[ Page 2739 ]
Conflict-of-interest committee. Mr. Harcourt –– 2739
Funding for ministers of state. Mr. Sihota –– 2741
Role of MLAs. Mr. Kempf –– 2741
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 4), 1987 (Bill 59). Second reading
Hon. Mr. Strachan –– 2742
Mrs. Boone –– 2742
Hon. Mr. Veitch –– 2745
Mr. Jones –– 2746
Mr. Williams –– 2749
Ms. A. Hagen –– 2752
Debate under Standing Order 35: Privatization
Mr. Harcourt –– 2754
Hon. Mr. Couvelier –– 2756
Ms. Edwards –– 2757
Mr. Kempf –– 2758
Mr. Lovick –– 2759
Hon. Mr. Vander Zalm –– 2759
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 59). Second reading
Ms. A. Hagen –– 2761
Ms. Smallwood –– 2762
Pension (Public Service) Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 62). Hon. Mr. Veitch
Introduction and first reading –– 2763
The House met at 2:09 p.m.
HON. MR. VEITCH: In the gallery today are Rev. and Mrs. Ernest Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy recently moved to Victoria as pastor of Central Baptist Church and is the son of Orvis Kennedy, a pioneer in the Social Credit movement in Alberta. I would ask this House to bid them welcome.
MR. JONES: I have the privilege of introducing in the gallery today two of the many bright new faces on the municipal political scene following the recent municipal elections: from the riding of Burnaby North, school trustee-elect Ron Burton and mayor-elect Bill Copeland. Would you please make them welcome.
HON. MR. SAVAGE: It's my pleasure today to introduce, from the great constituency of Delta, students from Seaquam Senior Secondary, and a very dedicated teacher, Mr. John Kelly. Would this assembly please make them welcome.
MR. LOVICK: Mr. Speaker, I notice directly across from me, in the gallery above, two dear friends from the constituency of Nanaimo, Dr. Jim Slater and Mr. Herb Bibbs. I would ask my colleagues to please join me in welcoming them here.
HON. L. HANSON: In the gallery today are two prominent citizens of the riding of Okanagan North, and personal friends of mine, Mr. Doug Gee and Miss Sheena Lornie. Would the House please make them welcome.
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Speaker, in your gallery this afternoon are two residents of my constituency, Arnold and Ethel Plumridge, who are paying their first visit to the Legislature. Will you all join me in welcoming them to the House.
HON. MR. REID: Mr. Speaker, I'd like the House to pay special recognition to a special day in British Columbia yesterday, and offer congratulations to the Edmonton Eskimos for their success and the tourism aspects which they created for British Columbia. Thank you.
MR. SIHOTA: I was delighted to go to the football game myself, and I certainly would like to wish the Eskimos great success.
In any event, joining us in the gallery today....
MR. SIHOTA: I wasn't in the booth, though, if you're wondering. The Minister of Tourism and Sports reminds me that he'll remedy that in the future.
In the gallery today is a good friend of mine, Mr. Danny Robideau. Mr. Robideau has been active in many NDP campaigns over the years, and has been responsible for the success of many of us, including working in my previous election campaign. He's now in Ontario and visiting us today from Toronto, and he's working the same type of magic for our party in Ontario now. Would the House please join me in welcoming Mr. Robideau.
HON. MR. PARKER: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to introduce to you and through you to the House today two folks from Skeena constituency: Randy Trombley from Terrace, who joins the staff of the Minister of State for North Coast as government liaison officer, and Elmer Derrick of Kitwancool, who joins the staff of the Minister of State for North Coast as liaison officer, native affairs. Would the House make him welcome.
MR. HARCOURT: I'd also like to pass on congratulations to the Edmonton Eskimos for that splendid game that is going to go a long way towards restoring the health and well-being of the Canadian Football League. And I don't just say that as someone who was born in Edmonton; I also say it as the MLA for Vancouver Centre, where all those tourist dollars were generated in the hotel rooms, restaurants and streets of Vancouver for the province of British Columbia. I would like to congratulate the organizing committee that has, for the third year, brought a successful Grey Cup to British Columbia. I particularly wish to congratulate the police of Vancouver for doing such a splendid job, and lastly the celebrants, who were sober and good citizens in their celebrations.
MR. SERWA: In your gallery today, Mr. Speaker, is an outstanding member of my constituency of Okanagan South, a personal friend of long standing and a strong advocate of free enterprise. Would the House please join me in welcoming Mr. Al Stober.
HON. MR. RICHMOND: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce my wife, Patricia, who is visiting the capital from the great city of Kamloops. She's in the members' gallery, and I would like everyone to make her welcome.
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. First of all, I'd like to welcome the Premier back from Toronto. It's always great to return from Toronto.
I'd also like to have the Premier return to August 6, 1987, when the Deputy Attorney-General's report on the Minister of Advanced Education (Hon. S. Hagen) was filed. The Premier said at that time: "I will support a referral of this particular issue under section 27 of the Constitution Act to a committee of the Legislature for an examination and review when the House sits this fall." Well, last Thursday the Premier's government defeated the motion put forward to set up that committee. Did you authorize this reversal, or were you bushwhacked by your caucus?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Mr. Speaker, I think the most important thing we've always got to remember in the proceedings of this House and how we deal with one another is that we approach all things as fairly as possible, even given the difficult circumstances that sometimes exist here. I think there needs to be fairness.
Before I left for Toronto I consulted with some of my colleagues and I said: "Look. If the motion by the NDP opposition is presented in the spirit of what I intended and what I stated ought to or could be referred to the committee
[ Page 2740 ]
— that is, the matter of whether what occurred then was contrary to the Constitution Act — then by all means give it your support. But if it's somehow presented in a broader scope where it could be abused and becomes more a game of politics and grandstanding and in effect abusing what this House ought to be considering, then by all means vote it down." Because if we do that, we set a very dangerous precedent whereby a fair and honest commitment.... Someone other, such as the opposition in this particular instance, could pick up on that and create an issue for an individual which is totally unfair and not at all called for and wasn't something to be considered or to be debated.
I'm grateful to the House for dealing with the motion as they did, and I hope that perhaps in part this should be a lesson to all members of the House that we should look at what was presented and intended, and not attempt to expand upon it for political purposes.
MR. HARCOURT: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Premier, it's your credibility that's on the line here. If you dislike the motion, would you be willing to phrase and put forward a new motion that would investigate this particular matter, and make some genuine recommendations on conflict-of-interest legislation?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: I'm certainly not concerned about my credibility. I will look after my credibility in all aspects.
The question here is: would I, in effect, take on what should have been the job of the opposition in the first place? I can only say again that that would establish a precedent that I can't be supportive of. It's the role of the opposition to present these motions fairly before the House, not to ask the Premier or the leader of government to draft or to somehow prepare a motion for the opposition.
MR. HARCOURT: Well, if you'd been here to hear the dispirited defense of that weak argument by your Attorney-General (Hon. B.R. Smith), you wouldn't be quite as confident as you are here today. Without a great deal of vigour, he was trying to defend a bushwhacking of this Legislature. If you will not bring it before the Legislature, Mr. Premier.... You've had four conflicts of interest, and more to come, from your cabinet. Are you prepared to have a justice of the Supreme Court make recommendations and finally bring into this Legislature some decent conflict-of-interest legislation?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: What we have today is ultimately superior to what was brought to this Legislature and became law under the NDP government back in 1973. Keep in mind that the legislation that the Leader of the Opposition is so concerned about, and claims to be so inadequate and so terrible, is NDP legislation.
I, as Premier, have expanded upon this to provide conflict-of- interest guidelines for the Premier in assuring the people of this province that the Premier will run a tight ship, and that when there's any question, there's cooperation from all or any of the parties involved. That's how it's been. Frankly, we've dealt with it fairly, honestly, upfront and openly from day one. As long as I'm the Premier and as long as we're the government, we're going to stay on that, regardless of what the opposition says. We'll continue to deal with it fairly and squarely and upfront. If it is four, it is unfortunate; but if it had to be five or six people affected by this, it wouldn't bother me or the government. We'll continue to deal with these matters upfront and in a straightforward manner for the citizens and will not make politics of it, Mr. Leader of the Opposition.
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, supplemental. It's not a question of politics, Mr. Premier; it's a question of right and wrong, of honesty. I want you to give a very simple yes or no: are you prepared to bring in some decent conflict-of-interest legislation? Yes or no?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: It's almost comical, Mr. Speaker, to hear a request like this come from the Leader of the Opposition, who has never been able to answer anything with a yes or no. But as I've said before and will say again, since obviously all of us are concerned about these matters: if there are any suggestions from members on the opposite side or our side or out there — whether in Smithers, Cranbrook, Prince George, Prince Rupert, anywhere in the province — who wish to provide some suggestions about how legislation may possibly be changed, amended or introduced to deal with this whole matter more equitably or fairly, then by all means, my office is always ready to listen and consider such information.
If there's one thing I want to continue to stress, it's that we're available to the people out there. We'll certainly accept whatever the suggestions are, and we'll consider all these, including, Mr. Leader of the Opposition, any suggestions that you or members on your side wish to make.
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, I'm very pleased to hear that because we happen to have tabled some conflict-of-interest legislation; the hon. member for Esquimalt-Port Renfrew (Mr. Sihota) has tabled that legislation. We will see if it's in your office, and we will see it back before this House. I take it that's your undertaking.
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not giving up to the opposition the role of governing the province. Obviously that is a matter for government to decide, and I cannot, as the Leader of the Opposition should know — though he's new to the House — simply accept something presented by the opposition and say we'll bring it back. Frankly, I have some considerable reservations, considering the source. But it will be considered, I can assure you.
MR. SIHOTA: A question to the Premier. Firstly, a fact to the Premier: the reason why no conflict-of-interest legislation was introduced during the NDP regime in this province was because the NDP never had any problems with conflict of interest. There were no incidents. You've had four. Given the plethora of problems this government has had, will the Premier answer yes or no. Will he introduce conflict-of-interest legislation in this House?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Mr. Speaker, this government will be considering all matters in due course, and they'll be considered duly. In response to the member, to suggest that somehow the NDP never has any problems in this regard, you know, that's a bit "I'm holier than thou," sort of thing. Frankly, I don't believe that's really a credible statement to put before the House — that whatever the legislation, it
[ Page 2741 ]
would only be for somebody other than me. If that's the sort of legislation the member who just spoke is hoping to provide me with — that it's for you and for everybody else but not for me because I don't need it — then, frankly, I think I could already state to that member that the legislation will be very shortcoming.
FUNDING FOR MINISTERS OF STATE
MR. SIHOTA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I take it the answer from the Premier is no.
I want to deal with another issue. The Premier may have a little bit more ease handling another issue, so a new question to the Premier. The Premier knows that special warrants in this province are issued when there is an urgent and pressing need for funding for the public good. Some time ago a special warrant was issued for about $8 million for the Premier's ministers of state for decentralization. Could the Premier tell the House exactly what emergency was used to justify the issuing of those special warrants?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Mr. Speaker, I will defer to the Minister of Finance to provide further information if required, but let me say that there has been a great deal of talk — certainly from the opposition but also out there throughout the province — about decentralization. There has been talk, not only now but certainly over the years, as to the benefits that could accrue to citizens throughout the province, particularly those in the north country, who often find themselves alienated from the process of government because government tends to be far removed. We now have a means whereby people will have an opportunity to provide input to the government, ensuring that all affected bodies, be they local governments, school boards or other individuals in groups, have a chance to participate to make sure consideration is given by government to matters that relate to the Peace country and perhaps may not relate in the same way to greater Vancouver or some other region of the province.
It's very important. Frankly, I'm 100 percent convinced that the people of this province are very supportive of that process and do not in any way wish to see the funds withheld to make that process effective for people everywhere.
MR. SIHOTA: Those kinds of glib comments don't deal with the question that was posed to the Premier. So that the Premier may understand, I'll repeat the question.
I'm sure the Premier understands the rules. There was a Premier in this province who once argued that not a dime should be expended without debate. We're simply asking the Premier this: there was no debate on this issue and you've got authority to do it if an emergency exists. Could you tell us, Mr. Premier, what emergency existed at that time?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: I realize it's rather difficult for the opposition, but the member from Esquimalt is not the critic for Finance. I thought the opposition would have that question come through their Finance critic and therefore I took it initially, but in the hopes that the Finance critic would perhaps add to this, I now defer to the Minister of Finance.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: Clearly, the questioner failed to understand the very first precept of this whole program of regionalization, which is that it must be designed in the regions affected. The whole idea is to break down government, the rigidity, the bureaucracy and the centralized authority here in Victoria. As a consequence of that, we would have been severely criticized if we had provided the framework for this sort of regional decision-making to take place without at the same time having available, for instant use if needed, a sum of money so that the program could be instituted at the community level.
It is not the intention of this government to autocratically determine how these various regional programs will be developed; it must come from the regions affected. If we expect some meaningful action to ensue at the local level they must have instant access to funding to get the process started — if that is their desire. So the whole purpose of providing some interim financing and funding was to ensure that there were no handicaps or inhibitions imposed on those regional areas, so that they could get off to a fast start if that was their desire.
The members of the opposition cannot have it both ways, Mr. Speaker. They cannot both criticize us for putting in place the enabling dollars to allow a quick start and come back in the House to criticize us for not providing any meaningful support to get us started in the first place. They cannot have both sides of the argument.
Quite clearly, this government exhibited its firm intention to proceed post-haste, at the rate that the regions themselves wished to proceed, and that required that some immediate funding be made available.
MR. ROSE: Mr. Speaker, I must rise on a point of order. There have been a number of occasions here, notably the most recent one, when the minister offended not only the rule of brevity — he has filled it with air and bombast, and I found it offensive.... But that isn't my main concern here, because we're accustomed to his Couvelier treatment of the House. What we on this side of the House are concerned about is something which, I think, goes more to the fundamentals of why we have parliament. Parliament was invented, if you like, to control the King and the spending of money. It is not an issue, as the minister tried to point out, of whether or not the money was needed, or a justification of whether the money was needed. The question really before us is: where is the legislation entitling the minister to spend the money? We on this side of the House see no reason for money to be advanced, to be spent on parties, invitations or anything else, that cannot come before this Legislature, especially when the Legislature is sitting.
MR. SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order, but I think it was more a point of debate than a point of order. I will recognize the member for Omineca for one question.
ROLE OF MLAS
MR. KEMPF: Mr. Speaker, my question is also to the Premier, and it's along the same lines. Recently Mr. David Poole, the Premier's principal secretary, suggested that MLAs, the 69 duly elected members of this assembly, with the exception perhaps of the superministers, were overrated. In fact, he went on to say: "We could do some examination of what the MLA actually does." Does the Premier — and it would appear he does, by his so-called regionalization plan — agree with Mr. Poole's philosophy with respect to the role of MLAs in this chamber?
[ Page 2742 ]
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: We should not be offended by little things like this. I hear this often said. As I travel through the province, people will say,"You're the Premier, and you don't do this or don't do that," or "We don't agree," or "What about your ministers?" or "What about the MLAs? They're just sitting there" — this sort of thing. I think we all know for one another what it is we do. Frankly, I don't need people — whether they're people here or elsewhere — to tell me how worthy we are, or whether we work hard enough. I'm satisfied that I . . I'm sure most members here would agree that they too work very hard.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, I call adjourned debate on the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 4), 1987, second reading. The debate was adjourned by the member for Prince George South, a fine fellow.
AMENDMENT ACT (NO. 4), 1987
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, the members will recall that in debate leading up to my comments on Friday, arguments were advanced by the hon. member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf), by the hon. member for Alberni (Mr. Skelly) and by many other members that because of the proviso in the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act that allows for unlimited numbers of parliamentary secretaries, this would, for whatever reason, give ministers of state a greater opportunity to act in those ridings, and would in fact subvert the duties of the duly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly. I can't agree with that, Mr. Speaker. Clearly, the decentralization restructuring that the Premier and the government of British Columbia have put in place is to allow for more and better representation by all Members of the Legislative Assembly. It has been stated clearly by the government, by the Premier, and by me now again that all Members of the Legislative Assembly will be invited to sit on various committees struck by the regional ministers of state, in order that all members can better contribute to the working of those regions. That is clear.
What I find most surprising is the argument advanced by some that the restructuring of government takes away from the effectiveness of locally elected MLAs; yet we learn that those MLAs, particularly members of the opposition, have declined to sit when requested by regional ministers — declined to sit on any committees or declined to take part in any activities that those regional ministers of state may embark upon. That I find very curious indeed. Here we have, on one hand, people saying that their responsibility to be an elected member in their electoral district is eroded, yet when given the opportunity to take a greater part and have more participation in the affairs being carried out in their electoral area, they decline. I find that most curious.
I want to stress again that the invitation is open to all members. In my particular region, the second member for Cariboo (Mr. Vant) is my parliamentary secretary. The first member for Cariboo (Mr. A. Fraser) is cordially invited to discuss with me any issues he wishes that affect his region, and I extend the same invitation to the member for Prince George North (Mrs. Boone) to sit on any committees or take part in any activities that I, as minister of state, will be embarking upon. That offer is clear. It is stated here in the Legislative Assembly, and I'll be more than pleased to restate it at any given time.
I was thinking of a few examples the other day.... As a matter of fact, I drove up to McLeod Lake on behalf of the First Citizens' Fund to bring greetings to the McLeod Lake Indian band on a project that the First Citizens' Fund had assisted in. I did this representing my colleague, the Minister of Transportation and Highways (Hon. Mr. Rogers), who still has responsibility for that fund, and I also did it because a number of the McLeod Lake Indian Band are good friends of mine from the time I was in that ministry. As I drove up, I thought about the activity in that area, which is in the riding of the member for Prince George North (Mrs. Boone), and I thought about my responsibility as a line minister. As a line minister of Environment and Parks, if I wished to institute a study into, say, better utilization of Crooked River Park site at Bear Lake, I would, by course, as Minister of Environment and Parks, invite the Bear Lake community to assist me — the businessmen in that area. I would no doubt involve the McLeod Lake Indian band, because they are employed in that park. It's close to their reserve, and they've made a great contribution to government in that park. And I would no doubt involve the regional district director. I could, or I may not wish to, involve the member for Prince George North. As Minister of Environment I would have that prerogative.
However, if I put a different title on — for the same purpose: better utilization of the Crooked River Park at Bear Lake — and I said I was undergoing this as minister of state for the area, then I would be obligated by the government's promise to involve the member for Prince George North. So if I were going to do a utilization study at Bear Lake, it would all depend on the title under which I was initiating this study — as Minister of Environment and Parks or as minister of state — whether or not the member for Prince George North would decline or accept the responsibility to sit on that committee. I find it curious that the participation of an MLA would hinge solely on the title the minister was using at the time of a study that affected that member's community. I'm sure the members will have some time to sort that out and address how they would answer that request of mine.
In closing, I want to impress upon all members of the Legislative Assembly — the opposition, the member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf), the members of the government caucus — that ministers of state have a responsibility. It's a stated responsibility by the Premier and the government that, in any initiatives that take place in the riding, all MLAs are to be considered, to be consulted and to be part of that ministerial committee. That statement is there; it's clear. I'm restating it, and I would think that an initiative for any member of this House to decline to sit with the regional minister of state is a dereliction of duty. I would request members, therefore, to stay with us, to try to assist their riding in the best way they can.
MRS. BOONE: This section was a little further on in my speech, but I would like to deal with it right now when it is still fresh in your mind — that is, the areas that the member for Prince George South has just mentioned, with regard to the opposition MLAs participating in committees for the various states. I don't know whether the member for Prince George South is aware of it, but in my riding of Prince George North I would have to contend with two ministers of state. Would I then be expected to sit on two sets of committees,
[ Page 2743 ]
participate in two areas and deal with two different parliamentary secretaries? The member for Atlin (Mr. Guno) also has to deal with two individual ministers of state and two separate parliamentary secretaries.
I think this is something that obviously hasn't been thought through. If you look at the map, you can see that although most of the lower mainland areas are okay, that some of them are fine down in the southern half of the province and they seem to have taken into consideration boundaries with regard to their own constituency boundaries, again it appears that nobody sees up north, and our own constituency boundaries were never even considered when the states were formed. Therefore we are divided up, we have to deal with two different states, and in some cases I think it could even be three. To me, that's an unworkable situation. It's an impossible creation of more bureaucracy for me and for my constituents to deal with. How do they know who to go to? It's an incredible situation, and one that is not acceptable to us.
To get back to the beginning of my speech, Mr. Speaker, this is the fourth such bill that we have. We're supposed to be talking about the principles of bills. However, when we are thrown four bills that include such a wide variety of things, it is very difficult for us to deal with the principle. There is a principle involved here, and that principle seems to be that there appears to be some move on behalf of the government to try to slip things through so that there isn't the debate in second reading, which is the principle area.
To me that is the principle of this bill. We are dealing with a tremendous amount of legislation here that deals with finances, restructuring the province, some privatization, health issues — and it's all done under a miscellaneous bill. I believe that the principle is intolerable; it is unacceptable, and we as the opposition believe that the government ought to get back and do its work so that these bills come through in their proper order and so they are not thrown into a hodgepodge of things with which we have to deal in an unacceptable manner.
Often these bills hold surprises, and I think they are done that way for a very simple reason: because you don't want us to address various issues, and you don't want us to find things. Wouldn't it be nice if we just allowed things to slide through without ever having acknowledged these things? Sometimes there is radical and controversial legislation. To me, there is a lack of planning. It shows that things are thrown in because the government hasn't thought through the legislation as to how these can be proposed. The fact that we have legislation putting in your parliamentary secretaries here shows that it wasn't thought of earlier. The fact that we have legislation that deals with health shows that it wasn't thought of earlier in the summer when we were dealing with a massive health amendment act. These things show a tremendous lack of planning on behalf of the government. I suggest that it is time for the government to get its act together and plan in advance, so that we know what we are dealing with, and we can deal with the principles of bills rather than dealing with this hodgepodge you give us all the time.
There are many sections of this bill that make us very wary. Although the intent is not often outright, the political climate in this province and the Premier's agenda leads us to certain conclusions about the amendments. There are some that are not hidden at all. The one we are talking about — the removal of the ceiling on your parliamentary secretaries — is not hidden at all. That's there for everybody to see.
It is not even saying that you are allowing the government to have eight more parliamentary secretaries. You are saying that the government may have as many parliamentary secretaries as the government chooses.
AN HON. MEMBER: A blank cheque.
MRS. BOONE: A blank cheque. We may find ourselves with virtually every back-bencher on the government side — and I wouldn't imagine any back-bencher would oppose this — with a nice little cushy parliamentary secretary job.
The states. We've mentioned the states, and we have some serious problems with regard to the states. The main question is: why are we dealing with states? Why are we putting in — and I don't care whether the Premier or the member for Prince George South (Hon. Mr. Strachan) says it is not — another level of bureaucracy?
It is another level of bureaucracy. We have a new level being introduced that is creating more people, more employees, more money and the very thing that the government has said — decentralization — is happening because big governments cannot afford to have big bureaucracies. And what is the first move this government makes when it gets back in? It's to add more bureaucracy — not eliminate more bureaucracy. So we have more bureaucrats out there. You've got people all over the place there. You are taking away from the elected people; you are putting the regional development of an area into the hands of people who are not elected.
In my particular area we do have someone that was elected there, but there are areas where constituents are going to have ministers of state who were not elected by them. This is undemocratic; it is not what we do in this province; and it is not something that's been done in any other province in this world.
We are eliminating the elected people. I am going to use some examples. A constituent right now would come to an MLA — whether it's a government MLA or an opposition MLA — with a particular problem. Right now that MLA would take that problem and correspond with or contact or phone the particular minister involved. That would be my immediate input to the minister. I have that access to that minister, and I have never had a minister refuse a phone call from me. Now a constituent will come to.... What would a constituent do? A constituent right now would say: "Well, there's no point in going to my MLA, because I have been told that this minister of state has immediate access to the cabinet. Therefore there's no point in going to my MLA; I might as well go to that cabinet minister."
Or if you go to your MLA, what does the MLA do? Does the MLA then have to go through another level? Does the MLA go to the minister of state, who then goes to the minister, or does the MLA simply carry on as usual and proceed to the minister? That is by far the most straightforward way, and that is what we intend to do. We intend to deal with the ministers as we always have done, as we always will do, because we as elected people have that obligation to our constituents.
There's a section in the act that hasn't been mentioned. I am going to mention it just in passing, because again, I ask why. It's under the Public Trustee Act. It's amending a section that puts a ceiling on the fees payable to the public trustee,
[ Page 2744 ]
and it covers wills, trusts, variations, the Mental Health Act, and all kinds of different things.
I don't have a great deal to say about this, because I'm not quite sure what the intention is. Why are we putting something in legislation that removes the ceiling on the fees payable to trustees if the intention is not to raise the fees that trustees are paid? Is it the intention, then, of the government to allow trustees to charge more? Will we see more money coming out of trust funds for children? Will we see more fees on trust funds, on wills? What is the reasoning for this? I don't think we understand that; it doesn't make sense.
There's another thing here: again, why? Sweeping, massive changes to the Railway Act: "The minister may make regulations that he considers necessary or advisable for achieving the objects and purposes of this Act, or for which no express or only partial provision has been made, including the regulations...." It is obvious that the minister can change those regulations at any time, whether it has anything to do with this act or anything else. This is the sort of thing that makes us wary. Under normal circumstances we would say: "Well, that's not too bad." However, under the climate we're in right now, one immediately says: "This is set up for the privatization of B.C. Rail."
When we get into the privatization of B.C. Rail.... Look a little further down. It says in subsection (b): "fixing fees to be paid" and "whether or not in the employ of the Crown." So obviously, once again, there are people who are going to be paid. They're fixing the fees to be paid to them whether or not they're in the employ of the Crown; once again, it's set up for privatization.
Now when we get into B.C. Rail.... The whole privatization of B.C. Rail is a very touchy subject to me and to anybody that lives in the north. It should be for anyone, because contrary to what the Premier says, B.C. Rail has been absolutely instrumental in the development of the north. The Premier may say that private enterprise built this province and this country. But I'll tell you, it was not the private sector that built that road into Tumbler Ridge. It was not private enterprise that built that B.C. Rail road into Tumbler Ridge. It was the B.C. government that did that, whether or not it's right or wrong. The B.C. government has consistently used B.C. Rail to develop areas of the province.
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
We hear the members saying that they want to privatize so that there's more competition. If you privatize B.C. Rail, what competition is there going to be for B.C. Rail? We are going to have a monopoly that is going to have total control of the access of products to and from the northern half of this province, with no control whatsoever by the government. There will be no competition. B.C. Rail will have an absolute monopoly on the transportation of goods in the north, and that is not in the best interests of our people or of our companies. Our companies will certainly suffer as a result of this move here.
I've saved until last the section that really upsets me the most — and I'm glad that the Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Dueck) is in here for this — and that has to do with changes that are taking place with the Hospital Insurance Act. The section says that it will be amended to not include: "services or treatment that the minister, or a person designated by him, determines, on a review of the medical evidence, the qualified person does not require." Once again I have to ask the question: why has this been instituted at this particular time? What is involved? We've heard various things proposed. What immediately came to the mind of some people was that, obviously, this is a move to remove abortion. The minister says no, that's not possible, because that's mandated by the Health Act. However, there are a lot of things that are not mandated by the Health Act, and in Alberta, they have already deinsured tubal ligations, IUD insertions, contraceptive counselling, vasectomies — all of these things that took place in the doctor's office — and annual eye examination. There are other areas that have been changed – in Saskatchewan as well. I believe that the people of British Columbia will be very upset if in fact these areas are removed from the Medical Services Plan. If you are telling women out there that you don't want them to have abortions, if you make things difficult for them, and if, on the same hand, you put in their way every obstacle to having safe birth control practices for all people whether or not they can afford it, this is not what the province is looking for, and yet this is what I fear we are aiming for.
It is obvious that much of the legislation that has come down in the last few months has been based on legislation from Britain. It has been based on legislation in Saskatchewan, and if you go to Saskatchewan and read a paper there, you'll see that Premier Grant Devine seems to be working hand in hand with our Premier to bring about the dissolution of many of our medical services.
I don't for one minute believe that the minister has a right to determine what are and what are not required medical services. Those medical services must be determined by a doctor and his or her patient, and the Minister of Health has no right to be in that room, making decisions that are based on medical evidence that he or his designate has as a non-professional.
We are seeing, slowly but surely, changes to our Health Act, changes to our health system, that are eroding what we have worked for, eroding a perfectly sound system, and we are hearing from the Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Couvelier) and from the Premier, at every possible time, that our health care costs are totally out of control, even though information from alternate sources says this is not true, that our health care costs are not out of control, that they haven't been out of line.
That does not mean to say that we should be throwing money out the back of a pick-up truck. I think we have to look at things very carefully, and we must, as a society, come to grips with what is required and what is not required in regards to our health care. But those decisions are not decisions that can be made by the Minister of Health or his designate; those are decisions that must come about as a thorough review of our health care system. There are definite areas in our health care system that can be reviewed; there are definite areas that can be changed and revised and made better. But we are not doing that. Every time something comes up, and the Minister of Finance says health care costs are totally out of control, we suddenly come through with something to cap costs at the present level to deteriorate our services and eliminate various things. I don't believe that this is what we must be looking for in our province. We must be sensible about our money; we must make economically sound decisions; but they must be decisions that come about from a thorough discussion with everybody in the field and in the society as a whole.
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I believe that what we are looking to is a wide-open system, and I am very, very nervous that we could be seeing ourselves, in the next couple of months or next few years, looking at a system that is either like the U.S. system, with large corporations running medical services, or similar to the British system, which now is a two-tiered system. Those people who can afford it can obtain top-notch, first-rate service, and those who can't afford it get the bare minimum. As British Columbians, I don't think that's what we have striven for. I don't believe this is what we've worked for in Canada.
In conclusion, I certainly hope we're not thrown a Miscellaneous 4 or a Miscellaneous 5 in the future. I hope the government plans well enough ahead so that the act we're dealing with deals with all the amendments with regard to that certain service, with all sections of the ministry, so that we're not thrown a hodge-podge like this and then not expected to debate it because there's no principle involved. You're right, there is no principle involved here, because the government has no principles.
HON. MR. VEITCH: I'm very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill 59, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 4), particularly section 2. This will amend section 12.1 of the Constitution Act, which deals with the number of parliamentary secretaries that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may appoint. I believe this is a very positive action, one that will enable the government to appoint additional parliamentary secretaries as and when they are needed.
Parliamentary secretaries have come to play a very valuable role in our Canadian parliamentary system, a role that goes back to 1916 and even beyond. Canada's first parliamentary secretary was Fleming Blanchard McCurdy, who was appointed by Prime Minister Robert Borden on July 19, 1916. He served as Parliamentary Secretary of Militia and Defence...
HON. MR. VEITCH: I'm glad the hon. member finds this amusing.
...alongside his colleague, MP Bruce North, who served as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for External Affairs. These two appointments were made by orders-in-council in 1914.
In 1921 Prime Minister Mackenzie King reintroduced the position of parliamentary secretary after being urged by Mr. Coldwell of the CCE, when Lucien Turcotte Pacaud served for ten months as the Prime Minister's Undersecretary of State for External Affairs. Mackenzie King appointed a total of 20 parliamentary secretaries during the last five years of his administration, and Prime Minister St. Laurent went on to appoint 22 during his administration.
It was not until the enactment of the Parliamentary Secretaries Act in 1959, under the administration of Prime Minister Diefenbaker, that the office of parliamentary secretary was legally established within the federal parliament. This was after Prime Minister Diefenbaker had already appointed 14 parliamentary secretaries in the first years of his government. The Parliamentary Secretaries Act provided for the appointment of not more than 16 parliamentary secretaries by the governor-in-council from among the members of the House of Commons to "assist the minister in such manner as the minister directs." The reorganization of the federal government in 1971 did not substantially change the functions of a parliamentary secretary.
In our province, the need for parliamentary secretaries was examined in detail in 1984 by the then Select Standing Committee on Standing Orders and Private Bills, chaired by our distinguished Deputy Speaker, the hon. member for Dewdney (Mr. Pelton). In 1985 that standing committee recommended to this House that the position of parliamentary secretary be established. The committee's recommendation resulted in the passage of an amendment to the Constitution Act in 1985 which provided for the appointment of ten members of the Legislative Assembly to be parliamentary secretaries to members of the executive council.
Neither the federal nor provincial legislation provides a detailed description of the duties of a parliamentary secretary, and the role varies with the demands of the minister whom they assist. These duties include: carrying out routine tasks in relation to the House; answering questions in the House; presenting the government position in discussions of committee business; supporting the government position in committee; meeting with members of the public, organizations and other concerned bodies on behalf of their minister.
Mr. Speaker, I personally believe that one of the most important roles of a parliamentary secretary is that of facilitating communication and the exchange of ideas. The more people we bring into the decision-making process, the more our government's decisions will reflect the needs and aspirations of all regions of this province.
The decentralization of government is a very positive step in that particular direction. It will widen the circle of decision-making, bringing government much closer to the people. Each region is unique and will approach problems from its own perspective. It will be the role of appointed parliamentary secretaries to assist the minister of state to be aware of the needs of a particular region. They will be supported by a vast network of talent throughout the region, working very closely with the MLAs in that region.
I would reiterate the words of the hon. House Leader, who said that he believes it's a dereliction of duty for members of this House not to find out everything there is to find out about a government program, and not to work closely with that program to find out what they can. They are there to serve the needs of their constituents, and I consider that they are doing less than that if they are not fully involved in the process all the way.
Decentralization is a good idea, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Leader of the Opposition obviously agrees with me on this score. Didn't he say in his September 29, 1987, report from the Legislature that "decentralization in itself is a good idea"? Didn't he add that economic growth can come for all of us from the participation of local and regional governments in decision-making? That's what decision-making and decentralization is all about.
Was he not also quoted in the Chilliwack Progress on September 2, 1987, as saying that there is a need "to centralize the whole wave of economic decisions” and to be able to respond to locally based economic concerns with "regionally based economic strategies.”
AN HON. MEMBER: Right on.
HON. MR. VEITCH: He's right on; he's absolutely correct. That's what decentralization is all about, Mr. Speaker.
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Parliamentary secretaries will facilitate the very same regionally based strategies that the Leader of the Opposition has advocated. Or is he advocating something else for political purposes this particular month?
All regions of the province will benefit from the appointment of additional parliamentary secretaries. Our goal in this plan is to improve access to government and to break down barriers, not to add more levels of bureaucracy. I know that the hon. Leader of the Opposition would agree with me, because that's what he said last March in this House, Mr. Speaker.
He said that what we need is a will to develop regionally based economic strategies which are based on the wealth of talent and opportunities at the local level throughout the province. I thought it was a good idea then, and I think it's a good idea now. Decentralization will work in spite of the opposition, Mr. Speaker.
The appointment of parliamentary secretaries who will be out in the regions speaking with representatives of local and regional government, business, labour and community organizations, and, hopefully, MLAs will provide a direct input to the minister of state and the cabinet. Mr. Speaker, I have always found my parliamentary secretary to be an invaluable asset in helping me to fulfil my duties as a minister of the Crown. With my additional responsibilities as Minister of State for Mainland-Southwest development region, I know that I will find the knowledge and assistance of my parliamentary secretaries invaluable as well.
MR. WILLIAMS: You need all the help you can get.
HON. MR. VEITCH: You're right; we need all the help that we can get. We're not afraid to ask for it, because we don't think we have all the answers, hon. member.
I look forward to working very closely with these parliamentary secretaries. I encourage all members of this House to get behind decentralization, to support this amendment which will assist the government of British Columbia in facilitating development for our province and bringing decision-making — as the Leader of the opposition said — out to the regional and local levels. With that I concur.
MR. JONES: It's a pleasure for me to follow the hon. Provincial Secretary, even if I'm a little surprised to see that he is still using his training wheels. I too want to speak on section 2 of Bill 59. The hon. Provincial Secretary seemed to have the issue confused here, because he was arguing that this section deals with the virtue of establishing an unlimited number of parliamentary secretaries. That's not the issue. It's not the virtue of these positions that's in question it's the establishment of parliamentary secretaries to assist in restructuring government, to establish a county system. This process, on which we are engaged in part of this debate, is a perversion of the democratic, political and parliamentary procedures that we've established in this province for many, many years. To set up and to talk about a restructuring of government as if it were just another minor initiative of the party that was elected in the majority is a travesty of what this House stands for.
We were elected a little more than a year ago under the Election Act according to certain constituency boundaries. We all came here, many of us for the first time, and gave our maiden speeches. In those speeches we spoke of our ridings, and of how proud we were to be part of the traditions of this province and to enter this chamber with its long tradition and history; and how proud we were to represent the people in our constituencies, to speak on their behalf, to assist them, to represent them to government. We wanted to serve all the people in our ridings, regardless of political persuasion and interest.
Implied in that is the equality of each elected member in this House. What we see in this is an attempt to bring the county system in through the back door, a perversion of the parliamentary process in this province, and to destroy the equality of MLAs. The previous speaker, when he used the term "MLA," automatically implied opposition MLA. The other MLAs will now be parliamentary secretaries. We have a division. We even have two different kinds of parliamentary secretaries. We have parliamentary secretaries who are going to be serving ministers with portfolio, and we have parliamentary secretaries who are going to be serving ministers of state. How many different categories of MLAs are we going to end up with after this process?
The word on the role of the MLA, as alluded to by the previous speaker, came from a non-elected official, who to my knowledge has never been elected to anything in this province. He is the one who suggested, on behalf of the Premier, I suppose, that the role of the MLA has been overemphasized. I believe he was a shy official, identified in question period by the member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf) as David Poole.
That same person also indicated that state ministers — we could substitute the term "ward bosses" — will have more power than portfolio ministers. We're now going to have all kinds of different levels of minister. We have different kinds of MLAs. We have different kinds of parliamentary assistants, parliamentary secretaries, and now we have different kinds of ministers — ministers of state and ministers with portfolio. As the government House Leader indicated a few minutes ago, he's going to have difficulty, when he has to solve a problem, deciding which hat to wear and who is to be involved in solving the problem.
I don't know how members of the other side of the House feel about this erosion of the role of the MLA. I don't know whether they see this process as helping their aspirations to become a minister. Let's face it, we're reducing the number of ministers in this province to eight. We're going to have ministers of state, and ministries with portfolio aren't going to be jobs you want to aspire to. We're going to see the power established in those ministers of state.
Just before adjournment on Friday, the second member for Richmond (Mr. Loenen) said the purpose of this process was to bring government closer to the people; and the Provincial Secretary just indicated that the purpose was to improve access to government. This plan isn't new. We've seen the county proposal before. In the paper written by the now Premier in 1979, entitled "Regional Government Reform," he said: "The assumption by the province of virtually all regional and rural planning responsibilities implies massive increases in manpower and costs. It also implies reduced accessibility and slower response to applicants." So we see it's not a matter of bringing government closer to the people. It's not a matter of improving access. It's a matter of setting up another layer of government.
So we have these assignments of these parliamentary secretaries. We have the assignment of the member for Mackenzie (Mr. Long) to Vancouver Island-Coast. I wonder who
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somebody in Port Hardy in the North Island riding would see about a problem they had. Would they see their MLA, the member for North Island (Mr. Gabelmann), or would they go to the Minister of Advanced Education and Job Training (Hon. S. Hagen), or would they go to the member for Mackenzie? It's very confusing. Rather than a member from the Island serving as parliamentary secretary — to suggest the possibility of perhaps the member for Cowichan-Malahat (Mr. Bruce) — no, the member for Cowichan-Malahat is going to be the parliamentary secretary for the North Coast. So somebody from Prince Rupert has the choice of seeing their MLA from Prince Rupert (Mr. Miller), or the minister of state — which is also the Minister of Forest and Lands (Hon. Mr. Parker) — or the member for Cowichan-Malahat. I mean, it's a tremendous choice that the people have in terms of this process of bringing them closer to the people. I suppose somebody in Smithers probably would like to see the member for Omineca (Mr. Kempf), because he certainly stood up in this House and spoke on behalf of those people with force and with vigour, but he has the choice of seeing the minister of state — who was also the Minister of Intergovernmental Relations and I think has had a new assignment since this sheet was printed; I think he's now the Minister of Highways (Hon. Mr. Rogers) — or he has the choice of seeing the member for Okanagan South. I'm sure the MLA from Okanagan South has a really good understanding of the problems in Nechako.
This plan, as indicated by the Minister of Tourism (Hon. Mr. Reid) on one occasion recently, is clearly a perversion of the parliamentary process. The government House Leader and the Provincial Secretary invite members opposite — on this side of the House — to get involved in the process, to buy into this county system. Well, it was the Minister of Tourism, as reported not that long ago — October 15 — in the Times Colonist, who said: "While decentralization will improve access to government, the only way to secure funds for your area will be to vote Socred. It will allow the government to freeze out opposition MLAs." These are the words of the Minister of Tourism approximately a month ago. It will also require that an MLA "will have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat out a parliamentary secretary." So we don't see an inclusive process here; we see an exclusive process. We see a political pork-barrelling process. We don't see the kind of gracious invitation issued by the government House Leader or the Provincial Secretary. It was the Minister of Tourism who spoke the truth about this government and their plans for decentralization — and I suppose that's why the Minister of Tourism wasn't made a minister of state.
If that wasn't the only indication of truth, I heard another indication of truth reported to me the other day — and I'm sorry the Provincial Secretary has just stepped out.
HON. MR. REID: There is no Minister of Tourism.
MR. JONES: I've noticed that.
HON. MR. REID: There's a Minister of Tourism, Recreation and Culture. Get it right.
MR. JONES: And particularly Culture.
It was a close relative of the hon. Provincial Secretary (Hon. Mr. Veitch), who happened to lose her seat in a recent municipal election who said to another alderman who had been returned — and because a majority had been returned to that council that were probably not particular enthusiasts of the party in government: "Don't expect any help from the provincial government." Don't expect any help from a provincial government whose members just exuded graciousness in inviting members opposite to participate in the $5,000 luncheons and to participate in the plans to develop the economy. Well, I think the real truth has come from the Minister of Tourism and Culture and not minister of state.
What we see here is a difficulty on the part of this government, and it's going to be very difficult particularly for the Provincial Secretary, because the vast majority of mayors in his Mainland-Southwest state are not particular supporters of his government. This kind of attitude in government — the truth in government that has been indicated — is a repugnant view of politics. It’s a government that cannot separate governance from politics. It's a government that does not recognize the difference between the role of state and pork-barrel politics. It's a perversion of the parliamentary process to sneak this proposal through the miscellaneous statutes. I use the word that has been made famous by the President — I mean Premier — of this province, and that word is gutless. I suggest that it's gutless to sneak in this proposal in a mild, meek way to make it appear that very little is being changed. What's being changed here is an entire restructuring of government.
Perhaps the Speaker does not agree with the use of that term in this House, and I respect that because I think it's important to respect the traditions of this House. We take great exception to using people's names rather than their positions in this House, and we rule certain words as unparliamentary. What's unparliamentary that is happening right now in this Legislature is an entire restructuring of government without any reference to a bill, to the traditions of this House, or to an opportunity for true legislative debate. We're stuck here debating a very small section of the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. This is gutless, and it's a perversion of parliamentary procedure.
It's a perversion of the parliamentary process to create eight new millionaires without reference to the Legislature, to bypass the normal legislative and parliamentary procedure and to grant that $8 million by special warrant for supposed "unforeseen and emergency procedures."
The reason it was done by this method, rather than waiting three and a half weeks until the Legislature sat, was to avoid the scrutiny of members on this side of the House. It was bad enough that an end run was done around the Legislature in creating these eight new millionaires; it was bad enough that the government was too gutless to....
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. member, I've heard the word four times now. Would you take your seat please. The hon. member himself stated that it was probably not in the very best traditions of parliamentary language. I won't ask that it be withdrawn, but perhaps the member could try to avoid offending the Chair by using that terminology again.
MR. JONES: Mr. Speaker, because of my respect for the Chair and respect for this House, I certainly will not use that term again.
It's because of the government's lack of respect for this House that we're facing these kinds of legislation in the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. What we see is a fundamental and radical change without a mandate. It is arrogant, and it is a perversion of the parliamentary process.
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We see this at the federal level and at the provincial level, where drastic, radical changes are being brought forth. The response of the federal government and the provincial government is: "We can go ahead with this; we don't need anybody's approval."
I don't recall any mandate being given to this government to pursue this kind of radical restructuring. I remember what that election a year ago was about. It was about an end to confrontation. It was about open government. That election was about reducing the price of beer and introducing television into the Legislature. It wasn't about restructuring government. Even in Poland — not renowned for its democratic process — the government is willing to put forward to the people their plans for economic development and have it voted on by voters in that country.
What we have — snuck in the back door — is a county system of government. It's not decentralization; it's not economic development regions — it's counties. It was quite clearly indicated, in the British Columbia Newsletter sent out by the office of the agent-general: "The Premier told the UBCM delegates that the regionalization initiative will not be confined to economic issues, important though they are. 'We intend to apply the same principles to health care, education, social services, agriculture, environment, the justice system, highways and consumer services."' In that same meeting, he also said he favoured the county system.
What do education, social services, environment and justice have to do with economic development? There may be some tenuous connection, but this proposal is not an economic development proposal. These are not economic development zones. They are states or they are counties.
We know the history of this province. We don't have to go that far back; we can go back less than ten years and find a newly appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs who said: "Regional districts have a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the year."
We know that same author produced a report called "Regional Government Reform" and said that existing regional districts will be replaced by a county system. That same paper in 1979 indicated regional districts have been "too accountable." They tend to "overplan and overregulate" land use. That same paper also mentioned the provincial government would assume responsibility for regional planning, removing this "burdensome" task from regional government.
We know that following that there was tremendous uproar by an organization that I was involved in, the B.C. School Trustees' Association. They produced this paper called "Background Information and Brief on" — and I guess I should substitute the word Premier's — "County System Proposal." The B.C. School Trustees' Association, which has certainly taken a generally neutral role in the politics of this province, suggested at that time:
"This proposal has been undermined by the preliminary report suggesting that fully autonomous local school boards would be eliminated under a county system. It is school boards which ensure that the family, not the central government authority, retains ultimate control over the education of young minds.
"While it is difficult to believe that Mr. Vander Zalm" — I should say the Premier — "would actually wish to revoke this fundamental principle of democracy, it nevertheless behooves all trustees to familiarize themselves with this proposal, irrespective of whether or not it is a viable option for them and their electorate."
This report also suggests that under the proposed county system "most local school boards and regulatory bodies responsible for such diverse functions as local roads, sewers, police, fire protection, libraries and recreation, hospitals and education would be dissolved" and replaced by a new structure of government that we see slowly being slipped in. Evidence is section 2 of Bill 59.
In 1982 the Premier introduced Bill 9, the Land Use Act, which suggested that the planning function be removed from regional districts and that B.C. be divided into seven super regions. The Premier has come a long way since 1982. He has increased the number of regions from seven to eight. Fortunately that bill was withdrawn and the now Premier resigned his portfolio, suggesting to his cabinet colleagues that they — and I won't use the term that the Speaker advised me not to — lacked intestinal fortitude.
It wasn't these cabinet colleagues that lacked intestinal fortitude; it's the colleagues of the Premier on that side of the House that lack intestinal fortitude by not standing up for democracy, by not standing up for the parliamentary traditions of this province and by allowing themselves, for whatever self-serving reason, to be bamboozled into accepting a restructuring of government that is in the fundamental interests of nobody in this province.
We know the Premier and we know his operation. The Premier is not, I would suggest, the kind of person to back off something that he believed in so vehemently that he would leave the cabinet a very few years ago. So this county system, this system that the cabinet colleagues of the day rejected, is still the plan of the Premier and the plan of this government and the plan you members opposite are buying into.
These proposals do not look like decentralization. The Premier's operation went from 13 employees in the Premier's office to some 70 employees. I would suggest this was the only job creation project of the government: to increase the number of employees in the Premier's office — this as of October 21.
This same Premier, who says that any personnel contract over $500 must go through the Premier's office, does not look like a decentralist to me. What would a good government do in terms of this? Would a good government restructure government without reference to the Legislature? Would a good government see the erosion of the role of the MLA in this province?
Would a good government move power to the minister of state over a minister with portfolio? No, a good government knows the difference between politics and government; a good government feels no need to shut out opposition MLAs; a good government believes in parliamentary democracy and isn't ashamed to bring their plans or their expenditures before the Legislature; and a good government sees no need to proceed with radical legislation without a mandate from the people.
I would suggest to members opposite that if you think changing our system of representation is such a good idea, envision what's going to happen after the next election — because clearly the image of moderate Mike is going to appeal to the people of this province more than the image of wild Bill — where you will have eight New Democrats as ministers of state. Is that what you want? That's what you're voting for. What is your role going to be after the role of the MLA is diminished in the next election? Part of me says go
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for it, because I think it's going to bring about the destruction of this government in the next election and would absolutely ensure the victory of this side of the House, but I don't think it's in the public interest to do so.
I suggest that this plan is wrong. It's a perversion of the parliamentary traditions of this province. And I suggest that members opposite think, because I don't think the people of British Columbia want a county system of government.
MR. WILLIAMS: I'm sorry that the minister of state for the region I come from is not in the House. We had that wonderful long-winded history of parliamentary secretaries reaching right back to Sir Robert Borden. In a few minutes I want to talk about the activities of the minister of state for the lower mainland region, the member for Burnaby-Willingdon (Hon. Mr. Veitch), but first I'd like to say it does seem to me that a good idea is being corrupted here.
This is genuinely a province of very different regions: the south Okanagan compared to Omineca; the wet belt of the Kootenays compared to the Cariboo; and so on. These are very different regions in British Columbia and they need a different approach. No question about that. But when you think about it, where is the different approach needed most? The different approach needed most is around the different geography and landbase of the different regions. Studies were done in this area when we were government in the seventies. The Environment and Land Use Committee of cabinet established resource regions in the province so that there could be decentralized resource management and dealing with a proper integrated resource management approach to the province. It makes a lot of sense.
But have we ever heard anything out of the Premier or the minister of state for the lower mainland on those kinds of issues? Indeed, there has been nothing whatsoever about the land based departments in terms of the natural resources of the province, in terms of decentralization. Never, out of the Premier or the senior ministers, has there been any discussion around this area of integrated resource management. This clearly is not what is in the Premier's mind. Now that could change; it may change every day. I mean, we get a different news story every day out of the Premier of this province, and sometimes they don't jibe; sometimes they conflict. At any rate, this is dealing partly with economic development, and I would have expected the Minister of Economic Development (Hon. Mrs. McCarthy) to get up in this chamber and talk about how....
Indeed, the Minister of Economic Development is worried about her job these days, so I think we're not going to hear much out of her. Economic development is being scattered around now, and the former foot-soldier for the Minister of Economic Development is now the supermayor of the lower mainland region. Oh, how the mighty have fallen — the member from Burnaby is the supermayor, not the member for Vancouver-Little Mountain. Pecking order really changes in that cabinet. But I have to hand it to the Minister of Economic Development; strained as it is, she's got a smile on her face. Imagine, the old campaign manager from the leadership days is the new supermayor, and he's got a million dollars to do that minister's job. Does that say something about the efficiency of the Minister of Economic Development, that her colleague is going to try and do the same job for $1 million that she's spending hundreds of millions on? I know she throws expensive parties; there's no doubt about that. We've found that in this past year. I think the new minister's trying to do the same sort of thing; he threw a somewhat cheaper party on the Grey Cup weekend for a few hundred people. It's a fairly modest beginning for the new supermayor of the lower mainland region.
But one can't help but wonder.... Part of that million dollars is supposed to go to small business development, but the Minister of Economic Development has a small business group, and she has funds to deal with. Maybe the minister will get up and elaborate on how she is going to coordinate her activities with the new minister of state in the lower mainland regarding small business programs. I'm looking forward to the details and the next glossy pamphlet....
MR. WILLIAMS: I must commend the ministers for their gracious invitations to these sessions, and I can say that genuinely, having just been an observer at the first ministers' conference. I think it's to the credit of government in that regard.
In the lower mainland.... We've just been in the great city of Toronto, and seen the incredible growth that has taken place and the tremendous employment in Toronto — 3.9 percent is the official unemployment rate in Metro Toronto. You folks from the interior and the north, reflect on that.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Free trade in the Auto Pact.
MR. WILLIAMS: Managed trade in the Auto Pact. That is not a free trade arrangement. When we have a free trade arrangement, it will be Mexican auto parts. I don't think the Premier's even thought of that, and he's swallowed the deal already. But we'll get into that when there's a debate on that subject.
I'm intrigued by the supermayor for the lower mainland, the supermayor from Burnaby-Willingdon. Let's reflect on the great work of the new mayor for the region. What was his first proposal? Does anybody recall? Does nobody from the back benches recall? It was to sell city hall. Don't you remember? The mayor's first proposal was to sell city hall — Robson Square. That's really carrying privatization too far. The guy is just named there, and bang, he wants to sell city hall. The real mayor of Vancouver and the real council in Vancouver had to take steps to deal with that. It's extraordinary that....
Welcome, Mr. Minister of State. One of the eight new states of British Columbia. I presume you're calling it the lower mainland state, or do you have a new name?
The first proposal of the supermayor over there in the corner was to sell city hall, but the real city council said: "Nothing doing." That's a city square; that's really the park in downtown Vancouver, designed by Arthur Erickson, maybe the greatest architect in the country and one of the great architects of the world. But the new mayor was willing to sell it so they could put some highrises in that hole.
HON. MR. VEITCH: No, no.
MR. WILLIAMS: There's ice-skating there; there's park space; there's sitting-out space. But he was going to sell it. He says,"No, no," but there's a full city council in Vancouver — your farm league, all those non-partisan Socreds — that voted unanimously in favour of a zoning bylaw that
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would stop you dead in your tracks, so that there wouldn't be highrises there. That was step one for the new supermayor for the lower mainland region.
What's the second proposal? This is after having been in Toronto last week and seen the dynamic growth in this great city, and here's the man responsible for the great city in British Columbia, the largest and most dynamic economically and so on. I just looked at it the other week. There was a release on November 17, 1987, regarding a motor sport facility being studied. Number one initiative: sell city hall. Number two initiative: a motor sport facility.
He said he's asked his parliamentary secretary and another parliamentary secretary — two of them; yes, this is government efficiency at its best — to look at the motor sport facility. He notes that people could watch those cars on television, and it could be a big boon for the lower mainland.
One needn't dismiss this idea. A motor sport facility might well be interesting and could be worthwhile, but as one of the first projects for the lower mainland region, when this is supposed to be the new international financial centre, the manufacturing centre for British Columbia, where we are the focus for Pacific Rim trade for the entire nation...? And you're talking about a racing-sport facility as your first project to really get into after you've sold city hall. Come on!
HON. MR. VEITCH: I take it you're against the idea.
MR. WILLIAMS: Did I say that? I'm against the idea of a minister of state who would set his priorities in this manner. That's what I have difficulty with, when you think of the range of opportunities in the lower mainland region, that the first thing you should come up with is the flogging of Robson Square, this magnificent open space in the heart of Vancouver with government services in it.
Then number two. I took this seriously. I thought, well, we have this proposal, and I'm interested in more information, because it refers to backers of the project. I was interested in trying to find out who the backers were that had convinced our new mayor that this was the top-notch project for the lower mainland. So I phoned this number — 660-8666 — and it's the government agent office at Robson Square, I think.
HON. MR. VEITCH: No, it's not there; you phoned the wrong number.
MR. WILLIAMS: No, I phoned that number; that's actually the line they gave me, Mr. Minister. You must brief them on how they're supposed to answer the telephone, because when I asked for the name of the contact man, Sven Buemann, he said just the same thing. He said to me: "How'd you get my number?" That's what he said. I said: "Gee, I just read this press release from the new supermayor, and it has this number and your name, Mr. Buemann." He said: "I don't know anything about it; I just wrote the release." That's what he said. He said: "No, I just did what I was told. The member from Dewdney gave me the information, and I put it in that release, but I don't know anything about it." Well, I guess you've only got a million dollars for starters, and maybe you haven't had enough time to get the kind of staff you need. But it gives you an idea where it's all at.
Do you ever wonder at times about people saying, hey, this new administration and this new Premier are kind of interesting, and they've made some changes, some of which are worthwhile, but at times doesn't it look just a little flaky? Does it look very well thought out? Has it been thought out in terms of how you work it out with the Minister of Economic Development? Mr. Campaign Manager, you've got to do a lot of coordinating with the Minister of Economic Development. That's the second one.
You just get the feeling that it's amateur night over there, that you haven't got your act together. The boss has had a brilliant idea the night before and he says: "Hey, I think we should have these eight regions." But it's not only that. The top man in the administration at the civil service level said that this is major and what we're talking about is a new United States of British Columbia. But what have we got here? There's no admission of it in the statute in the legislation. It's just to increase the number of parliamentary secretaries. Do you wonder why there is some question of credibility, Mr. Minister, Minister of State, in terms of this whole exercise? Through you, Mr. Speaker — because they could dump this in your area, this motor-sport facility. Who knows?
I listened to some of this born-again, right-wing economic rhetoric at the first ministers' conference in that very successful, wealthy city of Toronto, and I don't know if the Minister of Economic Development caught it, but when the economic speech of the Premier was given on the second day of the conference, the Premier of Ontario actually sat there with his mouth wide open, with his jaw dropping to his chest, because he couldn't believe that this early, born-again, right-wing rhetoric was actually coming from that conference table. It was quite clear. But if he saw some of this stuff, why, his chin would be a lot further down on his chest than it was.
Then you think about the other folks. That's your first go at it in terms of the lower mainland. But think about sending the member for Vancouver South (Hon. Mr. Rogers), the Minister of Highways, the minister in charge of privatization, to Nechako, to the member for Omineca's (Mr. Kempf 's) turf. Imagine sending Sugar Daddy north. I look forward to the day he holds his first public meeting in Fort St. James. It's going to be something to behold.
MR. WILLIAMS: It'll be very tempting, yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: This Saturday — in Fort St. James?
AN HON. MEMBER: Last Saturday.
MR. WILLIAMS: I was coming back from Toronto, Mr. Minister, and I did enjoy the opportunity in the east.
The other thing mentioned in these early releases is the agricultural land reserve. Again, it's sort of number one that comes to the Premier's mind — that agricultural land reserve. I can take a stab at why it's on his mind: he can make a lot of money if he can change it. That's the case in Richmond. It has happened again and again in Richmond, and it's going to occur now with the Terra Nova lands that you and the cabinet approved. One can't help but wonder if maybe that racetrack is tied to that idea. Maybe there's some linkage. He says: "Oh, no." Can the minister of state guarantee that this new racetrack won't be on agricultural land? Can you give us the guarantee, through you, Mr. Speaker?
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HON. MR. VEITCH: I'll guarantee it's on land.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right. I think we've just been guaranteed that it's on ALR land. That's been the message to the other regions.
MR. WILLIAMS: Okay, I appreciate that. The ALR is going to be challenged through this process of these new ministers of state; that's clear. That's the agenda, and it's high on the agenda. Patronage jobs are high on the agenda; that's already been shown as well. One can't readily take these proposals seriously at this stage of the game.
There are other pieces of legislation before us in this statute. One of them is the Railway Act; that's part of the group of principles that we're talking about here. One of the smaller areas proposed for privatization that has interested me is the B.C. Hydro railway. The B.C. Hydro railway serves a great part of the lower mainland, and if one remembers, the original company was the B.C. Electric Railway Co. This is one of the early assets of that corporation. That old interurban line ran from downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack, a significant right-of-way in the lower mainland. It's proposed for privatization, and you're changing some of the rules around the Railway Act that might well be of some benefit to a party interested in acquiring the Hydro railway.
That railway now serves South Burnaby, throughout the Metrotown area. It serves the Big Bend area down below Marine Drive. It serves the Annacis Island area, which is a very significant industrial area in the Fraser River port. It serves Matsqui, Langley, Surrey, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and also Roberts Bank. That's of some significance. It's a significant terminal railway in the lower mainland. It is a neutral railway serving all of the other railways in the region. It's important, as a neutral terminal railway, to be of service and to be a generator of traffic.
I remember some of the civil servants who worked for Hydro in the early days, who established, essentially, the industrial pattern south of the river in the lower mainland — the Newton industrial area in Surrey and around Cloverdale and Langley, and other parts of the region — acquired land ahead of time, and provided a significant industrial base in those municipalities south of the river.
It's important in terms of Roberts Bank, which is really our new harbour for the lower mainland region, because the inner harbour and the port of Vancouver, more and more, are inadequate and don't have the backup space. The only place you can get the backup space is on the Fraser River and at Roberts Bank.
It's a significant right-of-way in the lower mainland. If you really think about it, rights-of-way in the lower mainland should be retained by the Crown, because there aren't many of them — that is, long, linear routes. We are a land-poor region, this great city of ours. We are constrained by the 49th parallel and the mountains north of the river. It's a tight, narrow area.
Through this, there is this right-of-way that is significant and that can serve the whole region. A chunk of that railway between Chilliwack and Sumas could be a significant bypass for rail freight traffic in the region. A lot of the lines in the valley could use that spur to transfer south, avoiding going into the metropolitan area of the city. If some work was done, the B.C. Hydro railway could play a significant role in diverting traffic ahead of time in terms of movement to the United States.
It's also important as a transmission line right-of-way. It's also important as a right-of-way for SkyTrain, over much of the SkyTrain route. The question is: is that going to be preserved, or will the rental payments pay for those various transmission and right-of-way purposes? Is that part of the game plan? Will you provide a revenue in annual rentals for some new private buyer — from B.C. Hydro, for their transmission lines, from SkyTrain? Is it part of the game plan to make this valuable to some private buyer?
There's one area that you haven't even thought about in terms of that Hydro railway, and that's the question of commuter service south of the river. This administration has spent $1 billion on SkyTrain, just to New Westminster, and is spending more bridging the Fraser River to serve North Surrey, to Surrey Place. Not far from Surrey Place, and certainly not far from — in fact, on — Scott Road, is the railway line. If there had been any advance thinking at all on the part of this administration, you would have tied the two together. You could have had a major transfer point in North Surrey for commuter traffic that would move from SkyTrain — which has been incredibly costly to build, as the Minister of Economic Development (Hon. Mrs. McCarthy) knows only too well — and linked it to the Hydro railway which is already there. All you would need is the rolling stock. Experimental work was done last year during Expo on serving some of the people on the south side of the river, and it was a success. So with a little more thought, that Hydro railway, with some additional spurs and additions, could be serving the growth areas south of the Fraser River. You wouldn't have to spend billions extending SkyTrain south of the river into Surrey, Langley and those other municipalities. I don't think there is any advance thinking at all going on in terms of what that significant right-of-way represents.
The accountants you hired to review it said that it doesn't really make sense to privatize it to a single party. The only thing that might make sense is to sell it, or turn it over to and integrate it with B.C. Rail. That's what your own right-wing accounting advisers are saying. They say it doesn't make any sense to sell it to the national railways in Canada, because they are regulated nationally. Because they are regulated nationally, the charges for the switching movements between the railways would be dramatically reduced to virtually nothing — in terms of national railway policy. So it makes no economic sense to sell it to the CNR or Burlington Northern, the other major players in the region, because all the revenues would disappear, since federal regulations regarding switching would remove most of the basic revenues of that Hydro railway.
So what is it? Is it just an ideological hangup we've got over there? In terms of economic policy and province-building, most of this stuff on your privatization plate doesn't make any sense. It's an ideological harangue. It's ideologically driven by the Premier, and everybody is supposed to line up and go along. It does not make economic sense, nor does it make sense in terms of development of the region. Yet you're proceeding.
So much for the railway, Mr. Speaker. I look forward to the next speaker being the hard-working Minister of Economic Development, so we can hear fully from this minister just how she is going to integrate her work with the minister of state, the member for Burnaby-Willingdon (Hon. Mr.
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Veitch). I look forward with bated breath to hearing the Minister of Economic Development elaborate on how the minister of state will foster economic development in the lower mainland region.
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Speaker, in looking at the principles of Bill 59, as the two previous speakers have noted, we are looking at the first opportunity in this House, in a one-sentence amendment, to deal with the massive changes that are proposed through something called decentralization and the setting up of eight regions in the province. I would like to spend just a few moments looking at the region in which I live, and which has my riding, in the context of parliamentary secretaries, and to note before the House some statements that have been made by the minister of state for what is called the Mainland-Southwest region. A couple of weeks ago that minister of state announced that New Westminster would be the centre for this new region.
First of all, Mr. Speaker, I wondered if perhaps I was seeing a re-enactment of history when I looked at the zone that this particular minister had responsibility for, because it goes from somewhere just this side of Powell River up to Lillooet. Although I'm sure that in the early days, 125 years ago, the region of which New Westminster was the capital was a bit larger, it does perhaps suggest that in this region we are trying to go back in history and recreate some glorious past. Some past, some glory, however, when we look at what we have before us in this manifestation.
The minister of state announced that the office would be in the government agent's office. It's a similar situation to what the first member for Vancouver East (Mr. Williams) has noted in his region. I happen to know that gentleman, as I think we all know our government agents; I know what a hard-working person he is and the many things that are a part of his office. The first thing that the minister of state announced was that the government agent would take responsibility for all matters related to his region. I had this incredible vision of school boards, hospital districts, economic development associations, municipalities, regional districts, water and sewage and hospital boards, and any number of organizations and structures that exist. I noted that this man has a computer, and I know he works it well, but it seemed like a very large task to land in the lap of one government agent who has — let me note, Mr. Speaker — plenty to do with his present job.
However, not to be outdone with the perhaps logic of this assignment, the minister of state then went on to note that not one cent of the million dollars, which has not yet been authorized by this House, would be used to fund any project. He did note, however, that it would be used for incidental costs; and he deigned to specify what some of those costs were; he noted that they included data processing and travel. He didn't mention the luncheon, because at that time I don't think he knew; certainly none of the rest of us knew that a luncheon was taking place.
I don't mean to make light of a very important need in our province. I think I've made clear to this House on any number of occasions what I consider to be the need for planning and for involvement of regions, both for economic development purposes and also for the purposes of much more effective planning for human services. But I find it passing strange to look now at the further growth of this region, which has now become the capital of one part of the province, again under this decentralization plan.
The minister of state for this region announced that five more offices would be set up in various parts of this massive region. Perhaps because the two parliamentary secretaries for this region are across from one another in terms of the areas of the lower mainland and southwest, which they represent, we're now going to find some work for some of the other MLAs in the lower mainland region, perhaps in Sechelt, Dewdney or Lillooet. So I think we're going to see that we'll need some more data processing and some more travel for all these various parts of this huge region to communicate with one another.
We're really looking at an extraparliamentary system being established in the name of two of the most important tasks that we as a legislature and the government of this province have to undertake. It is sad that this manifestation is being foisted upon us as a means of achieving very worthy and important ends.
Let's once again look at the size of this region. Thirty of the 69 MLAs in this Legislature are in the region designated as the lower mainland-southwest. The very absurdity of the size of it tells us that there really is no credibility in the working of such a setup to achieve economic development and change and improvement in social and human services.
Other speakers have spoken about the complexities that many people find when dealing with government. It seems to me that another aspect of the setting up of these various regions is to further confuse the issue. Let's take just one ministry, for example, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Job Training, which now encompasses aspects of several ministries under a new mandate and was established when this government came into office. That ministry, which is attempting to set up one-shop stops and to coordinate its work, is suffering from the fact that its minister — who already has a major task in organization — now has been given another task by the Premier.
What do we find within his ministry? We find constant change; people moving in and out of office. If I call that ministry at this stage of the game, I have a changing personnel constantly. The majority of ministers in this House have more than enough to do in coordinating the work in their own ministries, making them sensible to the people of the province, enabling MLAs representing their constituencies to be in touch and get the information they need for their constituents and enabling critics of this House to get information about what is going on in those ministries.
But no, instead we are going to have new ministries and a whole new group of parliamentary secretaries with some tasks of data processing, travel and communication. Mr. Speaker, the tasks that have been established for such a structure are mind-boggling in their nature, not clearly defined in the specifics and impossible to achieve in terms of any benefit to the people of the province.
The member for Burnaby North (Mr. Jones) has noted that he believes the Premier has another agenda that would carve up this province into counties and into a whole new system of administration. That particular matter was well canvassed when it was first presented, and it is said that it is before us again as a possible structure for the delivery of the important changes we need in the province.
I want to come back to the structures that already exist and some of the work that government has done around economic development. Most of the people who have reviewed that development have noted that it is small, ill-coordinated and unclear. The same thing has been said about the restructuring
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going on under decentralization. But we have within the province a number of ways in which coordination and cooperation and constructive work can be done. I want to zero in on some of the human services areas, because these are the ones I know best from the point of view of how those systems work and how the various parties across the province interact with one another.
Recently, under the aegis of this government, there has been a study of hospital districts in the same region covered by the lower mainland southwest region. There have been some recommendations from a former minister of this government that there be some amalgamation of those districts.
As you and I know, Mr. Minister, people guard their turfs very closely, and change does not come easily. People are used to working within certain geographic areas and with certain individuals. The idea of changes in those hospital regional districts has been before people, and they are beginning to look at it from the point of view of how they might function better and how health services might be delivered better with changes.
There are 75 school districts in the province. There are possibilities for changes that might bring about improvements in the delivery of services. Those changes will also come with reluctance and concern on the part of those who may be affected. Again, school districts have indicated a willingness to look at those changes.
There are not too many other systems that exist, as far as social structures are concerned, but if you look at almost any community in the province, you would find some kind of a social and health planning group. In my community, it's an interagency group of about 40 different organizations, some of them government organizations, some of them non-profit and voluntary organizations. In Chilliwack, which I visited at the end of last week, there is an organization that is dealing with senior services in a very creative kind of way. Those structures have grown out of the fundamental needs of the community, and they have, within their own community base, the tools and the means to bring about some of the kinds of reorganizations and changes to improve the delivery systems for health, for education, for hospitals, for mental health and for mentally handicapped people.
The idea that some superdistrict of whatever size, geographically or with regard to population, would achieve ends that would be useful at this point really boggles the mind, and the idea that parliamentary secretaries will suddenly become people who will be knowledgeable about many of the municipalities in the province.... That's just not a role that was ever envisaged when the Provincial Secretary outlined some of the ways in which parliamentary secretaries have been used in the past.
I believe that we have tools for good economic and social planning within the province, but those tools will be confounded by the system that's being foisted on us by the Premier and by this government. This system will add to the confusion rather than add to any kind of a solution that we might expect at this time. I would urge that we go back to the communities that each of us represents, to the structures and organizations that live within those communities, to the municipal and school board and hospital district governments that are mandated within those communities, and that we work sectorally with those to achieve the kind of change that we might like to have in the province.
There is a recent article in B.C. Politics and Policy, the September issue, which is headed "Comprehensive Strategy Urged for Community Economic Development." It talks about some of the initiatives that this government has taken in the past, and it speaks critically of how limited the effectiveness has been. It goes on, toward the end of the article, to note that the most productive route for developing local economies is one which brings together all elements of the community under a comprehensive strategy for long-term development. I want to emphasize those words "a community," because that community is not a huge region that covers almost a quarter of the province; it is, instead, a community of interest — what we in our constituencies represent as well.
The writer of the article goes on to note that a person who has been doing some review of economic and social development has taken a look at British Columbia, and he concludes — and I'd like to just quote.... This person, whose name is Dr. David Ross, singles out New Westminster as one community which has achieved a comprehensive approach to economic development through its economic development association established four years ago. He also notes that he is impressed by economic development groups in Sechelt and Nanaimo. "'The energy for these initiatives,' says Ross, 'comes from local people who don't want to leave when local industries start to founder.' Ross says B.C. communities lead the rest of the country in developing effective approaches to solving their economic problems."
The tools lie with us in our own communities. We do not need a super sort of region to deal with those needs and solutions. In the setting up of these regions, with any number of parliamentary secretaries to take the place of MLAs or to confuse the communication between MLAs and constituents, I think we are taking a step backward.
I have a few minutes left in my time for some comments, and I would like to move to one other section of this miscellaneous statutes bill, to section 7, the section that deals with changes in the Hospital Insurance Act and specifically to the change that will allow the Minister of Health or the person designated by him to determine, on a review of medical evidence, that qualified.... Sorry, let me just read that more carefully: "....the services that the qualified person does not require."
I have seldom been contacted about any issue as much as I have about health issues over the last several weeks before we were back in session. The contacts that have come to me have been about the uncertainty of services that are available to people and uncertainty about the processes by which government makes decisions.
As we have noted, many of the decisions dealing with the setting up of regions seem to be taken in a cavalier and very autocratic way. They are not decisions that are taken in consultation with those who are affected by the decisions, and they take onto the purview of government responsibilities that go well beyond what most people feel should be their responsibility to decide.
The Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Dueck) has not specified for us what particular medical services may be removed by his decision, or the decision of a person whom he designates when and if this particular section passes. There has been a good deal of speculation about what some of those services may be. As in so many instances, the removal of some of these services — and I can only join in the speculation — will prove costly to us in the long run and appear to be
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based entirely on some erroneous sort of perspective that somehow this is going to control costs.
It seems to me that the Minister of Health would be much better advised to be dealing with service. If we could look at ways in which services might be better delivered, then we could be looking at ways in which health care could be improved.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Let me just speculate about a couple of items that may be removed from care. One is the annual eye examination. Mr. Speaker, many people go to an ophthalmologist for that eye examination, and in the course of that examination, the person receiving it often gets a check not just for his visual acuity but for anything else that may be in his history. I want to give just one example from a personal perspective, and that is the incidence of glaucoma. If not checked early, glaucoma can lead to premature blindness. To lose that service under the health plan may very well put people at risk. Other services include fertility matters, a very sensitive and important issue under the hospital services and health care plan.
I have other issues with respect to the health and hospital amendment that I would like to speak to, but I know we are moving to an important debate on another aspect of the government's agenda — privatization. At this time I would like to move adjournment of this debate until later today.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, in view of the special debate coming up in a very few moments, I will ring the bells to inform other members that we will be starting, and we'll take a recess for the next three minutes.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, it's with great pleasure that I welcome today, sitting on the floor of the House, Mr. Don Johnston, MP for Montreal's Saint Henri-Westmount, and his wife Heather. Don was a cabinet minister federally and held a number of important portfolios. I always found him to be a very receptive and well-informed cabinet minister when he was in the federal administration, a guy who didn't stay in Ottawa, who got around the country to get other points of view, and he's doing the same thing now as an opposition member. I would ask the House to make him and his wife welcome here in British Columbia.
MR. ROSE: Mr. Speaker, we're having a little Alphonse-and-Gaston routine. We'll try to be through it as quickly as we can.
We're dealing with standing order 35, which is a rarity. And despite the fact that there's ample evidence existing by the learned gentlemen at the Clerks' table that you can define standing order 35 as a substantive motion, thereby guaranteeing its mover the right to close the debate — I can cite 42.2 of our standing orders.... Rather than cause a lengthy procedural argument at this time, thus depriving radio listeners of the opportunity to hear this very important and exciting debate, a first-time broadcast debate, I have agreed, on behalf of my party, to the speaking order as proposed by the government House Leader, subject to a commitment from the government House Leader that a debate and Speaker's ruling on the substantive nature of standing order 35 will take place before the prorogation of the first session of the thirty-fourth parliament.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I thank my colleague opposite for his remarks and for the agreement reached today. I can advise you, Mr. Speaker, that you and the members of the Legislative Assembly have the undertaking of the government that we will examine standing order 35 in view of the member's comments; and that will be done prior to prorogation of the Legislative Assembly. That agreement is there.
Debate under Standing Order 35
MR. SPEAKER: I will remind the hon. members who are going to be speaking in the special debate that because of the time allocated under the standing orders I've asked Hansard to make sure the green light goes on when you have two minutes left in your speech. And I will, like in members' statements, be very strict as to the timing because of the one-hour debate.
Hon. members, on Wednesday, the 25th of this month, the Chair ruled that a motion made by the Leader of the Opposition under standing order 35 qualified under the rules of the House, and leave was given by the House to move a motion dealing with privatization in British Columbia. Hon. members will appreciate that the governing standing order, 35(8), reads as follows: "The debate on the motion shall not exceed one hour, apportioned as follows: mover, 15 minutes; other members, ten minutes each."
I now call on the Leader of the Opposition to move his motion.
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, I would like to move the following motion under the provisions of standing order 35: that the House do now adjourn to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance relating to government proposals for privatization schemes within the province.
As leader of the New Democratic Party, I want to thank the Speaker of the House for the opportunity to take part in this emergency debate in the Legislature on the government's massive and ill-considered privatization plan. I also want to thank the Speaker for the facilities we now have in the House which today make it possible for radio audiences to hear this important debate, and I would like to greet and welcome all those British Columbians who are listening. Hopefully, in the near future we will also have the facilities to make it possible for television coverage of this Legislature.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, members of the New Democratic Party in the Legislature have called for this emergency debate because we believe the government's privatization plan will have a serious impact on every family and every community in British Columbia. I must express the alarm that I feel on behalf of British Columbians that this is the first time members of the Legislature have been given an opportunity to debate the Premier's privatization plan, a scheme which, if the government has its way, will lead to a radical and a fundamental restructuring of our society. The one hour
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that has been allowed in this emergency debate is hopelessly insufficient to debate such a complex and critical issue. Time must be set aside in this Legislature for a full and comprehensive debate on privatization.
The privatization measures planned are truly massive. The Premier has said that the government intends to sell to private companies, to operate at a profit, virtually every public service — every government operation. As a first step, all highways and bridge maintenance on Vancouver Island will be sold; next, all highways and bridge maintenance in the province. Mr. Speaker, the services that we depend on to keep our roads safe for our families will be sold.
The privatization plan also calls for the immediate sellout of 140 of the government's 217 highly profitable liquor stores. The Social Credit government intends to sell off our environmental laboratory, our milk- and food-testing laboratory, the soil-, feed- and tissue-testing laboratory, and nine forestry nurseries. And the government intends to sell off hospitals that are providing mental health care, and then flog valuable public lands, where these institutions are, to private developers. The Social Credit government plans to sell the $39 million research centre, the $600 million gas division and the $130 million rail division of B.C. Hydro. The list goes on and on. The government is selling off assets worth $3 billion: the largest selloff of public assets in the history of Canada. This is only the beginning.
There is a lot at risk for B.C.'s families, and for communities from Nanaimo to Dawson Creek, from Coquitlam to Revelstoke, from Prince Rupert to Cranbrook. At risk are quality health care for our families; proper safety checks for milk, food, water and air quality through government laboratories; the safety of our highways; decent treatment for the mentally ill and the handicapped; and many other services.
The government has no mandate from British Columbians to abandon its responsibilities for critical public health and safety programs and other vital services. People have a right to be consulted and to demand effective safeguards before the government goes ahead with this massive experiment in social engineering. But the Premier has ignored my request for an independent review process before proceeding.
There is no assurance at all that the standards of service will be maintained. There is no assurance that taxpayers will receive a fair return from the sale of public assets; no assurance that there will be no unwarranted increase in user fees; no assurances that jobs will not be lost or that ownership and control of vital services stay in British Columbia. Mr. Speaker, the government's vision of tomorrow's world is one which would take us backwards into the future to the dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest era of the last century.
The Premier has not allowed a full debate in this Legislature on his privatization scheme. He has not consulted the people of this province, and he won't even listen to members of his own party. The former Highways minister, the first member for Cariboo (Mr. A. Fraser), and the Environment minister (Hon. Mr. Strachan) have both said that they don't believe the private sector can do as good a job of keeping our highways safe as can government workers. The Dewdney Social Credit constituency has written to the Premier, with both members present, asking him to stop and listen to the concerns of the public. But the Premier presses on stubbornly.
The government has admitted that two independent studies have recommended against the privatization of B.C. Hydro's research centre, but the government refuses to release these studies. There has been no full debate in this Legislature on privatization, no public consultation. The government refuses to release what pitiful few studies it has on privatization. The Premier won't even listen to members of his own party, yet he stubbornly pushes ahead with the privatization scheme. What we want to know is: if families and communities will be harmed, why do they push ahead with this scheme? Deficits, you say — the deficit. Well, Mr. Speaker, it's the members on the government side of this House who are responsible for the deficit. You've had 12 years in office; now you want to sell off public assets that belong to the people of British Columbia to pay off the deficit that you created. You have no right to expect the families and communities to pay for your failures.
New Democrat members of this House have a very different vision of the future than the Premier. Ours is a vision of a society in which we all have equal rights and equal access to vital services, in which people from all walks of life work together to rebuild our economy, to restore social stability and to create challenging new opportunities for our children, the next generation.
The people of this province have a right to ask: who will benefit from privatization? Who will lose from privatization? It's not our families who will benefit when services are cut or user fees increased. It's not the health care worker who takes care of mentally handicapped kids who will benefit. It's not the government worker who operates a grader in a snowstorm to keep our roads safe, and it's not the scientist testing the quality of our drinking water at the environmental lab at UBC. It's not the small businesses in communities across the province, who will see their sales drop when jobs are lost. It's none of us.
Let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, who will benefit from privatization: it's a wealthy few — well connected with this Social Credit government — who are already lined up to buy government operations and public lands at fire-sale prices. When public services and government operations are sold off to the private sector, I ask you: who can we count on to protect the public interest, particularly when we look at the huge cost overruns, the scandalous overruns in the construction of the Coquihalla Highway, overruns of hundreds of millions of dollars, which are now the subject of a public inquiry?
It's very evident that we cannot count on the Social Credit government to protect the taxpayers from patronage, favouritism and profiteering for their friends. Mr. Speaker, it is inexcusable that a Premier who once promised open government and full consultation is now ramming through this privatization scheme without allowing a full debate in this Legislature, without public consultation and without supporting research.
More and more people in this great province are beginning to feel they are trapped on a runaway train. They don't know where it's going, and they don't know how to get off. It's wrong for the Premier to proceed with his privatization plan, and he's not even listening right now in the middle of this emergency debate. What we're trying to say to you, Mr. Premier, is that it's essential that the Legislature has the opportunity to fully debate a privatization scheme that will have such a profound impact on every family in every community in our province. Your government must ensure genuine consultation with the people before it goes any further in selling off our vital services.
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Mr. Speaker, the Premier has not listened when we have called for a full debate and for consultation. He must listen, because the people of this province deserve and expect nothing less.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: Mr. Speaker, what we've just heard can only be characterized as a blatant attempt to create a climate of fear and uncertainty among British Columbians. The Leader of the Opposition — and I'm being careful in my choice of words — has deliberately distorted the facts of the case and deliberately misrepresented the issues. There has been no mention of service cuts whatsoever in any of the material we have presented to date. There are not intended to be any service cuts, and for the Leader of the Opposition to suggest there is is a deliberate distortion of the facts and the truth as presented. It's disappointing to see him....
MR. SPEAKER: I would ask the minister to withdraw that last comment.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: That it was deliberate?
HON. MR. COUVELIER: Mr. Speaker, I'll take your counsel, and I'm pleased to withdraw the comment.
It's disappointing to see him take this kind of tack in his speech and confuse the issues even more. Furthermore, by his endorsation of illegal actions, he is further creating confusion in the minds of British Columbians. Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House believe that the opportunistic comments made by the Leader of the Opposition are a disservice to our citizens, a disservice to our employees, and a disservice to those dozens of countries around the world who have successfully implemented privatization enterprises to reduce the cost of government for those people receiving the services, and to provide more effective spending of public dollars.
This province needs to make changes. With our relatively small population base vis-à-vis Canada as a whole, it is absolutely critical that we continue to lead the way with innovation and ingenuity. This endeavour to embark upon a new era in this rapidly changing world is absolutely critical if we are to assume properly the role of leaders and the governing party.
Fact one is that efficiency, quality of service, safety and standards are paramount factors in the whole privatization process.
Let's look at highways. The question is asked: how can government maintain control over safety and standards? How can it guarantee efficiency and cost control when it doesn't have its own people doing the work? My answer is: ask the people who manage the highways in other jurisdictions. Ask the people in the Toronto area; ask the people in Saskatchewan or northern Ontario; or better yet, ask the people responsible for the 40 percent of highways maintenance that's already privatized in B.C. They'll tell you that carefully selected contractors, given tight constraints in terms of the contracts themselves, will be able to ensure that we provide and receive quality service. They'll tell you they cover the public interest with penalty clauses, emergency response provisions and other protections like performance bonds.
I'll tell you what any good contract manager knows, and what some of our critics choose to ignore: that privatized highways in B.C. will be monitored and controlled by a nucleus of key management staff who know this business inside out. I'll tell you that in the United States standards are maintained, and costs are 20 to 50 percent less. If you want the details, I can show you a 500-page report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that has lots of details.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: It's not a time for details, my friends. It's a time for positive leadership. The details are on the record. There's no need for further discussion of them.
Check out the Touche Ross report that 29 percent of U.S. cities and counties surveyed have privatized road and street maintenance, including, my friends, snow removal. What's true for Highways is true for other services. Let's look at the two-year study that was conducted by the New York state commission that found state-run mental hospitals cost 55 percent more, yet were worse run than those operated by non-profit societies. Just tell me if you want more details — there are lots of them.
Let's look closer to home. Let's look at our own record of privatization. Check that the Barnston Island ferry is operating safety; whether provincial parks are properly maintained; or look at the services provided by the private sector to children, the elderly, the handicapped, alcoholics and the mentally ill. Sensitive care is being provided by the private sector now in a whole host of public services.
Safety, whether it involves our highways or any other area being considered for privatization is obviously paramount. We simply will not tolerate any privatization arrangement that doesn't respect this principle. The Leader of the Opposition warns that the privatization of highways will endanger British Columbians and their families and lead to — and this is his word, Mr. Speaker — "carnage." Can you imagine any more blatant misrepresentation than that word "carnage." It's his own; I quote him. That just creates uncertainty and fear. That's irresponsible. We on this side of the House take our responsibilities very seriously and would never stoop to such sensationalism.
For example, private firms now operate several ski hills that the province used to own, but government still inspects the ski lifts to make sure they're safe — and they are. Private operators operate liquor establishments, but they're licensed and carefully monitored by the government.
Let's look at costs and a couple of examples of what privatization is really all about. In 1985, laundry services in Coquitlam were turned over to contractors. We now pay half of what we did in '85 for the same level of service — a saving of $2 million a year. That same year we closed the Tranquille institution and moved the more than 300 handicapped people who lived there to homes run by non-profit groups. The average cost this year is 10 percent less per person than if the people had remained in the institution.
But — and this is an important "but," my friends — I don't think this kind of initiative can be assessed only on the basis of dollars, and we do not intend to. Let me read you the comment of an individual who was interviewed by an Ontario-based centre for research. These reports at at hand, and I would be happy to make them available if you wish. The individual in question was a man whose brother had been a
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long-term patient in Tranquille. Here's what he said: "I guess all I can really say, to complete it all, is that it has brought me and my family great personal happiness, so that it is something very worthwhile — tremendous personal happiness, something I never expected. I had just expected to be winding up that dam highway to Kamloops and continuing to look at him that same way." My friend, this is a socially sensitive program and one that we will administer in the same way.
The transfer of Pearson Hospital to a non-profit society resulted in budget savings of $875,000 from '84-85 to '86-87 in the face of general inflation. In the long term privatization will pay dividends for British Columbians. The dollar we save today will translate into ten dollars in the long haul, and those ten dollars can be applied to other areas which are equally as critical. Education, social services, health — all of those need more funding. We must find ways to provide those additional funds.
Did quality suffer with any of these initiatives? No. By the way, Mr. Leader of the Opposition, the BCGEU still represents the employees at that hospital I mentioned last. We're getting the service we paid for in every case, and that's at least what we offered when the services were in the public sector.
What has privatization meant for government employees? Drive over to Surrey and ask the people at Lorax Forestry. When they privatized themselves, there were five of them. Now there are 15, and they're exporting services. Ask the people who live at Myra Systems Corp. They used to work for B.C. Systems. They privatized themselves, and they are now creating an export industry. The opposition talks a lot about employees being against privatization. Well, the NDP may be prepared to sell government employees short, but we won't, Mr. Speaker.
We've got evidence of their initiative and their desire to be a part of privatization. Every one of the operations we announced last October has attracted employee interest. More than 250 employees have come forward because they see opportunities for themselves and their friends. Sixty-seven individual employees and groups want to buy liquor store operations if we decide to privatize them. B.C. Systems Corporation people want to own their own shop. We're evaluating at least 20 to 30 other unsolicited proposals from employees interested in taking over other areas of government, some of which we haven't even thought of.
What I find most disturbing about the Leader of the Opposition is his attitude toward government workers. On the one hand, he portrays himself as their supporter and saviour; on the other hand, he's full of criticisms about the job they might do if they were given the freedoms of the private marketplace. Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition cannot have that argument both ways; he must take one side or the other. I'll tell you, we have faith in our employees. We know they will deliver, and they are rising to the challenge.
MS. EDWARDS: This emergency debate is about what one of my constituents calls "this insane provincial auction." We in the interior of British Columbia see the proposals for the highways maintenance — which is to be sold — clearly as a threat to our safety and to our very community with the rest of B.C. We see that what the government calls privatization is a massive change whose dimensions and directions are still unknown.
How many workers and seniors and young people will feel the breath or the bite of this huge, radical shift in public policy? How many men and women will face an unseen future — perhaps unemployment or the failure of a business; certainly, a poorer quality of life — when they have asked of our society only a fair chance to save what they have built, a secure job or a modest business? How many of us will risk a threat to our environmental and personal safety, with no assurance of success?
Yet you, Mr. Premier, offer us this risk without any reassurance of success. You ask us to accept what you call a fundamental restructuring of government, without a single objective reassurance for our security, for our quality of life, for our future. You say you want for British Columbians "a better future, with secure jobs and fairness and equality for all." If you do, I must challenge you to debate your program with us. What you propose must not foment anxiety and upset, unneeded fears, disruptions of the lives of working British Columbians, and a strongly founded fear for public safety and for equal opportunity to share the work and the rewards that our society should offer us. Try to prove your case on rational grounds based on expert evidence and opinion and reasonable expectations. Count some beans, Mr. Premier, and be ready to compare your totals with ours.
British Columbians want some facts. We worry that selling off and contracting out — all these important services that people depend on — mean risks. We foresee the control of health and education, of our air and our land and our water and our forests. We can see that control moving into the hands of companies who depend on profit for their survival. We see that control moving out of hands of the disinterested government people and government, whose survival depends on service to the public. British Columbians want our government to bring new jobs to British Columbians instead of shifting and shrinking the capital supply in an oversimplified belief in private enterprise. British Columbians want what you promised a year ago — an end to confrontation. We want a government that will agree to consult with us before major shifts in policies and programs.
Right now, Mr. Premier, we feel like captive passengers, but I'll use a little different metaphor than my leader used. We feel like captive passengers in a runaway car whose driver has gone berserk. We didn't know the driver was under the influence of some foreign substance when he took over the wheel. Now we can neither bail out nor control our course until we run out of gas or — 0 blessed Reason! — attract the attention of the driver. That driver, who promised to take us forward, has now floored the gas pedal, donned his earphones, plugged into a one-band radio, wheeled off the road, and now we careen across open country without reference to a map. When we protest, Mr. Premier, you gesture wildly toward the sunset, saying: "Trust me. The world awaits us." You are bold, Mr. Premier. So was Evel Knievel, but he rode alone.
Where are your maps. Mr. Premier? Your own brochures say that the definition of the word "privatization" is still being written. The maps that we see say privatization will cost us more and give us less. Your ministers tell us in question period that they don't know how they're going to regulate standards. It was nice to see the members and the ministers today talk a bit about that. It's nice to get some debate. Your ministers don't know how much of each service is going to go at a time. They don't know how bids will be taken or what kinds of contracts will be offered.
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Contrary to what the minister who spoke before me said, a former Highways deputy minister said: "It is a fact that the scope of work cannot be quantified for tendering purposes, nor can the completed work be accurately measured for payment unless a large supervisory staff is retained to monitor daily work records." He sees the opportunity for government patronage in what's being proposed, the possibility that contractors might compromise standards and public safety for the sake of profit.
On another matter, Mr. Premier, the auditor-general says: "Contracting" — which is privatizing — "has no obvious cost advantages over delivering the services through public servants unless a lower quality of service is accepted." Those who have studied B.C. Hydro say you shouldn't sell the research and development. They say you shouldn't sell the gas section or the rail section. Your own task force on liquor distribution says no to privatization. The polls tell us that British Columbians wonder if you have your hands on the wheel. They say you don't listen. A longtime Socred sees you as "intent on destroying the lifestyle and security of those who elected this government." People are severely uncomfortable with the threat to public services. Families want government to spend its time creating jobs for British Columbians instead of creating confrontations and then showing again the power of government.
If you cannot see the hazards that we see, Mr. Premier, you should listen to British Columbians and to us. We have maps. We have eyes and ears. Most significantly, we read studies and we listen to the men and women who do the jobs and the people who depend on the services. We have visited worksites from Vancouver Island to the Kootenays, from the Charlottes to the Peace. We answer our phones; we read our mail. The message is clear. Our alarm is informed by our experience. Consult, Mr. Premier. Listen and hear. If you offer us a program, also offer us an explanation and be prepared to debate. Have you a case to argue, Mr. Premier?
MR. KEMPF: Mr. Speaker, in kicking my time off in this debate, I'd like to commend you, as I'm sure many other British Columbians will, for allowing such debate. The government has allowed one hour. Without your ruling, we wouldn't even have had that.
I'm seriously concerned about the length of debate. I was frankly appalled when the government House Leader — himself a northerner — said that the subject doesn't merit any longer debate than has been allocated. That's a clear indication, in my estimation, of what that administration feels for the people of British Columbia.
Frankly, in viewing this and a myriad of other ill-thought-out government programs, one can only see contempt for the citizens of British Columbia. British Columbians do not deserve a situation as serious of this having only one hour for debate. It's serious enough and important enough to deserve a referendum; if not a referendum, at very least to have this matter placed in the hands of a select standing committee of this Legislature — while we still have a Legislature, or has the Premier, in his wonderful, consultative process, decided to do away with it as well?
Where is the consultation process in this province? What happened to the fresh start that we all ran around this province talking about a little over a short year ago? Where is that fresh start that was promised in the election campaign?
Privatization. Some good, some very bad — and the privatization of highway maintenance in this province is in the latter category. It's a disaster for rural British Columbians, for people who already take the short end of the stick when it comes to highway dollars in this province. You talk about fear tactics. We in the north depend for our very lives on our roads and highways, for services that are hundreds of miles away — children riding thousands of miles a day on school buses, parents driving literally hundreds of miles to work every day.
When northerners perish — and you can call it a fear tactic if you like — because of the contempt of one person for all unions and all civil servants, we will remember. I didn't say it; I didn't say that northerners would perish on our highways because of privatization of the road maintenance system. A previous Minister of Highways, a Minister of Highways who served this province for ten years in that capacity, said that.
MR. VANT: Eleven years.
MR. KEMPF: I stand corrected.
Privatization of our Forest Service nurseries. Why don't we give it all to the multinational monopoly? Where will our benchmark be? Who will monitor and designate the quality of our seedlings?
You know, the big ad says: "Opportunities B.C. British Columbians Shaping the Future." I think the people in our provincial nurseries were shaping the future, as far as the quality of seedlings put in the ground in British Columbia was concerned. Sell the only thermometer we have to test the health of our primary industry in British Columbia. It's wrong, and we will pay dearly for that mistake.
Time is short; we only have an hour. I only have ten minutes for such an important debate.
MR. REE: You're lucky to have that.
MR. KEMPF: I'm lucky to have that, I'm told by the government Whip. Yes, that's probably true.
I want to touch on another area of privatization, the Queen's Printer. Why, not even Margaret Thatcher, the pioneer of privatization, would go that far. Have we no longer any pride in this province? Have we no longer a feeling for what the entire British parliamentary system stands for? Have we no pride in our very heritage? Have we no pride in ourselves as parliamentarians? Have we lost all patriotism completely? What's next? Do we do away with the B.C. flag because it costs too much? You laugh. It's the almighty dollar, the only thing that this administration cares for.
They don't care for people; they don't care for the democratic process. They don't give a damn about tradition. What do they care about? What about the confidentiality of government documents when the Queen's Printer is gone? What about the confidentiality, Mr. Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Couvelier), of budget documents, of proposed legislation? Nothing is sacred anymore in this province. The people over there don't even understand the tradition of parliament, of democracy.
Mr. Speaker, some good things could come out of privatization, but the way this government is going about doing it leaves me no alternative but to speak out at every opportunity against these kinds of goings-on in this beloved province of British Columbia.
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MR. LOVICK: I'm delighted to be able to say for the record that I agree, for the first time in living memory, with a statement made by the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance says that the province needs to make changes. You know, Mr. Speaker, that makes it almost unanimous. The first change, I would suggest, is that we get rid of that government, which for the past year has demonstrated its insensitivity and the fact that it is far removed from the hopes and the dreams of ordinary citizens in this province.
Mr. Speaker, I began by saying I'm delighted to be speaking in this emergency debate; I'm also, however, disappointed. I'm disappointed for two reasons. The first reason is that the rules once again seem to have changed in midstream. I had thought I was going to be responding to the Premier; sadly, I discover I don't have that opportunity. I feel like the kid who was loaded for polecat, and I have to shoot rabbits. It doesn't seem fair. The second reason I'm concerned....
MR. LOVICK: I notice an eruption on the other side of the House, Mr. Speaker. I would just remind everybody about the fact of the old wisdom being true again: that the empty vessels make the loudest sounds. No question.
The other problem with this debate is that it is mere tokenism. One hour is certainly not sufficient, given what's at stake and given the dimensions of this debate.
Let me start by simply reminding everybody why we are having this debate and that we are having this debate in spite of the wishes of the Premier of this province. We're having this debate because the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues took it upon themselves to make the motion and because the Speaker, maintaining the integrity of his office, accepted the case we presented for the debate.
Let me remind people again what the case for the debate is. By standing order 35 the matter must be definite, urgent and of public importance. Mr. Speaker, this matter satisfies all three criteria.
We have presented a challenge to this government; my leader has done so; my colleague the member for Kootenay (Ms. Edwards) has done so. We have asked you to defend the proposal. More importantly, we have asked you why. Why this flagrant and radical departure from the norm? Why has this massive and significant change to the way we function and operate in this province suddenly come to be? We detect from your answers thus far that the reasons are not economic but ideological. We ask you, then, to give us clear and demonstrable reasons; instead what we get, frankly, is a scattergun approach, of little bits and pieces that are half-truths and don't tell the entire story.
Let me refer to some of the comments, for example, made by the previous speaker, the Minister of Finance. He begins — and it is almost predictable now — with the suggestion that we on this side of the House are somehow responsible for generating the climate of fear. Let me remind the minister: you guys lit the fire, we rang the alarm bells, and you're trying to charge us with causing a public disturbance.
You also say, Mr. Minister, that there has been no mention of service cuts. Indeed, the problem is that before today there has been no mention of anything that can be measured and evaluated. Our predicament is that we have not known what was on the agenda; instead, we simply have repeated incantations about "fantastic" and about the intrinsic superiority of the private sector, which is so much cant — we know that.
We also have an argument from the Minister of Finance telling us that we shouldn't worry about the move to privatize the maintenance part of Highways operations because, after all, we have always had 40 percent of the work done by the private sector. The point, however, is that now we are talking about making it 100 percent private sector and effectively removing the monitoring body that has been there to check up on the private sector. That's the problem. The minister can shake his head all he wishes — indeed, I can hear it. I'm delighted to see we're all astute today. The point remains that we have not yet seen any evidence that this ministry will be able to afford the supervisory and monitoring staff required. That's why we on this side of the House have suggested that — paradoxically — that your proposal may end up costing the taxpayers of the province more than it might save them.
The minister also says: "Tell me if you want more details." I am pleased to tell the minister that we do. From the beginning, we have asked for studies and for information, and we have met with stony silence from the other side of the House. We also hear that there is evidence of the success of privatization thus far. One of the examples given to us was the provision of social and human services. I suggest to the minister that there is all kinds of evidence out there on the streets suggesting that students and young people are bleeding. We aren't providing the same level of service we claim we do.
I know the Premier has a predilection for simple answers, solutions and question, so let me offer this one bit of advice which we all offer to our children when we're worried about their safety. We say to them: "Stop, look and listen." That's what I'm asking the Premier. Stop this mad process, this ideological war you have waged, at least until the people have had an opportunity to recognize the dimensions of the problem. Look at the evidence we have already seen that privatization does not work very well, contrary to popular belief. Listen to people with expertise, authority and knowledge who are telling you this is folly. I beg you, Mr. Premier: stop, look and listen.
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Standing order 35, which is an order provided us by an all-party committee, allows for one hour of debate. It's not a government decision; it's an order. Having said that, however, I recognize that all of us must often see the opportunity to debate, and I would recommend — through the media, in your local constituencies, on the various phone-in programs, on television — that you get into your constituencies, allow the people right at home to get that message firsthand. Having said that, but having listened to the debate, I would recommend against it, because you may do yourself more harm than good.
Mr. Speaker, we've been extremely fair in the whole of this process. We've provided our employees, who may be affected by this process, a whole number of options. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about the union leaders, who have gone out with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign making unfair and misleading statements. Much worse, however, is the experience related to me regarding Baby Brendon Nicholas of New Westminster, who a few days ago was found by mother and grandmother to be choking in his crib. They phoned the ambulance service in New Westminster. After 15 minutes there was no response, and when they phoned again they were told: "Call the government." When I hear that sort of thing, may I assure you that it gives
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me all the more reason to think there may be benefits to privatization that we've not heard discussed yet.
The opposition has cried foul and suggested that somehow there must be a vote or an opportunity for a referendum or whatever other means by which the populace could have a greater involvement. First of all, Mr. Speaker, we've not been elected to vote, to follow or to govern by way of polls or by committees. We must be decisive, particularly during times like this.
Secondly, why is it that the NDP always has one standard for the socialists and one standard for everyone else? Why do they now feel that we must go through another process when attempting to take something from public to private, yet when they took all those things from private to public there wasn't even so much as a warning. Remember Panco Poultry. Remember Pacific Coach Lines and all its trips to Reno. Remember the Swan Valley food-processing plant up in Creston. Remember the Port Simpson cannery near Prince Rupert. Remember Ocean Falls. Remember the Burns Lake native cooperative, where yearly we pumped in money that should have gone to social programs for the people. Remember all of those things and many more. Not as much as a warning. A two-standard group, the NDP: one for socialists, one for other people.
Some of them are smartening up, however, I'm pleased to say. Last Friday I spoke to the leader of the NDP, the Premier of Manitoba, Howard Pawley. He recently privatized the Flyer bus company. No referendum, no public hearing. When I asked, he said,"Privatized because the company was barely surviving. As a matter of fact, it was losing its shirt." Now, as a private company — taken over, incidentally, by a Dutch firm from Rotterdam — they're not only selling their buses in Manitoba, they're selling them in the rest of Canada; they're selling them in Louisiana; they're selling them in San Francisco. They're doing well — employing people, making money. Howard Pawley is so happy. He tells me the next thing is Manfor — Manitoba Forest Products. Twelve hundred people who have been working for the government in Manitoba will now, according to NDP in Manitoba, be a part of the private sector. No election, no vote, no public hearing.
A few years ago the B.C. government privatized Manning Park, Pacific Coach Lines, Beautiful British Columbia magazine, 540 staff from Tranquille, the court reporters and 310 staff from Riverview. Did the world come to an end? They're all working better. Incidentally, many of them, as was said, are still members of the BCGEU. Are there fewer jobs? Quite the contrary. Like the Flyer bus line in NDP Manitoba, there's room for growth in the private sector.
That reminds me, Mr. Speaker, of the nursery industry in this province, something I was familiar with for many years. The industry is booming. They're exporting not only to eastern Canada but to Washington, Oregon and California. The employers are making money; the employees are making money. There are more of them now than as recently as five, six or seven years ago. Mr. Opposition Leader, do you think that maybe we could do the same thing with the government nurseries? Could we use this as an economic driver in order to create more jobs and provide trees, not only for B.C. forests but for Washington, Oregon and elsewhere on this great continent?
The opposition, the NDP and the union leaders want to use scare tactics. This has been mentioned a number of times. They use words like carnage, wreck and ruin; our highways will be neglected and the handicapped people will be neglected; unsafe community group homes; all those things. I'm going to ask a few questions of the Leader of the Opposition, because we haven't had too many specifics from the opposition during this debate. Maybe I can draw out some specifics.
Let me ask you, first of all: does the NDP wish to send back more than 300 people who have left Tranquille and are now living happily in the community? Are you going to send them back, or are you saying it was okay then, but it's different now? Does the NDP somehow think that the people of B.C. are of a mind that Air Canada is somehow safer than Canadian Airlines? Does the NDP believe that somehow people feel safer on a Canadian National Railways train than on a CPR train? Does the NDP think that people feel safer on a SkyTrain than on a Greyhound bus? Do they think that people in Britain felt safer before privatization than they do now?
Can anyone tell what highways or highway services are maintained publicly or privately in Saskatchewan or Manitoba? You've heard that 40 percent of our highways in B.C. are already privatized. Can anyone tell the difference? The Alaska Highway is largely maintained by the private sector. Can anyone tell? Sixty percent of the public works in the Northwest Territories are maintained privately. Can people in the Northwest Territories somehow distinguish between that and what we have here?
A few former government employees have also spoken out. I'm sure there may be more, and I'm sure too that Mr. Alan Rhodes, former Deputy Minister of Transportation and Highways, is happy to know you think differently of him now than you did during the Coquihalla Highway hearings. What about Mr. Ken Gibbs of Beautiful British Columbia magazine, who was asked the following: "It's been four years since the magazine was privatized. How did you and your staff feel about it then and how do you feel about it now?" His reply was: "We were shocked at first; of course we were shocked. Looking back, however, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We have more freedom, better salaries and benefits, and there is now great enthusiasm." And that's what it's all about.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that we have gained during this debate.
MR. CLARK: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, we have had wild statements and flimflam from the Premier today. We've had no evidence to support their contention of privatization.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. CLARK: We have barely scratched the surface.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
[Mr. Speaker rose.]
[Mr. Speaker resumed his seat.]
MR. SPEAKER: Has the member got a point of order?
MR. CLARK: Yes, I rise under Section 35(9) of the standing orders, which reads: "Upon expiration of the time
[ Page 2761 ]
limited for debate, the motion lapses and the House shall proceed to orders of the day or the next order of business, unless the House otherwise orders." Mr. Speaker, the Premier has started this debate by saying it is not the government's intention to limit debate, it's the rules. Therefore, under Section 35(9), I move that this debate continue until all members of the House who wish to speak have spoken.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Obviously, the second member for Vancouver East was not in the House prior to this debate, beginning at 4:30 p.m., because at about 4:22 — and Hansard can reveal this — my colleague the opposition House Leader and I agreed that we would proceed under the rules as provided in Standing Orders, particularly with respect to section 35. Section 35(8) clearly indicates, "The debate on the motion shall not exceed one hour," and then it gives the apportionment, and we had agreed upon that. I gave a further undertaking to my colleague opposite that with respect to standing order 35 being a substantive motion, there being a right to reply, the government would undertake to debate this matter further before the prorogation of the assembly, and that is also contained in Hansard. So I cannot accept the motion as presented by the second member for Vancouver East under 35(9). The opposition has been given an undertaking by the government to further debate the issue. The government's position is that standing order 35, as Your Honour had indicated would be debated in a ruling last week, has been followed, Mr. Speaker. We have had that debate and debate is now concluded.
MR. ROSE: I was very careful that I didn't go beyond the fact that we were debating whether or not it was a substantive debate, and I agreed to the debate order. There's no question about that, but that really doesn't say anything about the House's power to extend the time under section 35(9), as my hon. friend raised. Just for clarification, that is the point that he was trying to make.
MR. D'ARCY: Mr. Speaker, on a separate point of order, I'd like to make a correction to the Premier's comments. He indicated during his remarks that Pacific Coach Lines was in fact acquired by the New Democratic government between 1972 and 1975; in fact, it was expropriated in 1961 by the then Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett as part of the expropriation of that private company, the British Columbia Electric Co.
MR. SPEAKER: The House Leader has indicated he is going to proceed to orders of the day, and that's what we'll do.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Adjourned debate on second reading of Bill 59.
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 4), 1987
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Speaker, at the time of the adjourned debate I was almost cut off in mid-sentence because of the urgency of proceeding with the debate that has just taken place. I would like to pick up with my discussion on the principle of section 7 and to took at that in the context of the debate we have just had. One of the statements made in the course of the debate of the last hour is that there has been no lessening of service or proposed lessening of service through privatization. But we've also noted in that debate that the extent of privatization is literally without limit. Almost everything that comes under government service is eligible for and being considered by this government for privatization.
It seems to me that when we look at the amendment to the Hospital Insurance Act that comes under this miscellaneous statutes bill, we are looking at a further kind of privatization, a process whereby services will be cut and turned over to the private sector. People in need of medical services will have to pay for those services out of their own pockets rather than having them covered under the Medical Services Plan or the Hospital Insurance Act.
[Mrs. Gran in the chair.]
The powers given to the Minister of Health under this amendment are extreme and without any reference to medical or professional advice. There is nothing in this amendment that gives any indication that the powers of the minister are not unlimited as to what may be excluded from coverage by the Hospital Insurance Act.
I was noting at the time of the adjourning of the earlier debate that some of the services that speculatively we have heard may be removed from coverage are indeed essential. The very principle that the Health minister would determine what is medically necessary is not in consort with the whole manifestation of our health services. We need to know that those people who are professionally qualified will determine which of those services are essential.
I would remind people that the World Health Organization, when it talks about health care, talks about social and emotional well-being as well as physical well-being. People require a number of medical services that deal with the whole spectrum of their well-being and health. Any move to give unlimited power, without the medical and other professions having a large say in what would be available under hospital insurance coverage, is not going to enhance health services. It does, in fact, bear out our perspective that government, in its privatization initiatives, is looking to cut services that come under the medical programs.
I would like to restate, or note for the first time, as the case may be, that there is speculation that some of the programs covered under the Medical Services Plan — massage therapy, chiropractic, naturopathy — may be removed from coverage under that plan. We are looking at services that enhance the health and well-being of our citizens, and we are eroding the very excellent health programs developed in this province which people have come to rely on. Such an erosion in the long term will deal only with the government's desire, in a bottom-line way, to cut costs, not improve service, as the basis for improving the way services are delivered and also the way costs could be effectively managed.
Madam Speaker, this is one of a number of miscellaneous bills that have come before the House. In the context of the bill are many issues of importance to people. For example, in the bill there is a reference to the First Citizens' Fund, which has been very extensively tapped by the native people to the point where it is, as I understand it, almost fully subscribed. There is a suggestion, or a proposal, to provide another avenue to tap these funds by means of loans rather than outright grants. I think the need for those kinds of loans is
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well established, as native peoples are developing their own economic and social programs within their communities. However, to suggest that the limited funds available — something under $2 million annually, I think — should now also be available for a loan program will simply have native peoples competing within the narrow prescription of those funds. I would suggest that we should be looking in our detailed examination of this bill at a means of expanding those dollars rather than limiting them.
MS. SMALLWOOD: As I was preparing for my opportunity to speak to the bill before us, I began to look around the House, and thought: who's the minister I should be talking to? Who is the minister who will have the answers to one of my primary concerns in dealing with the miscellaneous statutes bill? Who is responsible for decentralization? Clearly, eight ministers are responsible. Perhaps, since it seems to be the Premier's plan, his idea, and clearly, as we've been asking some of the line ministers, it's....
MR. R. FRASER: Would you mind getting to the bill?
MS. SMALLWOOD: Madam Speaker, I'm addressing the principle of the bill — the many principles included in the different acts that are being amended by the miscellaneous statutes bill. One of the major concerns in the miscellaneous statutes bill before us is the issue of decentralization. It's the issue dealing with the additional secretaries for that very purpose, and I will continue to talk about my concerns, and to address the concerns that are raised by the very implication of adding parliamentary secretaries for the purpose of decentralization.
This government has promised consultation. It has promised to listen to the people of this province. Clearly, as we have heard in the unprecedented debate just finished, the government is again failing. When the whole program of the United States of B.C. was brought before the province, I was in Terrace. Ironically, I was at a meeting hosted by the chamber of commerce. Several members of local councils were there, including a mayor of one of the small towns in the area, and we started talking about the government's plans for decentralization. At that time I knew very little about the government program. As I was to learn, the people of B.C. knew very little about it either.
At that meeting, when the questions started coming to me from those active members of the community about what was happening with the government's decentralization program, and I was unable to answer those questions, I put it back to them. I said: "When we're talking about the principle of decentralization, surely the government has consulted you. Surely you have had the opportunity to tell this government what your region needs." I looked around the room, and there was silence. Clearly, no one in that room had been consulted. I couldn't believe that, not for a moment. Here I am, standing in a room with council members, with one of the local mayors, with the chamber of commerce, with the economic development officer of that region.... "I can't believe the government hasn't talked to you," I said. "The members of council here. Surely you have been to meetings with the government and the government has talked about what they have in mind and asked you what's important in your area." No, nobody had talked to them. "Well, the economic development officer. This whole program the government has brought down is about economic development. Surely the government has spoken to you." No. Ironically, the economic development officer tells us that their funds for economic development plans for their proposals had dried up; they didn't have any funds available to them to communicate with this government; they didn't have any funds to put their plans forward. Not only were they not consulted, but their ability and their avenues to have some input in that process had dried up.
Madam Speaker, I think the whole issue of decentralization, as this government proposes, is a subversion of a good idea. I think this government has heard local councils, chambers of commerce, community groups, many groups from around the province say, over the last three and four years: "Victoria is not listening." So what this government has decided to do is to say: "Well, you think we're not listening; try this one on for size. We're going to come in with our superministers. We're going to chop up your province and everything you have fought for and built in this province, and we're going to show you how to run your town."
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Absolute rubbish.
MS. SMALLWOOD: Some members of this House have some problem with that. If you have some problems, why didn't you ask first? If you really believe in public participation, why did you not consult the very people who are doing the work? And clearly you did not.
I am saying to you that it is not rubbish, because if you were truly interested in regional economic development, and if you were truly interested in what the people of this province have to say, then the people in the room in Terrace — the chamber of commerce, the economic development officer, the council members, the mayors, the citizens — would have had an opportunity to have some input before you put some superczar plunk down in the middle of a region that they themselves did not define.
It is clear that the people in this province have done the work. Over the last three or four years the people in this province have put together economic development plans. They have done the work of consulting with their local councils, and they've got a lot to say. So again, Mr. Premier.... I see he's very interested at this point. Listen! Listen to what the people of this province have to say. Don't plunk down superczars in the middle of a region that they haven't even had the opportunity of defining for themselves. The people who live there know best what their communities of interests are. You can't draw lines and bring people out of downtown Vancouver to run the business and the affairs of the people of Omineca.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: We're not.
MS. SMALLWOOD: Very clearly that is what is happening, because again, for those people who are not listening, there was no consultation and no discussion before these plans were put in place.
There are two issues of immediate concern. First of all, there is the whole issue of economic development and getting on with this province, getting on with providing secure jobs, jobs that have a future, jobs that people in our communities can rely on and that our young people can learn and grow to fill. Instead of getting on with that economic development,
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this government is shifting the playing-field, sending ministers throughout this province and doing nothing but providing jobs for transportation of files, boxes and desks.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: And what were you doing in Terrace? Talking to the people.
MS. SMALLWOOD: We were listening, something that the minister could do well.
In my constituency, Surrey-Guildford-Whalley, we have more calls from people on social services with complaints and concerns than I suspect in many constituencies in this province. When the government statement came down about decentralization and the shifting of regions and restructuring of government, we faced an incredibly difficult couple of weeks. We haven't quite got it resolved yet, because the government hasn't got it resolved yet.
We were in a situation of having two children apprehended and two different families trying to find out what was going on with Social Services and Housing, how they could intervene, how they could expedite the process, and they couldn't reach the regional manager, because he and his managerial staff were in meetings, trying to find out how they were going to function in regions. There was a two-week stall for those families trying to find out how they could get their children back. That is because this government, rather than having as a priority ensuring that the services are delivered, that the children and the families of our communities are looked after, helped, supported.... They're busy shipping boxes and books and desks all over this province.
Well, Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of concern, and I would like to continue this debate. But because of the time, I would like to move that this debate be now adjourned until the next sitting of the House.
Introduction of Bills
PENSION (PUBLIC SERVICE)
AMENDMENT ACT, 1987
Hon. Mr. Veitch presented a message from his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Pension (Public Service) Amendment Act, 1987.
HON. MR. VEITCH: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill, which formalizes earlier announcements by the Premier. This bill will establish the authority for the pension portion of the early retirement incentive plan, and as well will establish improved pension options for privatized employees. The government is introducing these programs to facilitate its restructuring initiatives. The purpose is to ensure that employees are treated fairly and equitably as these initiatives are proceeded with.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I want to deal first with the early retirement incentive plan, Mr. Speaker. This plan has two components. The first is the lump sum payment. The second is a waiver of the early retirement pension reduction. This bill deals only with the pension component of the plan.
The Pension (Public Service) Act presently provides for a reduction of the pension benefit formula of 5 percent for each year under the age of 60 for an employee of a maximum retirement age of 65. If the employee has more than ten years but less than 35 years of contribution in the plan, this reduction formula tends to discourage retirement between ages 55 and 60, since the reduction can be as much as 25 percent of the formula of the plan. There is a similar provision of supply under the plan to correctional centre employees, who have a maximum retirement age of 60.
I might also mention that the pension part of this program now being introduced is identical to that introduced by the government earlier this year for British Columbia's teachers.
Accordingly, the bill amends the early retirement provisions of the act as follows. A public service employee whose last day of work is on or before October 20, 1987, and before April 1, 1988, and who is immediately entitled to receive a pension benefit or who is, on completion of any paid pre-retirement leave, entitled to receive a pension benefit from the public service plan is entitled to a pension calculated without application to the reduction formula.
The program will be funded by special contributions being made to the public service superannuation fund, and as a result of this initiative those public service employees who wish to retire may do so on substantially improved pension benefits, thus providing the government with an opportunity to facilitate its programs.
I will carry on further in second reading and be pleased to further elaborate on this bill. I move first reading of the bill.
Bill 62 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, before moving adjournment this afternoon, I will advise the Members of the Legislative Assembly and you, sir, that we all recognize that political events are very important for us in the field of politics, and our friends opposite have a very important event tomorrow. On the basis of that, the Legislative Assembly will be adjourning at 4 o'clock tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Strachan moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.