1982 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 1982
[ Page 8039 ]
Mineral Amendment Act –– 1982 (Bill 33). Discharged.
Hon. Mr. McClelland –– 8039
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Energy. Mines and Petroleum Resources. (Hon. Mr. McClelland)
On vote 29: resources management program –– 8039
On the amendment to vote 29 –– 8039
On vote 30: B.C. Utilities Commission –– 8039
On the amendment to vote 30 –– 8039
On vote 30: B.C. Utilities Commission –– 8040
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Education. (Hon. Mr. Smith)
On vote 22: minister's office –– 8040
Hon. Mr. Smith
TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 1982
The House met at 9:30 a.m.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to withdraw a bill.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: I move it be resolved that the order for second reading of Bill 33, intituled Mineral Amendment Act, 1982, be discharged.
Orders of the Day
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Davidson in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENERGY,
MINES AND PETROLEUM RESOURCES
Vote 28: minister's office, $212,539 — approved.
On vote 29: resource management program, $22,333,208.
MR. D'ARCY: Mr. Chairman, we have looked in these votes, and we will be looking in all the other votes, at the fat, waste and irresponsible increases in certain aspects of government spending.
Looking at vote 29, we see substantial amounts of money set aside for such things as consulting services, travel costs, new furniture and equipment, advertising and publications, data processing and building occupancy charges. We are not objecting to these expenditures as they relate to last year's costs. However, we certainly object in this year of restraint — the government, not the opposition, has declared it a year of restraint — to substantial increases in these amounts.
I therefore move that vote 29 be reduced by $291,439.
Amendment negatived on the following division:
YEAS –– 21
NAYS — 27
Mr. Howard requested that leave be asked to record the division in the Journals of the House.
Vote 29 approved.
On vote 30: B.C. Utilities Commission, $2,595,367.
MR. D'ARCY: As with votes 28 and 29, the opposition does not object to the substantial funds set aside in these votes for consulting fees, travel costs, furniture, advertising and so forth, provided that those sums do not exceed the substantial amounts allotted for these purposes last year. Therefore I move that the funding for these purposes provided to the Utilities Commission for the 1982-83 fiscal year be reduced by the amount of $41,825.
On the amendment.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: I am extremely surprised at this amendment and will be voting against it. I just point out that there is a substantial reduction in the total amount approved for the B.C. Utilities Commission in vote 30 this year over last year. Last year the commission was organizing and it was necessary to hurriedly hire a number of people, This commission is going to be extremely important over the next year and in the future to ensure that B.C.'s energy requirements are met and in a way in which the public can afford.
I'm surprised at this motion — a little bit, anyway. We'll be voting against it, Mr. Chairman.
MR. HOWARD: Following what the minister has just said, I think the record should show in some detailed sense what is proposed here. Under this particular vote office expenses are to be increased by 25 percent, travel expenses by 22 percent, office furnishings by 23 percent and advertising by 10 percent. Those are the increases that we seeking to cut back to last year's expenditure. Not this business about the minister saying that the total vote has been reduced. He had decided to cut back somewhere. We're just suggesting to him that a 25 percent increase in office expenses, a 22 percent increase in travelling expenses, a 23 percent increase in office furnishings and a 10 percent increase in advertising are inappropriate in this particular year of so-called restraint. That's what is sought to be cut back.
HON. MR. McCLELLAND: I'd also just like to have put on the record that all during last year we advertised for staff for the B.C. Utilities Commission. I might say that it's difficult these days, especially during times of high housing costs, to attract people to come to British Columbia, certainly into the urban areas. Now that we've hired a number of people, it’s necessary to provide them with both office space and furniture. As for increased travelling, I guess the members opposite are saying that they don't want us to hold hearings in the communities most affected — Trail, Nelson, Fort St. John — and, with the pipeline hearings coming up, on Vancouver Island. I think what's being asked of us is that we now isolate the B.C. Utilities Commission from the people of British Columbia and hold all the hearings in Vancouver, and let the people travel. We don't believe in that. We believe in having the commission go to the people, so they can have that opportunity.
MR. HOWARD: We certainly know that the minister loves to travel. That's been identified very adequately in the last little while.
[ Page 8040 ]
Let's point out again — never mind the increases — the absolute amount of money.... The minister would have us believe that by seeking to cut back to what the budget was last year, there would be no opportunity for the commission to travel. That's absolute rot; the minister is telling the House something which is not in accordance with the facts.
For office expenses, even if we cut back to last year, there would be an amount of $40,000; for travelling expenses, if we were to cut back to last year's amount, $97,450 would be left for travelling — available to hold hearings in Trail and elsewhere; for office furnishings, if we cut back to last year, there would still be an amount of $22,725; and for advertising, if we reduced it to what it was last year, there would still be an amount of $50,000 available.
MR. LAUK: Money out of the back of a truck!
MR. HOWARD: I think more appropriately it might be money out of the side window of a Cadillac — that's the proper symbol for this kind of expenditure.
Amendment negatived on the following division:
YEAS — 21
NAYS — 27
An hon. member requested that leave be asked to record the division in the Journals of the House.
Vote 30 approved unanimously on a division.
An hon. member requested that leave be asked to record the division in the Journals of the House.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: Mr. Chairman, I ask leave to make an introduction.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: We're very honoured today in the House to have a member of the national government with us. I ask the House to welcome the Minister of National Health and Welfare, Hon. Monique Bégin, who is seated on the floor of the House today.
Madame Bégin is here for a very special reason. The Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Nielsen) and I are very pleased to welcome her to British Columbia, and also to pay tribute to the special month, which is being celebrated across this country, in recognition of senior citizens and the work they do across our nation. Today we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the program started under the national administration, known across the country as the New Horizons program. Seated in our gallery today, accompanying Madame Bégin, are the chairman of the Showcase New Horizons Committee in Victoria along with his volunteers and staff members from the New Horizons program.
I'd like to read the names of those volunteers in the gallery. Robert G. Scott is the chairman, and the members are: Art Gardner of Sidney; Velda Skillings of Victoria; Walt Frazer of Victoria; Norm Sinclair of Victoria; Stewart Kidd of Victoria; Trudy Wiens of Victoria; Ken Garland of Victoria; Sheila Demude of Victoria; Pat Fulton, who we all know well from her work with senior citizens and who is regional manager of the New Horizons program; Jeanette Aubin, the project coordinator and another staff member; Joe Zakreski of Victoria, the regional manager of the New Horizons Program.
In welcoming the minister today, Mr. Chairman and members of the House, we welcome the volunteers and staff members, and thank them for the work they do for the seniors in our province. We also pay tribute to those senior citizens who did so much before our time, and who continue to work within this time.
MR. BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, I would like to add our words of welcome to Madame Bégin and wish her well in a very difficult task. Also to the group of volunteers introduced by the minister, and personally and particularly to Ms. Pat Fulton, a prominent British Columbia citizen who has given tremendous leadership to the voluntary role in social services in the health field. It is because of the people serving on that committee and Ms. Fulton that we have our high level of services. It is not often enough that we recognize their sacrifice on our behalf, and I want to add my words of deep appreciation for the work that she and others on that committee have done,
Vote 31: Fort Nelson Indian band royalties agreement, $5,000,000 — approved.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
On vote 22: minister's office, $299,040.
HON. MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, before introducing my estimates I want to add my thanks as well to the committee introduced in the gallery, and to acknowledge the presence of my dear friend, Pat Fulton.
I have pleasure today in introducing the estimates of the Ministry of Education, and in introducing the well-known gentlemen who administer this department and keep me sober: the Deputy Minister, Mr. Jim Carter; Assistant Deputy Minister of Schools, Glenn Wall; Mr. Jack Fleming, the Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of finance, who has just entered. I think members of this House will agree that these officials serve all members of the House in a fair and impartial way, and are very responsive to inquiries.
[ Page 8041 ]
The estimates this year do reflect the new method of financing public schools education, which we introduced in this House and which ultimately became the Education (Interim) Finance Act. It was thoroughly debated and I am not today going to replay that debate. I think it's been demonstrated since this bill and in these estimates that the province has a strong and high commitment to financing public school education and post-secondary education, and has demonstrated that commitment in a time of restraint. The recent months have of course brought landmark changes in educational finance. As a result of those changes, in 47 of the 75 school districts in this province the average homeowner is going to pay less in taxes than he would have paid under the old system; in 23 school districts the average homeowner will actually pay less school tax in real dollars than last year.
Adjustments have been made to the new program, and it is certainly true that there have been reductions in the number of teachers in some districts. In many cases, from the ones I have followed, these were brought about by declining enrolment, and were changes the districts had been contemplating. However, there have been some others. There have been no major reductions in programs, but when school reopens in September we will carefully examine the effects of the restraint program in the Education (Interim) Finance Act.
One thing that the economic climate has done is to present all of us as elected officials, both at the local and provincial level, with a challenge and opportunity to re-examine decision-making, to look at our priorities and plan for the long-term.
I want to make some remarks in my estimates today regarding the new initiatives and directions in education that we will be proposing. I think it is perhaps more appropriate that I deal with that than to discuss what has already been amply discussed in the House under the Education (Interim) Finance Act.
Last June I made public an educational report which followed a provincial series of meetings and public forums on education. Out of that tour a number of educational changes did take place in the field of special education. We made changes to building regulations for schools, introduced two new courses, took text-book initiatives and a firm commitment was made to redraft the public schools act. At the same time the College and Institute Act, which governs the post-secondary part of my ministry, has a provision that requires a review at the end of a five-year period. All the institutions that come under that act at the post-secondary level have been providing statements to the ministry reviewing their position and their raison d'être. Those are coming in now. That has given us a chance to review the post-secondary institutions at the same time as we are reviewing and modernizing the public schools act. We have actually prepared, on the post-secondary side, a mission statement which addresses the major issues of the future in post-secondary education and points some directions. We will be finalizing that and asking for public reaction to it.
[Mr. Mussallem in the chair.]
On the public schools side, again, the draft of a new public schools act has been prepared and will be made public very shortly. We are not just going to attempt a revision of the public schools act. We have also prepared a statement of mandate as part of a White Paper. Some sort of mandate statement was begun in the report that I did last June but we felt that because the mandate of education changes and should change, there should be a statement from the Ministry of Education as to what the mandate of education is and what the General roles of the participants in education are. That should be something that can be updated from time to time. It is not difficult to change a mandate statement, but it seems to take a great deal of time to bring about legislative change. What we intend to do very shortly is to make public both the public schools mandate statement and the draft public schools act, as an exposure bill for comment from the education community for the balance of this year. This will be done with a view to introducing it with whatever changes have been decided on in the legislative session next year so that it will be an exposure bill together with the mandate paper.
The mandate paper is a thoughtful statement of principles and goals in education. The revised School Act will be shaped under those guidelines set forth in the mandate statement. The new School Act will streamline and humanize the old legislation. The present public schools act has served the province well over many years, but even its best friend sitting opposite me would have difficulty in describing it as humanistic or inspiring. For instance, you have to examine that legislation a long way to find any reference to students. It is a functional piece of legislation. but it doesn't really deal with the relationships between students, parents and teachers, and it does not set up the rights and responsibilities of the various groups in the education system. It is proposed in the new act to do those things, to do so quite clearly and to have sections which deal with the rights and responsibilities of students and teachers.
In the mandate statement we will deal with the general goals of education and contrast those with the specific goals of schooling, which include primarily intellectual development. The general goals of education — personal and social development, vocational and consumer skills — are not all achievable by the school. They all have to be achieved with the help of other public agencies: that is, with the help of the community and with the assistance of the home. Although education is a comprehensive lifelong process, schooling deals with more limited, direct objectives that can be reasonably met within the resources of the public education system. So we will differentiate between the specific goals of schooling and the general goals of education.
The specific goals of schooling include primarily intellectual development with the skills that go with that: that is, the skills of reading, writing, speaking and basic knowledge which must be obtained in mathematics, science, the social sciences, the fine and practical arts, which must never be forgotten, and in the humanities, as well as the development of conceptual and analytical skills of learning, and finally the zest for learning, which comes from good teaching. It is also a goal of schooling to develop physical fitness and prepare students also for the world of work. Those, then, are the primary goals of the school; there are a number of secondary goals which are shared with the other agencies that I've mentioned, including the home. The mandate paper will endeavour to set those out clearly and to point directions and will allow for comment from the educational community on those.
The new draft School Act will address these issues and will bring about a fundamental change, modernization and clarification of language, and organizational change in the old statute. As I've said, it will spell out the roles, responsibilities and authority of the various people who operate in
[ Page 8042 ]
the public schools education system. It will also provide an umbrella to cover the new educational finance formula and the financing of schools following the twilighting — if I can call it that — of the Education (Interim) Finance Act at the end of 1984.
Mr. Chairman, in my introduction I should also briefly say a few things about the post-secondary side of my ministry. From the budget standpoint, the grants to the post-secondary institutions, with the inclusion of the funds that were arranged in the estimates book under the employment committee, increased by 12 percent generally, and the funds from general revenue that were budgeted for post-secondary education increased from....
MR. LAUK: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, the minister has referred to a mandate statement. I thought it would be released today. Otherwise the minister is simply not entitled to start commenting on a document that is not available to members of the committee. I don't know how long the hon. minister has to be in this House to learn the proper procedures. I take it the minister is going to table it in the House; or what is the procedure the minister intends? To start chatting about an important document, then to go to other material without providing copies to members of the committee, quite surprises me. In any event, it's a breach of the rules of the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Chair takes note of the remarks, but I think we should wait until the minister concludes his remarks.
HON. MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I thought the member would be glad to hear me discuss the general nature and purpose of the mandate statement. I'm pleased that he is anxious to receive it, and it will be made public in short order. I do not propose to read or quote from it or to refer to it directly; I was trying to give the members of the House some general idea of its purpose and the kinds of things that we intend to set out in that statement. But I appreciate his interest in it.
MR. LAUK: Well, unfortunately we've heard your intentions before.
HON. MR. SMITH: Maybe, hon. member, you could do me the courtesy of allowing me to make my introductory statement. I'm sure you'll be on your feet a number of times, and we can discuss that matter.
The post-secondary priorities this year, as far as funding is concerned, are in the following order. Firstly, direct career technical programs and vocational programs, including apprenticeship, is the number one priority. The next priority, which is of great importance, is the university transfer program, with the proviso that it should be maintained within a geographic region. In some regions, of course, students have a number of choices of post-secondary institutions; others in the interior and the north do not. The next priority beyond the career technical and vocational programs and the university transfer program is adult basic education and related programs. Thirdly, we have the academic and general education programs. The fourth priority is in structural and administrative support services.
The council that allocates the funds this year, which the Legislature is now being called upon to consider and vote on, as members of the committee know, is the Academic Council. This year the allocations proposed to that council were up by 13 percent. The proposed allocations of the Occupational Training Council are up 20.6 percent. The Management Advisory Council's allocations are up 10.7 percent.
One of the difficulties in the allocation system in the post-secondary field is that the budgets for the various institutions and colleges have to be set at a time when the estimates of the ministry are either not known or have just been made public. It does cause difficulties in budgeting.
I'm happy this year to note that a great deal of work was done by all institutions in the field of budgeting prior to the announcements of the proposed budgets, and that institutions were able to accommodate themselves to the restraint program in the post-secondary field with, I think, a considerable amount of ease and good grace. The ministry has made some adjustment funds available for contract increases in excess of the guidelines that were entered into prior to the restraint program. Generally speaking, the post-secondary institutions were very well prepared and ready for the adjustments that took place.
On the post-secondary side of my ministry, as well as on the school side, attempts have been made by all the institutions, as I said earlier, to formulate reviews and to assess their roles, as required under the act. The ministry itself has produced a mission statement which addresses some of the major issues that confront the post-secondary system.
I would just mention very briefly two issues which I think are of great importance to the post-secondary institutions in the 1980s. One of those is the issue of accessibility. Accessibility is a subject on which people have divergent views. As a government, our position on accessibility is and will continue to be that the post-secondary system will strive for equity in the provision of opportunities for British Columbians for post-secondary education. Having said that, of course, you recognize that in this vast province, with the various institutions on the post-secondary side that have been established, it may be very difficult for a community college in the north to provide physical and geographical access to a student who may live 600 or 700 miles from the educational centre of that college, although he may live within the college region. So we have constantly to be taking steps to reduce all physical barriers to education. There was a trend in the last five years or so to establish a number of satellite centres for community colleges throughout the region. That is one way of reaching out. There are other ways of reaching out which may be more effective and realistic in the future than trying to duplicate, in a small way, the major campuses of these colleges in every community: that is, to use outreach programs, teaching vans and other mobile means of getting into remote communities. This is done most effectively in the community college system of North Island, as the member opposite who is interested in that college knows. Another way of dealing with the question of access in the 1980s, as I see it, will be the increased use of distance learning through the Open Learning Institute, and also through the agency of the Knowledge Network.
In order to ensure access to the post-secondary system, the system will provide maximum access to places in priority programs. I say priority programs because it will not be possible to guarantee, to any student at any time within the limits of our resources, that any program he wishes to have at a community college or post-secondary institution will be
[ Page 8043 ]
available. To try to hold out that sort of promise would be a snare and a delusion.
The other issue in the post-secondary field of education which will be important in the mission statement and in the 1980s is the subject of comprehensiveness. What is the role of a community college? Is the community college supposed to be all things to all students, or is it supposed to provide opportunities in specialized areas as well as providing general programming in the career vocational area and university transfer area? Should one institution specialize in aviation, as is the case today? Should one or two institutions within a region where there are four or five institutions specialize in health-science training and nursing, while the others, being generally comprehensive, specialize perhaps in some other career, technical or vocational fields?
In the growth period of the 1970s we have not really addressed these issues. We have tried to duplicate in many community colleges programs that exist in a neighbouring college or institution. If we're going to provide services to students in times of high career and technological training needs we must re-examine our theory of comprehensiveness, as well as our theory of access.
With those general remarks I commend the estimates, which provide, on the school side and the post-secondary side, increases of 12 percent and upwards, which at a time of restraint are extremely generous and adequate estimates.
MR. GABELMANN: I have a few, I hope brief, comments this morning on these estimates. In many ways the main debate on education this session took place during the debate on the interim — I hope it is interim — act. I think many of us on this side have said many of the things that would ordinarily have been said during this estimate debate. However, there are a number of issues I want to raise with the minister for general consideration over the next while as he continues in the administration of that ministry, all to do with the public school system, and not his responsibilities with post-secondary.
The first thing is that I want to thank the minister, publicly and for the record, for the way he responded to the Vancouver Island West School Board's series of requests for capital project funding. While I haven't had a chance to sit down with the board since that decision was made, I feel reasonably certain that they are happy with that series of decisions concerning capital allocations in that district. The minister is well aware of the needs, and I think he responded to those needs admirably. I just want to say out loud: thank you for that. It is not all thank yous this morning, but in that case it is.
In debating education in general in the Legislature one has to be very careful not to get caught up in the obvious problem relating to local autonomy. I for one am very committed to as much local autonomy as possible in the education system. So to stand up in the Legislature and call for the minister to do a variety of things could well be contradictory. I hope this morning to avoid that trap, which is easy to fall into in this place. I really do believe that whenever there is any question about whether a decision could be made locally or provincially and centrally, I think that decision should be made locally. Children's educational needs vary considerably from region to region in this province. I think that the people best able to make judgments about those needs and decisions are in fact the locally elected people. Having said that, I do want to make a few comments.
During the debate on the amendments to the financing formula earlier this session, I made a point which I want to reiterate today. That is that the percentage of kids in rural schools going on to post-secondary education is dropping dramatically. I am doing this from memory, but I think the figures are roughly in the low thirties, percentage-wise, for kids from urban schools going on to post-secondary. In rural schools the figure is in the low twenties. There is a dramatic difference between the ability of rural kids to go on to post-secondary education as compared to that of urban kids. This wasn't always so. The figures were fairly close 10, 15 and 20 years ago, when rural kids went on to university in roughly the same proportion as urban. That no longer is the case. I think that, apart from stating the obvious fact of the numbers, some serious attention should be given by the ministry to the problem, so that either we can find out why and address those problems, or, if there are some good reasons.... Maybe too many people are going on to some kind of post-secondary, I don't know. Maybe that is a natural thing for urban kids to do, and maybe they shouldn't be. That could be part of the reality as well. Whatever the case, there is a serious discrepancy between rural and urban kids, and I think that some attention should be paid to that by the minister.
I again want to make a plea for those school districts which have large geographical areas and quite a number of small schools — one or often two rooms with 10, 12, 15 or 20 kids and one teacher. The costs for school boards in trying to operate those kinds of school districts are really quite extraordinary. I don't think that many members of this House, or people who live in urban areas who aren't familiar with the rural school districts in this province, have any understanding of the quite significant added costs that are incurred by school districts having a multitude of one-room schools. It is not just a cost to the school board in financial terms; it is a very real cost to the kids because of the obvious inability of that education system to provide a comparable education. Because we can't and don't provide that kind of education in those settings, we are saying to a lot of families with kids who go out and work in these parts of our province: "Either you have to send your kids off to a bigger centre and board them out" — which many parents do — "or you have to leave and find a job elsewhere." In these economic times the option of leaving and finding a job elsewhere is not very realistic. For many parents the option of having their kids board out with families in a bigger centre is not very realistic either because of the cost of doing so at a time when money isn't that plentiful. As a result, there is a very significant drop in the standard of education available to people who live in isolated areas — whether they are in logging camps or small communities; whether they are on northern Vancouver Island or in other parts of this province. I think that the ministry, in allocating funding to school districts, should be particularly aware that in bad economic times these problems are more acute and need to be handled with more care and, in fact, with more cash.
In the same respect, the J budget part of financing is really a crucial element in the small districts. I mentioned earlier in the other debate we had on education this session that kids in a lot of these schools don't see computers. They don't have the facilities the rest of the province takes for granted. They don't even have libraries in many of these places. In the Vancouver Island West School District they don't even have a resource centre, much less libraries, in five of their schools. It's not just that kids in those schools are
[ Page 8044 ]
growing up without any contact with computer technology or computers themselves; in many cases they're not even having reasonable contact with books. If there's one central, basic element in education for me, it's books. There's a real problem in that respect. I urge that the minister and his staff, when considering requests for funding for these kinds of items, even though I know that under the rules you've established local payment for these kinds of items under the J budget.... What I'm trying to say — I know I can't call for legislation, so I'm trying to walk this thin ice of keeping in order here without calling for legislation which would amend the current procedure — is that the minister should consider, particularly with the new finance formula, that these needs are not able to be met locally. The kids are the ones who suffer.
I want to mention a program that isn't the direct concern of the Minister of Education yet, but hopefully will be. It's a program which the Ministry of Human Resources funds called the CHANCE program. In the Vancouver Island North School District, 11 special attendants — or special aides, whatever the term might be — have been employed by the school district, but funded by the Ministry of Human Resources. The program, in its technical nature, calls for those people to be hired to assist kids who can't do very basic things like dress themselves, provide self-medication, or go to the washroom on their own, or who are not ambulatory and need assistance in moving around.
The program has been applied rather liberally in that district. Everybody up there appreciates that. It's now under the threat of being cut back because the technical requirements of the CHANCE program are not being met by the children covered under the program. These include kids who have Down's Syndrome, kids who are blind and kids who have very severe difficulties. What they're being faced with is losing that special attendant and care. That is an educational function. A kid who can't dress himself or herself and is severely handicapped in many ways is being assisted, in fact, to learn. It's an educational activity. I think the minister should consider, if Human Resources does make the decision to end its funding of these kinds of services, replacing them with education grants. In a philosophical sense, I would argue that those should be education dollars anyway, because even though it's a personal-attendant kind of service, it's still a learning process for the kids. How do you divide between personal attending and learning? It's all a learning process, and I think it should be part of the education system.
People in Vancouver Island North School District, in particular, are facing some severe problems with special education. This is all sort of linked into the special education program, inasmuch as out of the 40 special education teachers currently employed, 36 of whom are full-time and four of whom are part-time, the board is laying them all off, and in September expects to be able to hire 18. That means that some very important programs are going to be eliminated. Some of those 18 special education program teachers who will be rehired in September are going to be indirectly funded through DIA, because there is a large Indian population. There will be a very minimal provincial contribution towards special education in that district. Of all the school districts with which I've had any experience, including the three in North Island, the one I went to school at in Okanagan South and the North Vancouver district that I represented a few years ago, I have never seen the need for special education as clearly obvious as it is in Vancouver Island North, for a variety of reasons. Rural frontier communities have a variety of problems that don't exist or don't show themselves in more established, traditional areas. They include a high level of transiency, of alcoholism; they include a lot of social and economic problems that I'm not going to go into at great length at this point. The results of those kinds of living situations are that an incredibly large number of children need special assistance and special education. In that district, more than half of the special education programs and teachers will no longer be there come September. A combination of Ministry of Human Resources activity, the restraint program and the finance formula has meant there isn't enough money there to do the kinds of things that are absolutely essential.
I want to say this from a philosophical point of view: if there is one element in the education system that I think should not be cut back in bad times, it's special education. It's seen as a frill by people who are not directly involved in it. It's seen as a frill by parents whose kids are in the mainstream and have no particular difficulties. It's an expensive part of the education system, but it is the cheapest thing we can do as a society, in the sense that we will prevent untold spending in later years in terms of crime, in terms of a whole variety of social behaviour that will result from a failure to deal with these kids in a proper way at an early age. Special education plays that role in a very real way in every school district, but I cite particularly the case of Vancouver Island North. I think we're going to suffer cutbacks that are unconscionable, to say the least.
A couple of other things very quickly. There seems to be an increasing tendency for school boards to kick kids out of school when the school can't deal with them. I can't think of anything designed less to help a child's education and to deal with bad behaviour, whatever that bad behaviour might be, or to deal with a child who is disruptive in the school, than to say, after a suitable number of warnings and suitable procedures: "Okay, the answer is to kick you out of school." The answer, in fact, is to make sure we keep that kid in school, perhaps in a non-disruptive setting. To kick those kids out of school is, in my judgment, as brutal as the old idea of corporal punishment. If corporal punishment was the issue of ten years ago, and we've dealt with that, then I think some time and attention should now be spent on what I see as just as important an issue: that is, the brutality of kicking kids right out of the school system. What does that teach them about behaviour? What does that force them to do in terms of modifying their own response to their own difficulties? I know it's expensive to deal with it in an internal way, but I suspect it's a lot cheaper than putting those kids on the street, which we do in too many cases.
On an entirely separate issue, I still can't believe that in Vancouver Island North, three of the seven school trustees are not elected by democratic ballot. The minister knows, I think, that the School Act provides for what could be described as the tea party election. I hope the minister knows about this dreadful section of the School Act, which he's responsible for. In that district it allows for neighbourhood meetings, in effect. People in various communities get together, and whoever shows up can elect a school trustee without having gone to the public on a vote. I understand why that happened in the old days, maybe 50, 60 or 70 years ago, when transportation and communication links weren't well established, and it was necessary to elect trustees in an unconventional method, or at least unconventional according to modern standards. This is section 34 (2) of the School Act,
[ Page 8045 ]
incidentally. But the fact is that we're still doing that now and three of the seven trustees in Vancouver Island North are not elected at large, not elected by popular democratic suffrage, not elected by the ballot box, but are in fact elected when each community gets together and selects one person to be the trustee. They all got together, and from amongst themselves pick the person who's going to be the trustee. It led to a very bad situation, in my judgment, last time in one particular part of that school district where a person who had been a school trustee in another district in earlier years wanted to run for the school board and was told, erroneously, that she couldn't run. She didn't run and, as a result, isn't on the board but might well have been if the public had been allowed to vote.
I am not calling for an amendment to the legislation, because I can't do that in this debate. While it is clear that the School Act should be amended and this section should be eliminated — I think everybody in this House would agree to that — the minister, as I understand it, can order that elections in the normal manner take place in those kinds of areas and that this old-fashioned horse-and-buggy method not be used. I would urge the minister to consider that, particularly in the school district we are now talking about — Vancouver Island North — which is undergoing enough problems of its own without having full public participation in the selection of school trustees.
The final thing is that I hope the minister will do everything he can to not encourage the Minister of Municipal Affairs (Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm) to introduce a county system into this province which would negate this current school trustee process; which would, in effect, say that in certain areas we will elect people who will be responsible for all of the local government, including planning and regular municipal council business, hospital board, health, education and everything else. I think we need to have separate trustee elections for that. If the minister is engaged in a debate, privately, with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, I do hope he will do his best to make sure that those wild ideas are never brought to fruition in this province.
[Mr. Davidson in the chair.]
HON. MR. SMITH: This member, as usual, has a number of very thoughtful, pertinent things to say about education from the standpoint of his own constituents and generally. The point he makes about the opportunities for rural students is one that has always concerned me and concerns the ministry, because although there is, in theory, equality of opportunity, that theory is never realized in some of the villages and small communities that he represents because the number of students that you can gather together is never enough to run a middle-sized school, let alone to equip it the way you would like to. There is absolutely no doubt that those students get by with less of the essentials — I'm not talking about frills. I agree with him that it is imperative that the new education finance system, after restraint, find ways of taking into account the additional rural and interior costs of education in this province: transportation costs and costs of running a number of small schools that serve isolated communities. It is not fair that those communities, many of which have very small residential tax bases now under the new system, are required to pay for major learning essentials out of their budget. We expect to have an educational index which will benefit smaller high-cost communities and also some form of equalization that will take into account the very low residential tax base that these communities have and not force them to look to a totally residential J account to pay for libraries and computers.
It was known to us that there were troubles in Vancouver Island North with the CHANCE program. We are sending one of our officials into the field to deal with that. From the member's remarks, I will expand that official's mandate to look into the special education system generally in Vancouver Island North. The earlier information we had about Vancouver Island North was not particularly worrying because the earlier information indicated that the existing programs were going to be maintained and that the funding level would be at just under 118 percent over last year's, after restraint. While there were some difficulties with the CHANCE program, it was thought that most of the basic programs were going to be maintained but that the planned expansion would not take place. In view of what the member has said, I will make sure that the ministry looks into the special education program there generally and not just the CHANCE program. Insofar as his remarks are concerned about the CHANCE program, I agree with him that the program is absolutely imperative if we're going to continue to carry out our mainstreaming commitment. You just cannot have that commitment carried out without the provision of aides and attendants to assist the children in getting to school and in attending to their physical needs. Whether that's funded by Human Resources or Education doesn't matter a great deal to me, as long as it's funded and as long as it's there and as long as there is a great deal of educational cooperation and involvement in that program — which, I can assure you, there has been under my tenure. My special education director works very closely with that program, agonizes over it and is very sensitive to how it's administered. Even though it's administered under a different ministry. there is a great deal of cooperation.
What he says about the tea-party election procedure, the public meetings in his district that produced three of the seven trustees.... That is something we have considered under the draft schools act. It seems like a rather delicious anachronism in the modern day. It may well still have some optional value in certain districts, but I tend to agree with what the member said.
MRS. DAILLY: First. I would like to do the same thing as our former speaker from North Island (Mr. Gabelmann): I'd like to give one bouquet to the minister. I congratulate him on taking a firm stand against a number of small, vocal groups who still perceive that the return of the strap to our school system will solve all the problems that all their children face. I was very pleased to see that the minister, after his experience in dealing with the educational world, can understand that unless you have a humane environment in your classrooms you can't expect to develop a humane environment in the adult world. I was very pleased, and I congratulate the minister for taking a firm stand on that.
The debate today, compared to when we were discussing the education bill — which, of course, put severe limitations and restrictions on boards and teachers in this province, not only regarding their money but also their right to make their own decisions, and which was certainly heated.... I believe that at that time the opposition made their reasons for opposition very clear to the minister and the government. The interesting thing to note is that although this debate appears to be somewhat quieter — we don't seem to have too
[ Page 8046 ]
many members on the floor or people in the galleries — I think we must not assume that everyone out there has accepted the new formula of the Minister of Education for handling school financing. I think there is a feeling of disillusionment out there. There is the feeling that, well, this government has made up its mind, despite the fact that the school trustees and the teachers of this province — and many students — have expressed their major concern about the moves taken by this government in education.
We all appreciate the fact that the Minister of Education, as do all ministers across the country today, faces serious problems with the economy being in the situation it is. But we find it most difficult to accept the fact that the Minister of Education can sit by and let his government continue to spend millions of dollars on megaprojects, yet cannot see that if they cut back on school services to children today in 1982 and in the next several years, the ultimate result is going to be very serious for all of society in British Columbia. I cannot understand how that minister, who professes to be concerned about his Education portfolio, could, without a strong fight, allow cutbacks in education.
A commission has been set up by a group of citizens, teachers and trustees to travel around the province and alert people to the dangers of this government's policies on education. One member on that commission said: "Isn't it too bad that education could not be declared a megaproject." I think that delineates very clearly the difference in philosophy between the New Democratic Party and the Social Credit Party of this province. In spite of all the fine words the Minister of Education, his deputies, the Premier, the cabinet and the backbenchers say about how they profess to believe that education is vital and important to the children and students of this province, those words become nothing when you look at their actions. The unfortunate thing is that because of the restrictions this government has seen fit to put on education in this province, the results are going to be seen very shortly, probably before the beginning of next year.
Can I reiterate, on behalf of concerned people, some of our concerns? I hope the minister will at least be able to stand up and give us some reassurance that these things will not come about. Frankly, I see no opportunity for this minister to do anything about them if he has accepted the spending priorities laid down by the Social Credit government of British Columbia.
I think one of the most important and serious things is that boards — even if the minister says he doesn't want them to — are going to have no choice but to cut back on special education services. I think one of the examples we must all be concerned about is the closure of the small classes for children who are severely disturbed with emotional problems. For years, parents, educators, teachers and politicians have fought to recognize the fact that if you start early with a disturbed child, help find out what their problems are and attempt to prevent them, we, in time, will prevent — perhaps; I don't know — an Olson developing, or a man like Hinckley, who recently attempted to assassinate the President of the United States. It's really shortsighted when a government can spent $14,000 on an ad for a hockey game to promote their own political image, and at the same time can allow classes which may stop the development of someone such as an Olson.... I can't understand it. There is no excuse for it. I'm just picking one area. If the Social Credit government persist in their megaproject philosophy and are going to say that education must have severe restraints on it, then so be it on their heads. I intend, and my colleagues intend, to fight this and to continue to fight it. I'm not trying to be overly dramatic. I'm just trying to point out that there is a basic difference in priorities.
There are many other areas that concern me. I'm only expressing a personal opinion on the last matter. I now want to express to the minister the opinion and general reaction of the school trustees of the province to the minister's education finance bill. I think we should get on the record, because this took place after the last debate on the finance bill, the trustees' convention. I would like to pose questions to the minister now, because I realize we are in estimates. It's not a time for a lot of speeches.
To do with the minister's financial bill which he recently brought in — which I know is passed — and the reactions that are going to be forthcoming from it, I want to ask the following questions. Will the minister restore local control of education by guaranteeing to school boards the tax base needed to sustain that control? That is very basic. What the trustees of the province are saying to the minister really is: " You simply must guarantee us a basic tax base so that we can control education in our districts." But at the moment, that is basically being taken away. The school trustees no longer really know how much money they're going to have to operate with. They are asking for a guarantee. I want the minister to explain to the House what guarantee he can give to the school trustees of this province that they are going to have a tax base in the future which will allow them to sustain control. Local control of education is one of the things the Social Credit Party used over and over again to ride to power in the 1975 election. It's so ironic that ever since their election they have done nothing but attempt.... They have not only attempted to, but they have actually centralized education in this province to a degree that we haven't seen since the development of the first school system in the province of British Columbia.
The other thing I would like to ask the minister is: will he rescind all our legislation which gives arbitrary powers to the Minister of Education to make program and funding decisions for which school boards are held accountable to their electors? The school boards of this province are questioning why they are even in existence, if the Minister of Education is going to take unto himself the powers which should be theirs.
The member for North Island (Mr. Gabelmann) asked a specific question of the minister, and I'd like to repeat it. It's on the matter of the county system of government, which one of his cabinet colleagues, the Minister of Municipal Affairs (Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm), is obviously very much in favour of. He wants to establish a county system. Well, we're well aware that once you have a county system of government, you don't need school boards; all you do is appoint a committee to look after schools. Can you imagine appointing someone on a council who is more interested in how you dispose of garbage than he is with education and who could end up making major decisions on education. At least the school trustees run — no matter what party — for school board because they are interested in education. I'd like the minister to give us his opinion on the county system of government and tell us whether he goes along with his colleague the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Also, number three, will the minister guarantee in future legislation — if he can answer that, Mr. Chairman — the criteria by which provincial funds are allocated to school
[ Page 8047 ]
boards? Once again, despite all the calls by the school trustees and the teachers who had hoped that a new formula would at least for once explain to them how they're going to have their funds allocated, the school trustees are left in the dark. They really don't know what the criteria are.
Then, Mr. Chairman, looking at the special grants that were handed out this year — and I'm sure they were welcomed by the districts — I want to ask the minister: upon what specific basis were they handed out? We brought that before the House in the debate on the education bill. We said to the minister that in time you may want to help some of the school boards in difficulty — that's commendable — but the school boards would feel better if they were guaranteed a base for financing their needs rather than a hit-and-miss issuance of grants to fill up some needs for some school boards. Will the minister please tell us what criteria were used for the recent grants?
Mr. Chairman, I have another specific question for the minister and, to change the subject briefly, it has to do not with basic financing but with the centralization of the school curriculum. I noted recently that a contract was awarded for social studies textbooks. Quoting from a release from the minister's office, it says: "Education Minister Smith announced today that Douglas and McIntyre, a Vancouver publisher, has been awarded a major contract to produce social studies textbooks for B.C. schools." Well, what really hits me as I read that is that here we can give to one publisher the right to publish one set of textbooks that all the children in the province are going to have to use. Whatever happened to the decentralization of our textbooks and the use of textbooks so that they could better meet the needs, at least on a regional basis? Is the minister really committed to going back to complete centralization of curriculum? This is apparently what he is intending to do. Here is an actual case where one firm has been given the right to produce all these textbooks, which are going to be presented to all the children of B.C. and which they must use. I wonder if he can explain to us if the intent of the Social Credit Education minister now is to continue with further centralization of textbooks so that no matter where you go in B.C. and to whatever school, every child is reading exactly the same textbook.
Mr. Chairman, not only on the matter of particular textbooks am I concerned that this minister is moving into very detailed and concrete centralization, but I think the whole manner in which the consumer education course was rammed down the throats of the teachers and the school boards of this province is certainly a very major example of centralization. Now the minister may say that there was consultation. But when the minister knew that there was a great deal of resentment of the imposition of this consumer course, I cannot understand why he insisted on persisting with it. I wonder if he could elaborate in detail why he felt this course should be almost forced, shall we say, on the students of this province. Even the independent schools of British Columbia have expressed concern at having to use this. I would be most interested in knowing how the minister answered them and why he insisted on this particular course.
I guess we all would like to touch on what we would like to see in the school system. Just as an aside, if you are going to make anything mandatory, I wish you would give consideration to a mandatory driving course. That, of course, opens up another debate. It should only be mandatory if the majority of the teachers, students, parents and trustees of this province agree that if there is one course that is essential for the majority of the students in this province to take on a mandatory basis, it should be driver training. If there was a minority, I certainly wouldn't push it. I dislike his attitude to the whole matter of "perhaps" encouraging a driver training course throughout the province. I know that we are going to get down to money again, but I simply would like to hear his reaction because I think the money that would be put into such a compulsory course might save millions and millions of dollars in the future when it comes to traffic accidents. I would like the minister's reaction if he would be kind enough to give it.
I always speak to the minister every year during his estimates about something which I feel very strongly about, and that is the whole matter of teenage sexuality and teenage pregnancies. I am still very disappointed that the Minister of Education does not see fit to give a stronger leadership role in this. I know that the minister is going to say: "One moment the member wants local autonomy, and the next moment the member is asking me to impose something." What I am asking the minister to do is to give the leadership to at least move to find out how vitally urgent more courses on teenage sexuality are. Learning how to deal with family life when one becomes an adult is also important. Has he had any requests for such courses to be an integral part of the school system? Does he not feel that such a thing is really needed or does he not feel that the public wants it? I bring it up every year because every year the teenage pregnancies in this province are on the increase. There is obviously something going sadly wrong in our province when the students can go right through our school system and apparently get very little help or assistance on the whole problem of teenage sexuality. I am very concerned that there is nothing coming out of this ministry that seems to show an equal concern. The tragedies of these teenage pregnancies.... There are many babies being born to teenage mothers who are not equipped to look after them and yet many of them insist on keeping them, and no one can deny them that right. Yet many of these young women find that their lives practically end from that time on. Surely the minister feels that he has some responsibility in this area. I would hope so.
I would also like to ask the minister another specific question. I am roaming all over the place, but I do want to keep my role here today right down to questions. I would like to ask him specifically if he does not believe that it would be to the advantage of early childhood education to have the whole area of day care placed under his ministry. I think more and more people are beginning to realize the importance of day care. Very belatedly the Social Credit government has decided to put some extra funds into it, because we know that the Minister of Human Resources (Hon. Mrs. McCarthy) has insisted that young mothers go out to work so now she has found it necessary to endorse day care. Putting that aside, I am hoping that the minister agrees with me that proper day care is an essential part of early childhood education. I wonder if you have had discussions with your colleagues on perhaps placing all day care under your ministry. I really feel that is the place for it, particularly now that you do not have to deal with post-secondary education.
HON. MR. SMITH: It's only universities that I don't deal with.
[ Page 8048 ]
MRS. DAILLY: I am sorry. I am forgetting that you have all the other things. Anyway, you have lost universities, so maybe you could pick up day care at the other end.
Briefly moving on to post-secondary, the other point is that I believe the member says there is going to be a basic examination of post-secondary. I know there are a lot of people in the province who have done a lot of work on the necessary changes to the community college act. I have received a lot of material from them, as I know the minister has. I certainly hope he has tied in with these people who have worked many years at our universities and elsewhere on the problems of better coordination and, perhaps, basic changes to the post-secondary act. I hope the minister will tell us if he is working and giving an opportunity for these groups to meet with his officials. It was quite clear, the way the financial act came out, that the minister didn't pay too much attention to the wishes of the people who wanted some basic changes in the finance formula: trustees, teachers and other interested groups. None of it seems to have come out in his act. I hope when he's looking at post-secondary he will pay more attention to the many people who have expertise in this area. It's a big area which I know I can't get into just at this moment, but maybe later on in the debate we can go into post-secondary questions in more detail.
Finally, at this moment I'd like to ask the minister a question regarding the matter of vocational training of students for jobs. I think we're all aware that at this time when so many young people are out of work, they're also frustrated because they want to get training. They want to be trained to become miners, etc., because they hear that hopefully there are going to be jobs for them somewhere. Yet there seems to be something wrong with the liaison between unions and employers and the ministry. It still seems to be stagnating. I just go by the people who call my own office in my constituency. A young man phoned the other day and said: "I heard I might be able to get a job as a coalminer sometime in B.C. I phoned to see if I could get trained somewhere to be a coalminer, and I found out that the only school provided by the ministry is now closed." I wonder if the minister could explain to us again why the Rossland school was closed for miners, and what is being done in your ministry in coordination with labour.
MR. SEGARTY: You can't teach them coalmining.
MRS. DAILLY: I'd like to hear the minister answer why the school was closed. I talked to a number of people who went there and they felt it was a good course. It's just like learning to be a teacher: you take some classroom work, and you take some on-the-job work. I presume that on-the-job is necessary, but perhaps it wouldn't hurt to not just deal with a pick and shovel.
Mr. Chairman, I'm going to leave those questions for now. I hope that some of your own backbenchers who are interested in mining, anyway, might get up and take part in the debate.
HON. MR. SMITH: I think what I'll try to do, hon. member, is to work backward on them in their order of freshness.
The Rossland Mining School was closed because the industry and Occupational Training Council felt that it was no longer meeting training needs, and was not a method of training young people in mining. The Mining Association recommended that and supported it. It was regrettable that industry-based operator training programs were not only what the companies wanted but also what the students wanted. The enrolment had fallen quite sharply in latter years. That decision was made. It was a sad decision in terms of Rossland and some of the people there who had gotten that program off the ground very early and had supported it through many years. I met two or three very strong supporters of this program from Rossland. I had long discussions with them. I think it simply closed itself down because it became an obsolete way of training in that field.
The next matter you raised with me was whether there would be time for consultation before the legislative changes in the post-secondary field. Absolutely, there will. This mission statement that is being circulated is designed to give us that kind of reaction, and each institution has prepared its own statement as to where it sees itself going. I'm not going to make any immediate or drastic legislative introductions at all in that field. I think that would be premature.
You also invited me to take over, as part of early childhood education, day care. Tantalizing as that invitation is, I don't think that can be accommodated within either the budget of my ministry or the resources of school boards at this time, although I agree with the member that day care is of very major importance.
She also asked me what family life initiatives the ministry was undertaking, whether I believed that we had a responsibility to mandate such directions, and why were we not doing so. Hon. member, my sense of that, when I've been travelling around meeting with parents and boards, is that many people in this province still do not believe that that area should be mandated. Some, of course, feel very differently. I know that a lot of students, interestingly enough, told me that they felt that we should have mandatory family life training, and that we should have that probably as early as grade 7. What I did do was to commence developing a provincial authorized course in family life, which we're working on now. We seconded the coordinator, Kathi Adams, from the Victoria family life program. She spent the year trying to develop from a number of the good local courses a model provincial course that will be available to any school district. We're not at this stage going to mandate it. We're going to just say, here it is, it's the best of what's available locally that has been put together in this, and it's here for your adoption, if you wish. We haven't mandated it, but we've moved to endorse and authorize a course, and to make a good one available. I think that's a step in the right direction.
You asked me about consumer education — why I went ahead with that and why I think it's important. It should be even more obvious today in the current economic climate that students leaving high school have got to have some economic literacy and some knowledge of consumer and financial matters. Many of them, of course, even with the availability of some good business programs, were simply not taking these courses of study. It seemed a very serious lack in a graduate not to have a measure of economic literacy. I quite agree with you that the course of mandating consumer education was a controversial one and that there was a good deal of resistance to it. I have noticed during the past three or four months that with the absolutely superb implementation program that we have launched, and with the very good familiarization teams that have gone into over 20 school districts, and with the excellent programs produced on the Knowledge Network, I started to get a different reaction from teachers and parents.
[ Page 8049 ]
There is now some excitement about the consumer education course. Also, I think it was an improvement not to try to make that program mandatory in grades 11 and 12, which would have restricted choices to some degree, but to spread it out over grades 9 to 12 and allow it to be taken as either a junior or a senior course during those four years.
You also asked me about the social studies curriculum. I would have thought you would have welcomed that, and would have said to me: "It's long overdue. You're finally going to proceed with the long-awaited revision of social studies, and produce the materials in British Columbia through a B.C. company." In your heart of hearts, I think you probably would agree that that is a good move. I don't think your concern about centralization is a serious one. With social studies, about 40 percent of the material can be selected by the teacher from locally developed material, local history, whatever they like. It's only the core material of about 60 percent of the course that has to follow the provincial material, so the teacher has a great deal of scope. In social studies, in any event, the teacher has an enormous amount of scope in its presentation.
What was lacking for a long time in this province — and I'm sure it must have frustrated the member for Burnaby North (Mrs. Dailly) when she had my job — was that the materials for social studies, particularly Canadian history, have been so darned inadequate and have been eastern-produced and -based and have not contained adequate western and British Columbia material. We had to get in and develop some material. Out of 22 publishers across the country, Douglas and McIntyre had the best submission. There were very extensive and objective reviews on the material prepared for us. If you're going to have a publishing firm somewhere in this country undertake a major publishing endeavour like this, you can't just give them grade 1 and somebody else grade 2 and somebody else grade 3, because you just don't get the quality job. We have opted for quality and local British Columbia materials. We have a local British Columbia publisher, and the contract is for grades 1 to 4. We will look at the rest on the basis of the job that is done on 1 to 4. I have seen a lot of their preliminary materials, and I am most impressed with the team of writers and researchers that Carol Langford, a well-known teacher in Vancouver, has put together. I think you will find good things there.
You mentioned the need to ensure that the special education funding remained in place and that we did not cut in that area. Special education funding this year is up about 23 percent over last year. In most districts the increases have been major.
You asked me where I stand on the county system. I stand up to be counted on the county system. I've done that a number of times when I've been out speaking in other bodies. I will just say in a nutshell what I have said elsewhere. I think it is right for the Minister of Municipal Affairs (Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm) to raise another organizational option for local government, and I can see that a county system might work in a few of our very thinly populated, remote parts of the province, where the local people want a county system. The interest that came to me, from an educational standpoint, in the county system came first of all from Fort Nelson, and then there was some interest in the Queen Charlottes. If the people in those regions thought that a county system could work, then I see no reason, on a pilot-project basis in regions like that only, with local consent, why it shouldn't be tried. Having made that proviso, I don't think that the county system generally makes sense across this province from an educational standpoint. Like the member for Burnaby North, I think that school trustees should be elected specifically to deal with public-school educational matters in their area and should not also be expected to deal with municipal government, zoning and hospitals. You will have absolutely no quarrel with me. That is where I stand on that issue.
You asked me a couple of finance questions. Will I restore control to boards by guaranteeing them an adequate tax base? Under the Education (Interim) Finance Act, as you know, they are guaranteed the entire commercial-industrial tax base, which was some $656,000 this year for the four quarters. That is guaranteed to them. The new act will spell that out for the period after restraint. and I think will provide the safeguards that the member and boards are concerned about.
She then asked me if I would, as well, do away with those provisions that give the minister arbitrary powers, as I think she put it, under budgets: setting budgets and other matters that boards have normally been unrestricted on. I don't want to replay the debate we had on that issue. I would just remind her that the power of the directives under the interim act is to limit the total amount of the budget, not parts of the budget, and to establish the portion for special education. Those are the only two powers that I have: and I will not have them at the expiry of the interim act. Those are restraint powers only.
MR. LEVI: The minister got very excited just now when he was talking about history. I thought we were all going to go to sleep. He really got turned on by that question about the publisher and the curriculum. That's a subject he's interested in, so he got very worked up about it. It was great. I agree with him; let's get some local stuff about history. We're the worst chroniclers in the world in this province when it comes to our own history. He's made some small contribution to that, so that's good.
However, having said a nice thing about the minister, I want to talk to him about sex, prayer and consumers. Then we're going to hear from the intellectual wing of the Social Credit Party, because I'm sure they're getting ready to get up and say something. If they're not, I'm prepared to give the member for Kootenay (Mr. Segarty) most of my notes, which are printed in very large letters and are very easy to read.
One of my questions to the minister in some ways overlaps into the Minister of Universities (Hon. Mr. McGeer), as it concerns the report that came out of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. I'd like to read a small part of it, item 3 on participation rates in post-secondary education: "British Columbia currently has the dubious distinction of having the lowest participation rate of high school graduates in post-secondary education of all provinces in Canada. Recent statements suggest that far from deploring the situation. the provincial government does not see accessibility to university education as an issue, and is not averse to lowering participation rates even further."
Earlier, when the minister opened his remarks, he talked about accessibility. Actually, I think he might have been referring then to geographical accessibility in terms of regions of the province. I'd like the minister's reaction to this statement. The key question is this: we are educating people up to grade 12, and then something is happening which prevents a higher proportion of students from going on to the post-secondary area. There are some very serious problems, and there are even more serious problems in the university area. Some of it relates very much to the whole fee question.
[ Page 8050 ]
Some of it relates to accessibility to grants, scholarships and the support programs. That is important too, but basically this is a very serious indictment of some mechanism that is lost within the department. Is there a major concern on the part of the ministry that less students are going on to university in this province than anywhere else in Canada?
We have had very bold statements made by the Minister of Universities, Science and Communications (Hon. Mr. McGeer) about the kind of Silicon Valley high technology that we're going into. We want to get in on the ground floor. The other day we had a visit from the president of Simon Fraser University, George Pedersen, who told us that he is very concerned about the failure of universities to produce the students who are doing the work in high technology. There is a question here in respect to what kinds of students we are turning out at the high-school level who can move with some ease into the high-technology area. Has our curriculum changed to the extent that we are preparing students with career objectives in high technology? The news we get from Mr. Pedersen is that certainly the universities in British Columbia are not getting in on the ground floor on this.
There appears to be some problem with respect to the ministry itself. We are sending fewer graduates from high school to university than any province in the country. We had better look at it and see what we are doing. I can't get away from the feeling that the part of our education system that we do run — I am not talking about just the minister's responsibilities but also about universities — the name of the game for the past 20 years seems to have been to keep as many people off the unemployment rolls as possible; so we go into post-secondary education in a broad way and into colleges. We will train people vocationally; anything to keep them off the unemployment rolls.
There is the question I put to the minister. He is not responsible for universities, but he is responsible for the colleges and for what goes on in high schools. What is the ministry doing in a leadership role to ensure that the students who are going on to universities — those few who do — are in some way better prepared than they were previously to get into this high-technology stance that we need to get into, because we've been told that that is one of the future employment areas. There is a great shortcoming. We have to hear from the minister just what it is they're doing in terms of rearranging curricula. What's going on there?
What is the minister prepared to recommend to his colleagues to get more people into university who are graduating from high school? That's a very serious question, and something that the minister has not dealt with. I listened this morning to some of his catch-phrases. He mentioned a mission statement. If you talk to him about sex education, he used the euphemism "family life initiative." Let's talk about sex education, because I know that that interests the Minister of Housing (Hon Mr. Chabot) very much. He's paying attention; he's watching us with rapt attention.
HON. MR. CHABOT: Go back to Lebanon!
MR. LEVI: Oh, my gosh! Did you hear what he said? Just hang on; I've got a hand grenade in here.
Never mind the family-life education. It was your government that dismantled what was a fairly substantial family-life program in this province. In the 1970s there were substantial programs going on. It was financed by the government — not by the Education department but mostly by the Human Resources department. There were very broad and interesting programs that were very visible in the community and were run in cooperation with the churches. We've had a lot of publicity about sex education in the schools. Why, we even had a statement in the paper the other day that among the macho young people it's an article of faith to make a young woman pregnant. Any idiot can do that.
The point is that the minister cannot simply get around it by saying that we've got one person looking at it. I agree with him about the idea of the pilot project. I don't see you putting anything like that into the school holus bolus. The main thing is to try in a very real way to do those kinds of projects to see whether they are the kinds of things students are prepared to deal with. There was a time, probably about 15 years ago, when some of the sex education that was taught.... I can't remember the name of the subject it was taught under; it was constantly being changed. But I can recall that my children, who were teenagers then, apart from the odd snickers thought it wasn't too bad. Then it was dropped. It became a bit of a butt of a joke.
For many years in this province we've had the same serious problem with children born to teenagers. Mind you, teenage mothers are taking other options now about how these children are adopted; they have participation in the adoption. That in itself indicates to me that young people are prepared to be fairly responsible, even after they've had children, as to what happens to the children. That in itself is something very much in their favour.
I'd like the minister to comment a little more on the whole question of sex education. The former member for Vancouver South is not here any more. We don't have to refer to it as BOLT, or biology on life today; it's straight sex education. How do we reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies? That seems to be the crux of the issue. The minister has to address that; it is a problem. The unfortunate part of our society is that we have large numbers of people who want to adopt, we have other groups of people who have children, and we have all sorts of people who are suggesting that the idea of surrogate parentage is an absolute no-no in our society. So the minister has an obligation to address that problem.
I want to go on to the school prayer thing. Last year I asked the minister about his particular position in respect to the school prayers. He was looking at it, I think, two years ago, when he first became a minister. What is he actually looking at in respect to the School Act and school prayers? The minister knows it's a sensitive kind of question, but not as sensitive as it used to be some years ago. He can't keep dodging around the mulberry bush on this one. Let him tell the people who've been in touch with him about what he is prepared to do. Is he prepared to make it a decision that would be made by the school boards — give it to the school boards and let them make the decision — or what? For once stand up and tell us exactly where you stand.
He was asked before by my colleague about where he stands on the county system. I thought he was viewing life from both sides of the fence: "Oh, I think it's an interesting idea, but I'm in favour of electing school trustees." Well, that's very nice. The dichotomy is beautiful — it's life on both sides of the fence — but we badly need the minister, in the interest of school trustees, to stand up and say: "There is no question that the present system of school trustees has to remain." Never mind the beauties or the thrilling explorations we can make in the county system. If we have a county system, we don't have school trustees — not the way we
[ Page 8051 ]
know them now. So he's going to have to be a little bit more categorical than that; he simply can't see it from both sides of the question.
I want just to finish up on one other item which my colleague from Burnaby North (Mrs. Dailly) dealt with, which was the consumer course. I have some very serious problems with the consumer course, mainly because it has suddenly become a major focus, when, in fact, in some high schools there have been very adequate courses that have been taught. They were not called consumer courses, but they were part of some aspect of social studies. I remember visiting a class at John Oliver, where there was an excellent course being taught. When I sat in on it, they were dealing with mortgages. I think what we should really do, if we're going to talk about a consumer course, is say exactly what it is. We want to prepare students for that terrible world out there: how do you manage debt?
There's been no suggestion that we're looking at consumer preference and the whole idea of caveat emptor. We're really talking about trying to instruct people in how to work their way through the maze of complications in borrowing money, getting mortgages and putting time payments on cars. That's the reality; never mind all the esoteric ideas about consumer protection. We simply want them better equipped to deal with what is a very harsh world out there, in terms of the reality that nobody pays as they go, contrary to the philosophy of the government. Everybody's in debt, everybody's looking for mortgages, everybody has payments to make. That makes sense, but surely that does not have to be part of a very specific course. Surely, if we're doing courses in math, there has to be some acceptance of the models in math which could show you how to calculate mortgage interest. If you're looking at the whole question of debt, then you're looking at it in some other aspect — as a social service study.
What you've really done is intrude this course into the schools. I can't recall a course being intruded into the school that has got the teachers' backs up so much. I don't think we're involved here with the teachers taking on the minister. I think they really feel that the course is a very serious mistake. There are ways of doing all of the things you want to accomplish with consumer education within the existing curriculum. It's been done. Why have this kind of confrontation? It's time consuming; it occupies part of the curriculum. Teachers are concerned. What are you doing — looking for some kind of specialization? From my point of view, one can almost be very suspicious that somehow the minister wants to turn all of the students into disciples of the rather unfortunate capitalist system we live in. Is that what he's got in mind?
MR. LEVI: Well, what do they have in mind with this course? Are they really talking about protecting people who are becoming consumers and giving them the necessary knowledge to be able to deal with the realities of debt? That's what I'm putting to the minister. Never mind all the nice esoteric ideas about consumer protection. This deals with debt, the management of debt, and how you can keep out of trouble if you understand exactly what you're getting into. It accomplishes nothing more, that's fine — but not as a course in itself.
In my discussions with teachers and looking at the various publications that teachers have.... Also, trustees have said that this is an inappropriate intrusion into the school system if you're going to do it as a consumer course. There are other ways of doing it as part of the existing curriculum. The minister should really address that. What is it he wants to accomplish? What are they trying to accomplish with this course? I would like him to tell us that. Never mind about an understanding of the business system. When you talk about consumers, there's a more basic understanding that people ought to know about. We know that today more than ever because of the problems with renewing of mortgages, the problems with bank loans, the whole business of whether you should purchase Canada savings bonds, or whether you should go into long-term or short-term deposit. That's all very interesting and very specific. Is that what the minister has in mind? Or is he talking about aggrandizing the system that we live under? Maybe when he answers the questions he can start with that question and work his way back. Then we can have some understanding of what he has in mind.
HON. MR. SMITH: I have already answered that question once, but I will come back to it and do it again. I am just going to go through a few of your other points, if I could.
I know that the study that was done on university enrolment showed a lower participation rate in part of this province, but that was a study that examined universities and university transfer courses of full-time students. I think that it’s true that the pattern in this province has shifted quite a bit in the post-secondary field. We have a lot more students now who are part-time. It is part-time areas where the growth has taken place. If you examine our overall participation, part-time and full-time students, on the basis of full-time equivalence — if you will excuse that jargon — you will see that the picture is a different one than that study presents. When they did was really to look at things from the conventional old university program point of view: that is, that all students should be there between 8:30 and 5, engaged in certain lectures during that time. That is just not the way of the post-secondary world anymore, in this province or elsewhere. I am sure that we maybe don't measure as highly, judged on that basis, but if you look at the overall number of full-time equivalent students in our system. It does correspond reasonably well with the rest of the country. I can give you those figures a little later. I don't have them right here.
You asked me also what we were doing to encourage the entry into fields of high technology, and what sort of leadership we were giving. I quite agree with you that we've got to do more to attract students to go into these fields. We have to do more to obtain graduates. We are now importing people in all these fields from outside British Columbia. I think that is a matter of a great deal of concern. What have we done to try to address this? We have improved the science curriculum early in the last four or five years. It has been revised, and is up to date and much stronger. We are starting the same thing now with mathematics. The introduction of more and more computers.... I must say that budgets did not allow us to increase the number of computers this year, and I am still hopeful that I may be able to change that around. With the Science Council of Canada and the council of ministers of Canada as well, we have been studying ways in which we, as education ministers across the country, can increase and improve the graduates in the field of high technology. Those are probably specific answers.
You asked me again about the subject of sex education. I don't remember, during your term or earlier in the seventies,
[ Page 8052 ]
that there was ever a mandated provincial course. During your term of office there was a provincial advisory committee for that and for other purposes which was not continued. I think that our initiative in having a provincially authorized program is probably about the most important provincial initiative that has been made in this field. I think you would like to see more.
You also asked me to be more categorical on the county system. I don't think I can be more categorical except to say that I don't think it's appropriate generally in this province to have multipurpose people handling schools, hospitals and the problems of local government, but I think it could be appropriate in a few special areas. I named one, Fort Nelson, that came to see me and supported such a system if it had full local support and was done on a pilot basis.
You then asked me to talk a little more about consumer education and whether I saw this as a practical course that will allow students to deal with the world of work and debt and finance. I can assure you that that is precisely how I see it as being of importance. I look here at the consumer education curriculum outline. It has a great deal to do with personal budget education and background in the marketplace and business. It teaches students how to create a budget that takes into account income, expenditures, savings and debt. It teaches them familiarity with banking and the cost of credit. It describes the role of computers and other technology and how they are used in business, banking and government. It deals with employment information and consumer information, but it is not primarily a consumer-protection course. It is a practical course in business, economics and personal money management. If you would give this course a year or so, I think you'll find that much of the criticism and fears will have been allayed. I think it will be very well supported.
The House resumed; Mr. Davidson in the chair.
The committee, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Divisions in committee ordered to be recorded in the Journals of the House.
Hon. Mr. McClelland moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 12:02 p.m.