1982 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, MAY 25, 1982
[ Page 7757 ]
Traffic Victims Indemnity Fund Repeal Act (Bill 47). Hon. Mr. Hewitt
Introduction and first reading –– 7757
New prison on Oakalla site. Mr. Lorimer –– 7757
Storage of Kinsella furniture. Mr. Nicolson –– 7757
Housing foreclosures. Mr. Gabelmann –– 7757
Workers' Compensation Board surcharges. Ms Sanford –– 7758
McKim Advertising Ltd. Mrs. Dailly –– 7758
Forestry jobs for Zeballos residents. Mr. Gabelmann –– 7759
Forest Amendment Act, 1982 (Bill 42). Second reading. (Hon. Mr. Waterland)
Hon. Mr. Waterland –– 7759
Mr. King –– 7759
Hon. Mr. Waterland –– 7761
Health Cost Stabilization Act (Bill 12). Second reading. (Hon. Mr. Nielsen)
Hon. Mr. Nielsen –– 7761
Mr. Cocke –– 7761
Hon. Mr. Nielsen –– 7762
Committee of Supply; Ministry of Agriculture and Food estimates.
On vote 5: minister's office –– 7762
Hon. Mr. Hewitt
TUESDAY, MAY 25, 1982
The House met at 2 p.m.
MR. PASSARELL: I have two relatives visiting us today: Frank and Gail Quesnelle from Kelowna. They're in Victoria for their honeymoon. On behalf of the first minister and myself I ask the House to pay them a warm welcome.
MR. RITCHIE: Mr. Speaker, visiting with us today is a group of students from Abbotsford Christian Secondary school. They're accompanied by their teacher Mr. Contant. Would the House please welcome these students and their teacher.
MR. LORIMER: I ask the assembly to join me in welcoming two visitors from Burnaby: Lynne Egan and Ray Agnew.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, by way of introducing a new member to the press gallery, I would like to inform the House that the grand old man of the press gallery, Jim Hume, and his wife Candide had a baby boy this last weekend. I'm sure all members will welcome the new member to the press gallery.
HON. MR. ROGERS: The Attorney-General (Hon. Mr. Williams) who is just entering, turned 60 last weekend. I trust all members will make him welcome.
Introduction of Bills
TRAFFIC VICTIMS INDEMNITY FUND REPEAL ACT
Hon. Mr. Hewitt presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Traffic Victims Indemnity Fund Repeal Act.
Bill 47 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.
NEW PRISON ON OAKALLA SITE
MR. LORIMER: I have a question for the Attorney-General. Some months ago the Attorney-General announced that a new maximum-security prison will be constructed on the Oakalla site. Has the minister now decided that this program will not proceed?
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: The question of the relocation of the facilities, or their replacement, is still under consideration. No decision has yet been made with respect to that matter.
STORAGE OF KINSELLA FURNITURE
MR. NICOLSON: A question to the Provincial Secretary. Patrick Kinsella's ostentatious, custom-made furniture, which even the rich don't want to buy, is in storage with B.C. Buildings Corporation. Is B.C. Buildings Corporation billing the Premier's office for the storage of Kinsella's furniture?
HON. MR. WOLFE: My information is that that furniture had been returned to the original vendor for disposal. If you're referring to that transaction, that is the information I have.
MR. NICOLSON: It's my information that the furniture is being stored by B.C. Buildings and is not back with the vendor, so perhaps the minister could look into that.
HON. MR. WOLFE: I'll be happy to report back on the matter, Mr. Speaker.
MR. GABELMANN: I have a question for the Minister of Lands, Parks, and Housing. Last week I asked the minister about foreclosure writs served by the Vancouver sheriff's office, and the minister chose not to answer. This week I'm informed that in the first four and a half months of this year, the number of writs served for foreclosures in the greater Victoria area has nearly quadrupled over the same period last year. What action has the government decided to take to alleviate the impact of high interest rates on British Columbia homeowners?
HON. MR. CHABOT: Mr. Speaker, the member for North Island has framed the question a little differently this week. Last week he melded into the question of housing foreclosures the matter of small business. I presume the statistics he is quoting today relate also to small business and housing foreclosures, and to large business as well. As far as I'm concerned, the number of foreclosures in the greater Vancouver area relating to housing are minimal at this time.
MR. GABELMANN: I assume the minister cares about what the respective numbers are. Has he decided to ask the Attorney-General to supply him with a breakdown of these figures? If the minister doesn't want that breakdown, has he then decided to introduce legislation that will protect homeowners against the loss of their homes?
MR. SPEAKER: Questions requiring legislation or amendments to legislation are not in order.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Lands, Parks and Housing. Doesn't the minister consider that one hard-working person losing his home is enough for concern, let alone the hundreds of foreclosures that are happening in British Columbia?
HON. MR. CHABOT: Absolutely. I consider it an absolute tragedy that anyone loses his home. But the member for North Island attempts to leave the impression here that the number of foreclosures is increasing dramatically, and my answer to him is that while small business foreclosures are increasing very dramatically, it is very difficult to break out
[ Page 7758 ]
home foreclosures from those of small business. I'm prepared to attempt to see whether it is possible to break it down. I know it is time consuming, but I'm prepared to look at it to see whether there is any significant increase, or any increase at all in foreclosures on housing in British Columbia, be it Vancouver, Victoria, or in Port Hardy. I'll attempt to get that information. I don't know how easy it's going to be to acquire it, but nevertheless I'm prepared to get it, bring it back and give a report to the members of the House. I'm sure they're just as interested as I am in finding out whether there is a problem developing out there and whether there's a need for it to be addressed forthwith.
MR. GABELMANN: Can I ask the minister whether or not, as a result of my drawing this to his attention last week, he instructed his staff to find those figures out for him last week?
MR. CHABOT: No. I think if you'll review the Blues you'll see that I didn't give an indication that I would. I indicated to you in my response last week that a majority of foreclosures taking place in British Columbia were associated with small business rather than residential housing. I didn't give you an undertaking at that time that I would attempt to procure this information, but I stated just a few moments ago that I will ask officials of my ministry to see whether it's possible to secure this information. I'll bring it back to the House as soon as it's possible to obtain it.
MR. GABELMANN: The minister says that the greatest number is for business foreclosures. I wonder what percentage that is exactly, Mr. Minister.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD SURCHARGES
MS. SANFORD: I have a question for the Minister of Labour. The Workers' Compensation Board now pays the total costs for hospital treatment for injured workers receiving treatment. Can the minister confirm that a 35 percent surcharge has been placed on the hospital charges incurred by the WCB?
HON. MR. HEINRICH: Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes.
MS. SANFORD: Will the minister tell this House who will bear the cost of this 35 percent surcharge?
HON. MR. HEINRICH: Mr. Speaker, obviously the costs will be borne by the WCB through the assessments which are collected. I might also add that there has been some concern expressed with respect to the increase. Because of the cost prior to this time, the full costs were not being absorbed. This is a matter which is subject to some discussion between myself and the chairman of the WCB at this time.
MS. SANFORD: I'm wondering if the minister is aware that this method of raising additional funds for hospitals will cost the employers in the province an extra $5 million in 1982.
MR. SPEAKER: That's information being brought. Is there a question there?
MS. SANFORD: Is he aware of it?
HON. MR. HEINRICH: I cannot give full particulars right now, Mr. Speaker. It is my understanding that there will be an additional impact on the funding of the board. If the member wishes further particulars, I'd be quite prepared to take that part of the question as notice.
MS. SANFORD: I'm wondering how the minister can justify the application of this 35 percent surcharge when the Workers' Compensation Board already pays the full cost of hospital treatment for injured workers. How can the minister justify that?
HON. MR. HEINRICH: Mr. Speaker, the information just given by the member is not as I understand it to be. I will endeavour to get further and better particulars if the member so wishes.
McKIM ADVERTISING LTD.
MRS. DAILLY: My question is to the Provincial Secretary. What tribute will be extracted from McKim Advertising Ltd. by the Social Credit Party for the exclusive monopoly right to place government ads?
HON. MR. WOLFE: Mr. Speaker, if I heard the member correctly, she has asked what "tribute"?
MRS. DAILLY: Correct.
HON. MR. WOLFE: I can say that the appointment of an agency of record is a policy which will save the taxpayers of British Columbia a considerable amount of money in terms of the placement of necessary advertising of programs in this province. I'm surprised at the member's question, because during the tenure of the NDP government they, of course, appointed a single government advertising agency, Dunsky's, who were imported from outside the province and who placed all advertising....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
HON. MR. WOLFE: You talk about tributes. That's some tribute!
MRS. DAILLY: As the government has already put aside over $20 million for what they call government advertising, which is becoming known to be strictly party propaganda paid for by the taxpayers of British Columbia, would you explain to us how you're going to save the people of British Columbia money by the hiring of an advertising agency which has as one of its vice-presidents someone who supports your party?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Only the last part of the question is in order.
HON. MR. WOLFE: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all, continuous reference is made to the fact that the government spends $20 million on advertising. The actual, placed media advertising is considerably less than that, and the majority of
[ Page 7759 ]
the advertising bill she refers to is represented by a wide variety of publications explaining a wide variety of government programs across this province. Actually, placed advertising, as we all understand it, is something less than $6 million per year I think we should make that clear, because many members and the media are referring to the fact that the advertising bill of the government is over $20 million. That's not so.
Mr. Speaker, it's very clear and obvious how savings can be accomplished by a single agency placing in the media and enjoying the benefit of volume discounts, which is a policy used by many large corporations across this country. So I think this is something which we cannot ignore any longer in terms of the placement of government advertising across this province. I think it should be said that this does not bypass the need for the development of advertising by a great many advertising agencies. They will no longer be required to encounter collection problems and all the rest of it; they will simply develop these programs, and the central agency will be placing them.
FORESTRY JOBS FOR ZEBALLOS RESIDENTS
MR. GABELMANN: Mr. Speaker, this time I have a question for the Minister of Forests. Talisis Co. Ltd. has decided to permanently lay off many long-time employees who live in the community of Zeballos. At the same time Talisis is continuing with contract operations in the same area, using employees who do not live in Zeballos. The government granted the Artlish timber licence in recognition of the company's need for additional wood to keep Zeballos alive. Also, the province has spent millions of dollars of public money in that community, including most recently $600,000 by the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing for lot development. What steps has the minister taken to ensure that the remaining jobs will go to the residents of Zeballos to keep the town in existence?
HON. MR. WATERLAND: The member goes into quite a preamble, judging the reasons for which certain timber licences were granted. I would say to him that any timber licences which the Talisis Co. has have been granted in the normal manner and for the purpose of that company's being able to carry on a business in British Columbia, employ people and make use of our natural resources. I am not about to dictate to that or any other company just which people they hire and which they don't. They are one of the more progressive companies in this province, and they've always had a reputation of being very fair to their employees.
MR. GABELMANN: I agree that the company has been one of the more progressive companies. The problem we have here is the government's policy of contracting out. What the company is doing is responding by saying that they will maintain only in the community of Zeballos — not the whole TFL — the fifty-fifty ratio between contract and company operations.
What I am asking the minister to do is to ensure the survival and the viability of communities that have long existed in this province. What policies and actions has the minister decided to take to make sure that these communities can survive?
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. GARDOM: I ask leave to proceed to public bills and orders.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 42, Mr. Speaker.
FOREST AMENDMENT ACT, 1982
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, hon. members. So that we can hear the opening and introductory remarks, perhaps those members who are moving would do so as quietly as possible. Thank you.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: Bill 42 is a series of largely unrelated amendments to the Forest Act. It is a difficult bill to speak to in second reading. However, if there is any general theme it is to provide some flexibility in the rollover of licences issued under the former Forest Act into the new form of licences under the new act. It is also to provide some flexibility in the administration of cutting rights as between the old public sustained-yield units and timber supply areas which we now use as timber production areas. It is to treat small operators in at least as fair a manner as the larger operators have been treated under the rollover provisions of licences. There are also a number of other technical amendments for clarification purposes, due to interpretations placed upon some sections of the Forest Act which were not those intended.
I would think that perhaps in committee a more detailed discussion should take place clause by clause. For that reason I would move that the bill be now read a second time,
MR. KING: In general terms I agree with the minister that the bill, which deals with amendments to the Forest Act, is more appropriate for full discussion during the committee consideration,
There are a few general observations I would like to make to alert the minister to some of the areas of concern I have relating to the amendments. It's a little difficult in comparing a bill of this type, as the minister says with its kind of unrelated amendments, to make certain that I understand the objectives of the amendments. I'll state the areas of concern I have so the minister may have an indication of those areas that I'll be asking for greater clarification on when we come to committee stage of the bill.
The amendment to section 14, as I understand it, provides greater flexibility to the ministry to extend cutting rights in terms of maintaining jobs and regional stability. I'm a little concerned on two counts. There is this automatic rolling into long-term tenure of what was a more floating tenure that was provided under the old legislation. I don't know whether that's increased flexibility to the minister or not. In theory it's probably a good thing, but inevitably — at least with the record I've seen over the past few years — it seems to end up being a greater monopolization of the resource by fewer and fewer companies. The minister has stated on many occasions that he too is concerned about the increasing corporate concentration in the forest industry. Yet when we look at the administrative record of the new Forest
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Act, particularly under this government, we find an increasing tendency towards a monopolistic, tenure control of B.C. forests. I hope the minister can indicate, in committee stage, just what he has in mind in terms of that greater flexibility he seeks in dealing with these old forms of tenure.
The other aspect of concern I have with respect to that particular amendment is the regional employment opportunities. The policy, as briefly stated, has been to associate cutting rights with processing plants so that employment related to the harvest of the forest industry is maximized through a relationship to a sawmill, pulpmill, or whatever. This section, if I understand it correctly, seems to be somewhat a departure from that principle. In other words, someone now may be able to obtain this form of licence without the rollover of that licence being related to the need to fabricate the raw resource in a particular regional plant. The minister is aware, as I'm sure the House is, that this could result in a net loss of jobs for a particular region of the province, contrary to the policy enunciated by the minister and clearly spelled out in the five-year forest and range resource report. Those are concerns I have, and I'd like to have the minister's reaction to those concerns when we get into committee stage.
With respect to the TSAs, again, there seems to be an objective of rolling cutting rights from timber sale areas into new licences. There is a possibility here, as I read it, with greater flexibility to the minister, of having existing companies close down some of their processing plants without jeopardizing the timber supply they enjoy. I hope that's not the minister's objective. I don't imagine it is. I would rather see, if anything, a firmed-up. requirement to ensure that those people seeking to enjoy tenure on our forest resource be obliged to maximize employment. I would rather see the tightening up than the relaxation of any potential for the companies to close processing plants. Indeed, in my view, if that should occur, then the tenure that they hold on the timber allocation should be passed on to someone else who is willing to harvest, and manage the resource in such a way that employment opportunity is maximized through ensuring that the resource is fabricated to the highest end use in the province. I have some concern as to whether or not — however vaguely that potential may be opened up to that particular section.
Sections 4 and 5, as I've discussed with the minister before, I think relate to the small business sales. There's a rather small problem with respect to small business sales which may be awarded in a fairly isolated area of the province and then future sales that would ensure continued operation for that small contractor after having moved in his equipment. It may be awarded on a provincial basis with competition flowing from the length and breadth of the province. As it stood in the past, the lowest bidder got the nod. As I understand it, the objective of the new sections 4 and 5 is to allow the established small business contractor an opportunity to match the lowest bid for other sales in the area, ensuring that those who have moved in equipment have at least an economic shot at having some possible tenure for some reasonable length of time, justifying the costs of moving in their equipment. On the face of it, that makes good sense, but it also creates some problems in terms of the principle of wide-open competition. I would like some very clear indication from the minister in committee stage as to just what mechanism — what kind of policy and administrative apparatus — he intends to utilize for managing this particular provision. I think the objective is a good one, but it also lends itself to some — I wouldn't say abuse — sloppy custodianship that could be highly controversial unless there is a very clear set of policy guidelines and perhaps some regions designated, whether it be the existing forest districts or whatever, so that local competitors are clearly delineated as opposed to those from outside the region.
I don't like to see a great deal of discretion awarded to any minister of the Crown, particularly when that minister has the authority to award absolute harvest rights to a renewable resource such as the forest industry — and, indeed, any resource. While I agree that the objective here is probably a good one, I certainly would not want to see wide-open discretion granted to this minister or any other minister without very clear policy guidelines as to how it is going to be administered to ensure that not even a hint of favouritism in the award of forest licences should manifest itself.
I'm concerned about the automatic rollover of some of the forms of tenure into tree-farm licences. I have a number of examples respecting these new forest licences that I intend to raise when we're in committee stage. I'm a little bit concerned about the criteria relating to this. I understand this was the minister's pet project; it was his policy rather than any great input from the industry itself or from his ministerial staff.
I've had a look at some of those new tree-farm licences that have been awarded or are in the process of being awarded. I note with some concern that there are only a very small select number of people who would be able to qualify. I'm not suggesting that that select few are receiving any particular favour, but again I would note with a word of caution that any kind of select criteria and any amount of undue discretion by the minister in awarding very valuable resource contracts should be viewed and scrutinized very, very carefully, as a matter of principle and as a matter of sound public policy. I'm going to be raising those questions in greater detail when we get into the committee stage on the bill.
The other things I think are mainly housekeeping; they're not controversial in the same sense as those points I've raised. One thing I am a bit concerned about is that the bill was introduced into the Legislature just two or three weeks ago. I have sent out some copies to the regional industrial interests in the province and it's more.... The amendments deal to a greater extent, of course, with the interior than the coastal areas of the forest industry. But, really, the minister hasn't provided a great amount of time for the industry to respond to this legislation. It may be that he has consulted in advance and discussed at least the principles of the amendments he was bringing in, but as far as I'm concerned, for rather important amendments like this to the Forest Act it would be prudent to allow a greater amount of time so that both the opposition and the government might receive some more detailed feedback from the industry in terms of how they perceive these amendments affecting them in the various regions of the province. I think the minister will appreciate that it's very difficult to develop a broad policy in Victoria that applies equitably and fairly and in exactly the same fashion to all interior regions of this far-flung province, and I would hope that he would allow the bill to remain for a period of time before it is called for committee stage so that we may receive the industry's reaction a bit more intensely before the bill is pushed through the House.
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With those comments, I indicate that we support the amendments in principle, and we'll be looking at them in a far more detailed fashion during committee stage on this bill.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: I'm sure that we will have every opportunity either during the committee stage of the bill or later in the session during my estimates to discuss many matters of policy. At this time I think I should just move second reading of the bill.
Bill 42, Forest Amendment Act, 1982, 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: Mr. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 12.
HEALTH COST STABILIZATION ACT
HON. MR. NIELSEN: Mr. Speaker, the Health Cost Stabilization Act will assist in assuring the provision of $77.8 million in funds for the health-care system where money is not allocated within general revenue. These funds have been identified from special purpose funds and allocated to health care. The government policy in preparing the annual estimates of expenditure is that they shall not exceed estimates of revenue. In other words, government will not borrow money to fund ongoing operational expenses. In preparing the estimates for the fiscal year 1982-83, government was required to respond to increasing expenditure pressures in the healthcare system, while at the same time facing decreasing revenues. In striking a balanced budget for 1982-83 in accord with government policy, the government determined it would not be able to appropriately fund a number of important areas within the health-care system from the estimates and the general revenues.
The situation left the government with relatively few options: either reducing health-care services by freezing expenditures at a level which could be met by the general revenues; dramatically increasing user charges or other fees to provide additional financing; or we could take a look at funds which have been put aside from previous years to assist in assuring health-care delivery during this present difficult economic period. By putting this fund together, the government obviously chose the third option, deciding to appropriate $77.8 million to maintain the health system. The funds will be used to address specific areas of rising health costs. Substantial amounts of the $77.8 million will be allocated to hospital programs, to improve funds for increasing population growth and the effect of that growth on billings to our medical services plan, and also to assist in covering the cost of the long-term care program.
I might mention, Mr. Speaker, that despite the fact that we are facing very difficult economic times, the government's commitment to health-care delivery continues. The increase in long-term care spending of 24 percent reflects that commitment. These funds included in the Health Cost Stabilization Act are in addition to the funds which have been allocated in the general budget of $2.236 billion, which in total represents approximately 30 percent of the provincial government spending.
With those comments on the one-clause act, I move second reading.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Speaker, certainly anything going into the health-care component of government responsibility is going to be supported by this side of the House. Having said that, it strikes me that that. money is already spent. That's one of the reasons we have it before us in this form. Otherwise it would have been in the estimates and could have been freely discussed at that time. It's unfortunate that we're discussing a bill of half a dozen lines allocating $77 million.
I keep hearing the minister talking about the magnitude of health care and its cost to the province. I keep hearing it, but that argument loses itself on me. The reason it loses itself on me is that while he stands there and talks about this fantastic budget of $2.236 billion, he neglects to tell us that $960 million of it comes from our friends in the east — the feds. I gather that the minister needs to be reminded from time to time, Moreover, another couple of hundred million dollars comes from the people of the province who pay their medicare premium, which has been raised and raised. As a matter of fact, it has been raised twice in the seven-month period just prior to this session of the Legislature. The user costs — ambulances. beds in hospitals and long-term care costs — have all been increasing in terms of the patients' participation. When we hear the bleatings of $2.236 billion, don't try to get the rumour out that this government is paying that $2.236 billion out of their own coffers. They're doing a lot of collecting outside of general revenue. Some of those means of collecting have been a hardship on people.
I have before me a document that took some time to prepare. It's a document telling us how hospitals are spending large sums in comparison with other jurisdictions, making arguments that there's something wrong with our hospitals and not with the ministry. I say that because the document is from Richard Basset, executive assistant, with a copy to George Gibault, Social Credit caucus research. I would like to know what part of the $77 million, which we're talking about right now, was spent on preparing this piece of propaganda for the government members in this House.
I don't have a nicely bound copy of it, Mr. Speaker, but I'm sure there are some around this legislative building. I certainly have a faithful copy, which tells me there is bias there. I'd like to make one or two recommendations with respect to those biases. I'd like to suggest that we shouldn't be wasting part of the $77 million or part of the $2.236 billion or whatever else on this kind of support for a ministry gone wild. We should be spending that portion of the money on the delivery of health care, rather than in the defence of an indefensible situation.
One argument raised in this report is a comparison of B.C., in terms of the utilization of our beds.... We're shown to have a much longer length-of-stay in B.C. than in most other jurisdictions, as a matter of fact, we're ninth out of ten in the country. One reason for that is because a year ago the ministry cut back home care in a major way, thereby shoving chronically ill people into our acute-care hospitals. I could have told him that without him putting out a report. At that time we told him it would happen. Also, his long-term care program came in without sufficient facilities to provide for the chronically ill, so they wind up in our acute-care hospitals. The minister can say, "Well, they're taken out of the picture," but they're not taken out of the picture. There are hundreds and hundreds of them in and out of our acute-
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care hospitals, and they're in for long stays. After they've been in there for a month or two or three, eventually they can be reassessed, and then the acute-care hospital pays the rate for extended or long-term care. As has been said many times, statistics are only used by those who are trying to support an argument that is otherwise difficult.
I say that minister is in deep trouble. His ministry is spending far too much time defending their policy rather than getting out into the community and coordinating our services. I agree, we have a very large budget in this province. Now we're increasing that budget. That's really what we're talking about. It's a very unconventional way of putting a budget together. In other words, we have a budget before us, and then the minister comes in with this additional $77 million. Let me assure the people out there that it is not going to do a thing for our present problem — that is, the bed closures all over the province. The Vancouver General has had a reduction of 175 beds — the minister's own hospital. That hospital was put under trusteeship by the ministry some four years ago and is still under trusteeship. So the minister is running the hospital. Incidentally, it is the hospital with the worst statistics in this report, using the minister's own system of showing what efficiency is. This $77 million is not going to open up the 55 beds that were closed in the Lions Gate Hospital, nor the 84 beds closed at Royal Inland in Kamloops, nor the 12 beds in Cranbrook, nor the 109 in the Royal Columbian in New Westminster, nor the 39 in Langley, nor the 36 in Burnaby, nor the 42 in Nanaimo, nor the 161 at the Royal Jubilee in Victoria — which, incidentally, I hear by the grapevine could be as high as 229, nor those 36 to 50 at Gorge Road, nor those 50 to 75 at the Juan de Fuca Society. This total, as I see it, is some 1,100-odd beds. So far we've heard nothing from the ministry that would indicate to us that they are going to take seriously this very serious health crisis that we have.
The minister has gotten up in the House from time to time and lambasted me for being irresponsible for bringing these matters to the attention of people, saying that we should see to it that we don't create any kind of hysteria out there. I want to remind the minister that the people who pay taxes wish that their taxes will be spent on their behalf and in such a way as to provide, when necessary, the level of health care that this society can provide.
I've said before and I'll say again that the one area that people do not resent paying taxes to support is health care. Most people, in their mind's eye, can see themselves or their families requiring those services somewhere along the line. Many people around us require those services right at this moment.
As I said before, certainly we have no choice but to support the $77.8 million which there has been no explanation of, other than the minister's broad brush strokes as to where he is going to be using the money. We also want to tell the minister that there are many aspects of his ministry and of our delivery system in this province that we're going to be questioning and will continue to question. His admonitions about us raising public concern are not as important, in my view, as having the public assured that they will have access to what we have known in the past as a health-care system that can support the people in need in this province.
HON. MR. NIELSEN: We will have the opportunity, I presume, of discussing many of these aspects of programs the member for New Westminster referred to in estimates or perhaps even in third reading of this one-clause bill. I have just one comment. The member mentioned moneys coming from different sources to contribute to the costs of health-care delivery in the province. I think probably the member might agree that all the money that goes to the health-care programs in our province inevitably come out of the British Columbia taxpayers' pockets, directly or indirectly. I move second reading.
Bill 12, Health Cost Stabilization Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Strachan in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
AGRICULTURE AND FOOD
On vote 5: minister's office, $164,608.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Mr. Chairman, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to introduce my estimates to the House. The first time I did this was, I believe, in the spring of 1977. It's beginning to be old hat. But I want to have the opportunity today to talk about the ministry and the industry that we deal with, one of our most important primary industries in this province, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. My votes total $76,407,158. I should mention to my colleagues and those opposite that $6 million of that relates to the ICBC senior citizens' grant. During estimates, of course, I would respond to questions concerning the responsibility I have for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
Mr. Chairman, in my opening remarks I want to say that agriculture has experienced a tough past year — no different than any other sector of our economy — but we have seen an increase in the marketing of farm products and a record level of farm cash receipts, some $884 million in 1981, which is 18.6 percent above the figures recorded for the year 1980. I think it's important to note that agriculture, like all other industries, has had impacts from ever-increasing costs. So although we may see an 18 percent increase in revenues, the offset is the increase that we've experienced in farm expenses. Total farm expenses for 1981 were approximately $678 million, an increase of about $150 million over 1980. So you can see that although we've had a substantial increase in revenues, we've also had a substantial increase in expenditures. In the area of expenditures, such items as farm rent, fertilizer, electricity, feed and — the major impact on operating the farm — the interest on farm debt, had a substantial impact on our total expenses for the year.
We have the partial interest-reimbursement program, which does afford the farmer a measure of relief in servicing this farm debt. In 1981 the program paid out to the farmers, to help offset that debt service, approximately $12 million in interest reimbursement payments on 1980 loans. I recognize — and I'm sure members opposite will want to comment on this fact — that the interest reimbursement program does give relief, but when interest rates rise to the levels that they have reached in the past year, that measure of comfort may not be as large a benefit as it has been in the past years when interest rates were lower. However, we do provide that assistance; it
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does total $12 million in the past year; and it is an indication of how we attempt to assist our farm community in that high cost item of servicing of interest costs.
We also have a number of other financial assistance programs which I think are worthy of mention. We have the farm income assurance program, which provides some relief to the farm community when a depressed market occurs. We have our agricultural credit program, our crop insurance program, and our farm products finance program, along with ARDSA, the agriculture and rural development subsidiary agreement, and what is known as the ALDA program, the Agricultural Land Development Act program, which provides assistance to the farmer in developing his farm operation.
Out of the total $70 million budget — that's exclusive of the ICBC $6 million figure — approximately $45 million goes into financial assistance programs administered by my ministry, and that totals about 64 percent of the budget figure. It gives an indication of how this ministry attempts to support the agriculture community and provide programs that are directly related to the farm operation both in developing the farm and agricultural industry in the province and, at the same time, providing some relief from ever-increasing costs under the interest reimbursement program and some relief under the farm income insurance program against severely depressed market situations which happen from time to time — not because of anything we do here, but usually because of imported products coming in at a lower price than we can produce our product for.
Farm income assurance is perhaps the best-known program in the farm community, because of its far-reaching benefits. Income assurance plans in place during 1981-82 covered 20 commodities and over 4,100 participants. In case some members may feel this is a "subsidy," I want to point out that it is not. It is an insurance program whereby the farm community contributes 50 percent of the cost of the premiums and the government contributes the other 50 percent. It is a program that has maintained stability in the farm community in the past number of years.
I know the members opposite would like to get into the questioning of the minister, but I want to take just a few more minutes to talk about the agricultural credit programs. As I mentioned, we have a guaranteed loan program. During 1981-82, 34 loans were guaranteed. As a result of these guarantees, approved lenders such as banks and credit unions approved total loan portfolios to farms of over $12.3 million.
I have touched on the interest reimbursement program and mentioned that over $12 million was paid out last year to cover the partial interest-reimbursement program. Under the agricultural credit programs, we do have what we call special programs. To date we have paid out some $42,000 to participants on the grapevine assistance program which we started in 1978-79. This allowed for new plantings of new grapevines in the province. Those new vines were of the vinifera variety and have enabled our wineries in this province to produce a better quality wine. You can see from the results of the expansion of the wine industry in British Columbia that that program has gone a long way to provide our grape producers with the ability to plant new vines and also provide our wineries with high-quality grapes to produce a high quality product.
We also have what we call the asparagus production incentive program, under which about 250 acres of asparagus has been planted since 1980, which will stimulate an increase in the production of that crop in British Columbia. There is still room for substantial expansion there, because we do not produce anywhere near the amount of asparagus that we could sell in this province.
In 1981 we had a rain-damage crop program, which was put into place to help some of the south-coastal region farmers who suffered from the very damp spring in 1981. It provided them with low-cost loans to enable them to replant and recover from the disastrous spring they had last year — some of the farmers were unable to plant or harvest a crop at all; others had a reduced crop because of the extreme wetness last spring. We were able to put into place a special program, and I think it was well-received by the farm community.
As I mentioned, 647 contracts were issued under the Agricultural Land Development Act, totalling some $5.9 million. That program provides loans up to $25,000 over a 15-year term at an interest rate half of prime, and allows the farmer to develop his land base and get into production at a reasonable cost, rather than face the horrendous interest costs he would have to face if he were borrowing from a commercial bank,
The ARDSA program, as I've mentioned many times before, was the $60 million agreement between the federal and provincial governments. I consider this as the flagship program of my ministry. To March 31, 1982, we've had commitments totalling $48 million, out of which we have expended $34.5 million. We have already committed $13.5 million to specific projects. You can see a tremendous amount of activity in the farm community because of the ARDSA program. We've provided assistance to 98 range units, 25 irrigation and water supply systems, 17 drainage systems, 23 agricultural service industries, which includes six large veterinarian clinics, 71 processing plants and 49 rural electrification projects — a total of 338 projects in that program.
Crop insurance is another assistance program available to us that we administer and that the farmer pays a premium for. Insured farmers in this province now total 1, 951 for various crops. We anticipate, because of the problems of 1981, that an improvement in our vegetable crop insurance program will hopefully extend protection for six more crops, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and onions, which were severely damaged last year by the damp spring.
Under our operations section, we have entered into a regionalized service to farmers. It's been operating now for about two years under this new structure whereby we have five regional directors and staff reporting to them in the various regions of the province. We feel this has been very successful and has provided much better access by the farmer to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. These extension services have put on hundreds of short courses, seminars and field demonstrations throughout the province. More will of course be conducted in 1982.
We are looking for new ways to transfer information to farmers, including field demonstrations of applied research on our institutional farms. We're also looking at the electronic media to get information to farmers in remote areas. For example, a recently completed television broadcast on beef cattle management aired on the Knowledge Network. We hope to expand this service to the farm community in the future.
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HON. MR. HEWITT: I know some of the members opposite aren't too interested in agriculture and like to comment from across the floor while I'm giving these opening remarks. However, I did not want just to welcome my staff to the chamber and then sit down and wait for questions. I thought I should, as Minister of Agriculture and Food, take this opportunity to speak out for the agriculture industry in this province. I know some of the members are tired from playing golf and don't want to hear this afternoon about one of the most important industries in the province and in Canada. Quite often we don't consider the fact that agriculture is the primary industry in this province. When the ups and downs of the worldwide marketplace are felt in forestry and mining, we can see tremendous stability in the agriculture industry. I want to take these few moments to make sure my colleagues in this chamber understand the importance of that industry.
In regard to production services, we have a number of programs that I know the member opposite might be interested in. It may be a small item to you, Mr. Member for Vancouver, but we continued working to develop more efficient ways with regard to the overwintering of honey bees in British Columbia. If we can achieve that, we can see an expansion of our honey industry in this province.
We have been in the past year, and will be in the coming year, dealing with another important matter, and that is the continuation of the fine-tuning program under the agricultural land reserve. That commission and this government come in for a fair amount of criticism from time to time with regard to applications for exclusion or subdivision of agricultural land. I can only say that my commissioners and their staff are attempting to better identify agricultural land in this province so as to have a reserve that we can properly say identifies agricultural land for agricultural purposes. When the reserve was put into place in 1974 it fell like a leaden blanket over this province, with a tremendous impact on all the property owners who were farm operators or held rural properties in this province. The member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich), the man who was responsible for putting that leaden blanket over the entire province, has from time to time, like his colleagues, accused this government of favouritism and of making decisions with regard to political affiliation. I can only say that when you talk to the farm community and they tell you, when the political rhetoric is finished: "Mr. Minister, we're not sure why it took you so long to achieve that goal of releasing that land, because it was not suitable for agriculture...." It had never been farmed and likely would never be farmed because of the climate, because it was a gravel pit, because it was surrounded by urban development, because it was a river bed, or whatever.
Those are the problems that my land commissioners face in dealing with this serious matter of preservation of farmland. I think we've addressed the question in a straightforward and forthright manner. We will continue to take the comments from the opposition and from those who feel that the member for Nanaimo's agricultural land reserve was etched in stone. We will continue to take that abuse, but I can tell you in all sincerity that, as Minister of Agriculture and Food, I am very satisfied with the work of the Agricultural Land Commission, their staff, and my staff, and with the work and decisions of the Environment and Land Use Committee of cabinet, who don't run away from the issue but address the question with regard to the material presented and the in-depth studies that are done. If any members feel otherwise, they are free to comment. I just point out that we are working on an ongoing basis so that at some point in time we will be able to say in all sincerity that the land within the agricultural land reserve is there for food production now and in the future.
Another subject, related to food production, is the work we've done and the cooperation we've had from the regional districts and the Cattlemen's Association with regard to our efforts to control the knapweed problem in the ranchlands of this province. We expended a considerable amount of money last year. With the combined expenditure of regional districts, the total cost last year was $1.25 million earmarked for knapweed control. I am hopeful that we'll be able to carry on making inroads to this very serious threat to the cattle industry in this province.
Looking at the activities of the ministry, another example is in cooperation with the tree-fruit industry. We've seen a tree-fruit test orchard developed near Oliver which will play a big part, in the next several years, in identifying, on a commercial scale, the most important varieties for our particular crop and growing conditions in the Okanagan Valley. This is a project that I think will be of great benefit to the tree-fruit industry. I was more than pleased to attend, with the federal Minister of Agriculture, the opening of that test orchard just outside of Oliver,
Moving to another sector of the ministry — economics and marketing — I have been and continue to be a firm believer that returns to the farmer must be derived from the marketplace. While government has a responsibility, which we have exercised, to provide some stability when disastrous conditions exist, the major source of revenue — ideally, the only source — must be from the marketplace. That is the main objective of our economics and marketing branch. In the past year we have provided a number of courses. We have worked in identifying those areas where we can see an opportunity for expanded markets of our products. I think that as we get into the discussion of the estimates we will see, by some of the comments I will be making in response to questions, an expansion in the agriculture community of those commodities where we've been involved in assisting them in their marketing activities.
Mr. Chairman, we have offered intensive training and financial management to hundreds of farmers across the province to upgrade their skills in financial management, which will help them, of course, through these tough economic times, but it will also enable them to plan into the future. For example, with a slight adjustment in the timing or marketing, the reduction of transportation costs or improved marketing efficiencies in several key areas could conceivably improve revenues by 4 or 5 percent, and that 4 or 5 percent could well wipe out a potential loss or provide a modest increase in profit to the farmer because of his expertise in scheduling his crop in relationship to the market. We can and we must take advantage of the right market opportunities by producing the right kind of product when the consumers want it, rather than sticking to traditional products that we find convenient to produce when it is convenient to do so, but not, in some cases, convenient to the consumer. I must say that we're having good cooperation with the various commodity groups in identifying these opportunities for us.
I have no hesitation in saying that in our specialist and regulatory services there exists a core of specialists that is
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probably one of the best in the entire country in the technological disciplines of agricultural, engineering, soils entomology, plant pathology, milk quality and veterinarian science. These are highly skilled professionals who are recognized across Canada as leaders in their areas of expertise. For example, for the benefit of the members present, our engineering branch designed a rangeland seeder that is probably the most sophisticated machine of its type in North America. In fact, it has received wide acclaim not only from local ranchers in the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, but also from highly regarded range specialists in the United States. Since the development of the machine a few years ago, we have seeded over 8,000 hectares of B.C. rangeland with remarkable results, which could result in up to a twenty-fold increase in grass production in those areas that have been reseeded through the use of this range reseeder. We're hopeful that we can expand the use of that this year and in coming years, in order that we see an ever-expanding cattle industry in this province.
Mr. Chairman, those are basically my remarks. As I mentioned in the beginning, my total budget is $76 million. Six million dollars of that relates to the ICBC senior citizens, grant. As that activity or responsibility comes under my estimates, I'd be quite prepared, as minister responsible for ICBC, to comment on that corporation's activities in response to any questions. I would also like to again state that under my ministry come the Agricultural Land Commission and the agricultural land reserves, and I look forward to questions on that responsibility as well.
With me in the House today I have my deputy minister, Mr. Sig Peterson, and Mr. Dave Davies, who are here to assist me in responding to any questions the members may raise.
MRS. WALLACE: Well, we've heard a very lengthy outline of what the minister is or is not doing for the agriculture community in British Columbia. It's interesting to note that in his opening remarks he talked about the fact that it was a tough year for agriculture, the economy was bad and so on. That's a little change from other years, when he's come in here and told us about how the agricultural industry has been growing in British Columbia and how the returns have been going up. In those other instances when he has done that, Mr. Chairman, I have been able to indicate to the Legislature that, using his own figures, the price squeeze has been affecting agriculture even in those previous years. Certainly this year it's extremely bad. Again, using his own figures based on 1981 over 1980, we see that the minister estimates the total net farm income in 1981 at $119 million as opposed to $164 million in 1980. That's how much agriculture in British Columbia is growing. In the face of an 11 to 12 percent inflation rate, we have the net return to the farm community down from $164.5 million in 1980 to $119.3 million in 1981.
I note, too, that there is no change in '80 over '81 in the number of farms. The minister told us that in 1980 there were 20,800 farms in British Columbia, and he tells us that in 1981 there were exactly the same number — no increase whatsoever.
If we look at some other figures in this little brochure which he has put out for 1981, we find that the farm input price index for western Canada — this is the input index — is 296.8 compared to 100 in 1971. But the index of farm prices — this is the return — is 270.6. That's 26 points lower return than the input. At the same time the consumer price index is 282.8 as compared to 100 in 1971, and that indicates to me that the farm gate price certainly is well below what the consumer is paying. We also find that the average weekly earnings have gone up much less than has the cost of food. That's just an interesting sidelight, Mr. Chairman. The index of '81 over '71 for weekly earnings is only 253.7. Those figures really don't point to any great success of this minister in improving the agriculture industry. When we see headlines like, "Food Prices Jump as Farmers Go Broke," we realize the number of bankruptcies facing the agricultural industry and the kind of problems that those farmers are facing.
The minister has indicated that all the opposition to what he is doing comes from this side of the House. That's not really quite correct, Mr. Chairman. I have in my hand a press release issued by the B.C. Federation of Agriculture after the budget came down this year. It reads in part:
"''The provincial budget raises concern among farmers that financial assistance programs are being undermined,' says George Aylard, president of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture. 'I think there has been a certain amount of concern,' he said. 'Our comment is that we agree to some extent with restraint, but we feel they made a commitment with the agricultural land reserve to keep farming viable.'"
That was a commitment made in another day by another government, but this government must honour that commitment, and it is not doing so. It is not honouring the commitment to ensure that farming does remain viable. The minister talks about getting the return out of the marketplace, and we can all agree that that's the desirable end source, but in the meantime there is a commitment to keep the agricultural industry viable. This minister has failed to do that. He has failed to keep the industry viable, and every group of farm organizations around this province is critical of his stance, be it the B.C. Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union, Farmers Institutes or commodity groups. They are all concerned that he does not really have that commitment to ensure that the industry remains viable.
One of their concerns certainly is the fact that the minister never seems to be successful, when he meets with the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, in getting into his estimates the dollars really required for the support programs that would make the industry viable. He has talked about the percentage of dollars in his total budget going into these programs, but if you look at that total budget.... He has admitted that that $6 million in there is just so many nonagricultural dollars mistakenly put into the agricultural budget — and always calculated by the Minister of Finance, incidentally, as being part of the increase of the agricultural budget. But if you take that out, it's interesting to note that for the first time since 1972, the agricultural budget this year represents less than I percent of the total budget. So it certainly indicates — not just to us on this side of the House but to the agricultural community — that there is not a real commitment to agriculture on the part of this government.
When we hear some of the statements of other ministers who go around this province — the first minister, for example, talks about agriculture not being an important industry; that the only thing we can ever hope to produce in any amount is apples — we really can believe, that this minister has not managed to convince cabinet or Treasury Board of the importance of agriculture as a resource industry that he talks about when he comes into this House. It's certainly a very important resource industry when you're talking about production of food, which like pure water is perhaps even a more basic
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requirement than shelter in order for a society or individuals to just exist.
have spoken about the agricultural community and their feelings
relative to this ministry. The president and vice president of the
Federation of Agriculture, on the various occasions I have heard them
speak, have indicated their concern. They're extremely concerned about
the interest rebate program. The minister likes to come in the House
and tell us that he can't give too much money because it wouldn't be
fair to other sectors of society if he gave too much in that particular
program. He talked about the dollars: $20 million one year and down to
$12 million the next. Now they're thinking $6 million or $8 million. I
think he has $12 million in the budget, but I don't think he's going to
spend that much on that particular program, because high interest rates
are very beneficial to this minister as far as this program goes.
As the interest rates go up a lot of the people who have already taken loans out are committed to that interest, which is much lower than the prime rate. So the higher the interest rate goes, the less he has to pay. That's evident by what he actually paid out last year on this program. It certainly is forecast that very probably it will only cost $6 million to $8 million under the present terms he's insisting on — to rebate only to 1 percent below prime. The higher those interest rates go, the less he pays out. It's to his benefit to have those interest rates go up. It certainly isn't to the benefit of the farm community, because every member of the farm community is faced with some pretty exorbitant costs relative to interest payments. Those payments are going higher and higher. We find the proportion of the cost that has to be borne by the agricultural community is more and more related to the costs of interest.
I mentioned the president of the Federation of Agriculture. He came into Cowichan to speak to the Cowichan Agricultural Society. He dealt with the programs and concerns of the Federation of Agriculture. He said:
"As many of you are aware, one of the federation's top priorities was to press for changes in the interest reimbursement program. Despite, concerted and repeated efforts, meetings with the Minister of Agriculture and Food, his senior staff, cabinet, party caucuses, individual MLAs and the Premier, the program was not changed. It remains at 1 percent below prime as a target level, with a maximum payment of $10,000 per individual.
"We continue to be dissatisfied with this, and believe some changes are in order. Our position has been confirmed by figures made available recently under program expenditure. The government spent approximately $12 million on interest reimbursement in 1981, while it had budgeted in the neighbourhood of $17 million. Even as it stands there is some cushion — some funds available to ease the high interest costs facing farmers. Something has to be done, and if our proposals for changing the interest-reimbursement program are not acceptable to this government, then we are prepared to consider other alternatives."
That's where the farm community stands relative to the interest program. He went on to talk about farm income assurance in the same speech:
"Farm income assurance is another program that requires amendment if we are to prevent erosion of the benefits. Over the past year, in discussions with the minister and his senior staff on the memorandum of understanding, agreement was reached on incorporating legislated employee benefits. The outstanding concerns, which we will continue to press for, include the escalation of an owner-operator labour rate and a new system for capital cost."
Another thing that I've certainly heard the farm community talk about is the slowness in negotiating further contracts and the slowness in payments. For example, if the minister will check his records, I think he will find that in the beef program, which is normally paid about 50 percent out of one fiscal year and 50 percent out of the other for any given year, not one red cent was paid out last year — on a program that was owing. We have had this same story over and over with apples and various things, this dragging of the heels with regard to money. The farmers' premiums are in but the government is not prepared to make those payments when they should be made. It cuts the cash flow down for the farmer, who needs those dollars. Premium dollars used to sit in a special fund; now they will sit in general revenue.
No one knows just how the interest is going to be calculated on those, how that is going to work, yet he tells us that this farm income assurance program is such a great thing. He tells us it's there and it's going to be a stopgap measure because he wants to get it all out of the marketplace. As I said earlier, no one will deny that it would be a great thing if we could do it, but we can't get that return out of the marketplace at this time because there is no way to meet the competition and get a return equivalent to the cost of production for some of these products — products that are dumped on the market from countries where land, labour, water, all those things, are much lower in cost and with heavier subsidies. They come in here and our farmers have to compete on an open market. That situation has to be offset by farm income assurance. It's not just something to level you the hollows and the burnps; it is a program instigated to make farming viable. As I said earlier, that commitment was given to the farm community when the agricultural land reserve came into being, and it is a commitment this government is not prepared to keep.
In an address to the B.C. Institute of Agrologists, the vice-president of the Federation of Agriculture said that he believes unrealistic cuts have been made to the interest reimbursement program and that funds for farm income assurance are inadequate to cover inflationary costs in farm production. He goes on to detail the interest reimbursement program with figures similar to those given by Mr. Aylard. He said that the cost to the provincial treasury has dropped significantly, from $24 million in 1980 to $12 million in 1981. We calculate a range of $6 million to $8 million for the fiscal year of 1982. This minister tells us he is going to spend $12 million on that program, and under the terms he's insisting on putting into place this is very discriminatory, because the higher the interest rate, the less the farmer gets out of it.
For that reason I think he probably has too much money in that particular program. It is not too much for the needs of the farmer. There should be much more than there is; we should be looking at $20 million or $30 million in that program. But in order to spend that, he has to change the terms of the contract and he has adamantly refused to do that. He has stuck to his contention of I percent below prime, no matter how high prime goes. That has been very detrimental to the farm community, who have had to put out more and more of their dollar return in order to meet those interest costs. It has been estimated that in 1960, if you had approximately 30 percent equity in your farm, you could meet your capital and
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interest costs and continue to be a viable entity. In order to do that today, it has been estimated by the Economic Council of Canada, I believe, that you need something like 75 percent equity in your farm before you can begin to cope with those capital costs and interest costs and operate a viable entity. That's quite a difference over a matter of 20 years, and it certainly puts the farm community in an unenviable position when trying to deal with that, because I think we would all agree that it is a high capital cost concern.
Another well-known name in the agricultural community is the president of the B.C. Tree Fruits association. He's another person who has been indicating very clearly the problems that they're experiencing with cash flow, their concerns about the farm income assurance program and their concerns about the interest rebate program. You can see why they would when you pick up news clippings like this from the Globe and Mail of April 16, 1982, that says that the cash receipts by Canadian farms for January and February fell 0.8 percent, which was a drop of $30 million in two months. That was just cash receipts, entirely apart from the price squeeze.
Another clipping tells of farm bankruptcies spreading to the west. Certainly we are facing farm bankruptcies here now. As well as small businesses and houses, we're facing bankruptcies in the farming community. There's nothing — no action, no measures, no proposals — from this minister. He talks about the reorganization in his ministry and these branch regional offices. He's got so many layers between himself and the community, and so many people charged with supervision, and so many chiefs in the various areas, that the number of people actually out on the site has, in many areas, apparently decreased. I'm getting reports of offices that are closed because there aren't enough people around to man them and be out in the field. I'm getting reports of trade fairs and so on where other ministries have demonstrations and displays — and this one came from the Peace River, which is an agricultural community, yet the Ministry of Agriculture had nothing at all in that particular fair.... I'm concerned that he has so many people at the supervisory level that he doesn't have enough people out there actually doing the job. In the reorganization and the regionalizing, we have people drawn into regional centres so they were close at hand to their regional supervisor, and in many instances removed them from the close contact in the area where they had been stationed previously.
I was at a farmers' meeting out in Saanich not too long ago, and I was quite amused — well, not amused really, but certainly it was interesting to note their consensus, their opinion. After much discussion about the budget, and the lack of returns, and what they felt was the lack of interest on the part of the minister, they finally came to the conclusion that the real Minister of Agriculture was the Minister of Finance, and that he was making the decisions. This was interesting inasmuch as it came from Saanich. They felt that the Minister of Finance was really making the decisions about agriculture and that he was the real Minister of Agriculture, because he was the one who was hanging onto the purse strings and this particular Minister of Agriculture wasn't able to have any influence on what the expenditures were.
I'm very curious about one of the expenditures from last year, and that was this $30,000 special warrant for the minister's office. He avoided mentioning that when he spoke. I hope that when he speaks at some point during this debate on his estimates he'll tell us what that $30,000 was all about and why he overexpended in his own office. He asked the farmers to hold the line. He refused to go over his budget for things like income assurance. He withholds payments that were due the preceding year, assumably because he doesn't have the dollars in his budget to cover them. Yet when it comes to his own office, he's prepared to over spend by $30,000 and ask for a special warrant. It seems to me that if the minister really had the interests of the agricultural community at heart, he would curtail his own expenditures in his office a bit, and if he had to ask for special warrants, he would ask for those special warrants to cover some of the financial programs that are so essential to the farm community, such as farm income assurance, instead of hanging onto those dollars until after the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Quite honestly, the minimal amount that he has for farm income assurance this year is going to be pretty well eaten up by last year's debts. It seems to me that there is something like $17 million that has to be paid for last year's beef insurance. Then we have apples, probably $10 million, soft fruit $3 million, hogs $3 million, berries and greenhouse vegetables another $1 million apiece — say $35 million that you re really going to owe, Mr. Minister, out of $21 million that you have in estimates. You're going to be overexpended on farm income assurance by $14 million. Now you may be able to make up $6 million of that out of the so-called interest reimbursement program, of which you say you're going to spend $12 million, unless you change your tune and you won't spend. You're still going to have a deficit on farm income assurance. That means, I assume, that once again you will hang in there and not make those payments when they're due, but make the farmers wait — make them go out and borrow the dollars at high interest rates to keep up their cash flow, when really the money is owed to them by this ministry in a legitimate insurance scheme. It seems to me to be very sloppy budgeting. If I can get those figures, I'm sure the ministry can get them. I would challenge the minister to correct me if I'm wrong on those figures, but it seems to me that he is going to be very short on the dollars he has in his budget for farm income assurance.
He talked a lot about his shared programs, and I have a couple of questions for him about those programs. I have a question for him particularly on the ARDSA program, which he talked about. My understanding is that that agreement expires in July of this year. There was a maximum allowance for $60 million — shared dollars. According to the figures that the minister gave just a few minutes ago, which agree with my figures, something like $48 million maximum will be committed prior to that time. That means that we've got $12 million — 12 million 50-cent dollars — going down the tube if that program expires at the end of July, because we will no more be able to initiate programs under that ARDSA plan. That $12 million that we could have had — 50-cent dollars, $6 million from the federal government and $6 million from the provincial government.... If this government is not prepared to put that up, and I don't see it anywhere in the budget, then we're going to lose those 50-cent dollars for good farm programs as the minister has outlined; he's gone into great detail about them. I'm sure that there are those other programs that we could well have initiated which would have ensured that we got full advantage from those programs.
When the minister talks about ARDSA, sometimes he mentions that the feds contribute their 50 percent. When he talks about crop insurance he says it's a shared program, but I think if we look closely at it we'll see that a much bigger share
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is contributed by the federal government than by the provincial government. My figures show that of the $2.6 million that was paid out, something like $2.3 million came from the feds and $0.3 million from this government. Perhaps that explains why when Mr. Whelan was in Victoria not so long ago he failed to notify this minister. It was interesting to note that this minister said he was very hurt by the fact that Mr. Whelan hadn't got in touch with him. Maybe that's why; maybe we should give a little more credit to Mr. Whelan where credit is due.
I believe my time is up. Perhaps the minister would like to respond to some of those points.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Mr. Chairman, I didn't comment on the growth in the industry. I did last year and then for the next hour or so heard all the failings of the industry, so this year I didn't quote from Agri-facts. The statistics indicate that though the farms may be the same in number, some 20,800, we've seen increases in the numbers of acres of farmland under cultivation, which have gone up to 2.05 million acres, up 20,000 acres from last year. I can tell you that we've seen substantial increases in milk sales by farmers. We've seen substantial increase in poultry sales — 112.8 million pounds in 1981, compared to 104.4 million pounds in 1980.
[Mr. Mussallem in the chair.]
We have seen increased activity in a number of other areas: vegetable receipts, honey production, in the number of head of cattle, and in hog numbers, etc. I just want to show that it is a growth industry. I agree with the member that the margins are tightening for agriculture, but that is no different than other sectors of our economy. I don't think you can solve a problem with the economy by throwing money at it. That is not going to solve the problem; it is only going to increase the problem in the long term.
We have attempted in the provincial budget to come forward with some amendments to allow for some relief to the farm community. I think of the tax-exempt items that the Minister of Finance mentioned in his budget. We looked at what we did with the insurance for farm vehicles whereby they could be insured under a fleet program. That assisted in offsetting some of their increased costs with regard to insurance. As I said earlier, over 60 percent of my budget goes into my financial programs. That doesn't necessarily mean that over 60 Percent of my budget is going to subsidy or support programs but rather to financial programs that will help the farmer become more productive, protect him against high interest rates to some extent or protect him against depressed market conditions. We have a combination of programs that provide assistance to the farm community.
The member states that Treasury Board never gives me any more money for subsidy programs. In the number of years that I've had this portfolio, all I've heard the agricultural critic and her colleagues stand up and say is: "Give more money out in subsidy programs." At the same time she says we should get it from the marketplace. I don't think we disagree on whether we should get it from the marketplace, but it seems that the only solution the opposition has is to throw more money at the problem, and it just isn't going to work.
Looking at the interest reimbursement program, there is no other industry that gets relief such as the farm community gets. We have maintained that that program will stay at I percent below prime. The agricultural community recognize that fact. When interest rates started to fluctuate back in 1979, we spread the amendment to that program over two years. The farm politician forgets the discussions we had at that time and tends to say: "We need more money."
Dealing with the Farm Income Assurance Fund, we have attempted to index a number of factors in the formula in consultation with the Federation of Agriculture and the commodity groups they represent. I think it is fair to say that we have the best program in Canada. It is a realistic program that allows for a fair amount of protection against the depressed marketplace. You can't take all the risk out of farming. It is no different than any other industry. The good operators have dealt with the issue of increased interest rates. We have had a number of cases where we can see the borrowings of farmers become consolidated and reduced because the farm manager recognized that there is a high cost to borrowing. As a result he has possibly consolidated a number of his loans or he has paid off where he has been able to to cut down his debt service. This is no different from what this government is trying to do with our restraint program — trying to live within our means.
This government is here to support the agricultural industry in its expansion and growth, but you can't have it in such a way that it is just a constant shovelling of the money out of the back of the truck like the opposition did between 1973 and 1975 when the economy throughout Canada and the rest of the world was on the upswing. In that period of time the economy of British Columbia was going straight downhill.
We have maintained our programs. We have worked with the agricultural community to make sure that stability is maintained in this prime industry. I can go into other things that we've done — the 50 percent classification for land within the ALR with regard to school tax purposes. We provided that relief. The opposition didn't recognize that impact on the farm community back in 1973-75 when they brought in the agricultural land reserve.
The member mentioned bankruptcies on farms. The latest figure we had in British Columbia in 1981 was five out of 20,800 reported farms. The stability appears still to be there, Madam Member.
With regard to one or two of the other items you mentioned.... You commented on special warrants with regard to salary costs in my office. In my.minister's office I expanded the number of clerical and typing staff by one. I am advised that out of that $30,000, there was about $6,000 not spent.
With regard to farm income assurance, the premiums that are paid in, as you know, are in a five-year moving average. In some cases those premiums paid by the farm community are lagging behind the amount of indemnity. As a result, we are paying additional funds as opposed to increasing the premiums substantially to the farmer in any one year.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
The last item is ARDSA. Yes, it expires in July 1982. I have discussed this matter with the Hon. Herb Gray, the minister responsible for DREE and the subagreement known as ARDSA, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to extend the term of that five-year agreement for another year in order for us to carry on with the good work that that program does.
[ Page 7769 ]
MRS. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for the information on ARDSA. I hope that he is able to extend it, and I'm pleased to note that he is moving in that direction. I don't see funds in the budget for that, but perhaps he can tell me where that will fit in. Just in passing, I would like to say it is very difficult this year to relate the specific expenditures from last year's bookkeeping system over to this year's bookkeeping system. I might just say that I'm wondering whether or not this particular very lengthy and detailed document that the Minister of Finance gave us, with all the various programs accounted for, constitutes an official part of your estimates. Maybe the minister could just nod his head. Is that an official part where the breakdown is shown? The reason I'm asking, Mr. Chairman, is that the funds shown for the income assurance program in that book appear to be extremely limited; they're not anywhere near $17 million, and I suspect it's an error. But I believe that this is the estimate book that we're discussing, and I would hope that that backup material shows, as I read it, a much larger amount of dollars for farm income assurance. I would suspect that that is totally in error.
Mr. Minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, you deal again with the marketplace and say that you can't just throw money at a problem and that we have the best farm income assurance scheme — or stabilization scheme, as you called it — of anywhere in Canada. Well, first of all, it's a different kind of scheme. It's not just a straight grant or stabilization scheme; it's an insurance scheme. Sure, the government contributes towards that, as does the producer, but it is an insurance scheme. I would point out that we are the only province in Canada that has an agricultural land reserve. The farm income assurance scheme and the agricultural land reserve were companion pieces of legislation, and we have pointed this out year after year as your estimates have been discussed, Mr. Minister — that they were and are companion pieces of legislation, and that you can't judge one without the other, and that if you destroy one or make it less than viable, then you also destroy the other.
I must say, Mr. Chairman, that as we observe and as many of farm community members observed, it appears that the throttling of the farm income assurance program may well be deliberately designed and undertaken to put pressure on the farm community and to destroy the concept of the agricultural land reserve. That land reserve was brought into being under a great storm of protest and a lot of misunderstanding. The thing that is amazing — not amazing really, because people are smart enough to recognize a good thing when they see it — is that the public now recognizes that as landmark legislation, that it was greatly needed, extremely important and one of the best pieces of legislation to be put on the books of any parliament in North America. That's generally accepted.
This government has continued to tamper with that legislation and to tamper with the reserve. The first and most critical thing is the amendment to the act which has allowed for direct appeals to cabinet. I would point out, Mr. Chairman — and I note that you're going to tell me that I can't talk about legislation, but I'm talking about the Land Commission, which is a responsibility of this minister — that at the last B.C. Tree Fruits convention they passed a resolution which said: "Whereas the present provincial government continues to fine-tune the ALR and whereas the Land Commission has been rendered less effective through the use of cabinet appeal, therefore be it resolved that this 1982 convention request that the B.C. Federation of Agriculture press the provincial government to allow the B.C. Land Commission to be the final body of appeal." That was passed by the B.C. Tree Fruits convention in 1982 and forwarded to the Federation of Agriculture. The Federation of Agriculture has joined with the agrologists and a great many different organizations and has pressured the government to change this so it gets out of the political arena. The government has consistently neglected or refused to do this. They keep telling us that the cabinet has to be the last appeal. There is provision for appeal as long as you don't have a unanimous decision of the Land Commission and as long as a local government is supportive.
This particular section makes it possible to appeal without any of those things. It has become a political appeal. It is so designed, and so used in secret, behind the closed doors of cabinet, and it has been used in many instances as a political tool to reward friends. That is how it has been used, and there are many examples.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One moment, please. I'll ask all hon. members to come to order, and remind the hon. member who is now speaking that in Committee of the Whole and during estimates debate we are not allowed to discuss legislation or the need for it or past legislation. The administrative actions of the ministry are what is open to debate. I'm sure the hon. member is aware of that.
MRS. WALLACE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I'm discussing his administrative actions, inasmuch as he is the minister responsible for the agricultural land reserve. I simply had to give that little bit of background on the legislation to lead me into the next area that I want to talk about, and that is what has been happening with the agricultural land reserve.
I think that the weather-vane in the preservation of the land reserve has probably been the Gloucester property, because that is one that has been going on for so long and so much public interest has been focused on that particular piece of property. We have seen the use of the amended legislation to remove that piece of land from the land reserve. Then we saw the Premier come in with a freeze on that development. It was a very knee-jerk reaction because of the public sentiment that had just sprung up over that particular piece of land coming out of the reserve. We saw the chairman of the Land Commission resign over that. Then we had court case upon court case. We had a case brought by Gloucester against the government. They filed for loss of revenue because of the freeze. We had the thing referred to the supreme court to see whether or not the cabinet ministers would be required to testify in that case. The day before the supreme court decision was made public....
MR. KEMPF: Mr. Chairman, I rise under standing order 43. I'd like the Chair to tell me what this line of debate has to do with the minister's office.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Chair is aware of standing order 43. The committee is advised that discussion of any minister's estimates deals totally with the administrative actions of the ministry. I'm sure the member is quite aware of the type
[ Page 7770 ]
and substance of debate that can take place in Committee of Supply.
MRS. WALLACE: It would seem that the member for Omineca is not aware that the....
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Chair will decide points of order.
MRS. WALLACE: I thought you were finished with your ruling, and I didn't intend to correct the Chair at all. I just wanted to say to the member for Omineca, for his information, 'that the Agricultural Land Commission is an administrative responsibility of this minister — perhaps he was not aware of that.
To continue, Mr. Chairman, almost at the same time the Supreme Court ruling came down, we had the freeze lifted. When that freeze was lifted, I wrote and asked for a copy of the environmental study which was supposedly done and which persuaded the Minister of Environment (Hon. Mr. Rogers) to lift the freeze. Strangely enough, when I got this, I found that that particular study was undertaken by the people who owned the property. That was the study on which basis the minister lifted the freeze. I would like to be in a position where I could do the study on any particular item that related to me and be the one who presented the so-called "facts" that decided the minister to make a move. Then we have a very strange situation: Gloucester Properties dropped their court case once the freeze was lifted.
So that's the sort of thing that has happened under this minister, who has no commitment to the preservation of agricultural land — certainly not a sufficient commitment to go to cabinet or to ELUC and stand up for the preservation of agricultural land based on its capability to produce food. He hasn't the integrity to present that case in the face of the kinds of political situations that this government gets itself into. Of course, the release of that land, providing it is rezoned — and it may or may not be rezoned.... We now have to lean on local governments rather than the Agricultural Land Commission, and I think the minister is remiss in not moving in a direction that allows the Land Commission to be responsible and to make decisions based on the capacity....
The kind of strange reasons that minister gave for letting that land out — that it was rolling, that a railway went by it, that it was close to the American border — would apply to any land almost anywhere. Those are the kinds of reasons that the man this province is trusting to preserve our agricultural land for future generations is bringing to this House as the reasons why that hand was released. Then we have the Minister of Energy (Hon. Mr. McClelland) saying that there was no evidence submitted. How can he be so short in his memory? Certainly the Land Commission's testimony was strongly in favour, based on the categories of that land, and yet the minister doesn't even remember that. It was so strong and the chairman of the Land Commission was so upset that he resigned. Then we have the Minister of Energy quoting from a report that drew certain conclusions. The person who did the land study was suing the person who had written those conclusions, because they had nothing to do with his study — they didn't relate. Yet the Minister of Energy uses that. This is an example of the kind of situation that this Minister of Agriculture has let that government get into relative to the preservation of agricultural land. That's the situation as a result of this government — political payoffs. Certainly there was political involvement there.
Then we go to the Spetifore property. It's another one where the testimony indicated that the land was good agricultural land. The experts thought.... I'm not about to say what is or is not good agricultural land. I don't think any minister in the cabinet or any lay person should do that. That is a job that trained soils scientists should do.
MRS. WALLACE: Absolutely. It should be non-political an agrologist who is trained in soils science, not one who has been trained in feed production for livestock or something like that. Let's make sure that the people telling us what is a good piece of agricultural land are people who are trained in that specific skill — with no political interference, without any bias written in the report, and the report based strictly on technical classifications. That has to be the way we go.
This government and that minister have moved in exactly the opposite direction. Just last week my colleague from Vancouver East raised in the House the kind of windfall profits that a friend of the government stands to gain — $190 million as a result of this kind of political decision. I can't understand why that minister and that cabinet insist on putting themselves in such a vulnerable position. Really, if they have a commitment to the preservation of agricultural land, they would get out of this hotseat that they've gotten themselves into and leave it to the experts, leave it to the Land Commission, take out the political interference. It would be much better for them, and it would certainly be much better for the agricultural land, that fast-diminishing commodity that we have here in British Columbia. Instead of the Land Commission being allowed to do its job, as it tried to do in the Gloucester thing and in the Spetifore case, we have government moving in. Now the only thing that's saving either one of them is local zoning by regional governments. That's in the face of the best advice from the B.C. agrologists and the B.C. Federation of Agriculture, and from a great number of organizations right across this province. In the case of Gloucester these were the United Church, the chamber of commerce and the Women's Institute. I've heard none of them withdraw that position; they are committed to the preservation of agricultural land.
Of course, there's the Moffat property. Now I have nothing against Mr. Moffat; he's probably a very fine gentleman. But let me tell you, this government has put him in a very awkward position. Whether he asked for it or not I don't know and I'm not prepared to say. But the very fact that this government has removed that land from the reserve, over the heads of cabinet, over the heads of everybody, when he stands to gain the kinds of dollars he stands to gain from that, to do a development in an area where there's lots of land for development, the same as there is in the lower Fraser Valley.... There's enough land for industrial development until the year 2020 or something, yet this is the situation. These are the kinds of arguments that are very difficult for that minister and that government to answer to the people of British Columbia. It's impossible, because it savours very strongly of political payola.
MR. RITCHIE: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, I take extreme exception to such an accusation. I would suggest that the member withdraw.
[ Page 7771 ]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The point is very well taken. The Journals will show that only about three weeks ago the hon. Minister of Industry and Small Business Development (Hon. Mr. Phillips) was asked to withdraw that statement when he made it in the House. I would ask the hon. member, if she has imputed any dishonourable motive to another member of this House, that she withdraw.
MRS. WALLACE: No, I'm not imputing any dishonourable motive to any individual member. What I'm saying is that this particular method of dealing with agricultural exclusion leaves the cabinet vulnerable to the inference that there is political payola. If the term "political payola" offends anyone in this House, I will certainly withdraw.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The hon. member continues on vote 5.
MRS. WALLACE: I've spoken of the Spetifore property, the Gloucester property and the Moffat property. There was the Wenger property at Windermere. There was to be a provision for them to have a gravel pit, and only the Land Commission's use of the Soil Conservation Act prevented it from going ahead. Everywhere we look, this sort of situation is occurring.
The minister talks about fine tuning. Last year was the first time there were any dollars in his budget for fine tuning. I wonder how many dollars he's actually putting towards fine tuning this year. That's a program that should have been undertaken, and would have been undertaken, from 1975 on because that was the whole intent of how the legislation was to work, but there were no dollars. It's a major undertaking to complete that fine tuning, and it has to be done by technical people without political interference.
I have never argued with decisions of the Land Commission, even though sometimes I'm a little concerned about some of them. The Land Commission has done a reasonably good job. I think they're trying to do a job. How much it's undermined by that minister I don't know; I hope not at all. I hope the minister isn't interfering in their activity. They have to be let alone to do a job, they have to have the funds, and they have to have the people available with the knowledge and expertise to do that job. Unfortunately it's not a high priority with this government, but it certainly is of grave concern to me.
I have to reiterate that the land reserve, as everyone knows, has caused the farming community some difficulties. They have been asked to shoulder a financial reduction. They no longer can do just as they like with that land. They're quite prepared to accept that, but they want the assurance that the companion legislation will be in place to do the job it was intended to do: ensure viability. That's not happening under this ministry or this government. The Land Commission is being eroded by the financial squeeze on the farm community, and the tighter that squeeze gets, the more pressure there will be to take land out of the reserve for economic needs. Not that the farmer wants to do that. Usually a farmer is a farmer and wants to keep that land in cultivation. He has a dedication to producing things. But through lack of dedication by this government to the companion legislation and to the agricultural land reserve, the farmer is in the position where he, as well as the developer who has hung on, is being forced to influence the government — in many cases they're successful, apparently — to have that land removed so that those windfall profits will accrue to them. They're profits that are completely out of line with the productivity value of that land. The farmer, in the meantime, is faced with the escalating costs that result and with a declining viability in the farm income assurance program.
This minister tells us that we can't throw money at a problem to make it better. This is an instance where a good insurance scheme needs all the dollars it can get to ensure that we maintain the farm community and our agricultural land. It's a difficult situation. because we are not prepared at this time to buy everything the farmer could produce. We have very efficient farmers here. We have some of the best land in the world, let alone in Canada. and the best climate. We can produce far more than the public is prepared to consume, as long as we're bringing in unlimited — not unlimited, but a great many — imports. It's a situation we want to support. Surely that government wants to support it, because sooner or later — it’s going to be sooner than later — those imports are going to become limited. Our population is going to grow. We're going to need every acre and farmer to produce the kind of food we will want to consume as our population and needs grow, and our imports decline.
That minister is charged with the responsibility of protecting not only this generation, but future generations. It's a very important responsibility. I believe he hasn't realized how important it is. I believe he has not recognized that, and has not been able to convince cabinet that we need the kind of dollars now in the agricultural budget to support the agricultural community so that they can retain their viability and our agricultural land and to have them around to produce for future generations.
HON. MR. HEWITT: To respond to some of the issues raised by the member. she dealt with ARDSA in her comments. If we get an extension of the agreement for another year, we will. of course, include the additional funding that is required in next year's budget. What we have in this year's budget for 1982-83 is sufficient to carry us through this year and then we'd amend or add to it next year in the 1983-84 budget.
To talk about the Agricultural Land Commission and the agricultural land reserve.... The member mentioned that &se are companion pieces of legislation. I have to tell you that the Farm Income Assurance Act was brought in as companion legislation. They only had six programs in place at that time, if I recall. If you had done your homework.... You said to the farmer: "We're going to treat you fairly. We're going to lock your land up in a reserve, but will give you a stability program or an assistance program." Why didn't you do it right the first time? You gave them six programs and that's all. You left the rest of them out to dry. You couldn't have cared less until they brought pressure and you had to respond. The only trouble was that at that particular point in time I was the Minister of Agriculture and Food and I had to pick up where you left off. I brought several other farm income assurance programs into being to assist the agricultural community with regard to what you call that companion program.
In that legislation you also included gravel pits in the agricultural land reserve. You included land that had never been farmed. You just dropped it, as I said before, like a leaden blanket. You just dropped it on the whole province without any foresight as to the damage you were doing.
[ Page 7772 ]
The member talks about why cabinet does not leave it to the "experts." This member across the way knows very well that you can have two agrologists and two soils specialists come up with two different answers. You can have situations where you have a widespread agricultural capability on one piece of land. I'm quoting from one particular application that went through the system all the way through to the appeal. You end up with a description of some 500 acres as follows: "101 acres, class 2 and 3." But what are the subclassifications for classes 2 and 3? It's not like 101 acres of class 2 and 3, neat, tidy and in a square. What you have is a combination of soil factors. You have other factors within that class 2 land; you can have excess water or undesirable soil structure within that class 2 and class 3. You have other factors that might deal with salts within the soil, stoniness, topography, excess water, moisture deficiency and all those details. So when the politician grabs the application for the appeal with the experts' advice, they neglect to say that it's not all neat and tidy. They'll attack 500 acres as though it were a nice, neat and tidy piece of property and not get into the detail that the soils specialist gets into where we have differences of opinion.
In most of those cases that the member brought up.... Let's take the Delta properties. In all that land, most of it was for hay production, not food production, because of its limitations. The Moffat property has never been farmed and probably never will be farmed, because it's adjacent to the Fraser River and the only access to it is through a residential subdivision. Eighty percent of Gloucester Properties has never been farmed. It's not a neat and tidy 624 acres, or whatever it is; it's some 30 individual parcels of land that could be sold as 30 parcels. There are 20 acres of pondage on that particular property.
The member goes on to say that her comments represented the agricultural community. She neglects to say that one of the vice-presidents of the Federation of Agriculture said very strongly that the Delta property — or as you call it the Spetifore property — was not agricultural land, and he had farmed in that area for years. You can have two agrologists just as you have two lawyers. You can have two differences of opinion when you look at soil structure.
You talk about developers. Developers have hung on in the hopes of doing certain things. The Spetifore Delta property was owned by one family since the 1930s. Is that a developer holding on? No way. It is a man who paid taxes and whose family paid taxes. It was not agriculturally viable and therefore he asked to have it released. On top of that he wanted to make arrangements whereby his community — the community of Delta, which supported the application — would benefit by getting parkland adjacent to the residential property, and you denied him that. The people of the Greater Vancouver Regional District played politics. That is exactly what they did, because when that application came forward for appeal, what happened? It was recommended by the GVRD. Then we analyze it, debate and hear all the flak from you people over there saying it was political. What happens? We make that decision only to see politics being played once again. Never mind the man who has invested in that land and whose family has owned it since the 1930s. Play with him! This is politics you people play, and you love it, but you don't care about the individual. All those farmers out there know that. They know you play politics and forget about the individual farmer.
Was Gloucester Properties a developer hanging on? How long have Gloucester Properties owned that land, Madam Member? A year? No, they acquired that property — I don't have the exact date in front of me — back in the 1960s. How long did Mr. Moffat own that land in Prince George which has never been farmed?
Politics are played with the Agricultural Land Commission and the agricultural land reserve. It is frustrating. I guess we could — as the member says — take the easy way out and walk away from the problem. As a government we could pass it on to the "experts." We could pass it on to some little committee or commission and stand back, rub our hands and say: "Well, it's not our problem. It's their problem and their decision. We won't take the responsibility." Someone once said: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This government is going to take that heat when it has to, but our decisions aren't political. Our decisions are based on analyzing the facts that are put forward to us to determine what is the fairest and most honest way to deal with a problem. Any of these appeals that come before the Environment and Land Use Committee are not black and white. Those are the "gray" areas that we have to deal with. Even the agrologists in the Land Commission will tell you that there are areas in which, with a cost, they could go one way or another, but they aren't easily resolved issues. I commend my colleagues in the past, and hopefully in the future; we have to address this question and deal with it at our level, because that is what we are elected to do.
MR. MACDONALD: In secrecy.
HON. MR. HEWITT: There he is. The great learned lawyer has finally arrived. The original NDP legislation, interestingly enough, said that in 1973 the legislation allowed the cabinet the right to exclude land from the agricultural land reserve on its own. You know, it was political, behind closed doors in the cabinet chambers. Don't be so high and mighty, Mr. Member. This is just to give you some information, I guess. We are going back in history. Maybe we sometimes forget we are dealing with estimates for 1982-83.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The minister makes a very good point. We are dealing with the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Food and his administrative responsibilities. I would ask the minister to remember that when he continues his debate.
HON. MR. HEWITT: I certainly will attempt to remember that. I want to bring out a parallel, though, in regard to this government's administration of the agricultural land reserves.
Looking back, in 1973 the then government, the NDP, purchased 726 acres of land on Tilbury Island in Delta for an industrial park that was dedicated as prime farmland, class 2 and class 3. That is not far, I don't think, from other properties in Delta. Madam Member, I would have thought that you would have handed in your membership card over that issue. I would have thought that you would have raved over the fact that that government at that time was doing away with class 2 and class 3 land for industrial purposes. In 1975, by cabinet order-in-council, 458 acres of potential agricultural land in Kamloops, known as the Molson hop farm property, was removed for use as an industrial park. What great support for the agricultural community! It is all political on that side of
[ Page 7773 ]
the House. They talk a good story, but they knew, when they were in government, that you had to deal with some of these issues in a manner that was in the public good, also recognizing the fairness of the system.
I guess we'll go through the exercise, through the next few days, if not longer, of dealing with the Agricultural Land Commission and the method used to determine whether or not land is agricultural. I'll stand by the remarks I made earlier when I opened the debate, that when we deal with these issues and attempt to evaluate all the input — and there's a substantial amount of it — as to whether land is capable of agriculture or whether it has a use in the public good, there is no political interference or political payoff, or whatever you want to call it. The people involved, the staff involved, the land commissioners involved. are all attempting to do the job to the best of their ability. I'm proud of the efforts that have been made while I've been Minister of Agriculture and Food, and of the amount of fine tuning that we have done.
MR. KING: To pay off your friends.
HON. MR. HEWITT: The member for Shuswap-Revelstoke says, "a payoff for your friends." I'll just consider where that remark came from, and carry on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, I didn't hear that. If that in fact was said, I will have to ask the hon. member for Shuswap-Revelstoke to withdraw. That type of imputation to another hon. member was earlier ruled to be unacceptable.
MR. KING: I withdraw, Mr. Chairman.
HON. MR. HEWITT: I thank the member for his withdrawal.
The fact is that 98 percent of the land removed from the agricultural land reserve since 1974 has been recommended for removal by the Agricultural Land Commission. This means that the decisions and recommendations of the Land Commission have been supported by the Environment and Land Use Committee or by cabinet for all but 2 percent of the area. Also, since that time we have added 82, 374 acres to the agricultural land reserve on the recommendation of the Land Commission. As I said earlier, the issues that are not easily resolved are the ones that attract the attention and that unfortunately attract the politician into the fray as well. I find that unfortunate. I've lost a bit of sleep trying to figure out how else we can address the question. I think the approach we have taken is one that recognizes our responsibility as politicians. I don't feel it's fair or proper for some appointed body to delegate that responsibility just because you can't stand a little heat from time to time. We can back up and justify any of the decisions we've made. We have in the past and we'll do so in the future.
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Chairman. the minister says "we can justify any decisions we've made with respect to taking land out of the land reserve;" and I'm sure they can. By selective memory, by stretching the facts, by ignoring the facts and using fiction, you can justify anything you want to justify.
I can recall, in the history of the province of British Columbia, when a member stood on this side of the House and said: "In the granting of tree-farm licences, money talks." I think that could quite appropriately be said of the removal of land from Land Commission reserves. I can't understand or imagine any justification for removing certain lands from the land reserves other than that same charge that money talks. I'm not suggesting that the minister has taken any money for any of this, Mr. Chairman. before you start getting concerned, but I can't imagine any justification for having taken the Gloucester land out of the reserve, other than that the owners of that land paid money into the Social Credit education fund. Nothing else makes any sense. There may be some other explanation. We certainly haven't heard it to date from the minister. or from any of the other people on the government side speaking about the removal of the Gloucester land estates from the agricultural land reserve.
That's just one of the examples. The minister says that in 98 percent of the removals from the land reserve they followed the recommendations of the Land Commission. He didn't bother to tell you that the Land Commission unanimously fought for two years to keep that Gloucester land in the ALR. He didn't bother to tell you that that particular commission "as a group hand-picked by this administration, who in 1975 campaigned on the promise that they would get rid of the Land Commission. The did get rid of it. They couldn't throw it out completely. because they knew the community wouldn't stand for it, but they, appointed their own people to itpeople who would support their policy of, getting rid of the ALR. In spite of picking their own people and putting them on that commission. When those people sat down and listened to the staff members, when they saw the evidence of what this administration wanted to do to the ALR, even those handpicked Socred supporters couldn't stand the idea of removing these lands from the ALR, People who bothered to pay, any attention to what was going on in the province, who recognized the importance of agricultural land in this province, of which we have so little. and who listened to the evidence. reacted in the way they should react, as good British Columbians. Unfortunately, their unanimous recommendations were ignored by this cabinet. What possible explanation can there be for it, other than that the owners of those lands somehow or other rewarded the party in office in this province today?
The minister said that a leaden blanket was dropped over this province in the winter of 197273. Mr. Chairman, he knows better. He's not telling you the whole truth when he tells you that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. STUPICH: I didn't say, he was lying. I said that he was not telling you the whole truth when he told you that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: A member cannot impute any dishonourable motive to another member. I'm sure the hen. member appreciates that.
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Chairman, I'm simply saying that he misinformed you and that he did not tell you the whole truth. I'm not saying that anything he said was in error or that he was lying to you; I'm simply saying he left out certain facts — and he did, Mr. Chairman. He knows that when we imposed the land freeze in December 1972. It extended only to those lands which people had been claiming was farmland when they were paying their property taxes. and to lands which had already been zoned as agricultural land by various
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municipal and regional district authorities. That's the only land that was covered by that socalled "leaden blanket" in December 1972. Had he told you that as well as what he told you, then he would have been telling you the whole truth, but that would not have helped his case, Mr. Chairman. He was trying to persuade you that we did something wrong — that I, as a Minister of Agriculture, did something wrong in those days in imposing that freeze on the development of agricultural land. It would have weakened his case had he told you that part — that only land that people were already claiming was farmland when they were paying their property taxes was included in that freeze in 1972. You see, that would have weakened his case. He didn't tell you the whole truth.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member....
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Chairman, are you suggesting he did it accidentally?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, the Chair cannot accept one member implying that another hon. member has been less than honourable. I so advise the member now speaking and would ask the member to remember that our parliamentary rules urge courtesy and moderation in debate.
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Chairman, the minister said, in talking about the Land Commission, that he — and presumably he is speaking for the government — is pleased with the work of the Land Commission. He had good reason to be pleased with the work of the original Land Commission. They were carefully picked individuals, people who were recommended by the community as a whole.
AN HON. MEMBER: Like Bob Williams.
MR. STUPICH: Bob Williams was not a member of the Land Commission, Mr. Chairman. I heard that name thrown across the floor.
AN HON. MEMBER: Gary Runka.
MR. STUPICH: Gary Runka was not a member of the original Land Commission, Mr. Chairman — I hear that name as well. If these people want to help me make my speech, I don't mind having that kind of assistance, Mr. Chairman, but again they are either showing their ignorance or are trying to fool you. Gary Runka was not a member of the original Land Commission, nor was Bob Williams. The original Land Commission was a very good commission, Mr. Chairman — one dedicated to the principle of saving farmland.
The minister boasts about the land that has been added to the ALR since he has been in office, since he has had responsibility for the Land Commission. Mr. Chairman, as Will Rogers once said, the reason that agricultural land is so important is that they ain't making any more of it. He hasn't created any farmland. They have extended the boundaries in some areas, but they haven't added any new farmland to the inventory of farmland in the province of British Columbia. Mr. Chairman, they have black topped a lot of excellent farmland that there was in this province. To say that the NDP administration, when it was in office, took two parcels of land out of the land reserve — as good as those parcels may or may not have been — in justification of what they have done to the land reserve in this province is certainly abdication of any responsibility. I'd like to say a lot more, Mr. Chairman, but I'm afraid I may tempt you again to interrupt what I'm saying.
It was important that we impose the ALR on the province of British Columbia when we did it in 1972. In 1973 the Land Commission came into effect. We were losing good farmland in the province of British Columbia at the rate of 20,000 acres a year; it was important to save it. Certainly there was some reaction from the farming community when we did that, but the farming community very soon recognized the importance of saving that land. The minister talks about the support from farmers for the actions that have been taken. Mr. Chairman, I challenge the minister to name any agricultural organization in the province that in any way at all supported the removal, for example, of the Gloucester land estate. Name one organization that supported that. You can always find individual farmers who carry party cards and who will support the government of the day, whatever that government happens to be, and will try to rationalize its decisions, as wrong as those decisions may be in the interest of the community as a whole, but I challenge the minister to name one farm organization that supported that particular removal, or the one at Prince George, or the one in Columbia which was much in the news a couple of years ago.
MR. BARRETT: Name one that supports the minister.
MR. STUPICH: That is another tack worth taking. Certainly the farming community, as I know them, have little confidence in this particular minister as one who should be responsible for the Land Commission. I know that when the Land Commission was originally turned over to the Ministry of Environment, there was some concern in the farming community that it should be kept in Agriculture, because presumably the Minister of Agriculture would be dedicated to the principle of saving farmland and making sure that that land would be available for generations to come. But that's not this minister. The agricultural organizations in the province know that this minister is not dedicated to that idea in the slightest. He has proven it by his actions and by his rationalizations of the times. Although the minister says he has confidence in the Land Commission, they have overturned unanimous recommendations of the Land Commission without any good reason for doing it other than the possibility I suggested earlier: that the owners of those lands have made it worthwhile to the party to make sure that these lands were removed. The second member for Vancouver East (Mr. Macdonald) pointed out a few days ago the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were made in profits. It is worthwhile if you are going to make that kind of money.
I asked the chairman of the Land Commission at a recent luncheon — the minister was there.... He told us in the course of his remarks that an acre of farmland in Richmond would sell for $30,000. If it was in a position where it could be converted to some "higher" use — I don't see any higher use for that land than growing food — it could be taken out of the ALR and converted. It would then be worth $300,000 an acre. Mr. Chairman, I ask you how you would justify saying no to a farmer who owned an acre of that land. You were standing in his way of a profit of nine times the value of the land, if you could get it out of the ALR. How could you justify saying no if in the same week you said to the owners of Gloucester land estates: "You can have your land out. You
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have the money. You can make it worth the party's while, so you can have your land out of the ALR." But you are standing in the way of the farmer in Richmond making $270,000 on that one acre of land, and you say no to him. What other justification can there be? That is why I have to repeat in this Legislature, as the member — I think he was the member for North Vancouver at the time — said: "Money talks." I am not addressing this to any individual. I really don't have any suspicion, belief or concern that that has happened in this case, but I do believe that money has moved from the owners of Gloucester Estates to someone so that this particular government would vote favourably, contrary to the unanimous recommendation of the Land Commission, to take that land out of the ALR.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before recognizing the next speaker, the Chair must once again advise the committee that any inference of political patronage is quite unparliamentary. In times past speakers who have mentioned that have had to withdraw.
MR. MACDONALD: On a point of order, I am taking exception to your ruling. You said that we could not draw attention in a free parliament to political patronage as we see it. That is not the law of parliament. If it is, we are living in a corrupt democracy.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Perhaps the Chair did not fully explain what the Chair was trying to say. The imputation of political patronage to another member of this House is dishonourable. I will cite the records, as today that remark has had to be withdrawn. Three weeks ago the Hon. Minister of Industry and Small Business Development (Hon. Mr. Phillips) was asked to withdraw that remark and did. I am sure the committee is aware of what is parliamentary and what is not parliamentary in this House.
HON. MR. HEWITT: I will be brief. I will only say to the member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich) that if he has information or evidence with regard to political payoff — or whatever the words were which he used — I would appreciate it if he would say it out in the hall. They wouldn't be protected like statements made in this House that the second member for Vancouver East (Mr. Barrett) seems to be so quick in pointing out. If you are going to say something, say it in the hall. If you've got evidence of any payoff, let's hear it. All it is in here, Mr. Member for Nanaimo, is political rhetoric.
With regard to the land reserve and the amount of land that has come out of that reserve, there has been land of agricultural capability — running from what they call prime dominant, prime subordinate and secondary land — taken out since the time the reserve was put into place. The majority of that land falls into what we call the secondary classification.
There's not much more I can say with regard to the agricultural land reserve or the commissioners. This year — as was the case last year, as I recall — it will be an issue of debate. But I'm prepared to stand here and debate the issue with those members opposite, because they tend to think that they can play politics with the agricultural land reserve, the commissioners and me as the minister responsible, and attempt to deal with these matters that are not only political but also very emotional to those people involved with land that has never been farmed and never will be farmed, and have the lands locked in the agricultural land reserve forever and a day. So if we wish to proceed on that avenue, I'm quite prepared to do so — or we could move to the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Food.
MR. BARRETT: The minister says he has confidence in the commissioners.
MR. BARRETT: That's the last guy to be talking to about land in the Fraser Valley. You're in enough trouble without talking to that guy.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll ask all hon. members to come to order. The Leader of the Opposition has taken his place in debate.
MR. BARRETT: The minister says he has great confidence in the commissioners. The commissioners recommended Gloucester be left in the ALR. What was it that the minister knew that the commissioners didn't know that made the difference, so the minister said that it should come out?
HON. MR. HEWITT: First of all, dealing with Gloucester Properties. the 642 acres are not located in one piece of flat land, as the Leader of the Opposition knows. I believe he visited the site about a year or so ago. It's made up of 19 separate parcels — which he wouldn't be aware of — with varying soil types in each parcel. He stood at the boundary of Matsqui and Langley and looked down the fenceline. They even had some sawdust in the field so he wouldn't get mud on his feet, They had TV cameras running — the whole scene. It was a beautiful sight to see. Those 19 parcels....
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll ask all hon. members to come to order.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Those 19 parcels of land contained 32 titles of various lot size, which would mean that Gloucester Properties, the owners — and those people have been owners for a number of years — could sell those 32 lots to individual owners, even though the land could be retained within the ALR. They didn't have to do anything; they could sell them. The second member for Vancouver East (Mr. Macdonald) says: "As farmers." Well, in some cases they may have a hobby farm. In other cases, it may well be countryresidential because of the soil mixture in that area. Maybe we'll come back to that, because I want to make a point on that issue.
That map of that particular area shows the soil complexity and the topography and the pondage contained within that 600 acres made up of 32 separate parcels. To quote one of the experts who did the study for the Land Commission — I'm quoting her, and the members opposite may say this is selective quotation, but it is a quote out of her report: "The major limitations of the Gloucester property are inundation by streams or lakes, topography, excess water and undesirable soil structure andor low permeability."
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Then we went to the nonagricultural factors with regard to this land — whether it be put back in the land reserve or left outside the land reserve.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Yes, put back. Because the land had already been taken out. The member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich) wasn't aware of that.
In looking at this, to state the case, I guess we are prepared from time to time to take a second look. What's wrong with that? We were concerned, and as a result we went back and reviewed the situation again. When you look at it from a nonagricultural standpoint.... Bear in mind that the Land Commission's mandate is agricultural capability; that's what they address themselves to, and that's why, in many cases, the opposition tends to think we "overrule." What they are restricted by is their mandate, which is to look at agricultural capability. Other factors, of course, may well be dealt with by the Environment and Land Use Committee. But the cost of putting that land in, with the limitations that were contained within the reports of all parties involved, would be substantial. The other nonagricultural consideration was the highway and railway access to that area. It would mean that an industrialpark complex would have easy access to its markets as well as a way of bringing in materials for production.
That's why I now go back to the 32 separate parcels. If you allowed the 32 separate parcels within the reserve, what "productivity" would you have? Or would you have a situation whereby you have 32 country residences for retired lawyers or retired politicians to enjoy the scenery in the Fraser Valley? Or would you have an industrial complex, properly designed, within the requirements of the local zoning — in this case, by the municipality of Langley — to create jobs for people and economic activity in that area, which are sadly needed?
The township of Langley — not the developer, not the politician, but the township of Langley community plan — designated it as a special reserve for industrial, commercial or residential use. They identified it as that not because of any pressure or political involvement. As a government, that was their design for that particular area, because the vast majority of that land had never been farmed. The public hearing in Langley, where the people came out and spoke, indicated that there was considerable response for the industrial use of that property. All those are factors. Both agricultural and nonagricultural would be taken into consideration in determining whether or not the land should be in the reserve. The 642 acres range from class 2 to class 7, and they even included 20 acres of pondage. So that's the amount of detail taken into consideration when trying to make a decision on a matter as complex as the Gloucester property. I think it's unfortunate that all those things aren't taken into consideration, rather than make political comments because it's convenient — that there is "political payoff" or whatever taking place. I say to the members opposite: if that is the case, and you have evidence, then be man enough to go outside the House and state the case and face the consequences.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before recognizing the Leader of the Opposition, I remind the Minister of Agriculture that personal allusions are also unparliamentary.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, there's never been a rule against personal illusions. The minister has suffered from personal illusions for a long time. Allusions are something else.
The minister said at first that there were 19 parcels with 32 owners. Then he ended up with 32 parcels. Which is it?
HON. MR. HEWITT: There are 19 parcels and 32 titles.
MR. BARRETT: Oh, that's it. It's very complicated.
HON. MR. HEWITT: But you can sell each title.
MR. BARRETT: This committee is very good. This is important.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One speaker at a time, please.
MR. BARRETT: No, it's committee. We're doing fine.
Of the 19 parcels that the commissioners recommended, have any of them come out of the ALR? Did they recommend that any of those 19 come out of the ALR? Yes or no. Did they?
HON. MR. HEWITT: Carry on. I'll answer you later on.
MR. BARRETT: Answer now. That helps me in terms of how much time we're going to take with each other.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Mr. Chairman, the commission dealt with an application for exclusion of 642 acres of land from the ALR. I'm sorry, let me correct the record. We are talking about a cabinet decision to put land into the agricultural land reserve; that is the issue. The land had already been excluded at a previous date. In making its recommendation to cabinet in regard to placing the land back in the reserve, the commission made the case for the 642 acres.
MR. BARRETT: I thank the minister for destroying his own argument, before we go too far.
I ask the minister what information he had that the commission didn't have that caused him to suggest that the 642 acres stay out. He got up and said that there were these 19 parcels with 32 titles, but at no time did he say that the commissioners recommended that any one of these 19 parcels come out. So we're right back to square one on the same question — the 640 acres that are excluded: not one pondage of 20 acres of pondage, not one of the 19 parcels, but the whole package. Now, are you saying that pondages from farms should be excluded? What damned nonsense, and you know it. The only answer for this land not being in the ALR is that it is a political decision. The minister said it on the radio and I heard it on Friday afternoon when he had a press conference: "It's a political decision, and I have to take the responsibility for making that decision." That's what you said, so don't fuddle around here by trying to say to us that somehow the ALR — these 19 parcels and 32 titles....
You made a political decision, and we want to know why you made that political decision.
Now, the member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich) has his opinions, which you don't like.
HON. MR. HEWITT: He can have his opinions.
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MR. BARRETT: He certainly can have his opinions. The public has its opinions that you don't like either, and the public thinks this stinks. They think that it's political interference, and no matter how much posturing you do, you're not going to change that, because it does stink and you know it. You know that there was no scientific recommendation, no recommendation from the commissioners who you put on there to suggest that this land go out. Every one of those people was appointed by your government; every one of them had the confidence of your government; every one of them was handpicked, as my colleague says; and every one of them said, "Don't let this land out of the ALR," and you said: "Yeah, go ahead."
My colleague asked a very important question that you never addressed yourself to — that is, what about the other farmers who want their land out and the commission says no? Are you going to let it out too? What is it that Gloucester had that another farmer doesn't have — good luck, chance of the numbers, a smile? Why, Mr. Chairman, some cynics would think it was payoff. Not me; I'm not a cynic. I've been here too long to be cynical. But the average citizen out there might say to themselves that if the commission said no to this parcel, but the minister admitted that it was a political decision and took it out, why isn't the same political decision made for other people with the same problem? You know what those cynical people out there in the public will say. They'll say it was payola. They'll say it stinks. They'll say it was a fix. They'll say it was somebody getting to the minister to make a political deal. Not me; I'm not saying that. But what have you got to stop people from saying that out there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, you are now bringing words to the committee which cannot be accepted. The use of one person's words in this parliament cannot be accepted. The hon. member knows the parliamentary courtesies.
MR. BARRETT: I am in favour of the parliamentary courtesies, Mr. Chairman, but there are people out there — farmers — who want their land out but want to know what politics, because the minister said "politics." He said it was politics, it was a political decision. Why was it a political decision? Why? What politics — Socred politics? Not land politics. You were the one who brought in politics. You were the first one to mention that it was a political decision and that someone got to you in terms of politics. The minister said that on the radio all that afternoon. I heard it all over. He said: "This is a tough political decision to make." What are you doing bringing politics into a land decision in the first place? Did we ever ask to bring in politics?
Who was the first one to mention that politics were involved? The minister was. He was so embarrassed, ashamed and guilty about politics that the first thing he said was that it was a political decision. He charged himself with making a political decision and said how tough it was. Politics, politics, politics! It stinks. Now how do we get politics out of it?
MR. KING: Fumigate it.
MR. BARRETT: Fumigate? I've heard of Watergate.
What we have here is a classic case of a minister in over his head. I don't believe that the minister made that decision. I believe that the minister was ordered to. You didn't make it alone, did you? Did you make this decision all by your ittybitty self? Did you make this decision all by yourself or were there other cabinet ministers who had input? Would the minister tell us which other cabinet ministers had input into this decision? Would the minister tell this House whether or not he made the decision all by himself or whether there were other cabinet ministers who ad input too? Was there a small cabinet meeting to discuss this" Was there a meeting between that minister and other cabinet ministers to discuss this before the decision was made? Was that meeting informal, discussing this particular property over a cup of coffee? Did it include the minister who represents Langley as its MLA? Did you discuss the court summons on this case with other ministers just prior to the decision being made? Did you know how many ministers had a summons? Was that part of the discussion over this case?
Do you know that there are responsible people out there who made the charge in public and in editorials, saying that this decision was made to avoid a court case? Have you taken action against those people? Have you started any libel suits against any editorials that have said that this decision was made by the government and the ministers to avoid a court case? Have you started any libel action against those people? Have you issued a writ suing any of those people for libel when they've said publicly that you and your cabinet colleagues made this decision to avoid going to court? Have you seen a lawyer? Do you intend to see a lawyer? Do you intend to issue a writ for libel? Brave talk, puffball.
The minister stands up and says to my colleague: "You go outside and say that. I'm going to do something about it." Okay. Mr. Toughie: okay, Mr. Hardnose. You go out there in the hallway and tell the world that you intend to issue libel writs against those people who wrote in editorials that the reason you made that decision was to avoid a court case. You're not going to do that. Do you know why you're not going to do it? because that's why the decision was made. There was no way you were going to go to court. The newspapers knew it. They wrote it in editorials. They called your bluff. And you stand up here and posture and say that you're going to go in the hallway and do this and that. They've called your bluff. they said in editorials that it stinks, They said in editorials that it was political. Have you issued a writ against them for that? Come on, Mr. Hardnose. Come on, Mr. Tough Guy. You stand up here and make statements against the member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich), and you haven't got the guts to go in the hallway and say that you re going to issue a writ and sue people who made those accusations. Don't come in here....
MR. CHAIRMAN: I ask the hon. member now speaking to please be parliamentary when he addresses another hon. member of the House.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, to the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Food: smooch! I got his attention.
AN HON. MEMBER: Are you kissing again?
HON. MR. BARRETT: Well, who kissed whom. for what, to get this land out of the ALR? That's what we want to know. And where, and how often? Because it didn't happen by accident. You come in here and give us that....
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MR. BARRETT: You know, the last guy you should be talking to is him. The cops were on him with a land deal. That one stunk. I remember the cops having to chase after him with his promises in the ALR. Do you remember that one? That's why you're not in the cabinet. That's why the AttorneyGeneral, as you said, saved you. The AttorneyGeneral of this province admitted, through that man's mouth, that you were saved by the AttorneyGeneral. That's what was happening. That's what happens in British Columbia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We are discussing the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Food.
MR. BARRETT: Yes, we're talking about the minister's estimates, agricultural land, and investigations on bribery and promises. When that member was investigated about land, he said to the press: "I was saved by the AttorneyGeneral." That's what he said.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's unacceptable. Order, please. We are in the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Food. That does not leave us room to discuss the estimates or actions of another minister. If the member will refrain from talking of another minister's estimates, the committee will be well served.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, we're talking about agricultural land. There were serious charges made about a member promising to get land out of the reserve. When those charges were investigated, under this estimate, and that member was under suspicion, he said to the press: "The AttorneyGeneral saved me." It's a matter of record.
I'll just leave that one for a minute. If you want to interrupt again, we'll bring it up again. Now we'll go back to the minister.
HON. MR. HEWITT: Don't pick on us. You're mean.
MR. BARRETT: I don't want to pick on you. You're so arrogant.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. That is unparliamentary.
MR. BARRETT: Arrogance is unparliamentary? It certainly is unparliamentary. I ask the minister to stop being arrogant.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, that's further unparliamentary. Please, the Chair has advised all members of the committee that we must be courteous and parliamentary when we're referring to another member of this committee. I'm sure the hon. member is well aware of that.
MR. BARRETT: From the Vancouver Province of Tuesday, October 20, 1981: "Gloucester Properties has been given the green light to proceed with its 253hectare, 626acre industrial development in Langley, just days before it was to take the B.C. government to court on the issue."
We know what was going on. They were afraid to go to court. Now, Mr. Chairman, tell me, in our experience, what kind of people are afraid to go to court? People who are saved — by their own words — by the AttorneyGeneral? Who's afraid to go to court?
MRS. WALLACE: People who have something to hide.
MR. BARRETT: People who have something to hide. That's what the member said, Mr. Chairman, and I agree with her. If there was a mess created by this government, if there was a court case put up by Gloucester estates, if the matter was going to be heard by an impartial court, who would be afraid to go to court? The member has said it correctly: people who have something to hide. Mr. Chairman, that minister admitted what he had to hide when he made the announcement and said that the decision was political.
You talk about 19 parcels and 32 titleholders. What a bunch of nonsense! If that could be turned into fertilizer, we'd put the nitrate business right out. If you could produce fertilizer out of that hot air, Mr. Minister, we could bag it, we'd settle a deficit and we could pay for those tunnels up north and every cockamamey scheme of this government. Nineteen parcels and 32 titles. Does a parcel make it nonagricultural land? Does a title make it nonagricultural land? Did the commission suggest that any one of those parcels should come out? Not on your life. I started out by saying it stinks. It stinks, and you were afraid to go to court and deal with it. You admitted it was a political decision. You made the whole agricultural land reserve become the pet plaything of the Socred government. What cabinet minister did you talk to about it? Come on, fess up. Tell us! Was it the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (Hon. Mr. McClelland)? The member, at the committee, gave that impassioned appeal to the ELUC about it, didn't he? We know what his position was. Did he have any influence with you, Mr. Chairman? What influence did the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources have with you? Tell us about that, will you?
AN HON. MEMBER: Why didn't he vote?
MR. BARRETT: Why didn't he vote? After he knew it was going through, he made a very pious statement about it, but he didn't vote. Here it is, on a nice, quiet afternoon, 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday toward the end of May. This thing will all blow over. Mr. Chairman, I want to ask the minister how you fix it up. If Gloucester has their property out, how does another farmer fix it up to get his out? Would you tell me that? What's the procedure? How do you go to the minister and say: "Mr. Minister, the commissioners have turned down my property; what do I have to do for you to fix it up? What did Gloucester do to fix it up? What did the Moffat family do to fix it up? What's the fixup procedure? Could you tell us that, Mr. Minister? What is it that makes it a fixup okay with those two but not others? Who do you go to about getting a fixup? What is it that makes it political? Would you tell us how many cabinet ministers get involved in making that decision? Will you tell us why you avoided going to court? What did you have to hide? Come on, let us in on this little game. Don't stand up and give us that stuff about "go into the hallway, and I'll sue you." You've got enough there in editorials and newspaper articles to sue till kingdom come if you believed that they were telling wrong things about you. You haven't issued one writ. You haven't sued anybody. This government is quick to drop writs all over the place at any mention of any kind of suspicion. Not one writ has been dropped. You get up here and posture in your estimates that you are going to do something. I would scratch for an answer too, but you're not going to find it under there.
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MR. BARRETT: That is all gone too, and I know how you lost that. That went with your conscience.
I have asked a series of questions of the minister. I would like him to answer every one of them right now. If you don't like it, I'll go in the hallway and you can sue me. Let's go and talk about Gloucester in court. You and I can do that. Let's get a subpoena. I'll say what I've got to say in the hallway and you say it and then we'll go to court over Gloucester. We'll call all the witnesses in the court. We'll call the Premier, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (Hon. Mr. McClelland), you and everybody on the commission. Come on. Let's have a field day in court. Do you want to go to court so much? My eye, you want to go to court. The last place you want to go to on this piece of property is court. You might go to Hawaii. You might not go to Arizona because of other problems, but the last place you want to go on this issue is the court. Don't kid the troops.
AN HON. MEMBER: He'd have to put his hand on the Bible there.
MR. BARRETT: That would curl his hair again if he had to do that.
You stand up and tell us in this House that you're absolutely certain that the owners of that property have never given money to the Social Credit Party. Tell us that.
MR. SEGARTY: Does Jack Munro give it to you?
MR. BARRETT: A lot of people donate money to the New Democratic Party, and they're eligible to get a tax receipt.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The member for Kootenay (Mr. Segarty) will come to order.
MR. BARRETT: The address for donations to the New Democratic Party is 517 East Broadway. We're not ashamed of receiving donations from anywhere.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Vote 5. Please continue on vote 5, the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Food.
MR. BARRETT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for protecting me. That savage attack was pretty threatening. If I touched a nerve on the back bench, I apologize for that.
Do you want to go to court? If you are so ready to debate this, how come you ran away from the subpoena? I can see you now. You saw the sheriff and you took off like a bolt of lightening. You tried to get in the chamber but the House was closed, so the way to avoid it was to take the land out and get Gloucester to drop their suit.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. BARRETT: Don't throw him out, Mr. Chairman. He's a new member and doesn't know the rules. I'm going to speak on his behalf. Five years ought to do it.
Will the minister please get up and define to us what he meant by political decision that was tough to make?
HON. MR. HEWITT: I'd be pleased to respond to that comment. I guess I'm classed as a politician, and my involvement is in politics. The Land Commission's involvement is with the agricultural land reserve of this province. If I made the statement that it was a political decision, I was enforcing the fact that as a politician in making a decision with regards to a recommendation to cabinet, which I did, I did it as a politician. I guess that could be construed as political.
But I smile when I hear the vicious attack of the Leader of the Opposition. He runs into this chamber and has no substance to his argument, but carries on. I have to admit that he's a great political performer, if I can use the word political. He attacks MLAs. He uses the comments across the floor. He goes into the fact that contributions are being made. He doesn't want to give any details. Then he makes the statement — I found this one humorous — that a lot of people contribute money to the NDP. I'd like to say to him that a lot more people supported the Social Credit Party in 1975, 1979 and for years to come. 'We have more support than he's got, and no political ties.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I ask the minister to come to order. We are dealing with the estimates. Your point has been well made.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, I asked the minister a whole series of questions, and he got up and played politics with me. I was almost deflected from my aim. Look at the minister. Look at the Premier. He's brought in Soviet laws and now he's reading their magazines. Any government that could arbitrarily take land out of the land reserve knows how the Soviets work. Any government that understands how arbitrary powers are used would subscribe to Soviet Life. He's learning right where it all happens. There he is right there, Mr. Chairman. He's put the pictures away. That was subscribed to by your father and passed on to me, and now you're reading it in the House.
I ask the minister: what other cabinet ministers discussed this with you before the decision was made? Would you tell us that? What other cabinet ministers did you talk to before the decision was made?
HON. MR. HEWITT: As the Leader of the Opposition knows, cabinet decisions are just that: cabinet decisions. I want to read from my statement to the press: "Considering all the factors involved, I recommended to my colleagues, and they have agreed, that there is not sufficient cause to Place this land in the agricultural land reserve." I believe that should answer all the questions the Leader of the Opposition would have. It was my recommendation, which my colleagues accepted.
MR. BARRETT: The minister raised the question of 13 parcels with 32 titles. Did the Land Commission recommend any of those be pulled out?
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HON. MR. HEWITT: The Leader of the Opposition is being repetitious. He has already asked that question, and my answer was no. The agricultural land commissioners were dealing with the Gloucester Properties — a total of 642 acres, I believe — and they recommended that that land be placed in the agricultural land reserve again. I can only say to the Leader of the Opposition that they have somewhat of a restriction in that they deal with the agricultural capabilities of the land in question. Both their report and the consultant's report recognized some of the limitations involved in that land, but overall they did recommend that it go in as a parcel.
MR. BARRETT: I appreciate the minister's saying that they recommended it go in as a parcel. Why did you bring up the 19 parcels and 32 titles in the first place? You're the one that brought that up. You brought that up just to throw a little dirt around on the land. The minister has admitted that the commission said: "Leave it alone." That's what they said all 19 parcels and all separatetitle parts of it.
The other question I asked you is: what does another person do who wants his land out of the reserve in a situation similar to Gloucester's? How do they, fix that up so it comes out? Will you tell us that?
MR. BARRETT: Don't say: "Where do they send their cheque?" That's a terrible thing to say. I wouldn't say that. I asked, how do they fix it up, how do they get to the minister, like Gloucester did.
HON. MR. HEWITT: I resent the comment: "How do they get to the minister, like Gloucester did?" I find that somewhat objectionable. I want to repeat to the Leader of the Opposition that the commission dealt with the 642 acres presently owned by Gloucester Properties. That is their mandate, and they're addressing that question as though the ownership could and would continue because they're dealing with a point in time.,
The determination to leave that in the agricultural land reserve would not restrict the owners, Gloucester Properties, from selling off 32 separate titles to individual property owners. That isn't a question that the Land Commission dealt with. But looking at it in broader scope you could see that happening, and thereby the viability of a large acreage would not be obtainable because of reduction in lot size. In some cases the individual lots would range, as I said earlier, anywhere from class 2 to class 7. As a result, you have that intermix of soils, topography, pondage, etc., on which you could not have a viable farm.
MR. BARRETT: It is funny that at no time did the commission see that as a problem. They saw it as one parcel owned by Gloucester. Gloucester at no time made an attempt to peddle it off with all the titles they had bought to acquire it. Once it was brought together there was no move to split it up. You are bringing in a specious argument. It was not even valid. It has nothing to do with it. Now I ask you this question, which you keep on avoiding: how did Gloucester make a case to you that was different? What was their approach, their technique? How were they able to get you to overrule the recommendation of all the commissioners? What is the process to, enable that to happen, so that other people can get the same fixup that Gloucester did? Tell us that.
HON. MR. HEWITT: I am not sure what the hon. Leader of the Opposition is implying by saying "fixup," but I at no time was involved with Gloucester Properties in any discussions. My involvement, as minister, was to take the amount of detail that was made available to me from the hearings, the Land Commission and the agrologist's report and to put forward information to cabinet to determine — as is their role under the act — whether or not the land should be placed in the agricultural land reserve. That is the involvement I had. I can tell you it took a considerable amount of time to go through the various reports and material in order that I could get a grasp on the situation and make a recommendation that I felt was warranted in this case.
MR. BARRETT: How did this case just happen to come to your attention before you had to go to court on it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Dewdney rises on a point of order. I can recognize you, hon. member, but you'll have to use your microphone.
MR. MUSSALLEM: All a member can do, Mr. Chairman, is rise in his place, which I've done three times now. I'm prepared to let the Leader of the Opposition continue, but I think you should look down at this end of the table occasionally.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The point is well taken.
MR. BARRETT: Normally in the flow in committee we continue the question to finish it.
MR. BARRETT: I too would be embarrassed about this. I find it most amusing that the same fellow who rushes in to defend the minister is that same poor woebegone, overabused member for Dewdney (Mr. Mussallem), who was told to get in and interrupt and interfere.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The hon. member for Dewdney rises on a point of order.
MR. MUSSALLEM: I need no help from the Leader of the Opposition. I take offence at his remarks, and I ask him to withdraw. He doesn't know what he's talking about anyway, but I'll take my opportunity to reply to some of the things he has said when I'm recognized.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The hon. member for Dewdney has made a good point, and that is that we are not allowed to make personal allusions about another hon. member. I'm sure the hon. Leader of the Opposition is aware of that parliamentary convention and tradition. I ask the member now speaking, and all members, to remember that in debate in this Legislative Assembly temperance, moderation and courtesy are always factors.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, I recognize that temperance, moderation and courtesy are the hallmarks of this Legislature. That's why I was shocked at the interruption from the member for Dewdney.
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The minister has yet to explain how it was that this case came to his attention just before the government cabinet ministers had to go to court over this. I ask the minister what was so special about this case that the minister decided he would intervene before the courts heard the merits of it one way or the other. I ask the minister: did he get legal advice to make this decision to avoid the subpoena and going to court?
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. Mr. Gardom moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:54 p.m.