1987 Legislative Session: 1st Session, 34th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 1987
[ Page 1237 ]
Social assistance rates. Mr. Cashore –– 1237
Prince George mortality rate. Mrs. Boone –– 1237
Delta 1987 summer games. Mr. Barnes 1237
Privatization of ambulance services. Mr. Lovick –– 1238
Ombudsman's powers. Mr. Cashore –– 1238
Royal Inland Hospital board elections. Mrs. Boone –– 1239
Ombudsman's powers. Mr. Cashore –– 1239
Access to transportation for special needs children. Hon. Mrs. Johnston replies –– 1239
Tabling Documents –– 1239
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Attorney-General estimates. (Hon. B.R. Smith)
On vote 12: minister's office –– 1239
Dentists Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 2). Committee stage. (Hon. Mr. Dueck) –– 1259
Engineers Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 23). Second reading
Hon. S. Hagen –– 1260
Ms. Marzari –– 1260
The House met at 2:08 p.m.
HON. MR. REID: Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce to the House today Mr. and Mrs. Shaw from Portland, Oregon, who are here on the sloop Adios. They're here for the Swiftsure yacht classic this weekend. Would the House please make them welcome.
MR. GABELMANN: Mr. Speaker, I'd like the House to welcome two visitors from Campbell River: Lissy Christiansen and Elizabeth Johnson.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of yourself, from Burnaby we have Mrs. Helen Colly. Would the House please bid her welcome.
MR. SIHOTA: Mr. Speaker, I take a fair bit of pride in introducing to the House today somebody who's come here for the first time to watch me in the House since I was elected. I would ask that the House join me in welcoming a very special person in my life, my wife Jessie, who is here with us today.
Joining my wife are a number of representatives from the B.C. Nurses' Union. I would ask the House to join me in welcoming Fiona Butkus, Brenda Jernmeson, Richard Mellows and Bill Pfeifer.
MRS. GRAN: Mr. Speaker, in your gallery today is a friend of mine for the last 24 years — from Langley, Wendy Wallace. Would the House please welcome her.
MR. PETERSON: Mr. Speaker, this past weekend in Maple Ridge the Kinsmen Club had its provincial convention, and the Kinsmen Club of Aldergrove was awarded the Club of the Year award. Would this House join me in congratulating them.
MR. STUPICH: Mr. Speaker, I'd ask the House to join with me in remembering a former member of this Legislature, Harry McKay, who served as the hon. member for Fernie for six years. I guess I'm the only one who was here when he was. Harry certainly worked hard on behalf of his constituency, and was elected and re-elected by that constituency until it was done away with by redistribution in 1966. He served well in the House and was well liked and highly regarded by members on both sides of the House as well as by his own rump group of five Liberals.
HON. B.R. SMITH: On behalf of this side of the House, I want to add my sentiments to the remarks of the member for Nanaimo. After Harry McKay left a career in the Legislature, he became a county court judge on Vancouver Island and served there for a number of years, and then he became a Supreme Court judge. He was a Supreme Court judge, I think, for a decade, and he was an exemplary judge in every way, one of the finest Supreme Court judges we've ever had.
He is not replaceable. You cannot find other Harry McKays; they don't make them like Harry McKay. He was fearless, honest, straightforward, passionate and compassionate.
SOCIAL ASSISTANCE RATES
MR. CASHORE: Mr. Speaker, the question is to the Minister of Social Services and Housing. A coalition of 13 national human rights organizations has targeted this province as being in violation of the Charter of Rights for maintaining discriminatory social assistance rates for people under the age of 26. What action has the minister decided to take to end this discrimination and to comply with the Charter?
HON. MR. RICHMOND: We're well aware of the challenge in the courts to our policies, and we're going to await the court's decision.
MR. CASHORE: A supplementary to the Attorney-General. I'm sure that all the members of the cabinet are well aware that putting low-income people in the position of having to wait many months for a court challenge is really unfair. The Attorney-General knows the province is in violation of the Charter. Has he made any recommendation to deal with this which will save the Crown and community groups the time and expense of a Charter challenge?
HON. B.R. SMITH: The member can take liberties in his comments on matters that are before the court that I cannot take, and I must await the decision of the court. A number of challenges take place each year under the Charter. It has become a frequent source of litigation, and until the courts have pronounced and given some directions in these matters, it's very hard to know whether that challenge is correct. I can't comment upon it as Attorney-General.
PRINCE GEORGE MORTALITY RATE
MRS. BOONE: My question is to the Minister of Health. The medical health officer in the northern interior health unit has determined that the annual mortality rate in Prince George is 34 percent above the provincial average. This includes such things as cancer, heart disease, strokes, lung disease, pneumonia. Has the minister decided to order a comprehensive study on the mortality rate in the Prince George region to determine what is causing this and what can be done to prevent such things?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, I'll take that question on notice and get back to you at a later date.
DELTA 1987 SUMMER GAMES
MR. BARNES: A question to the Minister of Tourism. In just nine weeks, the Delta summer games begin. Has the government decided to reduce the capital operating budget guaranteed to the Delta 1987 Summer Games Society, and if so, by what amount?
HON. MR. REID: The answer is no.
MR. BARNES: Another question. Has the government changed the conditions of a $70,000 legacy fund grant to the
[ Page 1238 ]
municipality of Delta, intended for general community recreational purposes, to one specific application — the construction of a racing track?
HON. MR. REID: The answer is yes.
PRIVATIZATION OF AMBULANCE SERVICES
MR. LOVICK: Never have we heard such laconic replies to questions. I wonder if this is a trend. Certainly we know that the other side is capable of monosyllabic responses.
My question is to the Minister of Health. Ambulance paramedics in British Columbia now perceive that a privatization of the province's ambulance services is likely, so likely indeed that they have launched a full-scale anti-privatization campaign. Will the minister inform us if it is the policy of the Health ministry and himself that the ambulance service should remain in public hands?
HON. MR. DUECK: To begin with, I must admit that we run the best health ambulance medicare service in all of Canada. I think we have very excellent people. We have good equipment that's updated on a regular basis.
When it comes to privatization, you well know that the minister in charge, Hon. Stephen Rogers, is looking at all of the ministries for areas of privatization. I would be preempting his job if I made any statement in that regard.
MR. LOVICK: A supplementary, Mr. Speaker. First of all, it seems to me that to suggest the Minister of Health would preempt another minister's job by protecting health care is somewhat out of line and incongruous. The question, however, is this: has the minister indicated to the privatization review, and to the minister charged with that review, his opinion that privatization would be bad for the health care of British Columbians? And if not, why not?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, I will not comment on what has transpired between ministries at this time, because the mandate is to look at areas in every ministry. I just finished telling you that I think we've got the best-run ambulance service in all Canada, if not in all of North America, and that's as far as I'll go; the rest will come out in due time.
MR. LOVICK: Mr. Speaker, if indeed it is the case that we now have what you describe as the best system, then surely it makes obvious and logical sense for you to suggest to the minister of privatization that this is an area that ought not to be touched. Would you not agree with that?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, with the minister having a mandate to look at all areas, if we all took the attitude: "Yes, you may look at all areas, but not mine, because this is what we're doing, and it's good. Stay away from it.... That's why we're looking at it: to see if there are better ways. I'm not in any way indicating that the ambulance service will be one of them. But I'm saying the mandate of that minister is to look at every area — whether in fact it's more viable, more economic, or whatever. We're waiting for that report — and so will you.
MR. SIHOTA: A supplementary, then, Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health is the advocate for health care in this province, and he should advise this House — if he agrees that that service is indeed the best in this country — whether or not, in his opinion, it ought to remain in public hands. The question is this: what is the minister's own view? Ought it to remain in public hands or ought it not?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, I thought I made it very clear that I am not voicing my own personal view at this time, because the minister had a mandate to review. I'm not going to interfere until that report comes forward, and I will in due course give my opinions, suggestions and recommendations at that time. That's also future policy, so we would not comment on that at this time in any event.
MRS. BOONE: Mr. Minister, I think you'll agree, and we all agree, that it's a fine service that we have. There are many small communities that depend on that service, and they're depending on you to stand up on their behalf and speak out to say that you've decided that you need that service here. Will the minister assure the small communities in this province that they will have their ambulance services maintained?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, the problem is that everyone is speculating, and so are the paramedics; they're speculating on what may happen –– I just finished telling you we have the best ambulance service anywhere, but they're speculating that we're going to do all sorts of things. I'm telling you that we are doing a review of many areas in many ministries. At this point in time I will not give any indication, because it's up to the minister in charge to see if there is any part of anyone's ministry that can be improved. How much more can I tell you?
MR. LOVICK: The point is precisely what the minister just alluded to: that people are speculating and people are concerned and confused because of the stance you're taking. Please give us some assurances that the privatization inquiry will be guided by some common-sense economics rather than ideological platitudes.
This is my question, Mr. Speaker. Will the minister please assure us that the mandate to provide good health care to the people of this province will obtain and will not be sacrificed in the name of privatization?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, I will certainly give you the assurance that this minister, as long as he is in this particular portfolio, will do everything in his power to give the best health care that this province has ever seen.
MR. CASHORE: This question is to the government House Leader, because I understand that the ombudsman reports to the House through the cabinet.
AN HON. MEMBER: To the Speaker.
MR. CASHORE: To the Speaker. I still put my question to the government House Leader. The ombudsman's report of last week indicates that he receives hundreds of inquiries regarding public agencies that are not currently within his purview. Can the minister assure the assembly that the sections of the act extending the ombudsman's jurisdiction will be proclaimed this spring; and if not, why not?
[ Page 1239 ]
HON. MR. STRACHAN: The government is well aware of the unproclaimed sections of the schedule to the Ombudsman Act. Any decision on that would be future policy. Further, the bill itself is in the care of the Attorney-General, so you might ask him that question.
ROYAL INLAND HOSPITAL BOARD ELECTIONS
MRS. BOONE: A question to the Minister of Health. The minister has said that Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops will be asked to change its bylaws to stop minors from voting in the hospital board. In view of the fact that the hospital board elections are taking place on June 18, can the minister outline what steps he has taken to ensure that minors will not be voting at the June 18 hospital board meeting?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite, I have asked the board to in fact change their bylaws so that they're not silent on the age limit, and they have assured me they will do so.
MRS. BOONE: From what I understand, the bylaws must be passed by that meeting, which would not be in time to guarantee that they wouldn't be allowed to vote at that meeting. Has the minister decided...? For example, can he use his power under section 36 of the Hospital Act to ensure that an order-in-council is approved which deals with this?
HON. MR. DUECK: I have asked them to look after their bylaws so that this does not happen, and it is up to them which route they are going to take.
MRS. BOONE: The bylaws must be voted on at a general meeting, and they must be approved by your minister after that in order for them to be enacted. It appears to me, then, that it is impossible for them to have these bylaws in place in time for June 18. Would you consider an order-in-council to ensure that minors are not able to vote at this election?
HON. MR. DUECK: No, I'm not.
MR. CASHORE: Mr. Speaker, with regard to the question concerning the ombudsman, I would like to put that question to the Attorney-General and ask him if, recognizing the tremendous need for the ombudsman's service in these unproclaimed areas, he will take steps to raise this in cabinet and assure the House that these sections will be proclaimed.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I would think that it would be a matter of future policy, but it would be something that we would want to hear from the constituencies in those other areas as to whether they thought that was a good idea or not. By constituencies I mean local governments and other areas that could be added. There is no point in giving the ombudsman too much to put on his plate when he has a lot on his plate now. He has major investigations going on in the provincial sphere, which he does well. As ombudsman he's bound to point out that there are unproclaimed parts of his act. I would like to think that in time those will be proclaimed, but the time has probably not yet come.
ACCESS TO TRANSPORTATION
FOR SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to a question that was put to me yesterday by the member for New Westminster (Ms. A. Hagen). In her absence I would like to assure the House that I will, in addition to responding verbally, send a written response to her to ensure that she receives it.
It had to do with transportation of special needs children. B.C. Transit is currently meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Social Services and Housing to review the situation regarding the transportation requirements of handicapped children attending preschools. The handyDART service in greater Vancouver last year transported almost half a million people, a 20 percent increase over 1985. The system, using 96 vehicles, was basically designed to: (1) transport handicapped people to and from work and post-secondary education; (2) transport handicapped adults and children to medical appointments; and (3) transport adults to key social events. In some areas operators have included a few –– 15 — handicapped children for preschool trips as a daily commitment. B.C. Transit is currently reviewing the policy concerning the busing of handicapped preschoolers.
Hon. Mr. Parker tabled an answer to a May 11 question from the first member for Vancouver East (Mr. Williams) about Downie Street Sawmills.
Hon. B.R. Smith tabled the annual report of the Law Reform Commission of British Columbia for 1986-87.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Committee of Supply, Mr. Speaker.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Pelton in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ATTORNEY-GENERAL
On vote 12: minister's office, $219,629.
MR. CHAIRMAN: On vote 12, the member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew.
Shall vote 12 pass?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SIHOTA: It's wishful thinking from the members opposite to think we're going to approve this so quickly.
When we concluded yesterday at 6 o'clock, I pointed out some of the areas that are on our agenda as being issues of importance to us which fall within the jurisdiction of the Attorney-General. Today I want to concentrate on a number of those areas, and I'll deal first of all with — I'm sure this is no surprise to the Attorney-General — the matter of gaming. The reason I want to deal with gaming is in part due to the stance this provincial government has taken on that issue and in part because of the voluminous literature on the matter, and I want to review some of the studies before I ask questions of the Attorney-General.
[ Page 1240 ]
Several studies have been done in this country and in the United States with respect to gaming. As the Attorney-General will point out, studies have also been done in Australia. Of particular note is a study done in Canada in 1984 under the auspices of the Solicitor-General's department. At that time the Solicitor-General reviewed every study that had been undertaken in the United States, Britain, Australia, and came to the following conclusion:
"Virtually every study undertaken in the United States, Britain, Australia and elsewhere points out that casino gaming, whether illegal or legal, encourages organized criminal activity. A former prosecutor in the New Jersey Attorney-General's Department has noted that organized crime must always be recognized as an interest group with respect to legal gaming. If a jurisdiction is not willing to accept this involvement, then it should not get involved in legalized gaming."
There has also been a number of arguments as to whether or not gaming will increase the revenue which flows to the state — or to the province in this case — that wants to introduce gaming. Perhaps the most comprehensive study on this matter was done in 1976 by the United States government, wherein their Senate, I believe, set up a commission to review national policy towards gaming. That study took three years. It held hearings across the United States. It conducted all sorts of research, reviewed all sorts of reports on the matter. Among their findings, which were submitted to the president at the time, was that states could not expect revenues from legalized casino gambling to ease their financial difficulty significantly. There was a finding that although casinos would generate enough revenue to meet the needs of states with populations the size of Nevada's, these revenues were not sufficient to provide the resources necessary to support the cost of public services in heavily urbanized areas. Of course, if I understand the government's policy correctly, it has no intention to move towards what is known as destination gambling, but wants to locate this type of activity in urbanized areas.
As to the potential increase in tourism, the commission also warned against the promotion of casino gambling as a tourist stimulant where there is no pre-existing demand for this type of gaming. There were also some concerns about the type of people who are attracted to gaming operations. The commission concluded that participation in Nevada-style casinos in heavily urban areas was predominantly by lowincome people; that could indeed result in increased social services and a need for expanded government services. We know from studies that have been done that the rate of crime in Atlantic City increased by 171 percent during the first four years of casino gambling there. We know that the amount of revenue gained by the state of Nevada from gambling in 1981 was approximately $120 million, which I understand is equivalent to about a half-percent increase in the sales tax; that may put it in perspective. So it's not a lot of money there.
When Atlantic City looked at it, they concluded that the costs of building the infrastructure — roadways, sewers, lighting, all that kind of stuff — to service these casino operations were not a winner for them, in economic terms. We also know from studies done in the United States, particularly in Atlantic City, that individuals who were directly employed as a result of casino operations came from outside the Atlantic City area, largely because the population within Atlantic City did not possess the necessary skills to result in employment.
I know that the Attorney-General has taken some steps to introduce slot machines at least on the Princess Marguerite. I'm wondering if he can advise this House as to what indeed the lease arrangements are. Is the lease arrangement on that ship in excess of one year? That's my first question for the Attorney-General.
HON. B. R. SMITH: I don't have it here in front of me, but my recollection is that it's a lease that we can get out of after a year. It's for a longer term, but the reason for that is that it's cheaper to do it that way. It costs about the same for a year as it does for a year and a half. So we have it for a longer term, but we can get out of it for a year. So our hands are not tied to go again. It would cost us about the same amount of money for the one-year term as the longer term that we have. But I think the term is longer than a year and we can get out of it.
MR. SIHOTA: I want to thank the Attorney-General for that answer. He talks about the cost. I wonder if he could advise this House as to what those costs are? What is the leasing arrangement? What is the cost on an annual basis for those slot machines?
HON. B. R. SMITH: I certainly will. Maybe a little later in the afternoon, I'll be happy to do that. There's nothing secret about those costs whatsoever. I'll provide them.
MR. SIHOTA: Mr. Chairman, the Attorney-General, when he was announcing the government's position in his press release of April 1, 1987, a copy of which I have, indicated a number of concerns that he had and made a number of points with respect to government policy as it then stood on gambling. He then assigned a number of tasks to this commission. I'm not trying to pre-guess what the commission will be reporting, but one of those tasks requested that there be:
"...a comprehensive report no later than November 30 on the desirability of continuing or modifying casino activity in support of charitable organizations. This comprehensive report will also involve the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation and Culture in a joint assessment of the desirability of policy for destination resort and tourism-oriented gaming activities. The report will also assess the impact on tourism of the introduction of casino rooms aboard B. C. Steamship's service between Seattle and Victoria."
Earlier on, during the supply bill that we had to pass shortly after the introduction of the budget, it was revealed that $400,000 had been spent to make improvements on the Marguerite and the Vancouver Island Princess to accommodate gambling. Given the fact that the Attorney-General has requested that this commission present a report on the viability of gambling on the B. C. Steamship service between Seattle and Victoria, and given that in effect $400,000 has already been spent before the commissioned report is in, I of course question whether or not it is reasonable to expect that there will now be a turning back on the government's position. Like I say, I don't want to pre-guess things, but I want to ask the Attorney-General whether or not he thinks it is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse when deciding to
[ Page 1241 ]
spend this $400,000 first and then asking for a report to determine whether or not it's viable to run the service.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I'm trying to get exact figures so I can be a little more exact on that, but my recollection is that all of that money didn't go to outfitting the two vessels for slot machines. Some of it went for other purposes. Certainly it was an expenditure, but it was only a portion of that $400,000. So that I'm not guessing on it, I'll just get another document in here which will give me the answer to that. It may look the way the member says — as though when you make any capital expenditures to outfit vessels for this purpose, you are therefore committed in going down the long haul — but I don't think so, because, looking at the projected revenues that we're going to get from those slot machines this season, we will be more than justified from a business standpoint in making that capital investment. Even if it was a capital investment that only lasted for one season, we will still do very, very well on a net basis from the slot machines.
But we see the slot machines really not as an end, but as a means to attract visitors and tourists who want to come on that run and would like to spend two to two and a half hours playing those machines.
I think the destination-resort gaming philosophy is a valid one. That's the one that Australia has embraced in Tasmania. If you have a destination resort casino as opposed to all kinds of urban casinos or one large urban casino, you are going to attract to your country a particular kind of tourist and visitor with money who wishes to come and do that. You are not going to take money out of the pockets of locals. You are not going to add social service costs, as the member referred to with some of the experience in Atlantic City; but you are going to attract people — British Columbians and visitors — who come to that destination resort to, among other things, do some gaming.
I guess that where we come from philosophically and where we differ from you — and it isn't because we happen to have some kind of love for gambling; I don't think any of us really do — is that there is a lot of money in this province that is wagered now, that gaming is already big business in this province. There is a $700 million gaming industry — $400 million is spent by the public on lotteries, $200 million on horse-racing, and the rest on bingo, charitable casinos and other forms of gaming.
In addition to that, there is the money that traditionally goes out of this province — British Columbia disposable income — to Reno, Tahoe and Las Vegas. All you have to do is look at the advertisements in the daily newspapers, where you have special flights to Vegas and Reno. Each of those British Columbia visitors who goes down there spends, I guess — they probably have it all statistically tabulated — maybe an average of $500 or $1,000 for a four-day stint there. Our feeling is that we should keep that money in British Columbia, and that we should be attracting that kind of tourism here.
We say that British Columbians are now wagering and betting those amounts of money. It used to be that this money went on the Irish Sweeps. The Irish Sweeps have been laid to rest now. They couldn't compete any longer with Loto Canada and the various tear-off lotteries.
So our attitude is that it's here; it already is big business. People do it in this country and in this province. Therefore there is no point in putting your head in the sand and saying it shouldn't exist, that we're going to outlaw it. If you do, people are going to do it under the table, under the counter. Ten or twenty years ago, there were bookies all over town here and in Vancouver. You couldn't find a bookie now to save your life. Nobody needs to go to a bookie because everybody can have a legal off-track number. My learned friend may know of a bookmaker or he may have acted for one or somebody may have told him of a bookmaker in this town, but you're hard pressed to find a bookmaker in this day and age in British Columbia, because it's so easy to place a bet lawfully. You can place a bet at Exhibition Park with an off-track number. You can have an account in Las Vegas and bet on sporting events through that account down there.
So I'm saying that people want to do a certain amount of betting and gaming, and they're going to do it whether or not the member opposite likes it or his party caucus denounces it. Since it's going to be done, let's have some rules that are tested, let's have some rules that are clear, let's have a good policy of enforcement, let's control gaming and let's keep it very closely under government control.
They have managed to do this in Australia. They have not had failures in this in every jurisdiction.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I know that you can read these studies, and it's very depressing to read them. But we have read them as well, and we have absolutely no intention of replicating those mistakes. We're going to try to avoid those mistakes. We may decide, hon. member, that the slot machine experiment is not a good one and shouldn't continue, or we may decide that we're going to have some casinos in destination resorts.
We have an independent commission, with citizens on it from all walks of life, with a former vice-chairman of the Police Commission heading it up and a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP as vice-chairman, and these people don't have any axe to grind. They don't represent charities or gaming operators. They don't represent any of the interests or the people who have vested interests in this. They are citizens like you and I. So please, let's let them do their job and see what they come up with, because the government is not committed as to its future course.
As to the amount of money spent under those warrants, we did spend money on casino lounges in the amount of $400,000. Some of that, some $145,000, was for renewal of ship's galleys, $250,000 was in the bar and lounge areas, and $5,000 was for rewiring in the casino lounge. In relation to the installation of slot machines, it would be a minor portion of that $400,000, because we did a total upgrade of both vessels and particularly the Vancouver Island Princess, which was completely redone.
Just to give some of the fixed costs involved in the slot machines, we spent $27,000 on the security apparatus, the counters. The purchase of tokens was $63,000, and there is a considerable saving in maintenance and labour and everything else and a much better control system from the standpoint of honesty by having these tokens.
The 150 machines that were leased at a monthly rate cost $8,758 a month, or $105,000 Canadian. We will recover that capital cost from the machines and the outfitting of this, certainly part-way through the operation in the first year.
[ Page 1242 ]
MR. SIHOTA: Mr. Chairman, the Attorney-General has raised a number of issues which I want to explore now. He talks about reducing the flow of individuals from British Columbia to Tahoe and to Reno. Does the Attorney-General realistically expect that a ferry trip of 90 minutes is going to do that? Or does he have other grandiose plans with respect to casino operations in this province that he hasn't told us about yet?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I made it clear that if you are going to attract people to do gaming in British Columbia, you would do so by the destination resort route, if you are going to compete for that class of tourist. You certainly wouldn't do that on the Marguerite or the Vancouver Island Princess. What they are likely to do — as we believe, anyway — is to attract far more American visitors into the province; and they are going to attract the tour bus circuit, and also tap into some of the cruise ships that land in Seattle. People have made bookings now to come on buses through to Vancouver Island, and we will get a different market with that.
If we are going to attract the people away from Reno and Las Vegas, we will probably have to have longer gaming activities than two hours on the ship. We would have to have some longer activity, and that would be something that the commission would recommend to us.
MR. SIHOTA: Is it then government policy that there be destination casino gambling in this province?
HON. B.R. SMITH: If it was, we would be off and running with them, I guess, instead of setting up a commission and giving them terms of reference to tell us. No, it is not government policy. That policy will be determined after the commission has made its report.
MR. SIHOTA: As I read the terms of reference of that commission, there is no reference at all to the matter of destination resort gambling. It talks about development of a report with respect to charitable organizations. It talks about a report with the Tourism ministry.... I'm sorry; a report for the policy of development of destination-resort and tourism-oriented gaming. I apologize for making that statement to the Attorney-General.
Has the government then conducted any studies, other than asking for this report on the matter of destination-resort gambling in this province?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I don't think you would call anything that we have done a study on destination-resort gaming. But the gaming branch and now the Gaming Commission are accumulating information and data on that, and will be looking at the experience of destination-resort gaming in other jurisdictions, most certainly. We have had some representations made to us. There have been individuals and organizations that have contacted the commission and are interested in making proposals or providing information on destination resort gaming. But it is absolutely wide open. We have not made any determination on that.
A number of communities have asked us for destination resort gaming. The city of Rossland is one. The mayor is a very strong advocate of having in Rossland a replica of the Klondike Days from the Yukon, having the same sort of atmosphere recreated there. The town of Wells also wishes to have destination-resort gaming there and in Barkerville. We have a number of communities in British Columbia where the mayors and the civic leaders are urging us to establish these, but none of them has been given any encouragement and none of them has been given any assurance. Some time ago I talked to some of these people and said that we have not decided to go that route, and that remains the case today.
MR. SIHOTA: Is it government policy, then, that the revenues from these types of gaining facilities will be for profit? Or will they be for charity only?
HON. B. R. SMITH: Well, I don't think there has been a final government policy as to what would happen to all the revenues, if indeed there was an expansion of gaming beyond what we have now. There have been various comments made as to what we might do, but I think you would want to see, first of all, what your policy was going to be. If you were going to expand gaming into destination resorts, who would operate those resorts? It's my understanding that the operation of that would have to be in the hands of government, under the Criminal Code as it now stands. So the government would be the ultimate controlled operator, and therefore the revenues, less costs, would flow to government.
What would we do with those moneys? We would use them for some desirable social purpose, I presume. But to prove that we haven't made the decision that we're going that route, we haven't made a decision as to what we're going to do with the proceeds we might get if we did go that route.
MR. SIHOTA: Is the Attorney-General saying that that matter — the determination of where the revenue from these operations goes — is something that falls within the purview of his department? Or is it something that he expects to be hearing about when the commission reports on November 30?
HON. B.R. SMITH: No, I do not expect to be hearing from the commission on that. I expect that would be a government decision as to what would happen to that revenue. I wasn't trying to suggest that.
MR. SIHOTA: The Attorney-General talked about social purposes. If I heard the comment correctly, I think the word "social" was used, and I believe it was in the context of "social purposes." Can the Attorney-General define what he means in terms of social purposes that would stand to benefit from this type of revenue?
HON. B. R. SMITH: Well, I don't know that that would be a fruitful exercise. Look at the purposes that lottery proceeds are used for; I can see gaming profits being used for those kinds of purposes. Lottery funds are used to help communities, for startup activities, for grants towards senior citizens' centres, for sports teams, for cultural and athletic events. I consider those to be the kinds of purposes that we would use gaming proceeds for if we were to run operations as a government.
One social purpose that we are using those revenues for this year is the Princess Marguerite. That is a vessel that has always been a charge on the public purse. Now there has been a considerable investment in outfitting the Vancouver Island Princess. Those vessels have traditionally not run at a profit. It is true that the Marguerite has done better in the past three or four years, and is coming closer to balancing her books.
[ Page 1243 ]
That has been by good marketing, an aggressive duty-free business and some other changes that have been made.
But that vessel and its new counterpart, the Vancouver Island Princess, bring thousands of tourists from the United States to southern Vancouver Island, and it's always been considered, since it was reintroduced and started up by the government that was then formed by the members opposite.... In fact, I remember very well the maiden voyage of the Marguerite, when the first member for Vancouver East (Mr. Williams) was in charge of that, and the excitement when the Marguerite was refurbished and on this run.
Well, it's rather a sacred operation in Victoria, the B.C. Steamships operation. I consider that the support of that, which comes right out of the public purse and which involves moneys that could be used for other social service payments, for education or for a variety of good objectives.... That money goes from general revenue to support that deficit. Well, it won't happen this year, because the slot machines will cover that deficit, we believe. That's a desirable social purpose. The social purpose that it supports is the tourist industry of Vancouver Island; it attracts American visitors here who come and stay and spend money, .
MR. SIHOTA: Hospitals and schools don't make money. I facetiously wonder whether or not the government intends to put slot machines in hospitals and schools.
Let me ask the Attorney-General this question, then: will he confirm that it is not government policy to take revenues from casino operations and utilize it to subsidize government operations, such as Crown corporations, health, education, and so on?
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, it certainly is presently the case that we're not planning to do that. The only thing that we're running is the B. C. Steamship operation, and I've just explained that those revenues are being used to defray the costs of those voyages. We don't have any plans, nor indeed would we seriously consider taking the profits from gambling to keep hospitals or schools going, or other essential social services which are financed from general revenue and from general taxation.
MR. SIHOTA: Maybe we'll deal now with the matter of the Marguerite, and a question that flows from the original question I asked. The Attorney-General indicated that the leasing costs of the machines on the Marguerite are $8,758 per month. Could he tell us who that contract is with?
HON. B.R. SMITH: It's with IGT.
HON. II.R. SMITH: No, you're one of those.
They're an American company, as I recall, based in Nevada, and they are....
HON. B.R. SMITH: I hear this rather puerile whimpering from the member for Victoria, who, if he were to go out and look for machines like this, would never think of going to the place that manufactures, uses and maintains the largest number.
MR. BLENCOE: Canadians don't want this stuff.
HON. B.R. SMITH: You don't want this stuff.
To my understanding it's a Nevada company. I know I have a note on it somewhere here. International Game Technology is the name of the company. It is one of the major suppliers of Bally slot machines. It produced the lowest tender. It is a company that was also, hon. member, checked out in advance of any business transaction being entered into; checked out by CLEU as well as our own office.
MR. SIHOTA: That may exhaust, at least for the time being, the questions I have on the Marguerite and the Vancouver Island Princess.
I want to return now to the Attorney-General's press release of April 1, 1987, when he announced the appointment of the Gaming Commission. He indicated that Mr. Macintosh and Mr. Venner were appointed as chairman and vice-chairman. My question does not pertain to them. Could the Attorney-General please tell this House what specific experience or background the other members of the commission have, namely Marianne Crockett, Mr. Framst, Mr. Humphreys, Ms. Kuhl and Mr. Smith? What particular background and experience in matters of gaming do they have?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I think the question suggests its own answer — nil. That was one of the reasons why they were chosen: that they did not come to this job speaking for a particular vested interest in the gaming field; they came with some general savvy and general skills.
Several of them, as you know, served for years in local government, and still do. Mr. Framst was vice-chairman of the Land Commission; he also was one of the members of the compensation commission that dealt with judicial salaries. Vicki Kuhl is an alderman in Saanich, and has served also on the transit commission. Derrick Humphreys was the mayor of West Vancouver for some years, and has served on the GVRD transit commission.
The others were selected from different geographic regions and from different walks of life. But it's quite correct that none of them had experience in gaming; none of them were part of that industry.
MR. SIHOTA; Mr. Chairman, I find that absolutely astonishing. This government is, first of all, looking at and moving into the area of gaming in this province; it is fully aware, as I'm sure the Attorney-General is, that that whole area is fraught with all types of difficulties; that there is the potential for an overwhelming amount of criminal activity. I quoted earlier from the Solicitor-General's report and what it had to say about the problems that come with gaming. I quoted earlier from studies in the United States which indicated the problems that come with gaming. I think the least the people of this province could have expected is to appoint a commission of a number of people who have some background into, some knowledge and understanding of, matters of gaming; who have some sensitivity to the problems that can arise, some knowledge of the things that one ought to took for. You don't send someone who has no experience in the matter at all to conduct an investigation and come back with a report.
I find it amazing that this government would appoint someone whose experience is as an alderman in one small municipality and who has no background in gaming; that it
[ Page 1244 ]
would appoint someone who sat on a transit commission — and I don't see the relevancy to gaming — when there are people in this province who have a lot of expertise: people from the universities, from the police sector and so on, who have a tremendous background in gaming. I think we're aware of them. It makes no sense that the government would appoint people who have no experience at all. I would go so far as to say that I think we're all aware that the one attribute, if you want to call it that, or the one characteristic that some of these people have is that they hold membership in a particular political party in this province. That's about as far as it goes.
MR. BLENCOE: Socred amateur hour.
MR. SIBOTA: It is.
We are moving into a field that's infested with crooks, criminals, pimps, people involved in the prostitute trade, in the drug trade, and they're very professional. The Mafia clearly is a very professional organization, and we're appointing a bunch of rank amateurs to make an investigation into advising this government as to its directions on gaming. I find that despicable. No experience at all. I was surprised to hear that, particularly in light of the fact that the chair and the vice-chair tend to have some experience in criminal matters. I don't have to cite the statistics on criminal activity.
From a social point of view, I think it's evident that all sorts of social problems flow from gambling. There are problems in the area of alcohol. There are problems in terms of the poverty that we talked about earlier on in the socio-economic groups that participate in gaming. There are the social consequences that have been documented in study after study. some of which I've cited, and yet we don't have anybody on this commission who appears to have any experience in dealing with the type of social problems that flow from gaming and gambling operations. For example, it appears that in this province we're now moving towards a tourism strategy that's designed to deal with the introduction of gaming as a component of that strategy. We don't have anybody on this commission, from what the Attorney-General has had to say, with any type of background in tourism. That's a shame. We're appointing amateurs to give this government some advice and counsel on a highly sophisticated area.
It seems to me that when the report comes down on November 30 — or before — it's going to be difficult to attach any credence to it in light of the fact that those involved in the report lack expertise in these types of matters. In this province we usually appoint people who have expertise and experience. When we have commissions of inquiry, in most cases they are people with some background in the area who can bring some sensitivity and understanding to the issues. We're not asking for biased individuals; we're just asking for people who have some concrete knowledge of gaming matters. I find it absolutely reprehensible that this government has appointed people who have no experience whatsoever to report to the province on November 30.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I completely disagree. These people are not the officials; they're not the inspectors; they're not the people who are supposed to be equipped with that expertise. They are people who are supposed to evaluate the expertise and bring a citizen's point of view to bear on the subject of gaming, which is a controversial subject in this province. They have some 12 members of the gaming control branch now. They are in the process of recruiting an executive director of gaming control. They will have the full use of the gaming control branch for enforcement of their regulations. We have some qualified inspectors in the field, and we also have people with expertise working on contract.
The very thing that you're talking about — the very questions that you pose, hon. member — are the things that the members of this commission are being advised and briefed on and are seeking input on. They're calling before them some of the very people you have described and mentioned: people who have studied gaming, people who have done investigations in this in other jurisdictions. All of your comments would, I'm sure, be very, very useful to the gaming commission, and you should make sure that you make representations to them. They were selected not as a group of already-mind-made-up experts in the field of gaming, but so that they would be citizens.
I would point out to you that both the chairman and the vice-chairman of this commission have some good background and credibility in the field of police work and enforcement. It is a balanced commission. They don't all hold party cards; some do, some don't. So be it. It's impossible to get active people to take part in things who don't hold some kind of party card.
MR. SIHOTA: The point is this: the government has chosen to appoint Ed Peck to be in charge of labour matters in this province because of his particular experience, good or bad, on labour matters. We decide to appoint in this province someone to be the superintendent of brokers, or to be in charge of the Securities Commission, because of their particular experience in areas of securities law. We choose to appoint someone like Peter Pearse to a forestry commission in this country because of his particular experience in those types of matters. It stands to reason that when we're dealing with matters such as gaming, we would do the same.
MR. IDENEN: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to address one item related to the Ministry of Attorney-General that is of concern to me and to some of the people in my constituency. It has to do with legal aid.
It seems to me, from the experience that I've gained, that often the criteria used for the availability of legal aid leave a lot to be desired. I would just like to draw attention to one instance that has come before me. It involves a couple and two children. The father was convicted and sentenced because of sexually abusing one of the daughters. The marriage collapsed in divorce as a result. The mother went to work to look after the two kids. The father, although he's a tradesman and had always worked, after coming back from prison refused to work, has lived off unemployment insurance and welfare, and has continuously dragged the mother into court on legal aid.
He has contested the divorce, the custody of the children, the access to the children and the maintenance. He's never paid a penny of maintenance, even though he's been ordered to. He has lost challenge after challenge and, as a result of that, has harassed the mother, who's tried to make a go of things. I suggest to you that the only way he could do that is because the legal aid people supplied him with the funds necessary to do it.
I think perhaps this is a bit of a dramatic case, but in my discussions with other people I see it certainly is not an isolated case. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to bring this to the
[ Page 1245 ]
attention of the House, because after lengthy discussions, as well as letter-writing to the legal aid people and people from the ministry, I'm convinced that we need to build into our system of legal aid a greater degree of accountability. It seems to me that too often we're helping the wrong kind of people.
I'm not against legal aid. I'm arguing that too often we're making it available in such a way that people actually abuse the system. I'm not one bit surprised, Mr. Chairman, that there was a $5 million overrun in the legal aid bill last year. Even though we have increased it in our current budget to $19 million, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if next year they'll spend $25 million.
I just wonder whether the ministry would be prepared to look at this more closely, and to look particularly at the criteria that are being used, because in the instance that I cited, I'm certain that the individual involved, if he had had to use his own money, would in no way have gone through the process that he did. In effect, even though the courts have never found in his favour, he has harassed this person continuously; this person has had to put up her own financial resources in order to battle this time and again. I just wonder whether we're doing the right thing and serving the right cause. In fact, I have my doubts about it.
I'd just like to read into the record a few sentences from the communication that I received. This person writes: "Initially we are victimized by the criminal, then we become victims of our court system. From the information that I've been able to gather, this is a common problem causing great hardship for many innocent people. The person sponsored by legal aid wins court cases by default simply because the other party runs out of financial resources." If that is indeed the case, I believe that we owe it to our constituents and to the taxpayers of this community to make sure that there is some sense of accountability built into our system. I would just like to plead for that, because I believe that we see an increasing bill to the taxpayer, and I'm not at all sure that it's always going to the people who are most deserving.
I'd like to leave that with you, Mr. Chairman, but before I take my seat, I'd just like to say that when it comes to gambling, I personally feel that we ought not to branch out in that area. I don't want to hold a long speech about that at this time, but I do want to register my disapproval of it. I do not believe we are increasing the sum total of human happiness by increased gambling.
MR. BARNES: Mr. Chairman, just a few brief remarks. The member who just took his seat reflected on one of the questions I was intending to ask the Attorney-General to comment on, and that is the position of caucus on this new policy direction that the government has embarked upon. Would the Attorney-General indicate to what extent he has surveyed his caucus to see if he has the support of the back bench in this decision? As well, what surveys took place prior to, say, the last election? In fact, was this an election platform as part of the government's feeling about its mandate to govern?
The question of gaming is one that I think we haven't really begun to reflect upon in terms of the impact it is going to have on the province. It is pretty awesome when you consider the implications that it has, particularly for this government, which has taken some pretty moral stands in the past. Of course, the most noteworthy is its position on the access to abortions, a position taken by the Premier, indicating his disdain and disagreement with easy access to abortion, which one can appreciate from a religious point of view or from any number of value points of view. But there are some contradictions respecting the government's approach to generating revenue.
The question of destination-resort gambling is really not that far-fetched, when you consider how long — the last decade or so — we've been addressing the potential for gambling in this province. I was a member of the House when we began the lotteries programs. At that time, we were innocently under the impression that we could save the dollars fleeing to a number of other outlets people were investing in. The Irish Sweepstakes, for instance, was one of the ones that was talked about a lot in those days. But in doing so, we never envisioned this particular scenario that is happening in the province today. In those days we were thinking of perhaps assisting the arts and culture and recreational facilities and these kinds of events and programs that were needed. Now, some time later, we are embarking upon a major transformation of the province's image in North America. This is really a pretty profound direction that we are taking.
I am sure the Attorney-General will recall the former Provincial Secretary, Jim Chabot, who was asked specifically about the direction of the government in the future with respect to gambling.
MR. BARNES: Oh yes, we got a specific denial. In fact, I asked him: "Do you intend to have full-fledged gambling in the province of B. C.?" He said: "No way; we are just going to have the odd activity here and there."
HON. MR. VEITCH: He said definitely maybe.
MR. BARNES: That's right. But I think we are being caught asleep. I think the public has not really come to appreciate the full implication of what is happening. That is my point. This is one that causes us to realize that we don't have sufficient information. We don't know what the impact of gambling will be in British Columbia, but I think the member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew (Mr. Sihota) has pointed out, from studies in other jurisdictions, that the potential for serious negative social consequences is pretty predictable. What I think the Attorney-General should be providing for us here today is documented evidence that he has done his homework and that he in fact has the support of the public.
I am not sure if it's sufficient to suggest that people are anxious to invest in gambling, and that that is a direction in which we should be going in this province. It is true that we have a need for more revenue and that we have to be more innovative and creative in finding ways of generating revenue and attracting capital.
The Attorney-General has a mixed-bag portfolio. He's the minister responsible for controlling the misuse of intoxicants such as alcohol, people driving drunk and all those kinds of things. He's in a bit of a contradictory situation. On the one hand, he has to try to maintain good law and order, support a healthy community with good lifestyles and be an example himself. But he was accusing the second member for Victoria (Mr. Blencoe) of talking out of the side of his mouth and being one of the first ones to come groveling for lottery funds.
[ Page 1246 ]
MR. BARNES: What was the term? Sniveling? Whatever he said about that member, it's just not fair to say that when at the same time the Attorney-General himself is an absolute hypocrite of the grossest.... Not that he himself is a bad person. It’s just that the job he has been asked to do is contradictory in nature. You see, he can't help himself. He's in a bit of a squeeze play. On the one hand, he's trying to justify the Vancouver Island Princess and the Princess Marguerite floating around with these one-armed bandits and bringing in this revenue, saying: "Well, we've got to do it. Otherwise it's going to flee the province. Look, it's here. We may as well get in on it, because the action is there." On the other hand, he says we must control abuse of alcohol, the destruction of the family and people who are.... He's responsible for keeping people together and supporting all of the good things that we all want. But he's in favour of things that destroy the good things.
What kind of money will come out of the gambling revenue, for instance, to support the gambling addicts? What kind of treatment programs will be available for the people who become addicted to gambling? It's not just going to be on the ships; that's just a beginning. I think the member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew has pointed out that the thing for the future is a series of gambling communities. The Attorney-General has already suggested Rossland, Trail, Wells and a few other places that he thinks are thinking about it. No doubt what we're looking at is the beginning of a major transformation of the way we operate in this province. It's very serious. It's one I don't think the public fully understands. I believe that the social consequences are so potentially disastrous that the government should realize that it has a very real duty, if we're not going to make a mockery of the things we say in terms of our responsibility to the public....
That's the thing. The young person hearing the debate today and reading the Attorney-General's own words.... Many of these students come in and listen, and they want to see if we're ideologically consistent, for instance, in what we're saying — if we are rational, if we are not contradictory, in terms of our expressions and our policies.
Clearly the Attorney-General epitomizes all the things that should not happen in terms of the hypocritical and diametrically opposed roles which he is playing. He is for the people. He wants to see good health. He wants to see an environment in which people can believe that we can live in peace and tranquility. At the same time, he is inviting all of those things which are basically against the Ten Commandments; all of those "thou shalt nots" are involved in part of the government's policies. I think that this is not a good situation. It's a desperate situation. It's a situation in which I think the government is groping and hoping to find something that will work, because after all, since the late seventies we've been dealing with a Social Credit system of revenueproducing that just hasn't worked. In other words, we have been in a perpetually depressed economic state. I don't blame the government for being concerned, but I don't think this is the way to go.
I would like the Attorney-General to explain to us why he's so confident that he's on the right trail and what kind of support he's getting from his caucus. Does he have 100 percent support from his caucus? Does he have 100 percent support from the electorate? Is he assured that he is not going to create a whole bunch of social problems that there will be no revenue for, notwithstanding the fact that he thinks this is all going to be American money and very few Canadians will he affected in terms of our lifestyles here in this province?
HON. B.R. SMITH: Those are really tall prescriptions that my friend the member for Vancouver Centre places upon me: 100 percent support of the electorate; 100 percent support of my caucus — that would be even more difficult that the electorate, I'm sure, on almost any issue that any of us came before the House on. Nobody's united on these issues, particularly on questions that have a moral flavour to them. There are people on both sides of this House who cross over on this issue — maybe that's healthy.
I also acknowledge that my portfolio is one of these very mixed-bag ones. The reason why gaming and the vessel gaming is under me is that the Criminal Code is the only statutory regulation of this whole thing in the country. It still comes under the Criminal Code. In fact, even horse-racing comes under the Criminal Code. I mean, that's how outmoded we are in the criminal law in this country, that some federal commission under Agriculture sends inspectors out to test saliva on horses in British Columbia. Who needs them?
It's all done under the Criminal Code. Illogical as it is, I have to enforce the law and also run ships that promote slot machines. The inconsistency may be a consistency, in the sense that as law enforcement officer I still have a high duty and desire to make sure that there is strict enforcement of gaming, such little bit as we have.
I want to say one other thing, and that is the suggestion that the member made that perhaps there wasn't warning of this policy; that it wasn't announced to the electorate before the election. I know that isn't so. Sometimes one's memory plays tricks as to dates and you begin to forget when things happened in this business, but I certainly recall that on election day, when I was going around to polling stations, I had two people stop me quite specifically. One person said to me: "I'm not voting for you because you're putting gambling on those ships. I've always voted for you. You understand, I couldn't vote for you today." I said: "That's fine." Then I had one who said just the opposite to me: "I'm voting for you because I think this is a good thing for tourism and for Victoria." So I know it was an issue among my electorate, and I probably lost and won some votes on it. I know that the Premier announced that we would be embarking on this experiment well before the election; I think it was in September. So I don't think anyone was under any illusions that we were going to do some things in this area. But the issue is open as to what we do in the future.
One thing on legal aid to the member for Richmond. There is a policy of providing counsel in family relations matters and in matters involving maintenance where a person's livelihood and freedom would be at stake. I would be quite pleased to investigate legal aid in that specific case. The member is not here now. You know, you can't have a legal aid system where you or I approve of every case and where we only finance those cases that we think are the right ones. I would hate to have to make those evaluations. There was a policy in legal aid for a while that we didn't give legal aid in any drinking driving cases, and the court in the Mountain decision said that we couldn't do that under the law. So we had to start giving legal aid again in cases of drinking driving where a person was eligible to go to jail, and they do. Yet many British Columbians don't feel that legal aid money
[ Page 1247 ]
should he used to support defences in drinking and driving. In fact, a minority report in our task force came to that conclusion.
Of course, many British Columbians also don't think that we should be investing legal aid money in support of people who have previous criminal records who are charged with serious crimes, but those are the very people under the justice system who need to have some defence available.
We do it on the basis of means and eligibility, and we don't do it on the basis of picking the, defences we like or the crimes we like. We try and run a system, and I freely acknowledge that we never have enough money in this system. There is never enough money for legal aid. We made some major improvements in legal aid this year, and actually we did pump into the system a $3 million additional amount to make up the shortfall from last year, which we put in this year again and put it in, in addition to base, and then an addition of $2.6 million of new money which went to the Legal Services Society. That includes a $600,000 amount allowing the society to keep a surplus from the previous year. So there was that $600,000 and an additional $2 million of new funds and an additional $3 million over the base of the preceding year put into legal aid. But I would agree with the member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew (Mr. Sihota) that the system still isn't funded at the level that we would like; we would like it funded at a higher level.
The legal aid criteria and the administration are impartial and fair, and it's not done on the basis of whether you like the crime the person committed or whether you like the criminal. You can't run a system on that basis.
MR. BLENCOE: I want to continue the discussion on gaming and gambling casinos, because I happen to think it's probably one of the most important debates we've had in this chamber for many, many years. I think the citizens of British Columbia.... I know the citizens of my community feel that it's one that has to be debated long and hard. The implications of going down this road.... The evidence is there from other jurisdictions that have pursued this course: nothing but grief comes to those communities when they pursue organized gambling casinos and gaming. So let me say, Mr. Chairman, that I happen to think this debate is one of the most important we have had in this chamber for a long, long time. The potential impact of gaming on this province is astronomical, and I really think we have to cover all the bases. I am amazed that the chief law enforcement officer of this province is the one who is promoting gambling casinos and their expansion and all the seedier sides of life that come automatically with that profession, if you can call it that.
When he talks about the commission he's appointed, that bunch of amateurs.... The evidence from every jurisdiction, Mr. Chairman, particularly south of the border, is that when you've gone this course.... Atlantic City, when established, told the world they had the strongest rules in the world to protect against organized crime; yet in those first four years, 1978-82, crime went up 171 percent. They thought they had the toughest rules and regulations in the world. Every study, every piece of evidence put forth, shows that when you pursue this course, organized crime gets involved. And today in those jurisdictions in the United States.... Take a look at the studies — and I have a very important one here, that of the Task Force on Legalized Gambling, which came out in 1984. Look at the percentage of gambling controlled by organized crime in the United States: in the far west it's 29 percent, in the Midwest it's 47 percent, in the northeast it's 53 percent and in the southeast it's 35 percent.
Mr. Chairman, when you pursue this casino kind of operation, despite what the minister says about it being under the guise of charity or the non-profit sector, these elements get involved; they are there; they start and they work. That's why I say that this debate is probably one of the most important debates in terms of the future of this province that we have had in a long, long time. And I can't believe that the chief crime-fighter in the province is glibly dismissing this kind of organized crime. His amateur-hour commission have no experience in dealing with these kinds of things. It's insidious, it's dramatic, it's organized, it's big, it's clever, and it gets in. Every jurisdiction started just like British Columbia today, just like this — amateur hour in British Columbia; a little bit here, a little casino in the hotel here on the corner. Then it gets bigger and bigger. Before we know it, because we haven't established the mechanisms to control.... No mechanisms can control this kind of thing — organized crime. In every jurisdiction in the United States there's no control. It can't be done.
The Attorney-General knows it, Mr. Chairman, but he's prepared to very quietly slip this into this province under the guise of the non-profit sector. But these operating companies are there, and I believe that he and this government want to expand this kind of activity in British Columbia. Well, we believe in super, natural British Columbia. We don't believe in this kind of industry that has the potential to radically alter this province. The whole social environment has the potential to be affected for a long, long time. And when we take a look — and I implore the Attorney-General.... I know he's seen the studies. He knows what he's embarked on. I don't think the people of British Columbia are being properly consulted. We supposedly have a test on the Princess Marguerite, which we know the Attorney-General has admitted a few days ago is not an adequate test. I just cannot believe that the chief law enforcement officer in the province of British Columbia would allow himself, with all the evidence from every jurisdiction that started this way and has gone into gaming and organized gambling casinos, to be the promoter of this kind of activity. The rules and regulations in place today are just asking for trouble, and I'm going to get to some of those questions in a minute.
We just haven't prepared.... Even if we could support this kind of thing, we would at least insist that top-notch organizations in terms of surveillance and policing and security be in place; that there be a full-time crime commission, or whatever you want to call it, that's ready to deal with the onslaught of the kind of criminal activity that police chiefs know is going to happen, know will come to this province, if we pursue this.
I can't overemphasize that we on this side of the House are deeply worried about the direction of this government, and obviously some members of the government back bench are deeply worried about the direction of the government. We would hope that the government will reconsider, will finish the Marguerite experiment, will accept, I suppose, the gaming casinos we have now in the non-profit sector, but for heaven's sake will not expand the system.
I have some questions for the minister specifically related to the current operations that I think need to be answered, if I can get some answers. But first I would like to ask the minister if he has at his disposal figures of how much money
[ Page 1248 ]
the private operators made in 1986 — or any figures for the first quarter of 1987 — from gambling operations. It is my understanding that he has those figures available. I think it's very important, Mr. Chairman, that we start to see the kind of money that's already being made by the private operators in so-called non-profit gambling in the province of British Columbia.
MR. SIHOTA: How much is it?
MR. BLENCOE: What is being made by the non-profit sector — by the operators currently operating in the province of British Columbia? Perhaps the Attorney-General could give us some information on that first.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I'd be delighted to give those figures, because they're not as promising as the member would perhaps suspect; they're not as high as the member would suspect. If I look at figures from bingo, first of all.... Wait a minute. I'll have to give you these a little later. I think the bingo amounts were up a little bit, but certainly the casino operators held their own. The money that went to charities last year went down, but the operators kept roughly the same level as the year before. It seems to me it was somewhere between $5 million or $6 million from the casino operations that went to the operators. Those are gross; they're not net. I'll have to get those exact figures.
I know those figures indicated that the new regulations that we brought in last year dampened the activity of operators but didn't diminish their incomes. Their incomes stayed about the same, but it did cause a reduction in the amount of take to charities. So it was for that reason that we changed the regulations just recently, when I announced the commission, to make it a true 50 percent return to the charities, so we could try to restore some of that revenue to the charities. But it wasn't a whole lot of money that they made — I'm talking about in the non-profit areas. I'll be glad to give you a table with the exact figures.
I just want to deal with your main thrust. I do think, hon. member, that you tend to exaggerate a little bit. You would think that in the introduction of these two ships — 160 slot machines — we had attracted Albert Anastasia and Machine Gun Kelly, that all these people had come in here. You know, hon. member, they've been running similar ships from Nova Scotia to Maine for over 20 years with slot machines, and Machine Gun Kelly doesn't own that operation. The mob aren't into the CNR vessels that ply between Yarmouth and Bar Harbour. Those slot machines have been providing revenue for some years. Undesirable elements don't hang around the handles and wait for three lemons; ordinary people play those slot machines.
So I do think that you prattle a little too much and that you do tend to exaggerate. Do not think that nobody in this government is aware of what can happen in the field of gambling, and has happened in other jurisdictions. It's for that reason that you have to have a control — a commission — and good law enforcement. We have a good enforcement branch in public gaming control, and we're going to build it up with a strong director. We have an excellent police force in this province, and they're well aware of undesirable elements that can be attracted into gaming. We will ensure that that doesn't happen.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Speaker, the Attorney-General is trying very hard to put a good face on a situation when he knows very well that there are those who are strong lobbyists, who have a lot of clout with this government and who want to bring in this major kind of gambling casino in British Columbia. We know the Premier of the province of British Columbia has already very quietly at various stages in the last year or so said: "Well, we are going to do this here. We are going to have resort destinations."
If you take a look at the evidence from other jurisdictions when they started on this course, the same kind of comments were made by the politicians who were promoting this: "Hey, there is no problem. We won't have these kinds of things here. We are going to have the best rules in the world, the strongest system in the world." That's what Atlantic City said, Mr. Chairman, in 1978. Where are they today? We know where they are today. Where is Las Vegas today? We know where it's at. We are starting small, perhaps, but in my estimation and in the estimation of our caucus and of the people of British Columbia, if we don't speak out now and warn and express our deep concern about the direction of this government and the Premier and the chief crime-fighter — supposedly — in the province, we will have a casino operation in all major cities and towns in this province, very similar to other jurisdictions. That is why we are speaking out now.
When I take a look at the so-called system that is in place to check.... I understand for this region that I happen to stand in here, Victoria, we have got only one person who even tries to keep up with what is going on in this region. One person. I will ask the Attorney-General right now: what checks, if any, are made on people before they start operating for charities? What police checks are made? What criminal activities are looked at by the people operating them? Can the Attorney-General assure this House today that no one with criminal background is involved in operating casinos in the province of British Columbia? What checks are made? What kind of system is in place to ensure that those who have been involved with criminal activity are not involved in casino operations today?
HON. B.R. SMITH: They are checked by the gaming control branch before there is licensing, and operators are going to be included under the licensing system. If there are people involved in the operation of casinos or bingos who do have criminal records, presumably they will be out of business. We didn't, under the old system, as I recall, have control over operators. Control over licensees — but it is intended to expand that to include operators as well as licensees. But the public gaming control branch is aware of these things and does make checks on people.
MR. BLENCOE: Can the Attorney-General outline for this House the details of the screening system and checking system and in what detail the local police departments are involved?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I will do that for the member at a later time, yes, sure. I can't do it off the top of my head, but I will certainly do it and outline the process to him.
MR. BLENCOE: My understanding is that the checking system is minimal and the screening system is minimal, and that if there are complaints afterwards, then action is taken. But at the moment, the system in place for ensuring that
[ Page 1249 ]
criminal activity doesn't get involved in gambling casinos is very poor.
I would like to ask the Attorney-General: is it accurate that you don't have to be a bona fide charity — therefore with a charitable Revenue Canada tax number — but that you have to be a non-profit organization to get involved, which is very much different? Is it possible that, very quietly and efficiently — therefore avoiding the very weak screening system you have in place now — the criminals could set up nonprofit societies — not the charities, which have to be legit and get around your rules vis-à-vis charities?
HON. B.R. SMITH: No, that's not true. You don't have charities being organized by operators who have criminal records.
MR. BLENCOE: You don't have to be a charity — nonprofit.
HON. B.R. SMITH: You do have to be a charity. You have to be an organization that has a charitable or religious purpose in order to obtain a licence.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Well, you do.
MR. BLENCOE: Do you have to have a charity number?
HON. B.R. SMITH: You have to have.... To get a licence, you have to be a bona fide charitable or religious organization. Sure, under the old system an operator might have gone around and tried to organize a loose collection of organizations, some of which were bona fide and others of which the bona fides was suspect; but the branch is examining that kind of situation. Those sorts of licensing situations will be scrutinized and turned down. There are going to be very stringent rules for this kind of thing. During the period of some expansion of both bingo and casino gambling in the past couple of years, there may well have been organization campaigns that took place; but we have had no evidence, hon. member, of any criminal element being part of that organization. There is certainly organization of charities, because charities mean more hours for use of the casino or the bingo hall, but I know of absolutely no evidence of any criminal element getting into that.
[Mrs. Gran in the chair.]
MR. BLENCOE: This is the thing that worries me: that there are going to be rules. Again, when I do the research and look at other jurisdictions, I hear that as well: "Oh, we'll introduce the rules to cover that." Unless we explore these things.... We can't possibly explore every activity of this government in this House, because we can't find out everything, Madam Chairman. Every time we bring up a question, it's like a needle in haystack; there are probably another hundred questions that should be covered. We don't get the answer.. "We'll take care of that," or "There will be new rules for that." That's what worries me, that we don't have the rules in place for this stuff at all.
I believe that right now criminals could establish a so-called non-profit society and operate. I don't think there's anything to stop them in the province. I certainly don't think.... The Attorney-General obviously didn't have the system in place to check on this. If he were on top of this very important issue, he would be able to lay out for this House right away the detailed supervision and the monitoring and the policing and everything else that's going in to ensure that this kind of activity is properly dealt with. But he doesn't have it at his fingertips; we'll have rules in the future — that's the problem.
I don't know how many other things are going on, because we just don't get the time to do the checking. But boy, somebody had better start doing the checking into these kinds of activities, because the answers I've gotten so far this afternoon: "Well, we'll establish some rules," or "We may be able to find the kind of screening process that's done...." It's my understanding that police departments and police chiefs are deeply concerned about the lack of screening and the lack of supervision, and about what's going on with this kind of activity. They're very concerned that so much of their activity down the road, if this government continues the way Ws going, is going to have to cover this kind of activity. In the House the other day I asked who is going to cover the extra policing costs. You can guarantee, if this government continues the way it's going, that we're going to have horrendous policing costs to deal with this sort of thing.
There are millions of dollars to be made out of this kind of operation. Unless this government has some insight or decides to change its direction, we know that we're going to have an expansion of gaming and gambling casinos. I'm accused of exaggerating. Well, I might have said that six months ago; I might have agreed with the Attorney-General before I started taking a look at the evidence from other jurisdictions, where the people who drew attention to what the government was doing in those states were accused of exaggerating. They were accused of trying to warn the people of British Columbia and the government of the time that they were on a very dangerous course. And look at the evidence today. Even the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, whose livelihood, future and career, along with those of the thousands of people he employs, are based on gaming, says: "Any state" — and let's put in "province" — "trying to follow Nevada's lead will find that social costs far outweigh any economic benefits." This is the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. I don’t know if he's still got his job. He was warning, finally, the people of Nevada and others, no matter how small you start.... We've started not necessarily in a small way, and I think we're moving to big time. He's warning: be careful; it's dangerous, and the social costs far outweigh the economic benefit to the people, and certainly to the people of the province of British Columbia.
Madam Chairman, I'll tell you why this government is going on this course. They think they have tapped into a whole new source of revenue. They think this is easy street to get money for whatever projects they've got in place. Basically it's because the Social Credit government of the last ten years has driven this province near to bankruptcy, and now they're going to bring gambling casinos into British Columbia, and they're going to challenge and threaten organized crime in the province.
That's what it's all about. They're desperate to fill the coffers that they have emptied with their projects and their incompetence and their blundering over the last ten years. We
[ Page 1250 ]
know where that money has gone; they've squandered it. And now this government, not knowing where it's going — and I implore this government to take a look at the evidence — is prepared to risk changing this province dramatically.
I've certainly got no answers, and my colleague from Esquimalt-Port Renfrew has had no answers at all in terms of the rules and the regulations and the screening system or anything else. It's my understanding at the moment that it's very easy for those involved in crime of some sort or another to get involved in gambling casinos in the province of British Columbia.
Now maybe I can ask the Attorney-General about the security that exists in these gambling casinos today. It's my understanding, and maybe the Attorney-General can correct me, that there is virtually no security in any of these casinos, no security at all: no alarm system, no tie-in to police systems, no surveillance. Even Mac's Milk has a panic button to get hold of the police department when they're in trouble. Yet there are no rules in place to ensure that these casinos have a tight security system and surveillance system or alarm system.
Now is the Attorney-General going to say today that that's going to be changed too? We've already got them in operation now today, and God knows what's going on. We've got a commission that is amateur hour; we've got casinos that are amateur hour in terms of security and surveillance. Yet the Attorney-General, the chief crime-fighter and law enforcement officer in the province of British Columbia, sits back and says: "Well, we've got a handle on it, and we're going to change the rules." Maybe the Attorney-General can give us some insight into the security that exists in these casinos today.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Purely and simply, hon. member, you are a scaremonger. You like to quote heads of the Nevada Gaming Commission. I am sure you could get some quotations from Monte Carlo and from Cicero of old and all kinds of other places, but you're not talking about British Columbia. You are apparently uninformed of the fact that we have a $775 million gaming industry in this province now. Like it or not, hon. member, it is there. Over $400 million a year is going into various kinds of lotteries, of which the government takes, I think, roughly $140 million and uses it for the purposes that were outlined earlier. We have ticket lotteries, too, which account for some $20 million in gross revenue, of which the charities received some $7 million this year and some $6 million the year before. In bingo: gross revenues from bingo in 1986 were $91 million; in 1987 they were $110 million. After prizes, the charities received up from $13.6 million in 1986 to $19.1 million in 1987, those moneys being used by those charities for varying purposes.
In casinos, though, because of problems in changing regulations and because of difficulties in operation, the story is a different one. The casinos in 1986 grossed $36 million; in 1987 it was down to $32 million. In 1986 the total expenses — most of the take would be to the operators; it's not all net in their pockets — which included the operators' take were $5,589,000, and in 1987 $5,500,000; so almost flat. The charities received in 1986 $3,334,000, but in 1987 it was down to $2.5 million. So it was the charities of this province that came to us and said: "Please, do some interim reorganization of the rules so that we can operate better." And we have done that. We changed the ceilings, we changed the hours, we raised the bets and we froze the operation of additional outlets so that there would be a chance for the commission to get a handle on the number of operators and bring in some better controls, training and preparation.
You know, hon. member, that those things have been done, but you constantly like to conjure up in your prosaic way in this chamber the experience of Nevada and other jurisdictions. Well, why don't you look at British Columbia? In British Columbia there is an industry of charities that benefits from gaming. As a matter of fact, in every community in this province revenues go for charitable purposes from bingo and casinos and also from lottery funds. If you want to make these high and mighty speeches, then you should be advocating the elimination and dismemberment of that whole system, and then we can debate the thing on the honest, straightforward basis that you don't think there should be any gaming, that there should be no revenues from any form of gaming and that we should get out of that business. So we'll shut down casinos, we'll shut down bingos, we won't have any more lotteries and we'll close the horse races as well. You'd probably be in favour of that. Except I seem to remember that you'll always have a kind of interest in lottery grants in your own riding. So let's stop making moralistic speeches and let's get on to something constructive.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Chair recognizes the second member for Victoria. And hon. members, could we refrain from using language that we all know is not parliamentary.
MR. BLENCOE: Who was doing that, Madam Chairman?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Hon. member, would you like to continue? There were a couple of comments made.
MR. BLENCOE: Madam Chairman, the minister is trying — and often he does a fairly good job — to defend a policy that he knows really is a very dangerous one. He's throwing out that lotteries are the same as gambling casinos. Well, let me dismiss that right now. We're talking about a whole different system, a whole different kind of gambling than currently is represented by lotteries in British Columbia or in Canada. There's no question about that, and let's get that straight.
Our policy is quite clear, as enunciated by our Attorney-General critic from Esquimalt-Port Renfrew and supported unanimously by our caucus; it's that the system that's in place — that's the lotteries — is controlled by government. As far as we know, it's not controlled by organized crime at this.... But our policy is: enough is enough. We draw the line with what we've got now.
Don't try to kid this chamber or the people of British Columbia that lotteries are the same as gaming casinos or gambling casinos. It's a whole different system. That point has to be made.
I didn't get any answers about the security in casinos. I'd like to know what the Attorney-General is doing about casinos and what system is in place today for those operators. I am told there's money all over the place, inviting all sorts of temptation. There are all sorts of things happening in those places. The security is virtually non-existent in those casinos. So we've got no screening, it would appear, no police checks and no monitoring — virtually no security in the
[ Page 1251 ]
casinos today — and we have an amateur-hour commission appointed to deal with this very important issue. I wish the Attorney-General, supposedly the number one crime-fighter in the province of British Columbia, would show me this evidence to prove I'm wrong, that we're not in serious trouble with the existing casinos, never mind the ones we're going to get tomorrow — and there's no question that unless this government changes direction, we'll be getting them. He says we're using examples from other jurisdictions that are nothing like British Columbia. Once again I remind that Attorney-General and this government that that's how they started, and look where they are today.
Madam Chairman, I have some more questions, but my colleague from Esquimalt-Port Renfrew (Mr. Sihota) wants to say a few more words. In this section of the debate, I just want to ask the government to turn aside from the temptation to make easy money and build up its coffers after it incompetently got this province into serious financial trouble, and to seriously consider the dramatic social costs to the taxpayer if it moves in this direction. Government revenue generated by Nevada casinos equals about 3 percent of B.C. government revenue. An extensive three-year study in the United States concluded that income from casinos does not offset their inherent social costs. If this government is in any way thinking, through its amateur-hour commission, of expanding and allowing more profits to gambling under the guise of charities.... That's what we've got. This government is finding ways to bring in profit gambling under the guise of charities because it's got to find a way around the current Criminal Code. We implore this government to seriously study and think about the implications from other jurisdictions.
MR. PETERSON: Madam Chairman, I would like to just take a couple of minutes to ask the Attorney-General a few questions about our small debt court system in British Columbia. It's my understanding that the current ceiling for applications to the small debt court is $2,000. It has been some time since the ceiling was raised. In fact, I'm not sure it has even kept up with inflation. My concern is really for small businesses in British Columbia, particularly the new ones which may be having some difficulties with delinquent receivables in excess of $2,000. My question is: would it be possible for the ceiling to be raised? I'm not sure of any restrictions or any legalities concerning that, but in reference to the smaller businesses, particularly, as I say, the new small businesses in British Columbia, for whom cash flow is so important to thrive and the costs of entering the large civil courts for litigation are prohibitive, could the Attorney-General perhaps look at the possibility of raising those ceilings?
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, and I think they should be raised and raised gradually. The only reason we don't raise them completely to, say, $5,000 is that we are always in danger of being struck down by the line of decisions that prevents us from establishing a section 96 court; we have to be careful to make those increases in jurisdiction gradual. But it would be our intention to raise them, and we will probably have a provision in Miscellaneous Statutes to do so again. It's a good court because it's a people's court. It's a court that you don't need a lawyer in. You can go in and collect your money reasonably efficiently and inexpensively, and it should be as accessible as we can make it under the constitution. I agree with that.
I want to say one other thing in relation to the remarks of the member from Victoria. He knows, and I have said in this chamber, that there wasn't licensing for casino operators, and that was one of the weaknesses of the old system, and that we intend that there will be, and we also intend that operators will be trained and bonded, and that we will have a direct inspection over them. But don't think that the gaming branch and the police have been idle in this field. Where there is any doubt as to the record or background of an operator, it is open to the gaming branch to lift the licence of the charity and to bring pressure on the charities to get a different operator. That's done time and time again in this province.
One of the reasons we set up a commission and charged them with doing things, and are going to improve our rules, our bonding and our trading, is to have a system that is better enforced. It was a very small branch of government up until recently — very few people involved in the enforcement of it — and we think it should be strengthened. But the RCMP, CLEU and other organizations have watched this industry and watched it carefully, I can assure you, and we have not lain down on the job.
MR. SIHOTA: Madam Chairman, first of all I want to thank the second member for Langley (Mr. Peterson) for asking that question. It certainly was a question that I intended to ask later on, because it was also on my agenda. I'm pleased that he did ask that question, and I guess in some ways I'm pleased with the answer.
Quite frankly, I do understand the section 96 argument, but we're talking about $5,000. I leave it to somebody to challenge it and to say that there is a section 96 argument there, and then incur the costs of bringing forward that constitutional challenge. I don't think that there is very much risk, if any, in raising that sum to $5,000, and I would look forward to an amendment in one of the miscellaneous statutes amendments to raise the amount to at least $5,000, because all of us, I trust, would agree that the $2,000 figure is way too low. It's unfortunate that businesses and people who are owed money have to write off some money to fall into the $2,000 figure. Clearly, that legislation should be amended. It's long overdue. I won't worry too much about the section 96 argument. I don't intend to raise it. I don't know how many people understand it. So let's get on with raising the limit.
I want to thank the second member for Langley for raising the matter, because it's one that I feel equally strongly about.
Let's get back to gaming. It seems to me, Madam Chairman, that as we engage in this debate we have to step back for a moment and begin to consider the motivations of the government to get involved in gaming operations. If indeed the government is to believed, that the motivation is simply to allow for funding for charitable purposes, then clearly there's not much to be achieved.... The argument that says that the revenue from these operations will be used to reduce the deficit is an argument that falls by the way. If it's going to go to charities, then it can't be used to reduce the deficit or for government operations. Alternatively, if the intent or the motivation of it is to offset the debt and deal with the financial crisis that the government has on its hands, then I think the government should come up front and say that that indeed is its policy — to engage in for-profit public sector gambling.
[ Page 1252 ]
I want to ask the Attorney-General to clarify that point first of all. Is it the intention of the government to move into for-profit public sector gambling?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I've got no further statements to make on our purpose. I've outlined it many times. We will have a statement to make on future gambling policy when we have studied the report of the commission and when we've had some experience with the gaining on the ships. But our future policy has not been determined, and we have not had those final debates, and we have not examined the results of the commission studies being undertaken.
MR. SIHOTA: Would the Attorney-General then advise the House as to what his view on the matter is, as the chief law enforcement officer in this province?
HON. B. R. SMITH: He most certainly will not, because he has not sworn or taken an oath to go around imposing his own personal views. I'm probably far more conservative on that subject personally than some of the hon. members over there who are making the speeches, but I wasn't elected to legislate those views or carry them out.
MR. SIHOTA: Madam Chairman, in today's newspaper the Attorney-General felt quite at liberty to make comments about the Belmas case and his own views about that. He felt quite at liberty a week ago to make a comment about strip searching. He felt at liberty to make a comment earlier about a famous decision that allowed someone to achieve parole due to a provision in the Charter. He felt quite free to comment on those types of matters. I wonder why the Attorney-General is reluctant to state his view on the matter of public sector for-profit gambling in this province.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I have absolutely no reluctance in stating the government's position, when we're in a position to state that position. But I have no intention of going around stating my own personal and moral views on gambling. I most certainly did speak out on the Belmas parole, because it is my duty, as the person in this province in charge of the corrections process, to speak out on a parole decision which I felt, not from a personal moral standpoint but as Attorney-General, was not an appropriate decision. And I have done so, but I don't speak out generally on parole decisions. I also certainly speak out on questions involving law enforcement, fingerprinting, strip searches and so on, but those aren't personal moral issues; those are public matters that I am charged with.
I will speak out — and the government will speak out — on whether we're going to have further public sector gaming of any kind in this province. We will speak out on that. There's no hesitation on that. You want us to speak out before we've let the commission do their work. I don't think you want the commission....
MR. BLENCOE: Amateur hour.
HON. B.R. SMITH: You know, if I look back, hon. member, on some of the Crown corporation appointments that were made during the years 1972 to 1975, this is a very professional commission alongside some of those.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, some of the people that were put at the head of Crown corporations. I find it very offensive, too, that you keep calling this commission "amateur hour." I find that offensive to the chairman and the vice-chairman, who are both very experienced, distinguished, objective British Columbians in the field of law enforcement. I find it objectionable as well from the standpoint of other experienced citizens on that commission who have served their communities and served on boards of various kinds. You could say the same thing, hon. member, about the appointment of every university board and college board in this province. You could get up and make one of your silly speeches about "amateur hour"
MR. SIHOTA: The Attorney-General has raised two questions in my mind. The first one is this: if the Attorney-General thinks that it is not his position to talk on matters of broad public policy, why is it that he has chosen, as a matter of public policy, to introduce gaming on the ships? And why, therefore, is he not, as a matter of policy, willing to talk about private sector for-profit gambling in this province? That's a first question.
The second question is: if the Attorney-General wants to talk about his duties, does he not think that it is his duty as the chief law enforcement officer of this province to indicate his views on the matter of for-profit gambling, particularly in the public sector? If you want to speak out on policy, you've already done it, with respect to the ships. Why not go a little bit further and tell us what your policy is on this matter?
Is the Attorney-General not prepared to answer those two questions?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Attorney-General is not obliged to answer the questions. Would you like to continue?
MR. SIHOTA: I will continue. I think that drives home the point that there are representatives on this side of the floor who have argued over and over and over again that the government's intentions are to move into for-profit public sector gaming. We've been criticized. We've been told that we're exaggerating — I think that was a word used to describe the comments made by the second member for Victoria (Mr. Blencoe) — that somehow we're putting a scare into the people of this province. I think that was the adjective used to describe the comments made by the second member for Victoria. Yet on the other hand, when we ask the government for clarification and ask them to explain what indeed its policies are on matters of gaming and public sector for-profit gaming, the government refuses to make any statements publicly. So it seems to me inconsistent to chastise members on this side of the House with respect to statements they're making about what they perceive the government's intent to be when the government itself is not prepared to clarify those intentions and state outright what its positions are.
I say that not simply in defence of the second member for Victoria, but to highlight the inconsistency. The government will talk when it wants to talk, and it won't talk when it doesn't want to talk. The people of this province therefore are left in the dark on serious matters of public policy and a shift in this government towards gambling in a very, very significant way. I think the public has a right to know what the Attorney-General thinks.
I tried to say that in a controlled way, because I think the Attorney-General knows as well as I do that I could have said
[ Page 1253 ]
it in other ways. But I want to move on to another aspect of this gaming issue. I should preface my comments by saying that there have been a number of comments made by my good friend the second member for Victoria about the questions of security and regulation in gaming, and the current level .... We're not looking down the road, because I guess we're asked to believe that the government really has no plans down the road. We're just asking: what's happening now with the rules and regulations?
On April 4 an individual within the Ministry of Provincial Secretary was commenting upon the regulations that are in place. He said that the regulations were impractical and inspectors were faced with the problem of allowing blatant violations or suspending hundreds of casino licences, a move that would ultimately embarrass the then Provincial Secretary Grace McCarthy, who ushered in the rules. So there's a concern on the part of those enforcing the regulations that if they enforce them pursuant to the regulations that have come down, the casino operations in their entirety would be shut down in this province.
There was further recognition in that report that there are only 11 inspectors overseeing casino operations in this province — and those 11 are responsible for bingo and ticket raffles across British Columbia — one of whom is in the greater Victoria area. I want to ask the Attorney-General this: what immediate plans does he have to increase the number of inspectors for casinos, bingo parlours and raffles in the greater Victoria area?
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, we do intend to expand the branch, and, as I say, we're trying to recruit and interview candidates right now for the position of executive director, and we will be taking on more inspectors. We do have new terms and conditions respecting the licensing of lottery events that have just been published as of May 1, which represent a codification of what we had before and the changes that were made. They're perhaps a little more understandable now, and they're printed and circulated.
Sure, whenever you change your rules you have some uncertainty and you have uncertainty, as to enforcement. We have felt for some time that we needed to strengthen the enforcement end and also to clarify and improve the rules. The rules were certainly improved this time, from the standpoint of charities. The charities that have reported to me and to the commission have been generally pleased with the changes that we made. Some of them may have wished some further changes to be made or thought we could have done more, but at least we did make some changes, and the rest will be in the purview of the commission.
I'd be very pleased to file with the committee the new terms and conditions of licensing for lotteries that have just been published. I use the word "lotteries" in the legal sense, because that includes the casinos and bingos.
MR. SIHOTA: Look, we know that it has been well documented and reported that despite a regulation that said that 50 percent of the gross revenue must go to charity, in 1986 they got about 17 percent, and in the first half of 1987 they got approximately 31 percent. Those are figures that flow from this ministry. We know that the Attorney-General himself admitted that despite the rule that says 50 percent, the take was averaging about 34 percent. We know that the Attorney-General has tried to change the regulations, which he has now tabled. But the point is that we still don't know whether or not that level of rip-off — which is what it was — is continuing or not.
It's all nice and pleasant to pass all sorts of tough regulations. The question is: to what extent are there inspectors out there to ensure that those regulations are being enforced? We have 11 in the province. Could the Attorney-General advise when he intends to hire more inspectors and how many he anticipates hiring between now and November 30?
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, we do have a game plan for that. There have been inspections made since the regulations were changed. We are finding now that 50 percent of the revenues are in fact flowing to the charities. Under the old system, it wasn't a true 50 percent at all. I think the net average was somewhere around 34 percent, as the member said, and we were very dissatisfied with that.
But at the same time as we change regulations — as we just did — to get a true 50 percent to the charities, we are already hearing the pleas of some charities, obviously inspired by operators in some cases as well, saying that the system just cannot work with a true 50 percent going to the charities and the rest all to be borne by the operators; they cannot make it. That seems to be a complaint that we hear perhaps most acutely from some of the smaller communities. There doesn't seem to be the same difficulty in the urban areas, where you have a net of charities and an established operator with a fairly good plant. That operator may well be able to make it with volume, but the smaller operators in the smaller communities are having trouble. So the commission has to address that.
The enforcement has been stepped up. There are three inspectors in the Victoria area: one in the field and two who go out and do field inspections as well. We will probably be adding an additional eight to ten inspectors in a shorter time than the time-frame that you indicated. I mean, that's our plan: to have a significant increase in inspection.
MR. SIHOTA: Eight to ten inspectors across the province. That means a doubling of the inspectors. So instead of one inspector, we'll have two inspectors in Victoria. Has the Attorney-General consulted with the city of Victoria police force and sought their opinion as to whether or not they think two inspectors are inadequate?
HON. B.R. SMITH: We could argue, I suppose, on a number of staff decisions and whether they're adequate, and maybe some police force doesn't think they're adequate. We will do our best to increase enforcement and inspection. We're going to do that. As I say, we're going to professionalize this industry considerably over the next year with certifications and training.
HON. B. R. SMITH: I see. You know, a closed mind and a big mouth are a great attribute in some circles.
We will be doing a better job of certification, training and inspection, and I think you will find that the results will be better. It will certainly be better for the charitable industries.
MR. SIHOTA: The question was this: has the Attorney-General sought the opinion of the Victoria city police with
[ Page 1254 ]
respect to whether or not the number of inspectors — whether it's one or two — is adequate? A simple question: yes or no.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I haven't personally phoned them or sent them a questionnaire, but the director of our branch is in touch with all law enforcement agencies in the province, and there is a considerable amount of communication between the branch, the Gaming Commission and all police forces, not just in Victoria but in Esquimalt, Saanich, Oak Bay, Central Saanich, North Saanich and the town of Sidney.
MR. SIHOTA: I don't want to get into a difficult debate here, but my information is that the police forces in this area, southern Vancouver Island, are feeling a little left out. They don't feel that they're being consulted, they don't feel that their opinions are being taken into account when they are being consulted, and the level of communication is nominal at best. I don't say that in a way to criticize staff within the Ministry of Attorney-General. I'm just saying that because I want to bring to the attention of the Attorney-General that they don't think that they are being consulted, and they have some very serious concerns.
You're expecting them to sit back until November 30 or thereabouts to make some representations to a commission, while we continue to have ongoing gaming activity in this province, where the charities aren't checked out to see whether or not they are indeed bona fide charities, when there is no security in place at the area within which the gambling activity is taking place and when there is — at least in my view — no assurance that the charities are receiving 50 percent of the take. I have some major considerations along those lines.
Now let's go back to this matter of destination gambling operations. Will the Attorney-General clarify whether or not the government intends to move into a Las Vegas type of gambling haven in this province? Does it or does it not?
HON. B.R. SMITH: No, it does not.
Not in response to you, hon. member, because you seem to have a more balanced view of the value that some parts of gaming do have to charities, but I will be notifying the charities in greater Victoria, numbering some 520, and telling them that, regrettably, the member for Victoria does not support gaming in respect to their proceeds. These are charities that he has probably heard of: the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Associated Canadian Travelers, B.C. Friends of Schizophrenics, B.C. Heart Foundation, B.C. Lions Society. Those are just a few — the first ones on a list of 520, all of whom are anxious to see good regulation of casino and bingo gambling in this city. So I am sure he will be hearing from them; maybe they will be writing to him.
MR. BLENCOE: Madam Chairman, all those organizations would get enough money from the lotteries if this government wouldn't squirrel away that lottery money into some of its bad debts that it has created over the last few years — $6 million for Expo. We know where the lottery money is going, and it's certainly not going to those charities. I can tell you, Mr. Attorney-General, that many of those so-called organizations are worried about the current direction of this government in this area.
Madam Chairman, I want to go back, because I would really like to get some answers from the Attorney-General. Maybe now that he has called and bolstered the staff with him, he can tell us what checks and screening are done on people operating the charities. Perhaps he can tell us how that works. He couldn't tell us an hour ago.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall vote 12 pass?
MR. BLENCOE: Has the Attorney-General got an answer? Or are we not going to get an answer?
HON. B.R. SMITH: In addition to being loud, you are repetitive. You asked me that question some time ago, and I gave you the answer that in relation to the charities where we had licensing control, where we didn't have owner-operators, they were checked to make sure they were bona fide, and some criminal record searches were made where there was some basis to do them — they were not made as a matter of course. We did not have a system of licensing operators; we expect that we will have a system of licensing operators. But we have made checks on operators. We have persuaded charities not to use operators in some cases. We have found information, in cooperation with the police, that has been useful in getting changes in operation. So we do scrutinize operators as much as we can, without any licensing control to do so. But we are going to get licensing control, we expect, and run a system of bonding and improve the standard of our operation. The good operators in this industry want that done. The overwhelming number of operators welcome that.
MR. BLENCOE: It is just absolutely amazing that the Attorney-General of this province now says that he is going to introduce some rules. He has been the Attorney-General for a number of years, and he has never said anything up until this point about the problem. What he is admitting, Madam Chairman, is that the screening system to ensure criminals are not involved in this activity has not been in place. Now he is going to deal with it. That I find quite surprising, to say the least.
I would like to know from the Attorney-General today — he talks about the rules he is going to introduce in the future — whether he is aware of the very stringent rules in place in Atlantic City, and whether he is aware of the problems they have had in Atlantic City, given that they think they introduced the most detailed rules and regulations and monitoring to be found anywhere, certainly in North America. Today they have had to admit that they just can't control the very things they hoped to control by those rules. Does the Attorney-General think he will have to at least introduce the Atlantic City model of regulation? Will he assure this House that we won't have the same kinds of problems that they have in that jurisdiction?
HON. B.R. SMITH: As I have said many times, we don't envisage any gaming remotely resembling that scale. We don't envisage strip casinos and gaming in this province. I don't think there is anyone in the government who entertains any desire for that. So I don't expect that gaming regulations in Atlantic City are going to be of great concern. They have very good gaming regulations there, very stringent ones; but they have a lot of problems in ancillary service industries, and corruption and crime getting into ancillary service industries. It is through these ancillary industries that that strip operation in Atlantic City has caused problems.
[ Page 1255 ]
To the member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew (Mr. Sihota), I've just been advised that the chairman of the Gaming Commission met with the Victoria area chiefs on April 28 to outline the mandate and to ask for questions and suggestions. They've had quite a bit of dialogue with the chiefs in the past month and will continue to do so.
MR. BLENCOE: I wonder if the Attorney-General could tell us what system is in place currently, or whether he envisages a system to carry out extensive internal cheeks on the books — the financial statements — of those operators of gambling casinos. What's in place today, and what does he envisage for checking the books?
HON. B. R. SMITH: The first thing to do is that you have to get licensing control, and we have not had licensing control of operators. I'm somewhat flattered that you would think I would have done all of these things, since I've only had charge of gaming for a matter of months.
MR. BLENCOE: How long have you been A-G?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I've had control of gaming for a matter of months. It has not been under me at all; it has been under other ministries.
MR. BLENCOE: But you're the law enforcement officer of this province.
HON. B.R. SMITH: You are an argumentative pain, for which I withdraw.
MR. RABBITT: Madam Chairman, it appears that this particular debate is deteriorating into one on the specific item of gaming in the province, and I feel I would be remiss if I didn't at least put forward the position of many of the residents in my riding. They are not positive whether they do want gaming or they don't want gaming, but they do want the commission to look at the ups and the downs, the goods and the bads, and some of the relative factors that come out of this. Many of the municipalities are having financial hard times, and they would consider this an option.
I want to put forward the concept that maybe the government should consider eliminating the possibility of gaming in the areas that don't want it. Let's look at some of the rural areas of the riding; let's look at the possibility of destination gambling and create rules and concepts that will support that idea. For the members who are opposed to it, and who feel that their communities are opposed to it, let's meet them. Let's eliminate the possibility of gambling in those areas, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let the commission do its job. Let the commission look at the pros and the cons. And let some of the communities in my riding at least have an honest look at the value of this.
MR. BLENCOE: Madam Chairman, let me conclude my remarks for today. I found this debate and this discussion somewhat frustrating. I think the government and the Attorney-General are asking us to take it on faith: that because we haven't rules in place today to deal with screening and monitoring, with ensuring that criminal activity is not involved, somehow or other we have to take it on faith that they're going to ensure that they're in place in the future. We've got these casinos in place today. We've got all sorts of activities, and now the Attorney-General — the chief law enforcement officer of the province for a number of years — is saying: "I'm going to deal with it tomorrow, somehow."
I just don't have great faith in this government's assurance that they're going to monitor this thing and deal with it properly. Quite frankly, Madam Chairman, in terms of the incompetency of this government over the last ten years in monitoring other organizations in this province — like financial institutions — I don't think we have a great faith at all that we're going to have proper rules to ensure that this kind of activity doesn't get out of hand. Again, every other jurisdiction in the world that's moved into this kind of operation has come to great grief, and the Attorney-General says: "Trust us. We'll try and set up even better rules that can deal with it." We haven't even got any in place today. He's had to admit that there are all sorts of problems now. The people of British Columbia have to be deeply worried about this government and its past policies and probably its future policies.
Madam Chairman, the minister may use personal remarks and insults against one member of the House who has taken some time this afternoon to speak on an issue that he happens to believe is extremely important, not only to his community but to the people of the province of British Columbia. We promote this province, not only in British Columbia but outside our borders, as "super, natural" British Columbia: our history, our mountains, our beauty, our people and our cities. And what do we do now? We're going to start promoting the very thing that millions of people escape from to British Columbia, to my community and to many of the other communities. They come to this province to avoid that kind of activity.
Madam Chairman, I can only conclude that in Nevada recently they changed their marketing strategy for their beautiful state from one of promoting gambling of any kind to promoting the scenic splendours of that beautiful state. What do we do now? That beautiful institution, the Marguerite, on which many Americans escape the things they wish to escape in some of their communities and come to Victoria and British Columbia.... Now what do they have as the first introduction to beautiful British Columbia? They've got the clank of slot machines that they want to escape from.
That's what British Columbia is today: that Socred recovery, that Socred fresh start. No, Madam Chairman, that's not where we want to go in British Columbia. We want to emphasize our beauty and our strengths. The people of British Columbia believe in this province and don't want to move in this direction.
We're asking this government to reconsider its current direction and to think about the impact. When I hear, Madam Chairman, that our public schools are using casinos for fundraising, and our children and our schools are having to go this route because you have cut dramatically $400 million from the system.... They now have to go to the casino operation to pay for some of the things they want to do.
I say there's a sickness in British Columbia. We're saying halt today; no more; we've had enough. The chief law enforcement officer of the province should have the guts to stand up in this House and say, even if it is personal, as he said recently about the parole board, that he is deeply concerned about the direction. All the evidence is there, Madam Chairman, and this government is going the wrong course.
MR. HEWITT: Madam Chairman, it's a difficult issue to address in this House, particularly from this side. Legalized
[ Page 1256 ]
gambling is what we're talking about, and I can say in all sincerity, personally, that legalized gambling causes me some concern.
We're breaking new ground. We're breaking new ground for Canada, if we're talking what the opposition members would lead you to believe is the direction we're going in. I haven't been privy to the Attorney-General's discussions with the gambling commission or with his people as to how far he wishes to go. My comments are not going to be critical, but they're going to express the concern of an individual who is elected and who is concerned about what the future may hold for British Columbia and the type of regulation that we have if we deal with gambling.
We have some 69 members in this House, both opposition and government, and if you took a vote without party lines you'd probably find there would be quite an interesting split on both sides.
We've moved a long way, Madam Chairman, from where we were a few years ago. I can remember, and I'm not that old, that you couldn't buy a ticket on the Irish Sweepstakes without the risk of being arrested. But we did move into lotteries. We moved into a lottery — I think it was called Loto Canada — to pay for the debt of the Olympics. Then we moved to various other things, provincial and federal and regional. Today we have so many tickets and so many different ways to play the game, I don't understand any of them. Mind you, I do buy the odd one because I always have the hope that I might win. But I think it's also fair to say that many people buy that ticket or place that bet because they hope to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And many people who buy that ticket or place that bet are the ones who are least able to afford it.
So we've moved a long way. We've moved into the bingo field; we've moved into lotteries. We have moved there on the basis of charity and assistance to those non-profit organizations, and we've done some tremendous things. I think I've probably given out more lottery cheques than anybody else in this House — mainly because I've worked hard for my constituents, Madam Chairman. Also, I was chairman of the Expo legacy committee, and we had the handle on $30 million, of which we gave $7.25 million to the city of Victoria.
But the difference, as I see it, from the system we have in place now with bingos and lotteries.... It's a different approach to gambling. It's still gambling, but it's a yes-no situation; it's a win-lose situation. You draw a number, you pick a number. You pick a card and the rest all falls into place. But I'm not sure that I have got my head around "legalized gambling" on the concept of Las Vegas or Monte Carlo or Reno. And I'm not sure if a commission and if a government, when you deal with the flip of a card, can put into place those regulations that we feel will control the bad side of the gambling community.
We get good works out of lotteries and bingos, and the grants that are given and the funds that are used in local communities are tremendous. But I hope we do not make our decision to move to legalized gambling on the basis that we're going to assist charitable organizations. I do not think in my own mind that lotteries and bingos are the same as fullfledged casinos, and I think it is also fair to say that if you look at the environment of Las Vegas or Reno or if you look at the history of Atlantic City ten years after — and there is a very comprehensive report on that — it would be ample proof that we cannot or we should not have wide-open gambling in this province. I don't think that is the way to go. I may be challenged by other members of the House and by my constituents, but I just feel personally that that is not the environment in which we want to live in British Columbia or Canada.
We're dealing with a major shift in policy, and I can recognize that the gambling commission is going to report, and — to, the Deputy Attorney-General, since the Attorney-General is not here — they're going to report to the Attorney-General and make recommendations. That is the role, I understand, of the commission. They can set up recommendations and deal with regulation, but the question that will be asked and then answered politically will be: what is the social cost of moving in this direction? I do not believe, Madam Chairman, that we have to be copycats, that we have to be like Reno or Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. As the second member for Victoria (Mr. Blencoe) said on the odd occasion — I don't often agree with him — we are "super, natural" in this province; we have a lot to offer, and I'm not sure that we have to copy other parts of the world just because we think there may be a buck in it.
So if the decision is to be made on legalized gambling — and I hope there's still a lot of discussion before that decision is made — I hope they would take into consideration realistic conditions on those who may enter into legalized gambling, as opposed to throwing the door wide open. That may be a possibility. I can recall that, when you looked at the Whistler operation, they were the first, I believe, to receive Sunday openings for the sale of alcohol. It has worked very well: it has been a good enterprise, a good attraction, a destination resort. I think that if you look at gambling in the same light, you must look at it that way, as opposed to throwing the door wide open. I would hate to see at the local laundromat six slot machines inside the door. I would hate to see that the last thing that the mother did when she left the supermarket was pull the crank of a slot machine — I'd hate to see that. I don't think we need that.
So when the commission deals with the recommendations that they're to bring forward to the Attorney-General, when the Attorney-General deals with it with his staff, and when he takes it forward to cabinet and then to caucus and hopefully to this House, I would ask him to recognize that we do have a unique lifestyle in this province. We should consider that, before we move too fast too far down the road with regard to gambling.
The charities, Madam Chairman, can survive. Let's not tie this to charity. They can survive; they raised the money in the past. They can raise it now, under the present system we have. We do not need gambling because of charity. The question has to be asked whether we should move there, whether or not legalized gambling would be in the "public good." That's the question that the Attorney-General has to answer in his mind, and he has to recommend to the government what his thoughts are in that matter.
I have a great deal of difficulty with the legalized gambling concept, if it is going to follow the lines of Las Vegas, Reno, Monte Carlo, wherever. I have a great deal of faith in the Attorney-General. He is a man who never makes quick decisions. He makes well-reasoned decisions, and I must say that over the years I have agreed with him on the decisions that he has made. I certainly agree with him on the one he made with regard to the parole of one of the Squamish Five; I certainly agree with him on that. I would tell him to keep up the pressure on that issue. But I would ask the Attorney-
[ Page 1257 ]
General to address the question of public good, before we go too far down the road in legalizing gambling in this province.
MR. SIHOTA: I think all of us in this House appreciate the comments made by the previous speaker.
In wrapping up this discussion that we are having on gambling today, I guess that serves notice to the Attorney-General that we won't be going any further on this matter, at least not that I can anticipate right now. I think there is a recognition on the part of everybody that we are at a crossroads in this province when it comes to this matter of gambling. It is true that the decision has to be made, in terms of whether or not we are going to proceed with the type of casino gambling that has crept into this province, because I am always a little disturbed when I pick up the newspaper and read that hotels are offering seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day gambling already in certain portions of this province. In fact, an ad just came across my desk the other day on it.
I think if there is one thing this debate has revealed, it is this. There is certainly not a unanimous view on the part of members on the other side of the House and the government with respect to gaming. We have had at least two members who have stood up this afternoon and expressed their reservations about moving towards gaming in this province. We have had another say that we ought to look at the matter after the commission reports.
Quite frankly, I don't believe that the Attorney-General himself wants to see gaming operations in this province. Quite frankly, I believe that the Attorney-General has had an opportunity to look at all of the studies that I have looked at, to look at all the correspondence that I have received, because much of what I receive at my desk is correspondence that is directed to the Attorney-General as well. He knows as well as I do that there is a significant body of public opinion out there that is opposed to casino-type gambling in this province.
Therefore, I have no doubt in my mind that the Attorney-General does not want casino operations in this province. I had a lot of difficulty understanding why the chief law enforcement officer in this province would even want to consider casino-type gambling in this province. So I deeply suspect that the push is coming from elsewhere and that the Attorney-General is placed in a position of defending the government's moves on gaming to date. Like I say, it has crept into this province, and it is about time we had an open dialogue on it.
There seems to be this false notion that flies around on the other side of the House in particular and that says that if we move into this field, we will be able to stem the flow of individuals going down to Reno and Las Vegas. The argument that we hear all the time is: "Look at all the money that is going down to Las Vegas and to Reno. Just think if we could get our hands on that money." A little bit of greed on our part.
I have some difficulty with that position. First of all, of course, I think it is obvious to say that every time somebody buys a $500 ticket to fly down to Reno, that money is spent here; it is not spent in the United States. But I think it is also obvious and fair to say that there are some discretionary dollars that people take along with them, that they then also spend down there.
Now I don't believe for a moment that we will ever stop the flow of those people down to Las Vegas or Reno. The Attorney-General is correct, and I have no reason to doubt him. He did say to me that he does not want to see Las Vegas type gaming activities here in this province. If we don't intend to duplicate those, then it seems to me that people will continue to go down to Las Vegas and Reno. They'll want to go down there in part because for six months of the year the weather there is far more pleasant than it is somewhere in the Cariboo, and people just want to get down to warm weather. But they also want to go down to the atmosphere that exists down there — good or bad. I agree with the Attorney-General when he says that he doesn't want to see this type of activity here in B.C. So it seems to me that it's highly unlikely that we'll ever stem the flow.
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
We know that Alberta and Manitoba have offered their citizens in Edmonton and Winnipeg privately operated, government-run casino operations, and in both cases.... We haven't seen Pacific Western Airlines or Canadian Pacific — or whatever it's called now — terminating flights to Reno and Las Vegas. The level of activity and the flow of people down there is just the same. In fact, if there's been any change in those two cities, it's been the fact that people in lower socio-economic groups have been involved in gaming operations.
So I don't think we'll ever stem the flow of people down to Las Vegas and Reno, and I don't think we should try to duplicate what they've got down there up here. I think the Attorney-General understands that point. Therefore that argument that says, "Look, there's all sorts of money going down there and we should prevent it," really doesn't fly. You're not going to be able to prevent it. It's highly unrealistic to expect it, and I would defy anybody in any ministry at any time to show me even one study that would suggest the opposite of what I'm saying. I just don't think that that approach works.
It is true that you're not going to have criminal activity on ferry boats. But it is also true that a number of people are offended by it. We've already witnessed the resignation of at least one individual from the ferry fleet. It's easy to shrug that off and say that it's only one individual. But the fact remains that families come to "super, natural" British Columbia. We have built — and I think the government ought to be congratulated — a very successful marketing program around British Columbia. Families don't want to go to casino operations. They don't want to use gaming facilities. It doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to offer those types of facilities. Everyone says that it's a five-hour trip and they've got to do something. Everyone seems to overlook the fact that those operations are only open for 45 to 90 minutes of the trip. It's a nominal amount of time to go up there and plug a few quarters into the machines.
On top of that, I think there has to be recognition that every dollar plugged into the machines on the Princess Marguerite and the Vancouver Island Princess is a dollar not being spent in downtown Victoria or downtown Vancouver. There's this notion that when tourists come, they have a limitless supply of money in their pockets and it doesn't really matter that they spend a few dollars on the Marguerite. Well, I don't know how the Attorney-General or anybody else on that side of the House travels, but when I travel I have my set of traveller's cheques, I know what my budget is, and I try not to blow it on the first day; there is a limit to the amount of money I'm going to be travelling with.
Those ferry casino operations — slot machines, one-armed bandits or whatever you want to call them — will not result in increased traffic on the Marguerite. We knew before
[ Page 1258 ]
the government announced its intention to install these one-armed bandits that the projection was that there was going to be an increase in traffic. I think the number was about 300,000, from about 220,000 or 260,000 the year before. We knew before the government made its plans for one-armed bandits that the tourism industry in the city of Victoria was running at about 90 percent of capacity in the months of January and February — I think it was about 86 percent. Some of the facilities, such as Laurel Point, were running close to 100 percent. So we already knew that it was going to be a good year for tourism. He didn't need to introduce these one-armed bandits to try to lure more people onto the boats. We knew before we moved into that that there was a need to have a ferry boat that could carry buses and larger vehicles that the Maggie couldn't accommodate, and that's why we had to move the Vancouver Island Princess in. He didn't need to put casino operations or one-armed bandits on there. And you don't need it now.
It's a shame that we spent some money on it. I guess it's a debatable point as to whether it's $5,000 or $400,000, or whether it's somewhere in between. But the point remains that we don't need it. It takes money out of our economy and is not consistent with our packaging and promotion of British Columbia.
I really agree with what the member who spoke before me had to say about charities. I think that to try to link this argument with charities is misguided and deceptive at best. I don't think it's fair for the Attorney-General to stand up and ask whether or not he should be writing letters to every community organization and charity in the city of Victoria telling them that the member for Victoria is opposed to gaming operations. If the Attorney-General attempts to do that, will he also put in the letter the fact that the member for Victoria has some serious concerns about criminal activity, about security and about social programs in this city? I don't think it's fair to link it with the argument about charities.
I must ask the Attorney-General: are we so cash-starved in this province that this is the only way we can give some money to charities? Surely there must be more imagination on the part of the government to secure funding for charities over and above just giving them a ticket to go out there and engage in gaming activities. We've survived to date without having to get into gambling operations. This government likes us to believe that things are improving in British Columbia. If they are, 'and if the money is there, then surely to God we don't have to get into gaming as a way of subsidizing their operations.
It's true that there is a major difference between the type of lottery activity that we have right now — bingos, casinos, raffles, tickets, Lotto and that kind of stuff — and gaming. The difference, simply put, is that gaming invites a very sophisticated type of criminal activity to this province. You can't equate apples with oranges, and to move into the type of gaming activity that is being contemplated by the government is crossing a different type of threshold. It's a totally different game, so don't try to link it with the games that we're playing right now in this province. It's far, far different, and it's a very dangerous game. It's great to say, "Well, they've gotten away with it in Australia," but let's not forget that they didn't get away with it in the United States. There are a lot of parallels between our culture here in Canada and the United States. Let's not forget what the Solicitor-General's report in this country had to say; let's not forget what a three-year investigation in the United States had to say; let's not forget what the experience has been in Britain.
Let's not get hung up on debating points and say: "It works in Australia and therefore we can create the same type of atmosphere as in Australia." Let's get down to the basic guts of the issue: that gaming and gambling are not good for this province, they never will be good for this province, and they run against the very fabric of this province. It also runs against the supposed moral and ethical fabric of the government. I find it very difficult to reconcile the supposed moral and ethical position of this government on the one hand, as represented by the Premier and certain members of the back bench and their particular religious and moral views, and on the other hand to be sitting publicly as a government and taking steps to further the level of gaming in this province.
We tend to debate the economic issues and whether it does or does not make economic sense. The fact is made over and over again that the amount Nevada picks up is the equivalent of about half a percent increase in our sales tax. So it's not a significant amount of money in the overall scheme of things.
We've talked about tourism over and over again, but we've never dealt in this House with the moral and ethical questions of gaming, and they are significant — the whole question of people getting something for nothing. It seems strange for someone from my religious background to be talking about this, but the fact remains that it runs counter not only to the fabric of the society in this province, but totally counter to the supposed religious and moral fabric that this government tries to put forward.
There are moral and ethical questions that I hope the Social Credit caucus will debate, and that we will be able to debate when the Gaming Commission comes down with its report on November 30. But I think we can avoid that whole process of November 30 and the Gaming Commission because, like I say, there is certainly on this side of the House a unanimous view that we ought not to move into gaming. From what we've heard, on the other side of the House there are obviously deep concerns about moving into the issue of gaming. It doesn't make sense to have a commission that has no experience in these types of matters. It makes no sense at all to send it out now, in light of the concern on this side of the House and in light of the concern on the other side of the House about moving into gaming activity. It will save the taxpayer a lot of money. We can save these people a lot of their time by simply making a policy decision right now that is against gaming, and we can send a positive signal to the people of British Columbia.
Those are my views on gaming. Like I said at the outset, we will not go any further on this issue. I now want to step down for a moment and allow my friend from Maillardville-Coquitlam to pose some questions to the Attorney-General in the ten minutes that we've got for the purposes of this debate.
MR. CASHORE: I must say that I have been encouraged during the past hour of debate to discover that there are members on the government side who have been willing and able to come out on this issue in keeping with their conscience. I wish to congratulate the second member for Richmond (Mr. Loenen) and the first member for Boundary Similkameen (Mr. Hewitt). I think this is a good day for this House and this session.
Mr. Chairman, a number of speakers have risen to say that this is an issue on which people are divided across party lines,
[ Page 1259 ]
and that there are differences of opinion on both sides of the House. To an extent, I think that is true. But I want to say very, very clearly that the NDP caucus is united on this issue: we are opposed to further proliferation of gambling in this province at this time. I would like to ask the hon. Attorney-General if he would be willing to consider — as this House moves toward dealing with this issue — a free vote on the issue to enable people to vote on their conscience and without fear of retribution.
HON. B. R. SMITH: Certainly not on my estimates, I can assure you. I'd never get them through.
On issues like this I can assure you that our caucus will do its own thing; I'm sure yours will, too. I would doubt that your caucus would be quite as unanimous as you think — maybe overwhelmingly one way. But our caucus will do its own thing, and I have no doubt that we'll have members who probably will vote against a policy of this kind if they don't like it.
AN HON. MEMBER: In caucus.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Yes, they'll certainly do it in caucus. You're darned right they will. But you've heard the expressions of opinion here. There are strong expressions of opinion on the other side, but I don't want to take up your time. I will try to respond to the rest of your questions.
MR. CASHORE: Mr. Chairman, just a couple of other points on this issue. I thought it was very significant that the first member for Boundary-Similkameen stated that in his review of the situation he sees this move toward opening up the floodgates with regard to gambling in this province as a major shift in policy. I think that is an extremely grave matter to be taken with great seriousness.
The other and final point that I wish to make on the issue of gambling is that as the debate leader for Social Services and Housing I am very deeply aware, as I know many members of this House on both sides are, of the costly tragedy of poverty within this province. Poverty is expensive, and often for people in poverty the glitter and glitz of gambling advertising and promotion promotes within them a hope, in lives that have too much hopelessness. I think it's really sad that in many instances when they would have winnings and when those winnings are perhaps quite minimal — to most of us — they are legally and technically not able to keep those winnings. I think it's very unfortunate. It's a commentary on our society and the way that it's organized that in order to have this type of developing means of negative taxation, it would impact on people in this way.
I would like to turn now to another topic, Mr. Chairman, and talk about the family court facility in district 43, which is an area that is shared by the hon. House Leader for the opposition and myself. I had the opportunity to tour that facility just over a week ago, and I found there a rather shocking situation: a workplace that is inadequate and a place that is really not conducive to serving the public in a family court situation, which is often a very stressful time for completely innocent human beings. What I found there was that it was an unhealthy environment; there were problems with the ventilation, with the circulation of air. It consists of 38 modular units, and at one point I wondered if I was in the beginning of a highrise made out of mobile homes, or something like that. It's certainly inadequate in terms of the service that is to be provided. It contains the court services branch, the probation, the family court counselling services, the Crown counsel and the judiciary. It consists of three courtrooms and several offices, and there are five rather inadequate cells in the basement which sometimes have to house as many as 15 people who are waiting for their time in court; often there are real complications with this, when there are three or four females who are required to make use of those cells. This is a very difficult situation for the sheriff service.
I found also that there are as many as 50 people attending at each of these three courtrooms. I understand that on one occasion a few years ago, one of the judges sat down in his chair, and the chair was so jammed up against the back wall that the chair went against the coat of arms and it toppled down on top of the judge.
We are looking at a situation that is ridiculous in its inadequacy. It is a situation where adding more rooms would not resolve the problem because of the closeness of the environment for the people who make use of that place. We find also that that court is located within one of the fastest growing areas in Canada in terms of population, and the number of young offenders attending in that court is up over 50 percent from the previous year.
I would like to ask the Attorney-General if he would indicate where district 43 family court is on the list for consideration for court facilities to be constructed, and if he could give us and the people of the constituencies of Coquitlam-Moody and Maillardville-Coquitlam some assurance that that facility will be forthcoming.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I will be happy to do so for the member tomorrow, but on a prearrangement between the Whips, I move now that the committee rise and report lots of progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, there was a question raised in Committee of Supply, and the minister whose estimates were before us asked to file the terms and conditions respecting licensing of lottery events in British Columbia. Of course, one can't do that in committee. But I will, on behalf of the Attorney-General, table this now for the benefit of the House.
I call committee on Bill 2, Mr. Speaker.
DENTISTS AMENDMENT ACT, 1987
The House in committee on Bill 2; Mr. Pelton in the chair.
Sections 1 to 40 inclusive approved.
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Chairman, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
[ Page 1260 ]
Bill 2, Dentists Amendment Act, 1987, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Second reading of Bill 23, Mr. Speaker.
ENGINEERS AMENDMENT ACT, 1987
HON. MR. STRACHAN: It's really regrettable that the first member for Vancouver South (Mr. R. Fraser) is not here to take part in second reading debate, but I'm sure we will be able to have him join us when we get to committee stage.
This bill, by the way, is in the charge of the Minister of Advanced Education and Job Training, whom we're waiting for at this point.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Sure, why not. I'll move second reading on behalf of the Minister of Advanced Education and Job Training, and welcome debate from members opposite. Hopefully, by that time the minister will be here to conclude debate.
MR. SPEAKER: I understand that the minister will be here within 30 seconds, if members would like to wait for....
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Yes, he's just coming right now.
HON. S. HAGEN: This amendment act was introduced on Thursday by my hon. colleague.
I'm just waiting for some notes, which I don't have, before I continue.
The engineers, as you know, provide a very valuable service to the province, and it's frightfully important that they be....
HON. MR. STRACHAN: They're celebrating their hundredth anniversary.
HON. S. HAGEN: That's right, they're celebrating their hundredth anniversary this year, Mr. Speaker. Certainly they're interested in having an act that governs their responsibilities and lays out very clearly what they can and can't do. Of course, it's very important that we know what they're doing, too.
You'll notice that section 4 empowers the council to refuse an application for registration of a licence where the applicant has committed an offence that renders him unsuitable to practise professional engineering. This, of course, is vital. These people are professionals. They have a great deal of responsibility, and the decisions that they make carry a lot of responsibility with them.
I'd like at this time to move second reading.
MS. MARZARI: I'm going to go into a clause-by-clause in the committee stage of the bill, but at this point, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to match the minister cliché for cliché.
It has been 35 years since the engineers have had any major revisions to their operating code and to their legislation, so it gives the opposition particular pleasure to support this bill at this stage. The profession of engineering has changed drastically in those 35 years. From 1,500 professionals in the province, it has grown to 12,000. From three or four major professional areas, we are now faced with a growing profession that exercises and licenses itself under 17 different areas. So insofar as the engineers have been consulted throughout the preparation of this bill, and insofar as the bill was last year labelled 19, and here we are with it as Bill 23, I think that we should proceed as quickly as we can.
I should add at this point that the applied science technologists and technicians have expressed some reservations about the bill as it stands. This is a large group of professionals who would very much like to be included within the framework of this bill, and is trying to, right now, work with the engineers to come to a definition of their professional status vis-à-vis this bill. I should read this into the record. They are very, very concerned that this bill go by without their definition and their profession being included. They comment that the number of professional engineering disciplines and sub-disciplines will number no less than 44 to 50 in the next few years, if we include robotics and photogrammetry and biomedical electronics; so they are asking for inclusion.
I believe that this will better dealt with as we come to section 2 in third reading, committee stage. But at this point the opposition looks forward to this bill becoming law, particularly because of the long consultation process the engineers have had with government on it.
Bill 23, Engineers Amendment Act, 1987, 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. STRACHAN: It's been a great afternoon, Mr. Speaker, with a lot of progress made. For the benefit of members, we will be discussing finance bills tomorrow morning and then tomorrow afternoon we will return to the estimates of the Attorney-General. With that said, I move adjournment.
The House adjourned at 5:39 p.m.