1981 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1981
[ Page 6609 ]
Speech from the Throne –– 6609
An Act to Perpetuate a Parliamentary Right. Hon. Mr. Williams.
Introduction and first reading –– 6613
Presenting reports –– 6617
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1981
The House met at 2 p.m.
This being the first day of the fourth session of the thirty-second Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia for the dispatch of business, pursuant to a proclamation of the Hon. Henry Bell-Irving, Lieutenant-Governor of the province, dated November 23, 1981 , hon. members took their seats
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, having entered the House and being seated upon the throne, was pleased to deliver the following gracious speech.
SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
HON. MR. BELL-IRVING: Mr. Speaker and members of the Legislative Assembly, I extend greetings to you all, on behalf of our Sovereign, on the opening of this fourth session of the thirty-second Parliament of British Columbia. May I express the wish that your goals and aspirations and those of the people you represent will be fulfilled in the course of your service as individual members and, together, as the Legislature of this great province.
On a personal note, we mourn the loss of our respected colleague, Waldo McTavish Skillings, who was a member of this assembly for 12 years and served his province in many capacities.
I take great pleasure in informing you today of two recent achievements in the affairs of our nation which, taken together, will contribute greatly to building a stronger and more prosperous Canada.
I am advised that in September my First Minister and the Prime Minister of Canada signed an energy agreement that resolves all outstanding issues between the two governments on oil and gas pricing. Lengthy and arduous negotiations have put to rest a protracted dispute that was harming our economy and endangering our quest for energy security. Honourable members will be pleased to learn that the federal government has agreed to remove its tax on the export of natural gas for the life of the agreement and will bear the costs of its incentive program. I am advised that the people of our province are assured of a fairer share of revenue from the sale of their resources as a result of this agreement.
I also have the great pleasure today to inform this Legislature of a historic constitutional accord signed just 18 days ago by my First Minister. The government and people of this province have always been resolute in their desire for patriation of the Constitution as the final step in our nation's independence. However, my government could not support a unilateral process that was divisive, unconstitutional and unfair to the people of British Columbia. For this reason my government joined with seven other provinces in proposing an alternative formula for a made-in-Canada Constitution,
My First Minister was instrumental in convincing all parties to return to dialogue and for creating a climate of accommodation so essential for compromise. Hon. members will be pleased to learn that these efforts prevailed and that the accord is of special interest to Canadians living in British Columbia.
I am advised that the formula for future constitutional change elevates to first-class status, equal in all respects to other provinces, the interests of British Columbians. This formula ensures that no future constitutional change can challenge British Columbia's ownership of its natural resources — the source of our lifestyle and livelihood. I am further advised that the accord enshrines in the constitution our fundamental freedoms, democratic rights and basic human rights to equality and non-discrimination. These rights and freedoms, to which Canadians have been entitled throughout our history by way of tradition and custom, will be included in the constitution in a manner that strengthens our parliamentary democracy.
While Canadians have successfully met the task of patriation — and mindful of other pressing priorities on the national agenda — much work remains to be done in renewing our federation. As a people we meet these challenges with a flexible and equitable amending formula, which will make much easier our task of resolving such matters as Senate reform, additional rights and the division of powers.
My government believes that economically strong provinces are integral to a strong Canadian economy. Economic leadership to promote the well-being of our people is a vital element in establishing the framework of progress and opportunity that must serve us in the years ahead.
I am advised that over the course of the past five years the British Columbia economy has contributed greatly to that of our country, significantly outperforming national rates of real growth and job creation. In fact, the number of people productively employed in this province has increased by 28 percent since 1974, and in the past year alone it is estimated that over 40,000 new jobs have been created. All members will be pleased to learn that as of October there were 1,257,000 people gainfully employed in our province.
I am advised that significant progress has been achieved this year in diversifying our economy and, by so doing, expanding employment opportunities for the people of this province. A jet-engine overhaul plant, employing 400 people upon completion, with total employment to increase to 1,000, has been established in Delta by CP Air in conjunction with the B.C. Development Corporation. Expansion of coal mining in the southeast of our province has created 1,500 new jobs. I am advised that Ocelot Industries has established a new methanol plant in Kitimat, and that other petrochemical projects are being actively considered as a result of my government's energy development policy. My government is firmly committed to maintaining a climate that will attract job-creating investments such as these to our province.
Unfortunately, as strong as we are, we are not immune to the negative economic influences coming from our major trading partner, the United States of America. Nor are British Columbians sheltered from the punitively high interest rates being maintained by the federal government's Bank of Canada.
The problems of inflation, high interest rates and unemployment must be faced in a comprehensive way, on a broad national front, and without delay. Decisive actions are essential if these problems are to be overcome. It is with deep regret, however, that I am advised such actions were not forthcoming in the recent federal budget, much to the detriment of our provincial economy. Moreover, I am advised that expenditures on the economic development of western Canada have been shrunk considerably relative to what had been promised in last year's federal budget. My government is still
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hopeful that a significant proportion of these expenditures will be committed to British Columbia, in view of the economic potential of our province.
My government will continue to press for cohesive national leadership on the economy. In August the provincial Premiers' meeting in Victoria put forward a nine-point national economic recovery program for discussion with the Prime Minister. I am pleased to advise all members that a few days ago the Prime Minister agreed to meet with us. My government strongly supports a return to cooperative economic management as fundamental to improving our economy, and looks forward to an early conference of first ministers as an appropriate forum for national economic leadership.
My government will continue to demonstrate strong leadership in its own sphere of economic activity and, in this vein, an economic development conference will be convened in the spring. Through a process of dialogue and consultation, it is hoped that common directions and priorities for the economic development of our province can be agreed upon,
My government has consistently maintained that interest rate problems are a federal responsibility. The recent federal budget accepts this view, but takes only minimal action in easing the burden on homeowners. On the other hand, the construction of new accommodation in our province will be set back considerably next year. My government has pressed and will continue to press for modifications to these measures and, to improve the situation, will bring forward specific initiatives within its areas of responsibility.
The supply of accommodation must be increased if the needs of our people for affordable housing are to be met. Measures will be taken to promote rehabilitation of existing housing stock and to increase the supply of multiple-unit accommodation. The disposition of appropriate Crown land for housing will be accelerated, and a residential land supply strategy for every community in the province will be put in place. A special emphasis on first-time buyers will be incorporated in these measures by promoting rent-to-own programs. My government expects that these measures — in conjunction with impressive developments now under construction in all regions of our province — will go a long way towards improving the affordability and availability of housing and towards increasing employment of our people.
Although all British Columbians are affected by current economic difficulties, those who earn their livelihood from our abundant forest resources have been particularly hard-hit by the fall-off in housing starts that is the by-product of excessive interest rates. My government is meeting this cyclical downturn with realism, with compassion and with a profound optimism about our medium-term economic prospects.
My Minister of Forests advises me that while our vital forest industry is at present experiencing difficulties, the United States — which normally consumes 60 percent of our provincial lumber production — is forecast to experience in the 1980s a decade of near-record housing starts. The long-term market prospects for kraft pulp and newsprint are also promising, and our industry currently is very competitive in world markets.
I am advised that while real growth will not be as high as in previous years, the people of our province can still expect positive growth that compares favourably to the Canadian average.
Inflation and high interest rates have affected my government's budget as they have the budgets of our people. Recently announced federal cutbacks for health and educational programs will only worsen the situation. Prudent fiscal management, privatization of selected government activities, wage restraint and greater efficiencies are required and will form the central underpinnings of the budgetary measures you will be asked to approve.
My government believes that now is not the time to retrench into pessimism. We are a strong and vigorous province. Our continuing vitality despite the pressures of the times is a result of the foresight and stewardship of past years, which have provided the firm economic and social foundation of the British Columbia of today. We have programs in place to weather our temporary economic difficulties. Building upon this foundation to ensure future growth is the challenge that faces us today as British Columbians.
Continuing investment is necessary to harness fully the bountiful resources that are our common heritage as British Columbians. My government expects that the development of our vast coalfields in the northeast will continue on schedule. I am advised that this is the largest single project in the province's history, that during construction directly and indirectly it will create nearly 6,000 jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs thereafter, and that it will open to development many thousands of square kilometres of our province.
British Columbia's economic future depends to a great extent on its strongest asset — its people. Our educational institutions have put us among the leading jurisdictions in the creation of a highly skilled and educated workforce. A solid base is now in place for the requirements of the 1980s.
As we move through this decade, huge new resource developments, tougher international competition, and the development of new technologies will put greater emphasis on the need for a highly skilled and productive workforce. Governments, labour and industry must work together to ensure that British Columbians are in a position to reap a major share of the benefits from the significant expansion in employment expected in the coming years.
To meet these and other opportunities, you will be asked to approve legislation to expand the mandate of my Ministry of Labour and establish a Ministry of Labour and Employment. The change reflects a steady evolution in the focus of this ministry and will permit the consolidation of manpower programs that are today lodged in several ministries. This improvement in the administration of my government will strengthen existing links between industry and the job market, on the one hand, and training institutions and apprenticeship programs, on the other.
There will a renewed emphasis on retraining and on upgrading the skills of those already employed, toward the objective of lifetime employment. My government will work closely with the government of Canada to ensure the dovetailing of our respective programs. Moreover, my government will meet on a one-to-one basis with the largest employers and with labour unions to ensure that all British Columbians are afforded an opportunity to gain the skills necessary to ensure a productive and rewarding life.
Perhaps no single change has had as great an impact on the work world and on society in general as the growth in female labour-force participation. Today, one of every two women of working age is in the labour force, comprising nearly 42 percent of workers. Two-income families are becoming prevalent in our society. The rapidity with which this
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change is occurring is presenting governments everywhere with an obligation to act to enrich and to support these developments so as to benefit fully from the skills, energies and productivity of all our people.
My government will proceed with the appointment of a deputy minister responsible for women's opportunities within the Ministry of Labour. As one of the largest employers in the province, the public service must set an example for others to follow.
Hon. members will be pleased to learn of the recent appointment of Jill Bodkin as the first woman deputy minister in British Columbia. Other senior appointments can be expected. The Public Service Commission will treat this matter as a high priority, and will, in conjunction with the deputy minister responsible for women's opportunities, establish targets for which all ministries will be responsible in ensuring equal opportunity.
My government realizes that this is not enough. Government has a part to play, but it is the role of private enterprise to provide the range of choice which our society requires. At the same time, our society must always rely upon the resourcefulness and will of its members. My government will meet with employers and unions to provide assistance on ways and means to foster equal opportunity. Moreover, my government will strengthen its counselling, training and other support services for women in an effort to help them acquire necessary skills and encourage them to apply for positions at all levels.
I am advised that many of our industries have come through an exceptional year. Our superb scenery, our hospitality and our attractive lifestyle provide a solid basis for an internationally competitive tourism industry. This sector is expected, this year for the first time, to top the $2 billion mark in revenue. All those who have contributed to this accomplishment are to be congratulated.
My government plans to pursue programs to expand the contribution of this basic resource to diversifying our economy. The tourism sector is highly labour-intensive and contributes strongly to employment. Great opportunities exist in cooperation with the private sector to increase the length of stay and expenditures of our visitors by developing high spending package tours and specialized forms of tourism and by marketing British Columbia as a four-season destination. My government will continue to promote our province as a major trade and convention location and as an ideal centre for feature film production.
The goal of energy security is a vital part of building a secure economic future for all British Columbians. My government is committed to encouraging exploration for and the development of new supplies of natural gas and oil in order to expand our domestic base.
At the same time, my government is committed to making alternative energy sources — such as solar, wind and biomass — stronger forces in the energy picture. Coal liquefaction and the use of methane are being evaluated as energy sources and as ways to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. The first public compressed natural gas service station is due to open shortly in Vancouver, and other stations are expected to open within the year.
I am advised that British Columbia's available underground pools of water at very high temperature are major untapped resources that are both clean and renewable. You will be asked to approve a Geothermal Resources Act to promote the orderly exploitation of this potential major resource for the benefit of all British Columbians.
Though richly endowed in natural gas, the people of British Columbia are dependent on outside sources for their oil. I am advised that an important provision of the recent energy agreement is a commitment by both governments to resolve expeditiously the question of offshore resources, in full recognition of the uniqueness of British Columbia as a coastal province. My government is hopeful that the existence of developable reserves that will create many new jobs will be confirmed and will put in place the highest environmental standards to govern exploration.
In spite of a number of setbacks from adverse weather this year, I am advised that the agriculture and food industry of our province continues to make substantial progress. The level of self-sufficiency in food production has increased steadily during the past five years, which has been a period of substantial population growth. To stimulate further progress in this area, my government plans to expand a number of its existing programs.
A strong field advisory to the food and agriculture industry is now taking shape on a regional basis. My government intends to develop a consultative process with primary producers and agri-businesses so that programs offered will be in accord with industry's needs. The food sciences advisory service will be developed to the benefit of the food processing sector, in particular, and of the industry as a whole.
The mobilization of the savings of our people and institutions is a vital link in the full development of our province.
Over the past years, British Columbia's financial sector has performed strongly. Vancouver is steadily becoming an important international financial centre, and its stock exchange is growing impressively. However, in an international setting of mobile capital and rapidly changing techniques and circumstances, the need for modernization is ever present. Accordingly, you will be asked to approve a new Securities Act that will permit the Vancouver Stock Exchange to develop as a genuine, permanently based and unique vehicle for the raising of venture capital for resource and development projects. The new Securities Act will incorporate innovative measures to protect the investor, particularly the small or average investor, consistent with a climate that encourages the full expression of entrepreneurial initiative.
Competition in the marketplace is a topic of obvious importance to British Columbia consumers and producers. My government will be undertaking initiatives to promote greater competition in the marketplace and will maintain a vigorous interest in the new Competition Act proposed by the federal government.
Economic growth and technological progress are not sufficient goals in and of themselves. They are, above all, important instruments for financing social progress, improving our quality of life and enhancing a level of public safety that is highly valued by British Columbians.
My government views British Columbia's unique environment as a vital natural resource, and efforts toward improving our already high standards of environmental quality will be intensified. In recognition of this priority, all members will be pleased to learn of the recent appointment of my Minister of Environment, Hon. Stephen Rogers, to the central decision-making committee of my executive council the planning and priorities committee.
You will be asked to approve new legislation to protect and preserve our wildlife and waterfowl. In addition, a new Waste Management Act will be introduced to modernize the issuance of pollution permits and ensure stricter compliance with and enforcement of our pollution standards.
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Safe, adequate and efficient transportation systems are vital to the quality of life in our province. Public transit systems are especially valuable in an energy-short world, and since 1974 my government has committed a 30-fold increase to this area — from $2.4 million to $72 million per year.
During the same period, the number of public transit buses in operation, purchased with the assistance of my government, has increased by more than 30 percent. The population served by transit has doubled, as has the amount of government subsidy per ride. I am advised that an additional four communities — bringing the total outside major metropolitan areas to 24, compared to only seven in 1974 — now enjoy a regular transit service. Moreover, in the past year two additional communities have been added to the custom transit program for the physically disabled. My government will continue to assess the need for transit in additional communities in the province.
I am advised that the advanced light rapid transit project is progressing on schedule in the lower mainland. This system features state-of-the-art technology and will make British Columbia a showcase for transit developments. The inauguration of this system will provide a firm transportation foundation for the social and economic life of the community. Moreover, it will contribute greatly to employment growth in the vital high-technology sector. I am advised that this extremely quiet system is particularly compatible with residential and commercial development. To ease the burden on the taxpayer, and to make best use of the transit system's alignment and stations, negotiations with the private sector are underway to link the system with other developments.
I am further advised that locomotives have been purchased, passenger cars ordered and stations designed for the commuter rail project on the north side of the Fraser River. The system is expected to be transporting commuters to downtown Vancouver by early 1983.
For the foreseeable future, private automobiles and trucks will continue to be the primary forms of transportation for most British Columbians. My government will continue with the Annacis crossing and the Coquihalla Highway, and will proceed with major road improvements to secure fully our coal and other resources in both northern and southern areas of our province. Full efforts will be devoted to maintaining the existing system through the timely replacement of pavement on main highways and the paving of road shoulders on rural gravel road surfaces. Where appropriate, existing two-lane highways will be converted to four lanes.
My government views with increasing concern the number of accidents on our highways. Highest priority will be given to dealing with the errant driver — through increased vehicle and driver inspection. Increased traffic law enforcement, including more refined computer processing, will be pursued. You will be asked to approve additional measures to reduce accidents on the highways of our province.
Our life in British Columbia is well served by a wide range of first-class institutions that are the envy of most other jurisdictions. The challenge before us — made more difficult by recent federal cutbacks — is to ensure through planning and foresight that we are able to adapt to the changing needs of the future in a way that enriches our quality of life.
Significant improvements to our health system are nearing completion. The new Grace Hospital on the grounds of the Shaughnessy Hospital will provide the people of our province with exemplary maternal and infant care, and will serve as the provincial referral centre for at-risk mothers and their infants.
My government will participate in the opening of the new Children's Hospital, also on the Shaughnessy site in Vancouver, funded by provincial and regional governments along with the Variety Club and the Children's Hospital Foundation. The children of British Columbia soon will have a facility that will enhance our already enviable reputation for diagnostic and treatment services.
I am advised that health services consume the largest percentage of the provincial budget, and that prudent management, realistic demands and efficient delivery are essential. My government is placing increased emphasis on preventive services, whether they are institutional or community-based.
I am pleased to note that my government has made arrangement for capitalizing the Terry Fox Medical Research Foundation. That foundation is financing a newly formed Crown corporation — Pacific Isotopes and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. — which is in the process of building a plant to purify interferon and supply all Canadians with this experimental cancer-fighting drug.
The role of the family as the basic foundation of our society cannot be overemphasized. This has been a consistent view of my government, and one which underlies and gives focus to its many programs. You will be asked to approve amendments to the Family Relations Act to strengthen this area of society.
My government recently has developed a new approach for the care of the mentally handicapped. This involves a shift in emphasis from care in large institutions to a range of community-based options. It builds upon the progress that has been made in developing a coordinated government approach to social service delivery. All members will be pleased to learn that the president of the B.C. Association for the Mentally Retarded has called this shift "the strongest statement of support for the human rights of mentally handicapped persons coming from any political official in Canada today."
British Columbians can justifiably be proud of the wide range of services provided to our senior citizens. In 1982 my government will participate in the World Assembly on Aging. A task force has been established to prepare the groundwork for this conference and to review all programs offered to the aged so as to ensure that government programs reach those who are most in need, and that our people are aware of the programs offered by my government.
The improvement of our public and private pension systems is a matter of high priority. My government will work closely with the government of Canada and other provincial governments in achieving pension reform. You will be asked to consider a report on pensions during this current session.
An information service for senior citizens is to be developed. One feature of this service will be a special telephone number, to assist our senior citizens in gaining access to the full range of services available to them.
British Columbia's educational system is among the finest in the world and is an achievement for which we can all take great pride. The financing of this system places a great burden on taxpayers at all levels.
My government is aware of the considerable consternation that arose in 1981 around the issue of school taxation. It has received a report setting out both short-term and long-term recommendations, which are now being considered.
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The equalization of educational and cultural opportunities is an important objective of my government. Grants are now being made available to rural and isolated communities to make possible the reception of Knowledge Network of the West satellite television programming.
During this past year, my government's multi-dimensional program of grants, information and technical services has furthered the development of cultural, recreational and sports opportunities for British Columbians. In addition, a well-rounded system of individual awards has encouraged the pursuit of excellence in athletics and the arts.
The highly successful B.C. Games, initiated by my government in 1978, now involve at various stages of competition almost 200,000 athletes from all parts of the province. The importance of these games goes well beyond the search for excellence. Harnessing the energies of our people, enhancing the spirit of our communities, and bringing people together from all parts of our province, the B.C. Games are a tribute to the achievements of our youth and to the sense of community of our people.
The first-ever British Columbia Festival of the Arts, to be held in Kamloops, will bring together musicians, actors, dancers and artists from all over our province in competition, in workshops and, above all, in celebration. It is hoped that this unique showcase will do for the arts what the B.C. Games have done for amateur athletics.
My government will sponsor a number of innovative programs to encourage British Columbia's many athletic achievers. The B.C. Winter Games will be held in Trail in March. The Summer Games will be held in Vernon in August. My government will introduce a "road to Olympics program," designed to encourage Canada's national sports teams to train and compete in this province in preparation for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
My government is delighted, as I am sure all British Columbians are, that Anthony Island Provincial Park has recently been declared a world heritage site by the United Nations. Located at the southern tip of the Queen Charlottes, Anthony Island is the site of a former Haida village and contains the most significant collection of totem poles in the Pacific Northwest.
All members of this House can take pride that earlier this year our parliament buildings restoration program was given an award of honour by the Heritage Canada Foundation.
No single element of our democratic system of government is as important as our electoral process. Hon. members will be asked to consider legislation to improve the accuracy and timeliness of our voters' list and streamline other aspects of election administration.
Hon. members, this assembly now begins an important and demanding session. I pray that in the discharge of your duties you remain mindful of the effect of your decisions on the future course of British Columbia and Canada. The difficulties our province faces today, while legitimate cause for concern, need not and must not obscure the basic strength of our economy, the tremendous potential of our human and natural resources, the exciting prospects of our future.
Through the leadership and efforts of my ministers and through the work of this assembly, you must strive to build a stronger province. Through the spirit of our people, together we must achieve progress to sustain our province and nation. This is the challenge we face today.
May Divine Providence attend your deliberations.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor retired from the chamber.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, in order to prevent mistakes, I have obtained a copy of His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor's speech.
Introduction of Bills
AN ACT TO PERPETUATE A PARLIAMENTARY RIGHT
Hon. Mr. Williams presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled An Act to Perpetuate a Parliamentary Right.
Bill 1 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I move that the speech of His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor be taken into consideration at the next sitting of the House, and that this order have precedence over all other business except introduction of bills until disposed of.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Votes and Proceedings of this House be printed, being first perused by Mr. Speaker, and that he do appoint the printing thereof, and that no person but such as he shall appoint do presume to print the same.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I move that the select standing committees of this House for the present session be appointed for the following purposes:
(1) On standing orders and private bills;
(2) On public accounts and economic affairs;
(3) On agriculture;
(4) On municipal affairs and housing;
(5) On labour and justice;
(6) On health, education and human resources;
(7) On transportation and communications;
(8) On environment and resources; which said committees shall severally be empowered to examine and inquire into all such matters and things as shall be referred to them by this House, and to report from time to time their observations and opinions thereon, with power to send for persons, papers and records, and that a special committee be appointed to prepare and report, with all convenient speed, lists of members to compose the above select standing committees of this House, under standing order 68(1), and by leave said committee to be composed of Hon. G.B. Gardom, Hon. E.M. Wolfe, Hon. P. Hyndman and Messrs. Brummet, Segarty, Howard, Gabelmann and Cocke.
MR. HOWARD: Mr. Speaker, I rise to put to the House some thoughts on this particular motion. Perhaps what I should do initially is move an amendment thereto, an amendment which has been moved on other occasions. I therefore move, seconded by the hon. member for New Westminster
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(Mr. Cocke), that the motion be amended by adding "(9) On fair election practices;" after the word "resources."
A similar motion was moved by me on February 29, 1980. The government at that time, through the Premier, rose and accepted the motion and it passed the House unanimously. The committee was, according to the procedure set up for committees, struck and members named to it. The committee didn't meet The chairman, or the convener of that committee, was then the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs and is now the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Nielsen).
It is interesting to note that on that occasion all other standing committees had private members named as conveners. But in that particular instance it was a cabinet minister, and I submit that that cabinet minister was under the thumb of the Premier and ordered not to have that committee meet under any circumstances.
On December 4, 1980, at the beginning of the session which concluded earlier today, we moved a similar motion, and the Premier rejected that motion. The House divided and, accordingly, the committee was not established. Today we have another chance to move the same motion as on two other occasions. I note — I do this only as an aside, because the motion with respect to the speech from His Honour is not before us — that there is passing reference in the speech from His Honour with respect to some electoral matters.
I want to submit to the House, though, that the most acceptable and democratic way to approach electoral law is to have all members in this House participate in the committee to develop it; and not to have electoral law, which is the foundation of our democracy, drafted by a few people in the secrecy of a cabinet committee in a partisan way.
Dealing again with what this committee might be able to deal with, prior to last Christmas the Premier made two very significant statements. One was that he had no intention of calling a provincial election until he was sure in his mind that his party would be returned to office. We've got a long way to go, Bill. [Applause] You'll notice the partisan applause for the Premier's condition. I want to submit to you that you'll never live long enough to wait for that time.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Hon. member, you would assist order in the House greatly if you would continue to address the Chair.
MR. HOWARD: Yes, Your Honour, I'm trying — as you know I always do — desperately to do that. There are occasions when people distract me, though. That was one of the comments on electoral matters that the Premier made prior to last Christmas. The second one he made was that he was going to embark upon a program of redistribution. When asked by the press what that meant in terms of where these additional seats would be, the areas of the province that came immediately to the Premier's mind were areas where there is a preponderance of Social Credit support. That's not redistribution; that's political predetermination. And it wouldn't be the first time that that Premier has engaged in that kind of activity.
The third reason I think this committee should be accepted and afforded the decency of being able to meet during this session is the question of the enumeration of voters. One or two months ago, or something in that period of time, the Premier made some offhand comment that to him enumeration of voters was irrelevant. Well, being a person who doesn't believe in voting himself, I suppose he could come to that conclusion. But, Mr. Speaker, the enumeration of voters is fundamental to our democracy. The right of people to vote is fundamental. And we know that under our electoral law it is not possible to vote unless your name is on the voters' list.
MR. HOWARD: More interruptions, Mr. Speaker. How can we maintain order in the House if you permit these people opposite to continue the way they're doing? "Irrelevant," said the Premier. Do you know what the Premier was saying with that comment? He was saying that is was irrelevant to him that anybody who has reached the age of 19 since May 10, 1979, should not be entitled to vote. Anybody who has become a new Canadian since that period of time should not have his name on the voters' list. Anybody who moves to this province from any other province in Canada or any other nation in the world where he is identified under our electoral laws as British subjects should not have the opportunity to vote. Anybody who moves from within this province to a different electoral district than the one in which he may be registered is not entitled to be registered in the new electoral district. That's what the Premier was saying when he classified an enumeration of voters as irrelevant.
The Premier wants a system by that declaration where dead people on the voters' list can vote and live ones can't. Is that what he wants?
The final straw, which we discovered just a few days ago — and this will be enunciated in more detail by a colleague of mine — was that the registrar of voters has advised that he is no longer going to make registration cards available.
MR. HOWARD: The fundamental way in which you can get on the voters' list in this province is to affix your signature to a card, and if the registrar of voters has been ordered by the Premier not to make those cards available, then that's the dirtiest electoral trick of all. All I am providing the House with, Mr. Speaker, is an opportunity for this Legislature to embark upon a course of decency and democracy in electoral matters. I hope the Premier will agree with me, accept the motion, have the committee struck and have it meet.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, I have no intention of conducting items which will be more properly dealt with in the throne debate, particularly dealing with matters on electoral reform. I'm certain it wasn't a threat against the Premier that he isn't going to live long enough to fight the next election against the NDP, because I'll tell you I'm going to live as long as they'll let me live, and I'll be there to fight them.
However, there will be adequate time and certainly a lot of opportunity for the government and this assembly to set up committees on need. We reject this amendment.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Speaker, I'm suggesting that we will support this amendment to the resolution. We'll support it for a number of reasons. The first reason was enunciated by my colleague. We've been listening for almost three years to some kind of rumour around electoral reforms in our province. We have seen nothing of substance. The other day when I received a phone call from our political party indicating that the registration cards were cut off from all political parties herein and forever, I was mildly enraged. Because we
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have managed to disfranchise people in this province for years with an archaic electoral act. Those thousands who are disfranchised are becoming greater in number every day.
My colleague said moving from one town to another or from one constituency to another.... I can tell you of dozens moving from one apartment to another in the same building and becoming disfranchised. I'd like to give you an example of the kind of registration campaign that's going on now. It's a joke, if you happen to have a bad sense of humour. The joke is as follows. There are ads in the paper which are relatively inconspicuous, and those ads say if you did not vote in the last election, you may not be on the rolls. Therefore you should seek out the registrar of voters, whoever and wherever he might be. The problem is to try to find him in the phone book. For instance, in New Westminster his office is closed, and you go to the government agent. You have to be a detective to find your way to register. That is not good enough. That's why I support my colleague's amendment to the resolution.
If we are trying determinedly to keep people off the voters' list, we are succeeding beyond a doubt. But we in this Chamber, above all people working within the democratic process, should insist that everybody be franchised. Everybody should be on the voters' list. I hope that the Premier can get up or have one of his colleagues get up and change the minds of the government on this question. It's long overdue. We can no longer sit back and let our fellow British Columbians, who should be voting in the next election, remain off the list.
MR. LAUK: I rise to bring some examples to the attention of the chamber. At the same time I apologize to our guests for the slight delay. We are going through a ceremony here today, which is the opening of the Legislature, and there are certain things that are to be taken without debate; but there are other things that so affect our democratic system that it is absolutely essential that we deal with them when they come up in this House. The motion to set up committees for this chamber has been moved by the Premier, and an amendment has been proposed by the opposition. We ask only that there be an electoral reform committee of this Legislature, an electoral reform committee that can look into the tremendous problems we are having in this province in registering people who are entitled to vote. One of the most important aspects of the democratic system is that right to vote. We ask for that right to vote.
I noticed that our government was very heavily involved in negotiating with the other provinces and the federal government to establish a constitution of which every Canadian would be proud — they worked very hard. One of the rights in that constitution is the right to vote, that no one should be impaired in his right to vote.
My colleague from New Westminster (Mr. Cocke) has pointed out that to seek out the registrar of voters is an almost impossible task. One can just as easily get the Attorney General (Hon. Mr. Williams) on the telephone, or the Premier, as find the registrar of voters. As a matter of fact, I saw reported the other day that when they actually found the number buried in the telephone book under a somewhat misleading name, they telephoned it and they received a recording which stated: "This number is no longer in service." The registrar of voters, Mr. Speaker, is no longer in service in this province, and the people of this province are being disfranchised. I've just been passed a note. I referred to the committee incorrectly. It's the Fair Election Practices Committee.
Mr. Speaker, we argue this: that when we talk to this government about the redistribution of wealth, their answer is the redistribution of electoral boundaries. When we talk to them about the right to vote, their answer is the right to work. Their movement is always away from democratic principles and equality within this province. In my constituency alone, Mr. Speaker, we have canvassed some areas, trying to assist the registrar of voters to get these people on the list. We found in one poll, which in 1979 included almost 300 eligible voters, that there were four people living in that poll on the voters' list. They didn't demolish the poll; they built two new highrises. Four people! It's worse in other areas, I'm told. Yet when we ask the registrar of voters, when we ask the Premier of the province for some assistance, for some enumeration, we're given this back-of-the-hand treatment, this simple rejection — that enumeration is irrelevant.
I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that what's happening in this province would not be allowed to happen in any other political jurisdiction. I have sent correspondence to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and asked them for similar examples. The reply is: "No other examples." They asked me to send them a copy of our Election Act and a comment on the procedures for enumeration. Obviously they are in a state of disbelief about the voters' list in the province of British Columbia. I say it's a black mark for British Columbia, and we should all work together to ensure that that black mark is taken off.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Mr. Speaker, it's rather a pleasure to be faced with a typical amount of NDP rhetoric on opening day — it's kind of entertaining. The fact of the matter is, as we all know, that the throne speech has given a very clear indication that amendments to the act are going to be before this Legislature, with ample opportunity to discuss all of these matters.
I might say with regard to enumerations and the voters' list in this province — and enumerations in particular — that during the period in which this government across the way held office — 1972 to 1975 — not one enumeration was held in this province, nor was any attempt made to....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, hon. members. Let's hear the debate.
HON. MR. WOLFE: During that same period of time not one sincere attempt was made to upgrade the voters' list, and no advertising funds were spent to remind the citizen of his obligation to be responsible for having himself on the voters' list if he wants to vote. I just think that we should be reminded of those facts. This government and the governments that preceded it did in fact conduct enumerations in this province in several years I could mention.
We will debate these matters during the throne speech and during the amendments which have been indicated in that throne speech. So I'm sure that the members opposite will see fit to support the measures that have been indicated. Mr. Speaker, both sides of this House have the same regard for wanting to have everyone have an opportunity to vote in this province. The Premier of this province has stated publicly in recent days that there will be an enumeration of all the
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citizens before the next general election in this province that's a very clear indication that we're all aware of — and the chief electoral officer has been given instructions to that effect, to prepare for such enumeration. So for those reasons we cannot support the amendment.
MR. BARBER: If the Provincial Secretary (Hon. Mr. Wolfe) told the whole story to the people, he would tell them that the current Election Act does not require an amendment in order that an enumeration take place.
If the Provincial Secretary were conversant with the facts he would know, as the people of British Columbia should, that in the 1979 general election there were 46,000 voters who cast ballots which were never opened. Why? Because the law provides it. Why? Because the enumeration was a mess — chaos. Why? Because of the ineptness of the procedures followed by this government. Forty-six thousand people voted, but their votes were never actually counted. This is a disgrace. It is part, we believe, of the fundamental problem which requires resolution in the form of the amendment that we present today. Forty-six thousand people were cheated out of their right to vote last time. They thought they could, but it turns out that their votes were not in fact counted at all. This is not acceptable in a modern democracy.
I ask the House to consider why the Premier accepted an identical motion two years ago, but refuses it today. I ask the House to consider why the Premier, accepting that motion two years ago, understood that it is the tradition in our system that such committees shall not only be struck but they shall also meet. Two years ago he stood — some might say cynically — in his place and smiled, accepted the resolution and then refused to consent that the committee meet at all.
I ask the House to wonder why it is in the political interests of this Premier to have accepted the motion two years ago that he refuses today, and to do nothing in the interim to correct the problem. He asks us to take him at his word that there will be an enumeration. Well, there are some people who took him at his word on other issues and have yet to see the results. We don't take him at his word; we want to see it in law.
Today, Mr. Speaker, we are taking the first, but surely not the last, opportunity that the official opposition is empowered to take to make sure that the law includes the right to vote; that it includes an honest, non-partisan redistribution process in the future. And we are asking that the members of this Legislative Assembly themselves, from both sides of the House and not just one, be involved in the drafting of such amendments to the Elections Act as may be required. The mechanism we have for doing that is a committee of the House. The interest this House has in having that done fairly is self-evident. It is a world of difference, Mr. Speaker, between drafting a law in a non-partisan way in a bipartisan committee and presenting that as our agreed upon, mutual opinion, and having that same law come in, rammed through this House against the weight of the opposition's opinion by the superior weight of the government's majority. That is not acceptable, it is not fair, and it is not the highest standard.
In an issue as sensitive as the right to vote, as difficult as redistribution, as necessary as the right to guarantee these things in a fair and honest way, we ask the government to do it through committee in a bipartisan and fair way. The way to do that is by accepting the amendment we propose today.
To conclude briefly, Mr. Speaker, those who have memories will recall work that the committee could have done two years ago. It might, for instance, have looked at the Ekhardt report, the peculiar demise of three seats held by New Democrats, the peculiarity of Gracie's finger, and other aberrations in the British Columbia system. Those who have memories will recall what it was like two years ago when the Premier was trying to get out from under the heat and the public scrutiny. He stood up and smiled and said: "Yes, I'll accept your committee." Then he turned around and refused to allow the committee to meet.
But not everyone has a memory, Mr. Speaker, so we make the motion again today. We require campaign spending laws and we require a full enumeration, but above all we require a commitment from this Legislature that such laws dealing with such matters as the right to vote, and be counted be laws that are fair, be laws that serve no party over the other, but that serve, in fact, the general interest of the people.
There is no higher principle than the right to vote. There is no lower conduct than the cynical behaviour of a government determined to undermine the effective exercise of that right to vote.
We appeal to the government to accept the motion today that they accepted two years ago. Word for word it is the same motion. We appeal to them to establish a committee of both sides of the House so that it may be made fair. We ask them to do this in the name of all the people of British Columbia. If they were good enough and big enough to do so they would win the praise of all of the people of British Columbia.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Speaker, I only wish to intrude very briefly. This is a traditional day in British Columbia and not one characterized by the rigorous debate which members will find in days ensuing. It's only to remind you, sir, and the other members of the House that the motion which we're now debating is the traditional motion offered on opening day, and one which conforms to the rules of the House under standing order 68. To depart from that with the amendment proposed by the NDP would be to violate the very rules of the House, the object of which is to ensure the sober reflection with which we have observed the great and important traditions of democracy. That doesn't preclude them from advancing, as they have done before, the motion to set up an additional committee — a motion which in the past the government accepted, but not one which violated the rules of the House on opening day.
I would further remind Mr. Speaker, as others already have, that this motion from the floor of the House is one that can receive adequate debate in days ahead. The throne speech itself contains, I think, the sentiments expressed by all the members opposite. But you know, Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House for some 20 years now, and there never has been a session go by but what the losers in the election haven't somehow complained about the electoral process itself. One example is that when I was leader of the Liberal Party we didn't need to complain about the electoral process. [Laughter.] I might say that the public renders its judgment at each election, and in every election in memory in British Columbia that judgment has been very clear, independent of whatever people may say are the inadequacies of the rules of the election itself. I am sure that when the test comes again in the not too distant future, Mr. Speaker, the public will have its say and be satisfied with it.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Speaker, I didn't expect this to be Veteran's Day, but since age in this chamber allows members to make some comments on the rules, I thought that I should as well, since we are in order. Some members, when they lose, just cross the floor and solve the problem.
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Most members believe in the party they run for strongly enough that when they are elected here, they stay here and represent the party that they represented when they ran for office. There is nothing we can do in this amendment to prevent people from abandoning the label that they ran on. That's not our appeal, so I understand the guilt of that member in making those comments, but he is addressing himself to the wrong problem. That's a matter of conscience, not a matter of law.
MR. SPEAKER: And now to the amendment....
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Speaker, I want to address that member's memory to a similar amendment that was in order which he voted for and which achieved a significant victory on opening day by the opposition, and that was making the public conscious of the fact that there was no full written Hansard in this province. If it had not been for a motion like this we would not have achieved it.
Mr. Speaker, in deference to our obligation to Her Majesty as loyal opposition, it was at that time, when we addressed the people of this province on opening day in New Westminster with exactly the same debate, that we shamed the government of the day into considering a Hansard. We don't appeal to shame this government; it is shameless. What we are asking is a commitment to fair play; a commitment that allows every citizen, regardless of race, creed or philosophy, the right to know that when they pay their taxes they have a right to vote. Mr. Speaker, it is right from Magna Carta. No representation should be allowed, according to them, unless they deem the rules. We say the other way: no taxation without representation, every citizen should be guaranteed the right to be on the voters' list, and there should be no debate.
Amendment negatived on the following division:
YEAS — 22
NAYS — 30
Division ordered to be recorded in the Journals of the House.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Skeena (Mr. Howard), that Walter Kenneth Davidson, Esq., member for Delta electoral district, be appointed Deputy Speaker for this session of the Legislative Assembly.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I move that on each Tuesday and Thursday of this session there shall be two distinct sittings, one from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and one from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., and on each Monday and Wednesday one sitting from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., and on each Friday there will be one sitting from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., unless otherwise ordered.
In speaking to the motion I'd like to inform the House, much as I did last year, that during the remainder of the session the morning hours will continue to be adjusted, as they were in the last sessions.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I move that report No. 9 of the Select Standing Committee on Standing Orders and Private Bills, adopted by this House on February 27, 1973, relating to oral questions, be adopted by this House for the present session.
Hon. Mr. Curtis tabled the British Columbia Assessment Authority 1980 annual report.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to present a report entitled In Response to the 1980 Report of the Auditor-General, dated November 1981.
Hon. Mr. McGeer tabled the seventh annual report of the Universities Council of British Columbia for the year ending March 31, 1981.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to table the first annual report of the Ministry of Universities, Science and Communications.
Last, but not least, the first issue of the first volume of British Columbia Discovered, a new international magazine of the achievements of British Columbia science.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Before moving adjournment, on behalf of all members on both sides of the House, I'd like to express the heartiest of welcomes and good wishes to our many guests on the floor of the House and in the galleries today.
Mr. Speaker, I move the House now be adjourned.
The House adjourned at 3:32 p.m.