to recall the present minister before us. I am sure you can appreciate that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps you can at that point use the order paper.
MR. BARNES: As long as it is understood that when we do raise this matter it would not reflect upon my lack of desire to cooperate with the House in trying to get things in order. With that, Mr. Chairman, I have no further questions.
MS. BROWN: I wonder whether the minister would respond to some of the questions raised before we move on to anything else.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: I'm going to take it, I think, from the beginning of this morning's discussion. The member isn't in the House, so we'll just start from this morning. I was going to respond to the member for North Island (Mr. Gabelmann) on a couple of things I don't think I answered last night, but I can do so personally with him.
To the member for Burnaby-Edmonds, I think that the discussion you have brought forward today is somewhat the same as last night, and I think that I answered it rather thoroughly, if I might say so, last night. You are still mixing apples and oranges. You're bringing out your line of argument regarding the special needs and the shelter allowance and the new regulations under the income assistance.
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I really would like to have you understand it, so I will go through it. It's important that we understand this policy, which was brought forward April 1. Some questions have been raised not only by this member but also by the hon. member for Esquimalt–Port Renfrew (Mr. Mitchell) in the debate this morning. It is really not as well understood as it should be. If the members of the Legislature don't understand it.... I want you to be able to interpret it to the people you serve.
Let me go over it once again. You still have the opportunity to have work-related expenses. If you are on income assistance and have part-time work, and you would like to take that opportunity, that special need is still there. One still has, if one is on income assistance, the special needs through — it's not called a crisis grant — a special allowance which has to have the special authorization of the regional manager and, in some cases, the deputy minister.
Let me tell you what happened. We took the income assistance benefit.... Let me give you an example. Several members today have claimed less is being given. That's absolutely untrue; less is not being given. Following the very many examples brought forward to us, we responded particularly to the high cost of shelter and incorporated it into the new rate structure. In the new rate structure we took away the tremendous amount of bureaucratic paperwork that had to be gone through by all the local offices. Because of these moves there is much less paperwork.
We have allowed utilities. In the member's example of shelter and income-assistance and special-needs grants, time and time again she referred to Hydro, telephone, and those kinds of things. Utilities are now provided for; that was a great breakthrough. I hope you would see that particular situation has alleviated a lot of strain on the income-assistance recipients. We've taken away the persons who get more than they should just because they are bothersome, because they make too many trips to the Human Resources office, and because they are the squeaky wheels. The person with tiny children who was tied to the home and who had absolutely no way to be a bother to the Human Resources office was being discriminated against. Only those persons who were really bothersome were getting those special-needs grants; that was the case. The member will not stand in this House and agree with that. But we have examples, and we know that to be the case. We want fairness for all. We want all those who need help to get help. It wasn't happening before; it is today.
As an example, for a parent with two children, the old rate was $475; considering they would be paying $275 for rent, as of April 1, their new rate is $595 — a considerable increase. There can be no case made for saying that rate is in any way diminishing their income assistance.
Take the example of two parents with two children: the man who cannot work, the woman who is at home and two children. With their shelter cost at $300 per month, and with their utilities now provided, they now have a total of $660, whereas the old total was $532.50. One cannot make the case that we have decreased by $31 million in this Year of the Child and Family. It has made a tremendous difference to the lives of the income-assistance recipients in this province and the children of income-assistance recipients.
You say it would be troublesome for people to keep bills and to keep track of things. That's what everybody has to do even to claim exemptions from taxes; one has to keep track of one's bills. We have relieved them of the burden of hydro and telephone. We have taken on the burden of shelter maintenance; cost of maintenance is given.
If you want to make a case for somebody who is in dire need, that person can be responded to under these present circumstances, which are no different than they were. All the people who are in need are getting the service in the province of British Columbia today, and not just by a piecemeal situation.
Time and time again, in debate last night and today, the member has tried to compare the millions and millions of dollars we spend on families and children in this province. Millions upon millions of dollars, Mr. Chairman. The thrust of our ministry is to families and children. Do you know that in the next one or two weeks we will spend, in the Ministry of Human Resources, more on the families and children in this province than the total budget for the travel industry portfolio for the whole year? You're comparing apples and oranges when you take the Ministry of Human Resources and compare it with the Captain Cook Bicentennial celebration and for the Year of the Child and Family. In one program alone, the Zenith line which assists children in this province who are in a difficult child-abuse situation, we will be spending approximately half a million dollars this year.
Much discussion was heard on nutrition. In our own ministry we have basic nutrition and diet counselling, and we have the nutritional program of the Ministry of Health. With the perinatal and diet allowance that we have in the Ministry of Human Resources, we are addressing the very thing that you bring up as a Year of the Child program. This has not only been going on under our government, but it continues to go on this year. It has been enhanced this year and will continue to go on in other years, not just for the Year of the Child and Family.
We put a very few hundred dollars out in celebration of the Year of the Child and Family for a few flags and a few buttons to draw attention of the people of British Columbia to this year. It makes it special. I'm going to tell you that the people of British Columbia know more about the Year of the Child in British Columbia than the people of any other province in Canada. There isn't any other province that's doing as much. The awareness of the Year of the Child is very much a presence in this province. It's ridiculous; it's apples and oranges to compare the few hundred dollars spent on a few buttons and the public awareness program.
We've asked people in this special Year of the Child to truly consider and truly look around their own environment and their own community, within their church and their service clubs and the organizations. It's ridiculous to compare those few hundred dollars with the millions upon millions that we are spending.
I know that it has bothered the members on the other side that the Travel Industry expenditure for the Captain Cook Bicentennial was included within that few million dollars that I mentioned just a few minutes ago. We will spend, in the next two weeks, more in Human Resources on families and children than the entire Ministry of Tourism will spend all year.
The travel industry will bring almost $2 billion to the province this year to help pay for the human resources, health and social services of this province. So lets start to be a little supportive of that kind of program, because you and
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I both know it's not possible to provide social services unless we have an economy to support them. So let's start to be supportive of that, and stop being so nit-picky about a successful campaign that brought thousands of people to this province. They have a fantastic memory of this province and are here again today in the city of Victoria, the city of Vancouver and all through this province. It was a successful campaign.
Don't be so small. It isn't worthy of a political party to be so nit-picky over a Captain James Cook Bicentennial celebration. Because it was successful, you have to compare it to everything else. But do be so big as to say: "We will support the Year of the Child promotion." Be that big. Try not to diminish it by your nit-picking, because the negativism of that kind of discussion does nothing to enhance your political party or the children of this province.
Let me tell you the spending per week, Mr. Chairman, on our family and children's services and on income assistance. As the member has pointed out earlier in the discussion, there are several thousand children on income assistance. In 1962 there were 66,759 children in income-assistance families. In 1978, that was diminished to 59,811 children in families on income assistance. In this week alone, and in next week and in the 52 weeks to follow, the family and children's services in our ministry will spend $1.5 million, and on income-assistance families we will spend $4.8 million, for a total of $6.3 million. That's in the next seven days, and you talk about buttons, and you talk about flags for a few hundred dollars for awareness for the people of British Columbia.
Mr. Chairman, I've covered the basic nutrition program and the diet counselling that goes on. We've increased the spending program for the special needs for dental care for children by $ 100,000. A couple of our members today have made reference to it.
The member for Vancouver Centre (Mr. Barnes) has brought one case to me. I appreciate very much that, by this information today, he has shared that case with me. I'd like to just say that particular program, under the new.... I have no idea, because the bill has not been presented to the House, what care will be given. But the care that we have in our ministry is for children and, as you know, this is an adult and she is not able to take advantage of it.
To those with whom I have had personal association who have taken advantage of our care, that orthodontic service has really made a difference in their lives. I think of one that has just been approved where the physician and dentist who were serving this foster child said that it was the worst case they had ever seen in the Interior — a very deformed situation. They're going to be able to completely clear and fix that child's mouth, and they're going to be doing it through the Ministry of Human Resources. I also think of another case which I personally had correspondence on. I'm sure that you've had the same, and I think that we're doing a good job in that regard. It has to be met — we don't disagree on that at all. I appreciate that you don't.
The hon. member for Burnaby-Edmonds mentioned the handicapped child. Let me go back to that reference, please. We have been studying the handicapped child in the province. We are continually trying to bring the ministries together. As you so well mentioned, it's an interministerial responsibility, and that has been done. We are bringing forward proposals and working on proposals at this time to give the very best and most imaginative proposals for the handicapped child in this province. We hope that can be got together. We're working steadily and as quickly as possible on it. We think there are things that we can do that are imaginative, and we will continue to do so. We need the support of all in the House in that regard, and I know we will get it.
Let me just refer to the study situation. I'd like to refer to it because my colleague from North Peace River (Mr. Brummet) has made reference to studies, and the member for Burnaby-Edmonds has made reference to studies. You say there are studies from the United Way, from TRACY, from SPARC, and from all of these organizations. We always take a good look at all of those studies. You can look at what our ministry is doing as the collating body, if you like. We don't need another investment in funds to do that, but I want you to know that we do it. We have a research component, and we have a computer component.
Let me say that we have met with the United Way, just to give you one example. We were able to point out to the United Way that in the very report that had been given wide circulation after our meeting there were discrepancies which, had they come to us before they had printed the report, would have saved them embarrassment. Although the United Way does some very good things, I really think that all organizations have a responsibility to check with us too, because I do believe that we do have access to the best information in terms of numbers and so on. So when it comes to reports, we're able to point out information to them, and even help them. In fact, we've offered. We have a liaison now with the United Way which was set up at a meeting between myself and them just recently. We do have that capability; we will use that capability and we'd like to do so.
I would like to mention to the member for Esquimalt (Mr. Mitchell), who I see is not in his seat, regarding the hydro bill situation that we have met with Hydro and have had initiated for some time in this province.... Bills accumulate and people come on stream with a backlog of hydro bills, and the member points out that they may come on to the income assistance situation with a very large backlog of hydro payments to be made. First of all, it is possible to prorate that indebtedness over several months. Hydro has, in every case that we have had any association with, been able to do that. That capability is there, and it is well known to income-assistance recipients. In fact, our ministry does assist income-assistance recipients to have not only their indebtedness but even their present hydro so that when the bills go up in the winter and down in the summer, their expenditure doesn't go up but is prorated on an even basis throughout the year, and doesn't cause a burden on them in the winter. The hon. member for Burnaby Edmonds (Ms. Brown) says the bills go up and so on, but that doesn't need to be so. That can be prorated over the year and has been and can be done right now. I assure you that we haven't had any problems and we don't foresee any problems with Hydro's assistance and Hydro's cooperation in that regard.
I hope that the member for Esquimalt is listening in his office or will read the Blues, and I certainly ask him personally. He says that he has a family today that is eating sandwiches because they do not have any energy in their home. They are eating cold sandwiches. I want to say, Mr. Chairman, that if he has a case like that, I want it brought to
[ Page 916 ]
me. I will see that situation is alleviated. We will not have children in this province.... We can deal with exemptions. We always have. We can do. We have the capability of doing so and we will do. I want that assurance to be given to all members of this House.
I want that case brought before us as soon as possible because I very much want to see that is not happening today in the province, and I want to make sure that can be overcome. We can help them. We can help them with counselling; we can help them in many ways. We can certainly help them over the bad period that they're having right now. As I say, we have done it, we will do it and we'll continue to do it.
I am pleased to hear the reference to my executive assistant who has been helpful to the member for Esquimalt. May I pay tribute not only to my executive assistant but to John Noble's very able assistant Bunkey Marshall, who has been of invaluable assistance to many members in this House because she is such a wealth of information on Human Resources and has been helpful so much to everybody in this House. I know that you'd want to pay tribute to her as well.
To the member for Burnaby North (Mrs. Dailly), I'm just not sure. I think that what the member for North Burnaby wants from me is to be sure that the words that I gave last night were an assurance that.... She wanted me really to repeat it, and I'd be glad to do so. I'll just simply repeat how I feel that we should be going in the child's and family's children's legislation in this coming year. In just this one specific, I want to refer to a report which was brought to our ministry by two of our ministry people, Brian McParland and also by Tom Mountenay, the supervisor for family and youth services in New Westminster.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, Madam Minister. You have the floor. I wonder if all members could pay attention to the minister who has the floor.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: In this whole area of children in foster care, which the member is speaking of, let me just refer to a couple of things in this report. This is a report which they have done in actually studying and tracing 49 children in that particular area who were taken into care by the province. The report is one which has been well studied by our ministry and was the forerunner of our whole program which we are embarking on now to make sure that these kinds of examples do continue to happen in the province.
I'll just read an excerpt from the children and foster care report:
"Of all the children we studied, better than half of them gave promise of living a major part of their childhood years in foster families and institutions."
I won't read it all because of time constrictions, but let me read this poignant statement which I think says it all.
"These are the children who learn to develop shallow roots in relationships with others, who try to please but cannot trust or who strike out before they can be let down. As time and care increase, the child's chances for any semblance of permanency decrease. Staying in care beyond a year and a half greatly increases a child's chances of not being adopted or returned home."
I could go on to explain to you that this report points out that had we been able to quickly move those 49 children studied out of that non-permanent situation, we could have had them into an adoptive and a lifetime plan.
I am very supportive of the foster children's program. But there are many children in that program that should have a permanent life-plan and could have, had we had a court decision to make sure that their natural parent or parents were too selfish to let them go and too selfish to keep responsibility for them, or that they could never be returned to those parents or parent because of their own protection.
So we hope that somehow that will be embodied in the legislation. But can I just say that only last month 11 children were taken out of foster care and given a permanent adoption placement because of the kinds of things we've learned and what we are doing in our new adoptive program and our new foster care program. So I'm very pleased with the foster parent association with us and what they are doing to assist us, and in the adoptive parents group that is assisting.
But what we have to do in total — and I don't think we disagree, as it doesn't include party lines at all — is to ensure the best interests of the child in British Columbia are preserved and we have lots of ideas in that regard. I know that the legislation will reflect that because we're working on it. I'll be studying your views as well as those of the 1,200 submissions that were given to us in this regard.
I'd just like to say — although the member for Nelson-Creston (Mr. Nicolson) very kindly told me that he wasn't able to stay in the House to hear my response regarding the UIC, I can tell you through the Blues, hon. member — that we led the fight for all of the provinces in Canada on this whole situation of federal UIC changes. We gave them a proposal aimed at reducing the impact on the poor, and it was not listened to. The impact on our financial situation, as far as UIC is concerned, and its impact on social assistance are great; but as the member so well pointed out, the other impact on human interests concerns us as well. I'm seeing the federal minister next week, and I'm hoping that with this new Minister of Health and Welfare we'll be able to make some kind of arrangement which will be beneficial for all Canadians.
To just quickly return to the 11 adoptions, those were adoptions from foster-care homes. They were not able to adopt them, because the parents wouldn't free them. So there was a change of status, and the foster-care children adopted them. That's why I say the 11 were quite an accomplishment last month, and we're quite pleased about that. We changed the status from foster to adoption and they're still in the same home that they were in, but under a different circumstance.
I'm going to just answer the member for Cowichan Malahat (Mrs. Wallace), who brought before us the concern about Lake Cowichan. I want you to know, Madam Member, that if there is any suggestion that I extended the program for political purposes, I can tell you that's simply not true — and my letter explains that. That program goes on until the end of June, and if the members of your community are convinced that it was for political purposes, it's certainly not from any comments that I have made. The letter clearly states that the program is extended for three months. It says: "It has been extended to June 30 at the same rates last year, so the continuation of the centre's
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work for this period will enable portions of the program to continue until the usual summer closing. " And I am sure it was quite well understood by them that we didn't want to cut them off before they finished the program at the end of June.
The regional manager studies the priorities in every community and in every region, and those priorities are studied in relation to all parts of the region. We take the advice of the community programs division, and their advice has been, I think, very even-handed, and I think they've done a very good job in these past couple of years.
I would like to mention some of the other areas that you asked about, but I see that the red light is on. So I guess I won't be able to discuss this any more, except to just mention, Mr. Chairman, that I'm going to file answers to the very many questions that the member for Burnaby Edmonds (Ms. Brown) asked on the order paper. There are a couple of answers that will not be filed today, because each office in the province had to be phoned and the time required to get such detailed information has been lengthy. That's all there is to it. They'll be here when they're ready, and I'll be pleased to file them the minute that we have them available.
MS. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, the last statement that the minister made concerns questions which have been sitting on the order paper for some time, which I raised again last night, and to which the minister assured me responses were going to be filed in the House last night. I raised them again this morning and she said that I would have the answers to these questions before her estimates went through. These are questions that we must have the answers to if we are to discuss your estimates in any kind of intelligent way. I asked the minister, if she doesn't want to file them, to send them over to me by the Page. There are various ways that we can communicate in this House. If she can't file them during her estimates, and she doesn't want to give a verbal response to the questions or send them over by one of the Pages, I'll be very happy to read the responses. These questions have been sitting on the order paper for some time. We do have a Telpac line, you know; we're not now going through the old pony express to get information from around the provinces. So the minister is saying that a number of phone calls had to be made. It doesn't take that long to make a phone call and get this kind of information. I'm not prepared to accept that excuse, Mr. Chairman, and we need the answer to those questions so that we can deal with these estimates and get them out of the way. The sooner she gets the answer to me the better.
The minister gave a brilliant speech which I wish she had given to the chambers of commerce and the business people around the province, because they issued a report saying that the whole Captain Cook charade did not benefit the province in terms of dollars and cents. If the minister knows differently, she should go and give her speech to them, not here, because certainly their response, from the survey which was done, was that it did a lot of good for the minister — it got her smile and her face on a lot of posters and things — but as far as the economy of the province was concerned, and there is some question as to whether that benefits the economy of the province or not, I don't know. Certainly as far as they were concerned, it was of no benefit to the economy of the province.
The other thing that the minister talked about is the selfishness of parents who will not give their children up for adoption. I just want to say, very briefly, that I wish the minister would not take it upon herself to stand in judgment on people. That is not her responsibility. It's not our responsibility. People have different reasons for doing the things they do. Maybe in our perception of what a parent does, when a parent doesn't give a child up for adoption, that parent is being selfish. Maybe that's our perception.
No one gave us the right to stand in judgment on those parents. She did it last night and she said it again today — those parents who are too "selfish" to give their children up for adoption. I would appreciate it if the minister would refrain from standing in judgment and making judgmental statements about people who come under her responsibility.
Of course, we all make mistakes, and when I stand in judgment on anyone I want to be called down about it too, because it's not something that any of us should be doing. But the minister has done it twice, and I'm bringing it to her attention. I know that, unlike you, Mr. Minister of Environment (Hon. Mr. Mair), she won't let it happen again, because she can learn. You are incapable of any such thing.
The minister, Mr. Chairman, raised the issue of the special needs, and she explained it again. I want to explain to her again that it is because I understand that the special-needs section of the funding has been cut that I am raising the issue and have raised it a number of times. I want to read from her policy manual, page 168. It says:
"Since April 1, recipients can only apply for crisis grants available if 'failure to provide an item of need would result in imminent danger to physical health of recipient or children are in danger of apprehension under the Protection of Children Act.' The special needs only operates in a crisis situation or in a job-related situation."
I know that; you know that. Your press release stated that this special needs section was going to be terminated, except in these very special areas. I'm saying to you that is not good enough, that we need to reintroduce the special-needs area for more than that. Crisis situations are not just the only area in which it should be dealt with.
The minister says that all you have to do is have it submitted to the deputy minister in Victoria and it will be dealt with. I want to talk about a couple of areas where it doesn't operate. I hope the deputy minister is listening this time, because if this is not correct, then he should correct the information going out into the field that has to do with this. Families who need food vouchers in the Vancouver area are now being sent to the Salvation Army or other church or volunteer agencies. Now if that's not the way it is supposed to be done, then a directive needs to go out to the workers in the Vancouver area clarifying that situation with them.
Hydro cutoffs are not being paid. In the one or two instances that are brought directly to the attention of the minister, when she intervenes on behalf of that particular person, fine, Hydro responds to that. But in most instances where clients have their hydro cut off, the ministry will not pick up the tab. It is just not paying that cutoff. Last month there was one particular instance that I can quote where hydro was cut off, and the worker told that person that she should then resort to using her camp stove to do her cooking.
[ Page 918 ]
They were not prepared to see this as a crisis situation and to give her any kind of special-needs coverage under it.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: Did you bring that to my attention?
MS. BROWN: It is easy for the minister to say: "Bring it directly to me." Every time that a case has to be brought directly to you, it is an indication of a breakdown in your department. Don't you understand that? It means that the work is not being done by those officers out there. It means that the workers on the line are not doing their job. When a case comes through to you, you should be alarmed.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: Don't you think I am?
MS. BROWN: Well, I hope you are, because it means that there is a breakdown out there.
Families who are moving to unfurnished apartments cannot get money to purchase furniture. This is not considered a special need. Under the old category families could go in and ask for money to buy mattresses, beds, bed linen, blankets, those kinds of things. Now families are forced to use that child tax credit from the federal government to do that because the special-needs section of the budget has been cut. The minister stands up and says it hasn't been cut. Her manual says it has been cut. The people in the field who are delivering her service say it has been cut; the recipients say it has been cut; her press release says it has been cut. Somebody had better tell the minister that the special-needs category has been cut, because it has been cut.
Any kind of additional income that comes in, for any reason at all, is cut off from the basic monthly cheques. The minister talked about the result of her April 1 edict, that this simplified the way in which welfare is being delivered in this province. There was an article in the Vancouver Sun on July 16 which said that welfare recipients are finding that they virtually need to take a course in accounting to cash in on the new "simplified benefits" scheme announced last April. You know why? In one category alone there are nine different ways in which you can qualify.
The minister uses statistics to demonstrate what she says. I want to use some of my own statistics too. In a family unit of two there are nine different ways in which a person can qualify. You can go from a minimum of $175 to a maximum of $688, depending on the computations and permutations which are put together. If the two people are under the age of 31, and if you include their maximum shelter allowance plus their welfare, they can go from a minimum of $175 up to a maximum of $435. If it is one or two adults between 31 and 59 and one is a child it can go from $230 to a maximum of $490. If it is an adult between the ages of 60 and 64 and one person under the age of 60, you can go from $305 to $490. If you have two people 65 or older, and one of them is under the age of 60, you can get from $328 to $588. So it goes on until if both of you are 65 or older, and one handicapped, you can go from $503 to $688. There are nine different categories within that one category. And the minister talks about a new simplified way.
AN HON. MEMBER: It provides flexibility.
MS. BROWN: Sure, but she is talking about a new simplified way and about the squeaky wheel. The squeaky wheel is better off now than it has ever been before, because this system is more complicated than the other. In every family unit you go through there are at least seven different categories. Look at a family unit of eight, because that's what I have here. Look at a family unit of four — you use that too. There are seven different categories in that one particular category that one can benefit under — or not benefit under, depending on whether they are a squeaky wheel or not. But please do not stand on the floor of this House and tell me that I do not understand what you are doing. I do understand what you are doing and I am saying it is not right. It is not correct and it's not the best way in which to deliver services to people. That is not just a difference of opinion. If you want to know, speak to some of your workers. You have the sheets, you have the tables, it's all there. It's the squeaky wheel that's benefiting, not the children of the province, and certainly not the people in need.
do you explain the fact, Mr. Chairman, that one group in particular —
those people between the ages of 60 and 64 — as a result of this new
simplified form are finding that their benefits have decreased to such
This is a letter which the minister got as a result of the United Church conference, at which 500 people were in attendance. When they looked at this particular category — and they've been writing to the minister and they've been writing to me, and they're all saying exactly the same thing — it showed their benefits had gone down. The minister knows this for a fact.
I have a note here from someone in the Quesnel handicapped group who has pointed out to me that a handicapped person under the age of 65, in receipt of GAIN, who is in a long-term care facility, has their pension sent directly to the long-term care facility. They take out whatever it is they need and then release a $40 a month comfort allowance. On the contrary, a senior citizen, again a person over the age of 65, who is living in another facility but not in long-term care — subsidized housing or some other situation, but who is not in long-term care — has their cheques sent to them. They pay for it, and in some instances they end up with $100 or so.
This woman has written to the minister. This has been brought directly to her attention, as well as to that of the Minister of Health. Still that anomaly has not been dealt with.
Look, I know that the Attorney-General is not interested because, of course, it's going to be another 40 years before he's 65. We recognize that. But despite that, Mr. Chairman....
HON. MR. GARDOM: That's around the waist!
MS. BROWN: I'm just about finished because I'm not going to read the details. I ask the minister to deal specifically with the 60- to 64-year-olds, because I have a number of cases here where their rates went down as a result of this. The April 1 increase picked up the rent up to a maximum figure; it partially paid for the utilities, but it did not pick up all of the utilities. The real amount that went into the recipient's pocket to pay for food was approximately $10 per month. That's what it amounted to when you break it down.
[ Page 919 ]
You took care of the landlords. Nobody has any quarrel with that; you took care of them. What was left over partially went to take care of some of the hydro bills, some of the telephone bills and other utility bills. But in terms of real dollars and cents, $10 went into their pockets. It was a $10 increase. When you turn that right around and wipe out the special-needs category, the end result, when you take into account the deflating dollar and the increase in the cost of living, is that poor people got poorer. When you read statistics to us about the millions of dollars being spent in direct income-assistance programs, that is an indictment on the policies in terms of employment creation of your government. It's nothing for you to brag about.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, I would hate like anything to let the minister's estimates go by without having a word about ICBC. I've very little to say about ICBC this year, for obvious reasons. We have a bill before the House and certainly I won't be dealing with rates. Certainly I'm not going to be dealing with a lot of the ins and outs of ICBC; they've been discussed recently and they'll be discussed at length at the next session of the Legislature.
I would like, however, to just discuss one or two little areas. First, I'd like to bring to your attention this copy of B.C. Business, the February edition. Here we have in our B.C. Business magazine a very flattering picture of Robbie Sherrell, and Robbie's story is on page 10, we're told. It's a very nice picture, but that wasn't enough for ICBC. They had to do a big promotion out of it. They made their own copies of the magazine. The copies deal only with the page 10 story, and they were circulated widely across the province. This is that very conservative, well-run organization that the Social Credit Party now dominates.
HON. MR. GARDOM: He didn't send me a copy.
MR. COCKE: He didn't send you a copy, Garde? He didn't send you a copy because he was too embarrassed. You were on the board; you would have obviously fired him. But now you're no longer on the board; I guess you can't fire him.
He sent me a copy. All my colleagues got a copy. Practically everyone that was even slightly interested in insurance across the province got a copy of this marvelous brochure. It speaks well. I just indicate that what ICBC is doing now is really following the lead of the government. It's a great paper chase, a big PR job.
MR. COCKE: Budworm is nesting nicely over there, and that's the way he should stay. Are you going to be spraying any pests this weekend, Mr. Minister?
HON. MR. WATERLAND: The only pests I'd like to spray are the opposition!
MR. COCKE: Oh, he would like to spray the opposition. He would be good at it.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Could he do it outside?
MS. BROWN: First the trees, then the people.
MR. COCKE: I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that he probably isn't embarrassed because he doesn't understand. But I'm sure that the rest of the government members are somewhat embarrassed by the waste of taxpayers' money, by the waste of automobile insurers' money, just to do a PR job.
We all know from the mighty press who disclosed the fact that there were a number of changes in regulations in ICBC in the last few months. I disclosed the ones pertaining to criminal offences during the election and somehow or another the press overlooked that. Then when some of our great local press people got hold of it themselves, tripped over it recently, I guess, it then became big news. I'm not going to reiterate that, but I think ICBC was doing a very poor job this year. Normally they send out advice to everybody on what's going on in Autoplan. This year you have to ask for it.
One other thing they hid.... They didn't announce this one, and I'm sure it's going to please you all, because it does the job. Around ICBC, this is called the Gillen amendment to the regulations. He was a bit angered, I understand, that when his son came home from school it meant he had to pay more if he was using his father's car. It meant he would have to pay more for his car insurance. He said: "Well, we'll make short work of that. We're going to bring in a regulation." Let me read the regulation to you, and I'll bet even our board members didn't know about this one. But this is Pat McGeer's friend, Mr. Gillen. They call it the Gillen amendment:
"For the purposes of this subsection, persons residing in a dwelling premises shall exclude any such persons who may, from time to time, reside in another place for the purpose of attending school, university or training establishment or for temporary employment, unless such persons return to the dwelling premises for a period in excess of 120 consecutive days in a 12-month period."
What does that indicate to you? It indicates to me that if my kid comes home from college for four months or less it doesn't affect my insurance rates. But if, on the other hand, it's an on-and-off affair and my kid is coming home, using the car occasionally, then going away, then coming back, doing the same thing, I have to pay the increased rate. This is the Gillen amendment.
I suggest to you the regulations for ICBC have not been handled properly, have not been handled thoughtfully. ICBC now, in terms of the lack of coverage for those people who are offended or hurt by a person who's intoxicated or is in the process of some other criminal act.... The innocent person affected is in jeopardy because of these regulations.
Garde, don't tell me anything about policy, I know what the policy is, but I tell you the law doesn't state that. The regulations are sloppy. The company is being run improperly. The company is not being the kind of gem it was set out to be. It is not a service to the people under these kinds of circumstances. I suggest to you that next year we're going into far more detail on this whole question.
As far as I'm concerned, I'll give the minister a little bit of time to get her feet wet around ICBC. But I would suggest to her — I would suggest to any other minister who's on the board of that company — to watch what's going on. This is our corporation. This corporation can serve us well if we serve it well and guard against the kinds
[ Page 920 ]
of silly little playing-around and the kinds of regulations that can jeopardize the people in B.C.
MRS. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, while the minister is getting her feet wet, as the member for New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) has indicated, I would like to point out a few things I think she should have a look at in connection with ICBC, and particularly in relation to her concern for people on low incomes.
The first point that I want to make is the regulation which says that if your premium is less than $200, you cannot finance it. I don't know if the minister is aware of that regulation. But I know people who have gone in to pick up their insurance, people on low incomes and social assistance, expecting to pay $75 and then finance the balance. Those are people who are driving older cars, who do not put as much insurance on those cars. They pick up their public liability, and that's it. Because that premium is under $200, they either have to fork out the whole thing, or take more insurance they don't really need. I would urge the minister to have a look at that particular point, to make that financing available for any level of insurance with the same down payment. It would certainly be beneficial to low-income people.
Another point I would like you to have a look at is the travel allowance for people who have to take physiotherapy treatments or similar treatments as a result of accidents covered by ICBC. The present interpretation does not give that kind of an allowance. I had correspondence, which the minister may recall, and the first impression I got was that they would get a travel allowance. On second look it came back "no" — no travel allowance. It's certainly unfair to a person who lives in a small community, and who has to travel to a larger centre to take the therapy that is prescribed and covered by ICBC, and who has to put up that transportation cost to get there. That's a point I would like the minister to look at.
Another point relates to the case of an older car in tow. In this particular instance the owner had turned it over to his daughter to use while she was going to school in Vancouver. The car had refused to start, so she had a tow company tow it to have it checked into. While it was in tow it was hit. The towing company had a policy with ICBC which made them responsible for the first $100 for any damage to a car in tow. This car was only valued at $200, so the dollars aren't important in this instance, but the principle is. The towing company took the stand — and it was upheld by the police — that they were not responsible for that particular accident, because someone had simply run into that car in tow and the driver of the car that hit the car in tow was completely responsible. So the towing company said they would not pick up any portion of that claim. ICBC, on the other hand, said they were prepared to pay the $100 to write the car off but they would not pay the $100 that had to come from the towing company. So this person was caught in a Catch-22 situation. That has been resolved now, but it took a lot of time and a lot of correspondence to resolve. That's a question that the minister should turn her mind to as well.
I think that I have to take time to read into the record this particular letter, because I think it's very important that the minister is aware of some of the things that are happening in ICBC.
"On Monday, April 16, 1979, my husband was involved in a car accident in Duncan, B.C. The next day we spoke to ICBC adjusters in Duncan and two days later we settled on a figure that ICBC would give us for our car, which was totalled. I was on holiday that weekend and did not require any transportation until the following Monday. My husband had his truck, so he had transportation to and from work. We told the adjuster that we needed the settlement before Monday, April 23, 1979, so we could buy a new car. He told us that the cheque could be picked up Monday morning, as it had to be teletyped in Vancouver at the head office. In the meantime I was without a car for work. My husband picked up the cheque from ICBC Monday, April 23, and went to the bank to cash it, in order to pick up our new car in Victoria.
"The bank informed him that the so-called cheque was in fact a draft — which ICBC had never told us it would be — and must be sent to Vancouver ICBC head office so the funds can be approved. This is the procedure the bank has been asked to follow by ICBC. There is a notation on the draft which says that ICBC has 72 hours to either accept or reject the settlement. The end of the 72-hour period was Thursday, April 26, 1979. We left the draft with our bank on the morning of April 23, 1979 and it was to be back in the bank's hands on Thursday, April 26. In the meantime, it has cost me three long-distance telephone calls to the car dealership in Victoria to tell them it would be a few more days before we would be down to pick up the new car. When our bank enquired with ICBC in Vancouver on Thursday, April 26 as to where the draft was, they informed the bank that it would be Monday or Tuesday of the following week before it would be returned to the bank. That is a total of two weeks since the accident and a total of 216 hours, not the 72 hours stated, and another telephone call to the car dealer."
I won't read the rest of it but I think you get the idea, Madam Minister. Certainly there needs to be some different approach than that to service innocent victims of accidents who need.... She doesn't mention in there that she also needed that car to get to work and she had to make other arrangements to get to work for that period of time. Certainly that's a sloppy way to run a railroad, to say the least, and I would hope that the minister will take that into consideration.
I have one other case and this is a case of a man, an innocent victim of an ICBC accident who has been subjected to — I think I have to say harassment because it can be nothing less than that — in his course of treatments. He has been obliged — and I know the minister is looking at some changes in this area — to sue. I'm sure you will be aware of the related delays in getting that case before the court, Mr. Attorney-General. But this man has been suffering continuous pain. He has had drugs prescribed that have resulted in a severe ulcer while he was travelling in Europe.
He was given the drug and told to take it as required for pain. Because he was in constant pain, he obviously took too much of it. That, of course, is a medical problem, but it was prescribed under ICBC.
[ Page 921 ]
The case has been prolonged. He has been subjected to harassment by doctors and evaluators who are trying to prove that he is feigning his impairment. He has a neck problem; he wears a collar constantly. He had one experience where a doctor who was examining him under the auspices of ICBC actually threw a pencil at him to see whether he would react, and whether he was feigning the immobility. Those kinds of experiences are taking place. I think that the minister has to take responsibility for those kinds of things.
Doctors say: "Look, you've wasted five minutes of my time already. ICBC only allows me so many dollars for each interview. I can't afford to give you any more time." Those kinds of things are happening. It's your responsibility to look into them.
This man — and I will discuss his case personally with you, if you would care to — was a fine specimen, physically and mentally. He has deteriorated into a physical and an emotional wreck as a result of the problems that occurred. The onus is on ICBC to ensure that those kinds of problems are handled more expeditiously and more humanely. I'm hoping that you as Minister of Human Resources will do this.
MS. BROWN: I want to thank the minister for responding to one of the questions which has been sitting on the order paper since March of this year. I understand the reluctance now in getting this information to us. The response shows that the ministry spent over $600,000 in 1978-79 to recover $300,000 in fraud. The ministry hired about 26 ex-RCMP officers, military training officers and 30 part-time clerical staff to go after so-called fraud in the Ministry of Human Resources at a cost of over $618,000 to the province. They came up with the grand total of $343,000. It was no different in 1977. There was an expenditure of $601,208 in salaries to recover $352,000 in fraud. I can understand why the minister has taken her time since March to respond to those kinds of questions.
She told us in her speech yesterday that she'd written 60,000 letters to industry asking them to hire welfare recipients. I've been waiting since March to get a response to my question about how many people were hired as a result of that kind of expenditure. I've been waiting since March to find out how many people were hired through PREP. The great Pharmacare program, which was going to be repaid to people; I've been waiting since March to get a response to that. If the kinds of responses to those questions are anything like the kind of response to this one, I can understand why the minister doesn't want to table the answers to those questions in the House.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: I want to respond to that last question, because it's important. I don't want the member to leave an erroneous impression in the hearts and minds of the people of British Columbia. I know she wouldn't want to either.
In response to the charge that we have spent $600,000 to collect $300,000, does the member not realize, first of all, that this $300,000 represents dollars that would be fraudulently paid by the taxpayer year after year after year? If you extend that only three years, it would be almost $1 million. Does the member not realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg? We only prosecute 10 percent of those cases brought before the inspectors.
The member doesn't need to shake her head. I'm giving her facts which she doesn't want to hear. Only 10 percent of those fraudulent cases brought forward are prosecuted.
There are many people who are defrauding the system and who have defrauded the system, voluntarily, because of the program put in by the former minister. Because our program has worked, they have, on their own, simply not furthered their drain on the public purse. There are many more people who have voluntarily cut themselves off welfare, and many more who have been cut off because of the questioning alone. The figures you are looking at now — there's no reluctance to give you those figures at this or any other time, no reluctance whatsoever — are only for those cases brought to trial. Thousands upon thousands of dollars beyond that $300,000 are being saved daily.
There was one case in this last few months that was an outstanding case in this province, and it was the largest fraud case that had been discovered in welfare. Had it continued it would have taken in this one year alone, in that one fraudulent case, over $1 million out of the taxpayers' pockets. We want to take that money that is being taken out of the taxpayers' pockets by those things which are defrauding the system and put it into the pockets of those people who are in true need, not who are having duplicate driver's licences, or whatever it is that they do to duplicate their identities in order to defraud the system, and going to several welfare offices and so on. The purpose of that whole program, a program that is working well, is to take the money that is being taken out of the pockets of people in need and putting it back into those pockets and taking it away from those who are illegally defrauding the system. The overpayments, by the way, Mr. Chairman, are not always fraud. They are simply overpayments, which are also returned. I want to make that point clear, because I know the member wouldn't want to leave that misinformation on the floor of this House or in the minds of the public.
MS. BROWN: MR. Chairman, the minister is new at this, so I think maybe I should just very briefly explain to her that before this system was instituted, people were being investigated for fraud, because there were sufficient social workers keeping tabs on the thing, and they were able to identify fraud. The percentage of fraud being discovered has not increased, despite the hiring of 26 RCMP and military training officers at $1,600 per month. The percentage of people who defraud the system has not increased. If the minister will take some time to go back in history and look at the incidence of fraud — even 20 or 30 years ago — she will find that the percentage of people in receipt of welfare who defraud the system hasn't changed. What has changed is that we have a government which is prepared to put out $600,000 in order to recover $300,000 in fraud. If she thinks that when she multiplies $300,000 it comes to $1 million, I wonder what happens when she multiplies $600,000 by three.
Vote 140 approved.
Vote 141: administration and community services, $61,124,258 — approved.
Vote 142: services for families and children, $75,209,741 — approved.
[ Page 922 ]
Vote 143: health services, $52,573,173 — approved.
Vote 144: community projects, $26,428,642 — approved.
Vote 145: GAIN programs, $351,505,000 — approved.
Vote 146: special programs for the retarded, $43,663,249 — approved.
Vote 147: shelter aid for elderly renters and renters' tax credit, $23,834,311 — approved.
Vote 148: building occupancy charges, $19,103,359 approved.
Vote 149: computer and consulting charges, $3,015,000 approved.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF LABOUR
On vote 150: minister's office, $141,341.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: I am sorry to find that there are no members who wish to ask any questions with regard to this vote. May I just say that the Ministry of Labour is one of the smaller ministries in the government service, with a very small budget. Its impact upon the province is, of course, not insignificant, and I would be happy to answer any questions that the members may wish to address to me.
MR. HOWARD: I have heard a number of rumours, and the minister has obviously just now substantiated them, that this is the last fiscal year in which he'll be presenting estimates as the Minister of Labour. His inability now to disclose to the House what he has in mind for the future substantiates that rumour. I wish him well on whatever his new venture is after he gets canned.
I've always sort of understood that one of the functions of the minister was to give some outline of direction or hope and policy for the future. His silence on that indicates he doesn't have any. I want to put forward a few things to the minister, not by way of question, particularly, because I doubt the competence of the minister to answer seriously many of the things that might be put to him, by way of argument and contention, about a course of action that should be followed. If he cares to respond, fine.
One of the subjects of great concern to workers in B.C. is the question of the activities of the compensation board. I think, and so do many in this province, that there is something seriously wrong with the manner in which the Workers' Compensation Board is conducting its activities, is carrying out its mandate and is dealing with those in society who become injured and need the services of the board. I've talked with a great many of my colleagues in the NDP who have been in this chamber for some years about their relative experiences now vis-a-vis an earlier time. Almost without exception I get the message that in the pre-1972 era, generally speaking, one of the common causes of complaints that came to the attention of MLAs was that of workers who had been injured, had not been able to receive what in their mind was a satisfactory response from the Workers' Compensation Board, and as a last resort came to their MLA to try to straighten that question out. I'm not going to get into the argument that seems to prevail in this chamber tremendously of what happens when one group of people were government versus another group of people being government, but there was a decline in the number of compensation cases brought to the attention of MLAs during that period of 1973, 1974 and 1975 and generally in that era. What occasioned that I really don't want to get into. I think the establishment of the boards of review was certainly one of the contributing factors that set up a mechanism other than the compensation board itself to which workers could go if they became injured and were not satisfied with what the board had done.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
In the last three or four years generally, my colleagues tell me, there has been an increase in communication to them of workers who are having problems with the compensation board all over again, as was the case previously. I get the same message when talking to officials in the trade union movement. Individual unions say that their members are experiencing greater difficulty with the board and with the adjudicators in terms of assessment and in terms of adjudicating their claims, and they're finding more and more that claims are not being accepted when they should be, in the view of the worker, that there is a delay and a time lag in the period between when a person is injured and when the situation is finally concluded.
I am told that more often now than was the case before, decisions of the boards of review, even though those decisions may be unanimous, are being, with a greater intensity and regularity, overturned by the compensation board without reason given, without any explanation to the person who is injured on the rationale for the board rejecting a unanimous decision of the board of review. It makes me think that there is something wrong in that mechanism someplace.
We know, of course, that with the medical appeal board, which is a different movement through the compensation Act of appealing.... A decision by a medical review board or a medical appeal board or panel is final and decisive and conclusive. The compensation board cannot overrule a decision made by a medical appeal board, so there is no difficulty there. I'm tempted to ask why the distinction though, why a board of review decision can be reversed by the compensation board but a medical appeal board decision cannot. Perhaps that situation should be altered.
I'm inclined to think, Mr. Chairman, that the attitude of the compensation board has altered in the last few years, more nearly to reflect the concerns of industry than to prosecute its position as a servant of workers. I'm inclined to believe that the compensation board looks upon itself almost as a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate world in B.C., that its attitude is protective to employers, more so than protective to injured workers, and that its interest is in preserving the financial or economic position of corporations in the province more than it is to serve the interests of workers who get injured in industry.
The other evening we had the opportunity to attend a dinner — as I gather is almost a regular practice — sponsored by the Council of Forest Industries. In the course of discussing different things with representatives from the Council of Forest Industries, one of the subject matters that
[ Page 923 ]
arose related to compensation and related to the question that I'm talking about now, that there being a greater noticeability on the part of workers and unions that the board is being more "tough," to put it in a polite way.... The response that a couple of us got from one of the gentlemen in the Council of Forest Industries was a simple proposition that said: "Well, I think the" — and I won't use the expletive he used to identify the board — "board was too lax before in its assessment of cases."
That reflects, I think, probably what happened. Industry, concerned about its balance sheets, concerned about its financial position, has been able to have its concerns transmitted to the compensation board through the government. Its representations had been accepted and the government itself, being part and parcel of the corporate world in a total sense, has intruded upon what otherwise should be an impartial element in our society, namely the Workers' Compensation Board. That is simply because compensation and the payment of compensation by industry costs money. Industry is assessed, taking into account various factors within the particular industry or within subclasses within that industry, a certain amount of money on a percentage basis, roughly speaking. They make payments on a quarterly basis to the compensation board to cover accidents arising in those particular industries or in those subclasses.
The compensation board itself, in dealing with the assessment rates for industry in its annual report for the calendar year ending 1976, determined that the assessment rates for 1977 — that is the levies that were going to be imposed upon industry to pay for the accidents, to pay workers for accidents that took place totally in those industries in the province; we're looking a year ahead — would remain as they were for 1976. There was a deliberate conscious decision of the board to say no alteration in the assessment rates, regardless of anything that happens.
In the calendar year ending in 1977, the board, looking into 1978 for assessment rates, said precisely the same thing. It said we're going to keep the assessment rates, generally speaking, unchanged from what they were in 1977. Now what that really means is that for 1978 they were keeping the same assessment rate as they had for 1976 with some minor alterations in some of the subclasses, through not significant ones.
The same situation prevails today, that the projection for 1979, insofar as the board's determination was made in 1978, was basically a lack of alteration in those assessment rates. You look towards the same sort of thing.
One of the other statistical things that comes up that reflects the attitude of the board with respect to industry can be found in the reports of the actuaries and in the annual reports of the boards themselves. One of the things the board does, in the course of looking into the future, is to set up a fund or funds to pay costs into the future for workers who get injured in this particular year — either medical costs or continual wage loss costs or pensions. They project into the future that a certain amount is going to cost out of the compensation fund into the future to continue to pay pensions, wage losses, and resumed and reopened claims, and so on. They make a guess at that, but it's fairly accurate, based on continually reviewed actuarial understandings of the operation of the board over the last 60 years.
They fund that. They require, generally, to put aside sufficient funds to cover the cost of that particular claim and the total of those claims into the future. Those funds, I am told, are something in the neighbourhood of a quarter of a billion dollars short. They are in a deficit position, and this came about as a deliberate decision on the part of the board. They determined at one point that the board consciously would do this by keeping the assessments at the 1976 rate, by not making any alteration in them, would consciously run a book deficit with the purpose of amortizing that deficit over a nine-year period, commencing sometime in 1978, I understand.
In other words, keep the assessment low, keep it at the 1976 level, run a book deficit on the liability into the future to these workers who are injured, let the deficit accumulate and then later on we will attempt to pick up that deficit by increasing assessments over a subsequent nine-year period, indicating clearly that in the past few years there has been this containment on the part of the board towards the proper functioning of the board in a fiscal sense. I call that fiscal irresponsibility, because one of the ways in which the board can reduce that so-called deficit is to reduce the amount of current expenditures. They can do that by having their adjudicators in the board make more stringent determinations about workers who get injured, and deny more claims, and delay the process by which a person, or under which a person, once injured, has to go through, put delays and red tape and bureaucratic stops in the way to ensure that worker ends up a year and a half or for two years in an appeal process to the board before he actually gets any real satisfaction on his claim, especially when it's a pensionable claim. So they can save money on a current account basis in order to help the book deficit.
In the annual report for the year ending December 1978 — just to give you an idea — it says this under the finance section: "As stated in the 1977 statements, it was the objective of the board to fund class balances to be recovered from future assessments" — and that's the deficit that they're talking about — "over a nine-year period, commencing in 1978, and if actual experience during 1978 had matched the assumptions in the assessment-rating process" — in other words, if the board had accurately assessed the situation instead of goofing on their projection into 1978 — "progress toward this object would have been achieved. However, for a variety of reasons, class deficiencies increased to the total amount of $36,000,408" — an additional amount to those deficiencies into the future.
There's no point in going into all of the statistics to supplement that particular situation. I think it's worth relating the reports of the actuaries with respect to the board, because they show, to me anyway, that the actuaries are involved in making political decisions. They are making recommendations or comments in their reports which are of a politic al-economic nature, which I think is far beyond their purpose. An actuary looks at figures and statistics and dollars and cents and says: "This is the de facto situation as I see it. This is what I recommend you do to deal with whatever it is that I say."
Let's go back to 1976 and start from that point, because that's where we were before. Crawford E. Laing Ltd. was the actuary then. They said: "In the meantime, we must state that in our opinion, the 1977 rates" — those are the ones which were unchanged from 1976, because the board decided that they were going to be unchanged — "will not
[ Page 924 ]
be sufficient to meet the full cost of injuries for the year, as well as provide for administration costs, excess CPI — consumer price index increases — the necessary funding payments to the unfunded liabilities and, further, to bring the miscellaneous funds and subclass balances up to appropriate levels."
Once the board made the decision that it wasn't going to change the assessment rate for 1977, that it was going to keep the 1976 rates, the actuaries came along and said: "Well, you're now in a position where your income isn't going to be sufficient to meet your costs."
In 1977, Eckler, Brown, Segal and Co. Ltd. said this with respect to those matters: "If future board costs are maintained at the percentages of payroll experienced in 1976 and 1977" — that's the fixed assessment they weren't altering, "and future consumer price index related increases in benefits are not greater than the increases granted in these years, it is our opinion that the 1978 assessment rates in aggregate are adequate to provide for currently accruing costs and the annual amounts required to amortize over a nine-year period the unfunded liabilities as at December 31, 1977. "
But then, as I had read earlier from the '78 annual report, the board said: "Well, that went all awry." Somebody goofed on the projections and they ended up with a $36 million deficit in those accounts.
The actuaries also talk in terms of 1978, saying that the board's failure to set assessment rates adequately to accomplish its own stated purposes appear to rise from consideration of economic policy. In other words, the board has a concern, say the actuaries, about economic policy, economic matters. When they're talking about economic policy and economic matters they are talking about economic matters affecting industry and affecting the corporations.
Let me read a bit further from what this says, and one can say: "Okay, you can go along with this." It says: "The changes in rate-setting must never, in any industry, be on such a scale as would be punitive, or could measurably hamper that industry so as to make it less competitive, especially in export markets."
Now if you are going to develop an economic analysis of what industry is faced with in the competitive world, or on export markets, I submit you do that at a level other than having the actuary come to that kind of conclusion. What they are saying here, and what the board is saying when they go along with that, is this: workers employed in industry who happen to be injured should have their rights, with respect to those injuries, impinged upon in order to serve the economic interests of the industry within which they are working, taking into account, especially, export markets. Now is that the function of an actuarial group? Is it the function of the Workers' Compensation Board to make decisions of that nature?
Some years ago one of the foundation points of the establishment of the workers' compensation legislation was the universal removal of the right of the worker to sue his employer in court for injuries sustained by the worker on the job. That basically, in its purer form, is what happened. On the other side, a commitment was made to workers, saying: "You give up this right — or we're going to take away this right by law — to sue your employer for damages. In return for that, we are going to set up an organization or an institution that is going to raise money from employers generally, that is going to spread the costs of injuries over the whole industry as distinct from one individual company; and we're going to set up funds and moneys, from those assessments in order to pay you, the worker, for injuries received on the job." That was the foundation point of workers' compensation legislation. This is the removal of the fundamental right in law to sue somebody for damages, and it's the establishment of an institution to substitute and to give fair and just treatment to the worker for having taken away that right of suit.
We now find the Workers' Compensation Board acting in such a way that it is the institution that has removed the right of the worker to sue. At the same time it's the institution which endorses and supports the corporations insofar as its decisions are concerned. In other words, they're working against the interests of workers on a greatly and more intensified basis than was the case before. Throughout their reports, and the reports of the actuaries in the last few years, this becomes clear. When you look at those facts and statistics — which are not mine, but which are the written word of the board and the actuaries themselves — I find the reason why my colleagues have had an increase in the number of compensation cases that are coming to their attention.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Three minutes hon. member. Three minutes.
MR. HOWARD: What?
I'm one of those who worked underground in mines years ago, I have worked in shipyards. I have an element of industrial deafness that sometimes prevents me from hearing what is said. It's an advantage at times too. When I look opposite to me with a broad, wide-angled vision, I really appreciate how much of an advantage it is.
Having seen what the board has done and what it has said, and having analysed its figures and statistics, I understand why there is an increase in cases coming to MLAs. I understand why trade unions, whose members are being injured, have an increase in cases piling up on their desks. I understand why there is a backlog, so I'm told, of about 1,500 appeal cases before the boards of review. The adjudicators in the compensation board have got instructions from somebody to tighten up, and toughen up. "Save us some money," said the board, "because we're a quarter of a million dollars short on one side of the ledger, and we want to save as much as we can to try to balance that."
I wonder, Mr. Chairman, taking into account that I have counted three minutes since you so advised me that there were three minutes, if I might move that the committee rise, report resolutions and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. Mrs. McCarthy filed answers to questions standing on the order paper in her name.
Hon. Mr. McClelland moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 1:01 p.m.
[ Page 925 ]
7 The Hon. H. A. Curtis to move—
That, pursuant to section 79 (A) of the Constitution Act, chapter 71, Revised Statutes of British Columbia, 1960, and the Revised Statutes Act (S.B.C. 1966, c. 42), the Select Committee on Statute Revision appointed on the 10th day of July 1979, be authorized to sit and carry out its statutory duties:
(a) during a period in which the Legislative Assembly is adjourned; or
(b) during the recess after prorogation until the next following session;
and in addition to report or make such recommendations as the Committee thinks proper from time to time to the Legislative Assembly on the matters referred to it, following the adjournment, or at the next following session, as the case may be.
1 Mr. Stupich asked the Hon. the Minister of Human Resources the following question:
With respect to the unpaid claims reserves in the Automobile Insurance Act Fund, how much was charged against this reserve during the year ended February 28, 1979, on account of claims for each of the years 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977?
The Hon. Grace McCarthy replied as follows:
"The charges against the Autoplan reserves during the fiscal year ended February 28, 1979, for claims from previous years totalled $105,924,000, broken down by year as follows:
Payments Made in
Balance of Reserves at
19 Ms. Brown asked the Hon. the Minister of Human Resources the following questions:
With reference to social assistance fraud—
1. Were any persons formally charged with defrauding the Government of social allowance payments in any of the fiscal years 1976/77, 1977/78, and 1978/79?
2. If the answer to No. 1 is yes, in the case of each year (a) how many persons were charged, (b) how many, if any, were convicted, and (c) what was the total amount involved in cases where conviction was obtained?
3. With reference to "fraud investigators" in the Ministry, what are the names, salaries, previous occupations, and locations of the investigators?
4. What is the total number of administrative staff, excluding the investigators?
5. What is the total cost and number of months covered for the investigators and administration in 1976/77, 1977/78, and 1978/79?
The Hon. Grace McCarthy replied as follows:
|(a)||Number of persons charged||154||308||235|
|(b)||Number of persons convicted||89||158||133|
|(c)||Total amount where
|(d)||Cases still before Courts
as of April 1, 1979
[ Page 926 ]
"3. As of April 1979 the names, salaries, previous occupations and locations of the investigators were as follows:
|Roy L. Johnson, Co-ordinator||Victoria||$2,438||R.C.M.P. Officer.|
|Ken Katzalay||Vernon||l,690||Adjuster, R.C.M.P. Staff
|Keith McFadyen||Nelson||1,595||R.C.M.P. Sergeant.|
|Myles McLeod||Cranbrook||1,690||R.C.M.P. Staff Sergeant.|
|D. J. C. Talbot||Prince George||1,595||Municipal Police Constable.|
|Henry Hryciw||Abbotsford||1,690||R.C.M.P. Staff Sergeant.|
|Eric Rowe||Abbotsford||1,743||Deputy Sheriff, Constable.|
|Phil Welock||Terrace||1,690||Stager, Constable.|
|Albert Terry||Fort St. John||1,595||R.C.M.P. Staff Sergeant.|
|Jack Willie||Kamloops||1,743||Switch Director, Family
|Elden Taylor||Duncan||1,743||Constable, Deputy Sheriff.|
|Alex Hawrys||Victoria||1,690||R.C.M.P. Officer.|
|Larry Ivison||Delta||1,690||R.C.M.P. Corporal.|
|Ray W. Grijzen||Delta||1,595||R.C.M.P. Constable.|
|Marsh Lynch||Surrey||1,690||Municipal Employee.|
|Frank Smyth||New Westminster||1,690||Military Training Officer.|
|Mike Donovan||North Vancouver||1,690||Life Insurance Agent,
|Jim Rutter||Vancouver (Region 2)||1,743||Social Worker, Constable.|
|Alan Lloyd||Vancouver (Region 2)||1,743||Family Assistance Worker.|
|Maureen Springall||Vancouver (Region 2)||1,743||Family Assistance Worker.|
|Bruce Marsh||Vancouver (Region 1)||1,595||Constable.|
|Dave Williams||Vancouver (Region 1)||1,595||Constable.|
|Wally Welychka||Vancouver (Region 16)||1,595||R.C.M.P. Sergeant.|
|Bill Summersgill||Vancouver (Region 16)||1,502||Military Investigator.|
|Frank Waterfield||Vancouver (Region 17)||1,743||Constable, Deputy Sheriff.|
|Robert S. Hayward||(Pharmacare Investigator,
"4. Administrative staff, excluding the investigators: 30 half-time clerical positions.
"5. 1976/77, $176,652.00; 1977/78, $601,208.00; 1978/79, $618,100.00."
22 Ms. Brown asked the Hon. the Minister of Human Resources the following questions:
With reference to the cost-sharing formula between the Provincial Government and the municipalities—
1. What was the total amount paid by the Government for 1976/77, 1977/78, and 1978/79?
2. What was the total amount paid by the municipalities for 1976/77, 1977/78, and 1978/79?
The Hon. Grace McCarthy replied as follows:
|1978/79|| Figure not finalized by
"* The Government Payment column includes the amount charged back to the municipalities.
"† Municipal payments for 1976/77 exceed 10 per cent of Government payments because billings are based on the estimated expenditure for the year, and are adjusted for actual expenditures in the following year (note that municipal for 1977/78 are less than 10 per cent of Government payments)."
[ Page 927 ]
23 Ms. Brown asked the Hon. the Minister of Human Resources the following questions:
With reference to B.C. Pharmacare—
1. How many persons have received payments under Pharmacare since its inception in 1977?
2. What is the total paid to patients to date?
3. What is the total paid to pharmacists for prescription fees to date?
4. What is the total cost of drugs prescribed and supplied by pharmacists to date?
The Hon. Grace McCarthy replied as follows:
"1. Since the inception of Universal Pharmacare benefits on June 1, 1977, through March 31, 1979, 70,922 individual claims were accepted for processing.
"2. From June 1, 1977, through March 31, 1979, the total paid directly to patients was $5,373,700.
"3. From April 1, 1977, through March 31, 1979, $29,278,401 was paid directly to pharmacists for prescription fees.
"4. From April 1, 1977, through March 31, 1979, $29,608,248 was paid directly to pharmacists for drugs prescribed and supplied."