1988 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 34th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, APRIL 21, 1988
[ Page 3967 ]
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Labour and Consumer Services estimates.
(Hon. L. Hanson)
On vote 48: minister's office
Ms. A. Hagen
Mr. S.D. Smith
The House met at 10:06 a.m.
Orders of the Day
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Pelton in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
LABOUR AND CONSUMER SERVICES
On vote 48: minister's office, $272,097.
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Chairman, this morning we plan to work in the consumer services part of the minister's mandate. I anticipate that we will be spending the better part of the morning in this particular area.
We're going to concentrate on the discussion of a mandate of yours, Mr. Minister, that has been expanded considerably, and that is in reference to all aspects of liquor and the moving to your portfolio of the liquor distribution branch and also of alcohol and drug programs, now called "substance abuse" programs in your ministry. As time allows, we will be moving into some other areas that relate to the consumer services part of your ministry's portfolio. I thought it might be useful for you to have that framework. We may not completely finish it this morning. I think that there may be some further discussion tomorrow morning in that area.
The government has obviously responded to one of the recommendations of the Jansen report, which was that there should be a lead ministry responsible for all aspects of the liquor industry: controlled licensing, distribution and also, interestingly, the areas of education, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation — the alcohol and drug programs formerly in the Ministry of Health. So the questions that we're going to be discussing today will have a good deal to do with policy. We will also be exploring some of the specific initiatives that come out of the liquor policy review.
All of us know that last year two very significant reports were commissioned and presented to government: (1) "Liquor Policies for British Columbians," the liquor policy review under the chairmanship of the member for Chilliwack (Mr. Jansen) ; and (2) the report of the Task Force on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace, commonly called the Ryan report. Both of those documents have received wide acclaim, and I want first of all to say on behalf of my colleagues that we share the commendation that has been accorded the authors of those reports, and we respect very much the process that produced the reports. The quality of the work that went into the reports, and the clarity of the recommendations that came out as a result, provide the minister and the government with a very strong basis for policy development. I need not say that as a result there is considerable anticipation that the government will be responding in both the spirit and the letter of the recommendations that come out of that report.
The first thing I want to address, Mr. Chairman, is a matter of policy that comes out of the government's privatization initiative. That initiative includes a request, now overdue in its response, for a recommendation on the privatization of government liquor stores. I want to ask the minister whether he endorses and supports the recommendations of the Jansen and Ryan committees, both of which in very strong terms recommend that there be no change in government liquor store licensing — that those stores should remain under the control and management of government and that there should be no privatization. In that regard, they reflect the perspectives of wide canvassing of the public, a canvassing that includes police, public health and social service agencies, municipalities and regional authorities, religious organizations, a very high percentage of the individuals who made presentations by letter or in person, and the recommendation of the commission itself, who state: "We do not believe that privatization is strongly supported by the majority of British Columbians and we are concerned that such a move would lead to increased consumption and abuse."
So my first specific question to the minister is: does the minister support and endorse the recommendations of the committees that have strongly advised against the privatization of government liquor stores?
HON. L. HANSON: First of all, I do echo the member opposite's congratulations. or a recognition of a job well done to the member for Chilliwack for that report, because it was an excellent report. We in the ministry have, I think, taken a number of steps already and are continuing to take heed of that report in some of the other things that we are initiating.
The member dealt particularly with the privatization initiative, and the policy of government as a result of that privatization report will be announced shortly. I would have to argue a little bit with the member that the report specifically said that privatization was not an acceptable method. I think what the report said was that, in their opinion and in the opinion of the submitters to the committee, liquor should not be more available than it is in its present manner.
I guess there are a couple of comments on that. First of all, because the government owns a liquor store or because a private individual owns a liquor store, it doesn't, to me, equate to more availability. The second part of that is that there was a recommendation in that report that the sale of liquor in restaurants, as an example, without the accompanying food requirement not be allowed, which we didn't allow and which in my estimation would have made liquor more available. The other part of it was that the sale of liquor in grocery stores not be allowed. We also agreed to that.
As to my personal opinion on the privatization, I don't think that's really a discussion matter here. I have been given the report on privatization and government will, as we develop a policy, announce that policy as a part of government's privatization initiative. I can say to the member opposite that that report on privatization — the policy or philosophy of government in relation to that — will be announced shortly.
MRS. GRAN: Mr. Chairman, I'd like leave to make an introduction.
MRS. GRAN: In the gallery today we have students from a constituency in the United States which has the same name as my constituency, Langley. They're from Langley, U.S.A. They're Langley Middle School students. There are 36 of them with their teacher, and I would ask the House to make them welcome.
MS. A. HAGEN: That is what I call a soft answer, and an answer that clearly does not honestly reflect the report the
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minister is dealing with. To say in this House that the Jansen commission is ambivalent about the privatization of liquor stores is really a very specious answer, Mr. Minister. The Jansen commission says in no uncertain terms:
"We do not believe that privatization is strongly supported by the majority of British Columbians and we are concerned that such a move would lead to increased consumption and abuse, particularly among the 'populations at risk'.... Furthermore, upon inspection, it became clear the present system of retailing does or could produce quite acceptable levels of availability and customer convenience."
The recommendation is very clear: "The current system of liquor retailing, with modification, should be maintained."
You acknowledge that there are some areas in which the government has not moved. But clearly it is soft on this issue of privatization, where there is an incredibly strong and well documented community perspective that it should not occur. It shouldn't occur on economic grounds; it shouldn't occur on grounds of control; and it should not occur, I would maintain, on grounds of the morality of government having revenue go into private hands rather than into its own pockets for the services that the minister now has under his responsibility for alcohol and drug education, prevention and treat ment. Will it be the policy of this government or of this minister to advocate on behalf of achieving the goals he stated in his opening remarks, goals of limiting the hazards and problems that relate to alcohol abuse, problems that al I of the evidence tells us could be exacerbated by privatizing liquor stores?
Is the minister prepared to take a stand as the lead ministry, in terms of this problem, and to deal with privatization as one of the aspects of that problem'?
HON. L. HANSON: First of all, the member is suggesting that a decision has been made to privatize liquor stores. There has been no decision made to privatize liquor stores yet.
[Mr. Weisgerber in the chair.]
It's sort of interesting to note that we don't expect, or wouldn't forecast, that privatization necessarily means more consumption. I think in the last — and I'm not positive of the exact numbers — three or four years there probably have been about 100 licensee retail stores, some of them freestanding, some of them separate from the adjoining licensed premises. Those extra outlets, if you will, have not shown us — in any case, in any of the areas — an increase in alcohol consumption. As a matter of fact, even though we do have some questionable quantities of alcohol attributed to the individual consumption compared to the rest of Canada — we are on the high side of that — there is a decline in the consumption of alcohol in British Columbia that's consistent with what is happening in the rest of Canada. In fact, in the past five or maybe eight years there has been a slight per capita decrease in the actual alcohol consumption. We haven't made the privatization decision as yet. Secondly, our records don't necessarily indicate that privatization means an increase in consumption.
The other question the member asked was how the new responsibilities of liquor and substance abuse relate to having the responsibility for liquor sales. I think that they fit quite well together. The responsibility for liquor distribution and licensing.... The advertising portion of that is also controlled by the ministry, and what is allowed and what isn't allowed, and certainly that fits very well with the abuse and the rehabilitation and consumption of alcohol.
MR. LOVICK: When the minister says that the decision has not been made, it is precisely that argument that leads me and my colleagues on this side of the House to be speaking and raising the questions we do. We want to urge the minister in the strongest language possible to take a position opposed to the privatization of liquor, and to support that claim we want to argue, first of all, that the Jansen report is clear on the subject, Mr. Minister.
Let me quote to you the statement. One sentence will do, from page 38 of the Jansen report, the detailed part as opposed to the simple recommendations, and the statement is as follows: "It was clear during the hearings and in the letters and submissions that the majority were opposed to privatization" — and here's the point — "and its inherent increase in availability of liquor." That's the contention: an inherent increase in the availability of liquor. The point is substantiated in the report on the basis of the committee's conclusion that, yes, when we looked at the research and examined the evidence, we came to that conclusion. Privatization does indeed equal an inherent increase in availability, not necessarily — with all due deference, Mr. Minister — an increase in consumption. That's what you were arguing: that there isn't evidence on that yet. It's true that we don't have that evidence, but the problem is availability.
As you know, the Jansen report and, indeed, liquor policy reports and conclusions by experts in that field for a number of years have drawn that clear distinction and have made that clear recognition between the problem of access on the one hand and control on the other, recognizing that that, to use the report's terminology, requires a delicate balance between those two opposing things. On the one hand, yes, we must provide access; on the other hand, we must have a control function imposed.
What we want to ask the minister to do, then, is to consider the evidence the Jansen committee heard, to consider the evidence, for example, by people like the Alcohol and Drug Commission — probably the authorities in the field; as well, to consider the evidence which the British Columbia Nurses' Union and other community groups have presented, arguing, for very good reasons — reasons spelled out in some detail — that privatization of liquor ought not to happen.
What we are asking then, Mr. Minister, is: given that evidence, and given moreover the statements made in the throne speech, the budget speech and in the Jansen committee report recognizing the problems inherent with alcohol, surely does it not make simple common sense for you to recommend to your cabinet colleagues that this is an area better left in the public sector? There are some things, ideology notwithstanding, better done in the public sector; and an area such as this, when we say that access must be balanced by control, surely constitutes a paradigm case for public ownership.
Would you care to respond to that first, Mr. Minister?
HON. L. HANSON: I think the member would be wrong to think that we don't consider all of those things. I am certainly not going to take a position until I have had a good chance to study and make various inquiries. I will take a position when it goes to cabinet, and you will hear that position when it comes back.
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For the member opposite to suggest that we won't be considering all of the submissions made, certainly we'll be considering those. I just can't think of not considering those. The Jansen report refers to privatization in the sense of the liquor distribution system in totality, as we see in some of the American jurisdictions, being privatized, and they are opposed to that. Quite frankly, in that total sense, I think that I have some leanings in that direction also — without committing myself until I have made my final report.
MR. LOVICK: Mackenzie King, for heaven's sake.
HON. L. HANSON: Well, Mackenzie King is dead.
In any case, the privatization that has been investigated and studied is only those smaller stores and not necessarily the liquor distribution system in its totality. That has been made very clear in all of the statements that have been made. But I recognize the member's remarks, and certainly we are considering all of the remarks as well as the submissions that were made to the Jansen committee, as well as discussion with members of the Jansen committee about embellishments of what the report said.
MR. LOVICK: As graciously, politely and kindly as I can, let me say to the minister: you've got all the evidence that any reasonable, rational person could require to make that decision. The book is in; we know the problem with privatization. At risk of falling into the trap of lecturing, something I have been accused of before, let me just remind the minister very briefly of what we're talking about and why privatization is a problem.
The reason is, very simply, that what we're going to do is put a delicate and dangerous substance, a drug, into the realm of the marketplace where people who are selling that stuff will have a direct, vested interest in increasing their sales. That, I am afraid, Mr. Minister — and it should be obvious — is directly incompatible with the control function that everybody recommends and recognizes ought to be exercised by government. That's the problem.
There is nothing elaborate in that logic; it's pretty simple. What we're talking about is an incompatibility between the marketplace trying, obviously, to maximize its sales and therefore its profits, and the need for a control function. The two don't go together. We can spell that out, chapter and verse, and give all kinds of examples and illustrations of precisely the sort that have already been presented and are on record.
Let me offer one brief illustration of that. The predicament is that what we're going to be looking at — and I will spell it out in very concrete terms — is, given the possible sudden privatization of the less-than-ten-employee store outlets, the possibility of a 17-year-old girl in a liquor store in Pouce Coupe having five young guys coming up, driving in their 1977 Chev convertible, all half-gassed up, putting a little heat on her and saying: "We want some stuff." How does this individual — whose job depends, of course, on selling and on maximizing the profit and the economic viability of that operation — resist? What support does she have for resisting? Is the manager going to say: "Oh, no, we have a duty to be socially responsible"? You're asking too much of the operator. The private sector does all kinds of things very well — nobody denies that — but if there were ever a case for public sector control and ownership, surely to heaven it ought to be evident to us that it's liquor stores.
That doesn't require any elaboration, any further defence. I would simply say to the minister: please look at that evidence and please go and represent the interests of consumers, of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and of all those people who are casualties as a result of liquor abuse in this province. Stand up and say to cabinet that that ideological crusade about privatization does not fit in the realm of liquor stores. Find the courage to do that, Mr. Minister, and a lot of people in this province, believe me, will be forever grateful.
MR. S.D. SMITH: It was not my intention to get into this discussion, but I would not want to leave the minister with the impression that all members of this House subscribe to the straw-man theory that has been raised over the last few minutes by the second member for Nanaimo, that straw man being that if the private sector sells liquor, it necessarily follows that those sellers will indulge in nefarious activities such as selling it unlawfully because they want to maximize their profit. The reason that is a straw man, obviously, is that you will still regulate those who sell liquor. If they breach the regulation sufficiently, they will lose their right to sell liquor, period. Therefore they have the largest vested interest of anyone selling liquor to ensure that they do so lawfully. It is a silly straw man and it's one that you ought to disregard.
When you're looking at whether or not liquor should be sold in the private sector or the public sector. I think there are a number of other considerations that are worthy of taking into account, but that particular one I think you should simply dismiss as a lot of puffery that is unworthy of using up your valuable time.
I must say that in terms of the Jansen committee report and your own deliberations. I would like to advance my own view that we should not sell liquor and wine in grocery stores, and that we should be certain that we don't pursue any policies where that would become possible. I think that we should separate the sale of liquor from other commodities precisely because it is a drug and it ought not to be treated the same as apple juice, oranges and lettuce and all sorts of other things. It ought to be sold in facilities that are geared for the sale and the control of the sale of liquor.
I would urge you not to in any way allow those who might want to advance the notion of sale of beer and wine in grocery stores have that go forward. I know — at least I think I know — that you, in a fairly general way, share that view as well.
In terms of whether or not we should take the existing stores that have 10 or fewer employees and make a decision about whether those stores would better serve the public interest if they were in the private sector versus in the public sector, then I think that decision ought to be made on a cost benefit analysis, as you would in any other business arrangement.
I have spoken to people who are currently employees of small liquor stores and want to get into the business. One of the things that they're looking at as a possible source of increased revenue is the whole question of a bottle depot. They could use some of the shelf space and some of the space that is now devoted to warehousing and storage for the purpose of increasing the kind of contribution they could make to the community as a place where you can collect and redistribute bottles and cans and so on.
When you think of some of the problems that I know your ministry has had to deal with on that question, it may turn out that the juices of the private sector unleashed will find some of the solutions that have so far eluded us because we have
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been more inclined to try to regulate solutions rather than to let solutions grow from those who are in the marketplace.
Before I sit down, Mr. Minister, I want to reiterate — and I'm sure that you are well aware — that the proposition that was advanced by the person who spoke before me is a straw man of the most specious variety. He's an expert at that, frankly, but nevertheless, I do think it's something which you should cast aside because the notion that those who are in the private sector are somehow inclined to do unlawful acts in the face of the opportunity to make profits, I find quite offensive. I find it offensive that someone would stand in this House and even trot that nonsense out. But if he wants an answer to his proposition, the answer, if he thinks it through for more than a half a second, is that they would be the least inclined to do that because they would have the most to lose, namely their investment in the business and the fact that you would still control and regulate them. By removing their licence to sell liquor because they have done unlawful acts, they would be put out of business, and therefore it seems to me, if you want to follow this logic through at all, they may be more inclined to be fastidious about pursuing regulations than otherwise may be the case.
MS. A. HAGEN: The minister has suggested that there is evidence that the licence situation is being pursued by American states, in preference to the control situation. There is no question, in all the evidence the minister will have available to him from the studies of the Jansen commission and other studies done in states all over the place, that the control situation lessens the consumption of alcohol.
The second member for Kamloops (Mr. S.D. Smith) noted what he called a specious argument, in terms of consumption. The evidence is overwhelming that where we have licensed sales, rather than government-controlled sales, there is an increase in consumption. Whether we impugn the motives of the sellers or not, the facts are in. What the public has said — in the Jansen report and the Ryan report — is that control is the fundamental policy issue that government has to deal with. We have addressed the matter of access in this province through what I call back-door privatization. The Jansen committee was clear in that regard as well: there shouldn't be an expansion of that access.
In respect to privatization, we are looking at a system that is under the control of government and under the control of a very well-established system which is highly respected in the communities and is economically to the best advantage of government. The cost of running our government liquor stores is a very modest cost. If there was to be profit taken from that, the chance of profits to government decreasing is very considerable. In a few moments we are going to move to the whole question of the alcohol and drug program and the dollar needs of those programs, and the idea that government would not take on to itself the revenue that's guaranteed from government liquor stores with the system that is in place and proven across the continent to be efficient, and that also addresses that question of access. The volume of liquor consumed is something that, I think, most people in the province understand and have expressed clearly to the minister.
I am somewhat encouraged by his statement that he is open to the decision. The position I am encouraging him to take, as the minister now responsible for all aspects of liquor policy, will reflect in fact the studies done in the past year. Last year, this minister was placed in the very uncomfortable position of having a commission look at labour issues and bring back recommendations. Then he was in the invidious position of having to bring back to this House a bill that had been created while that commission was taking place and those recommendations were coming in. Mr. Chairman, this minister has an opportunity to show leadership, to provide policy development, and to give the province a sense that there is a person in the cabinet who will be responsive to the studies that its own government has produced and the recommendations that have come forward. He will be in a position to restore some credibility to his own ministry by advocating positions that reflect a very broad public perspective — a well-researched public perspective.
I want to urge the minister, in whatever way I can encourage him, to give those assurances to us in this House today. I want to urge the minister to be the lead ministry around a broad and progressive policy that the public will see reflects its views and concerns. In doing that, I think he will put himself in a position to be accepted and respected in regard to the new role he has taken on, which we are going to look at in the course of the morning — the broader role of how we deal with the social and economic and health implications of alcohol and substance abuse. Today we're talking about alcohol abuse in particular.
The minister has an opportunity to stand tall and to have a position and perspective that will give him great credibility, I am sure. After last year, I hope he may be even further encouraged to take that position. I am somewhat encouraged to have the sense that perhaps he has not made up his mind finally, and that he is open to the citizens of the province from every sector who have made their views known on this issue and who will be waiting to see whether, once again, their views are to be ignored.
I would conclude on one final note. In no area of public policy and government policy where I've had discussions in the community have I found so many people of his own party, the Social Credit Party, who ask why this issue has ever been raised in respect to privatization. They are disturbed and alarmed. This is a very consensual perspective that reflects people from all walks of life and all political points of view.
I'll conclude with one note from a former general manager of the liquor control and licensing branch, Mr. Allan Could, who in a report in the Vancouver Sun concluded with this comment: "If his cabinet members opt for privatization of liquor, it won't be because private sales are more efficient. Privatization would be consistent with their political philosophy. In this case, we wonder if principle is worth the price."
I am encouraging the minister to be the spokesperson for principle and to represent the people of this province in being a very strong advocate, as the lead minister on liquor policy, in ensuring that liquor privatization does not occur in this province.
I would like to have some further indication, before we conclude this part of our discussion of liquor policy, of whether I can anticipate that he is hearing a point of view that I think represents both sides of this House.
HON. L. HANSON: It's always been a desire in my life to stand tall. Unfortunately, I've never had the stature to do it with.
In any case, I've certainly taken your remarks into consideration and will when we do make some final decisions.
It does hurt my sense of fair play to say that the private sector are going to be morally dishonest if they are given the
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ability to sell liquor. We have a police force and a penal system for people who are dishonest. I really reject.... It does not fit well with my personality to say that private enterprise, because they are private enterprise, are going to be morally irresponsible in the sale of liquor should they be given that opportunity.
Consumption. I think if you look back on the record, you said you have unequivocal evidence that there was an increase in sales when availability was more. Quite factually, the information and evidence we have is that consumption is not related to availability; it's related to the attitude of the people. That's why I am looking forward with some excitement to the substance abuse responsibilities that I have just been given. I don't think the profits that the government realizes from the sale of liquor are the only consideration that has to be noted. The social costs and the other costs that we in this province support and face as a result of substance abuse are as major a factor as the profits that go into government from the sale of liquor. I think there is a correlation there. It doesn't necessarily mean that if the profits that the government realizes from the sale of liquor decrease slightly because of consumption, it isn't in fact better for the province in a financial aspect than an increase in sales. There are health and other benefits that.... These people that abuse substances are a burden on society, whether it be through the health care system or other social problems, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.... There are so many things involved with the abuse of substances that have an effect on the province.
Again, the main concerns with the new responsibilities that I have been given are the cost to our society of alcohol and drug abuse, and that through the new responsibilities we will be promoting and be responsible for the rational and moderate use of those substances that cause us the social difficulties in this province. As a matter of fact, one of the things that we have done, which I guess is a small thing but certainly one of some importance, is that we have reduced the price of the lower-alcohol beverages to encourage the use of those beverages as opposed to the higher-alcohol. But again, the new responsibilities I look forward to with some excitement, and certainly in my mind there is no conflict between the sale of liquor and the responsibilities for substance abuse.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Yale-Lillooet requests leave to make an introduction.
MR. RABBITT: You may have noticed that we've just had a school class join us today. This class comes from my riding, from the community of Lillooet. There are 45 students from grades 6 and 7, accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Benallick. I would ask this House to give them a warm welcome.
MS. A. HAGEN: This is a subject that we could discuss at considerable length. There are a number of other issues that I want to address, but I just want to conclude, though, on the privatization issue. I believe that the studies of the government's own commissions and all other studies do, without any question, indicate that access has a great deal to do with consumption.
On that final note, I would just have the minister again reflect that his new responsibilities mean that the issue of consumption, when B.C. has the highest consumption in one area and the second highest consumption in the other area in the whole of Canada, and one of the highest consumption rates in all of the United States.... Consumption is the problem. We are dealing with a drug, and controls and access have a great deal to do with consumption. There are other issues and we will get on to those.
I want to just very briefly touch on the new responsibility for the liquor distribution branch and note that there is no indication at all in the minister's estimates regarding any staffing of the liquor distribution branch. There is revenue reported, revenue of about $425 million, but the cost of running the liquor distribution branch is not in any way referred to, as I have been able to find it in the estimates. So I want to ask if the revenue from the liquor distribution branch of $425 million is net of recovery. That's noted on page 6 of the estimate papers. Is that net of recoveries, and is there in fact a staff that goes along with your inheriting the liquor distribution branch as a part of your responsibilities?
In that question I might also ask, since one of the recommendations that you indicated there would be action on was tighter controls, whether there are any additional staff members to be added around the issue of control at this time — the supervision, if you like, of the regulations that go with the whole business of licensing and sale of liquor. But specifically, where is the liquor distribution branch in terms of staffing? What's the cost of running that branch? There's nothing I can find that tells me what that is.
HON. L. HANSON: You're correct in your assumption that that $425 million is the net of the operations. There is tabled an annual report of the liquor distribution branch that does give the detail of that, so the member might make herself.... I would certainly make a copy of the latest one available to you for your thought and study.
We in the liquor licensing branch — now this is the other side of it, the enforcement side of the branch — are faced right at the moment with some retirements as a result of the early retirement program. We are in the process of replacing the inspectors who have retired as a result of that. The strength of the actual liquor inspectors will remain the same this year as it did last year. We are taking some things that we will be doing within the ministry. We will be looking at, first of all, some small increase, but we have a commitment that they will be the same. We will also be looking at some of our managers in some of the liquor stores doing some minor inspections in some areas where we have had minimal inspection. Also, if there is a situation that needs to be looked at very quickly before an inspector can be there, we have a cooperative program with the police, so they not only do walk-throughs on their regular patrols, which is working very well, by the way.... We've had quite good success with that.
There are some things. For example, we have had some concerns about the downtown portion of Vancouver with some abuse problems and so on, particularly on what they call "welfare Wednesday." There have been some difficulties with that. We have made a concerted effort and are in the process of embellishing the policing in that area, particularly during those times, by the shifting of personnel and the assurance that personnel will be available at that time.
We do have in the new vote, as a matter of interest, the ability to add some people in the inspection branch. Again, with the responsibility for liquor education and rehabilitation, we are just going through a learning process of catching up to what has been done now and suggestions for what we
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would do in the future. Part of that will be the policing side of it. It's difficult for me to comment on what more is needed right at the moment until we have a better assessment of the new responsibilities related to the older ones.
MS. A. HAGEN: Thank you for that information. It gives us some further leads for things that we may want to pursue.
Let's move into the alcohol and drug abuse area, which is the major new mandate of this ministry and one that has been in the hands of the Health ministry for as long as we can all remember. It was a very significant program within that ministry from the point of view of its importance in communities. It is, as we said earlier, an interesting mix to be dealing with licensing and distribution — the actual processing of the sale of the stuff that does the damage — and then to be responsible for the damage control. That's really the balancing that is a part of it, and the minister has noted that this is a learning process.
My colleague the member for Prince George North, who is the Health critic, would like to pursue that issue with you as the start of our discussion on this matter, Mr. Minister, so I'd ask that she raise some questions with you at this time.
MRS. BOONE: I guess I have some problem having this section being taken away from the Ministry of Health, and I would assume that the minister may have some concerns about that as well, as alcohol is a disease and has been acknowledged as such, even though the Supreme Court, or whatever it is, is now having some difficulty with it. The medical community has dealt with alcohol for many years now as a disease, and as a disease it is one of the worst in our society right now.
The Minister of Health (Hon. Mr. Dueck) last year acknowledged that 40, percent of the people in our hospitals are there as a result of alcohol-related diseases. My concern is that it has now been taken out of the health arena and put into the labour arena, or the consumer arena, and I don't quite understand why the shift was made, especially given the fact that we have the Jansen report, which that clearly indicates that we have a tremendous problem in this province and that people are very concerned.
I'm also very concerned because over the past year I've been into many communities and they've been very concerned about the lack of services that they have available, whether it's through alcohol and drug programs through the ministry or through rehabilitation programs. In the past year we've seen the closure of some of the rehab programs; one here in Victoria turned from a live-in program to a day care program. I guess my first question to the minister, then, is why.... I can't ask my minister in my estimates, so I'm asking you, Mr. Minister, why this shift was made away from the health issue of alcohol into your hands and your ministry.
HON. L. HANSON: There's no question — and I think it was announced in the budget speech — that there is a need for a coordinating effect on all the programs we have in British Columbia related to substance abuse. The Jansen report and the Ryan report both recommended that there be a greater concentration on rehabilitation, education and all of the other things. There was a recommendation that more money be allocated to that purpose, which we have done.
The reason it was transferred to my ministry is the coordinating effect. I have responsibility for ICBC and the Workers' Compensation Board. The Ministry of Health had the majority of the programs, but I also had some responsibilities or interests — certainly in the Counterattack program, which was under the Attorney-General. I see very little difficulty in moving the responsibilities from Health to my ministry, because there is no doubt that we will be relying heavily on the experience of the people who have been transferred to us from the Health ministry. In the Counterattack program, we will be relying heavily on the experience in the Attorney-General's ministry to help us put some of these programs in place.
But the whole effect is a coordinating one: we're trying to get the total coordination effort under one ministry, as opposed to having it spread through a number of different ministries. We think there are some initiatives that the Workers' Compensation Board could take in the workplace, which I happen to have responsibility for also.
The treatment is really not limited to the health system. A lot of the detox centres and so on that have been under the Health ministry are not necessarily totally part of the health system. I guess, if you will, they're there for that specific purpose. I don't see a real difficulty in the transfer of that responsibility. As a matter of fact, I can see some very positive things about it. The interaction of some of the things that happen in liquor distribution or licensing, as opposed to in rehabilitation programs, will be more clearly defined and more coordinated when they're all under one ministry.
So I don't see that as being a major difficulty. As a matter of fact, I look forward to it with considerable excitement. We have increased the funding for that purpose in the budget by some $23 million, which was part of the report. I suppose you could say it isn't as much as is needed; that may well be. We may be looking at expanding that program as we go forward, but it seems to me that we should approach the subject initially without throwing tremendous amounts of money at it, until we have a proper program in place that the funding allows us to do.
So I think that in this first year the $23 million is good and adequate, and I don't know whether I can convince anyone that there should be increases. I think if we put the proper programs in place and proceed in a systematic manner to address some of those difficulties, that is a very good possibility.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Cowichan-Malahat requests leave to make an introduction. Shall leave be granted?
MR. BRUCE: After having travelled across the Malahat on this beautiful, wonderful day, Mr. Zayachkowski and six students from the Duncan Seventh-Day Adventist School are here to take in the proceedings and have a tour of the buildings. I would ask you to join me in making them feel welcome.
MRS. BOONE: The minister certainly has a heavy job ahead of him. It's made partially worse, though, because of the problems that have occurred and the closures that have taken place in the last little while. So rather than coming into it and being able to proceed and maintain the existing programs, you've got some catch-up work to do, just in getting caught up with what we had before.
I certainly welcome the additional money, and I don't think there's anybody in this province who wouldn't say that
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money is required, because we have some severe problems out there. It doesn't matter what part of the province you go to, whether it's Vancouver East or Vancouver Centre or any of the areas where there are heavy populations; their facilities and the things available for their people just aren't there. They're just not enough. When you get outside the lower mainland, into the hinterland, whether you're going into the southeast, the northeast or northwest corner of the province, again you're going to find that there's just a tremendous lack of facilities and things for people to go to.
I'm sure you will find.... It amazes people all the time when I tell them that the rehab centre in Prince George, a very small centre, the Nechako Centre, services the entire area from 100 Mile right up to the Alaska border and over to the Queen Charlottes. It's a shame that we don't have anything more to give to our people and that we aren't able to provide any services whatsoever for women and for children. There is a tremendous alcohol problem among the youth of our population.
I guess my fear is that by going into the Ministry of Labour the focus will be on employee assistance programs, which are, of course, very good programs and very worthwhile, but are oriented only to the employed person and to a person in a company that has an employee assistance program. We want to see more programs for the youth in this province. We want to see programs available for women and facilities available for those people as well. They're sadly lacking right now.
My concern, and I hope to get some response from the minister, is that by turning this into the Ministry of Labour, rather than a Health issue, it is going to be focused mainly on the employee assistance program and not dealing with the other problems that are so desperate out there. I'm hoping that in your first term as the minister in charge of this area you will go out and visit some of the areas that I've mentioned. Come to Prince George. Go to the Nechako Centre. Talk to them there and see about the lack of services that we have. Talk to the people who are trying to deal with young teenagers and trying to find a place for them, because you'll find that these people are virtually shut out and our young people in this province are falling through the system time and time again.
I'd like some assurances from the minister that there is not going to be that concentration on employee assistance programs, but that you will address the entire problem and deal with the problems that we've got right now that haven't been addressed, even when it was in the Ministry of Health.
HON. L. HANSON: Certainly I intend to look very carefully at all segments of the province, I guess in a selfish manner, because I have to become knowledgeable about what is happening in all of the areas of the province very quickly, and that is certainly the way to do it.
I can assure the member opposite that we will not concentrate on the employee sector of it simply because it is in the Ministry of Labour. I think that there is a cost to the employer that we will continue to try to have the employer community recognize, in the costs to their operation of substance abuse. A number of organizations have put in place, and are very interested in, internal help for some of their employees. They recognize the cost of that to their operations, the same as other operational costs are recognized. It has a very serious impact on their business. I think they are quite amenable to suggestions that they do some things. But I can assure the member that the concentration, simply because it's in Labour, will not be with the employee difficulty with drug abuse, although that is an important part of it.
The Jansen report mentioned the need for youth treatment centres, and certainly that is one of the areas we will be looking at.
I was interested to hear the comments of the member about closures. I have some knowledge, although it may not be as in-depth as it should be, of some changes in focus of some of the different centres, but I have no knowledge of any closures. If there are specifics, I'd like to have that information. I don't really have any knowledge of closures. I know that we are looking for new premises for the area here, but that isn't a closure; that is simply finding a more appropriate location. We are amalgamating one. I know the Pender Detox Centre is amalgamating with Great Northern Way Detox. But we're also making some other arrangements, I believe, with another agency to provide some service in that area. Dallas House, I think, is one that is moving. That's the one that I was mentioning earlier. We're looking for a new location. But I know of no actual closures, and so if you have information to that effect, I'd appreciate getting it.
I assure the member that I will be in Prince George, and I will be looking at the difficulties. I've had a couple of letters already suggesting there is a difficulty in the Chetwynd area — from that municipal council, if I remember correctly. Certainly, as soon as time permits, I will be out looking at what is happening in the field.
MS. A. HAGEN: I share some of the concerns expressed by the member for Prince George North, just because of the coordination that has occurred through the Health ministry. I think the minister has a major task, because so many of the people that may have alcohol as the presenting problem then go on to have mental or physical health problems. I think the challenge of being the lead ministry in this area will be one of the greatest challenges the minister will face. It will not only involve the Health ministry, but it clearly will involve the Education ministry and the Attorney-General's ministry, to name two other important ministries.
Let's take a look at some dollars and cents issues, because one of the things we want to achieve this morning is some knowledge of where this minister plans to go with the new program. The Jansen committee and the Ryan task force both recommended an infusion of $65 million to $70 million in total. As I understand it, that would include the moneys already in budgets — an additional $40 million or $45 million in programs related to education, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
When the various ministries involved — Labour and Consumer Services, Health, Attorney-General and possibly Education — made their comments on the Jansen report around the middle of December, they noted the need for a coordinating ministry and gave some sense of where they thought those dollars might be spent. The first thing we need to note is that, instead of an additional $40 million to $45 million suggested by two independent reports, we have 50 percent of that in dollars available this year.
I think it's also worthy to note that in the budget presentation, a new social service tax was added to the cost of all liquor and introduced to draft beer, which is a rise from 6 percent to 10 percent — income that generates an additional revenue of $96 million. I understand, because of some other changes, this nets out at something like $80 million in
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additional revenue to government. If the government is really sincere and committed to this whole issue of alleviating the costs of substance abuse through the alcohol and drug program and the substance abuse program, then dollars are a major part of that solution.
Given that there are additional dollars which the public sees as being specifically used for good programs that will assist communities, families, workers, young people and women to know about the problems of alcohol abuse or to recover from alcohol abuse, why is only one in four of those additional dollars collected going into this program? Again, there is very strong evidence from all sectors that prevention and good, solid education programs and readily available rehab programs are something that we have to know are a part of a society dealing with one of its major problems.
Since alcohol is the third leading problem area in health and has ramifications in every sector of our society, it would seem that a government that's cost-conscious and concerned about controlling health costs and other costs would have seen fit to infuse closer to, if not totally, the amount recommended at this time, to have available a really good, solid program in the community. I'd like the minister to comment first on the dollars he has available to him.
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
HON. L. HANSON: The Jansen report and Ryan report certainly did equate to more dollars than are allocated in year one, but it seems to me that the whole process of allocation of money requires a plan before you, without a systematic approach to the problem, just throw a tremendous amount of money.... As a matter of fact, the Treasury Board has asked for a three-year plan as it relates to alcohol and drug abuse spending, which we intend to generate.
We've already formed the interministry committee recommended in the report to ensure that there is coordination. I believe there has been one meeting of that committee already. In year one we are planning to spend that extra $22 million or $23 million, but it's a lot of money, and we need to decide first how...and organize the programs before the demand for the total amount of money should be there.
Certainly I can promise the member that this ministry will review the adequacy of that funding during the course of this year and that when we go forward next year, it could be quite a different request from Treasury Board for the funding.
Again, the plan has to be in place as to how the money will be most appropriately used and where it will be of the most benefit. Then we can analyze what sort of funding is really required to achieve the benefits we are all looking for. For the first year, I think, that amount of funding is adequate, but I would suggest to the member that during the course of this year, in coordinating and organizing the additional programs, we will review that requirement. Next year it may be a different requirement.
MS. A. HAGEN: Perhaps this is heresy on my side of the House, but I might even encourage the minister to look for a special warrant if he needs it.
What I'd like to find out at this stage of the game and to ask the minister is to give us some details, then, of the plans that he has for this year. I think it's important for us at this stage, in canvassing his estimates in this important area that has really for the past year been on the public agenda in a very cogent and organized way, to know what is in place. I have an expectation, given the tabling of reports — the Jansen report in June or July '87, the Ryan report on workplace abuse in September '87, the response of various ministries in December — that a government that is in a planning mode should be able, as it presents its budget and its estimates, to give us some fairly concrete information about what new programs the minister plans to see proceeding through this particular year.
So I would ask him to give us some outline at this time of, particularly, new programs or modifications of existing programs that are going to be the priorities. And perhaps he could deal with them in priority order. What's the $22 million going to buy for us, Mr. Minister, in this whole area of substance abuse?
HON. L. HANSON: I have to say to the member that it is a little premature for me to expand on programs that haven't yet been determined. As the member knows, it's a very new responsibility. I am in the process of evaluating, I guess, doing an inventory, looking carefully at what is in place now. We are doing some things that were in my ministry previous to that. We are implementing, or are very close to, the severe training program, so that those people who are responsible for selling alcohol, I guess, to the public — the servers and that sort of thing — will better be able to recognize some difficulties people may be having as a result of too much liquor. There will be a requirement that that is part of the qualifications for being a liquor server. We will be putting that in place this year.
The committee I mentioned earlier, the interministerial committee, is formed. The employees — some 286, I believe — have been transferred to my ministry in the last short time, and a number of the other things are in place. Quite frankly, it's difficult to report on all of those programs until we have done that analysis of what is going on in all of the ministries. Certainly the continuation of the Counterattack program has been apparent. It's on right now; I believe it's from April 13 to May 4. We have been very aware in ICBC of the contributions that are needed. I will be relying heavily on the recommendations of the interministerial committee that has formed. I have already had a number of presentations or briefs on various aspects of liquor. We will certainly be targeting the youth problem. There is a recognized problem there, as was said in the reports. ICBC, WCB, the Attorney-General — all of those agencies — will be involved in the various programs and may even take on the responsibility for some of the programs.
A difficulty was recently expressed by the committee of Vancouver city council, I believe. In one particular area of Vancouver we will be working with that committee and looking at what we as a ministry can do to alleviate that difficulty. There have been some considerable success stories. I'm sure the member is aware of the success of the program put in place at Alkali Lake. It seems that if the community understands the problem and then becomes dedicated to curing it, a cure is obtained. One of the difficulties in that part of Vancouver is that there isn't a community, if you will, that can influence their peers to recognize the difficulty they are having. That problem in downtown Vancouver is one that is very difficult to provide the cure for. I see as large a problem in determining what the problem is and what the cure should be as in finding the money and the organization to do it.
To me, the first determination is: what is best to do to help relieve the problem? That's where I have to plead, at this point, that I am so new to it that I don't have that information
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or that background to help me. I will be relying heavily on the interministerial committee that has been formed for advice, and so on, and I'll also be looking at a lot of suggestions from the private sector as to what solutions can be put in place. So it's very difficult for me to comment on specifics at the moment.
MS. A. HAGEN: I'm disappointed in the minister's response. The reason I phrased my question as I did is that this issue is in the public domain and is a major problem. It's an issue that, to the government's credit, it acknowledged and recognized through the studies that we've referred to today. But if we're talking about coordination and about budget building, it seems to me that budgets are the result of that kind of planning, not the first stage. Most of us who are involved with building budgets don't build them with some dollars out of the sky and then build a program to match.
In a number of areas, with this year's budget, we have looked at this same kind of situation. JobTrac has disappeared; no, we don't know why it's disappeared and we don't know what's going to take its place. We're going to put some new user fees on rehab services, including those that affect people in alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres; but no, we don't know how we're going to do that or what the effects of those are going to be. We're going to introduce some new programs into the whole area of alcohol and drug. Last December there was a great press conference and information about that, and I remember my words at that time: "No action, no money, no reform." Well, right now we've got some money but we really haven't had very much action. As that procrastination and reorganization and new coordination and realigning occurs, all too often it seems that, on an annual basis, people out there in communities are suffering and programs are not being developed.
The minister is right when he says that something has to happen in a community to make a change. I couldn't agree with him more in that regard.
Let me ask him a couple of specific questions to see if anything has in fact come out of the proposals from the various committees that have been working. Has the minister, for example, taken a look at perhaps using the community assistance plan model that the Ryan task force talked about? Has he looked at that as something that could be implemented in communities, with community input and resources, so that there would be a base in the many different personalities of communities in the province whereby they could take some ownership of this problem and begin to work on it?
We're long overdue for this to happen in the field of alcohol. We've done it in the use of tobacco, and we have revolutionized people's thinking and practices, but it's because there has been some consistent leadership — and yes, it's leadership that comes from government, the health and community sectors and the private sector. All those are partners in the enterprise. But we're looking for some indication that we're not still working around the problem but that there is some leadership there. I am very disappointed that what we've had up to now is again lip-service and that we're still not clear what that action is going to be.
I appreciate that the minister himself hasn't had responsibility as the lead minister, until whenever this decision was made and known, but he has been a part of the group that responded to the initial report and gave some indication last December — six months later — of where the government thought it was going. Now almost five months later, we still don't have anything that has us clearly moving. People in the north or the downtown east side or the women in my community who don't have a rehabilitation centre aren’t getting served. Perhaps the minister might want to comment about that slowness, that snail's pace, that he's faced with and give us some idea of how he's going to speed it up.
I'd like to ask him another question that he might care to respond to at this time as well. In the response that various ministries gave to the Jansen report in December, one of the areas that seemed to be left out was rehabilitation and treatment. There was a great deal of emphasis on education — which needs to be much broader than education of people serving alcohol — and on policing, but I don't recall there being, in that report, very much that suggested that there was going to be commitment and dollars to the treatment and rehabilitation areas, which we would like not to have so extensively needed, but which in fact are the end need when prevention and education have failed and over 10 percent of people in this province are involved in alcohol abuse to a very serious level.
HON. L. HANSON: I'm disappointed to hear that the member is disappointed, because the responsibilities that have just been given to me are new, and I have to admit that I have some shortage of knowledge in the total area.
I have to point out to the member that action has been quite swift and well implemented as far as the Jansen report is concerned — the things that my ministry had the responsibility for up to a short time ago. We have put the server training program.... Its announcement and its format is almost complete. The legislation is coming forward very quickly to deal with the knife problem, which was one issue, and with entertainment in licensed premises. We are putting in increased penalties for the sale of liquor in an unauthorized manner — bootlegging, in other words. So I think a lot of things have been done.
In answer to the member's question that the community based programs that have been suggested look very, very attractive.... They do look attractive. But I would be less than responsible if snap decisions were made to implement those programs without looking at the proper process for implementing and so on. I look forward to this committee's giving me a lot of advice in those areas. It's just too important to allocate the money to something that isn't completely thought out and coordinated. I know that the Ministry of Education is working on changes to the school health care curriculum which will deal with some alcohol issues.
I can assure the member that if I were prepared to say yes, the staff people involved in the liquor program could spend the $23 million almost overnight; but I just want a little time to be assured that the direction we're taking is the right and proper direction and that we're doing it in an organized manner.
MR. WEISGERBER: I'm going to get into the debate just very briefly — I was unable to enter into the debate on privatization a little earlier because I was in the chair — and then I'd like to talk for a couple of minutes about the substance abuse program.
First of all, on privatization, I've got to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the second member for Kamloops (Mr. S.D. Smith). I think we have to recognize, first of all, that the private sector is already playing a major role in liquor distribution, whether it be in hotel beverage rooms or pubs or restaurants. We also have to recognize that
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privatization, as it's referred to in the Jansen report, was referring to the whole question of putting wine and beer into grocery stores. They weren't looking at whether or not small liquor stores should be sold to private individuals. Those people opposed to that privatization of liquor stores are, I believe, misinterpreting the Jansen report, either deliberately or otherwise, in order to make a point that really was never considered by the Jansen report.
Another point. This morning as we talked about privatization, there appeared to be almost an assumption that privatization would mean greater availability of liquor. I don't really understand why a liquor store operated by a private company with the same hours, the same regulations as far as advertising.... Everything could be exactly the same as the government store down the street, and I would expect that that's the way it would be done. I don't accept the presumption that privatization of small liquor stores would mean increased availability of liquor. I have to disagree with that concept.
It seems to me that what the opposition is really opposed to with the privatization of small liquor stores is the loss of union jobs to private enterprise. That's really where it's at. When you look at those people becoming private entrepreneurs, private business people, you are looking at perhaps a loss of support for those people across the way. When we look at the resolution that came out of their recent rally or annual meeting in Vancouver, that group passed a resolution rejecting contributions from private people, private corporations, private companies. If we take this thing to its ultimate conclusion, a small liquor store that became a company and wanted to make a contribution to those people across the way would be rejected. I think probably this is really where the question is as it deals with small liquor stores.
Finally, I want to get into the area of substance abuse treatment. I'm pleased to see your ministry taking responsibility in this area. I was particularly pleased to see your funding had gone from $25 million to $48 million. I believe you are well aware, Mr. Minister, that communities all across the north are really concerned about the drug and alcohol, and particularly alcohol, problems in those communities.
I welcomed the reference to Chetwynd in your comments earlier. I am pleased to see that you have recognized the problems in that community; indeed, they are problems in Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek, and I'm sure, as we heard with the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy, in Fort St. John also. I'm sure if you go to Fort Nelson or any of the northern communities, you are going to find a real concern with the lack of adequate counselling. I trust this addition to the budget will go a long way toward alleviating those problems, and I want to recognize what I think is a very positive move in that regard.
MS. A. HAGEN: As is often the case, the issues that we have to canvass in estimates are exhaustive. I have not concluded all my comments, but I also wanted to ensure that my colleague for Maillardville-Coquitlam (Mr. Cashore) had an opportunity to address some questions before we adjourn this morning.
I would like to note two things in conclusion. First of all, I have not had an answer from the minister on some of the rehabilitation and treatment issues, in particular in connection with women. I plan to pursue some of the concerns I have directly through correspondence with him.
The second thing — which is really a concluding comment and one that I hear reflected in some of the statements the minister has made, but I have to be somewhat skeptical about them — is that what we're embarking on here really needs a long-term, coordinated commitment and very strong leadership. We've had many instances of programs being touted and within a year they're gone, or there's reorganization. Without inviting a response from the minister at this time, in the interest of my colleague having an opportunity to address his questions, I would like to conclude by noting the three-year plan; urging the minister to make clear the programs he will be implementing — and soon; and as I said at the beginning of my remarks, urging him to see himself as a person in a very strong leadership position regarding policy. There are many pressures — and I, as critic in the liquor area for this side of the House, know them only dimly — that the minister will have to resist, including very strong pressures from a very, very powerful sector of the economy. He has to really be able to balance his role in liquor licensing and control and distribution with the new responsibilities. I would urge him, as a person who has a responsibility to many communities in the province, to balance in an up position for the new responsibilities he has, and for those very things that the Jansen commission emphasizes strongly: the need for control; the need for education; and the need for the economic tools that will enable him to do the job.
MR. CASHORE: I would like now to turn to the Residential Tenancy Act. I have some specific questions, and I regret, Mr. Chairman, that I'm not sure there will be time to canvass the questions that I have and hear the answers between now and noon. I have a problem with some other plans that make it not possible for me to continue this either this afternoon or tomorrow. So if we run out of time, I would hope that sometime in summing up the minister would at least put the answers to my questions on record. Indeed, there may be some questions I am asking that will require some research, so that may not be such a bad thing.
Some observations. When we look in the estimate books, we find that there's really no financial information specifically spelling out the expenditures with regard to the Residential Tenancy Act, the number of staff and that sort of thing. I do know that prior to 1984, under the rentalsman's act, there were six regional offices, 35 rentalsman offices and 150 full-time staff. I would like the minister to read into the record, given the present situation, just what the staff complement is, and what the comparative figures of operations are between last year and this year. If you are not able to give us the complete figures for last year, you could go back to the previous year. But I would like some basis of comparison. It's my understanding that last year there were approximately four or five arbitrators and 30 or fewer staff. Perhaps that assumption could be updated to something more accurate for the present time.
It's also my understanding — and I would love to be corrected on this — that there are regional offices only in Vancouver and Victoria; no regional offices exist throughout the province. Some specific questions, then. Do staff travel to other areas of the province to conduct hearings? What is done to inform the public of services? Mr. Chairman, I hope I'm not going too fast, but, as I say, I want to get this material on the record. What is done to inform the public of the services available? For instance, how do people in Prince George or Kimberley or Trail know that the services of the Residential Tenancy Act and its staff are available? I would like to know how many out-of-town hearings have been held during the last fiscal year. And where have they been?
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In connection with this, I would like to refer to the estimates of last year, when I asked the same question. I'm reading from page 1870 of Hansard. The minister's answer was: "As to the number of cases outside the lower mainland, I don't have that information, but I would suspect that it would be in the area of 100 or so. I will certainly get you that information." Mr. Chairman, I'm still waiting, and now I would like an update. I have not received that information as promised in Hansard one year ago.
A further question: is there a toll-free line so that people with problems, either tenants or landlords at any place in the province, can phone to seek assistance? I know what your answer is going to be: it's that they can call the government agent's office. The fact is that the government agent's office is a place where you can get eviction forms or arbitration forms, but it simply is convoluted logic to respond to me by saying that the government agent will help people out in this matter. The government agent will do a good job doing what he or she is mandated to do, which will be to explain to these people what step to take next. So these people still need a toll free access to where assistance can be provided.
Now let's face up to some facts. Monetary disputes are not handled under the Residential Tenancy Act. We're dealing here with a lot of tenants who are low-income people. Legal aid, which has been seriously curtailed in its government support, cannot help these people. To be much more specific, there is a practice on the part of a great many landlords in this province — some of them corporate landlords — to automatically not return the security deposit. This information is made available by groups such as the Tenants' Rights Action Centre. It's an appalling situation which requires proactive assistance on the part of government to move in and provide both moral and practical support to the tenants who are victims of this procedure.
Recently, with the increased court costs announced by the Attorney-General (Hon. B.R. Smith), we're facing a situation where a single parent on a working-poor income, at the minimum wage, faced with a rental situation and having to move, cannot get her security deposit back, because the landlord refuses to give it back, and then has only the recourse — the fact being that we no longer have a rentalsman — of going to small claims court. Where is that mother going to get the $50 it now costs in filing fees, registration fees and court costs, which is what it now costs on average for a person to initiate a claim through small claims court to get her security deposit back?
I think that's an extremely important issue for this ministry and this minister to take up with the Minister of Social Services and Housing (Hon. Mr. Richmond), and possibly with the Attorney-General, with a view to correcting that situation. While I cannot justify the government policies, I do not believe that any of those ministers wants to see hardship there, and I do believe that if they put their heads together on it, they can get it sorted out. Those people should not have to undergo those costs in order to try to recover a security deposit that in many instances is being illegally held back from them.
I come to the question of the small claims court. A few moments ago we were talking about the number of hearings under the Residential Tenancy Act, but now I ask again, as I asked last year: how many landlords were prosecuted in the past year for violations under this act?
Referring to page 1871 in Hansard from last year, when I asked that question, the minister's response was: "As to the number of cases that have been prosecuted, I can't really answer that. I certainly will get that information for the member opposite." Then a couple of lines later: "Certainly I'll get the numbers of how many have been prosecuted for the member, and my assistant deputy will bring that to you."
Well, I'm still waiting.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hope springs eternal.
MR. CASHORE: Hope springs eternal. I want that information; the people at the Tenants' Rights Action Centre want that information. We have a right to that information. It's information that's important if we are going to evaluate the sweeping changes that have taken place since 1984, when the Landlord and Tenant Act was gutted. If the regional princeling of the lower mainland, for instance, really cares about the people in that region who are victims of poverty, then surely he cares about this, and I'd be glad if he would discuss that with the Minister of Labour as well.
Last year, going back to Hansard, when I put that question, the answer I gave to the minister was that there were none. So far, I haven't been challenged on that. Again, I would dearly love to be proved wrong, that it could be demonstrated that in fact there were landlords prosecuted for violations of the act.
I just want to move on to some other items. There's no instrument in place now, that I'm aware of, for dealing with the fact that in some instances landlords are illegally locking people out of their accommodation. In some cases landlords are illegally seizing a tenant's goods and illegally evicting tenants. and there are reports of sexual harassment of tenants. All of these things are difficult to deal with, but when we had the Landlord and Tenant Act, there was an instrument in place whereby those issues could be addressed. It was not the costly or unavailable kind of instrument that exists in the court system.
I would like to say to the minister that it is high time these situations of injustice upon the little people — the people who we should all be standing up for in this province — be addressed. It's not going to be that costly to put into place measures that achieve justice for those people.
My friend the second member for Vancouver Centre (Mr. Barnes) will be having some more to say about the issue, with regard to proclaiming the section of the act that has not been proclaimed for long-term residents of hotels and rooming houses, which would bring them those few protections that exist under the Residential Tenancy Act. It's high time that was done. We understand there are at least 10,000 people in he province in that circumstance. Those people require that kind of assistance, and I think it's high time it was proclaimed. It was done in Ontario; there's no reason why it can't be done here. It simply requires the political will.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. Mr. Veitch moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 11:59 a.m.