1986 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 33rd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MAY 26, 1986
[ Page 8337 ]
U.S. shake and shingle tariffs. Mr. Skelly — 8337
Assessment Amendment Act, 1986 (Bill 7). Committee stage 11 — 8340
Insurance For Crops Amendment Act, 1986 (Bill 16). Committee stage — 8343
Income Tax Amendment Act, 1986 (Bill 8). Second reading. (Hon. Mr. Curtis)
Mr. Stupich — 8343
Hon. Mr. Curtis — 8345
Division — 8345
Municipalities Enabling And Validating Amendment Act, 1986 (Bill 25). Committee stage — 8345
Health Improvement Appropriation Act (Bill 5). Second reading. (Hon. Mr. Curtis)
Hon. Mr. Curtis — 8345
Mr. Stupich — 8346
On the amendment
Mrs. Dailly — 8347
Mr. Cocke — 8348
Hon. Mr. Curtis — 8350
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs estimates. (Hon.
On vote 14: minister's office — 8351
Hon. Mr. Veitch
Erratum — 8361
MONDAY, MAY 26, 1986
The House met at 2:04 p.m.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce to all members a man who needs no introduction, a truly great Canadian, a great British Columbian and a great member from Okanagan South. We thank you, Okanagan South thanks you, B.C. and Canada thank you for your dedication, for your perseverance, for your hard work and for your great vision, resulting in so many outstanding and lasting accomplishments.
You have established a legacy, Mr. Premier, of remarkable performance. May I express to you and to Mrs. Bennett, Audrey, our every continuing and best wish over the days and the weeks and the months and the years to come. Thank you so much.
MR. SKELLY: Mr. Speaker, if the comments can die down a little bit over there, it's not often that the Leader of the Opposition gets up in the House to pay any kind of recognition at all to his political adversary.
But I do want the Premier to know, on behalf of the official opposition, that although we haven't agreed on many occasions or even had the opportunity to agree on many occasions, we do respect the contribution that this gentleman has made to the public life in the province, to the government and the Legislature; that we are aware of the sacrifice that is entailed in choosing that kind of vocation. We feel that over the past ten years the Premier has done a long and difficult job in representing the interests of the province of British Columbia in his own way.
We wish that the Premier and his family enjoy their retirement and whatever future vocation — with some exceptions — the Premier may choose to embark upon. So on behalf of the opposition, Mr. Speaker, our very best wishes for his retirement.
HON. MR. NIELSEN: Mr. Speaker, I'd like the House to recognize two distinguished visitors in the gallery today: the president of the B.C. Medical Association, Dr. Gerry Karr, and Dr. Norman Rigby, executive director of the BCMA.
MRS. JOHNSTON: In the gallery this afternoon we have some Katimavik participants who have been visiting in the Surrey–White Rock area: Greg Knebel from Ottawa, Maureen Brennan from Nova Scotia, Mike Prince and Josee Lessier from Montreal, Dean Schutz from Vancouver, and Marji Richey, Paul Wallach, Beatrice Tomaselli and Anna Dawson from California. I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, today is the natal day of a delightful lady, Mrs. Beatrice E. Carty, from the riding of Vancouver–Point Grey. Her horoscope reads that she is staunch, determined and also has a remarkable sense of humour. Most of all, she's a hundred years young today. I know all members would like to congratulate her and wish her the best of welcome.
Mr. Speaker, I would like at this point to acknowledge and, I know, express the heartiest congratulation from every member of the assembly to the Canadian team on their very successful conquest of Everest, particularly the first North American lady climber ever to climb the highest mountain in the world, Sharon Wood, a former resident of Burnaby and of Field. I'd say all members should join with me in an expression of congratulation to her and to Dwayne Congdon, another Canadian Rocky Mountain climber, and to everyone associated with the outstanding endeavour.
U.S. SHAKE AND SHINGLE TARIFFS
MR. SKELLY: A question to the Premier. In the past few days, protectionist measures taken against Canada by the United States have cost jobs in the shake and shingle industry in this province and threatened thousands of other jobs in British Columbia's major industry. In view of the fact that comprehensive free-trade negotiations could take months and even years, can the Premier tell me what action he has planned to maintain jobs in the shake and shingle industry in this province or in British Columbia's forest industry, which is threatened by U.S. protectionist measures while these trade talks are going on?
HON. MR. BENNETT: Yes, Mr. Speaker, because the concern over the forest industry is not a recent concern but one we have been fighting since 1982, assisting in the fight against the courts in the countervail case, the decision on which was handed out in 1983, the review, and also the political action that's been taken in the U.S. to provide a political solution.
In regard to the shakes and shingles, while this may be a new and instant issue to many who are now talking about opposing it, I wrote to the Prime Minister on May, 7 and I will ask leave to table this letter at the conclusion. I will quote from the letter:
"My Dear Prime Minister:
"As you know, an investigation has been conducted under section 201 of the U.S. trade laws regarding imports of wood shingles and shakes from Canada. The International Trade Commission has determined injury to U.S. industry and has forwarded recommendations to President Reagan. The commission is divided in its recommendations, with one half recommending no restrictions and the remaining three commissioners recommending a 35 percent tariff be applied. The matter now rests with the President, who has full discretion in deciding what action, if any, is to be followed. He is required to announce his decision on or before May 24, 1986.
"I am deeply concerned that the President may in fact decide to impose a tariff, perhaps for extraneous reasons. He may decide to show that he is not reluctant to act on section 201 cases. Furthermore, in view of the difficulties surrounding the Senate finance committee decision to provide the President with fasttrack authority, he may decide to demonstrate a tough posture vis-Ã -vis Canada.
"This matter is of great importance to Canada and in particular to British Columbia. The jobs of an estimated 4,000 workers...are threatened. I urge you to contact the President directly so as to convince
[ Page 8338 ]
him not to act in any way against Canadian shingle and shake imports into the U.S.
"In making this overture, I assure you that Canada is on good grounds. Any action taken against Canadian imports would not assist the U.S. Industry, which is facing a shortage of domestic raw materials and severe competition from substitute products. Moreover, action against Canada in this regard can only threaten the climate for Canada-U.S. trade negotiations. Your direct intervention on behalf of Canadian industry and workers is most important and would be greatly appreciated."
Yes, Mr. Speaker, we have taken this action — not after the President made his decision, but well in advance in order to make sure that Canada presented the case directly to the President, who had the power to make such a determination.
MR. SKELLY: Would the Premier advise if the response to his letter, if there is a response, is the same one that the Prime Minister gave in response to his request for a standstill, and that is an absolute no? Will the Premier advise the House if he is concerned that, again, central Canadian interests are being traded off by this Prime Minister against British Columbia's interest in preserving its markets in the United States? Would the Premier advise whether he has had a response to either of his letters to the Prime Minister?
HON. MR. BENNETT: I would love to respond to the leader of the New Democratic Party in the House because, quite frankly, the free-trade talks are not responsible for countervail actions or hearings. In fact, most of these initiatives were taken in absence of any talks being undertaken or committed to which would provide a forum to both protect what we have and be proactive in accessing new markets. Only those who oppose the free-trade talks — only the national NDP and its leader, Mr. Broadbent, who oppose the free-trade talks — oppose the only way in which we can effectively prevent such measures from taking place, because advocating the status quo is to allow the United States to go on taking measures of countervail, protecting their own industry whether there is subsidy proved or not. They are the ones who have been most cynical and hypocritical in the way they have faced these talks.
I would suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that he disagree publicly with his national leader. He now has a reason to see the benefit not only of saving jobs in British Columbia, where they are attacked, but of being against further countervail measures, by having free-trade talks with a standstill agreement.
Now I'd like further, because this issue is of such tremendous importance, to talk about the solutions, because there is a method in which we can do that. I want to talk about a further letter I sent to the Prime Minister today, and I will ask to table this letter as well. It says:
"My Dear Prime Minister:
"On May 7, I wrote to you in regard to the possibility that President Reagan might impose a tariff on shake and shingle imports into the United States. At that time I asked you to contact the President directly to ensure that this action did not take place. Last week the President did in fact impose a tariff of 35 percent on such imports. The jobs of 4,000 British Columbians and a $250 million industry have been put at risk as a result of the President's unilateral punitive action.
"I share your view that the President's actions are a violation of the spirit of the free-trade negotiations."
MR. WILLIAMS: Whose ally are you, anyway?
HON. MR. BENNETT: I will deal with you later.
"Accordingly, I would once again ask you to contact the President directly and ask him to reverse this decision, perhaps by way of reducing the tariff to an absolute minimum. At the same time I would urge you to ask the President not to accept the softwood lumber countervailing duties petition that has been filed. I ask you to do so not only for the reasons mentioned above, but because it is clear that nothing has changed since the dismissal of a similar petition in 1983, and the U.S. Industry is simply engaging in trade harassment.
"Until such a time as the President reverses or modifies his decision, I understand the federal government is considering a package of retaliatory measures to apply to U.S. exports into Canada. In developing this package I would ask you to ensure that the full benefits of such measures accrue entirely to the B.C. economy, as it is our economy that will be damaged by the President's action.
"Furthermore, I would ask you to put in place a package of measures to protect the jobs of those workers in B.C. who might be laid off as a result of the shake and shingle tariff. Since 1971 the federal government has had available the Employment Support Act to mitigate the effects of foreign import surtaxes and to support employment levels in affected industries. This act established the Employment Support Board, and made available to it a sum of $80 million. In my view, the President's action demands the immediate use of this act and its provisions. For its part, B.C. would be willing to have its commissioner of critical industries cooperate with the board in preventing any job losses.
"Finally, as I suggested to you last week, I would urge you to instruct Mr. Reisman to demand from his American counterpart a standstill on any protectionist measures for the duration of the trade negotiations. It is with regret that I noted Mr. Reisman did not in fact make this demand at the initial meeting.
"I will be making this proposal to my colleagues at the Western Premier's Conference and will raise this matter when we meet next week in Ottawa. I believe a standstill is essential to preserve the integrity of the Canada-U.S. trade negotiations, which we both view as vital to the future of Canada."
MR. SKELLY: I guess I can assume from the attempt to eat up question period that the Prime Minister has not responded to the Premier's letters — which was the question I asked. In view of the fact that Mr. Mulroney fails to respond to the Premier's suggestions and that the United States President, according to his letter to Senator Bob Packwood of Portland, Oregon, is intent on taking action against the lumber industry in British Columbia specifically and the cedar shake and shingle industry in this province specifically, can the Premier advise me if he still goes along with the suggestion that we're starting with all items on the table and
[ Page 8339 ]
no exceptions: "Therefore I take them at their word" — Prime Minister Mulroney and President Reagan — "that we're going to have a full negotiation on all items on both sides"?
MR. SKELLY: It quotes the Premier of this province.
HON. MR. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, especially since the Prime Minister's strong statement, reported over the weekend, against the U.S. measures, and because of his concern that all items be on the table and that there be no preconditions, I believe that is still the Canadian position and it is one that I support.
What is difficult is to find those who are leaping on this issue at the last minute for political reasons. Last Friday was a very busy day for me, but I got home late that evening and watched a program called "The Journal." I saw the Leader of the Opposition's brother on "The Journal." He was appalled at what was happening to the industry in British Columbia. He said it's obvious that what we have to have is a lobby down in the U.S., and we've got to put in money and we've got to get the U.S. lumber dealers and building-supply operators together in a counter-lobby. My goodness, Mr. Speaker, I spoke, as Premier of British Columbia, to U.S. building supply dealers in Seattle earlier this year where they passed a resolution covering all of their national body and all their dealers all over the United States doing that very thing.
I have been down with the Council of Forest Industries and others effectively getting going the counter-lobby, and the Leader of the Opposition's own brother doesn't even know that this has been going on. At the same time they oppose the one avenue we have to deal with this issue effectively, and that is to get a standstill and go along with the freetrade talks. And here his brother is still talking about separate negotiation and supporting actions that have already been done by responsible elected officials who cared about this industry not just this week when it was expedient, not just last week, but for the last four years as the American lumber industry has attempted to attack the Canadian industry and jobs.
MR. SKELLY: It is interesting that on the same day the Premier announced his resignation, his brother was also on television announcing that he was putting a racehorse out to stud.
Mr. Speaker, I know that the Prime Minister has not responded to any of the Premier's letters. I want to ask the Premier if he intends to attend the Western Premiers' Conference that begins in Manitoba on Wednesday evening, if he intends to...
AN HON. MEMBER: Read it in the Blues.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. SKELLY: ...and if he has developed a position paper that represents B.C.'s position on this trade issue and including the process of ratification for any agreement that may come out of these issues.
We are concerned that in spite of all the representations made by the Premier all over the United States, including to the United States governors in Idaho, nothing has come of any representations the Premier has made on behalf of this province — that they have been totally to no effect.
HON. MR. BENNETT: One of the difficulties when they've got pre-written questions is that they can't deal with an answer that has already been given. So the Leader of the Opposition again has read a question which has already been answered.
Mr. Speaker, I have said that I will be at the Western Premiers' Conference this weekend. We have a very strong position, both there on trade matters — obviously the only rational position coming out of British Columbia from the political sphere on how to deal with trade matters, protectionism, and with trade relations in a bilateral way with the U.S. over the years to come. I will be very pleased to pass this along to Premier Howard Pawley and my other colleagues at the Western Premiers' Conference.
MR. SPEAKER: The bell terminates question period. On a point of order, the member for Coquitlam-Moody.
MR. ROSE: Mr. Speaker, I think that the discussions today were on a most important subject, and I can understand fully that that kind of a subject needs to be aired. However, I object to the use of the forum of question period.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, hon. members. The member for Coquitlam-Moody has the floor and is on a point of order.
MR. ROSE: Typically, Mr. Speaker, when a word or two comes from this side.... I don't have this prepared, so I might not be able to read it correctly. Typically, an attempt is always made to shout it down.
The point that I want to make is that I timed this. There were four relatively brief questions and four terribly long and rather opinionated, and, I think, out-of-order answers. Standing order 47A, on oral questions, says: "Questions and answers shall be brief and precise, and stated without argument or opinion." What the Leader of the Opposition's brother has got to do with the questions that were asked is beyond me.
Could I make this point of order, and ask for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, of a ruling on this: that if there is an important issue, such as the one we face now, a desperate issue for British Columbia, at least the government and its ministers have the courtesy to bring a statement on motions to the House, where we can use that kind of forum, that kind of technique, that kind of rule, to discuss and argue that particular issue. Who knows, there may be a substantial agreement on both sides of the House for once in our lives. I think we've got to get rid of this constant kind of behaviour that we've had in here today.
MR. SPEAKER: The point raised by the member for Coquitlam-Moody is a valid one. The Chair will undertake to review the matter and try to bring some guidelines back for members to follow.
[ Page 8340 ]
MR. MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, I'd ask leave to present a motion dealing with the shake and shingle tariffs.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, the request for a motion.... First of all, leave must be requested before the motion is put. Is there leave?
The opposition House Leader on a point of order.
MR. HOWARD: The point of order I have to put to Your Honour is, sir, that we on this side of the chamber have risen under this segment of the House's business a number of times asking leave to move particular motions. The position Your Honour has taken is that this is not the time to do it. Now you seek to be giving the hon. member for Shuswap-Revelstoke the opportunity to seek leave. We're not averse to giving him leave to deal with this very crucial subject matter; but what we are averse to is selectivity in the process of applying the rules.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. HOWARD: If Your Honour is now seeking to give the House the opportunity to give leave to the hon. member, then I submit that Your Honour is then establishing a precedent — and I think it's a good one — that this is the opportunity for any member so to rise and ask for the same sort of courtesy.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. Hon. members, the point raised by the member is a most valid one. I would ask the indulgence of the House for one or two moments.
The point of order by the opposition House Leader is sustained.
MR. MICHAEL: Well, Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for the opportunity to present this motion. I will read the motion....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Hon. members, the point of order raised by the opposition House Leader was one in objection. The objection was sustained, and properly so.
MR. MICHAEL: Oh, I understand. I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker, I thought that the motion....
Mr. Speaker, would you permit me to move an adjournment of the House under standing order 35 to discuss an urgent matter of public importance, dealing again with the shake and shingle industry? I will read the motion, Mr. Speaker: "Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1) condemns the action of the United States administration in imposing a 35 percent tariff on Canadian red cedar shakes and shingles; (2) supports the Prime Minister of Canada in asking for reconsideration of the decision; and (3) urges that any retaliation not impair the Canada/U.S. free-trade talks."
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, the Chair will undertake to review the matter as raised by the member and bring a response to the House at the earliest opportunity.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. GARDOM: Public bills and orders, Mr. Speaker.
ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1986
The House in committee on Bill 7; Mr. Strachan in the chair.
Sections I to 6 inclusive approved.
On section 7.
MRS. WALLACE: I would just like to ask the minister.... I see the Minister of Forests (Hon. Mr. Heinrich) isn't in the House. Perhaps the Minister of Finance will be able to answer this. My concern is with the determination of what is managed forest land and what is not managed forest land. Who is going to police this, and how are we going to know whether or not the land is being properly managed? We have seen a great many reductions in the Forest Service recently. We have seen a lot of the control measures that were formerly handled by the public service being turned over to private entrepreneurs. I certainly have some concerns about how we are going to be able to ensure that the land which is getting this tax break because it is supposedly managed land is being properly managed. Are we just giving another tax loophole here to companies that can report that their land is managed when in fact that land will not be managed?
HON. MR. CURTIS: I don't presume to speak for my colleague the Minister of Forests, but I am responsible for this bill inasmuch as it refers to assessment matters only, rather than the broader policy issues in the Forests ministry. The precise definitions, Mr. Chairman, will be set out in regulations, passed by order-in-council, and will be based on reforestation activity. I'm rather confident that we will be looking to the Assessment Authority individuals who assess all sorts of properties, as the member well knows now. It will be the responsibility of employees of the Assessment Authority to determine that, in conjunction with, I'm sure, the Ministry of Forests when and where necessary. Properties that are categorized as unmanaged will then be taxed at a higher rate than managed properties in order to encourage reforestation, and the precise rates will be determined in the context of the variable property tax rate system, which the member and the committee will know we've had in place for some time.
MRS. WALLACE: I thank the minister for his answer, and certainly I understand his position in this. But it's interesting to note that he tells us that probably the employees of the Assessment Authority will actually be doing the assessment on this thing. I wonder if he has any concept of the kind of job he's taking on in trying to determine whether or not those great masses of hectares of forest land are properly reforested. How is he going to base it? On the number of dollars that are spent on reforestation? Or is he going to base it on an actual onsite check to see how many trees have been planted? Is he going to check to see whether or not those trees have actually grown, or whether that 50 percent that we hear about has died out there? And is that classed as good management if you plant them and they die? Is he going to base it on
[ Page 8341 ]
what happens as those trees grow in the way of silviculture programs, juvenile spacing, conifer release, fertilization, commercial thinning, all those kinds of things'? Has the minister any idea of the monumental task he's taking on if in fact he is going to assure that we get the best tax dollar return and that those companies that say they are doing a reforestation job are actually doing it'? Has he any idea of the size of the job?
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, the short answer is yes, I do have an idea, a very good idea, of the job that is entailed. But may I explain through the Chair to the committee a couple of things. First of all, the member will also know that until recently we had annual assessment of all properties — land and improvements. We've changed that to biennial, and we have relatively — now please, let's not nitpick about it, Mr. Chairman, through you to the member — the same size of Assessment Authority staff, and the workload is easier than it was previously with an annual assessment.
The Assessment Authority, without again intruding into the Ministry of Forests' activity, will require that plans be presented to it, will audit those plans, will in every respect that is necessary review that the managed lands or unmanaged lands, as the case may be, are properly categorized.
I think it is important to stress for the committee that yes, it is a considerable task, but what we are doing here is attempting to assist the owners of private forest land in enhancing that private land. The second part is key: not just assisting the owners, but assisting them in enhancing the forest land which they own, rather than Crown land which occupies the very large majority of the forest base of the province. So it's a not insignificant task, Mr. Chairman, but it's a task which will fall within the capability of the Assessment Authority. I have no doubt of that.
MRS. WALLACE: One last question: is it the intent to do this assessment on a hectare by hectare basis or on a percentage of the overall private holding'?
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, the member is asking for me to spell out all the regulations which are not yet finally crafted. It would be wrong to prepare those regulations until this bill is given royal assent. I'm sure that they are in draft form, but draft only. Hectare by hectare'? On a spot-check basis; but again, in order to receive the benefit which is proposed in this particular bill, the owner of private forest land will be required to make all plans and proposals available to the Assessment Authority representative, and indeed I have every confidence that it will be done.
MRS. WALLACE: One last question. In view of that, a holder of a given tree farm licence, say, on private land — would that all come in either a managed or an unmanaged classification, or would you break up a tree-farm licence into sectors'?
HON. MR. CURTIS: If I understand the question from the hon. member, she proposes that there could be two types of land within a particular private forest. Obviously that will be the case. The owner of the land will choose to more intensively manage some section of that land. Again, I think in the request that will be made by the Assessment Authority, with the full weight of law, that that individual or group of individuals will be required to say: "Very well; over the next little while this is what I propose to do on this portion of my land, our land. This is what I propose not to do with respect to another portion of my land, our land." That will be spelled out in advance, and I indicated in answering the earlier question that there will be plans required and those plans will be audited. I trust that I understood the member's question. Clearly in one private forest there will not be the same treatment over the entire property. I understand that.
Section 7 approved,
MR. MITCHELL: Mr. Chairman, I was wondering, with leave, could I go back to section 5? There was a question. I know the minister is waiting for me to ask him, and you ran through the first two or three so quickly that I never had a chance to make a comment. I ask leave to ask the question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, leave is not required, or should.... But we'll let the member ask a question. Please proceed.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's dealing with
section 5 — "eligible residential property," and specifically
subsection (4). We've had a lot of discussion over a number of years on
this section. 'That is where a senior citizen has owned property for a
long time. It used to be that you had to own it prior to 1959 now it's
for ten years. The minister in this bill has restricted this ownership
of the property that allows the person who owns the property, or his
wife, to keep it at residential assessment and not, if the property has
been rezoned and it's gone up to industrial or commercial.... They have
limited it to 2.4 hectares — I believe it's approximately five acres —
limiting it to three premises. Now what is going to happen'? I'm not
trying to predict the problems that will arise. A lot of this is farm
property and a lot of these farm properties are going to have
residential areas for farm help or family scattered through a large
piece of property. I'm a little worried about what'll happen if you try
to subdivide those houses off; you're going to have lots that run like
snakes through the property, or you're going to set up a real
bureaucratic nightmare. I've had a few properties in my own riding
where they already subdivided the residence on one and there are other
pieces of property that are subdivided off. I still think that where a
family or older people have held a piece of property for ten years and
in so many cases for 40 or 50 years, to bring in now this 2.5 hectares
is going to establish a worse condition than there was before. I mean
some of the properties have been held for 40 years and they are
benefiting from the residential taxation because they're still farming
it, and there is urban sprawl and industrial sprawl all around them. I
think if people want to hold on to that particular piece of property
and to continue it as their residence, one way or another....
I think bringing in this amendment is going to cause a lot of constituency problems for MLAs and it's going to bring in a lot of problems for individuals. I ask the minister what thought has gone into bringing this one in. I mean, you settled my argument here a year ago when you brought in the amendment to amend it back down to ten years. Why do we now have to chop that up at this point?
HON. MR. CURTIS: Thank you to the hon. member for Esquimalt–Port Renfrew. He is correct in his closing remark
[ Page 8342 ]
that we did this earlier in another legislative session. and he even thanked me at that particular point in time because he and I had discussed it, and indeed I had discussed it with a number of members of the executive council and the government caucus.
Following the approval which was given previously by this House, we framed these considerations in regulation. Subsequent to that, legislative counsel in their wisdom, Mr. Chairman, felt that we did not have the authority to do this by regulation; rather it should be incorporated into the statute. So essentially what you have before you today is the reverse of that which we are often accused of doing. We are taking something which was in regulation and putting it in the law of the province of British Columbia. That is why it is here. It is here for no other reason, on the basis of the strong recommendation and opinion offered by legislative counsel.
Now, Mr. Chairman, it is very much a judgment call. I appreciate that the member foresees some difficulties. I recognize there may be some difficulty, but may I pose this proposition to the hon. member and to the committee? If in this old 1959 rule, which we're calling the ten-year moving rule.... If someone has a residential property and 80 acres.... The member is instantly computing that, transferring it into hectares; but let us say 80 acres. Is it the intention of both sides of the House to authorize or to permit the lower valuation over all of the 80 acres'?
Now the member may say: "Well, that's an extreme. You're taking 80 acres, and how many instances are there where there are 80 acres'?" We have selected 2.03 hectares, which is five acres, as the member will know, as being reasonable and as covering most of the cases where this assistance is being rendered. So it limits the application of the tax relief to a ten-year owner or occupier of parcels of property with five acres. There will be some who will not be assisted over the entire property, as the member has observed. But I think they are going to be in the minority. When you are attempting to assist a particular group, I think the best you can do is to attempt to assist the largest possible majority, and I believe this achieves that.
MR. MITCHELL: I want to thank the minister for what he said. Also I want to thank him — I slipped when I was up before — for writing me and bringing it to my attention because of my previous interest in it.
Really, this whole section.... To say that it wasn't proper, and legislative counsel have recommended this particular change.... Well, the other piece of legislation was in since 1964, I believe, and it served British Columbia since 1964. At that time it gave five-year ownership. It only protects a very small section of the population who have lived on a piece of property for many years. If they are caught in this squeeze.... Knowing the experience of one particular family that were caught in it, it broke them. It literally broke them to chop out five acres. They might own 160 acres, not 80 acres. There are people in British Columbia that were homesteaders. They homesteaded property. They have inherited, and they have been there a long time.
You might as well say, when you have a large piece of property like that.... You're only protecting those few individuals. I think this way we're going to go right back to what it was before. You are going to break them financially. They're going to have to unload it, and where you have a small working farm and you do have family in residence scattered throughout the property, just the way it is subdivided is going to be hard to administer. I think for the few people who are going to be affected, the original changes that were brought in last year were sufficient, and they have held. In British Columbia we have dealt with it since 1964, and I think it was good wording.
HON. MR. CURTIS: The member should know that farms are not assessed at highest and best use. So with respect to large properties which have been "homesteaded," that assistance falls in another part of the Assessment Act and is not at issue here.
What the member is really speaking about would be an individual or a couple who have a large parcel of property that is not being farmed, just sitting there. If he proposes, under this particular section, that we grant that lower rate to someone who holds considerable acreage, then I'm afraid I cannot agree with him.
If we may, without contravening the rules of the committee, Mr. Chairman.... We had what is referred to as the 1959 rule. As I indicated a few moments ago, we earlier changed that to a moving target, and that corrected an inherent unfairness. When the 1959 rule was put in — I believe the member is correct — in 1964, it was fixed. Now we add a year, year by year, and drop one off at the other end. That's what has happened; that has already been done. I don't anticipate any great difficulty with the proper application of this. Again, it was not the 1959 rule, not the earlier legislation, that was felt to be ultra vires; but the process by which we put the replacement of the 1959 rule into regulations was felt by legislative counsel likely to be found ultra vires.
MR. MITCHELL: Mr. Chairman, I believe that the only two people in the House who know what we're talking about are the minister and myself.
I'll bring some examples to the minister. He talks about people who continue to hold their farm status in areas.... I have Metchosin, recently incorporated as a municipality, and they are losing their farm status. But there are still large blocks of land, which people at one time were farming, frozen in the ALR. There are ten-acre subdivisions — you can't chop it up into less than ten acres. But because of the urban sprawl around there, the assessment of that property has gone up quite high in some cases. There are areas in Langford bordering on commercial with the same circumstances. That's just one little area that I'm familiar with.
I know that throughout British Columbia there are many other areas where you are going to have that effect. All of a sudden a property has an inflated value, but because of other circumstances, that particular family cannot cope with it. I think at the present time, with the present legislation, they are managing to hold on; they are protecting their homes; they are living out the rest of their lives in dignity — it's only good for the husband and the wife. I state seriously that there is going to be a problem for a lot of people. I can see it happening just with the small experience I've had since I've got involved in it. I ask the minister, before he enforces it, to really give it another look.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, we spent quite a bit of time on this particular subsection of section 5. The five acres did not just appear from the bureaucracy, or the 2.03. It was very carefully considered. The member has taken a
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particular interest in this, as have other members. If experience shows that we have really interfered with a number of people who have much more land than this, and it is not farmland, then I'm sure we will be in a position to adjust it. But it seems to me that, as with other benefits which are extended, you want to cover as many people as you possibly can without overdoing it; and 2.03 acres was the decision I reached with respect to assisting the greatest number of people in the province. I know the member will continue to watch it, but I am not prepared to change it, Mr. Chairman.
Sections 8 to 20 inclusive approved.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 7, Assessment Amendment Act, 1986, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: Committee on Bill 16, Mr. Speaker.
INSURANCE FOR CROPS AMENDMENT ACT, 1986
The House in committee on Bill 16; Mr. Strachan in the chair.
On section 1.
MS. SANFORD: I just wanted to ask the minister whether this increase is, at least in part, a result of the additional subscribers from the Peace River who have recently joined the program. As the minister knows, the Peace River farmers were forced to join the crop insurance program in return for the special assistance they had because of the difficult times they have faced up there as a result of the weather problems.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: No, Mr. Chairman, that's not the reason. In fact, the joining of those Peace River grain farmers would have the reverse effect by having more premiums come in. This is simply a result of a number of years of misfortune in crops and weather conditions, and the deficit has accumulated.
Section I approved.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: Mr. Chairman, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 16, Insurance for Crops Amendment Act, 1986, reported complete without amendment read a third time and assed.
HON. MR. WATERLAND: Adjourned debate on second reading of Bill 8, Mr. Speaker.
INCOME TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 1986
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill 8 is really to reduce the corporation income tax rate from 16 to 14 percent — a permanent reduction. I suppose no changes can be described as permanent, except that temporary taxes, once introduced, soon become permanent taxes, but this certainly proposes that in the long run there will be a reduction in the taxation rate for corporations.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the reduction will be substantial in terms of the amount of revenue that the Crown will forgo: 1986-87, a loss in revenue of $2 million; 1987-88, $32 million: 1988-89, $64 million. So it is indeed a very substantial reduction and will affect some 2,000 businesses with taxable incomes over $200,000. It seems to be a case of giving to those who have. The government has on previous occasions shown its intention to take away from those who have not.
The amount of money forgone by this reduction in the tax ate of those corporations which have proven their ability to pay is comparable to the amount of money that the government saved itself by taking away from those of our citizens who are unable to pay. I'm thinking of the low-income tax credit plan that was done away with by an announcement by the minister some eight months. I think, before we saw the legislation, and a renter's tax credit, two programs that put purchasing power into the pockets of thousands of our citizens who have no ability to pay; they've proven that by being eligible for the kind of income tax credits that were available under those two programs. It was good for them and it was certainly good for the economies in the communities where they live that they had this money to spend.
They were people whose incomes were so low that they would certainly spend it on living — not on high living, but on living costs. It perhaps gave them an opportunity to indulge in some elective expenditures but not very much. As say, to be eligible for either one or both of those programs, hey had to prove they had very little money to spend. Yet the government took away from those, and is now giving a similar amount of revenue to corporations which have proven...by being able to benefit from this program, they've proven that they don't really need it. They're doing very well, thank you. So the minister says, "Since you're doing so well, we're going to offer you some encouragement by doing a little better."
[Mr. Ree in the chair.]
One has to question the fairness of this, Mr. Speaker. Really, that's part of what it's all about. The Minister of Finance said that the tax is being viewed by some as a penalty imposed on the successful. Well, of course; isn't that what our progressive tax system is supposed to do? Those who have the ability to pay pay at higher rates. They certainly don't pay larger amounts, but they do pay at higher rates than
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those who don't have the ability to pay. It applies with corporations; it applies with personal income tax.
But this seems to be going in the opposite direction, and I have to wonder at the long-term program, what the minister has in mind over the long term in this matter of tax reform. Is he going to continue to shift the load from those who can pay and impose it upon those who can't? It's a principle which has been attacked in the escalating tax burden put on the middle class as well. They're certainly paying more than they used to. It just seems to me that the ones who are most wealthy, the ones who are most able to pay, are the ones who are benefiting most from the government's changes in programs.
It's interesting, too — and it's not really part of this discussion — that while the minister is proposing these substantial reductions in corporate tax rates, at the same time he is estimating in the budget a 28.5 percent increase in the revenue from corporation tax income. In the press release that was put out at the time this bill was introduced, it was described as legislation to encourage new job creation investment. Well, unfortunately I wasn't here to hear the minister introducing second reading of Bill 8, but I would venture to say that on the basis of previous experience there is no evidence presented in the minister's opening remarks to show us that any of these programs have resulted in any increases in job opportunities.
I would suspect that the minister, in introducing this bill, said nothing to show any evidence that a study has been made that will show that employment will increase as a result of cutting back on the tax rate to those very successful corporations which are going to be encouraged by this change. Indeed there is a lot of talk about tax reform these days. The federal minister has been talking tax reform; the provincial government has been saying this is one more step in tax reform.
There is a good deal of tax reform being talked about in the United States, and of course we often follow the direction that they establish; not always, but we often do follow the direction that they establish. A senator, Bob Packwood from Oregon, came into today's debates earlier on quite a different subject. He is heading a U.S. committee on imposing radical changes in taxation. They've been going to some extent in the same direction that we have, shifting the load from those who can pay and imposing it on those who can't. Some of the proposals coming forward make very substantial changes, but I think this sums it up — and I'm quoting now from an article in the Financial Post last week: "Overall, though, the tax burden on corporations would rise while individuals would pay less."
So that committee's recommendations are proposing that we move in the opposite direction of that being presented to us now in Bill 8. If I could quote further from the article: "The Packwood initiative reflects the widening, disenchantment with tax breaks as a means of stimulating economic activity." I think it's time that people started taking a look at this method of stimulating economic activity. For three years we've been going along this road in the province of British Columbia in the last three budgets, where we have been imposing more taxes on individuals, and in particular on those who are least able to pay — withdrawing benefits from them, and yet at the same time relieving industry and business from paying any extra taxes.
To some extent, those wealthy individuals who are paying very high income tax are paying a higher rate, but certainly not a higher tax. Nevertheless, in the States at least, there is this widening disenchantment with using tax breaks as a means of stimulating economic activity. The new thinking is that they — that is, the tax breaks — distort business and investment decisions and clutter the tax code. Well, Mr. Speaker, you'll recall in last year's budget and the one before — particularly last year's — we had quite a long list of gifts to business and industry in an attempt to encourage them to increase employment.
Had the minister come along in second reading of this and I could be proven wrong; perhaps he did it, since as I say I wasn't here, but I doubt very much that he did.... If he had, in introducing this legislation, shown the House evidence to convince the members that the tax breaks initiated in legislation last year had some effect on increasing employment, then I might be more willing to consider supporting the legislation before us now.
I suggest there is no evidence to prove that, and I suggest that the minister should be trying to catch up. If there is indeed, as this article says, a widening disenchantment with this theory of encouraging the wealthy by giving them more wealth and taking away from those who don't have it, well, then, let's have some evidence; let's see the documentary evidence as to why the minister expects this to work.
"According to this view, scaling down preferences while lowering rates would return decision-making to fundamental economics." I'm not opposed to that part of it, as long as those who can afford to pay end up paying more in the long run. But let's make it business decisions rather than decisions that are based upon attempts to get another government handout.
There's also an equity argument. Tax breaks largely benefit the well-off or, on the corporate side, certain industries ahead of others. That's obvious. The material that came out said that the successful corporations are going to benefit from this. The especially successful ones are going to benefit more than those that are just marginally successful. In the absence of any evidence to convince me that this will do something positive for the economy, I just can't vote for the bill before us now.
The federal minister at least, in imposing a tax increase on the population at large, did go in the direction that B.C. did some years ago, and from which it retreated about three years ago. Quoting from a story in the Globe and Mail on April 14, 1986: "Two months ago Mr. Wilson raised the sales tax but added a refundable tax credit for low-income earners to offset the negative impact on the poor." So more and more, Mr. Speaker, I think people are realizing the importance of keeping spending power in the hands of those in particular who have very little of it and who will spend all that they get. That will help keep the local economies going. It will be good for local communities. People will have the money to spend in their own communities.
This legislation before us now will do nothing to put more spending power in the hands of individuals. It will simply give corporations more surplus, which they may distribute by dividends or which they may use to invest in British Columbia or somewhere else. Because there are certainly no strings in this legislation, or anywhere else, where the government will put pressure on any of these corporations to use the money that they're saving with the one form of tax break after another that we're prepared to offer them; no strings that they will be required to hire more people no strings that they will be required to do more research and development here in
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British Columbia; no suggestion that they should be encouraged in any way to increase their investment in British Columbia. It is simply another handout from government to thank them for having invested in the past; nothing for the future.
As I say, Mr. Speaker, unless the minister has some evidence or some good arguments that this will have a positive effect on the economy, then we cannot support it.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Bill 8, the Income Tax Amendment Act, 1986, should not be seen in isolation; quite the contrary. As I indicated in moving second reading the other day, it is the logical next step in terms of a series of tax reforms which were undertaken following the tax tour I made in the fall of 1984. I will not bore the House by restating all the communities we visited and all the briefs we heard. Nonetheless, the whole reason for this graduated corporation tax rate decrease is that we, on this score and on others, found ourselves not competitive with jurisdictions that in fact are competing with us. We therefore had to restore the tax structure in British Columbia to a more moderate level, not only to encourage new development but to ensure and encourage the expansion of existing business in all parts of the province.
I will send the member, as I happily send to a number of people in the province, a series of positive economic indicators, which are produced regularly. The hon. member for Nanaimo talked about more money in the hands of individuals. Well, we see and have seen for a number of months that retail sales, if he wants one barometer, in the first two months of 1986 were 10 percent higher than in the same period of 1985. And in 1985 retail sales were up 8.8 percent from 1984. Retails sales increased 6.1 percent in 1984; that was the first larger-than-inflation increase since 1981. Sales tax data for the 1985-86 fiscal year show an increase of 9.6 percent over 1984-85. We're talking about two different animals, Mr. Speaker: retail sales generally, including all that which is not taxed, and then the actual sales tax numbers. There are a host of positive economic indicators: bankruptcies down; investment intentions by business, large, medium and small, up. Satisfaction. A recent survey conducted not by the government or the Social Credit Party, or by the Ministry of Finance, but rather by a firm noted for this sort of thing in conjunction with the Vancouver Board of Trade, shows that there's been a remarkable recovery of confidence by greater Vancouver businessmen in particular — business people, to be more correct. Of those responding to the survey, 64 percent — two-thirds of those surveyed — said that their businesses are better off today than a year ago. And 85 percent expect that they will be better off two years from now. When asked what was most likely to occur in their business in the next two years, 67 percent said they would expand, 28 percent said they would stay about the same and only 5 percent said they would contract.
Mr. Speaker, the tax changes which have been the subject of debate in 1985 and again in 1986 in this chamber — without reflecting on previous votes — were all designed to do, as I said earlier, two things: the first omnibus goal being to encourage more economic activity, more employment, more business in British Columbia for British Columbians, and the second being the recognition that prior to 1985 we were not competitive.
Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt whatsoever that this particular amending act, Bill 8, is yet another positive step on the obvious. the definite, the clearly defined road to economic recovery. I move second reading.
Motion approved on the following division:
YEAS — 29
Bill 8, Income Tax Amendment Act 1986, 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: I call committee on Bill 25, Mr. Speaker.
MUNICIPALITIES ENABLING AND
VALIDATING AMENDMENT ACT, 1986
The House in committee on Bill 25; Mr. Ree in the chair.
Section I approved.
HON. MR. RITCHIE: Mr. Chairman, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 25, Municipalities Enabling and Validating Amendment Act, 1986, reported complete without amendments, read a third time and passed.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 5, Mr. Speaker.
HEALTH IMPROVEMENT APPROPRIATION ACT
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 5, the Health Improvement Appropriation Act.
British Columbia has a health care system in which all of us can take pride, but the system does face difficult challenges as it adapts in the latter part of the 1980s to population
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shifts, changing expectations and new technology. Careful and sound long-term planning and new approaches to the delivery of health services are clearly needed to help meet these challenges.
To assist in this effort and as announced in the budget for 1986-87, the government has combined a commitment to stable base funding with a special three-year health improvement fund that is to be established through the act before us now. The act provides for the expenditure of $720 million over three years, with up to $120 million available in fiscal year '86-87. The health care community is being invited to submit proposals to access the fund, and that same community will also assist in developing priorities for the application of the money. Establishment of a three-year fund, as elsewhere, will provide a framework to ensure the most effective utilization of available dollars. During this first year, quick decisions will be made to meet a number of urgent operating requirements. However, where possible, maximum consensus will be sought relative to all decisions.
This fund will provide for adjustments to the operating budgets of hospitals and other health care providers, and for special initiatives and innovative approaches to the delivery of health care services. Already several areas have been identified for possible funding, and I'd like to remind the House of them now. In order to improve the quality of hospital care, additional funding can be provided for greater numbers of transplants, new drugs, advanced cancer treatment and AIDS therapy. In conjunction with new procedures and therapies, funding could be provided to open and to operate new hospital beds. In addition, preventive programs to keep people of British Columbia from becoming ill in the first place will be a very high priority, as will care programs that enable patients to be treated outside the hospital setting, when that is more appropriate for them.
There is a long list of challenges for the fund, but the government and my colleague the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Nielsen) agree that the health improvement fund is an effective way to deal with those challenges and to build an even better health care system in British Columbia, as I say, through the balance of the 1980s and into the next decade.
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Speaker, this bill is very similar to one that we started discussing and that was adjourned — Bill 4, to set up a similar fund for education. My response would have to be very much along the same lines as what I had to say with respect to Bill 4. It's one of the two funds described in the Vancouver dailies as pork-barrel politics and political slush funds. I can't disagree with the need for any of the programs about which the minister spoke, but we've had a similar need forever in the province, and governments have always dealt with it by listening to proposals and either dealing with them within the budget as voted upon by the Legislature, or by bringing them into the next year's budget. There is no need to give any minister the authority to spend $720 million without coming to the House and saying what he or she was going to do with this money. Of course, that's what this bill does.
The minister pointed out that the Minister of Health may spend up to $120 million in the first year, and indeed the Minister of Health may do that. But also, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health may not. The bill also allows the minister to spend the whole $720 million in the first week after March 31, 1987, because he can spend the whole $720 million by the end of the fiscal period March 31, 1987. Any time up to the end of that the whole $720 million may be spent. If he is going to start spending it in this first fiscal period, then the Minister of Health is limited to $120 million.
I think the difference between this fund and the education one, at least as far as I know, is that in the education one so much of it has been committed already, before the bill ever comes up for discussion; whereas in this particular bill establishing the health improvement fund, I don't know that any money has been committed out of it. The minister did tell us that several proposals have already been identified. In several areas proposals have been identified, but I take it from that that no money has been committed yet. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, while it looks now as though the election may be postponed a little longer than I thought a week ago, or even four days ago perhaps — it would seem now as though it's going to be later rather than sooner — that being the case, it's quite conceivable that the government will spend none of the money out of the health fund and most of the money out of the education fund in the heat of an election campaign sometime in 1987. Mr. Speaker, I have to disagree with that principle.
The Minister of Health, in dealing with this fund, will be seeking maximum consensus. Well, of course, that's commendable; it's great. But why has the Minister of Health not been listening to the health community up to this point in time? I believe the Minister of Health has. I believe the Minister of Health, as every other minister, continually listens to representations made from the community that that particular minister is serving. He brings forward these proposals in the normal budgetary proposal, goes before Treasury Board, gets approval there, comes into the House and explains them all, answers questions which are asked about any of the proposals and the money is voted. The members in the House retain the right, the opportunity, to ask questions of the minister, detailed questions about that minister's spending plans.
But in the case of this legislation, budgeting by setting up funds over which the minister will have total control and need not report back until some time after the fact is something that the present Premier fought against very hard when he was Leader of the Opposition. I quoted from him at some length in discussing Bill 4, which is still before us.
I would have hoped that from that discussion the Minister of Finance might have taken the message back to the present Premier and said: "Look, this is not what you promised when you were campaigning in 1974-75. At that time you promised to restore democracy to the Legislature. You promised to give the MLAs the opportunity to ask questions in detail." We can't insist on answers, but we can ask detailed questions about ministers' spending programs. In bringing this kind of legislation before the House, you're taking away from the members the opportunity to ask questions about those spending plans. What you're doing is saying that they can go ahead and spend this money; and some time later, when public accounts come up, then the members may be able to take a look at how the money was spent. That's really all we're able to do. A long time after the money has been spent, we'll be able to ask questions.
When I was discussing Bill 4, I quoted the present Premier, on many occasions travelling around the province, speaking before large audiences, and telling the people that his group would never agree to the spending of one dime without debate. Yet here we're being asked to approve of the Minister of Health spending $720 million, all of which could quite conceivably be spent in the four weeks of an election
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campaign; all of that spent that way, without giving the members the opportunity to vote on the spending of that money.
Mr. Speaker, it's not good enough. It's not democratic. I agree with the present Premier when he said that a procedure such as that would not be democratic. It's no more democratic for $720 million than it would be for ten cents, Mr. Speaker. If it was just ten cents, maybe it wouldn't matter so much. But we're talking about giving the Minister of Health carte blanche to spend up to $720 million if, as, when, where that minister feels it would be advisable.
There is a quotation from the present Premier that I didn't use when I was speaking on Bill 4. The current Premier said on May 16, 1975: "...the issue is not the amount of money involved, but the accountability of the cabinet ministers charged with spending the money. The Legislature must have the right to question the conduct of the ministers."
Mr. Speaker, I agree with that sentiment. We weren't denying that, but that doesn't matter. His criticism then was not appropriate at all. But in this instance the Premier could well be excused for standing up in this Legislature and making the same kind of speeches in opposition to this legislation as he made travelling around the province in 1975; as he made to some extent in the Legislature; and while I haven't had the opportunity to check Hansard in detail, the same kind of speeches that I expect the present Minister of Finance made on this same issue — "not a dime without debate" — in the Legislature in 1974-75.
Mr. Speaker, if he was opposed then to the principle of cabinet ministers not having the authority to spend ten cents without proper debate in the Legislature, how can that minister, on behalf of that government, in all conscience or in any conscience, stand up now and bring in legislation that gives to the Minister of Health carte blanche to spend $720 million whenever and wherever?
No matter how good the cause, no matter how convinced that minister may be that it's the right thing to do, nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, how can the minister condone a procedure that we have before us now, proposing legislation such as this, which takes out of the hands of the MLAs the opportunity to deal with the spending of public money in the way in which we should deal with it?
Mr. Speaker, there's no point in my repeating all the arguments; they're the same arguments with respect to Bill 4. I'm encouraged by the fact that Bill 4 is just sitting there waiting to be picked up, and I hope that it never comes back. I would hope that the same thing happens to Bill 5, but I can't predict that.
I would hope that the minister himself sees that he is transgressing the principles of democracy in bringing forward this legislation, that it is the wrong way to go, that there is a proper way to control spending. There is a proper way in which the MLA should have the right, the opportunity and even the responsibility to question ministers' spending programs, not to deal with it one or two years after the fact.
Mr. Speaker, I move an amendment. I move that the motion for second reading of Bill 5, intituled Health Improvement Appropriation Act, be amended by deleting all the words following the word "that" and substituting therefore the following: "it is not in keeping with proper fiscal policy and Health policy to have funds for Health expended other than through the normal budget of the Ministry of Health."
The motion is seconded by the hon. member for Burnaby North (Mrs. Dailly).
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. members, I find at this time that the reasoned amendment is in order. It follows a similar amendment which was also in order.
On the amendment.
MRS. DAILLY: Mr. Speaker, the words which we just heard from our Finance debate leader I don't think it is necessary for me to repeat, because those words and the points he made have already been brought up before in the Health estimates debate. The main point of our concern...and I wish to make one statement on a repetition of his remarks, and then bring in some of my own on this amendment.
The amendment, our Finance critic has pointed out, is a complete rejection of the whole manner in which the government has chosen to use these moneys for Health. We do not feel that any government has the right to bring in a bill which is going almost to force the members of this Legislature to vote for something which has no accountability to each member of this Legislature. Therefore, as said in the reasoned amendment, we reject this kind of fiscal policy brought in by the Social Credit government.
We consider this debate to be very frustrating, because we know by the sheer numbers of the government that this bill will obviously go through. We know that the words which we are speaking on this motion, and even in our recent amendment, will probably have no effect on the basic outcome, on what happens to this bill. However, as is our right and our duty as members of the official opposition, we take this opportunity to condemn the government for presenting to the members of this House what we consider this most unreasonable bill. That is why the amendment which we have produced makes that point to the House.
To back up some more of the concerns we have about this kind of bill, I notice that the health association's members, who make up the trustees and management of the hospital and care facilities of this province — the people who have to deal every day with health and its problems — express grave concern about this way of handing out moneys for health in the province of British Columbia. They particularly express concern that there seems to be a basic difference between the words spoken by the minister in his budget speech, and repeated again today in the notes he used in addressing the bill before the House, and what he stated on both those occasions with the actual estimates. For example, if I can make my point on this, there is an explanation of this new health appropriation fund in the estimates book, which states that the purpose of this fund is stabilization of base funding, "encouraging local initiative, improving the quality of service, responding to economic and population changes, and increasing productivity." That's what we find in the estimates book.
But the Finance minister, in addressing the House and in some of his notes today, stated that the proposals and the priorities for this fund will be determined in consultation with the health care community. "We cannot fulfil every wish in the health care system, so we will have to make choices. The views of the health care professions and of the general public will be crucial." After looking at what has been said in the estimates book and then looking at the minister's statement, the concern of the people who have to work with the problems of health care day in and day out in this province — and I'm
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not just talking about the people who work in the system; I'm talking about those who are put in charge of managing it — is that, as our amendment is trying to point out, because of this kind of legislation the various health sectors in our province will find themselves pitted against each other in trying to prove their requirements. Can you imagine all the time and energy involved — which, of course, will also mean money — the hours and hours of burning the midnight oil, so to speak, that the trustees and management of our province's hospitals, long-term care facilities, etc., will have to spend trying to deal with how to best put forward their needs to the ministry?
I know that the minister has stated that there will be consultation. But I think that if you look at his words in the budget speech and then at the estimates, there is a feeling that the government has already pretty well prioritized the kinds of things they will be expecting the money to go on. I don't think the people in the health field are really fooled by all this. I think that we're all aware that this is just another crass political move by the Social Credit government in a pre-election period. We can already see the various cabinet ministers and MLAs of the government side trotting around the province making it very visible, with the cameras and the pictures — you name it, Mr. Speaker. We've seen it before in the handing out of other cheques. We can just see how visible it is going to be made when these moneys for health are handed out. The minister, in his closing remarks, may try to disabuse us of this idea we have that this is going to be used politically. But I think there is no question at all that if it were not to be used politically, why did you not just simply give the hospital boards and the other health facilities their necessary base requirement through the budget so that they who deal with it every day and know right at this moment exactly where their needs are...? Why was the money not just placed in the Health estimates?
I think the minister has to explain to the House. I would hope he would, anyway, in closing tell us why it was decided to take this route and not place it in the Health budget. As I have stated, in the minds of the members of the opposition and people who are not politically aligned one way or the other it is quite clear that this has been done strictly to enhance the chances of the Social Credit Party of winning the next election.
We repudiate it that at a time when the health needs of the people of this province are so urgent and at a time when so many health boards and hospitals are right down to the very basics — in fact, some of them are even stripped further; they don't know if they are going to be able to keep up basic standards — we find that this government would, instead of handing out the needed moneys through the budget so it could be accountable to the members of the Legislature and of allowing the boards themselves to make the decisions on this matter, crassly decide to use it politically prior to an election.
Let us just look again. I went through some of these facts during the health estimates, so they are already on record; I don't intend to take up the time of the Chair in going through them all again. But I think we are aware that the present budget that we were faced with in Health this year provided a zero increase for homemakers, adult daycare and group homes for the handicapped. In the whole area of home nursing care and community physiotherapy there were cuts of $100,000. There was a $5 million long-term care facility cut. Here the hospitals are crying out to get rid of long-term care patients in their acute beds so they can put them in long-term.
Why didn't you just let that money stay in the budget so that the hospital boards could immediately make use of it for the betterment of all our citizens, not just for the benefit of one political party? Because, after all, it is taxpayers' money. It does not belong to the Social Credit Party to enhance their election chances; it belongs to all the people of British Columbia.
There was $4.6 million taken from ambulance services and a 9.3 percent cut in forensic psychiatrist services, areas of prevention which are so important, particularly the forensic services. Yet the minister stands up and says: "We are hoping that this will go for prevention." Yet at the same time the Minister of Health has cut out areas of prevention.
There was $1.3 million cut back for mental health, and yet they are saying to the people who are dealing with health today: "You come and see us and tell us what you need." The hospital boards of this province have already presented to the government what their needs are. What a farce this is, when you think about it! What a farce! The hospital boards have pointed out their needs very carefully and very responsibly. However, the government has said: "You do it all over again, but do it according to our terms, because we have a certain amount of money, a certain appropriation which will be only handed out from our level."
The opposition has nothing to do with it. What kind of a democratic process is that? I know that the member for Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich), our finance critic, has already expressed his concern about the undemocratic manner in which this health fund is being used.
I also want to point out to you, Mr. Speaker, and through you to the Minister of Finance, that the opposition has called for a number of years now for an all-party committee to study the health needs of the people of this province so that there can be a planned health approach to the problems of this province. We are not averse to that. The thing that we find very sad is that the opposition has not only been denied a chance, through a committee, of working with the Ministry of Health to bring forward some of our ideas on the whole area of how health care moneys should be expended in this province and how we should plan for the future. We've not only been denied that, but through this bill we are even denied, as members of this Legislature, the opportunity and the right to vote on moneys that are to be appropriated millions of dollars taken away from us.
As the member for Nanaimo — the Minister of Finance for the NDP government — has stated, we all remember well the cry of the Social Credit government up and down this province: "Not a dime without debate." How quickly people change through the years, and how sad it is to see the cynicism of a government that has been in power so long that they think they can actually get away with these blatantly undemocratic things that take away the accountabilities of the members of the Legislature.
I have other speakers who want to follow me. I simply want to say, in speaking to this amendment, that we would hope someone on the government side would not vote the party line on this, would realize that if they don't support our amendment it means they're endorsing an undemocratic principle in this House. They're endorsing a move to use health funds on a political basis, and we in the opposition — and many of the people of this province — reject that.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Speaker, if ever there was a bill that needed amending, it's this bill. This bill is asking us in this
[ Page 8349 ]
House to ignore the tradition of parliament, to ignore the committee of the whole that discusses each vote, each dollar spent and the direction of the expenditure; and the Minister of Health, who is going to be the one working out the largess of this bill, isn't even here to listen to debate on the bill that hands him $120 million this year — that ain't peanuts — another $120 million next year, and another $120 million the succeeding year. What I see here is a bill that actually sets up a fund of $720 million in total, and the minister doesn't have to account to the Legislature. Oh, you can say, "But he has to account to the public," or "He has to account to his cabinet colleagues," or something like that. What's the purpose of electing a Legislature in this province if we're going to hand away all of the responsibilities to the government and to individual ministers? It's absolutely absurd.
What we're looking at here is a lottery syndrome. This government has become very used to dishing out the proceeds of the lotteries. They dish them out anywhere they think those proceeds can produce a political response. We all know that. The member for Burnaby North has spoken about it at length in days gone by. Now they decide that by legislation they're going to insert money into the provincial budget and say to the minister: "Go out and see where there's a need and respond to that need." What preposterous nonsense! This government, which is noted for its overexpenditure in any event, which provides us with almost a string of warrants as long as your arm — and then some — before the Legislature sits each year, money that was not voted upon, now wants, in advance, hundreds of millions of dollars to expend in any way the minister feels is fit. That is absolutely in contradiction to everything that Parliament stands for.
Why in blazes there isn't a hue and cry in this province about this bill is beyond me. Oh yes, I've seen the odd editorial, the odd story that the government is doing something they shouldn't — tut tut. There should be a hell of a scream in this province. And of all people, the man who brings it in, the Minister of Finance, who has built himself quite a conservative reputation over the last few years, now comes in here and tries to justify the unjustifiable. He comes into the Legislature with a bill that says: "Give us carte blanche to spend $120 million wherever we want as long as it's on health care." Mr. Speaker, we have an estimates book. In that book is a number of votes and each of those votes the minister has to be responsible for. He has to....
MR. COCKE: Yes, it's in the estimates. And what good is it in the estimates? This is the only place we get an opportunity to discuss it. The minister knows full well that every other estimate vote is directed at a specific obligation for dollars.
[Mr. Ree in the chair.]
If it's in there for forensic psychiatric care, if it's in there for mental health, if it's in there for hospital care, you know exactly what you're voting for. Here the minister says: "Well, maybe we could put a few dollars into Prince George, or if it's politically astute, let's throw a bunch of money at Eagle Ridge." Which is what they seem intent upon doing at the moment — divesting the Royal Columbian Hospital and sending programs out to Eagle Ridge. But anyway, aside from that, this gives the minister that kind of opportunity. There's no debate. We can't sit here in Committee of the Whole and discuss intelligently the utilization of these $120 million dollars this year. Pretty good picking.
It should be that the back-benchers in government, while I don't expect them to vote against this bill, should be up right now asking questions about this $120 million and why it is necessary to give this kind of latitude to a minister, a minister who is so self-assured that he's going to get the $120 million — because he knows that he's got a whole bunch of little robots over there to vote for it — that he doesn't even present himself in this chamber during the debate on this bill. Interesting, too. And for the debate on the education bill, which is exactly the same, the Minister of Education was nowhere to be found.
Mr. Speaker, you're getting restless. I'm talking in terms of a cabinet which is irresponsible producing a piece of paper which says to a minister: "Go and spend to your heart's content. Spend until your $120 million are gone. And then, if it's politically advisable, we'll tell you what we'll do. Before the next session of the Legislature we'll bring in some more special warrants." I can't understand why there isn't a hue and cry that continues on. I know there have been some diversions. There's a bloodletting in the Social Credit Party going on at the present time.
MR. COCKE: "To the bill" my foot! As far as I'm concerned, that is diversionary, among other things. People are not paying enough attention to what's actually happening. The press, as usual, are having their extended coffee break.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! On the bill and the amendment.
MR. COCKE: Mr. Chairman, I'm speaking on the bill. You know, it's amazing to me how sometimes I listen to members on that side of the House making analogous statements, talking in terms that they feel are related. I'm saying there should be a hue and cry in this province about this bill, and nobody seems to be listening.
If they're not listening, I'm going to damn well say what I have to say about this disastrous piece of legislation. And it is disastrous. It creates a precedent whereby we will rue the day it was created. It's all very well for the Socreds at the moment. They can say: "Oh well, you know, it's our responsibility. We're doing it and we will go on doing it forever as long as we want." You wait and see what happens if the NDP, once coming to power — and that's going to be very shortly — pull something like this off. There would be a repeat performance of Bill, when he went around the province screaming at the top of his lungs: "Not a dime without debate." And Don Phillips, the former member from South Peace....
MR. MACDONALD: Where are they now?
MR. COCKE: That's right. He with his leather lungs spewed forth fire across this province. You know what that was about? It wasn't about giving ministers $120 million to flip around wherever they want. It was some kind of constraint upon the length of time that we would debate particular
[ Page 8350 ]
estimates: oh, what a terrible, terrible travesty! That, contrasted to this, was angel-like. This is indeed a travesty This runs counter to everything that parliament stands for. Try to pull something like this off in Westminster. I'll tell you, they'd be there forever and three weeks, Mr. Speaker. This is a giveaway bill to a minister who can walk around the province and say: "Well, if you vote right, I guess we can give you a piece of the action. If you don't happen to vote right, sorry, none for you."
You see, first they cut back the estimates on Health. They cut Health to the bone, and then they come up with this largess. You know, my baby, the ambulance service — the emergency service in this province was cut back $4.6 million. Is there any reliance on their getting that back out of this $120 million? Not if the minister doesn't feel like it.
That, Mr. Speaker, is absolutely dead wrong. This is the kind of bill that sets parliament back years. Once you get away with this sort of thing, it continues. I have stood in my place in the last ten years in this House, where legislation is brought in. It is called enabling legislation. Nice, easy words to say: enabling legislation. What does enabling legislation do? Enabling legislation takes away from the Legislature its right to argue bills and puts it in the hands of the cabinet ministers to bring in regulations instead.
This province is run from behind those oak doors down the hall, totally. The Legislature is becoming absolutely irrelevant because of this kind of legislation. It is an absolute intrusion on democracy, an intrusion on democracy that should never, ever be permitted. There should be a constitutional fight about this sort of thing. But no. A little debate within these four walls. Let's pretend nobody can hear. The odd person, given plenty of time, might pick up Hansard and say: "Holy smokes, what's going on in British Columbia?"
I'll tell you, it is so bad that they can't even find one member on the government side to debate the bill. We have had three people on the opposition side. Except the Minister of Finance.
MR. MACDONALD: Is he a hopeful?
MR. COCKE: He is a leadership candidate, I am told. God help the rest of us if he makes it. Bringing in this kind of legislation, Mr. Minister of Finance, shows that there is no way that you should be considered, but you will be. This is not proper legislation. This is legislation that gives carte blanche to a government member to go out there and spend it wherever he wants. That's why we have moved this amendment.
The amendment restores this money directly to the estimates, where it belongs in the first place, where this committee as a whole can then debate the expenditure of those dollars knowing exactly where those dollars are going and then either give the minister approval or not. That has nothing to do with this piece of disastrous legislation. We're setting a very unfortunate precedent, a precedent that says in the future ministers will be given discretionary money.
I remember when I was Minister of Health. I had some discretionary money for what we called very, very significant health problems that occurred, and people couldn't take care of them — a few thousand dollars, so that a family with hemophiliacs could be looked after and their situation could be looked after by the department. Something like this would have been absolutely unheard of. Just go back in your minds, Socreds. Just remember, just think: if the now member for
Nanaimo (Mr. Stupich), as Minister of Finance, had brought this bill into the Legislature and I, as Minister of Health, had been given $120 million to go around and deal out, what would have been the cry then?
I can remember a few of those actors. They would have gone out of their trees on that issue, and rightfully so. This is not the kind of legislation that we should ever look at approvingly in the Legislature of British Columbia. We have walked away from our responsibility the minute we pass this bill. We have walked away from our responsibility the minute they vote against our amendment. The only thing that can make this bill stand the test of time is that amendment, which restores the dollars to the estimates.
I'm not the greatest prophet in the world, but they're going to vote against that amendment. They're going to stand and vote against that amendment. In voting against that amendment, they're going to be voting against the very thing that they were elected to do, and that was to serve the people honestly, properly, in the province of British Columbia to the best of their ability. They will have divested themselves of that responsibility without even a sense of remorse. It's a very sad day for this Legislature in the province of British Columbia when we look at this kind of bill and this kind of action taken by a government that's so totally starved for policy, for platform, for direction, that they would resort to this kind of political shenanigan.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Pursuant to standing orders....
HON. MR. CURTIS: On the amendment, Mr. Speaker.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The minister rises on the amendment.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Speaker, thank you. I did not wish to correct the Chair. I'm speaking to the amendment which has been proposed by the official opposition.
Well, the hon. member for New Westminster is correct on one thing. He just made a prediction. The government rejects the amendment for a couple of reasons which I would like to spell out. I recall the "not a dime without debate" era when the NDP was briefly in government in this province, and the record will show that upon the elapsing of a given period of time all remaining estimates not debated would have been passed. That was what that debate was about.
I will not reflect on another bill which is before the House, but we have heard the same argument in that connection as well. We have 28.6 percent of the provincial budget comprised in the Ministry of Health in all its activities — the largest allocation of any ministry. That's $2.755 billion, an amount more than the total budget of some provinces — not many; an amount more than the total budget of some states in the United States of America; a very significant amount of money.
The impression should not be left with those who follow these debates that this fund cannot be debated quite apart from the debate which is occurring now establishing the fund. The fund appears in the estimates for 1986-87. It is on page 116, and in subsequent years — in year two of the three years; in year three of the three years — I know of no rule in this Legislature which will prevent members of the opposition and members of the government party from questioning the Minister of Health with respect to what has been done
[ Page 8351 ]
with that money. One of the hon. members on the other side did say that it is an amount to be spent in health. Another member went a little too far, I think, in excitement over opposing the bill and suggested that the minister can spend it on anything he or she likes. It is clearly money for health care in the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker, let's just look at this thing in a slightly broader context; I think it might be useful — and with respect to another bill as well; if possible, I'll say the same thing at that time, but I will not intrude upon that bill at this moment. The fact of the matter is that in the health improvement fund the government is saying to the health care community — in all its forms, Mr. Minister of Health — that we have limited resources. That's a constant in any Canadian province. British Columbia is no different, no better, no worse, than any other province in terms of the availability of dollars for something as important, as major and as expensive, if I may say so, as health care. We're saying to the health care community: "Bring us your ideas; bring us your suggestions: bring us your views as to how best to use that limited amount of money; be innovative; be creative; look at preventing people from getting into the hospital, preventing it being necessary for people to get into hospital; bring us all the ideas in the world."
One member opposite also said: "People in the health care industry are going to have to be up burning the midnight oil" — I think that was the phrase — "working and reworking suggestions." Well, they're not. I have confidence in people in the health care community. They have endless ideas and thoughts with respect to utilizing those scarce dollars: new programs, new techniques, a new form of care, outpatient, whatever it may be. The members of this Legislature know that surely, Mr. Speaker. There are a host of ideas held by the health care community; that's what this fund is all about. That's what we're saying to them: $120 million this year, and additional millions in years two and three; bring us your ideas.
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding their concern, let the members opposite at least acknowledge that as the money is allocated and reported upon, the Minister of Health of the day will have to stand in this chamber and announce and defend the decisions that have been made.
HON. MR. CURTIS: I listened quietly, Mr. Member for New Westminster.
MR. COCKE: What nonsense!
HON. MR. CURTIS: Don't say "What nonsense." The Minister of Health will have to defend the allocations made under this vote and will have to answer not only to the House but to the community. Mr. Member, I am speaking of a year hence, when some allocations have been made, the approximately $120 million which is alluded to on page 116 of the estimates and which was talked about in the budget. We have $120 million for the fund in year one, fiscal year 1986-87, out of a total expenditure for that ministry in this fiscal year of $2.755 billion, 28.6 percent of the total provincial budget, approaching one-third of every dollar that is spent for government in the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker, the government, as I said earlier, rejects the opposition's amendment. But more importantly, the government, through Bill 5, says to the health community: "Bring us your ideas; bring us your suggestions; bring us your programs; bring us your thoughts with respect to" — wonder of wonders, Mr. Speaker — improving health care in British Columbia." The Health Improvement Appropriation Act: improving health care for the people of this province, not only this year or in year two or year three but in years which follow. In the health services we provide through this Legislature.
We cannot accept the amendment, Mr. Speaker.
I move adjournment of this debate until the next sitting after today.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Ree in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
CONSUMER AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS
On vote 14: minister's office, $212, 804.
HON. MR. VEITCH: I'm very pleased to introduce debate on estimates for the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs for the 1986-87 fiscal year. In considering our expenditure plans for the upcoming year, I'll demonstrate my ministry's commitment to full participation in the economic development plan of this government.
The last fiscal year was a landmark for Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and I believe this year will be even more productive. More than ever before, the focus of activity has been on innovative ways to improve and to streamline our legislation and policies to encourage economic development in the province while still ensuring the public is protected in the marketplace. I'm proud of the role my ministry plays as a partner in the process of economic renewal. We extend that partnership to the various industries and businesses that we regulate and to the consumers we have the privilege of serving. We share responsibility for making sure everybody gets a fair deal and for helping all British Columbians realize their full potential as marketplace participants.
Mr. Chairman, we must be careful not to overlook the vital role the marketplace plays in our society. It has been proven that the alternative to a free functioning marketplace is government control. History has shown us that that is not the most attractive solution. It may have been appropriate in the past to think of the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs as a ministry whose chief purpose was to place regulations and controls on the marketplace. Not today. We are playing an increasing role in helping develop a stronger economy in British Columbia. Our goal is to build a marketplace that is seen to be honest and fair, a marketplace that has integrity, a marketplace that serves the interests of consumers as well as those of business.
I assumed this portfolio at the time the fiscal year for 1985-86 was about to draw to a close. I was delighted to learn of the progress the ministry has made, and using the resources allotted to it in the most constructive and efficient manner possible. Staff should be commended for working extremely hard and for working well. They have effectively administered our existing programs and have helped to develop new legislation and policies to respond to marketplace
[ Page 8352 ]
dynamics, whether they are felt in our consumer and tenancy relations, corporate and financial relations, liquor control and licensing, liquor distribution or management support services programs. I look forward to continuing the momentum and to working as minister responsible for an organization committed to improvement and change in order to meet the government's goal to serve the people of British Columbia more effectively.
Looking back on achievements during '85-86, it's easy to see how we've arrived at this point, when signs of economic renewal are all around us. As I indicated when I spoke during the budget debate, one important sign of economic renewal, and a sign of confidence that British Columbia is a good place in which to do business, is the number of incorporations. There were 14,052 incorporations in 1984; in 1985 there were 15,581 more. Staff working in the companies office strive for a 24-hour turnaround time for the registration of new companies. Commitment to the highest possible level of customer service continues to be the operating philosophy in the companies office as well as in the central and mobile home registries. Implementation of a new computer system in central registry has been completed, and that means faster responses on searches and in general more accurate and timely information to our various clients.
Mr. Chairman, we have passed a new Securities Act and a Commodity Contract Act to provide better protection for investors and a more efficient regulatory structure for raising capital in British Columbia. I'm sure this legislation will provide consumers and investors with increased confidence and incentive to invest in British Columbia. The Securities Act is designed to ensure that fair dealing is the rule of the marketplace and to encourage bona fide investment in business and industries which will help create jobs for the people of B.C. The new act restricts self-dealing in mutual funds and prevents non-arm's-length transactions between mutual fund insiders. It also prohibits insider tips about takeover bids and provides for continuous disclosure of material changes in circumstances relating to a security. Stiffer penalties for wrongful dealings have also been provided as an authority to create a securities commission. That new Securities Act will, we hope, be proclaimed very shortly. An important component of our estimates is funding to establish the commission so that it may set directions for the future of securities regulation in the province of British Columbia.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
Another important initiative will enable the ministry to improve regulation of financial institutions. We will be launching very soon further consultations with British Columbians on opportunities for economic development of the financial institutions sector and improvements we can make to improve regulation and enhance the climate for economic development in this province. Views are being canvassed from industry, business and consumer groups. We want input as an important first step to finalizing changes to the legislation of financial institutions under provincial jurisdiction and preparing proposals on how development of the financial services sector can be fostered.
We shall also continue efforts to make the establishment of an international financial centre in Vancouver a reality. Growth in international trade is crucially dependent on a world-class financial services industry. By attracting financial transactions among non-residents, we can complement development of our domestic financial services sector.
Our new superintendent of financial institutions will be serving as a central figure in the strengthening of confidence in an already strong British Columbia financial services industry. He will join with the superintendent of brokers and real estate and the deputy superintendents of insurance and of trust companies, credit unions and cooperatives to help guide the process through to completion. In looking for ways to encourage economic development of the financial services sector, we are conscious we must not lose sight of the need for continued and effective regulation. To that end we propose increased resources to improve our capacity to investigate and audit financial institutions, and to provide new technology to enhance our ability to identify and to respond quickly to potential problem situations.
As you can see, Mr. Chairman, the importance of financial institutions in British Columbia will be underscored by continued activity in this important sector of the marketplace throughout 1986 and 1987.
Turning to our consumer and tenancy relations program, I'm pleased to acknowledge a number of significant achievements of the past fiscal year. The Travel Agents Act was amended to improve administration and to help minimize future risks to the travel assurance fund. The registrar of travel services now has increased powers to monitor and to control high-risk registrants. No government can be expected to prevent all business failures. We can ensure, however, that our regulations are sufficient to minimize the risk to consumers. This is our aim with the travel services program, and through our travel assurance fund — compensating customers for travel services not received as a result of the difficulties of British Columbia travel companies is the goal. I would like to acknowledge the support the travel industry provided throughout the development of our legislative proposals. Their continued involvement with my ministry will help us ensure that the needs of the travel business and of the citizens who are their clients are properly met. We particularly look forward to regular input from representatives of the industry through an advisory council which will soon be appointed.
Mr. Chairman, our consumer credit and debtor assistance branch will make a high priority of continuing to provide a high level of service. In the 1985-86 fiscal year more than 5,000 debtors were assisted through personal interviews, and another 9,000 or so British Columbia residents received assistance over the telephone. Through the efforts of the hard-working staff of this particular branch, more than $3 million was returned to creditors who would otherwise have had to write off these debts. Increased use of computer technology by the branch proposed for the upcoming fiscal year will strengthen the branch's ability to disburse cheques to creditors in a timely manner and to improve overall administration of the debtor assistance program.
The motor dealer licensing branch will administer its legislation by registering, inspecting and responding to complaints respecting motor dealers in the province of British Columbia.
Staff in our cemeteries division will continue inspections, 189 last year; financial reviews of perpetual care funds, 78 last year; and funeral plans, 20 last year.
Trade liaison staff will work with business and consumers to increase awareness of ministry policies and of legislation;
[ Page 8353 ]
and our consumer education officer will ensure information flows to schools in support of the compulsory consumer education course in British Columbia's high schools.
The new residential tenancy branch has completed its first full fiscal year in operation. During the first ten months 2,504 arbitration applications were processed, over 76,000 telephone inquiries answered, almost 600 information files resolved, and just over 9,700 office interviews conducted. We have found our arbitration system to be fast, fair and far less expensive than court proceedings. Fears of massive rent increases as a result of removal of rent controls have not materialized. Many tenants have enjoyed more moderate increases since the ceiling was removed. With increased understanding of the respective rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants under our new Residential Tenancy Act, we are finding that British Columbia's regulation of landlord-tenant relationships is very effective indeed.
In liquor control and licensing we have responded to the unique nature of our world's fair by developing rules and establishing liquor licensing procedures for Expo 86. Our involvement with Expo is expected to continue so that we may ensure successful licensing during British Columbia's sponsorship of this wonderful world-class event.
During the past fiscal year we also took part in continuing discussions with the grape and wine industry in British Columbia. Those discussions ultimately led to British Columbia's agreement to join with a Grape Marketing Board, the Wine Council of British Columbia and the federal government in a program to replant red grape acreage into white grapes and to eliminate the red wine surplus. Some of this replanting is now underway. The then-Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs were party to the decision to offset the shift in consumer preference from red to white wines and to protect the grape wine industry in the province of British Columbia.
The ministry also implemented changes to liquor policies which followed cabinet review. British Columbians were asked for their views as part of that process. The changes allowed licensed hotels and neighbourhood pubs to sell refrigerated beer, cider and British Columbia wines off the same site as their establishments, permitted the establishment of British Columbia winery shops, allowed lounges at Victoria International Airport to serve liquor on Sunday for the convenience of the travelling public, and enabled the sale of draft beer in restaurants. More recently we allowed public houses and hotels as well to remain open during their normal hours and to sell their wares seven days a week.
In our own liquor operations, LDB earned some $390 million, introduced modern retailing, opened new agency stores using private retailers to serve rural customers, and continued to provide the access of domestic and import producers to the marketplace. Mr. Chairman, we also amended regulations to add wine coolers to the list of permissible products for ordinary off-sale premises.
Administratively we will continue to support program activities for the provision of personnel, operational review, policy, public affairs, financial and information system advice. All support services are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations of the entire ministry.
Mr. Chairman, these are just a few of the activities that have occurred, and new initiatives will be coming before hon. members of this House in the coming year. I am pleased to report that our plans for the upcoming year will require only a moderate increase in expenditure. Many of our initiatives are possible because of the significant savings achieved over the last few years.
Mr. Chairman. I look forward to debate on my ministry's estimates, and I know we all share the desire to see even greater improvements in the service the government provides to the marketplace of British Columbia.
MR. LAUK: Well, if the minister is going to invite debate, far be it from me to turn him down. The minister has been in office for such a short period of time, it is very difficult to blame him for everything.
I rather think it showed a remarkable lack of self-confidence when the minister took office to muzzle his staff so abruptly and come down on them so hard. I mean, there was no significant public display of press leaks from the minister's office. I think that he was being a little bit too nervous and showed, as I say, a little bit of lack of self-confidence.
There is a problem with consumer protection. I want to ask one or two questions of the minister with respect to it. The two major items I want to talk about are uninsured financial institutions and the current spate of foreclosures and bankruptcies with respect to fitness businesses. These are two areas that have ripped off ordinary British Columbians rather badly over the past few years.
In particular. as an example on the financial institution side, an uninsured financial company like Victoria Mortgage Corp.... There were several people who bought debentures with this corporation and, within a few days of their renewal, with the mere rumour that Victoria Mortgage Corp. was going to go belly-up or into receivership, went in and were told that it was all right to renew their debentures. Others, in the face of public statements by the officers of this corporation, allowed the automatic renewal provisions of their debentures to take place. A few days later receivership, or intended receivership, was announced. On the face of that, that's fraud. It is at the very least what the legal beagles call "innocent misrepresentation," but misrepresentation nevertheless, to the extent where people have lost their life savings or a good part of them.
To say, as the minister did — and I am sure it wasn't just rhetoric — that he wanted an honest and fair marketplace.... Those were his words: a marketplace with integrity, in the interests of the consumers. I think these were the phrases the minister just used in introducing his estimates.
I wonder if the minister can explain the inaction of both his department and the Ministry of the Attorney-General not only to deal with the people involved with the mortgage corporation that I've just mentioned, but to deal with them forcefully, quickly and firmly as a deterrent to others who would deceive people and who would rip them off. There is no other expression to be used in that situation.
It seems to me there is a prima facie case in the case of Victoria Mortgage Corp. — a prima facie case without explanation — of deliberate deception, where investors were asking whether their debentures should be renewed or cashed in. They were told everything was all right days before receivership was contemplated by the officers of the corporation.
I asked the Attorney-General last year, and the member for Victoria also asked, whether or not an investigation was underway with a view to enforcing all statutes of Canada and
[ Page 8354 ]
the province against people who may have been guilty of wrongdoing in this regard. I may have missed his report, but as yet there has been no report with respect to such an investigation. I have no vendetta. I am not out to get the people that ran Victoria Mortgage Corp. But I think it is incumbent upon the administration to make examples of those who would do that to innocent investors in the province.
The other question that was raised by the opposition at that time was this, if you like, contextual misrepresentation that since Victoria Mortgage Corp. and others under similar names were not insured — whether or not it is fair and honest and in keeping with the integrity of the marketplace to require such corporations to advertise and make known to would-be investors that they are not insured. They are clearly set up and present themselves to the investing public in such a way that they appear to be like other financial institutions that are insured. An unwary or inexperienced investor with life savings is not adequately informed of that non-insurance.
The other issue that the minister has allowed to slip by, and which cannot be described as an honest and fair situation in the marketplace, is fitness spas which are hard-selling memberships — some of them lifetime or many-year memberships for large amounts of money — to people who are not likely to be experienced in this kind of thing and not likely to beware of this kind of thing. I would suggest that this experience with fitness centres is a very old experience; it is not just a new one, although it's come up in the news again. But surely there is some protection in the law for deliberate deception, and there has to be deliberate deception when you buy a lifetime membership in a fitness centre, as has been described in the press if the press reports are correct, and a few hours later there is an announcement that it has gone bankrupt, with apparently no opportunity to recover their money.
We're talking about people that don't have much and can't throw it around. Platitudes and promises of good things to come are not going to help these people. It seems to me that the minister can encourage the Attorney-General to look carefully at prosecutions in some clear cases to make an example of these fitness centres. A situation may arise where a conviction under the Criminal Code may be upheld by a judge. They should be watched very carefully.
Over the years I've owned a Mercedes-Benz. It's an old car; it's over 20 years old. I've found that even during a depression such as the one we've had in B.C. for the last three or four years, the price of parts for that old vehicle goes up several percentages a year. It's a ripoff to the extent that there's a captive audience. With Mercedes, I understand, you have to go to Germany for six months just to learn how to take off the gas cap. All of this mystique about imported cars has added to the price of the parts. They are overpriced 10 and 20 times their value in Europe and their true value in this country. Those of us who want to use imported cars, especially old ones, and have to buy parts to replace them I suppose are not going to find too much sympathy out there. But I wonder if an examination couldn't be made of this kind of overpricing and competition. I use it only as an example to the minister, who started off saying that he believed in a free marketplace, honest and fair, with an integrity, etc.
A free enterprise marketplace, a free market system, has competition. When it doesn't have competition, it fails. In a sort of free marketplace the competitors, or would-be competitors, try to destroy each other, to the extent where sometimes they're successful. When they are successful, they end up with the whole ball of wax; and it is no longer a free marketplace. Somewhere in the minister's theory of free enterprise he's got a solution to that problem that's plagued economists for years. It may be a very serious attack on the minister's rhetoric in support of free enterprise.
The more serious situation is elderly people, particularly women, who are driving automobiles. I had a case recently involving a member of my family. For years she'd taken an automobile into the same garage and had it tuned up every three months. Because of a recent illness, I was forced to go over her affairs, and saw the bills for every three months for a tune-up. So I had a friend of mine who is a mechanic look at her car and he found that the plugs and the points were set up precisely to cause this particular engine to need to have a tune-up every three months. Here's a woman on pension, in her seventies, deliberately being cheated by a neighbourhood mechanic. The minister can't be in all places at all times. We can't have a consumer cop on the comer. But talk about unfairness: limited, fixed-income people being cheated like that! Is that honest and fair? Is that the marketplace? The marketplace has to be watched. We've taken action, as a family, to deal with that particular issue. But sometimes people like that, alone, do not have the resources that you and I have to protect ourselves in the marketplace. That's the job of the minister, to set up programs and to.... I would like to see in automobile repairs and in body shops a self-policing situation, but it's not happening.
The two major points that I have for the minister with respect to consumer protection are these fitness centres and the financial institutions like Victoria Mortgage Corp. Ltd. There are clear breaches there, and certainly clear wrongdoing; whether or not we can find a statute to fit it under, I don't know. Insofar as that's concerned, I'd ask the minister to respond to those points.
HON. MR. VEITCH: I want to thank the hon. second member for Vancouver Centre for those observations — for most of the observations.
The whole matter of uninsured financial institutions is something I have certainly been very concerned with. As a matter of fact, it's something that we're going to be addressing in this new paper which soon will be released, called "Perspectives for Growth in British Columbia's Financial Sector." There are a lot of questions that need to be asked, not only, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, of the people within the financial institutions, but of the consumer groups and others, as to what we should be doing in order to have a proper, increasingly viable, functioning financial sector in British Columbia.
There are a lot of so-called financial institutions in one form or another, hon. member, that are not covered under deposit insurance of any kind. Some of these institutions are not covered because it certainly limits the flexibility of the directors and of the managers of those institutions to operate in fields outside of the province if in fact they fall under a credit union regulation or some other set of regulations. You know, of course, that the insuring institutions are not.... Well, they may be government regulated; they are not government-funded or government-controlled. To speak of the credit union group: the credit union group, of course, is
[ Page 8355 ]
covered by CDIC, and it's administered from funds from within the credit union itself.
I want to tell the hon. member that there is an investigation underway relative to the question of misrepresentation with Victoria Mortgage Corp. We are pressing on that investigation, and obviously I can't tell you any more about it at the present time. But again, the issue of uninsured, quasi, near-financial institutions I hope will be effectively addressed in the next few months. Certainly it's a concern that we all have. I guess full and absolute disclosure is probably the best way of handling these things and dealing with them, hon. member.
As for the fitness spas, if there is deliberate deception, that is certainly covered under our Trade Practice Act. If there is something brought to our attention, we will investigate and deal with them, and we do deal with these sorts of things.
The price of parts, competition in automobile parts. I have had some meetings with my counterpart in Ottawa. I have suggested to the hon. minister that new competition legislation is long overdue, and it ought to be brought in. A lot of this, as you well know, crosses provincial boundaries and has to be dealt with in that manner. But if there is deliberate cheating, as in the instance that you brought forward relative to the timing mechanism and the spark plugs, we'll go after that. Our people investigate these kinds of things whenever they are brought to our attention. You are quite correct: you can't have a consumer cop on every comer or every garage. But when they are brought to our attention, I have no time for that sort of situation where they are deliberately trying to cheat someone.
Thankfully, hon. member, the marketplace is largely free, and the marketplace does function quite well. It is some of these people who do the sorts of things that you alluded to who give it a bad name, and that ought not to be allowed to happen in any society.
Again, we're addressing the issue of uninsured financial institutions. We hope to address that in our discussion paper. Wherever there is deliberate deception in a case such as the fitness spas, we will certainly look into that. Again, I will be pressing the federal minister for competition legislation.
MR. LAUK: Well, it's been some weeks now since the fitness spa situation has been brought once again to public attention. I would have hoped that the minister would have responded more quickly and at least given some comfort publicly with respect to what action the ministry is taking.
MR. LAUK: That's unfortunate, Mr. Chairman. The minister says: "Wait and see." All of these people are waiting and seeing, and they are waiting to see their money go down the drain.
The other thing is, the Victoria Mortgage Corp. situation is how old? It is a year and a half, two years old, and the opposition suggested full disclosure by advertising two years ago. Why haven't we got some legislation, order-in-council or whatever is required to require these uninsured financial institutions to say very clearly in their advertising: "This is an uninsured financial institution"? Nothing could be more simple than that. We don't need a whole new policy on this issue that will last a thousand years. We just want to protect people who are investing in institutions that by their very appearance seem to fit into a category of insured institutions, which they are not.
There is also, by the way, a serious problem with these automatically renewable debentures. At law, the courts will find any excuse to protect the financial institution, it seems to me. But we legislators should have a look at these automatically renewable debentures. I don't think that would fall into federal jurisdiction exclusively. I think that the province can have a look at it. There is a problem with this automatic renewal. There should be some recognition by the investors that they are aware of an automatic renewal, that they will sign a special consent form where the clause is acknowledged, with some onus on the financial institution to bring to the attention of the investor that it is being renewed, and an update of the health or otherwise of their investment. That would be a fair thing. It wouldn't cost a heck of a lot to require that of the institution.
[Mr. Ree in the chair.]
But I am alarmed that it is taking so long for the government to react to the Victoria Mortgage Corp. situation, and I would think it's timely for the ministry to act quickly on the fitness spa situation by at least indicating that they're being investigated or being watched more carefully so that these desperate entrepreneurs are not ripping off any more customers.
A comment about the liquor distribution aspect of the minister's responsibilities: I'll start off by deploring the high cost of beer. Now some people suggest that it's been a long time since I've had a beer, and that may be true, but the cost of beer is astronomical in this province. I've been ignoring good British Columbians in my constituency who have been complaining about the cost of beer because, oh, well, you know, they're always complaining about the price of beer.
When our American neighbours now are complaining to local B.C. politicians about the cost of beer and telling us how much it costs for a case of beer in Washington, Oregon and so on compared to B.C., I realize the astronomical price that people pay for beer. It is absolutely disgusting. Now I don't mind that kind of huge mark-up in taxation on cigarettes, but on beer.... I'm reminded of one of the most distinguished members of this House who, only last April, deplored that no action was to be taken by the Social Credit government to ensure that beer prices would stay the same or be reduced, according to government statements in the House during question period.
This hon. member told the House that under the current government "the price of a dozen beer has doubled" in just three years; and that was last year. He added: 'A box of beer costing less than $3 to produce now sells for $9.60, plus deposit." How much is it now? The minister, as he then was, said that he did not plan to act on this hon. member's request that the price of beer be brought down to a reasonable level. The House was told that prices quoted by the breweries had "increased in lock-step" over the past few years, and that it must have been obvious to the minister that he was being "hoodwinked" by the beer companies.
Do you know who said that? The hon. member for Atlin (Mr. Passarell). The hon. member for Atlin demanded action of this government. He was so upset about it that he crossed the floor to ensure action. His stunning success is recorded by the fact that beer has gone up another dollar. Are we to understand that the hon. member for Atlin did not have any
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success? Did he meet with the minister with respect to the price of beer?
It does seem to me that that is an outrageous cost, you know, for a box of beer. Goodness gracious. It's hardly worth that much — $ 10 for.... That's 12 bottles, isn't it — 12 little bottles of beer, for over $10 a case? The minister doesn't care; he's twiddling his thumbs like.... I don't know. I suppose like me he likes his Scotch better than his beer, but I'll tell you, there are hundreds of thousands of people in this province who are really being ripped off.
Now I know the minister's going to stand up and say: "You know what we do with this money that we collect on the beer?" I don't know about the breweries. Do you remember Peter Hyndman, when he was in Consumer and Corporate Affairs? He stunned the world — well, British Columbia anyway — and announced that he was investigating the price of beer. He wanted to introduce a competitive aspect. If you know the history of breweries in Canada, his tongue was firmly implanted in his check, I suggest, and the results of his gargantuan efforts have been that it's tripled in the last few years.
The minister will argue, of course, that a tremendous amount of profit is made by the liquor distribution branch with respect to the price of beer, and that they use that for good things. The record of this government in expending the profits it makes from its liquor distribution is a very sad one indeed. Less than 2 percent of Health ministry spending is for preventive services. We always focus on the preventive side of things when it comes to the abuse of alcohol. The minister's great claim to fame in his short tenure so far is that he expanded the hours of drink. That's the good old free enterprise system: shut down the bars in Blaine by expanding the drinking hours to Sunday. I suppose that's Slim's sort of retaliatory measure. He's fighting on his own.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Hon. member, when referring to other hon. members you will refer to them by their office or their constituency.
MR. LAUK: I thought that nicknames and colloquialisms, etc., were permissible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Although the member may favour nicknames from time to time in this chamber, we use the office or the constituency.
MR. LAUK: I remember you objected to a nickname I used at one time. But in this case, Mr. Chairman, the hon. minister is expanding drinking hours to Sundays. He's shut down these poor entrepreneurs in Blaine and — where is it? — Point Roberts.
MR. REID: Keep the money at home.
MR. LAUK: Yes, keep the money at home. Well, when they have an MLA such as the MLA for Surrey, they kind of like to get out of Surrey once in a while and go down to Blaine and....
MR. LAUK: Mr. Chairman, less than 2 percent of the Health ministry budget is for preventive measures. The British Columbia government's record in dealing with alcohol education and drinking and driving is probably the worst in the country, or one of the worst in the country.
As for the education of young people in particular about the use of alcohol, if you go down to Expo at night after they have shut down, you can see our young people — they're not visitors; they're our young people, very young people — who have obviously not had an adequate education in the use of alcoholic beverages. We're just not a sophisticated jurisdiction when it comes to the use of alcohol, but a great deal can be done in education in our schools and so on. The minister will point to programs, but the programs are inadequate. They're just not adequate. They're not creative enough. They're not interesting enough. They're not convincing enough. It comes to this: I submit that the liquor control branch itself should have a very, very active role in educating young people in the use of alcohol, not just when driving but at all times.
The danger is that the government, by high-priced liquor and beer, is making a tremendous profit. They're the legal bootleggers of the province. They're forgetting their overall responsibility to the population as a whole.
The cost of the use of liquor in this province is huge. The cost to ICBC, the cost to our hospitals, the cost to our social services and the network of programs to preserve the integrity of families and keep them together, the whole question of child abuse, wife-battering, granny-battering — a whole variety of problems that are emerging — is in great part related to the abuse of alcohol. No government has taken that seriously. I appeal to this minister and ask him, as others on this side have occasionally asked other ministers in charge of liquor distribution: when is there going to be a minister creative enough and courageous enough to stand up to the government and say: "I want a huge percentage of the profits from liquor distribution to be expended on massive education programs, films, special teaching and classes with respect to the use and abuse of alcohol"?
The pittance that is provided from consolidated revenue to what I would call well-meaning but inadequate programs of education is a condemnation of this government and proof positive that the government does not take education in the use of alcohol seriously.
I was one of those in the chamber years ago who opposed alcohol advertising. I still oppose it, although many of my colleagues on both sides of the House do not. I oppose it, and I don't call it freedom of speech to allow alcohol advertising. There are lots of restrictions on absolute freedom of speech in our society, and just having a bottle of liquor on a billboard doesn't bother me. That's not the advertising I'm talking about. We argued in this House when they approved advertising that it would not be lifestyle advertising, and it's turned out to be exactly lifestyle advertising.
I'm absolutely appalled at not only the conflict-of-interest situation involving Jim Pattison's control of Seaboard Advertising and the allowance of billboard liquor advertising, or poster liquor advertising; I'm appalled that rather than restricting it after our sad experience, the minister allows it to expand. I'm absolutely convinced, and the literature is largely supportive of my point of view, that lifestyle advertising for the use of cigarettes and alcohol has a deleterious effect, in that instead of.... It increases the use of alcohol and tobacco by young people — and by all people, but young people are of a particular concern to us. It is fashionable. It
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is.... I was going to say it's groovy, but that dates me a little. What do kids say now? That it's the in thing?
MR. REID: Hip.
MR. LAUK: It's hip or the in thing to do, to be on a yacht as if everybody's got a $250,000 yacht, and they can be drinking Smirnoff or beer. And all of the millions of dollars going in to develop the music and the themes of the videos for the use of beer commercials show every aspect of a young person's life as if it cannot possibly be done without being accompanied by a beer or a drink or a cigarette, before, during or after whatever aspect of their lives — usually sporting events, or work and so on.
This lifestyle advertising is insidious. It was something I spoke against before and I speak against it again. It becomes part of our culture, and young people are more impressed, it seems to me, by advertising than people with more experience and more resistance. They accept that as being lifestyle. They accept that as being fashionable, the thing to do. It comes across on television and in the other media as approval.... You can't golf, yacht or do anything without a beer or a drink in your hand. Only the best-looking people, who are having the greatest lives sailing around Corfu or whatever it is, are drinking Smirnoff or champagne or Miller or whatever.
I think that the minister has succumbed in a silly way to the pressure to expand advertising. I urge the minister to move back from advertising liquor and cigarettes. Those are the points that I wanted to raise.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Hon. member, to talk about your first point, the business of disclosure as to insurance or no insurance on particular financial institutions, we do insist that financial institutions falling within our purview, over which we have control, make it very clear if a particular type of deposit is not insured. An example of this is VanCity and their so-called Ethical Growth Fund. Across the top of each one of those certificates it is clearly pointed out that it is not covered under any type of deposit insurance.
Where that's not possible or where we do not have legislation at the present time to control that, we're now asking questions. This particular document will soon be going out to consumers and, as I pointed out before, hon. member, to the industry and to others. I'll just read some of the questions we'll be asking.
As a preamble we say: "As markets diversify, concerns increase about what the public should expect from suppliers of financial services. British Columbia is committed to ensuring consumers have access to information necessary to make prudent choices about their purchases. Would the use of a standard disclosure form for the consumer prior to the purchase be useful?" That's a question we're asking. "Would the requirement to provide a disclosure form need to be in legislation?"
The information the depositor/investor may need could include sales. "What does the product cost? What are the fees and commissions? Is there any cooling-off period?" Insurance: "Is any part of the product covered by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation or the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation?" Risk: "Are all the funds segregated? Are they protected from other funds in the supplier's institution? What is the credit rating of the institution? What is the product? Is it a single item or part of a bundle?"
Market: "How is the product selling?" Guarantee: "Does the seller guarantee any specific return?" Regulatory authority: "Is there any legislation governing the product being sold?" These are questions that we're asking of the marketplace and of the consumers in an attempt to rectify some of the problems we have.
We talk about beer costs, hon. member. I fail to see, with great respect, how you would decrease the consumption of beer by decreasing the price. That doesn't seem to square somehow. You mentioned that you thought the price of beer was too high, yet you felt that the increased consumption of these products was becoming a problem. I don't think you can have it both ways, hon. member. The fact is that the money we net from the sale of alcoholic products does in a large measure go towards helping the.... It goes 100 percent towards helping the other social programs in this province. We're a provider of funds. We bring those funds into the treasury, into consolidated revenue. Once they get to the various ministries, we have no say as to how they're spent.
You talked about advertising. I honestly believe that by and large the advertisers are doing a pretty dam good job.
HON. MR. VEITCH: The hon. member wags his head and says no. They're putting out some very contemporary advertising directed specifically at the young people, hon. member, and I think it's having a beneficial effect.
By the same token. I would never have consented to having the pubs and hotels open on Sunday if I didn't think there was also a beneficial effect from that. I have a summer place in Point Roberts. I think they burned me in effigy down there; I'm told their sales are off somewhere between 50 and 60 percent. It was a big fire, by the way. At any rate, hon. member, that border is not clogged with people who have been drinking; they're going to their local pubs. If you're going to drink on Sunday.... There are approximately 5,700 licensed establishments in British Columbia. Of those, only 25 percent were not open on Sunday anyway. They could go to their skating rink; they could go to their sports club; they could go to all of these places and indulge on Sunday.
What was really wrong with it, hon. member, is that they were jumping into their cars and driving to Point Roberts, driving to Blaine, and coming back with a lot of beer under their belt. I think weâ€˜ve mitigated that in some way, and we're keeping the dollars at home in the process. I don't see anything wrong if you can win both ways on it. We're monitoring it very closely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. minister, would you direct your comments through the Chair.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Mr. Chairman, I'm very sorry.
Mr. Chairman, the hon. member asked about the billboard advertising. We're attempting to help a fledgling industry in the province, an industry that has tremendous potential to employ British Columbians, and that's the B.C. wine industry. There are about 2,000 people employed full or part-time. The sales last year were, I believe, about $94.7 million. If we can advertise British Columbia wine.... If they're going to drink wine, I would far sooner that they drank British Columbia wine and employed British Columbians rather than other folk.
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AN HON. MEMBER: Don't forget to tell that they're gold-medal winners.
HON. MR. VEITCH: And some gold-medal winners on top of that. But beyond that, I don't believe that any of the wineries have yet availed themselves of the billboard advertising. I think the reason for that is that they're having a darned hard time just making ends meet, and nothing has happened there.
If we're going to sell wine and we're going to sell products, let them be British Columbia products and employ British Columbia people. I share your concern that alcohol has got just as much of a down side as it has a good side. It's like fire; it's a darned good servant but an awfully poor master. I believe that the advertisers are being very responsible in their approach. They're directing some very good contemporary advertising out to the young people, and I for one have been most impressed with what they're doing.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. LAUK: Well, I've got the whole week here, Jim.
AN HON. MEMBER: Not Wednesday.
MR. LAUK: No, I'm going to be here on Wednesday just in case you guys try to pull a fast one.
Mr. Chairman, the minister has missed my point. I'm not talking about the broadcasters' ads discouraging drinking and driving. They're very good ads. If the broadcasters spent 30 percent of what the liquor-makers spend on their mood-and-lifestyle advertising, they'd even be a hell of a lot better. The advertising I'm talking about is the lifestyle advertising saying that you can't do anything that's enjoyable unless you've got a drink in your hand. The minister of the day, when we were expanding, allowing advertising to the media, said that he had a solemn promise from the industry that it would be the straight ad without the lifestyle — you know, beautiful looking people on yachts, and so on — and it hasn't happened. We said it wouldn't happen.
AN HON. MEMBER: Zero to a hundred miles an hour in 30 seconds.
MR. LAUK: The only thing that goes zero to a hundred miles an hour in 30 seconds is your tongue, Mr. Minister, and nobody can understand a word.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. If the hon. member recognized has the floor to himself, we will not get these snide remarks back and forth across the chamber.
MR. LAUK: It's good advice, and your characterization of the Minister of Education's (Hon. Mr. Hewitt's) remarks is quite correct.
Mr. Chairman, the minister has obviously made a mistake. I know I am talking in the wilderness. I am one of a handful of people in this chamber who are opposed to that kind of advertising, because I know in my professional experience that young people follow that. It's part of their culture, makeup and understanding that part of their lifestyle is that in their mid-teens or late teens they can't plan a day without a box of beer or a cigarette or whatever, because of this advertising. If you are a parent, you can see the effect of that.
AN HON. MEMBER: Sales are going down.
MR. LAUK: The only reason that sales are going down, I say to the hon. member, is that Social Credit has destroyed the economy, and nobody can afford to buy as much as they did before.
But I am telling you about the influence on young people of this lifestyle advertising. I think it was a big mistake on the part of this government which for years under W.A.C. Bennett took the proper way. I was proud of the distinction of B.C. In restricting such advertising in those years. I was growing up as a teenager in those days when there wasn't media advertising, and it seems to me that those were good days. Sure, some people made fun of us: what kind of a bible belt province is this that restricts? It has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with health, lifestyle, good mental health and so on. It was a wise decision for whatever reason that the Premier of that day supported such a policy.
MR. LAUK: No. But as one moderate drinker to another, it seems to me that you don't need religion to support the policy. People of all points of view can support a policy of restricted media advertising of alcohol. It was a sad day for me in particular as a teenager who grew up in this province under the rules where there was no media advertising.
AN HON. MEMBER: Ho-hum.
MR. LAUK: Apart from the rudeness of the member for Columbia River (Mr. Chabot), it is something that the minister should reconsider. If he doesn't have the courage to face up to his colleagues and to the massive lobby of the broadcasters and the liquor industry.... Well, I guess we can't hope for common sense, but the point at least has been made.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Just in commenting on what the hon. second member for Vancouver.... How do he get to be the second member for Vancouver Centre? Did you come in behind the first member?
HON. MR. RICHMOND: He's the third member now.
HON. MR. VEITCH: The third member now, is he? I just wanted to know. It doesn't matter. It's got nothing to do with....
There is a change in trends, Mr. Chairman, due to lifestyle advertising. That's evidenced by the light beers, the wine coolers and all of these things that are making their entrance in the market today.
HON. MR. VEITCH: No. Wine coolers, with very low alcohol content, are probably the hottest-selling item on the liquor shelves right now.
HON. MR. VEITCH: I don't know any "average alkies." At any rate, hon. member, there is a change, and I believe it's the advertising and the awareness programs that
[ Page 8359 ]
we have in the schools, the consumer programs, starting to pay off. I hope it continues in that direction.
MR. MITCHELL: I'm going to take it away from alcohol, not being an expert on that particular subject.
MR. MITCHELL: Well, it takes two to tango, and both of you kept us entertained for the last hour.
Mr. Chairman, what I would like to bring to the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs' attention is another section of his ministry. I'm also happy that the minister sitting next to him is here because I realize that what I'm going to propose does come under the two ministers: that's Housing and Consumer Affairs. What I'm actually calling for is a bill of rights for mobile-home tenant-owners. I know the minister is already shaking his head, because he hasn't listened to what I've said for the last seven years.
But we do have in this province a problem that continually raises its head. That is the problem of people who own mobile homes that are on a rented pad. A lot of people drive quickly by a mobile home and don't realize that on some of those pads there are homes that go from $10,000 to $70,000. Every one of us knows that your housing cost is normally the largest investment that a person makes in a lifetime. When people who have invested $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000 in a mobile home have it on a rented pad, they have no protection that they're not going to be evicted for many reasons.
I bring to the attention of the members here that in a lot of the states where they have developed mobile-home parks as an alternate affordable lifestyle, they have protection for their tenants — anywhere from three to five years before they can be evicted for normal reasons. We have to have something to protect the 40,000 people in British Columbia who are living on rented pads. At the present time they have a maximum of six months before they can be evicted. That's a big improvement over the 119 days that we had for many years in this province under Social Credit. What we have to develop and understand and accept is that the mobile-home style of living is a way of life, and is perceived by many to be an affordable way of life.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
When you are on a pad and can be evicted, maybe because the property has changed zoning — it's gone from mobile-home park zoning to commercial, or to townhouses — a number of things happen. One is that if people know it's going to change hands they quickly sell to some unsuspecting person. Some other person walks in there, invests $30,000 or $40,000 in a mobile-home park, and what happens? Because the zoning is changed, the property is sold, they are evicted. Now a mobile home is only worth $40,000 when it's sitting on a pad, but you pull it out on the highway and it deteriorates to about $5,000, $6,000 or $10,000. In a lot of cases where you have an older home, you can't relocate that home on another site.
I know in my own riding, where we come under the building code of the capital region, anything built before 1974 cannot be relocated in the Capital Regional District. A person who believes he's retired, he's moved in from the Prairies or the interior, coming down to our banana belt in the Victoria area, buys a home. and next thing he knows he can't relocate it. When it was set up on the park, all landscaped, with the greenhouses in the back, it looked beautiful. But when it's pulled out onto the highway, and the greenhouse and all the trees are flattened down. It's not worth anything. I feel that to protect that investment there has to be a different approach to mobile-home owners.
I'll run through a few of the other problems that are facing other people living in mobile-home parks, where they can be evicted with less than six months' notice. These are all ones in the last year that I've appealed, successfully in many cases, to the arbitrators under the Residential Tenancy Act.
AN HON. MEMBER: Did they help you out?
MR. MITCHELL: Yes, surprisingly, they have been very helpful, but it's a long drawn-out process that goes on for months.
I'll just run through a few of the problems that I've encountered in the last year, such as people being evicted under the Health Act. When a mobile-home park is closing down because of changing zoning, if they get a six-month notice then they have to pay the relocation cost. But if it's closed down under the Health Act, they can give a 30-day notice, and there are no relocation costs. So what happens? If you want to evict your park, you let your septic tanks run down and the field run down, and run a few trucks over it so they're flooding. The health inspector comes in and he closes the park down. They do that. I can give you examples in my riding where they have actually done that. What happens is that people are forced out or they're forced to appeal the 30 day eviction notice.
We appealed one particular park — half the people put up the $30 — and the arbitrator upheld those who appealed it. That wasn't a proper way of evicting. But those who did not appeal were forced to accept the 30-day notice.
I had another one that's been on appeal, and the decision has not come down yet. The appeals were held in September, October, November and December, and we still haven't got the decision down. But because the landscaping wasn't considered up to scratch.... They took pictures of the grass after the person had been away for two or three weeks, and the grass was long. This was the evidence that was submitted to an arbitration hearing. Certain shrubs were transplanted and they died, so a picture of a dead shrub was brought up. The arbitrator is not allowing the eviction, but the drawn-out court cost, appeal court, is strictly harassment. It's fine if you have an MLA who will spend the time to go after it; people are protected. But there are a lot of tidings where either the constituents don't come to their MLAs or they're not as handy to a hearing as we are in Victoria.
There was another one where propane tanks had been in the unit for five years. The only instruction was that they had to be boxed in when it was skirted. So the trailer was skirted and the propane tanks were all covered in. Five years later they get an eviction notice on Christmas Eve — a 30-day notice — because in the small print of the park rules you can't have propane tanks in that particular park. They'd been there for five years. Everyone was aware of it. Every three months the tank truck comes in and fills it up. This is harassment, because there is no bill of rights that protects people who rent homes in mobile-home parks.
Another case in December 1985. The trailer burnt down. The insurers were very quick: they came in, they paid for the
[ Page 8360 ]
purchase of a new trailer. But for three months there was nothing but stalling on it. The person who owned the trailer park before they moved it in said: "You can't move it in because it's electric heat; we only have oil beat in this park." So they spent a thousand dollars and they put in oil heat. After that expense had taken place, they wouldn't allow it to be moved in until the building inspector came along and inspected it. So the building inspector came along and said: "Oh, it's too close. You can't put it in there because it will be too close to another one."
It's been there for ten years. I went up there with a ruler and measured it out. The act is very plain; it says trailers have got to be 20 feet from each other, and I agree. But they were measuring from a sundeck on one side and some other fixture that stuck out on another. So we appeal it to a board of variance. The board of variance upholds the tenant. Again there's another stall, because when the building inspector said it had to be on cement foundation, the park owner said: "No, you can't have it on cement because no one else is on cement."
For three months that tenant was put through hell. They eventually had to do an appeal under the Residential Tenancy Act before the arbitrator, pay for a lawyer, and the arbitrator upheld it. But for three months a person has to sit in a motel while you have a brand-new mobile home sitting on a lot, no one knowing if he can move it or not.
I say that there has to be some common-sense legislation protecting not only the people who own the mobile homes, but also protecting those who own the parks. I say that there has to be a change in the present legislation, because a mobile home cannot be considered as the same as a house or an apartment full of furniture. It's in a different category. It needs additional protection. The people who live in a park need some guarantees and, as I said before, the park owner needs some guarantees.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One moment, please. At this point I will remind the hon. member that during Committee of Supply we cannot discuss the necessity for legislation. I am sure the hon. member can relate his remarks to the administrative actions of the ministry, as opposed to the necessity for legislation.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman; you are correct. What I am trying to get through to the minister and to his colleague sitting next door is that the present legislation that he has to protect the people of British Columbia is inadequate.
There is a need for some new looks. I know what you're saying — that I am predicting or asking for new legislation. But he could make recommendations and handle the job with the present legislation, and give fair coverage and fair protection to those who are living there. I really believe that, as a Consumer Affairs minister, he must look at what he has to deal with. I really don't think that there is protection, even for rent increases. The rent increases locally have been running from 10 percent to 20 percent.
I have a co-op owned trailer park, and they have been running that park for four years now at $35 per trailer. The rent increases have been $20 and $30 each year, and it's anything from $200 to $260. I know that, compared to some of the mainland trailer parks, that's low. But there have to be some proper changes in legislation that I can't mention. I think the minister can't do the job properly under the present laws that he has.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Mr. Chairman, I won't offend the House and talk about legislation; I promise. I do want to mention, though, that in the mobile-home registry in 1985-86, there were 2,504 arbitrations. There were 76,753 telephone inquiries that were dealt with, and there were 9,742 office interviews. So they have been working.
But I really believe what the hon. member is talking about here is a shortage of mobile-home parks or pads. The vacancy rate is low, but this is not the responsibility of this particular government. You don't want us sticking our nose in there. The problem there is zoning, and the slowness of zoning or the reluctance to zone at the local level. It's a real problem. I happen to think that a mobile home, if it fits the lifestyle, is a darn fine way to live, but a lot of municipalities that have their ideas encased in granite don't seem to think so.
Hon. member, I appreciate your telling me about the good job you're doing as an MLA, and obviously you must be doing something right or you wouldn't be elected time after time. But, having said that, your responsibility.... If you want to carry this one step forward, I'm not going to tell you what your responsibility is, but get after the local government and get the zoning laws changed. If you want more mobile home parks, build more mobile-home parks, and you won't have the problem with tenancy.
[Mr. Ree in the chair.]
Where you've got a problem with health and safety, if there are some old propane tanks that haven't blown up in five years we just pray to God that they don't blow up in the next two or three or five years, and they've got to be looked after.
I believe our Residential Tenancy Act, as it relates to mobile homes, has been vastly improved. Certainly it's a lot better than for those people who live in an apartment. You have six months now, and there are certain other things that an arbitrator may do to help a person who's aggrieved.
MR. MITCHELL: Mr. Chairman, the minister completely fails to grasp the situation, and he comes right back with how it's a lot better than it used to be and it's better than in apartments. It is a completely different situation. A truckload of furniture in an apartment, including the Minister of Housing's (Hon. Mr. Kempf's) hot-tub, is not at the same value as a mobile home 30 feet, 40 feet or 60 feet long — and they're not cheap, to the member for Vancouver–Little Mountain. But this is why I'm saying that there is a situation that is different, and you're trying to handle it under a piece of legislation that is not built for it. I really believe that city people and people who live in houses and people who live in apartments don't understand the situation.
The minister says we should have more parks zoned, and I agree. I lose a lot of friends in municipal governments and capital regional government.... I wouldn't recommend anyone moving into a mobile home at the present time if we had 100 new lots out there, because the legislation that gives people some protection for their investment is not in place. Over the last seven years that I've been in politics, there have been hundreds of new pads, and many new parks have come into the greater Victoria area. They've all come on Indian land. But still, there is no protection for the person who
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moves into that type of home. I know one of your predecessors said: "Well, it's just because we need more competition. We need more pads." That isn't the answer. At one time I may have said that it was a good lifestyle, but I would not recommend anyone moving into a mobile home until you get some new legislation that's going to protect it.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, earlier today the hon. member for Shuswap-Revelstoke (Mr. Michael) asked leave of the House to move a motion under standing order 35 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, relating to three matters: (1) to condemn an import tariff on Canadian red cedar shakes and shingles; (2) to support the Prime Minister in asking for reconsideration of the decision; and (3) to urge that any retaliation not impair the Canada-U.S. free-trade talks. While the matter raised is undoubtedly of considerable public importance, in order to qualify, the matter complained of must be raised initially without delay; and, in addition, the proposed motion must not raise more than one matter within the same motion. I refer hon. members to standing order 35(10)(b). For the above reasons I find the statement does not qualify under the rules of the House relating to a motion for adjournment under standing order 35.
Hon. Mr. Gardom moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:53 p.m.
May 21, 1986; morning sitting; p. 8284; col. 1.
At fourth paragraph beginning "An examination was made.... " Mr. Howard made reference to the year 1984. The three references to 1984 should, in each case, read " 1985."