[ Page 2985 ]
An Act To Feed Hungry School Children (Bill M209). Mr. Cashore
Introduction and first reading –– 2985
Tabling Documents –– 2985
Presenting Reports –– 2985
Riverview Hospital and mental health care. Mr. Harcourt –– 2987
Privatization of liquor stores. Ms. A. Hagen –– 2988
Privatization of B.C. Hydro divisions. Mr. Clark –– 2988
Pacific Coast Salvage and Demolition Ltd. Ms. Marzari –– 2988
Subdivision of B.C. Place land. Ms. Marzari –– 2988
Cowichan Bay breakwater. Mr. Bruce –– 2989
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 5), 1987 (Bill 68). Second reading
Hon. B.R. Smith –– 2989
Mr. Jones –– 2990
Hon. Mr. Brummet –– 2991
Mr. Rose –– 2993
Mr. Harcourt –– 2994
Hon. Mr. Strachan –– 2995
Property Purchase Tax Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 60). Second reading
Hon. Mr. Couvelier –– 2995
Mr. Clark –– 2996
Hon. Mr. Couvelier –– 2996
Assessment Amendment Act, 1987 (Bill 67). Second reading
Hon. Mr. Couvelier –– 2996
Mr. Clark –– 2997
Mr. Blencoe –– 2998
Ms. Edwards –– 2998
Hon. Mr. Couvelier –– 2998
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 5), 1987 (Bill 68). Committee stage.
(Hon. B.R. Smith) –– 2999
Hon. Mr. Strachan
Ms. A. Hagen
Hon. Mrs. Johnston
Hon. Mr. Brummet
The House met at 2:09 p.m.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I'm pleased to advise the Legislative Assembly that with us today is His Worship Norm McNee, the mayor of Valemount. His Worship Mayor McNee is an employee of the Ministry of Highways, and I see that he's here with one of his former employers Graham Lea. Would the House please welcome both of them to the assembly.
MR. JONES: In the gallery today visiting Victoria is a long-time Burnaby resident, Mrs. Esther Huebner. I know my colleagues on both sides of the House would join me in welcoming her today.
MR. CRANDALL: I'd like to ask the House to welcome a good supporter of mine and a long-term Social Credit supporter, my mother, Barbara Crandall. She's in the gallery, and I'd appreciate your welcoming her.
MR. CASHORE: I'd like to introduce my son. Ben Cashore, who is visiting from Ottawa. He's a former Page in the House of Commons, a political science grad from Carleton University in Ottawa and presently a research assistant to Audrey McLaughlin, Member of Parliament for the Yukon. I ask you to join me in welcoming my son Ben.
HON. MR. REID: I'd like the House to make a special welcome to Mr. Sam Yamamoto from Seaward Construction. He has with him today in the precincts some investors from the Pacific Rim. I also want to make a special welcome to the newest car dealer in Victoria, Mr. Graham Lea.
MR. CLARK: I have the honour today to introduce to the House Karnail Singh Doad, who is a member of the Legislative Assembly for the Punjab in India. Mr. Doad is a solicitor by profession and was elected as an independent. I ask the House to make him welcome.
Accompanying Mr. Doad today is Arjan Singh Ghuman, an associate of Mr. Doad's from Surrey.
MR. CHALMERS: From the great riding of Okanagan South, we have special guests, three young ladies: my daughters Jennifer and Nicole and my wife Rosalie. Would you please make them welcome.
MS. SMALLWOOD: I'd like to join my colleague from Vancouver East in welcoming the two gentlemen: Mr. Doad and his associate from Surrey. My constituents wouldn't welcome me in Surrey were I not to join my colleague in welcoming the two gentlemen.
Introduction of Bills
AN ACT TO FEED HUNGRY SCHOOL CHILDREN
MR. CASHORE: I move that a bill intituled An Act to Feed Hungry School Children be introduced and read a first time now.
The purpose of this bill is to ensure that children from low-income families have adequate nutrition. Inadequate nutrition imperils a child's opportunities to benefit from education and to enjoy good health. Not a panacea, this bill begins to address the crucial issue of child poverty in B.C. It applies to both public and private schools and enables education authorities to supply schoolday meals to all schoolchildren on income assistance without charge. It includes children of other low-income families, ensures anonymity of pupils and applies Canadian dietary standards to the program.
Poverty confronts all of us as the most urgent social issue. Mr. Speaker, if we fail to address the issue of poverty, we do so at our peril.
Bill M209 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. Couvelier tabled the 1986 annual report of the B.C. Assessment Authority.
Mr. Chalmers. Deputy Chairman of the Special Committee to Appoint an Auditor-General, presented a report, which was read as follows and received:
"Hon. members, I have the honour to present herewith the report of the Special Committee to Appoint an Auditor-General for the province of British Columbia for the first session of the thirty-fourth parliament.
"Respectfully submitted on behalf of the committee. Larry Chalmers, MLA. Deputy Chairman.
"Pursuant to section 2(2) of the Auditor General Act, a special committee of the Legislative Assembly is to unanimously recommend to the assembly a person to be the auditor-general of the province of British Columbia.
"In 1977 the office of the auditor-general was established under the provisions contained in the Auditor General Act. This report is the third recommendation to the Legislative Assembly.
"On Thursday, April 16, 1987, the Hon. C.S. Rogers, on behalf of the Hon. W.B. Strachan, moved that a special committee of the Legislature be appointed to recommend a person to be appointed as auditor-general as provided under section 2 of the Auditor General Act and, if required, an acting auditor-general under section 3 of the Auditor General Act, and that the committee be composed of Mr. Hewitt, convener, the Hon. Stephen Rogers, Messrs. Mercier, Rabbitt, Crandall and Chalmers and Messrs. Stupich, Blencoe and Clark, and further that the special committee so appointed have the following powers: (a) to appoint of their number one or more subcommittees and to refer to such subcommittees any of the matters referred to the committee; (b) to sit during any period in which the House is adjourned and during any sitting of the House, and to adjourn from place to place as may be convenient; and shall report to the House on the matters referred to it during this session or following any adjournment of the
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House or at the next following session as the case may be. The motion was agreed to.
"At its organizational meeting on June 2, 1987, the committee elected Mr. James J. Hewitt, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, as its chairman and Mr. Larry Chalmers, MLA for Okanagan South, as the deputy chairman. A subcommittee consisting of Messrs. Hewitt, Chalmers and Stupich was constituted for administrative purposes.
"The committee conducted 12 meetings in Victoria and Vancouver on the following dates: Victoria, June 2, committee; Victoria, June 30, committee; Victoria, August 12, subcommittee; Richmond, August 26, committee; Vancouver, September 16, chairman/consultant; Vancouver, September 23, committee; Victoria, November 4, committee; Vancouver, November 13, chairman/consultant; Victoria, December 2, committee; Victoria, December 3, committee; Victoria, December 4, committee; Victoria, December 10, committee.
"After soliciting proposals from six management consultants in the province, the committee decided to retain the services of Stevenson Kellogg Ernst and Whinney of Vancouver to assist in the candidate selection process. The committee prepared draft position selection criteria upon which a systematic, accurate and fair assessment of all candidates could be made. An advertisement prepared and approved by the committee was placed in selected British Columbia and Canadian newspapers in June of this year.
"As a result, the committee received 40 applications for the position of auditor-general. The initial candidate evaluation on the basis of the applications received was undertaken solely by the committee. The committee requested that the consultant undertake a preliminary screening by telephone of the candidates approved for further consideration. Receiving the consultant's report on this phase of the selection process, the committee approved a list of candidates to be interviewed in person by the consultant. A short list of candidates from the consultant's report on the interviews resulted in seven individuals being interviewed by the committee on Wednesday, December 2, and Thursday, December 3, of this year. On Thursday, December 10, 1987, the committee reached a unanimous decision.
"Recommendation. After concluding the interviews, the committee diligently considered the qualifications and assessed the prospective impact upon the office of the auditor-general and the requirements of the Legislative Assembly of the seven finalist candidates.
"Your committee unanimously recommends to the Legislative Assembly that the name of Mr. George Morfitt, FCA, be recommended to the Lieutenant-Governor for the position as auditor-general for the province of British Columbia, to exercise the powers and perform the duties provided by the Auditor General Act.
"Mr. George Morfitt is a Vancouver resident and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia. During his distinguished career in the public and private sectors Mr. Morfitt worked for Clarkson Gordon and Co. in Vancouver during the years 1958-67. From 1967 through 1987 he became the chief financial officer and director of the Diamond Group of Companies and then the executive vice-president. Mr. Morfitt has been affiliated with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia as its president; governor and executive committee member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants; a member of the chartered accountants' government advisory group; governor of the B.C. School of Chartered Accountancy; and a member of the long-range strategic planning committee of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. With the University of British Columbia, Mr. Morfirt has been chairman of the board of governors, president of the alumni association and chairman of the finance committee. Mr. Morfitt has been chairman of the Universities Council of British Columbia. Many other British Columbia organizations have been the recipients of Mr. Morfitt's services.
"The Special Committee to Appoint an AuditorGeneral would like the assembly to be aware of the harmonious manner in which the committee conducted its hearings. The committee expresses its appreciation to the Clerk of Committees, Mr. Craig James, for coordinating the meetings, communicating with the candidates, preparing the advertisement and assisting the consultant, and to the consultant for the professional manner brought to bear upon this task.
"Your committee unanimously recommends to the Legislative Assembly that the name of Mr. George Morfitt be recommended to the Lieutenant-Governor for the position as auditor-general for the province of British Columbia to exercise the powers and perform the duties provided by the Auditor-General Act.
"Mr. Larry Chalmers, MLA, Deputy Chairman."
MR. CHALMERS: Mr. Speaker, by leave I move that the rules be suspended and the report adopted.
MR. CHALMERS: I'll keep my remarks very brief.
As spelled out in the report, some 40 applications were received for the position of auditor-general. The committee met on a number of occasions and reduced that to about 12. At such time the firm of Ernst and Whinney was hired to do further in-depth interviews with the candidates and reduce it to about a seven-candidate list. All seven of those candidates were interviewed extensively by the committee, and Mr. Morfirt was chosen to be moved forward and recommended today.
Before doing that, I would like to say that the committee has worked extremely hard. I would like to pay tribute to Mr. Jim Hewitt, who served as our chairman — citizen Jim Hewitt now — and did so very well. His guidance was appreciated by all of us who were newcomers to this job, as Mr. Hewitt was involved in the original process when the first auditor-general was chosen for the province of British Columbia. His ever-present good humour brought us through some very stressful times. I extend my appreciation to Mr. Hewitt on behalf of all the committee.
I'd also like to commend all the members on the committee for the hard work and effort that they put in and the
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thoughtful consideration towards the end — in particular the members opposite who sat on a committee. Through their cooperation, we ensured that we had a non-partisan approach to bringing forward a unanimous recommendation.
MR. CLARK: As has been pointed out, it is a unanimous report, and that's somewhat unusual in these chambers. On behalf of the New Democratic Party, I am pleased to stand and support Mr. Morfitt's application and appointment. Mr. Morfitt clearly has the academic credentials for the job, but more importantly, in my view, he has a long association with the business community. After sitting in the House for only one year and watching the performance of the government, it's quite clear to me that what is needed more than anything is a fresh business approach to the way in which we govern ourselves in this province. I am hopeful that Mr. Morfitt will bring that fresh approach and scrutinize fearlessly the activities of the government.
MR. CHALMERS: I move that this House recommend to His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor the appointment of Mr. George Morfitt, FCA, as an officer of the Legislature to exercise the powers and duties assigned to the auditor-general for the province of British Columbia pursuant to the Auditor General Act, Revised Statutes of British Columbia, 1979, chapter 24.
MR. SPEAKER: Before that, we have the first motion, which is the adoption of the report on the auditor-general.
MR. SPEAKER: The second motion put by the member.
Mr. Mercier, Chairman of the Select Standing Committee on Economic Development, Transportation and Municipal Affairs presented the report of the committee respecting a review of the Islands Trust Act, which was taken as read and received.
RIVERVIEW HOSPITAL AND
MENTAL HEALTH CARE
MR. HARCOURT: I have a question to the Minister of Health, the minister who has closed the doors of Riverview Hospital. As we know, hospitals right across this province must use their emergency-care facilities, and in some cases their intensive-care, to handle the waiting-lists of mental health care patients. Now the minister says that patients that can't get care are living on the streets of B.C. by choice.
Will the minister immediately lift the diversion order on B.C. hospitals and open beds at Riverview to handle the patients who, not by choice, are on the streets of British Columbia?
HON. MR. DUECK: Currently, of course, Riverview handles these patients. We have also 2,000 beds other than that. When I spoke about people being on the streets, I was referring mainly to the mentally homeless in our province, and to date we have counted eight who are not with homes.
We have continually tried to provide a place for them, and they have rejected that. We feel that where a person should be committed under the Mental Health Act and does not allow that or does not so wish, there is very little we can do, unless he is incapacitated and we must take that action.
I should also mention that the printed articles are not quite correct, because a mentally homeless person, if he is eligible for work, would receive not the $375 but in fact $480. If he is mentally handicapped, he would receive more than that: $583, not $387 –– I can assure this House that every homeless, mentally handicapped person will be provided a place to sleep.
MR. HARCOURT: It's the expert opinion of the Greater Vancouver Mental Health Service that in this substantial shift of mental health care patients from institutional to community care, the communities have not been given the resources they need to care for these people. I don't think it's good enough to quote from Anatole France that the rich and poor are equally entitled to sleep under bridges, to beg for food and to pay $40,000 for a heart operation. I would like to ask the minister if he will immediately turn off the tap and stop pouring mental health patients into the streets until he provides communities with the resources for the patients right now.
HON. MR. DUECK: We are not closing down Riverview, nor are we downsizing Riverview at this time. This is a normal process that has been going on for many years; as people are assessed and as they are ready to go into the community, they go. We do not release anyone from Riverview who does not have a place to go and a plan of what he is going to do with his life when he leaves the institution. They are not turned out on the street. You're trying to make an issue of this, and I'm telling you that anyone released from Riverview will have a place to sleep. At last count we had eight known who did not have a place to sleep at night, and they refused help. I am telling you this as a fact.
MR. HARCOURT: Speaking about facts. Mr. Minister, in September your facts were that there were 1,306 beds at Riverview. There are now under 1,200 beds. That's downsizing; that's starting to close the doors. I would like to have the minister listen to the Greater Vancouver Mental Health Service Society, which has made it very clear to you, and I quote....
MR. HARCOURT: No, I visited them myself, like you should do, member; you should see the people on the streets of our city.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. HARCOURT: You should go out and see it. The minister should.
[Mr. Speaker rose.]
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. If the Leader of the Opposition would take his seat, and if he could get to a
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question, and if he could have a little less interference from the other side, we could get question period over with.
[Mr. Speaker resumed his seat.]
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Minister, I'm not suggesting that you read the papers; I'm suggesting that you read the experts. I quote from the Greater Vancouver Mental Health Service Society: "Community services for the mentally ill are inadequate. Community services providing development of employment for the mentally ill are extremely limited. They cannot afford market housing, and, for many, rehabilitation can only be initiated in a residential setting."
Will the minister accept the expert opinion of mental health care professionals and recognize that the mental health care system in this province has a crisis?
HON. MR. DUECK: I do not accept the fact that the mental health program or the service is in crisis at all. That we do not have adequate housing for everyone, to your standards, perhaps is true.
You mentioned that I should visit. I have visited all the homes — every one of them. I don't know if you've visited them all, but I have. I make a point of doing that, and I'm telling you that we have the best mental health care delivery service in all of Canada. Other provinces, other ministers come out here and look at our service, and they use it as a model. And we're still trying to improve it from day to day. That's why we're going to provide homes, in the community perhaps, other than the Riverview and one particular institute. That is going to be an improvement.
You people on that side have criticized it from the day that report came up. Why don't you look at the letters we have received and all the written submissions that have come in that have praised us and applauded us for doing exactly that, and the plans we have for providing this type of home for these people, notwithstanding the fact that we're not going to do it before those resources are in place? I've said this how many times? Do you ever listen?
PRIVATIZATION OF LIQUOR STORES
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Speaker, British Columbians have told the Jansen committee that they oppose the privatization of liquor stores. The Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Couvelier) and the Jansen committee have stated that the liquor distribution branch is an efficient retailer, and it should not only be kept but be enhanced. The Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Dueck) has added his voice on the privatization of liquor stores, saying: "This issue is not carved in stone."
My question is to the minister responsible for privatization. I'd like to ask that minister if he's prepared to listen to British Columbians and to his cabinet colleagues and caucus and at this time reconsider the plans to privatize liquor stores in this province.
HON. MR. DAVIS: We're always prepared to listen. This is a matter of future policy but, as has been stated on numerous occasions, we're also prepared to look at every opportunity where savings can be achieved and moneys made available for people programs in the province.
PRIVATIZATION OF B.C. HYDRO DIVISIONS
MR. CLARK: A question to the minister responsible for privatization. Would the minister inform the House what the upset price is for the natural gas division of B.C. Hydro?
HON. MR. DAVIS: The market will determine the upset price.
MR. CLARK: Is the minister telling us that there are no minimum prices that could be accepted for any of the services being offered for sale by the government of British Columbia?
HON. MR. DAVIS: Mr. Speaker, I am sure that there are minimum prices on any asset that the people of the province own, but to attempt ahead of time to determine the actual price would be foolish. You're asking the government, perhaps, to publish an upset price. That would simply indicate what the price is. We may well find that some of these assets are much more valuable in the eyes of private entrepreneurs than the value put on them by the public.
MR. CLARK: If the minister is concerned about affecting the bidding, maybe he could tell us what the minimum price would be for the three divisions of B.C. Hydro, that are for sale.
HON. MR. DAVIS: All we know today is what they cost: that is, the basis used for rate-making. That basis won't change for rate-making purposes in the future. But we don't know what entrepreneurs may offer. If they see an opportunity to make those functions more efficient, they would see a higher value in them than the historic value or the historic book value, and those prices will be determined in the marketplace.
MR. CLARK: Would the minister tell the House whether the proceeds from the sale of Hydro assets will go to pay down the debt of B.C. Hydro or into general revenue of the government?
HON. MR. DAVIS: That decision hasn't been made yet, but it could lead to an interesting debate.
PACIFIC COAST SALVAGE AND DEMOLITION LTD.
MS. MARZARI: I have a question for the Minister of Forests and Lands. Mr. Minister, in March of this year you let a contract to Pacific Coast Salvage and Demolition Ltd, for a dollar; no performance bond, because it was a dollar. You were going to clear off a debt that they owed you because they'd botched up previous jobs, I gather As a result of the contract you let this year, $50,000 in outstanding wages is owed to workers who worked for that company. One of those people in my constituency, Elizabeth German, is out $3,500, but $50,000 is outstanding to workers from a company that obviously had no intention of paying.
What have you decided to do to rectify this situation? Right now Workers' Compensation is suing, small retailers are suing and small companies are suing. It's a long and tedious procedure, and my constituents are out.
HON. MR. PARKER: I have received some correspondence from the hon. member, and I have asked my staff to investigate and report to me. I will be pleased to bring that information to her attention at the earliest possible occasion.
SUBDIVISION OF B.C. PLACE LAND
MS. MARZARI: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. The good will between the provincial government and the city of Vancouver around the B.C.
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Place land seems to have been tested recently. The city of Vancouver expected that the provincial government would use its subdivision bylaw and its land registry office for any proceedings. Yet we have here an indication that B.C. Place lands were subdivided this fall by order-in-council. Does this set a precedent for future activities on the part of B.C. Place — going out and subdividing without notifying or consulting the city of Vancouver?
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: The answer to that is no, and the principals and staff of the Vancouver city council were all advised and were working with B.C. Enterprise Corporation. The transfer was one which was part of the negotiations with the city, which were very long. I think that at the time it came before the city council, the mayor made comment that it was just that and that it was in accordance with the city of Vancouver's wishes in cooperation with BCEC.
MS. MARZARI: I'll take this, Madam Minister, as a promise that no further subdivisions will go on. Although there had been some consultation over one subdivision, pursuant to that another subdivision of ten additional acres took place without consulting the city. But I will accept your answer as a promise to the city of Vancouver that from this point on no further subdivision will take place by order-in council.
COWICHAN BAY BREAKWATER
MR. BRUCE: I have a question for the Minister of Environment and Parks. Last week during the major storm here on the coast, the area of Cowichan Bay underwent some very severe damage — approximately half a million dollars' worth — on the marinas and the wharves in the area. The federal government has indicated that they cannot provide any assistance to the people in my area, and the emergency measures coordinator for the province of British Columbia is down dealing with the people today in an effort to give some assistance. However, the problem is not so much the fact of emergency measures assistance; what is required is a proper breakwater to be constructed in Cowichan Bay. I would ask the minister: would he undertake on behalf of myself and the residents of the Cowichan Bay area to make the proper representations to the federal ministers of the government of Canada to see about the construction of a full-fledged breakwater in Cowichan Bay'?
HON. MR. STRACHAN: In the pursuit of brevity, yes.
MR. HARCOURT: I rise under the provisions of standing order 35 to ask leave to make a motion calling for the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance.
MR. SPEAKER: Would the member state his matter?
MR. HARCOURT: In 20 days, Canada and the United States will be having the proposed Canada-United States free trade agreement coming forward for signature. This proposed deal has enormous consequences for British Columbia. As it is now written — we have received the final text — the proposed deal infringes on provincial jurisdiction; it forces our province in particular to surrender powers to the federal government and to the government of a foreign power; it surrenders provincial control over our natural resources, including energy, and it threatens the jobs of tens of thousands of British Columbians, particularly in agriculture and the fisheries, fish-processing in particular, which is not covered by this agreement. Despite these shortcomings — I stress that these are just in point form to show the concerns that we have as New Democrats, and that British Columbians have — the provincial government has denied members of this Legislature the opportunity to even debate the government's own motion No. 69.
There being no other opportunity for this Legislature to review thoroughly the consequences for British Columbia of this agreement, which is proposed to be signed by January 2, Mr. Speaker, as I've outlined the urgency and the consequences and the fact that we have not had a chance to debate — and will not unless we do it here in the next few days prior to January 2 — if you find my motion in order, I'm prepared to move that this House adjourn to discuss the proposed Canada-U.S. free trade agreement.
MR. SPEAKER: Has the member got his statement? I will take it under advisement and report back to the House later.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 68.
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 5), 1987
HON. B.R. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the practice on these grab-bag bills, I simply move second reading. We can have the debate on second reading if the other side wishes. The discussion has to be clause-by-clause because there are so many different measures contained in the bill. I move second reading.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Do You want committee with leave today?
MR. ROSE: On a point of order, perhaps it didn't go in Hansard, but the Attorney-General, who I suppose is acting House Leader and is introducing this bill, asked if we wanted to have committee today. We didn't even have second reading, as far I'm concerned. We did have a speaker on second reading that was perhaps a little bit slow off the blocks. Nevertheless, I think it went by rather rapidly. We can discuss the matter of committee of this bill later today — since it is without principle, like many bills put forward by this government — and we might not need a long time on second reading.
However, these things sometimes have a dynamic all of their own. Until we have an opportunity to huddle on this matter, then perhaps my hon. colleague for Burnaby North would have a chance as our leadoff speaker and designated hitter on this bill.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Mr. Speaker, I did first reading of this bill the other day, as I recall, on behalf of the Attorney
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General, and I guess there were mixed signals. To set everything straight and to allow the full unfettered debate to carry on, I would firstly ask leave for the second reading motion to be discharged. I understand it has been voted on.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: So there is no motion for second reading now. We have simply introduced the matter for second reading, and debate is now available to members of the Legislative Assembly.
MR. JONES: I'll try not to bring any fetters forward on this one.
As the government House Leader indicated, this is a grab-bag bill. I would like to comment on one section of the bill briefly. Section 38 of the bill is the responsibility of the Minister of Education (Hon. Mr. Brummet). I think there really is a principle to this section, the principle being the government's Pacific Rim initiatives program. That's a program that's worthy, I think, of some debate in this House. We have not had — at least to this point in time — the opportunity for discussion of the government's initiatives in this regard.
I would like the minister to have an opportunity to convince me that this is a worthy initiative — that we do have a worthwhile proposal before us in terms of this program. It is a costly program to the taxpayers of this province. It was introduced by the Premier, rather than the Minister of Education, a few months back. There was a price-tag attached to it, and that price-tag was some $12 million over three years, I believe. I think it is important that there be some opportunity for discussion of that, and some opportunity for the Minister of Education to convince this side of the House that this a worthy expenditure of public funds.
I feel somewhat at a difficulty viewing this piece of legislation. It's very much like the one that we saw the other day on the Open Learning Institute and distance education. I saw both sides of the coin. I saw a tremendous potential benefit and a tremendous opportunity for abuse of educational resources to do what really has become, in my mind and the public's mind, the major philosophy of education of the government's over the last ten years: to reduce costs and service.
I think we have to be convinced that the homework has been done on this program; that there is a cost-benefit analysis; that it is worthwhile to spend $12 million on this kind of initiative when we have severe problems in our own back yard. When we have a legacy of ten years of this government creating tremendous problems in education and in the operation and the climate of the school system of this province, I think we need to be convinced that $12 million can be spent abroad and not better spent in our own back yard.
We have, at present, a Royal Commission on Education touring this province, hearing thoughtful, concerned citizens present their ideas for improving our education system. The commission itself is a big expense to this province, and it seems to me that while that commission is going on there would be some restraint on the part of government and the Minister of Education, that they would restrain themselves to some degree in bringing forth what I consider to be rather extreme positions.
While we have that commission, we also have action teams running around the province looking at areas where costs can be reduced in education. While we have that commission going on, we hear presentations by the Ministry of Education in its brief to the royal commission on such schemes as merit pay, year-round schools, contracted learning services and home schooling. We hear the Minister of Finance suggesting that we're looking at the voucher system. There is real concern on the part of the education system in this province that the zones recently developed are the county system revisited.
So we have many contradictions. I have been a student of education politics in this province for many years and feel I have some degree of understanding of motivations of this government, but I'm yet to be convinced that any of these schemes even fits into the government's philosophy of costcutting.
We have this $12 million proposed, and we see in this bill some $442,000 of taxpayers' money being expended. I'm sure the minister will be able to explain to me that there will be cost recovery of these funds, that we have some half-million dollars in student exchange programs which will already be expended out of this year's education budget. The expenditure of those funds is strangely being done through the eight zones, or counties, or states, or economic development regions. Perhaps the minister at the same time can help explain to me why, rather than dealing with school boards as is the tradition in this province, that efficient process is now being complicated whereby in the lower mainland southwest region some 19 superintendents are going to have to get together and decide how to spend $175,000 to set up student exchange programs with the Pacific Rim. We also have a million dollars being spent on a teacher study program, which also comes out of the 1988 expenditure for education in this province.
I've already tried to convince the minister that the government's expenditure on education is probably considerably below what would be normal in this country. I've explained to the minister that in terms of expenditure on education as a percentage of personal income, this province ranks last as compared to every other province in Canada — not first, not second, as it was a few years ago, but dead last — and that in terms of operating costs per pupil and expenditure as a percentage of the provincial budget, we are the lowest of any province west of New Brunswick.
We're not big spenders on education in this province, and yet we have before us a proposal in this bill of half a million dollars, at least initially, as part of a $12 million Pacific Rim initiatives program announced by the Premier a few months ago. So we have $12 million — no small amount of money — from a government that is not known to be a big spender in education. I'm left with the question: why? Convince me. Explain to me that where we've got serious problems in our school system.... I'm sure the minister has heard from virtually every school district in this province concerns about capital construction. We need in this province roughly $150 million per year for the next five years just to keep up with the growth and maintenance of school buildings in this province. We have a number of classes of 37, 38, 39, some over 40. We have line ups of students who can't get places in post-secondary institutions. We still have a poisoned climate between this government and the education community; a lack of trust; no initiatives to provide post-secondary spaces, improve class sizes, build the buildings that need to be built.
[ Page 2991 ]
We even saw problems in the news recently about the kinds of institutions that the government is planning to set up abroad. I'm sure the minister is well aware of the concerns of many who are in the field of providing educational services to foreign students, the problems created by Alpha College: the problem of misleading advertising: suggestions that there are dormitory spaces, physical education programs, support from government, regulation by government, when none of these things are accurate. So we have all kinds of problems that I'm not aware the minister is dealing with in terms of these kinds of institutions right here in British Columbia.
I don't know what the fascination is with Hong Kong; why we need to set up schools so that we'll better understand the Hong Kong culture or the Hong Kong economy or the laws of Hong Kong. I don't know whether this is in the category of foreign aid. Perhaps it's a worthwhile venture, but I'm yet to be convinced. It seems to me that this government is very supportive of the free trade agreement between the United States and Canada. Why are we putting $12 million into a program to look eastward, when the government of Canada and this province seem to be putting so many eggs of the basket into looking south? I'd like to see the plan laid out. I'd like to see the cost-benefit analysis. I'd like to see the returns of these great opportunities in the Pacific Rim that are going to justify the expenditure of $121 million of taxpayers' money. I'd like to see some indication that we're dealing with the serious problems that we face in education in this province, in our own backyard, before we're willing to spend all kinds of funds looking eastward.
I think the minister would have a hard time convincing the people of this province that this is a worthwhile venture. I would very much like to hear his remarks on this section of this bill, and I would like him to convince me that this is a worthwhile expenditure.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I had thought perhaps we would cover some of this in committee and clause-by-clause, but I see the member has converted this to some general principles.
I believe that in his summation the member said we would have a hard time convincing the people of this province that it is worthwhile to take some initiatives to involve Pacific Rim languages, to discuss Pacific Rim culture in our schools, to bring to a greater extent into the schools the reality of what exists out there. I would suggest that we'll have no difficulty whatsoever in convincing the people of this province that it's worthwhile to establish better, greater ties and relationships with the Pacific Rim countries west from here — you're talking about east. Anyway, I think we would have no trouble convincing the people that it is worthwhile to establish better relationships with the people we're doing an increasing amount of business with. I suggest that the only people we will have difficulty convincing are the members of the opposition.
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
The member started out his comments by saying that he sees some merits, some benefits, to some of these programs. But because the government is doing this, because the government is proposing them, therefore it must be all wrong. That's an attitude I find so difficult. I have kept that member informed on what we're doing in the Pacific Rim initiatives, all of these sorts of things, and yet.... Is he standing up in this House and saying that the position of the official opposition in this Legislature is that no effort should be made to introduce Oriental Pacific Rim languages into our schools, no effort should be made to provide more material, more information on these countries? I would hope that is not the position the member is taken.
He mentions the $12 million. The $12 million is in there because we were given a start of $3.5 million. as promised in the budget last spring, to try to provide some initiatives in the education system to improve our situation with the Pacific Rim countries. The reason it has moved to $12 million for three years.... That member, who says he has experience in the system, must be well aware that the reason we're moving it over three years is so that we don't just have one startup program and then no commitment to carry on. The government has made a commitment of actual funding for three years so that we can plan our programs for three years through the Ministry of Education. It has made a commitment thereby that we are starting into this and that we're going to carry on: that we're going to properly, carefully introduce programs into the schools to bring in some of the Oriental languages, to bring in more information about these countries, to get our students informed. For that member then to stand up here and say that we're spending $12 million abroad has got to mean that he is obviously not paying any attention to the material I have sent him, no attention to what is being announced throughout this province in press releases, because most of that money is being spent to provide better opportunities for the students in this province. To say that we're spending $12 million abroad.... I don't know how you get those kinds of statements, unless it's with some intent to distort and misinform the public.
The only serious problem we have with this great initiative that is being carefully planned and developed is the critics who are.... I have no objection to critics. But when critics take a statement like that, which they're putting out in order to criticize the government and distort the information, and try to turn people against a dragon that does not even exist.... Let's have that member say what he's for and what he's against. Or are you simply against the government, and you don't care about any initiatives with the....
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Let that member stand up in this House and say the opposition is against introducing any Oriental language training into the public schools of British Columbia. Stand up in this House and say that you're against any student and teacher exchanges which enhance our understanding and knowledge of each other. Stand up and say that, if that's what you mean. If that's the opposition position, then stand up and say that you're against any relationships. And then you say: "I'm going to insist on a cost-benefit analysis being done."
MR. JONES: Too tricky, isn't it'?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: It's not tricky. It's just ludicrous to say that we could plot exactly how many dollars are going to result five years down the road from a better understanding of each other. It is common knowledge and commonly accepted in the business world, the academic world — in every world you want to look at — that when people deal with each other. If they can speak each other's language, they
[ Page 2992 ]
communicate much better, and that results in a better understanding of each other and in better economic arrangements: it results in all sorts of things. When you are dealing on an economic basis with the Japanese, for instance, if someone there could speak their language, don't you think that might be the factor that decides what happens? I can't quantify in dollars today what's going to happen. But I can assure you, Mr. Member and everyone else in this House, that I'm fully convinced that it will be of great benefit educationally, culturally and economically to this province. If that member can show me that that's an untrue statement, then I'd certainly like to be convinced.
Talk about extreme changes. And then there's the royal commission. It's interesting to note that the opposition was pushing for a royal commission — that it was a benefit and had to happen, and all of these wonderful things. Now the member is saying that the royal commission is a great big expense to the taxpayers. So make up your mind, Mr. Member.
The other interesting thing is that many of the discussions about what should and should not happen in education have been initiated by reporters who have asked questions. I think that the member is saying it's okay for all of those people and all of the critics to raise all these issues, but apparently, according to that member, it's not appropriate for any member of this government, any Minister of Education or Finance minister, to enter into any of those discussions. When someone comes up and asks me if I'm aware of a program that's operating somewhere else, that member's advice to me as Education minister would be to shut up and not talk to anybody about any questions or proposals. How ridiculous!
MR. JONES: Where's your plan'?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I don't have a plan for 12-month schools, because I did not plan it; I did not propose it. Somebody raised a question and I answered it, but you went out there and said how ludicrous I was for not having a plan for something I simply responded to. I think that is distortion, trying to turn the public against something that does not exist.
MR. JONES: The public's already turned off and has been for years.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Why? Not because of the programs. Not because of what we're spending and not spending in education. It's because of a concerted effort by you and your cohorts to give people false information. You have said that the Minister of Education proposed a 12-month school year, and how ridiculous that was without consultation. To me that's a deliberate distortion for your political purposes, because the Minister of Education in this province has never proposed a 12-month school year. All I have said is that I've heard of it happening elsewhere and will look into why they are doing it and what they are doing. It would take a great deal of consultation with the teachers, the educational community and the public in this province before I'd even take a position on it.
But you went out there for your political purposes and said: "The minister has no plan. He hasn't consulted with anybody." Then you say that the public is disinterested. The public is not disinterested. The public might wish to discuss it and ask me what I feel about it. But you've already decided that I'm wrong. Those are the kinds of ridiculous statements that you make and then try to translate into saying the public in this province is not willing to go along.
Getting back to this bill, the reaction that I've have from the public and from the school districts in this province is that those who have applied for all this money are well and above anything that we can possibly afford. Every school district in this province, basically, has applied for funding because they say we have a really good project. We think it's great to bring in Oriental languages, to bring in more information about the Pacific Rim countries.
That member stands up in here and says the public isn't interested? Go tell the school boards, Mr. Member, that you are against any cultural curriculum materials and Oriental language programs in this province, because they are interested, very interested.
I might point out to that member that since we have put this program into place and said that we would fund certain students and teachers to go over to the Pacific Rim countries in order to learn more about them, we have had a dramatic interest from Japan, particularly, to say: "We want to reciprocate; we think this is terrific; we hope to send ever more students to British Columbia and more teachers to British Columbia than you will ever possibly send over to Japan."
You tell me there's no interest in this. You tell me to justify it. I think it's been justified day by day, except by the people who absolutely believe that anything this government does has to be turned into a poisoned climate.
The only people who benefit from a poisoned climate is the opposition. You work your way out to develop a poisoned climate by distortions, by talking about spending $12 billion abroad, when you know better, Mr. Member. I guess it wouldn't upset me so much if you didn't know differently. But when you deliberately mislead the public and this House in that way....
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Okay, I'll withdraw "deliberately mislead." I guess I do get upset when I do know....
DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would just remind the minister to please address the Chair as well.
MR. HARCOURT: Take a deep breath. Calm down.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: It's hard to calm down when I hear statements like: "We in this province are last in Canada in our operating expenditures for pupils." Both of us can read the tables and we know different. You people will not acknowledge the total expenditure that this government has made on education, and choose to use selective portions of it in order to translate into their own figures.
This plan was initially announced, saying that we were going to put some money where our mouth was in this government to try to create some better cultural, educational exchanges and opportunities as they affect the Pacific Rim countries, The Ministry of Education was asked to work out the details and the implementation to see what could be done.
If that member had been even looking at the material that I have sent him, I think he would have to agree that the people in my ministry, in consultation with advisory committees from the BCSTA, the BCTF, some people interested in education, the universities and some of these countries, have put
[ Page 2993 ]
together an excellent program. It's an excellent way to use that money to the greatest and best advantage for all of the people in this province.
To stand up in this House and denigrate those people as though they had no plan because the plan wasn't complete the day the concept was announced — as though there is something wrong with that.... The Ministry of Education has been assigned the responsibility to put this plan, to provide the details, to work it out with the people who are interested and make sure that we get the best value for this money, and I think that is being done.
I think if that member would stop blatantly criticizing and read some of the material that's coming up and the interest that's out there in the public, the school boards and everyone else in this province except the opposition spokesman, then I think he will agree that this is going to be an excellent program.
MR. ROSE: I don't know what some of us do over here to excite the minister, but I think that he should really maybe have a glass of warm milk and a cookie, because I don't think this is good for him.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Mr. Speaker. on a point of order.
MR. ROSE: What's the point of order?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: The point of order is that I will decide whether I drink milk and cookies or....
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The opposition House Leader continues.
MR. ROSE: perhaps I made a mistake provoking the minister. We are in the land of milk and honey. At least we have been.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Get interested in education.
MR. ROSE: I'd like to come over and have a look at your speech, because I'd like to see if it's underlined "argument weak here, shout louder."
DEPUTY SPEAKER: We are in second reading of Bill 68.
MR. ROSE: I know, so it's very general, and I'll be guided by that very broad generality associated with second reading. I certainly wouldn't want to trample on your authority, but this kind of short-fuse approach to the opposition is really unacceptable. Our job here....
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Is to oppose, right? Anything, everything.
MR. ROSE: Just a minute. Our job is to examine any kind of legislation and to look and see if there are any plans behind the announcements, because we have very good reasons to examine behind the announcements. For instance, with the United States of British Columbia, we found that it was urgent. We passed an order-in-council for $8 million. Then we find that the Premier says there were no plans or details behind the announcements; they were all concepts.
I'm a little bit tired of hearing the minister's same old speech; if the opposition questions him at all, somehow we're knocking or we're just opposing. Just because he announced it....
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Do you ever read your garbage in Hansard?
MR. ROSE: To answer the direct question. I don't read Hansard at all, because I'm not a masochist. I like to think I contribute a great deal to Hansard, but I don't punish myself by reading it. I think that's the height of egotism. Do you read your own speeches? If you read your own speeches, you would never give another one of that type. I don't think there's any question about that.
Our job is to inquire into the details of government plans for proposals and concepts, right? And that's exactly what we're doing here.
I'll give the minister time to go out and have his milk and cookies if he wants, but while I'm on my feet, I would like to just say two or three other things. We have a kind of cynicism about some of the educational plans of this government, going back to 1983. Something like $300 million to $400 million has been taken out of our education system, and that is a fact. Therefore when you come up with a brand-new snazzy idea about cultural exchanges and all the rest of it, we want to know what it's all about. I think we're very entitled. As a matter of fact, we would be derelict in our duties if we didn't do it just like this.
I happen to think that the development of ethnic languages in our schools, the Pacific Rim languages, is a good thing. I have no difficulty....
MR. ROSE: All he asked was: where is your plan? How far is it going to go? Is it going to be out of the Excellence fund or is it going to he out of the school budget? We know what you've done over the years. There's an amendment right here in this bill, Mr. Speaker. affecting the homeowner grant. We've had no change in the homeowner grant for at least six years, except to make seniors pay a minimum of $100. We could take $150 off each and every homeowner's taxes. That's why I think we're interested — while you're busy loading the homeowners with educational taxes — in some kind of relief, because you've certainly been stealing money from education, and you're certainly not giving it to the homeowners.
Let's get back to the debate at hand. There's no point in just getting up and shouting and making a lot of racket, trying to paint my friend as a bigot because he might have the audacity to question you on what concepts and plans were behind this flashy, snazzy announcement about Oriental schools in Hong Kong. Are you going to stop there? I mean. Is there going to be one in Bangkok? Will there be one in Managua, Nicaragua? Perhaps you might have one in....
MR. GUNO: Atlin.
MR. ROSE: My friend from Atlin said he'd like to have one.
[ Page 2994 ]
I think it's a wonderful idea to send B.C. school teachers to all parts of the world, because at least that way they'll have employment. We might even be able to bring my daughter back from California and send her to Hong Kong; I think she'd love that. There are 3,000 teachers in B.C. who are unemployed.
MR. ROSE: Well, they've gone away, but there are 3,000 on the books that could work. You get up and correct me a little later; that'll be fine. The point is simply that it's not good, enough to try to paint my friend in a bad light because he's asking the proper questions.
I could move on in second reading if I wanted, as I think I've dealt with the minister's concerns, and invite him to partake in any libations he feels are appropriate. But I ask him to calm down, because I don't think he should get upset. It's not good for him. A little Valium or something like that might be helpful for him.
I don't know about the Steller's jay. Are you going to tell us all about it? I was hoping that perhaps some other birds....
MR. ROSE: No, I've left the birds, and I'm going to the bird. I'm abandoning the squirrels, and now I'm going to move to the birds.
I think there were some very interesting submissions. The Steller's jay tends to be cheeky, and I hope that we can at least be cheeky in British Columbia. I was rather hoping that you might consider the ruffled spouse; that is a species indigenous to all parts of British Columbia. Nevertheless, that perhaps was turned down....
MR. ROSE: The ruffled spouse, not the Brussels sprouts.
Seriously, Mr. Speaker, enough of this frivolity.
The ruffled grouse just left?
Seriously, there are a lot of things in this bill. I think that more appropriately than discussing them in any detail here in second reading, there will be ample time to discuss them in all manner of detail in committee.
MR. ROSE: Look, I know lots of other birds, but I don't think it would be appropriate. I get myself in enough trouble from time to time.
There is the matter of the homeowner grant; I'm concerned about that. The offloading of taxes for schools onto property owners. There is the whole matter of the Municipal Act amendments. And then there is this college board. If we're going to get into the details of that act, if I'm here I'd like to know why in the private bills committee we exempted that particular board and part of its land, and now suddenly.... Perhaps we didn't receive the right kind of information, but I see that it's no longer completely exempt. And there are some interesting little sort of associations there in Surrey, with our friend the head of the college board and the school board and — guess what? — the Social Credit Party. Just ask my friend from Surrey-Guildford-Whalley and points east, and we'll learn a lot more about that.
Anyway, I think the idea of expanding our school system, jobs for our young people, to improve the language all over the place.... I don't think we can be provincial there. We want jobs for our teachers, and to internationalize, an improving educational system under the new minister, one that is deftly trying to recover from the terrible battering it received over the last five years. I think it needs all the help it can get, and we'd be prepared to give it that help.
MR. HARCOUKF: Mr. Speaker, I wish the Minister of Education (Hon. Mr. Brummet) had not left for his hot milk. I was hoping to talk to him about the provisions in the bill, sections 38 and 52, that deal with the language-training program and with the question of our educational institutions expanding abroad to create opportunities. I think that in his haste to not drink warm milk but to drink his own bathwater and have an automatic response to our education critic, the hon. member for Burnaby North (Mr. Jones).... The critic was trying to make the point that charity begins at home; that these initiatives are fine; we'd like the details; we'd like to see the plan behind it; we'd like to see where they expect it to be; the benefits. When we ask for that information, the minister goes into a huff and becomes a grousy something or other.
As I said, charity begins at home. We have some serious problems that we wanted to bring again to his attention. There are hungry kids in our school system that we should be dealing with, and that's why the member for Maillardville-Coquitlam (Mr. Cashore) has an act to deal with the thousands of children who can't learn in our own schools because they don't have proper nutrition, for whatever reason. We want the minister to hear that, so he can finally do something proper about it. We want him to hear that teachers are committing criminal acts by xeroxing textbooks — which is against copyright law — because there aren't sufficient textbooks in our schools right here in British Columbia.
We think that he should understand that there are people coming here to our great country, as most of us have, as immigrants, who can't get decent English-as-a-second-language training right here in Canada. We were trying to make that point, while putting across a basic agreement with the outreach that is occurring as described in the Pacific Rim studies programs for our students. Mr. Speaker, I can tell you a number of schools that I have spoken to in and around Vancouver and throughout British Columbia where I've made just that point. I have said it's important not only for us to be able to speak English and French in this country, but if you are living on the west coast you should learn Mandarin; you should learn Cantonese; you should learn Japanese; you should learn the Thai language, Filipino, Punjabi, Hindi. Those are the languages that young people will have to have an appreciation of. They will have to understand the cultures of these Pacific Rim countries, because that's what Canada now regards British Columbia as: the front door of Canada to the Asia Pacific area.
So the concept is a valid one. What we're asking for is not the concept, but the plan. We'd like to know what is behind that good idea. Just to say,"Trust us," and if we say: "Well, Mr. Minister, we do...." Your job is to give us a plan. It's not for us to trust you it's for you to put a program, a plan,
[ Page 2995 ]
before this Legislature so that we can then talk about how we can improve it.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: This is estimates, not the bill.
MR. HARCOURT: It is a proposal; it is a concept to develop. The House Leader for the government knows full well that we are here always to make sure that the taxpayers' money is being spent wisely. That is what we are here to talk about.
MR. HARCOURT: I am here to talk about the concept and the government House Leader, if he wasn't signing Christmas cards, would know that that's what I've been doing for the last ten minutes.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I'm sending one to you.
MR. HARCOURT: Well, I'm sending one to you, too, and it will be in a non-partisan way that we enjoy a happy holiday season, and that is exactly what I intend to say to the hon. House Leader. But also, listen to the concept that I'm here to talk about, not estimates. I'm not here to talk about the budget; we've already done that.
We say to our young people to take advantage of this $12 million, to learn these languages that I have just described, and to understand, more importantly, the cultures, because that is so important to any long-term friendship relationship. And trade follows friendship. I said that when I was the mayor of Vancouver and traveled on at least a dozen occasions to the Asia Pacific area. It is absolutely essential that you have our young people understanding those languages and those cultures, and our schools are a good place to start that. We don't have any disagreement. But we want to see a plan, just like I asked the Minister of Economic Development (Hon. Mrs. McCarthy) for a more aggressive plan on the Asia Pacific area. This leads into it, so that we are more systemic in our approach, in our grasping of the opportunities of the Asia-Pacific.
I suggested three countries that we’re missing the boat on, Thailand, China and India, where we have no representation. For our students to go there and learn the languages and the culture and for our government representatives to be there is essential to the future of this province. We don't disagree with that. But again, we could have heard from the minister.
Dr, Bill Saywell, the president of Simon Fraser, and the president of UBC told me and other members of our caucus recently — and the president of the University of Victoria and some of the presidents of our colleges who are actively into this exchange program of students and scholars in the Asia Pacific would tell you — that bringing students to this country is absolutely essential to our long-term well-being. I can vouch for that. In our visit two years ago to Malaysia with Dr. Bill Saywell and eight other leaders of business and the trade unions and academia and the professions from British Columbia, Dr. Saywell in Kuala Lumpur was met by 35 recent graduates of Simon Fraser, who were the young up-and-comers in Malaysia, who were proud of coming to Canada, and who paid their own way, bringing $10,000 a student into our community to pay for their room and board and for all of their activities here. They went away very enthusiastic about Canada because of that education. They were forming an alumni association for Simon Fraser in Malaysia, 400 graduates throughout Malaysia; they will be the business, the government, the cultural and financial elite of that country. I can take you to Hong Kong, where over 60,000 people have graduated from Canadian educational institutions.
So we're not questioning the validity of the concept. We are saying two things: one, our education system has some serious problems. Charity begins at home. We are saying, secondly, that we'd like to see a plan behind this concept. We hope, when we get into more detailed discussions and committee, that the minister will not huff and puff, will not behave in a grouchy manner and be called to task, because we're doing our job, which is asking questions and making sure the government programs are tight, well-run and make sense. We hope — with the deep breathing that's now going on in his office as he practises yoga and some meditation and retains a cooler demeanour and a cooler frame of mind — that he will come back here and be able to give us the plan behind this exciting concept.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Chair advises hon. members that pursuant to standing order 42 the minister closes debate.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I'm not the minister in this case — it's the Attorney-General's bill — but I will advise the House that I am closing debate and would relinquish my seat, of course, if there were any other members who wished to participate. Seeing none, Mr. Speaker, I call second reading 9 of Bill 68.
Bill 68, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 5), 1987, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I have to find a minister, Mr. Speaker, because I call second reading of Bill 60, Property Purchase Tax Amendment Act, 1987. I don't see the minister.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: He's in Treasury Board and we're trying to find him. Perhaps we could just briefly recess, Mr. Speaker. I advise the assembly that the Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations is in Treasury Board and is being sought at this moment.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Perhaps all members would just sit easy for a few moments. I think the Minister of Finance will be along very shortly.
PROPERTY PURCHASE TAX
AMENDMENT ACT, 1987
HON. MR. COUVELIER: Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill 60 is to amend the Property Purchase Tax Act to improve the fairness, clarity and administration of the act. Specifically. Bill 60 proposes to provide eight new exemptions; to amend several existing exemptions, to apply the tax to commercial amalgamations not recognized under the Company Act and to Crown grants and leases: to amend a number of
[ Page 2996 ]
definitions; and to provide new procedures to enhance administrative efficiency.
The eight new exemptions include an exemption for the transfer of land which has reverted, escheated or forfeited, to the Crown and is being returned to the original owners within one year of the date of the reversion, escheat or forfeiture. This exemption recognizes the concept in the Escheat Act which holds that when escheated land is returned within one year of the date of the escheat, the escheat is a nullity. The exemption also clarifies that transfers after the one-year period, and transfers to persons other than the previously registered owners, are taxable.
An exemption is proposed for transfers of land to the federal Crown or agents of the federal Crown. Under the Constitution Act, the federal Crown is taxable only by agreement. The federal government has, to date, refused to pay this tax or its equivalent in any jurisdiction in Canada. While recognizing the exempt status of the federal Crown, however, initiatives to persuade the federal government to pay the tax are being discussed.
An exemption is proposed for transfers required to correct a conveyance made in error or to correct an error in the description or survey of a property. This exemption will ensure that taxpayers are not required to pay additional tax to correct efforts in registration.
An exemption is proposed for the transfer of municipal tax sale properties which were bid on and paid for before March 23, 1987. These transfers were previously exempt from ad valorem fees under the Land Title Act, and are accordingly....
Mr. Speaker, because no one's listening to me, I'm wondering whether this is really necessary. Maybe we can get into it during committee. I now move second reading.
MR. CLARK: We'll be brief on this because, as the minister and the House know, we opposed the original introduction of the Property Purchase Tax Act and moved a very simple amendment to exempt homes under $100,000, which would have saved the first-time home-buyer from what we on this side of the House feel quite strongly is an onerous tax on first-time home-buyers. If you will recall, at the time we spoke at length in our opposition to this piece of legislation.
I think one has to ask why such extensive amendments are necessary for a bill that was passed at the end of May. It seems the height of incompetence to try to bring in substantial amendments to legislation that we passed only a few months ago. It clearly shows that the homework wasn't done originally, that they had not thought out this legislation. We see continuously that legislation is introduced without proper thought, care and consideration. We see this kind of sloppy work being done time after time, and then extensive amendments just a few months later. This bill in particular has an extensive series of amendments which clearly should have been caught at the original introduction of the legislation. We could also talk about some of the amendments that were made at the time.
I have a question for the minister which maybe we can get into when we move to committee stage. There is a category in this bill that exempts Crown grants and leases that contain an option to purchase. Where a lease or grant was entered into before 1987, the purchaser is given until January 1989 to exercise his option to purchase, without being subject to the tax. I don't quite understand why that group of individuals would be exempt from the tax. As I said earlier, we oppose the tax. We moved amendments to exempt a category of purchasers — namely, first-time home-buyers. Now the government is moving not to exempt first-time home-buyers, or any such category of buyers, but to exempt those who hold options to purchase Crown grants. I don't want to cast aspersions on that group of individuals who hold those options, but it seems to me discrimination to single out that group of potential purchasers and to alleviate the tax burden on that group of purchasers when there are other purchasers, such as first-time home-buyers, who are more worthy of government intervention to excuse them from paying this tax. We'll deal with that section in committee stage.
Once again, our position is unchanged. We oppose the implementation of the Property Purchase Tax Act. We think that to bring in extensive amendments to a bill that was only passed in May of this year clearly demonstrates the incompetence of the government, that they haven't got a handle on the legislation and shouldn't have introduced it in the first place until the homework had been done. So we will be opposing these amendments to this act, as we oppose the act.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Pursuant to standing order 42, members are advised that the minister closes debate.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: This is a taxation act, and it is customary for amendments to a taxation act to be brought forward as deemed necessary. I take affront at the hon. member's suggestion that the act as originally drafted failed to do its job. I think it's fair to say that any new piece of legislation obviously requires a review shortly after its introduction, so that accommodations can be found for anomalies that arise. I find nothing unusual about amending a tax act, particularly one that is so new.
Dealing with the question of Crown grants — and if he reads Hansard tomorrow, he'll be able to hear what I'm now saying — the member should be informed that they were only taxable effective November 1, 1987, and that prior to that date they were exempt. As a consequence, in an abundance of fairness, this government being eminently fair and sensitive to injustices, it is only appropriate that an exemption be proposed for transfers of Crown grants and leases which were agreed to in writing prior to November 1. This is merely another evidence of this open government recognizing the needs of the common man and ensuring that fairness and equity applies to all. I move second reading.
Bill 60, Property Purchase Tax Amendment Act, 1987, read a second time on division and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Second reading of Bill 67, Mr. Speaker.
ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1987
HON. MR. COUVELIER: This bill does five things. It introduces a legislative method of dealing with industrial assessments based on cost less depreciation; it arrests further erosion of the industrial property tax base; it restructures the Assessment Appeal Board; it provides for assessment appeals directly to the Assessment Appeal Board; and it
[ Page 2997 ]
provides for updating of Assessment Appeal Board fee-setting and cost apportionment arrangements.
The cost less depreciation method of valuing industrial property is being introduced to deal with industrial property valuation problems that have been a concern to municipalities in recent years. The problem being dealt with dates from 1982, when industrial taxpayers, seeking to cut costs during the recession, began to argue that the assessed value of the properties did not reflect the impact of economic change on value. This led to large differences between the estimates of value given the properties by the owners and the properties' assessed values. Since 1982, the assessment appeal boards and the courts have adjudicated many disputes related to this issue. At the same time, the government has substantially reduced industrial property taxes by eliminating the tax on machinery and equipment and by lowering non-residential school tax rates.
However, the problem still exists in spite of better economic times, lower industrial tax levels and extensive litigation. Municipalities such as Elkford, Sparwood, Tumbler Ridge and others continue to face uncertainty as the result of volatile, unpredictable assessments. This legislation is therefore being introduced to deal with the problem. It establishes a major industrial property class that is to be assessed according to a simple cost less depreciation approach. Using this approach, the first step is to determine the cost of replacing an existing industrial building with one of the same size that would be constructed using modem materials. The cost figure is then depreciated using regulated depreciation schedules. The result should be simply determined, stable assessments for municipal tax purposes. In order to deal with any significant adverse impacts on industry, provisions are also included in the bill to provide for the phasing in of any assessment or taxation changes.
The second component of the bill deals with the question of tax base erosion. In recent years a number of properties have been removed from the tax base by the courts, only to be put back into the tax base by provincial legislation. This recurring cycle, in which owners appeal and, if they are successful, local governments object and the government changes legislation to deal with local concerns, has caused difficulty for both local governments and industrial taxpayers — indeed, all taxpayers.
The fundamental problem is that the distinction in the existing legislation as to what components of a large industrial complex are and are not assessable is unclear. As a result, the legislation cannot withstand the aggressive legal actions that have been launched against it in recent years.
However, because changes to the property tax base affect municipal governments, changes must be approached with care. The approach set out in this bill is designed to deal with this problem and to make those industrial improvements which have been exempted by court orders since 1985 taxable for 1987 and subsequent years. Under the legislation, exclusions to the definition of industrial improvements are limited to improvements that were classified as machinery and equipment when the government eliminated property taxes on such improvements in 1985 and to similar improvements constructed since that time. Exemptions for industrial improvements constructed after September 30, 1989, will be based on a clear, precise schedule of exemptions to be set out in regulation. These exemptions will be designed to replicate the current tax base and will provide clear direction.
The third part of the bill restructures the Assessment Appeal Board. As originally established, the Assessment Appeal Board was a single expert appellant body to which appeals from courts of revision could be referred. Over time, in order to accommodate an increased workload, the single board has expanded into a number of individual boards. The multiple boards have made uniform decision-making difficult, which has resulted in decisions from various boards that are inconsistent with each other. This, in turn, has reduced the predictability of appeal outcomes and has led to additional appeals.
This bill creates a single board which may, at the direction of its chairman, sit as one member or as a panel of three or more members. This structure should contribute to greater consistency in board decisions and allow the board to adjust to the unique characteristics of different appeals.
The fourth part of the bill permits appeals to be made directly to the appeal board. This replaces the present procedure under which appeals are routed to the board through the assessor. The new approach is more efficient than the present system and eliminates what some appellants have considered as an inappropriate role for the assessor.
The fifth part of this bill provides for updated methods for the imposition of fees and the apportionment of board costs. This is being done partially to enhance cost recovery, but more importantly to curb nuisuse of the assessment appeal system. Presently fees for appeals to the board are set at the 1953 level of $5 for the first property appealed and $2 for each additional property. These low fees and the lack of any effective means for apportioning costs between parties has led to the growth of contingency-fee assessment-appeal companies that appeal large numbers of properties on a contingency-fee basis on the off chance of winning a reduction. This is contrary to the purpose of the board, which is to resolve serious disputes between owners and assessors. An enhanced fee structure that does not hinder the accessibility of the board to individual owners but which does discourage multiple appeals, together with provisions for the awarding of costs where it is clear the system is being misused, will make the boards more efficient and allow for faster, more effective resolution of genuine disputes.
In summary, the bill stabilizes municipal tax bases and provides for more effective resolution of assessment appeals. I now move second reading.
MR. CLARK: Let me say at the outset that clearly we had a problem with industrial assessments in British Columbia, and in many cases a crisis. Hundreds of millions of dollars were rolled back in assessments in this province, in some cases involving significant amounts of paybacks from municipalities to corporations. That clearly was unacceptable. The previous minister struck the industrial assessment committee to look at that, and I reserve some judgment, because I want to look in detail at the report that was commissioned and at the act, to see how close — maybe the minister could address some of that — the recommendations of the committee come to what is in the act.
Having said that. I think there a couple of things consistent with the recommendations and which I think are commendable. First, the establishment of a special appeal board to deal with industrial assessments makes sense, both because they have the expertise, hopefully, and to discourage the wide variation in appeals that we were getting because of the individual assessors making individual opinions on an
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individual industrial property basis rather than on any kind of coherent policy. Second, it makes sense to have a consistent framework in the act rather than the market-value-only position that was there before; because of the difficulty of measuring market value and the difficulty of the different assessors' measuring it resulting in different numbers.
I'll have more to say in committee stage, but I must say I have some concern with what appears to be a bit of a simplistic approach of costs less depreciation. My recollection of the committee's report was of a much more sophisticated approach to measuring the value of those industrial properties. While I recognize the concern when the value of the property goes down dramatically — as it did in 1982 and 1983 as a result of the serious recession — I'm not sure that this doesn't unnecessarily depress the assessment when the value goes up. I realize we can't have it both ways, to some extent, and stability is the most important, but it seems to me that there may be an opportunity here to be slightly more sophisticated. It seems to me also that the committee struck by your predecessor recommended a more sophisticated approach, and I hope the minister might just briefly address that in his response.
Basically, a legislative method for dealing with it, a special appeal board to deal with those questions, and stability in the base makes a lot of sense. I think that in that sense it's very good, but with some caveats respecting the precise method you've used. I reserve some more questioning on that for the committee stage.
MR. BLENCOE: My comments, like my colleague's, will be brief at this stage. I just wish, as Municipal Affairs critic, to share that we too have been waiting for some action. Knowing local government and the problems they've had over the last few years, we certainly welcome this government's attempt to rectify the problems of assessment, particularly for industrial purposes.
As we all know, there are many communities which have virtually gone bankrupt. I know that some communities, at one point, would have gladly given their community to the province for a dollar, especially a few years ago. I have to say that because this bill came down late Friday, we haven't had a chance to really look over in detail a lot of the detail, but from first glance, we think it's a start. The government and the Finance minister have clearly tried to grapple with this very difficult job, I might add; there's no question about that. There's no easy answer, but I think we have to find some common ground in terms of the communities that these major industrial plants serve. For many of these communities, the only industry is a single industry, and I think they have to recognize that they owe some responsibility to those communities. It's not a straightforward matter of reducing their assessment and walking away. They have to recognize that they have some responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, we will have further to say in committee, as we do a further rundown of the details of this piece of legislation.
MS. EDWARDS: I also want to be very short in saying that I recognize that this is badly needed legislation, whatever it is. I have to confess to the minister that I haven't yet had the opportunity to examine it very closely, nor have I had the opportunity to canvass my constituency on their exact response to it. However, I do know, in having some hints about what it might be, that I believe that the municipalities in my area were favourably disposed to what you are proposing. I know that some of the mining companies in my riding include a number which are not so favourably disposed, but I want to know exactly their particular points before I discuss it.
What I need to say, Mr. Minister, is that I don't any longer want to have this terrible struggle that seems almost insurmountable for the particular entities dealing in it. The municipalities simply can't afford the kind of tax taken — give and take — nor the problems they had trying to plan, which has gone on partly because of this problem. And I know that the mining companies are certainly in no particular position right now to have a great shift and sort.
So if in fact we get to some stability in the assessment and the taxing system here, I'm sure that it will bring some good at any rate.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. members are all advised that pursuant to standing order 42 the minister will now close debate.
HON. MR. COUVELIER: A number of points were made by hon. members opposite. I'll try to deal with them with short comments, because we undoubtedly will spend some time during the committee stage.
First, dealing with the question of whether these proposed legislative changes recognize the recommendations of the special task force created by my predecessor to look into this whole matter, I can say that we have taken those recommendations that were pertinent and valid out of the report.
As to the report's "major recommendation," which dealt with a pretty significant restructuring of the minutiae that the assessment appeal boards were to use as criteria to examine appeals, in relation to those specific recommendations, we have not accepted them. When we introduced publicly the task force's reports and distributed them to the local governments and the industrial sector, we got almost unanimous criticisms for the recommendation. The report suggested a very complicated, technical determination of values using a variety of formulas. It was our judgment and that of the people who expressed an opinion on the matter that we were making the issue even more complicated and were reducing the question of stability and the ease of understanding. We were making it far more likely that the appeals that we were being inundated with were going to increase exponentially if we had accepted that rather complicated formula to settle these matters. In short, I don't think we found any local government in favour, and I do not recollect receiving any correspondence from the industrial sector in favour of those particular amendments. Other recommendations we did incorporate into this amendment act.
Dealing with the second point raised, which had to do with the need for local government stability in taxation revenues, I must recognize the complimentary remarks by the hon. members opposite on our intention here. I must also add a caveat, if you like, to local governments in British Columbia. These amendments assume that local governments will be responsible in their taxing authorities and that they will not abuse the taxing power given to them through this new change in procedures and regulation. And if it turns out in the fullness of time that the local governments do not rise to that challenge to be responsible, then clearly it may be a matter that has to be revisited. But this government starts on the assumption that local governments are partners in providing
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responsible government to our province, and that they will use discretion and sensitivity in applying their taxing powers under these proposed changes.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, the detailed discussions in third reading I think will allow us to get into the technicalities, if that is the wish of the members opposite. May I just caution you that it is an extremely technical subject that has more combinations and permutations than mere spoken words can explain. So with those words, Mr. Speaker, I call for second reading of the bill.
Bill 67, Assessment Amendment Act, 1987, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Once again we're in an interesting situation: lots to do, but we don't know where to go from here.
The hon. opposition House Leader spoke to me earlier and made the recommendation that perhaps we could ask for leave to go to committee stage of Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 5), 1987. I don't know if he has discussed that with his caucus, but he had wanted to attend something else at the moment. So if that's agreeable, I would ask leave, Mr. Speaker, to go to committee stage of Bill 68.
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 5), 1987
The House in committee on Bill 68; Mr. Pelton in the chair.
On section 1.
MR. CLARK: There's a bit of a dilemma. I know that the hon. House Leader for the government side is very able, but I think he may have some difficulty dealing with committee stage technical questions on clauses.
AN HON. MEMBER: The cabinet is coming.
MR. CLARK: Oh, they are. My first question around the Auditor General Act might be difficult for the House Leader to answer.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I'll try.
MR. CLARK: Because we're downgrading the position of the auditor-general — and I understand from sitting on the auditor-general committee that that's been in the works for some time — I would like to know if the minister knows whether or not we're competitive with other auditor-generals across Canada in our new salary range. It seems to me we don't want it to reflect upon the position of auditor-general, We don't want to be saying to the public that we're downgrading the position of auditor-general because we've given that person a wage cut in excess of $30,000. So if the minister could assure us that this new rate of pay was comparable to other auditor-generals across Canada, it might assist us in supporting this clause.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: The member is well aware, and he has already indicated this.... I know the committee of selection for the Auditor General Act was concerned with this. I think all members of that committee did a remarkable job in relaying the message to the candidates that there would be a change in legislation.
Just to recap briefly on the history, when the legislation was first drafted it became apparent to the government that any salary would have to be tied to the setting of a salary that is decided not by the executive council or a majority of the Legislative Assembly but rather by an independent body. So the salary in the original legislation, Mr. Chairman, was set at that of a Supreme Court judge. That certainly set it aside from any control of the executive council or in fact of the government of British Columbia, and did that quite clearly. However, it also became apparent to us that there was a remarkable escalation going on within that salary by the federal government. At present the Supreme Court judges receive a salary of $111,700. The federal government has also tabled legislation that will increase the salary retroactive to April 1986 to $115,000 and then to $121,000 retroactive to April 1987, and to $127,700 effective April 1988. The recommendation of the recent report of the Select Standing Committee on Labour, Justice and Intergovernmental Relations, which set out for another task, was to pay the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court a salary of $94,326 for 1988. Those reports, of course, were adopted, and it was on the basis of that figure that we reckoned as government that that would be an appropriate salary level for the auditor-general of British Columbia.
With respect to the member's question as to other salaries across Canada, I regret that I cannot inform the committee of that number, although maybe the member can, because I'm sure if you were on the select standing committee to look at an auditor-general, you might have those numbers more at hand. I can't give you that comparison, Mr. Member, but maybe the Attorney-General can, or maybe if you insist on having this information, we could stand down that section until such time as we can verify the information that you require.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I gather you'd like to have the salaries of auditor-generals across the Commonwealth and the western world. One of the reasons for tying them to the salary of the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court is to set them in this province and not set them indexed to something outside the province.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
MR. CLARK: I wonder if the government House Leader on this one would stand it until both our opposition critic and the Minister of Social Services (Hon. Mr. Richmond) are here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Section 2 is stood over.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
MR. CLARK: I wonder if the minister could just explain the reason for this section.
[ Page 3000 ]
[Mrs. Gran in the chair.]
HON. B.R. SMITH: It's consequential in the sense that the grounds for the revocation of a debt collector's licence are being amended, and they will no longer include the revocation of a licence issued under the Investment Contract Act, because the Investment Contract Act was repealed, or will have been repealed when the bill we debated here last week passes the assembly and receives royal assent.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
MR. ROSE: I'm intrigued by the new British Columbia bird. I know the minister would like to take a peck at trying to inform the House and the general public how this illustrious feathered friend was chosen over all the noble and courageous birds that are indigenous to this province. Some thought maybe we should have had the falcon; somebody else suggested that since we're involved in free trade, maybe the bald eagle would have been appropriate. There are all kinds of different ones that I hesitate to mention, not because I can't think of them but because I just don't think I'd get away with talking about them. There's an amendment here of the Emblem and Tartan Act. I imagine we could go behind this particular amendment and go right into that Emblem and Tartan Act, and that would probably uncover a lot of old wounds. It would take us back to Scotland and all the rest, but I don't think we want to do that.
But we want to know why this pipsqueak of a jay was chosen over all the rest. I know that the minister will be able to convince us all that while the great blue heron was passed over, and some of these other birds that....
MR. WILLIAMS: Peregrine falcon.
MR. ROSE: We talked about the falcons, and we have chosen, instead, the Steller's jay.
MR. WILLIAMS: The whisky-jack.
MR. ROSE: Well, I don't think that would be appropriate for the province, but at one time it was, perhaps.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I'm delighted to leap to the breach and respond to my hon. friend opposite, to members of the committee and to British Columbia in general, and to tell you how enthused and pleased I am with the selection of the Steller's jay as the B.C. provincial bird.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Cyanocitta stelleri, right. I'll tell you about the name too — not the Latin name, but the way it came to be appointed.
Seriously, 1987 was the centennial of Canadian wildlife. The first wilderness area was set aside by Sir John A. In 1887 in Saskatchewan, and it was decreed across Canada that provincial governments should pay homage to this celebration and do something significant. It occurred to us in British Columbia that we did not have a provincial bird, and perhaps it might be a good idea for all British Columbians to enter into the process of selecting one, and we did.
We had a remarkable public relations campaign, handled very ably by a gentleman I want to mention now, Ron Kowalilak of the Ministry of Environment and Parks. He did just a first-class job of doing a public relations campaign for the balloting. He sent out ballots. There was good radio and television coverage, and it was really a remarkable campaign. In the end we received 85,000 ballots, and the Steller's jay won.
There were many other candidates. We even had a write in section of the ballot....
MR. ROSE: Did you have any section 80s?
HON. MR. STRACHAN: We had section 80 ballots, yes.
Coming in second was the peregrine falcon. By the way, the Steller's jay got about 21,000 ballots, which is more than many of us in this room get — and ever will. Second was the peregrine falcon; third was the trumpeter swan; and it went down from that point. Other candidates were the American dipper, which my friend opposite might wish to reflect on. Then there was the hummingbird, but I've forgotten how the ballots went there. I have a short attention span when it comes to hummingbirds.
In any event, the winner was the Steller's jay. By the way, you'll notice the spelling is S-t-e-l-l-e-r-'-s. If we examine that, class, we notice that's not the way we spell "stellar" as in "stars." Also,"s", so it must be someone's name. Eureka! You're right. The Steller's jay is named after George Steller, who was a German physician and naturalist with the Bering expedition, and traveled the Alaska panhandle area with the Bering expedition, which was financed by the Russians and came, of course, to the west coast of British Columbia. Being the renowned naturalist that he was, he named that cute little critter the Steller's jay.
So there we have it. That's really about all I wanted to say about section 5, but I knew you'd be delighted to hear that.
MS. A. HAGEN: I'm not sure whether I'm rising because my Scottish ancestry comes to the fore with the Emblem and Tartan Act, or because of the Steller's jay. But I did want to ask the Minister of Environment what kind of power this particular amendment gives to the province in respect to this ubiquitous bird. Because I had been told that by virtue of laying claim to this bird as an emblematic part of our taxonomical whatever, we may limit people's use of this particular bird — ways in which they may advertise and so on. I wonder if either the Minister of Environment or the Provincial Secretary (Hon. Mr. Veitch) can say what we are in fact taking on to ourselves, and have we asked the bird's permission to so limit the use of its ruffled feathers and cheeky voice and ubiquitous travels around the province?
HON. MR. STRACHAN: I just sought a fast legal opinion from the Attorney-General with respect to use of the Steller's jay, and he said: "I don't know." But I presume that anyone could use the Steller's jay in spite of its official designation, the same way anyone could make reference to the dogwood, which is our official flower. So that status would be the same. This simply enshrines its officialdom in the Emblem and Tartan Act. The bird is already protected under law in terms of hunting and that type of thing, and this simply states that it is now our official bird.
[ Page 3001 ]
MS. A. HAGEN: Just as long as we're not going to give it the Olympic treatment, and I gather that that's the intent of the minister's comment.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
MR. CASHORE: I'm hurriedly reading some notes that we've been able to get on this section. I think there is much in this section that this side of the House would endorse, but I would like to ask the Attorney-General to rise and explain this section and its aims and objectives. We may have some questions following that.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Am I required to speak on the Steller's Jay, or can I go on?
AN HON. MEMBER: We've already done that.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Oh, good. I'm much relieved.
The amendments to sections 6 and 7 — I'll deal with them together — are really to reduce court activity and costs, place responsibility back on parents for their children and make the process of obtaining a family court order less intimidating and frustrating. Through the amendments we will get access to the provincial tracing unit to applicants who need and deserve assistance to vary or enforce a custody or access order. This section will allow an enforcement officer to conduct locational traces for custody and access matters, as it is now possible for maintenance under section 63.2 to help applicants in family court.
The amendments will also, in matters of custody enforcement, make access to federal data banks under the new federal act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act — which was proclaimed only two weeks ago — more efficient and practical. We'll have access to these data banks, not access to any privileged information which has a solicitor-client privilege or information that a family counsellor gets. Those are protected in the sections. It's an attempt to get this information, and to get it into the hands of parents and people who need to enforce custody and access, and to do so without everything going into the funnel of the court. The only way you could get it before, as you know, was pursuant to court order. So it's really an attempt to make that information more accessible to the people who need it.
MR. CASHORE: I would take it then that this legislation's main intent is to facilitate this process, and that it's not getting into the area we have been anticipating with regard to support payments and that sort of thing. We would anticipate that there will be further legislation coming in that regard.
HON. B.R. SMITH: That's absolutely correct. The legislation for automatic enforcement of maintenance and subrogation rights — the two sort of separate things that we have to do — is in final preparation. It's my hope and the hope of the Minister of Social Services and Housing (Hon. Mr. Richmond) that we would at least be able to get a bill into the chamber here before we break. It may not be a bill that will pass; we may bring it in as exposure. That may depend on your reaction to it when you see it. But we're not holding it back. We're trying desperately to put the final touches to it. It's been a very difficult measure to put together. There are a lot of technical problems with it. We want it to work and we want it to work well. Fm aiming to get something in this chamber this week in that other area. That's by and away from sections 6 and 7, but I think you're entitled to that response.
MR. CASHORE: With regard to the comments that the Attorney-General has just made and anticipating that this legislation before us facilitates part of that process, I would like to say to the minister that I would really hope that the other part of it, the legislation that you intend to bring in, would address — as well as the concern of those people who are on income assistance, and how that might in a sense replenish the enormous cost that is involved there — those parents who are of low income who cannot avail themselves of the facilities of the courts.
HON. B.R. SMITH: I totally agree with the member. The legislation we're putting together is not simply designed to be a collector or set-off of welfare payments from defalcating husbands, but is also to be a mechanism that will allow the working poor to collect their proper dues from absconding spouses. By "the working poor," I go right up into the professional middle class. A lot of women in that category who have been left by husbands and who are not on social assistance are having one terrible struggle and simply can't collect. The legislation is going to deal with them, for sure.
MR. GUNO: I just have a very brief question. As I understand it, this section allows an enforcement officer to have access to information without having to obtain a court order. I think that's a welcome change. As someone who briefly practised family law, I think it's generally accepted to be one that is now in line with the federal law.
One question I have is on one of the items under the exemption clause in (2). I understand the solicitor-client privilege has been a very justifiable exemption, but the exemption under (c) which purports to exempt any information from the director of statistics, who I assume would be in charge of releasing anything that's relevant under the provincial Statistics Act.... Can the Attorney-General comment on that exemption?
HON. B.R. SMITH: I'll just have to act that act for a minute, because I don't know that I can do that right off the cuff. Just a minute. I also apologize that I wasn’t listening to everything you said, because somebody was interrupting me. I'll just check that out.
Section 9 was a rather blanket provision for secrecy. It appears to me that all this does is to provide that the powers of the enforcement officer, under subsection (1) of 37. 1, these broad powers of tracing that we're talking to.... The freedom to do those things does not apply in respect of any information which is prohibited because of secrecy under section 9, so all the categories under section 9 are still secret. The secrecy provisions of statistics provide those people that can have access for the statistics.... They're all set out. A person who is not employed or engaged under this act and doesn't have a lawful purpose for getting that information can be prosecuted for making it available. For disclosing under that act. you can be prosecuted as well. There are a number of people who are held to be legally entitled to information; they're all set out.
[ Page 3002 ]
As far as I can tell from this section, it keeps and maintains those privileges and safeguards of secrecy. The enforcement officer's powers under 37 (l) are subject to subsection (2), which says that subsection (1) does not apply in respect of information the disclosure of which is forbidden by section 9. So I take that to mean, hon. member, as you probably would agree, that section 9 — the secrecy provisions under statistics — are still in force. Somebody cannot get a tracing order and then give that information at large to the public or someone who isn't authorized, or else they'd still be in violation of the secrecy provisions of 9 in relation to private statistics.
MR. GUNO: Would you interpret this as also saying that if under 37 (l) you are unable to get the information that's required, you still have recourse to the court to obtain the order for the information?
HON. B.R. SMITH: That's the way I understand it: you still have access to the court, but you need not take the court route if you can come under the provisions of the enforcement officer. But you would still have the court route.
Sections 6 and 7 approved.
On section 8.
MR. WILLIAMS: It's interesting to note that this government has done very little to improve the circumstances of homeowners over many years, in terms of increasing this grant. An earlier Premier would have made sure that this was done annually so that the net position of the homeowner was not sliding backwards. Under this administration, they are sliding backwards in terms of some kind of redistribution, in terms of the incidence of the tax — i.e, the tax on the average homeowner. Because you haven't increased the grant, the incidence on the average homeowner is higher than ever. So you're not keeping with the great traditions of the earlier Social Credit administrations that knew this was an onerous burden for the average homeowner. That being the case, you may very well face their wrath in the near future.
Sections 8 to 13 inclusive approved.
On section 14.
MR. CLARK: I'd just like the Attorney-General to explain 14, 15 and 16 in terms of the implications of those changes.
HON. B.R. SMITH: These remedy some glitches in the bill that we brought in last year, which is working quite well. I only wish that I could persuade my federal counterpart to adopt our approach to the classification of visual materials in this province, which we did by public consultation and meetings, and by talking to a lot of groups instead of by imposing that kind of a strange new test, as they're doing in the Criminal Code amendments.
Currently the act in section 8 (2) provides that where there is a contravention of the act, its regulation or an order of the director, the director may refuse to issue or reissue or may suspend or cancel a licence. I guess you could argue that breaches of a condition of licence would constitute a contravention of an order of the director, but the proposed amendment makes it clear that breaches of conditions of a licence are grounds for action by the director. So it's to absolutely put beyond question the power of the director to do that. We did not have a direct court challenge on that, but it was apprehended we were going to get one. So this is to try to make our regulatory scheme beyond attack in that sense.
MR. CLARK: Maybe the minister could just clarify. These amendments deal with legislation that was introduced and passed in June 1986. Is that the legislation? It seems to me to be kind of quick to make amendments. Is it the result of some consequence that has come up — a court case or something like that?
HON. B.R. SMITH: We were anticipating a challenge or had some notice we were going to have a challenge on that ground. Somebody was going to challenge the director's power to do that, so we'd want to head it off before we do.
Sections 14 and 15 approved.
On section 16.
MR. CLARK: Maybe the minister could explain section 16, because it seems to me that it deals with municipal liability with respect to licences. Maybe he could just clarify that. I made a note here that the municipal council members should not have been liable in this kind of situation anyway, so I'm wondering why the need for changes. I've got a note here that the Attorney-General's department, December 14, 1987...., that this section shouldn't have been here in the first place.
HON. B.R. SMITH: Without getting the bill, I'll have to stand it down and come back to it. If you just wait a minute, I may be able to give you that answer.
We're repealing 13 (l) because municipal officials don't do that any more.
HON. B.R. SMITH: No, business licences were issued but not in relation to someone whose licence had been cancelled under 8 (2). That is as a result of somebody breaching an order of the director. Since the director just got the power to do this under this bill, 13 (l) is no longer applicable. There are not going to be cases where a business licence is being issued to someone whose licence has been cancelled under 8 (2).
If that doesn't answer it adequately, I'll be glad to stand it down and come back on it. I just think it's an academic section. That's the note that I have.
Section 16 approved.
On section 17.
MR. BLENCOE: I won't be long on this section.
I would like to say that we're pleased to see this here and should indicate that there had been some conversations between my office and the minister's office to try to ensure that it was here during this session. For a number of years the business community has been waiting for the opportunity to establish business improvement areas. I know in my own community the downtown business community is anxious to
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have and has wanted such a mechanism to do their own kind of programs for business improvement in the downtown area.
Generally we are very supportive of this section. We hope that it will allow local councils to move ahead to establish business improvement areas. In the past, local councils have voiced a concern that a business improvement area elected group might clash with the local council in terms of priorities and issues. That may happen, but generally I think we have come to the conclusion that the ability to establish a business improvement area and allow those businesses in that area, within some reasonable parameters, to define their own agenda and priorities is a good idea.
We are very supportive of this moving ahead. I would, though, ask some questions of the minister and maybe the minister can get some clarification for me. Subsections (6) (c) and (d) specify that non-resident and corporate voters will be allowed to vote. It specifically says: "sections 36 and 38 apply for the purpose of determining who is an elector under section 674 (4)...." Basically, it's the non-resident and corporate voters.
Two problems arise. First, it doesn't say resident voters are excluded, but it doesn't say they're included here. It specifically says that non-resident voters and corporate voters.... I understand the reason for that: many of them do business in downtown Victoria, for example, but live in another municipality. But it doesn't say residents of that business area will be able to vote. I presume they're not excluded. I hope not. It's just a point of clarification. I don't know if she can answer today, but maybe the minister can get an answer. Is it the intent of this legislation to exclude residents of the prospective BIA areas? I. would hope not.
Also, one that we are not going to say too much about: there could be in the future, which is always a problem, allowing the corporate vote.... It might create a clash, because we know that in corporate interests versus the tenant business person or the shopkeeper who leases or rents space, obviously the corporate direction is somewhat different than those small tenant directions. I hope that that won't create all sorts of problems in those business improvement areas. Those corporate lobbyists tend to be a little more powerful than the small shopkeepers who lease or rent space. We would hope that these business improvement areas won't get into conflict over those kinds of priorities.
Those are just two things that I bring up to the minister. The first one, I think, is the major one: that hopefully those who are resident in the BlAs won't be excluded from voting.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I will get clarification on that, because I don't have a response, but if we were bringing forward legislation that was going to allow businesses to tax themselves, it would be my hope that the residential taxpayers would not be called upon to pay any part of that levy, so in turn it would seem to me that they wouldn't be included in the vote. But I will get clarification on that.
MS. EDWARDS: I'm just curious and wonder if the minister would respond and explain subsection (9) (a) and (b), about the time limit for these designated improvement areas. It says that they must come to an end at a certain time. I wonder if you would explain the reasoning behind that and whether you expect that there will be a number of renewals of this kind of thing. Will that be allowed? What's the story on that?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: In bringing forward the bill we did call upon input, and we received copies of similar legislation from other jurisdictions. I would have to assume that this was the ideal situation. There's no question at all that the contract could be renewed after five years, but it would have to be renewed on agreement — the people in the area would have to agree to an extension.
Sections 17 to 21 inclusive approved.
On section 22.
MS. SMALLWOOD: Perhaps what we could do is ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs to explain the purpose of this amendment.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I'm hesitating a bit because I'm trying to remember the date the original bill was introduced. It seems to me that the tax exemption legislation that originally went to committee and was passed through this House took effect in '85. At that time a portion of the property was not registered in the name of the Pacific Bible College. Although this House thought we were giving tax exemption to all of the property used for education and worship, we did not do that, because a portion of the property was registered in the name of the society. We are correcting that to fulfill the commitment we thought we were giving them in 1985. It is strictly because part of the property was registered under one name and part under another, and it was not caught when the bill was put forward in 1985. Nothing new is being added to what was understood by the House in 1985.
MS. SMALLWOOD: Am I to understand then that this change, including the naming of the Bible Fellowship Housing Society, now identifies the whole parcel and that the whole parcel will be exempt from property taxes.)
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The property that is used for educational purposes.
MS. SMALLWOOD: I understand that there is a portion of the property held by the Bible Fellowship Housing Society that is now currently in tax sale. This legislation deals retroactively with that portion of the property and therefore wipes out the owing taxes. Is that correct?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: That would be correct to a point because it does not exempt them from payment of all the outstanding taxes. To clarify, land that is owned or leased by the college which is not used for educational purposes is not considered to be college property and is not exempt.
MS. SMALLWOOD: I would expect that the minister is familiar with some of the detail, so I'll take some liberty in telling the minister what I understand to be the situation. The Bible Fellowship Housing Society has a request before the municipal council asking for rezoning to higher density for housing at that property. Does this legislation retroactively deal with that property that is now up for a different use?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I'm not familiar with the property that is up for rezoning by council. I only know that the property we're dealing with here is property being used for educational purposes at this time.
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MS. SMALLWOOD: I wonder if the minister could seek clarification with regard to the actual description of the property included in this bill, because there is property that is not being used currently for any purpose. And I am concerned that what we are looking at here is property that is intended for a townhouse complex, yet we don't have at this time definition as to whether or not the townhouse complex will be included in a campus; whether or not this will be housing for teachers or students.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The bill specifies that the college property does not include land and improvements used or occupied by the college for any purpose that is not an educational purpose. The background note states that the bill defines the parcels of land which are deemed to be college property as defined in subsection (1). This amendment gives a tax exemption for a portion of the land owned by the Bible Fellowship Housing Society, which is currently used for educational purposes. It only gives an exemption to the portion used for educational purposes; and that would be the parcel that the school is on.
MS. SMALLWOOD: Prior to September 30 of this year there was an outstanding tax bill of $45,000; that did not include the current taxation year of 1987. Can the minister tell us how much is being retroactively exempted from the taxes that are owed?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Madam Chairman, I can't give you the dollar amount. I just know that from the year 1985 they qualify for the exemption, as was the understanding when we dealt with the bill initially. It was just the problem, as I pointed out earlier, that the property was registered in another name, and the exemption we thought we were giving them at that time was not able to be given because of the ownership. But this defines it. And it's clearly understood that it is only the portion of property used for educational purposes that receives the tax exemption, and that exemption begins with the year 1985. I don't know the dollar amount.
MS. SMALLWOOD: I'm told by the municipal collector that this legislation deals with the total parcel; that it deals with the amount of taxes that are owing presently. I'm also told that this legislation would treat this particular school differently than any other private school in Surrey, because it would give it such special status that it would no longer be responsible for local improvements, fire and drainage. Can the minister give us some information as to why this school gets that privilege?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Madam Chairman, the intent — and my understanding of this legislation — is that this school will be treated the same as any other place of education in the province of British Columbia. It was agreed to by the municipality and accepted by the members in this House when the bill was introduced in 1985. If the member opposite has some information that hasn't been given to me, I would certainly be pleased to hear it; and I don't mind checking with the municipality to receive further clarification. The intention of the bill is to correct an oversight that occurred in the original legislation — nothing more, nothing less; and that was to give this college an exemption commencing with their property taxes in 1985. They were getting no special treatment, and they were being treated the same as any other property being used for educational purposes that the municipality agreed to give an exemption to.
MS. SMALLWOOD: My understanding is that there are two classifications of educational facilities: one, a public school, which is exempted from all property taxes and local improvements, including fire protection; and then there are private educational facilities, which are often exempted from property taxes but pay fire and local improvements. My understanding is that this legislation enables this particular college to be exempt as if it were a public educational facility, exempting it from fire and local improvements. If that is the case, then indeed it is getting special treatment. I'd like the minister to clarify that.
Secondly, I'd ask the minister to stand this down until they can clarify the description of that property and whether it includes the property before the municipal planning department, with a request to change the zoning to a townhouse zoning. They're asking for a change from two units per acre — that is for a development area of somewhere between 12 and 14 acres — to 180 units for that same 12 to 14 acres. Could the minister clarify that we are not, by this legislation, exempting this specific parcel? Because it is such a contentious zoning proposal, I would ask the minister to stand this section down until we have the information to deal with.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I don't have a problem with that. I'll place a call this evening to the municipal officials, and I'll have the response in the morning. This should be dealt with before we go home.
Section 22 stood.
On section 2.
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Earlier, the committee stood down section 2. I have had a subsequent discussion with the Minister of Social Services and Housing (Hon. Mr. Richmond), who advises me that he would like to see section 2 excised from this bill for this time, because there are other legislative implications that will be coming down the road with respect to the Child Paternity and Support Act. I'd like to return to section 2 as stood down, and advise the committee that the government will be voting against it.
Section 2 negatived.
Sections 23 to 37 inclusive approved.
On section 38.
MR. JONES: On section 38, I hope we can have a little more constructive discussion, rather the harangue and bluster we saw in second reading. It seemed to me that a much better working relationship was established in the spring when the minister provided thoughtful, patient and responsive answers. It seems to me that when we have an unprecedented initiative like this one it's the responsibility of the minister to explain and even sell the program so that the public and members on this side of the House can understand it and, if it's a good program, be supportive of it. Rather than pointing the finger at the critic and the media and everybody who
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misunderstands, it seems to me that the responsibility of the government is to make its programs clear.
So I am going to raise some of the concerns that I raised a few minutes ago, and I hope the minister is listening this time.
MR. JONES: Well, it's very clear to me that that wasn't the case last time. I have a question, and maybe some disagreement on priorities of the government — probably not a disagreement with the minister; probably a disagreement with the Premier, because it was the Premier who introduced this program.
What I said initially — and I am sure the minister heard it — was that this kind of project, the Pacific Rim initiatives project, may have merit, but I have to be convinced that $12 million of taxpayers' money is going to be well spent. I think it's up to the minister to try to persuade me that this is a good use of taxpayers' money.
I'd also like him to convince me that this section of the bill is part of a plan that shows some consistency on the part of government, that it isn't just an ad hoc scheme thrown out of the blue — another ad hoc scheme that we hear while the Royal Commission on Education is going around this province not dealing with these things, which apparently are going to be part of the future of education of this province.
Rather than the minister just saying,"Trust me, it's a good plan," I'm saying to the minister: "Convince me it's a good plan." Maybe it is a good plan, but we heard "trust me" during the Coquihalla Highway debate, and it didn't wash ' So I think there is a responsibility on the part of the minister there.
I would like to see how this plan fits into the priorities of government, and I suggested to the minister some problems that I'm sure he is aware of and would like to deal with at the same time that this program is going forward. Show me where this fits in the priorities.
If we have a disagreement, it's in priorities. Convince me that you're dealing with the lineups of students leaving our school system, trying to get into post-secondary places. Convince me that you're really concerned about those denials of capital construction projects throughout this province. You've got the letters. I've got copies of a number of the letters from communities that are very concerned about their gymnasium needing an addition; or they've got overcrowded schools and classrooms, and they want these problems to be dealt with.
Convince me and convince them that this is a priority over their priorities. Convince me and convince those parents of students in very large classes — and the minister knows there are very large classes in this province — that he wants to deal with that one as well as this one. I'll buy into it if that's the case, but I'm not hearing any of that stuff.
Convince me that he is working on fighting in cabinet for more funds, so that we're not at the bottom. The minister denies that we're at the bottom. In terms of the percentage of personal income, the amount contributed to education in this province is tenth out of ten....
MR. R. FRASER: That's because we have the highest incomes here.
MR. JONES:...., and it's the lowest west of New Brunswick in terms of virtually any other measure you can think of. You haven't looked at it, Mr. Member for Vancouver South.
I'd like the minister to convince me that this is a good program, that we're not putting all our eggs in one basket. I've seen situations in recent years where field trip money for a school board in Burnaby was cut from $126,000 down to zero because of the restraint program.
MR. JONES: Maybe we're going to hear from the member for North Vancouver-Capilano (Mr. Ree) on this one too.
Convince me that we've got money for cultural ex changes to Quebec, in our own country. Convince me that we're providing adequate opportunities for other kinds of cultural exchanges. Convince me that education as an eco nomic development tool can take place in areas other than the Pacific Rim. What about the European Common Market?
Can we have cultural exchanges there? Will those be funded in the same way as these ones?
Convince me that we can — clean up our own back yard, that we can regulate the private institutions that are already operating in this province, like Alpha College. The minister knows that what's being embarked upon here is an unprecedented move whereby we have public boards now incorporating one or more companies for profit.
If the minister thinks he can come in here and bluster and not have these questions asked, not have any response to these questions, he's not doing his job. Some specific questions to the minister. I notice he hasn't made any notes, so I guess he's not too interested in responses.
MR. JONES: Well. no, because I think we've had a lot of evidence of misunderstanding or miscommunication or not hearing.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Ask me a question and I'll answer it.
MR. JONES: Where does this fit in the priorities? Are you working on addressing these other problems in education in British Columbia? Are you putting all your eggs in one basket? If you refer to Hansard, there are question marks after every one of those. Convince me. Do a selling job. Don't bluster; that doesn't impress me.
Section 89.1 (2) under clause 38 talks about prior approval of the minister. Section 89.1 (6) talks about a board not being able to borrow money. If we're allowing boards to do these kinds of things, then I suppose we should trust them, and they should be able to operate like a company. A company borrows money: a company doesn't need prior approval of the minister. What does this imply on the part of the minister? Does it imply a mistrust of school boards in their ability to do these kinds of things? Does this whole program imply a mistrust on the part of the private sector — that they're not doing a good job of these kinds of things?
Why are we doing it in this particular way" Why are we now granting public money to private institutions offshore? I think the minister is going to argue that there are going to be
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no costs, and I want to hear those arguments; that's a question to the minister. If these institutions are to be allowed to operate for profit, what happens in the instance that that doesn't occur? What happens in the instance that there's a loss? Is the ministry going to cover the shortfall in the event of a loss?
I guess a big question that I have for the minister is a difficult one to answer, and maybe one that there isn't an answer for. Maybe the minister will just dismiss this question as not the direction that the government wants to go, but it seems to me that by allowing school boards to set up these companies and do this kind of thing, we're creating the opportunity for the privatization of public education. I'm hoping the minister will reject that argument; will say that privatization of the public school system is not on our agenda; will say that the ministry brief to the Sullivan royal commission, which had such phrases as "contracted learning services" and "home schooling," is not a vehicle to achieve those kinds of things.
I'm hoping the minister can reassure us, because I think there is potential in this bill. But there's also, whenever it comes to education in that government, a lot of questions and a lot of legitimate suspicion based on past performance. I would hope that the minister — because I think he believes in education and wants to do a decent job for the schoolchildren of British Columbia — can answer those questions and reassure this side of the House and the people of British Columbia that there is a plan and a priority; that this fits in, and it is not a waste of taxpayers' money; that he can justify that, and that he has some understanding of cost-benefit analysis.
I wish we had a little more time to deal with this. I wish it could have been stayed until tomorrow, but at least there are a few questions for the Minister of Education, and I'm looking forward to his response.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Yes, I think I can answer the questions, although they were all over the map, and a lot of the comments were about my comments during second reading. I was responding during second reading to a lot of allegations and accusations that, in my opinion, don't exist. So I was responding to what the member was talking about in second reading.
In this section we've had references to the Coquihalla Highway and everything else. However, I would imagine that's something that the member is going to bring up repeatedly. Let's deal with this section. This section — it's right in the legislation here — clearly indicates that this is not a move for privatization of the public school system or anything of that nature. You'll notice the clause says that this can happen only for the sole objective of the establishment and management of a school located outside the province. So it doesn't cut into the situation at all.
What has happened in this situation.... Maybe a brief explanation will help. As we were trying to develop some specifics of Pacific Rim initiatives, there had already been discussions going on by a group of people in Hong Kong and a school board in this province. They said that they have pupils in Hong Kong who would gladly pay fully whatever it costs to educate them in an English-language, British Columbia curriculum school, and that school could be located in Hong Kong. They are not asking for funding for this. They would form a corporation that would run this school and charge the fees to conduct the school for 100 pupils — that is the projection — and those fees would pay for this total school operation including the teachers' salaries. Instead of sending 100 pupils over here into our system, they would like to do that.
Under our existing legislation, there is no way that a school district in this province has the right to operate a school outside its own district boundaries. But it looked like a good idea, and it looked like it would be self-funding. So we explored it further and decided that if we can get an agreement between a school board and a group in Hong Kong, we can provide enabling legislation. That's really what we've done here. It was also to get the school into operation. Before you can charge fees, you have to have the school operating, so there's a startup cost which, within three years, is fully recoverable under the fees that will be charged. In other words, they will be charging sufficient fees from these pupils to take their schooling in the B.C. curriculum in the English language in Hong Kong — they will pay the full shot and pay enough extra to pick up the startup costs.
This legislation authorizes us to make that startup loan, but it will be fully repaid. It seems like a very good idea. Incorporated into that would be several benefits. The British Columbia teachers going over there would not only be teaching the B.C. curriculum in a Hong Kong school, but for the two or three years they're there, they would be learning Chinese and the culture and all of that. So when they come back, they would be far better equipped to assist our Pacific Rim programs in our British Columbia schools. We think they would benefit from that, and they would be fully paid by the fees there.
We also discussed the possibility of having ten students under a scholarship plan go from here and take their schooling at that school. Those ten students would be benefiting from their exposure to the culture there and would be getting their B.C. qualifications, and the tests and everything would be the same as we have here. They would have to write the British Columbia provincial exams. So having that school operating there and having a fee.... Since our public school system doesn't provide for the full payment of fees — we provide a free education — we have to attach it to the independent school system through a school board and so on. It gets a little convoluted, and I don't mind trying to explain it specifically to the member on this section,
That's the intent of it. We wanted to build in some protections. If a company was formed for this, and they could run it as a profit organization rather than as a non-profit organization.... But we don't want the board to be able to then borrow money and guarantee loans which would put us in the position of being obligated for that. In other words, they don't have the authority to buy the loans, and they have to have the approval of the minister. So we've built in that protection to try to make this concept work. I think it's a good concept. I think it will provide immense benefits and will help all of us.
If the member has any further questions, I'd certainly be prepared to answer them as best I can.
MR. JONES: I guess one of the fundamental questions I have is in terms of the cost, and I think the minister implied that this is really going to be the responsibility of school boards, and that there will be no losses incurred and the province will not be responsible for any losses if they are incurred.
The other part he referred to is the benefits of teacher exchange. Certainly, we're talking about education here — professional development of teachers — and nobody's going
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to argue against those kinds of things. What I'm trying to get a handle on is the cost benefit. We're looking at considerable expense, not in the operation of the school but in the teacher exchange program. And that may be a good investment in the professional staff in this province, but it seems to me that it's narrowly focused. I don't see any concomitant programs for cultural exchanges with Quebec or with the European Common Market or other parts of the world where we also need that kind of support for our teaching staff.
I'm sure the minister will confirm — I hope he will confirm — that the establishment of this school and subsequent schools which he has indicated are scheduled for the long-term planning of the province — that there is some planning there — are operated at no cost to the province and, I hope, no cost to the school board, and that the minister can justify the narrow focus of the teacher-exchange programs.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: The act has stated that this could happen in other jurisdictions as well as Hong Kong and it could happen in other countries under the same conditions. If the teacher exchange in Hong Kong works.... The condition, of course, is that it is located outside the province, is operated for profit, is accredited pursuant to section 14 of the School Support (Independent) Act. So there's nothing to prevent it from happening in other countries. But we do not have any plans nor any commitment to do this if it's going to mean that we're going to be funding the schools that are operating out there. If it's a startup cost which is fully recoverable, then we will see to it that the contracts are written accordingly. It is providing this to deal with this situation that has been proposed to us; it makes it possible for that; it also makes it possible for others. It does not get into the total exchange program.
I guess the nearest comparison you can make is with the military schools in Germany. When the military hires a teacher who applies, say, from British Columbia, the teacher is still paid by the local school board — you know, and all of the contributions — so that the pension and the security of tenure and that sort of thing remain in place, and all the Canadian military does is pay the school board for the cost of that teacher. They reimburse the board the total cost.
In this section I hope I didn't give the impression that it would not be the responsibility of the province but the responsibility of the school boards. All this is is the vehicle where a school board may run a school as though it were within its own boundaries under these conditions, but it is outside the province. That's the connection with school boards — not that we're turning it over to the school boards and whatever problems they face. No, we're involved in this. You notice there are a couple of places where it says,"with the approval of the minister," so we're going to make sure that we don't get into a bind. And I'm sure that school boards are going to make sure that they don't get into any binds that way. So I think the safeguards are built in.
It could expand, hopefully, if it's a good program, to where we can teach the B.C. curriculum in other jurisdictions. It has some economic benefits. In other words. If they're going to be needing British Columbia textbooks or supplies and that sort of thing, they'll be paying for those. Who knows, we could develop a market for some of our materials. I can't come up with a specific cost-benefit analysis, because all that we're assured is that it's not going to cost the taxpayers of this province any money. Any money they put up for startup costs is fully recoverable. The operation costs will be fully recoverable. Suppose nobody is willing to pay those kinds of fees to pay its way? Then the school obviously won't work and we'd pull back.
These people are convinced that it will work, because there's that much of an interest in those students taking our curriculum and all of the people that we have over there. For instance, if a school district here was involved. those teachers would in effect be part of their staff but assigned to the Hong Kong school and all costs to the board recovered.
MR. JONES: It's very easy to support the concept in principle. We have expertise in this province that can be used in other jurisdictions as the minister is indicating.
It seems to me that because this is an unprecedented venture it has to be well planned. The minister says, and I think it was with respect to the teacher exchange aspect of the Pacific Rim initiatives program, that if it works then we'll try it in other jurisdictions. How are we going to assess the effectiveness of these kinds of programs? In second reading of the bill, the minister indicated that there was no way of providing a cost-benefit analysis. Is there another way that the minister is going to measure the effectiveness of this program other than a cost-benefit analysis. What sort of indications would he require in order to extend this program to other jurisdictions outside the Pacific Rim?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I can answer those very quickly. Two of the determining factors will be if it pays its way, because we don't intend to fund schools in other countries from B.C. taxpayers' money. In other words, if the interest is there so that it works, that will be one of the determining factors.
The other one of course, is that since we will be following the B.C. secondary school curriculum, all of the things that apply in British Columbia must apply there. They must write the provincial exams. They must write any of the assessment tests that we have for the program, those sorts of things. They will not get a grade 12 graduation certificate in Hong Kong if they do not meet all of the requirements and pass all of the provincial assessment tests, the same as if the school would be operating in Vancouver or the lower mainland. The same conditions for passing, graduating, etc., would apply there to our students that we send over and the ones that take the course. In the same way, if those people come over here and enter one of our schools, then to get their grade 12 graduation certificate they have to pass all of these exams. So it's really just taking a school here and finding a way to operate it over there, as though it were in the district, but with all the costs paid for.
MR. JONES: I appreciate that and have no problem with that. I was referring to the minister’s comments with respect to the exchange program, which does have a cost to the B.C. taxpayer. It was with respect to the exchange program that the minister said: "If it works, then we can try it in other jurisdictions" — and I assume by that he meant outside the Pacific Rim. My question to the minister is: how do we assess that program, which does have a cost to the taxpayer? How do we determine if that program is working? And how do we determine when we have developed enough expertise in the B.C. teaching population as far as Pacific Rim culture, language, history and so on are concerned? How do we determine when we have achieved enough in acculturation of the teaching
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population of British Columbia? Perhaps then it's time not to put our eggs in one basket, but to look beyond that at regions of the world other than the Pacific Rim. So it goes back to the question in response to the minister saying: "If it works, then we'll look to expanding it elsewhere." What do you mean by "if it works"? How do we assess that?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I'm sorry if I've misled the member, because that comment was certainly intended by me to mean that if this concept of the B.C. school in another area works, then we would extend it. If we're talking about other components, other exchanges, we also have built into the Pacific Rim initiative other exchanges, such as student exchanges to go over there for two weeks or four weeks and teacher exchanges for shorter periods of time. And yes, those are directly funded out of this $12 million over three years. We'll be sending students over there, as we do now. We have an exchange program with Quebec, we have an exchange program with Germany, and these students are traveling back and forth.
I don't know that there's a formal exam that says how many dollars' worth. I don't think we can ever do that. Those shorter term exchange programs are going to be just to get people so that when they.... If teachers go over, say, and travel throughout China and come back after say four weeks, they should be much better equipped to teach our students about China than if they had never been there, just from text. That's the value and the benefit we get out of that one.
So that comment about "if it works" was intended, if it wasn't put that way.... If this school works — in other words, if it pays — if the assessments work, then obviously it would be worth continuing if it is at no cost to us. That's what I meant by that. If I said it in juxtaposition to another term, that was clearly not my intent.
MS. A. HAGEN: I don't know whether the minister has in his comments canvassed the issue of "is operated for profit." I want to ask him specifically what is intended with that. Does that mean that the school will be operated without cost, the final development of the program and the fees that are paid by the students in Hong Kong, which is where this school is proposed to be set up? Once I've heard an answer to that question, I want to perhaps pursue that.
The issue of "for profit." Can you define what that means? Is it simply that the school covers its costs? Does it mean that it's going to be operated as a business, to maximize the profit that might be obtained from the running of this school? It's not being set up, if we look at section 3 8, as a nonprofit, which could still mean that it covered its costs but didn't return a profit. So I'm asking the minister to give us some interpretation of what that "for profit" means in his understanding of how the school will operate, its costs against its expenses, what he might anticipate might be returned to the school board, which is the company, if you like, that is operating this school in Hong Kong.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: It's very difficult for me to say how much profit we are going to allow for one of those schools to operate. The reason we've said they can be operated for profit is that right now schools authorized under the independent schools act must be run by non-profit societies. In this case we've allowed it to be a group or a company that will fund the school, and we allow them to make a profit.
I suppose about all I can say is that they will, as a board, be required to come up with statements. If, let's say, it costs $10,000 per student to operate all of this — to hire the teachers, to run the school — and that is reported, and they are charging $20,000 per student for the Hong Kong students to attend, I'm trying to think of what right I would have to say how much they're allowed to pay to go to this school. In the marketplace, if there is a great demand and only a small availability, then one of two things happens: either the fee goes up or else more schools are operated. My concern is, basically, that it will not cost the province or the taxpayers of British Columbia anything to operate this school over there. Then leave much of that, how much they make on it....
The other thing, of course, is that if students are going to have to pay three times as much to take the English curriculum in Hong Kong, then chances are they would come over here, pay the full fee and take part in our school system, as they can enrol, provided they can get the immigration visas and that sort of thing. I can't see them being able to charge exorbitant fees when other options are available to those same people.
MS. A. HAGEN: One of my reasons for asking that question is that by setting up a for-profit school, it seems to me that we are dealing with a proposal inconsistent with the public school system. The other part of this, I would gather from the press report I've seen from Saturday, is that school boards are going to have an opportunity to compete, if you like, to set up the school in Hong Kong.
One of the things we might speculate about is that this is one way for the provincial government to get some offshore money to help it run its schools. I want to say from the outset, Mr. Minister, that I support the idea of us having means for students from our own school system and from other jurisdictions to get to be familiar with and know the cultures of other countries, but I'm still really puzzled by this rather ad hoc approach.
I guess the question I would ask now is: is this a pilot project of some kind? In many ways it seems to be addressing more the needs of the students in Hong Kong and some sort of entrepreneurial spirit that we're suddenly imposing on our public school system than a genuine planned agenda around cultural exchanges as it may affect our own students. Yes, admittedly some teachers will go to Hong Kong and have some opportunity to work in that milieu, and presumably become more involved with both language and culture. We're going to have ten students who may be supported by scholarships; but basically this is a program designed to provide opportunities for Hong Kong students.
It is still passing strange to me that this has been appended to the public school system, to a system that does not have profit, does not have as its agenda the concerns of students in Hong Kong, but the concerns of our students. Can you give me some idea of your long-range perspective in this regard? Is it to expand a sort of entrepreneurial set of activities into a number of public schools? Is it cultural exchange with the emphasis on the foreign student, the Hong Kong student, having the advantage of our educational expertise? Is it to make some money for our public schools to offset the cost of running our public school system? I haven't heard from the minister a very clear idea of where he's going, although I do hear from him good intentions about what he thinks this — if I can use the term — pilot project may achieve. But it doesn't really fit into any kind of plan or system that makes sense to
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me now from the discussion that I've listened to this afternoon.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I'm being asked, I guess, to be a soothsayer or fortune-teller or something of that nature. Here is an opportunity for some people to say: "We think we can get enough fee-paying students to run a school with the B.C. curriculum in Hong Kong." They've expressed an interest in that and we would like to work that with the board, and you're asking me to say how far this will expand as it's successful or as the need develops. When we started a student exchange program with Germany, nobody said: "Do you plan that this is going to build up to 500 students after so many years?" When we started an student exchange program with Quebec, there had to be two boards to agree, so it's hard to predict how successful a program is going to be.
I'm saying that under this legislation, if it can operate in Japan or in some other country under the same terms and conditions, then why not, if we're getting these benefits of the exchange with these cultures in the Pacific Rim countries. That's what we're focusing on in this particular program.
As far as seeing this as a new way for school boards to make a lot of money, I can't see that at all. It's making sure that there's no cost to the province. I guess we've tried to cover it in subsection (5): "Notwithstanding the Company Act, a company incorporated under subsection (2) shall carry on business only in accordance with the objective set out in subsection (3) and may only exercise its powers and functions for that purpose." To say when you start a program that this is an ad hoc approach.... I really think that you have to start somewhere, don't you? Just because you start with one school without having the next 20 planned or even knowing whether 20 more will work, to say that it's an ad hoc approach.... I have difficulty accepting that.
MS. A. HAGEN: I think that when we start any new program, most of us would hope that there is an underlying philosophy. With all respect to the programs where the minister is making comparisons, they are programs that are funded out of public dollars. The exchange programs that we have to Quebec — I'm not familiar with the exchange programs that we have to West Germany or to Japan — are either funded by the students themselves on a non-profit basis or through a bursary or some program that involves tax dollars.
It seems to me that this is a new program, and the questions I'm raising have to do with the underlying philosophy. The minister himself indicated earlier that other programs may develop, but again, it seems, in an ad hoc way — by demand, in an entrepreneurial way. I guess the issue here is to not have in Hong Kong the same situation that developed in Vancouver recently, where we have a private college advertising, without the knowledge of the ministry, that its curriculum is approved by the ministry, and more or less setting itself up as having credentials which it has no right to claim. Clearly, the school that this legislation proposes to make possible would have all of those credentials and would be marketed, if you like, with the kind of protections that we would want to have for the students. I guess we have some difference here as to my sense of what this is all about and where the minister sees it going, other than in the marketplace — if the demand is there, we have the facilitating legislation to respond.
My final comment on that, Mr. Minister, is that I think this doesn't carry us very far in cultural exchanges as far as our own students are concerned. One of the things that I have had noted to me by a number of Canadian students who are interested in working in the Pacific Rim is that we tend to have a preponderance of people from the Pacific Rim who are educated in our language, our culture and our ways, but who obviously come to us from their cultural bias; and that we need to have the alternative kind of strength, with students coming from our Western culture, if you like — our Canadian culture — and having opportunities to learn the language and culture of Pacific Rim countries and then be the interlocutors between our own culture and those cultures.
I fear that we are going to have a predominance of people who have our language and a knowledge of Pacific Rim cultures, and that we're not nurturing enough our students, who should have a knowledge of the languages of the Pacific Rim but come from the perspective of our culture in enhancing those working relationships. I would really not like to see us develop a huge range of resources that take our expertise to Hong Kong, China or Japan without a balancing of resources that gives our students opportunities to study and work in those countries and with those languages. I don't think that will serve our long-term objectives of enhancing working relationships around the Pacific Rim.
I don't know what the government's and the ministry's plans are for the $12 million that is for the enhancement of Pacific Rim studies. It may be that in those dollars are the kinds of agendas that I m speaking of for Canadian students, and particularly for B.C. students.
With those comments. Mr. Minister — I don't know whether you want to comment — I'm basically still looking to this as being a pilot, a strange kind of appendage to the public school system, and one where, it seems to me, again, we don't have an underlying, clearly defined philosophy and purpose, as we get into this kind of program, except let the market dictate; that seems to be the basis for establishing these schools.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I thought it was clear that the philosophy behind this whole program was to get our students and our British Columbia people to learn more about the Pacific Rim countries. The rest of the program is to bring into the schools the Chinese and Japanese languages, to teach them as a second language in the school. That's a lot of the $12 million. It's not in this. This is one item; this is one thing that has developed, where we have our students going over there to learn the language. Basically, they will learn our language, we will learn their language, and with that we can certainly benefit. This is one portion of that, with some startup costs and self-funding, which can only complement the rest of the program.
However. I'm sure that the members want to know more about this. I will send you a kit we have put out that explains the whole philosophy. I would hope that you might read it. It has gone out to the public. It's not a secret kit or anything. Maybe you can study that. And to make sure that you have full opportunity to be satisfied on this, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed: Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
[ Page 3010 ]
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, on Friday last the hon. second member for Victoria (Mr. Blencoe) rose on a matter of privilege relating to the propriety of certain special warrants. alleging that the events related thereto amounted to an abuse of the privileges of all members of this House. I have obtained a transcript of the member's remarks, together with the remarks made by the Minister of Social Services and Housing (Hon. Mr. Richmond), and have examined the transcript carefully. I have also examined the notice of motion which the hon. second member for Victoria proposes to move should the Chair find that there is indeed a prima facie case of breach of privilege.
In bringing this matter forward as a matter of privilege, the hon. member is seeking to have the ordinary business of the House set aside to have the alleged matter of privilege granted precedence. There have been numerous instances when the matter raised did not qualify as a matter of privilege but was put down on notice on the order paper in the normal way. In this regard, I refer the hon. member to the seventeenth edition of May, at page 379.
The member suggests that certain facts have recently come to light in relation to this matter, thereby qualifying the matter under the first-opportunity rule. But the Chair must observe that the subject matter of these warrants has been commented upon on numerous occasions during this sitting of the House, and therefore the Chair does not agree that the matter has been raised at the first possible opportunity.
By implication, the government says the warrants were properly issued. The member suggested in his statement that the warrants were improperly issued. The Chair is not required to rule on the merit of either argument, and it is obviously not in a position to do so. But if all hon. members would focus their attention on the definition of privilege, as outlined in Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, second edition, at page 36, they would readily see that the matter raised does not qualify.
I would also bring to the members' attention a decision relating to a matter of privilege contained in the Journals, 1981-82, at page 41, when the Chair on that occasion mentioned that "until the Speaker finds a prima facie case of privilege, the motion should not be read to the House but simply tendered to the Chair at the conclusion of the member's statement." I quote further from the decision: "The statement of the matter, together with the tendered motion, comprise the material which the Chair must examine to determine whether the matter qualifies, prima facie, as a matter of privilege." In this particular instance, as the member did not provide the Chair with a written statement, the Chair had to resort to the verbatim reports to det6rmine the gist of the member's argument.
For the above reasons, the matter raised does not qualify as a matter of privilege.
Hon members, earlier today the leader of the official opposition sought to move adjournment of the House pursuant to standing order 35, to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance; namely, the proposal of the government of Canada to sign a free trade agreement with the United States of America.
In determining whether the matter ought to proceed, it is not the urgency or the importance of the subject matter which I must rule upon, but rather the urgency of the debate; see the British Columbia Journals, 196 1, page 97, and 1981, page 93.
The member's statement indicates that the event which is the subject matter of the application will not occur for some 20 days. The order paper contains notices of Motions 69, 70 and 78, two of which are in the name of the House Leader of the official opposition, which notices were filed May 14, May 19 and June 17, 1987. These notices of motion deal with a number of, if not all, aspects of the free trade agreement.
I am of the opinion that the test of urgency of debate has not been met. In addition, there is doubt in my mind that the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity. I refer the Leader of the Opposition to the sixteenth edition of May, page 370.
Hon. Mr. Strachan moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.